An Overview of the State of Electoral Democracy in Africa

In: African Journal of Legal Studies
Charles Manga Fombad Professor of Law, Director, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria Pretoria South Africa

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Most recent accounts paint a bleak and gloomy picture of the state of global democracy. This is particularly so in Africa where the optimism of a democratic revival in the 1990s is rapidly giving way to narratives of doom and gloom. Using survey data compiled by well-established regional and global international organisations, this paper assesses the state of electoral democracy in Africa, reviews the challenges that have been encountered, and considers the prospects for the future. The trend in the evolution of electoral democracy on the continent in the last three decades points to an authoritarian mobilisation and resurgence. Although elections have become the norm, these elections are increasingly being used to disguise all forms of undemocratic governance. The major lesson to be drawn from the study is that there is no African country where democracy and constitutionalism can be thought of as firmly consolidated and secure. The number of countries which are declining due to failed or flawed electoral processes, or which show signs of stagnation, far exceed those that have improved to one degree or another. Current developments are not random ad hoc efforts to undermine the credibility of elections and democracy but rather, rational and well-calculated responses by ruling African elites who seek to perpetuate their rule. What this points to is the need to rethink strategies for promoting genuinely competitive elections, democracy, and constitutionalism.

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