When it comes to leadership and democracy, Africa is not stereotypically known for best practices in either ideal. Instead, we hear of the gross abuse of human rights and of tyrannical governments with leaders who cling to power for decades.
Democracy can roughly be said to be the rule of the people, by the people, and for the people. However, for some time, democracy in Africa has meant something else: the rule of the poor majority by the rich minority for extended periods of time.
Before the scramble for Africa by Europeans in the 19th century, Africans had centralized forms of government. There existed kingdoms with clearly defined leadership structures, such as the Buganda Kingdom, which was located in present-day Uganda. If not structured as a kingdom, each group still had its own form of governance with clearly defined leadership structures. Leadership was either hereditary or passed generationally.
With the entry of the colonizing white man, many of these kingdoms, together with their systems of operation, were disrupted. The colonizer introduced his own form of governance, which was far from what Africans were used to. His religion, education, food and way of life were strange to them, and so naturally, they resisted.
After a long and bloody struggle for independence, African countries began gaining their freedom one after the other.
One common thing is that as the white man left, he left behind his ideals and culture, which quickly gained ground at the expense of traditional African customs.
With this pattern continuing through modern times, traditional governments are now gone, with Africans generally formulating new government structures based on their colonizers’ idea of government. Most of the leaders were either fighters during the struggle for independence, or educated fellows serving in the colonial governments. As if to justify and reward themselves for their “struggle,” these leaders held onto the power.
Some of the longest-serving leaders in Africa include:
Several coups have been staged, and people have hoped to see change of leadership and improvement. Unfortunately, the new leaders seemed to always turn out either same or even worse than their predecessors.
Recently, events have happened that have shown increased respect for democracy.
For instance, a Kenyan court annulled a presidential election in 2017. The contestants maintained their composure and agreed to participate in a rerun. Post-election violence has typically plagued Kenya, though it did not occur this time, indicative of a maturing democracy.
In another event, Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, resigned as president after being implicated in numerous corruption cases. His resignation, which was a first for an African president, has sent signals of maturing democracy in Africa.
The prime minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, also resigned as prime minister, sending the same signals to the world once again.
While democracy in Africa may still be a long way from reaching full maturity, it is evident that it is, at the very least, on a quickly-developing road to it.