Is a Successful Democracy Possible in Postcolonial Africa?

Is a Successful Democracy Possible in Postcolonial Africa?

The formations of internal government systems in various parts of Africa, occurred after achieving independence from European colonialism around the 1960’s. These governments have generally consisted of authoritarian and military regimes, which have produced ethnic conflicts and civil wars. Typically, the elimination of a single-party government system is a dangerous process that can endanger the lives of the citizens. However, there are rare instances in which the transition of power is peaceful. A simple election, or certain regime change can lead to a more democratic form of government. The democratic process of government appears in the early 1990’s, with some striving for stability in hopes of receiving aid from the Western societies. (2) In “Democracy in sub-Saharan Africa: It’s progress, even if it’s patchy”, information is presented through various case studies. The application of the most different systems design is used, which is a comparative method discussed in “Introducing Comparative Politics.”(3)

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Zambia is one of the countries selected as a positive basis for a comparative analysis of governmental or party transition throughout the rest of the continent. The country exhibits a peaceful democracy, and in the recent election, voices were heard and the Presidency was won by the oppositional party. “The people of Zambia have spoken and we must all listen,” said former President Rupiah Banda. (2)

Despite Zambia’s successful transition to democracy, other repressive regimes are still prominent. Swaziland has an absolute monarchy, Algeria and Ethiopia are controlled by authoritarian and military regimes. Democracy is the ultimate goal, but the foundation of this form government is lacking. The action of oppressed citizens, causes a disturbance among the remaining authoritarian regimes. Angola has a dictator, and due to the rise of facilitated government takeovers, conflicts have appeared. (4)

Nigeria’s attempt at democracy has failed. The election process is corrupt; ballot shortages, crime, oppression, and neglect by the government occur. Many citizens are so frustrated that they no longer acknowledge the legitimacy of the government and do not vote; feeling that they are wasting their time. They have realized that the system is not democratic, but attempting to model new government formations after Zambia would be ideal, even though the process of power shifting will not be peaceful. (5)

Protests have appeared in various parts of the continent, this resulted in a chain reaction increasing the demand for democracy. The legitimacy of the leaders that have been in control for many decades and exhibit a single-party, militaristic, or personalist regime are in question. The citizens of these countries want a change in their governmental system and are united for the cause. Once the leader is overthrown, factions will start appearing and the people will no longer be united. Ethnic, religious, and economic conflicts will arise over the eligibility of governmental control. Legitimacy and charismatic leadership are necessary for the next organization that comes to power. Ethnic conflicts were exacerbated during the period of colonialism, by creating classifications of different ethnic groups and appointing power to those who were deemed acceptable. The term “tribe” is another classification and is mainly associated with Native Americans and Africans. Rather than incorporating words such as nations or ethnic groups, this term was used to describe an inferior societal population that was viewed as negatively primordial. Division of ethnicity and religious conflicts may lead to consociationalism, but ultimately relative deprivation will occur. (3) The goal for these countries striving for democracy, is to avoid another type of authoritarian regime which can cause more divisions within society.

During the earlier reconstruction of governmental control, authoritarian regimes surfaced. Semi-authoritarian regimes incorporated elements of democracy, such as having elections, but ensured that the current leader remained in power. This gives the citizens a false sense of democracy which in turn, increased legitimacy; ironically these regimes were originally in place to create a democracy. The semi-authoritarian regime incorporated ideological hegemony by following self-interest within the process of economic development. This was justified by connecting democratic and authoritarian ideologies, claiming to further the economic development of the country with new system being necessary to achieve success. This idea correlates to the third dimension of power due to influencing political demands of the citizens to correspond with the interests of the regime. (3)

Another classification is the modernizing-authoritarian regime. The importance of development was emphasized, which claimed to be more beneficial to the process, rather than individual rights. Knowledge, education, and national unity were used for the foundation of the legitimacy of elitists. Personal accounts of the oppressive modernizing-authoritarian regime were discussed by Former MDC treasurer Roy Bennett, who was ultimately exiled from Zimbabwe. Mugabe rid himself of any serious competition by any means necessary such as: murder, military reinforcement, taking control of farms, and exiling rebels in order to maintain control. The government claimed to be fighting for democracy when in reality, the government was oppressive. The people were allowed to vote, as long as it was for the current regime in power. (6) This form of government also existed for about 20 years in Tanzania. This was justified by suggesting that Western government was based on class distinctions and because they had very few differences, opposing parties were unnecessary. Nyerere, who was President at the time, envisioned a return to a precolonial economy by instituting a form of socialism. Since the precolonial society was around 400 years before his time and remains of any system were non-existent, his facts were distorted. He created the utopian idea, that all Africans used worked together as one, when in reality, they had their own class distinctions just like the Western societies. Due to lack of cooperation, force was used to paint his vision. This eventually bankrupted the country and instead of fixing the problems caused by his vision, he simply resigned the Presidency. (3)

