The State Of Democracy in Africa: half in Earnest, half in Jest

In 2017, what can be said about the democratic situation in African States? Whereas some countries are strengthened year after year, the democratic benefits often obtained come with difficulty and lots of sacrifices. Others don’t succeed in breaking free from the long-lasting and important lingering odour of authoritarianism. Whereas we witness pacific transfers of power and democratic alternations in some countries, we still deal with political leaders who use clever processes to unduly prolong their position as heads of the state. This is the demonstration that the obsession of power remains a perennial issue in the head of lots of political authorities in Africa. It shall be first specified that the democratic health condition of African countries cannot be determined only with regard to free and transparent elections in those countries. This would be  a really minimalist and subjective conception of democracy.

The Good Performers of Democracy in Africa

Ghana and Benin experienced last year, pacific elections and a democratic alternation at the head of the state. In these two countries, the political pluralism is seen as strength and is not stifled. Trade unions are well organized and constitute pressure means against the government. Benin is also the first country which organized the first national conference on the continent in 1990. Benin is moreover the pioneer in the establishment of an independent electoral commission. Benin is worthy  of note due the fact that this country didn’t stay paralyzed in a kind of excitement following this historical role of democratic precursor, but as the analyst Constantin Somé rightly underlines in his master’s thesis: « Benin distinguishes itself by its innovation ability in all fairness and transparency, which shows progress. Refusing the usurpation of political power by any group or faction that wouldn’t originate from the electoral body choice. This is why  an independent and autonomous « a mediator »  charged with elections has been established. Benin cultivates pacifism by an increasingly healthy management of electoral competitions and a progressive institutionalization of organs charged with regulating elections and above all their independence towards the government, the parliament and public authorities ». [1]

Ghana takes second place in Africa behind Namibia and the 26th at the global level of 2016 Reporters without Borders (RSB) ranking about press freedom. [2] This prominent place in this international ranking conveys the steady challenge of guaranteeing press independence and freedom of speech and opinion prerogatives. On the political level, the popular vote is respected and the losers accept their defeat. During the presidential election of 2012, Dramani Mahama was declared the winner by the Constitutional Court against Akuffo Addo after recourse of the latter before the said court. Following this sentence, he admitted his defeat and called Mahama to congratulate him. In 2016, the outgoing president Mahama was defeated by Akuffo-Addo during the elections and admitted instantly his defeat. This gives every reason to believe that the Ghanaian democracy is constantly growing.

Still in West Africa, Senegal is also an avant-garde in terms of democracy in our continent. Even if this country has known intermittent episodes of « crisis », it always knew how to recover. The longstanding and strong tradition of activism in the political, community and trade union spheres (Ex : Collectif Y’EN A MARRE, Raddho, Forum Civil as well as other organizations of the civil society and lively and committed political parties) forms a significant safeguard against authoritarian and anti-democratic vague desires. President Wade’s defeat against his opponent Macky Sall in 2012, the constitutional referendum organized in 2016, illustrate the healthy democratic condition of this country and the desire of citizens and political leaders to preserve the Senegalese democratic ethos. The insular States that are Cape Verde and Mauritius deserve as well to be mentioned as model democracies in the continent. These countries experience a political stability which is in particular the result of an institutionalization and of the respect of democratic rules and practices that govern the public action as well as the private sphere.

In respect to South Africa, it is a democracy which works well generally. Unlike a lot of countries in our tropics, we can add to the credit of this nation that the judicial power is still independent from the executive one. As proof of this, we can quote the legal problems of president Zuma entangled in corruption and abuse of power scandals. We all recall the reports of the Republic ex mediator Thuli Madonsela who revealed in all independence –even if she suffered political pressures- the « Nkandlagate » which refers to the renovation of a private residence with public funds and also the case concerning the narrow collusion between Zuma and the wealthy Gupta family. Even if the targeted murders are plentiful in this country, we can still notice that on the institutional field, freedom of speech is guaranteed and respected, as shown by EEF (Economic freedom fighters),deputies’ severe grumblings of Julius Malema during parliamentary sessions in the presence of president Zuma.

Sao Tomé and Principe is a democratic role model in Africa. Even if this little country, not much strategic in a geographical and economical perspective arouses little interest for the international observers and analysts, the essentials of democracy are established there and have value. The same analysis can be made for Tanzania.

According to a 2014 Reporters Without Borders (RSB) rank about press freedom, Namibia is the only country in Africa to get a score more or less similar to Scandinavian countries’, performing better (19th at global level) than France (37th) and many more countries of the Old Continent. Namibia is also the first African country to organize presidential and legislative elections by electronic vote in November 2014.Botswana is also quite reputable for its democracy. This country organizes regularly free and transparent elections, has good results in respect of good governance and fight against corruption even if we cannot ignore the coercive and repressive measures taken against the San minority, also called Bushmen. In North Africa, Tunisia tries to stand out from his neighbours. Tunisia adopted a progressive constitution and organized in 2014, free and transparent elections. Trade union or civil society activism such as the UGTT (Tunisian general union of work) and the Human rights league in Tunisia (LTDH) has without a doubt been an essential contribution in this democratic burst.

