Understanding the significance and nature of events that occurred in what we know as the “defeat” of communism that ushered in an unprecedented democratic breakthrough, Africa precisely experience an increase in democracy-from three in 1990 to twenty-four in 2008.
We understand that we live in a democratic age and it can be successfully argued that democracy “has become the standard form of government for humankind” and “is the sole surviving source of political legitimacy” based on the options and gains that it presents provided “we live by its letter”.
The events and subsequent journey of democracy in Africa, often slow-paced and hindered by different factors, has been exceedingly far from smooth, presenting to us a process which is far from being complete across the continent and even regressed in several others as the journey has been a “treacherous” one.
Over the years, democracy values have come to include human dignity; free and fair elections; the rule of law; equality before the law; and human rights and freedoms, including freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association. It can be argued that “the weakness of democratic values among key elite groups and the general public” is the most prominent factor responsible for transitions away from democracy to authoritarianism. Further to this, it is the one serious impediment to democratization. Falana in 2008 through a paper titled “Challenges of Democratic Transition in Africa” argues that “To move Africa forward, emerging democratic governments would have to confront a legacy of poverty, illiteracy, militarization, and underdevelopment produced by incompetent and corrupt governments.”
Several governance challenges still exist, all of which have negative implications for democracy, these includes; dismal state of press freedom, the proliferation of restrictive laws, entrenched leaders and the abuse of term limits, weak regional human rights mechanisms, and the absence of economic competitiveness. Although the factors inhibiting democratic values are varied, they remain connected and invariably underscore poor leadership, particularly on the part of Africa’s political elite.
Military Intrusion in Politics
In democratic terms, the most explicit form of military intrusion in politics is the military coup d’état – the military execution of a “sudden and unconstitutional change of government or regime”.
It is important to understand that, broadly, a military coup can occur in a democratic or an undemocratic state. The extent of freedom experienced by citizens underscores the fundamental differences between these two forms.
African militaries, in particular, because of their historically negative impact on development and influence over democratization, therefore have an important role to play in relation to democratisation. They must understand and accept their role in relation to the political sphere. This will lead to what civil-military relations scholars refer to as “democratic control” of the military. Without the military’s acceptance of the principles of democratic control, democracy cannot exist. The most important among these include accountability before civil authorities; adherence to the rule of law; transparent planning and budgeting processes; respect for human rights; submission before political control over operations and expenditure; regular consultation with civil society; and military professionalism.
By Seyi Bankole