Bureaucratic-authoritarian also incorporated the conceptual ideological of the third dimension of power, and this was established in Brazil. After World War II, a semi-industrialized economy, with a form of quasi-fascism existed, but eventually returned to the democratic form of government. However, this was short lived when the military overpowered the government. The protesting of the lack of economic equality was viewed as a threat to the development of the country. To combat possible revolutions, the military assigned a new governmental system. A newer version of modernizing-authoritarian was implemented. The legitimacy of the bureaucratic-authoritarian regime involved the focus of the expansion of industrialization and economic development. The return of regime characteristics from the previous system including quasi-fascism occurred. (3)

People wanted their voices heard and this argument seemed convincing enough to diminish the interest of returning to a democratic system. This was no longer politically salient, and democracy was suppressed. The military leaders thought of themselves in a primordial sense of elitists, deserving of power, and recruited civilians to help increase their legitimacy. While this model did work at creating economic growth, most of the people were still poor.

In the past, legitimacy was more traditional with kingdoms, and charismatic with outspoken revolutionaries; now the intent is to achieve rational-legal legitimacy via elections and strive towards becoming a democracy. (3) However, during this process the conflict of neocolonialism arises. Instead of economic development, the focus is on maintaining and supporting relationships with the former colonizers, ensuring wealth for the elite, while neglecting the rest of the country. Violence, corruption, misuse of resources such as oil were rampant. These relationships appear to be more important than citizens of their own country and legitimacy is questioned. The legitimacy in Nigeria is questioned due to the intense divisions between ethnic and regional differences. Internal investing was placed elsewhere and economic development of the county suffered; relating to the exercise of neocolonialism. The constructive process of colonization utilized the third dimension of power by embedding different mindsets of economic, ethnic, and religious ideologies, that were profitable for the former colonizer. (5)

Despite conflicts within authoritarian regimes; a successful transition of government has occurred in Botswana comparable to Zambia. After gaining independence in 1996, consistent elections have occurred in Botswana. The country has a genuine interest in economic development and has resisted neocolonialism. Having a legitimate democracy like Zambia, has made Botswana one of the most successfully run countries in Africa. (1)

Due to the colonial past of Africa, democracy is hard to attain and sustain. Zambia along with Botswana have set a new precedent in allowing a peaceful transition of governmental power, as well as within elections. The ousting of an oppressive regime in 1982 in Mauritius, paved the way for a chance of accomplishing a democracy. (2) Many obstacles have hindered the concept of democracy by leading postcolonial governments into a form of an authoritarian regime, such as, semi-authoritarian or modernizing-authoritarian. The focus is on the former colonizer and not the actual economic development of the country. The country’s development is ignored in exchange for personal gain. However, the fact that there have been successful governmental transitions, within postcolonial African states, proves that the achievement of a flourishing democracy is possible.

References: Is a Successful Democracy Possible in Postcolonial Africa?

“Democracy in Africa: A Good Example | The Economist.” The Economist – World News, Politics, Economics, Business & Finance. The Economist, 22 Oct. 2009. Web. 07 Oct. 2011. <>.

“Democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa: It’s Progress, Even If It’s Patchy | The Economist.” The Economist – World News, Politics, Economics, Business & Finance. The Economist, 01 Oct. 2011. Web. 07 Oct. 2011. <>.

Drogus, Carol Ann., and Stephen Walter Orvis. “Chapters 1-4.” Introducing Comparative Politics: Concepts and Cases in Context. Washington, DC: CQ, 2012. Print.

Greenblatt, Alan. “Democracy Steadily Takes Root In Africa : NPR.” NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR. NPR, 01 Oct. 2011. Web. 07 Oct. 2011. <>.

Perry, Alex. “A Failure of Democracy in Nigeria – TIME.” Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews – TimeWorld, 23 Apr. 2007. Web. 07 Oct. 2011. <,8599,1613615,00.html>.

Reporter, By Staff. “Zim’s Bitter Battle for Democracy: Bennett | The Zimbabwean.” The Zimbabwean | A Voice For The Voiceless. The Zimbabwean, 10 June 2011. Web. 07 Oct. 2011. <>