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Rethinking Democracy in Africa

Rethinking Democracy in Africa

In recent years, Africa has witnessed a resurgence of military coups and coup attempts, leading many to wonder whether the continent is on the brink of a return to the era of military rule. The emergence of what some are calling the “West African Coup Belt” and the “Sahel Coup Zone” has raised concerns about the stability of democratic governance in the region. Surprisingly, in some East African countries, there are citizens who express frustration with the state of affairs and are even praying for coups. To understand this phenomenon, we must delve deeper into the underlying reasons why some Africans see military government as an alternative to democratic rule.

A Historical Perspective

Africa’s history is marked by a series of military coups and authoritarian regimes, which have left a lasting impact on the collective memory of its people. The coups of the past often claimed to be driven by the need to rectify the failures of civilian governments, promising to bring stability, development, and prosperity. While many of these coups failed to deliver on their lofty promises, they did succeed in perpetuating the idea that the military could be a source of salvation in times of crisis.

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The 1969 Libyan revolution led by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and the 1960 Ethiopian coup attempt against Emperor Haile Selassie serve as examples of successful military takeovers that garnered popular support. These coups were perceived as responses to entrenched corruption, mismanagement, and socioeconomic problems. Even more recently, the 2017 Zimbabwean “non-coup” saw elements of the military seize control in a bid to address the socio-economic challenges facing the country.

The Perceived Failure of Democracy

One of the key reasons why some Africans view military government as an alternative to democracy is the perceived failure of the latter to deliver on its promises. In many African countries, democracy has been associated with corruption, political instability, and a lack of accountability. Citizens have grown disillusioned with elected leaders who often prioritize personal gain over the welfare of the nation.

Source: World Values Survey, 2017-2022; Infoprations Analysis, 2023

This disillusionment is further exacerbated by economic disparities and the persistence of poverty in many African nations. When people perceive their government as ineffective in addressing these issues, they may turn to the military as a force that can restore order and enact necessary reforms. The World Values Survey reveals that a significant number of citizens in countries like Libya, Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria, and Tunisia see the military as a potential solution when governments prove incompetent.

The Role of Perception

Perception plays a crucial role in shaping the view of the military as an alternative to democratic governance. When citizens witness successful military takeovers that promise to address their grievances, it reinforces the belief that the military can be a viable alternative. Conversely, when coups fail or lead to prolonged periods of instability and repression, these perceptions can change.

The media and political discourse also influence how the military is perceived. In some instances, military leaders may present themselves as saviours, framing their actions as necessary interventions to protect the nation. This narrative can resonate with a frustrated population seeking change.

A Way Forward

While some Africans may see military government as an alternative to democracy, it is crucial to recognize that coups often come at a steep price. Military rule can lead to human rights abuses, erosion of civil liberties, and a lack of political pluralism. Sustainable solutions to Africa’s governance challenges must prioritize strengthening democratic institutions, improving governance, and addressing economic disparities.

Ultimately, the cycle of coups and counter-coups is not a path to lasting stability and prosperity. It is imperative that African nations work toward building accountable and responsive democratic systems that can deliver on the promises of good governance. Only then can the allure of military government as an alternative be replaced with confidence in the democratic process.

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