Representative government is still on the march in Africa, despite recent hiccups
Mar 31st 2012 | FREETOWN AND JOHANNESBURG | from the print edition
WHICH way will African politics go? The way of Senegal, where the president conceded electoral defeat on March 25th to a younger rival, extending a democratic tradition unbroken since independence in 1960? Or is nearby Mali a more troubling bellwether? A few days before Senegal’s vote, junior army officers stormed and looted the presidential palace in the Malian capital, Bamako, abruptly ending a 20-year stretch of democracy that had raised hopes for the wider region (see article).
Sad tales like Mali’s dominate news from Africa, yet in the longer term its political norms have evolved more towards politicians in suits than mutineers in battle fatigues. Democracy south of the Sahara may be sloppy and haphazard, but electoral contests and term limits are increasingly accepted as fixed rules, to be flouted at a would-be ruler’s peril, rather than distant ideals. Today only one African state, Eritrea, holds no elections. Even Mali’s coup-plotters have sworn to hold them soon. Tellingly, the country’s neighbours united in a storm of protest. “We cannot allow this country endowed with such precious democratic instruments, dating back at least two decades, to leave history by regressing,” said Alassane Ouattara, the president of Côte d’Ivoire.