The peaceful conclusion of the recent tripartite elections in Tanzania, and the smooth transfer of power from former president Jakaya Kikwete to the incumbent John Magufuli, represents yet another milestone in Africa’s quest for the entrenchment of a democratic culture on the continent.
The Tanzanian election was the fifth since the county restored multiparty democracy in 1992. Some few months ago, the continent witnessed another historical moment when former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan willfully handed over power to an opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari in what was heralded as unprecedented from an African political perspective.
A little earlier in the year, Mozambique demonstrated that it is on the right track towards consolidating democracy, through a peaceful election which saw a new Filipe Nyusi taking over the reins of power from Armando Guebuza, through the peaceful portal of the electoral ballot.
For those who religiously espouse democracy as the ideal system of political governance, the three cited cases should be a just cause for celebration. Similarly, for the advocates of democratic governance in Africa, three peaceful elections in a single year, in a continent marred by a plethora of disputed electoral processes, present a positive statistic, providing the impetus to carry on with the democracy crusade.
Africa has, in recent decades, showcased itself as a continent that is a mix bag of political twists and turns. While the democratic torch is shining brighter on one part of the continent, undemocratic tendencies continue to surface and resurface on the other side.
As Tanzanians are celebrating yet another success story, just a few hundred miles away, in neighbouring Burundi, a flawed electoral process and failure to uphold democratic ideals, is slowly plunging the country on a dangerous path towards political chaos, which is threatening to tear the tiny east African nation apart. Politically orchestrated revenge killings have become a daily occurrence in and around the country, prompting the United Nations Security Council to issue a resolution on the country.
Across the frontier, Rwanda has progressed steadily in political stability and economic progress after the tragic events of 1994. However, the country’s democratic credentials have long been questioned. With the current leadership firmly in control and general elections beckoning in just over two years, political movements on the ground have started pointing towards a possible third-term bid for the incumbent leader. Africa may again witness an electoral process which could end up generating more questions than answers.
At the inauguration of President Magufuli in Tanzania, the leaders from Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe were captured in smiling mode as Kikwete and Magufuli publicly embraced after the former had handed over the reins of power to the latter. The presence of the three leaders at the ceremony could easily be interpreted as an endorsement of the whole process. However, questions could be asked if at all there has been a conviction among them that the events in Dar es Salaam are worthy emulating or whether the lessons learnt are worthy taking back to their capitals.
My story would not be complete if I do not highlight the recent events in the two Congos. With elections in both countries still months away, lives have already been lost on the streets of Kinshasa and Brazzaville, reason? The leadership in both Congos is currently embroiled in controversial campaigns to change their countries’ laws to suit what is being perceived as personal political ambitions. The warning signs for the emergence of new flashpoints of electoral violence, emanating from failure to properly manage democracy, are now there for all to see. Yet these potentially dangerous scenarios have provoked little or no serious response from the leadership in Africa. That Africa’s democracy is once more coming under the threat of bad leadership appears to be of remote concern to the African Union, as characterized by the muted response of Africa’s political leadership.
Yet the unfolding events in the two Congos have the potential to unmake recent the positive gains from the electoral processes in Tanzania, Nigeria and Mozambique.
Interestingly, African leaders have in recent years sought to make commitments, to enhance and entrench democracy on the continent. The elaboration of the African Charter on Democracy, Governance and Elections, which was adopted by the African Union Assembly, in January, 2007 was seen by many as move in the right direction towards the institutionalisation of a democratic culture on the continent.
Article 5 of the charter calls upon State parties to take all the appropriate measures to ensure constitutional rule, particularly constitutional transfer of power. However, the fact that eight years after its adoption, only 10 out of the continent’s 54 countries have ratified the Charter speaks volumes of the commitment African leaders attach to the question of democratisation.
Meanwhile, as Africa’s leaders continue to grapple with the realities of democracy, and elections both of which are considered building pillars for sustainable development, the continent’s 500 million citizens can only pray and hope to one day live in a space where decisions about the future of their nations are no longer a prerogative on sole and mortal political strong persons, but rather a reflection of the majority will. Tanzania has once again just demonstrated how a peaceful transition and transfer of power is done. It remains for other African countries to follow.
- The author is a civil servant writing in his personal capacity. He has special interest in human rights and governance issues.