The State of Liberal Democracy in Africa: Resurgence or Retreat?

Thursday, April 22, 2010  

For much of the post-colonial period, Africans tended to live under
one-party dictatorships. Today, even the most despotic of African
leaders wish to have their leadership affirmed by elections. Democracy
is increasingly seen as the only legitimate form of government in
Africa, but regular multiparty elections are not synonymous with good
government, rule of law, and economic development. Indeed, corruption,
repression, and underdevelopment continue to scar much of Africa.

South African liberal Tony Leon examines the state of liberal democracy in Africa through a Cato study. Here is the link to the study  .

Instead of paying attention only to the trappings of democracy, African
reformers should focus on building free societies characterized by the
separation of powers, checks and balances, an independent media and
judiciary, restriction on presidential power, term limits, and so on.

Africa’s transition to liberal democracy is unlikely to happen without
far-reaching economic reforms; in fact, all liberal democracies are
also market-oriented economies. Regrettably, many African countries are
not only politically repressive but also economically dirigiste.
Increased economic freedom and the emergence of a vibrant private
sector can bring about direct economic benefits, such as higher
incomes, and indirect benefits, such as decentralization of power.

As the cases of Kenya, South Africa, and Zimbabwe show, the spread of
liberal democracy in Africa can be checked by a number of important
inhibitors. Unresolved inter-ethnic power struggles often lead to
tensions or conflicts. Abundant natural resources can shield
irresponsible governments from the necessity of economic reforms and
pressure from taxpayers. Similar problems bedevil foreign-aid programs
in Africa. Finally, Africa continues to suffer from "big-man" politics
or "imperial" presidents.

Fortunately, as the case of Botswana shows, most of the aforementioned
inhibitors need not be fatal to the emergence of a relatively liberal
democracy. Inter-ethnic tensions could be successfully handled through
devolution of power and genuine federalism, along the Swiss lines,
while corruption could be better combated by laws that limit the power
of the executive and increase government transparency.