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Africa’s fragile democracies stall

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Aug.20.─ Some call it Africa’s second liberation. After freedom from European colonisers came freedom from African despots. Since the end of the cold war multi-party democracy has spread far and wide across the continent, often with impressive and moving intensity. Remember 1994, when South Africans queued for hours to bury apartheid and elect Nelson Mandela as president in their country’s first all-race vote.

Many of Africa’s worst Big Men were swept away. Mengistu Haile Mariam fled Ethiopia in 1991; Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) decamped in 1997; a year later Sani Abacha of Nigeria died in office (or, as rumour has it, in the arms of prostitutes).

In parts of Africa autocrats are still in power and wars still rage. But most leaders now seek at least a veneer of respectability; elections have become more frequent and more regular; economies have opened up.

And yet, as our reporting makes clear (see article HERE), African democracy has stalled—or even gone into reverse. Too often, it is an illiberal sort of pseudo-democracy in which the incumbent demonises the opposition, exploits the power of the state to stack the electoral contest in his favour and removes constraints on his power. That bodes ill for a continent where institutions are still fragile, corruption rife and economies weakened by the fall of commodity prices (one of the fastest-growing regions of the world has become one of the slowest). For Africa to fulfil its promise, the young, dynamic continent must rediscover its zeal for democracy.

Lost in democratic transition

The latest worrying example is Zambia. It was one of the first African countries to undergo a democratic transition ...

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