August 15, 2023

The Africa Drive for Democracy: Will It Live To Its Promise?

I recently had the privilege of attending the Africa Drive for Democracy that was held 17th-21st July 2023 in Arusha, Tanzania; a powerful initiative dedicated to advancing democracy on the African continent in a way that resonates with the unique needs, values, and cultural context of its people. The initiative is led by the Center for Strategic Litigation based in Zanzibar, MS-TCDC based in Tanzania and the Institute for Strategic Studies. It was a great opportunity to be part of the conversations that were geared towards critically reflecting on contemporary and future challenges affecting the promise of democracy on the continent.

With over 21 coups recorded in the last 8 years according to the International Center for Investigative Reporting, the road to democracy is proving much more difficult for the African Continent. The July 26th, 2023, seizure of power in Niger added to the swathe of military coups in Africa and most recently in Sudan, Mali, Guinea, Chad, and Burkina Faso which calls into question the future of democracy in Africa. This last decade has made it clear that these instabilities are not isolated incidents in individual countries that threaten to undermine the stability and progress of the affected countries. They highlight the urgent need for stronger democratic systems, deeper respect for the rule of law, and enhanced accountability mechanisms across the continent.

The words of H.E Samia Suluhu Hassan, President of Tanzania, capture this rallying call better when she points out that, “The road to democracy in Africa may be challenging, but there is no alternative to an inclusive and accountable governance system.”

Ironically, on the surface of the political landscape in Africa, there is sometimes a shallow portrayal of an Africa that has made remarkable strides in the pursuit of democracy, with an increasing number of countries embracing democratic principles, holding regular elections, and establishing stronger institutions. The continent is not short of examples of countries that have had a significant shift from the era of autocratic rule that plagued the continent.

However, what was initially diagnosed as skirmishes that are threatening to erode the gains made through the third wave of democratization is proving to be part of a much deeper polycrisis on the African continent. The Mo Ibrahim Index on African governance notes that despite the progress made in establishing multiparty democracy and democratic values, there are still many obstacles to genuine political participation due to legal restrictions and economic burdens.

Engagements and platforms like The Elders Retreat on the State of Democracy in Africa signal a solid step in the right direction. The dreamers of the Africa Drive for Democracy recognized that despite the efforts of the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities in addressing the attendant conflicts, more needs to be done including elevating the role of citizens in addressing such conflicts. Proactive and preventative action and early warning is key to avoiding further conflict in the region and renewing commitment to good governance, human rights and democracy as stated in the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance.

The Africa Drive for Democracy acknowledges that democracy should not be a mere copy-and-paste of Western ideals onto African soil. Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and Nobel Peace Prize laureate rightly said, “Democracy is not a one-size-fits-all model; it should be shaped by the unique needs and aspirations of our African nations.” The Africa Drive for Democracy recognizes that Africa’s rich cultural heritage and unique historical experiences necessitate the development of democratic systems that are tailored to the specific needs and aspirations of African nations. This approach ensures that democracy is not only embraced but also deeply rooted in the traditions, values, and social fabric of the continent.

Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA), was privileged to lead a session on women’s political leadership as a critical component of inclusive democracy.  As a feminist-Pan-African leadership development organization, AMwA has been at the forefront of calling attention to the need to employ an intersectional approach to advancing liberties and freedoms. What better way than to foster equal representation of women in decision-making and political processes. The benefits of equal participation of women in Political leadership can’t be over emphasized. For example, there is clear evidence that when there is a greater proportion of women in parliament, they promote and pass more legislation supporting women’s rights and gender equality and human development across societies. The former President of Tanzania, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, is right on point with his observation that, “It is important for every society to find ways of deliberately involving youth and women, citing the role his part Chama Cha Mapinduzi played in getting him into leadership as a youth wing member.”

Like many other engagements, there was the usual skepticism and rightly as to what this particular space could deliver given the multiple processes on the continent. I must say, I personally was intrigued and excited about the component of the elders. The elders were retired statesmen and women handpicked with a simple criterion. The elders were engaged in delivering keynote addresses, moderating round-table conversions and sharing their experiences and insights based on their leadership experience including that of engaging at the continental level to collectively reflect and gauge what works in deepening and strengthening democratization on the continent. The elders are expected to subsequently take advantage of the data and analysis being shared to inform their own ongoing work in the region but also use their existing platforms to draw in some of the key messages developed during the retreat.

The Africa Drive for Democracy served as a clarion call to ensure that democracy on the continent is sustainable, inclusive, and firmly rooted in African values. Without doubt this call must be met with unity and collaboration. It is essential for African nations, regional organizations, civil society groups, and citizens to work together harmoniously, sharing best practices, experiences, and resources. Encouraging dialogue, facilitating peer learning, and promoting cooperation at the regional and continental levels can accelerate the democratization process across Africa while inspiring and supporting the countries that face challenges.

Together, with renewed commitment, collective action, and adaptive approaches, we can advance democracy in Africa, creating a brighter and more prosperous future for its entire people. As former President of Malawi Her Excellency Joyce Banda rightly urged us, “Democracy empowers citizens to take charge of their destinies; it is our collective responsibility to nurture and protect it for the betterment of Africa.”

Eunice Musiime

Executive Director,  Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA)

Was this post helpful?