Democracy in Africa

Democracy in Africa
South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar, left, alongside President Salva Kiir after being sworn in at the presidential palace.

Autocracy and social and political instability has for a long time hovered its dark cloud over Africa. Leaders on the continent have made significant changes to turn the continent around for the better towards democracy and good governance. Democracy refers to a form of government where a constitution guarantees basic personal and political rights, fair and free elections, and independent courts of law.
In order for democratic systems to bear fruit, politicians and authorities need to uphold the constitution. Among the basic requirements of democracy, Africa continues to make strides in the guarantee of basic hudman rights, the equal right to vote and good governance, which refers to a focus on public interest.

Even though the continent is still yet to ensure that full democratic requirements are upheld by politicians and authorities, here are 8 significant strides that the continent has made towards democracy:

 

SOUTH SUDAN

South Sudan
South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar, left, alongside President Salva Kiir after being sworn in at the presidential palace.

In South Sudan, a unity government has been formed by President Salva Kiir as part of progress at ending more than two years of conflict that saw more than 2 million people fleeing their homes. South Sudan’s rebel leader Riek Machar has been sworn in as vice-president, and so far, members of his party have secured the petroleum and interior cabinet posts, while members of Kiir’s party secured the defence and finance portfolios.

A peace agreement signed by both leaders in August 2015 expands the government to 30 ministerial positions and parliament to 400 members, and their joint administration seeks to improve economic management, boost security, reduce corruption and stamp out human-rights abuses before elections within 30 months.

The President has stated his main priorities as ensuring a permanent ceasefire, stabilising the economy and ensuring humanitarian access throughout South Sudan.

SENEGAL

With a political trend of African leaders holding office for extended periods of time, the Senegalese people voted to cut presidential mandates from seven to five years from 2019 in March this year.

The electoral commission said 63 percent had approved the changes proposed by President Macky Sall. Other proposed changes to the constitution include limiting the age of presidential candidates to 75, allowing independents to run for office and opposition leaders to be officially recognized by the constitution, reaffirming the limit to two presidential terms, local councils to get more power and citizens to have rights to a healthy environment and over natural resources and land ownership.

Leaders seeking to extend their rule particularly in Burundi and Congo have triggered violence, resulting in the deaths of politicians opposing the moves and citizens fleeing their homes.

SOMALIA

In March this year, Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke added his signature on an online petition demanding the total ban of female genital mutilation.

The move has been a significant step towards eliminating the practice in the nation where it is most prevalent. Even though the procedure is against the constitution, it has not yet been outlawed in the East African nation, where more than 90% of young girls undergo FGM according to estimates by UNICEF.

Civil society groups hope that his backing will push a pending anti-FGM bill through the Somalian parliament. Legislation will then have to be enforced along with public awareness to ensure that the practice is completely eradicated.

BOTSWANA

With homosexuality remaining illegal in most African countries, Botswana’s highest court rejected an attempt by the government to ban a gay rights lobby group in March this year, providing a rare victory for African gay rights campaigners in the nation.

The ruling challenges an anti-gay agenda pursued by the government of President Ian Khama in Botswana, where engaging in homosexual acts remains illegal. The Court upheld a 2014 lower court judgment that the Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana should be allowed to register and campaign for changes in anti-gay legislation.

Gay rights lobby groups welcomed the ruling, stating that it is one of many steps ensuring the promotion and protection of the human rights of the LGBT persons in the country.

MALAWI

Chief Theresa Kachindamoto
Chief Theresa Kachindamoto of of the Dedza District in the central region, Malawi.

In the sphere of local government in in Dedza District in Malawi, Chief Theresa Kachindamoto, who worked as a secretary at a city college in Zomba for 27 years before being inaugurated as chief, has broken up over 800 child marriages and has sent all of the involved children back to school.

Experiencing resistance in the common practice of girls as young as 12 years old being married under customary law of the traditional authorities even though Malawi’s parliament passed a law forbidding marriage before the age of 18, Chief Kachindamoto has since changed the law in her area of authority, banning early marriage under customary law and annulling any existing child unions. She also assists in the education of young girls, and has established a task force of parents who ensure that girls remain in school. The Chief has also succeeded in banning cleansing rituals, in which girls endure sexual abuse at sexual initiation camps that are meant to prepare them for marriage, in her area of authority.

She is now taking her cause to parliament where she hopes that the minimum age of marriage will be changed from 18 to 21 in an effort to break a cycle of rural poverty, which is exacerbated by problems such as drought and high HIV/AIDS rates.

CôTE D’IVOIRE

Cote D’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara has made strides in ending monopoly in the electricity and water distribution sectors by opening them up to competition to cut prices for consumers and companies in the West African nation.

He has since called on all interested parties to invest in this sector, which will see an end to the monopoly of the country’s main electricity distributer Cie Ivoirienne d’Electricite (CIE), which is a unit of Eranove SA with 56 percent being owned by private equity firm Emerging Capital Partners and 19 percent by Axa SA. Eranove also has a stake in Societe de distribution d’eau de la Cote d’Ivoire (SODECI).

The President seeks to decrease the cost to consumers, which went up by 50 percent in January this year, with the creation of several power companies as CIE’s current distribution is too expansive.

In 2015, the country’s government decided to increase electricity prices over three years in order to boost power production and improve transportation. It aims to double its power production capacity to 4,000 megawatts by 2020.

ETHIOPIA

The Ethiopian Ministry of Health is making strides in meeting more than 25 percent of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended annual blood collection with the construction of its first National Blood Transfusion Service Centre in Addis Ababa.

The facility, which is funded by by the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), will oversee the distribution of blood products, expanding access to blood transfusion services through rural and urban areas of Ethiopia. The facility will also provide the ministry with additional capacity to receive donations and to screen and process blood products, screen collected blood for transfusion transmissible infections such as HIV and Syphilis, carry out blood typing and prepare blood components, namely concentrated red cells, fresh frozen plasma, platelets and cryoprecipitate.

Improving blood transfusion services is key in the country which is home to approximately 26 million people to reduce the number of maternal deaths as hemorrhaging continues to be one of the leading causes of maternal mortality in Ethiopia, and adequately respond to car crash patients needing transfusions as car accidents account for more than 2 percent of all deaths in the country, this according to WHO.

The building of the centre will be located on a plot of land in the compound of the Ministry of Health, providing much needed support to 27 blood banks that are already operational across the country.

*AFRICAN UNION (AU)

African Union Headquarters
African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

African leaders are taking strides in combating desertification in the Sahel-Sahara region, which experts say is exacerbating poverty and insecurity, through the first ever international conference on the Great Green Wall in Dakar, Senegal.

Taking place in May, delegates from the north and south of the Sahara are meeting with experts and grassroots organizations in Dakar to strategize on how best to combat the desertification of the area. The Great Green Wall project, as it is called, was first proposed in 2005 and was championed by former Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade.

Part of the strategy of the project includes planting thousands of kilometers of trees and shrubbery from Senegal to Djibouti to stop the southern spread of the Sahara desert, which would counter current problems such as food shortages, insecurity, land degradation, declining agricultural productivity and insufficient job creation for rural communities.

The project also forms part of strategies from last year’s climate change summit which was held in Paris where world leaders pledged $4 billion over the next five years for the restoration of Africa’s landscapes.

Experts say that the conference is a positive move by African leaders as it shows strong political will and urgency in successfully rolling out the project. 

Lebo Matshego
South African journalist based in Johannesburg. A Wits University graduate, Lebo enjoys writing lifestyle and entertainment stories.