Post-colonial democracy in Africa has become a farce 60 years after colonial rule “ended.” The infancy of democracy on the continent has been castrated by one-party states and old strongmen. Though 60% of the continent is under the age of 25, nearly 1/5th of the heads of state across Africa have been in power for longer than 20 years. This generational gap accentuates the underestimation of the infancy of democracy on the continent, as well as the overestimation of the extent to which cultures and identities had become ‘post-colonial’ and cosmopolitan.
People from Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Ghana, Niger, Guinea, Tanzania. Ivory Coast & Uganda all will head to the polls by years end, yet in half of those elections the winner is already known. In Ethiopia, Western Sahara, Libya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo & Nigeria social justice movements and perpetual conflict have stymied the marginal improvements of the people since the break from colonial rule. In Rwanda & South Africa, nations seen as miracles in the post-colonial era, opposition is silenced and executive powers are becoming increasingly centralized.
Several trends favor the autocrats. Freedom House’s average global score for freedom has declined for 14 consecutive years. New surveillance technologies let autocrats snoop inside dissidents’ phones, making it easier to harass them. Polls by Afrobarometer, a pan-African research organization, find that the share of Africans who say they are free to say what they think declined from 79% in 2008 to 70% in 2018. Multilateral institutions on the continent, such as the Southern African Development group, & its West African equivalent, ECOWAS, have been inept in criticizing the backslide to authoritarianism with member states participating in the degradation of democratic norms. Yet as the struggle for democracy in Africa shifts into a new decade, there is significant cause for optimism. As seen in many countries beyond the continent, demography is destiny.
The imbalance between how much democracy young Africans want and how much they have is altering political dynamics. Almost 60% of Africa’s population were born in the 21st century, detached from the ideological motives that ground the repressive & corrupt nature of the old guard. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs projects that the world’s 10 fastest growing cities, between 2018 and 2035, will all be in Africa. The combination of youth & urbanization is only now beginning to manifest itself into a semblance of a new political wave rising across the continent. Whether it is Mali’s successful June 5 movement which overthrew the government of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Nigeria’s #EndSARS movement, & the current campaign of Ugandan’s “ghetto president” Bobi Wine, the struggle for the future of the continent is as generational as it is political.
It goes without saying that the future of democracy in Africa is in the hands of the people. Democratic institutions on the continent were half-baked due to maintained colonial interests following the wave of independence in the late 20th century. However, for the first time since that era, young Africans are developing a self-determination that is rooted in African interests as opposed to those of the west & the world at large. As a continent with 54 countries, over 2,000 languages, & almost 750 million people under 25, these next 60 years can be the birth of an Africa whose countries are free, prosperous, and empowered. The old strongmen & young peoples are both realizing this essential truth, demography is destiny.