The political systems resistant to the long-term establishment of democratic principles

Alongside these countries that show notable democratic profiles, there are countries that counteract the good effects and are  still hostages to authoritarian systems or insufficiently democratic. In Africa, many regimes establish “cosmetic” or facade democracies. Many regimes claim that they become infatuated with democracy fundamentals such as multi-party system, free and transparent elections, Rule of law and basic law, even though the running of their countries reflects clearly an arbitrary power, autocratic or/and corrupt…the choice is yours. The Great Lakes region of Africa (Uganda, DRC, Rwanda and Burundi) and countries such as Eritrea, Gambia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Egypt, to name but a few, are among many that are far from having achieved the advisable or desired standards of a democracy. It is clear that the democratic situation of these countries is not utterly uniform. Some of these countries are led by tyrannical and last-ditch regimes, frontally resistant to populations’ democratic ambitions. Whereas in other countries, despite serious democratic gaps, some basic democratic principles are relatively, sometimes according to the desires of the regime, well promoted and applied.

African populations and especially the youth are very thirsty for democracy to freely express their potentials. They don’t want be stifled anymore by authoritarian obsolete drifts. Lately, we saw how Yahya Jammeh’s regime in Gambia attempted to carry out an illegitimate takeover in order to stay in power despite his defeat. This megalomania got fortunately what it deserved: a failure. The African Union as well as the sub regional organizations must assume an active role to stop the authoritarian momentums. It will be good when African democracy rises from the ashes and moves forward to progress!


[1] Somé, Constantin (2009, pp.31-32): “Pluralisme socio-ethnique et démocratie : cas du Bénin », a dissertation made to achieve a Master in political science at Quebec University in Montreal.


[2] RSF rank:

Translated by

Corinne Espartero


Governance and climate change adaptation: Roles and challenges of African countries

Today, it is a fact that risks due to climate change are a serious threat to our societies. The concept of “climate governance” used by climate experts appeared in this context.

Govern the climate? This question is doubly puzzling. For what reasons? What historical process? With what methods?

Climate is, firstly, a matter of geography, then of physical and atmospheric sciences. How has climate become an object of governance at the end of the 20th century? Is climate can actually be governed, when we daily witness on TV tornadoes, floods and extreme weather disturbances all over the world?

Governance applies on many levels, and we can retain three dimensions: An international, national or regional and then a local dimension. We talk about local, territorial, corporate, employment and global governance. In addition, the word “governance” derives from the Latin "gubernare" which means governed, to pilot a ship. So, this is the art or manner of governing, by promoting a business management model.

According to Jacques Theys governance is:  "a managerial conception of public systems and it basically intends to find pragmatic solutions to market or public intervention failures" (Theys, 2002).


The objective of this article is to determine the climate issues in Africa and the role of African States in global climate governance.


First, Africa is a continent that consumes little power with 621 million people that don’t have access to electricity. Then, from one country to another, differences are huge. For example in DRC access to electricity is of 16%, 53% in Botswana and 85% in South Africa. Besides, this is also in Sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, where the consumption is up to 139 billion KWH for a population of 860 million, which is far less than in Spain, 243 billion KWH for a population of 47 million inhabitants (Le Monde, 2016). For example, a Tanzanian will consume in eight years as much energy as an American in a month. Moreover, in Great Britain, a  kettle used by a family consumes five times more electricity than the average annual consumption of a Malian.

However, even though Africa is the continent that contributes the least to global warming worldwide, 4% against 15% for the US and 26% for China, it must be said that Africa faces the full brunt of the climate change effects with the multiplicity of recent years floods and droughts on the continent. It is urgent to take action and to adapt to climate change knowing that a temperature increase of two degrees could cause a decline in agricultural productivity, up to less than 20% in 2050, which would worsen the food crisis. This adaptation should be both political and environmental to protect against major risks of climate change. Indeed, the most commonly used definition of human adaptation systems to climate change is the one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): an "adjustment process to the current climate or expected as well as its consequences, so as to minimize detrimental effects and to exploit the benefits. " This definition refers to both current and future climate, and considers both natural and anthropogenic climate change.

Does Africa have the means to adapt and govern climate risks?

According to the UN, Africa’s adaptation costs to climate change amounts to 45 millions euros per year by 2050. The issue of climate finance from Northern countries to the benefit of countries of the South was one of the challenges of COP21. Indeed, a support fund would find alternatives to charcoal, which is widely used in Africa, 4 out of 5 Africans use it for cooking. The consequences of this use are ecological but also sanitary. Each year, 600,000 Africans die from inhalation of this fuel, it is almost as much as much as malaria and HIV. Renewable energy is a new alternative that is why more and more African countries rely on green energy. Thus a country like Ethiopia has decided to develop renewable energies to reduce climate risks.

Resolving problems related to climate change is also initiating governance at global and local levels that will find adapted solutions to climate risks. What is the role of Africa in global climate governance? The Paris conference on climate change in December 2015 has once again demonstrated the ridiculous place of Africa in the various issues of climate negotiations. This can be explained by the fact that for African countries, the main objective is economic development. But economic development without environmental concerns is it sustainable? The issue of climate change is therefore put at the second place in the hierarchy of needs in Africa, enough to retain a single point on the various African climate concerns: support to poor countries to adapt to climate change and reallocate 1000 billion $ of private investment towards low carbon economy.


All in all, the African continent remains fragile on the various threats related to climate change. Even though important initiatives around a green economy are erected in some countries that are ahead in energy policies like Morocco with the world's largest solar park, a local work will need to be done. To drive a real momentum in the fight against environmental changes, it starts with empowerment of local and regional civil awareness. This extension of ecological civic consciences towards nature will allow a better consideration for environmental concerns in African issues. This will pave the way for a better valorization of African local and regional initiatives in the development of environmental programs worldwide. So far the influence of Africa in this geopolitical climate is very limited.

Translated by Anne Sophie Cadet