The recent re-election of Zimbabwe’s 89-year old president Robert Mugabe, in office for 33 years, resembled a period not long ago when sham elections were the norm in sub-Saharan Africa. Peaceful transitions of power were almost unheard of.
Though the African Union disappointingly endorsed the elections as “honest and credible,” Zimbabwe’s electoral commission has now faced a spate of resignations and international condemnation over allegations of vote-rigging, intimidation and state media control.
But Zimbabwe’s election is not representative of a continent that has made real progress toward democracy. Allegations of electoral tampering can seem almost anachronistic in an era of social media and instantaneous information-sharing. Technology has improved the caliber of elections all over the world — including Africa.
Between mid-July and September 30, seven countries in the region — with an aggregate population of 80 million — are due to cast ballots. Not all these elections, though, will be free and fair. Some, like Zimbabwe’s, won’t represent the popular will. But an increasing number will be a sign of progress for a continent with a history of failed democratic traditions.
Recent African elections demonstrate progress in three ways. First, long-delayed or boycotted elections are finally taking place, removing military regimes or one-party states from power.