Overall, the last six
months demonstrated again that while
Africa’s road to democracy is long and winding, nonetheless African citizens
and their leaders are finding their way. African countries have been in
democratic transitions of one form or another for more than 25 years. Substantial
progress has been made. There are more democratically elected governments on
this continent than ever before. Our democracies are no longer interludes
between other forms of rule: democracy is becoming entrenched with more
peaceful transitions of power than before. Our democracies are also becoming
more complex, with decentralization and local democracy becoming more
Democracies in Africa
are growing deeper roots, and this is something we must welcome and support. I In
Liberia, for the first time in that country, there has been a peaceful and orderly
transition from one elected president to another. In Kenya, elections were marked
by the widening of democratic institutions under the new decentralized
constitution. The African Union observed both elections. In these two
countries, democracy has been supported by the actions of an independent
judiciary. In Ethiopia, the ruling party has very recently taken a significant
step, to foster national consensus and widen the democratic space, through the pardoning
of convicted members of political parties and other individuals or the
suspension of ongoing judicial cases. In Zimbabwe, following a peaceful
transfer of power took place following the decision of President Robert Mugabe
to step down from his position as Head of State.
The African Union
Constitutive Act is unequivocal in its affirmation of constitutional democracy.
It does not recognize unconstitutional
change in government. Africa also possesses important continental instruments and
institutions dedicated to upholding human rights, democracy, and the
participation of civil society.
The African Union’s greatest
strength is the enduring enthusiasm of African citizens for democracy. The
turnout in elections is generally high. Voters wait for their chance to cast
their ballots with exemplary patience. National election monitors and
journalists scrutinize the campaigns, the voting and the counting with
commendable rigour. Election commissions and the judiciary carry out their
onerous duties with a sense of responsibility, despite meagre resources and
sometimes intense pressure.
However, the price of
democracy is constant vigilance to respond to the needs of the people. This
vigilance is particularly necessary today because we have witnessed some
electorates, in countries with strong democratic traditions, succumbing to the
allure of authoritarian populism and xenophobia. Here in Africa, we are not
immune from these trends. We have a fast-growing population of young people,
who are well-connected through social media, and have high aspirations, but may
be frustrated by lack of employment opportunities and other unmet expectations.
We are buffeted by mass migration and the rollercoaster ride of boom and bust in
economies that, largely depend on natural resources. Our airwaves and social
media are conduits for the appeals of extremists. We have yet to see systematic
hacking of African voters’ rolls, or systematic manipulation of voters’
opinions using social media, but have good reason to ensure that the enemies of
democracy are not able to sabotage these mechanisms, and undermine our people’s
faith in free and fair electoral processes.
But without a doubt,
trusting in the wisdom of the people is a surer path to good governance than
any other route. I implore the leaders of Africa to take risks for democracy,
and I applaud those who have been ready to do so.
Going forward and as
part of the efforts to strengthen the democratization process on the continent,
the Commission will build on the outcomes of the 6th High Level Dialogue in December
2017 in Pretoria, under the theme Enhancing Youth Participation and
Representation in Governance in Africa.
The Dialogue was held as the
African Union celebrated the Tenth Anniversary of the adoption of the African
Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, Africa’s foremost democratic
governance normative instrument. The Dialogue recommend, among others, the
development of continental guidelines that will provide a framework for the
facilitation of after services provisions for Former Heads of State and
Government, as well as for their continued contribution to the agenda of our
Union, including by serving as special envoys.