In the last month or so, my beloved continent, Africa, a place many archeologists and historians believe is the cradle of humankind has been engulfed in political mêlée: from the election impasse in Cote d’Ivioire, the South Sudan referendum, the protests in Tunisia and Algeria to opposition demonstrations in Tanzania.
Like Mozambique in the later part of 2010 where people successfully protested against rising food, electricity and water costs, the protests in Tunisia, Algeria and Tanzania have largely been labelled as riots. These protesters are NOT
rioters; they are well intentioned people standing up against leaders and governments that do not have regard for people’s democratic rights and do not care about people’s welfare. Most leaders in Africa only worry about winning the next election. Thanks to the perfection of means by ruling parties on the continent; incumbents hardly lose election in Africa. We have seen elections in Zimbabwe and Kenya that have have produced no winner or loser, giving these two terms their literal meaning. Laurent Gbagbo is currently trying his luck in Cote d’Ivoire, and why not? Throughout the short history of modern democracy in Africa, only Ghana, regarded as the best democracy on the continent, has managed to change governments through the ballot. Is this a coincidence?
Now it would appear Africans, especially those in the aforementioned countries are fed-up with electoral democracy in Africa where people’s role is only to put leaders into power then the electorate must leave at the mercy of governments’ decisions and policies that hardly take people needs into account. People are quickly realising that they are not only there to vote leaders into power; the people are also there to ensure that elected officials do not abuse their position but act according to stipulations of their office and heed to the wishes of the electorate. Unleashing trigger-happy police on innocent protesters in order to call them rioters can not mask the undemocratic nature of the majority of the African leaders.
The protesters are doing exactly what democracy is all about: government of the people, for the people and by the people. That is how democracy must be measured if there was ever a yardstick. The Sudanese referendum and the Cote d’Ivoire’s electoral stalemate have grabbed most of the spotlight; Africa and the rest of the world will undoubtedly learn a thing or two about African democracy, its future and the capabilities of African Union in resolving tricky issues. But the events in Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire will not define African democracy. The people will. It is time to pay attention to the growing wave of protests on the continent.