African business, politics and lifestyle
Africa at 50 – tiring of the democracy experiment?
By Daniel Magnowski
Senegal, often held up as an African success story,
celebrates 50 years of independence this weekend, one of many
countries on the continent to mark a half century of
post-colonial life this year.
The country is commemorating the occasion by unveiling a
controversial, expensive monument to “African Renaissance” –
the notion that Africa is now master of its destiny after the
end of colonial rule and Cold War-era meddling by superpowers.
A founding principle of the “renaissance” movement promoted
in the last decade by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and
former leaders such as South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, is that
Africa is embracing Western-style multi-party democracy.
African governments are still riddled with corruption that
puts them at the bottom of world anti-graft tables. The guiding
principle for many still seems to be: enrich yourself and cling
onto power until the next gang storms the palace.
Orderly shifts of power from one camp to another – what the
French call “alternance” – are made no easier by the lame state
of the opposition in many countries. Gabon’s Ali Bongo Ondimba
(son of late ruler Omar) had a clear run to the presidency last
year when rivals splintered into a multiplicity of parties.
Parties in Guinea, approaching this June 27 what could be
its first ever free vote, break down along ethnic rather than
policy lines. Months before the election, loyalists are already
fighting it out in the streets.
Are the tainted elections, military coups, tear-ups of the
constitution and moves to establish dynastic rule signs that
Africa is rejecting democracy? Do the ethnic tensions in a
country like Guinea make multi-party politics difficult, if not
The ‘Reuters Guide to the New Africans,’ published in 1967,
said the first years of independence had been “years of power
struggles and political and racial jealousies”.
A sceptic might say that so have the most recent few years
(with honourable exceptions in countries such as Ghana, South
Africa and Senegal, all of whom have seen power change hands via
the ballot box).
For many on the continent the moral authority of the United
States has been eroded by the 2008/09 economic crisis Made in
the USA; former colonial ruler Britain has a tough job lecturing
on governance after the debacle over its parliamentarians’
fraudulent expense claims. Meanwhile you won’t hear China, now
Africa’s top trading partner, lecturing on democracy.
Renaissance or not, perhaps Africa’s next 50 years will see
a reversal of the post-colonial democratic experiment.