In The Joy of Politics I examined various political institution in countries which were scheduled to hold elections of some sort in 2016. Included in my sample was a handful of countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
I noted additionally that certain observers were optimistic about the prospects for democratic regimes across the African continent. Not so Karl Maier.
In a note appended to Bloomberg’s “Balance of Power” newsletter of August 3, entitled “Africa’s Democratic Dreams Are Put to the Test,” Maier expresses caution with regard to electoral contests in three key African states, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and South Africa. Maier’s pessimism is in large part in reaction to the outcome of the first post-Mugabe elections in Zimbabwe.
The scenes of soldiers firing on protesters in Zimbabwe’s capital and the litany of election flaws detailed by international observers gave President Emmerson Mnangagwa a bittersweet victory in this week’s vote – originally billed as heralding the southern African nation’s renaissance.
Over the next 12 months, three crucial elections in Africa – in Nigeria (the most populous nation), Democratic Republic of Congo (physically the biggest), and South Africa (the most industrialized) – may determine whether democracy is a force for good or a catalyst for division.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, 75, is facing a wave of defections from his party before February’s vote, while Congo’s opposition fears Joseph Kabila will change the rules so he can stand for a third term in December.
Cyril Ramaphosa’s ascendancy to the South African presidency initially energized the African National Congress, but now the ruling party is nervously tacking left – announcing a new drive to expropriate land without compensation – in part over fear that it could lose its parliamentary majority.
In Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa struck a conciliatory tone: “Though we have been divided at the polls, we are united in our dreams.” There’s little sign the losers in Africa’s latest democracy test agree.