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
Published in October 2008 issue of Prospect Magazine
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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, legis…