Democracy in Africa: One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

According to the Economist, the growing sophistication of election rigging dictators is a good sign:

Citizens plainly like to vote. Even the most authoritarian leaders now feel obliged to hold elections. Presidents Bashir and Mugabe, as well as Meles Zenawi, the prime minister of Ethiopia—none of them natural democrats—have all had to hold elections in recent years. Only a decade ago countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia were bywords for anarchy and bloodshed. Now their people vote enthusiastically. It will be hard even for dictators to take that right away altogether, for the experience of elections, even flawed ones, seems to help embed democracy. Ghana, for instance, which reverted to civilian rule only in 1992, has twice changed governments after tight elections. This month the incumbent in Somaliland, a nation-in-waiting, conceded electoral defeat. In Nigeria the ruling party, despite efforts to snuff out democracy, is having to concede improvements that should make for a better vote next year.

Outsiders can help the process along. Among Africans, there needs to be a revival of the healthy peer pressure that was around in the early 2000s. The West needs to protest about bad elections to encourage Nigerians, Sudanese and others fighting for clean ones. The millions it spends monitoring elections are wasted if its criticism is muted by its interest in keeping in with an important government, as critics claim happened after Nigeria’s rotten election in 2007.

A battle for democracy and accountability is under way in Africa. The fight is not going too badly.

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