Jacob Zuma may force Africa to become more democratic. But will this lead to greater prosperity?by Paul Collier / October 25, 2008 / Leave a comment
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Richard Dowden closed his article on African politics ( Prospect, September) with the sentiment: “it could hardly be worse.” Even since he wrote, however, there have been two major changes. In Zimbabwe, Mugabe has made the sort of precarious deal that Dowden favours. In South Africa, which Dowden regards as the only African country to have evolved an appropriate political culture, Jacob Zuma has won the power struggle against Mbeki, who was forced to resign after the courts stopped the Zuma corruption trial. Are these events further setbacks, or is Africa on the turn?
The continent’s deteriorating political fortunes have been at odds with its economic ones. After decades of stagnation, Africa is growing, due to a combination of economic reforms and the booms in the region’s many commodities, such as oil, gold and rhodium. But will the region’s politics scupper this opportunity?
During the 1990s, the spread of democracy in Africa created the chance for citizens to hold their governments accountable. In 1991, Zambia’s gentle autocrat president, Kenneth Kaunda decided to have a fair contested election and was resoundingly defeated. A decade later, the incumbent president of Madagascar, Didier Ratsiraka, was also ousted, albeit more messily. But the June re-election of Robert Mugabe through crude and blatant voter intimidation, following deeply flawed elections in Kenya and Nigeria in 2007, calls into question whether, even with the basic institutions of democracy, these societies are capable of holding their leaders to account. Unlike many African countries, Zimbabwe had the full complement of democratic institutions: courts, legislature, and multi-party elections. What happened there is evidence of a disturbing trend: African presidents have learned how to get re-elected without the need for good governance.
For democracy to deliver any sort of accountability, it needs effective checks and balances. Dowden acknowledges this, but does not suggest how Africa might develop them. Zambia and Madagascar may now have some, thanks to the precedent set by presidential defeats, but it is hard to see how many others will get there. In Angola’s presidential elections in 2009, we can expect the opposition to be allowed to gain around 40 per cent of the vote for the sake of good appearances, but the chance that it might actually win is virtually zero. If genuine democracy in Angola and in other countries is to emerge, the region…