Book chapter

Democracy and the Question of Its Feasibility in Africa (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Until the end of the 1980s, most observers believed that democratic prospects in Africa were limited, given the low level of economic development, the absence of strong nation-states, and the inexistence of a long history of social and political pluralism. However, beginning in 1989, a wave of popular protests demanding democratic reforms swept the continent. Within a couple of years, virtually all the countries liberalized their political systems. Since then, Africans have shown consistently that they strongly prefer and support democratic rule. At the same time, democratic institutions such as electoral commissions and constitutional courts have taken root on the continent. These developments suggest that the question of the feasibility of democracy in Africa is no longer relevant. Nonetheless, the existence of democratic demands, support, and institutions does not mean that democracy is easy to establish and consolidate. In many African countries, democratic gains are reversible and face several hindering factors, including state weakness, autocratic mindset, unstable and divided civic and political organizations, and widespread identity politics. This is why the level and quality of democracy on the African continent vary dramatically from country to country and from one region to another.