Can democracy work in Africa?

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Allegations of vote-rigging have mired elections in both Zimbabwe and Cameroon, and risk overshadowing upcoming polls in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Vote fraud appears to have become a trend across the African continent, begging the question of whether democracy is really working for Africa.

“Although elections are not working particularly well, I don’t think the alternative of shutting down elections leaves us in a better position,” says Nic Cheeseman, co-author of the book How to rig an Election.

From Cameroon and Zimbabwe to the Democratic Republic of Congo, opposition leaders are crying foul, saying their country’s election was rigged, or is about to be.

“What frustrates me is that there are countries where we regularly send election monitors, where we see election monitors saying there are numerous problems with this election and these recommendations are never put in place,” Cheeseman told RFI, commenting on his experience covering the Zimbabwe presidential election in July.

“Democracy is not working at all in Africa,” reckons François Ndengwe, president of the African Advisory Board.

“It’s not working at all because of external forces that are enforcing a world order.”

West ignores African traditions

The end of the Cold War in the early 1990s brought with it a new wave of political and economic liberalisation that swept away long-standing autocratic leaders.

Yet, in its desire to promote democracy, the West neglected to build upon Africa’s own democratic traditions.

“Africa has not been given the possibility to fully choose their leaders,” continues Ndengwe. “The fault is not only on Africa, even those who trumpet from outside that they’re supporting democracy, they are the same people who will support leaders who are not obeying their people, because these leaders are more easily manipulated to serve their interests.”

Another criticism of the West is that it has used foreign aid as a tool to promote its own agenda.

However, this form of intervention has reached its limits.

“The US, the UK, France, Germany, are not as powerful as they used to be,” says Cheeseman.

“The rise of China, the production of alternative models, the fact that African governments have a choice now of where they can get their economic support has weakened the position of those countries.”

  • RFI
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