The state of democracy in sub-Saharan Africa

A coup attempt was foiled in Gabon days ago. Protests are ongoing in Sudan as citizens want the president out. Usually, dissent rises when democracy is not allowed and leaders hold on to power .

As Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa prepare for elections in 2019, we take a look at the state of democracy in Africa, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index.

Countries are scored based on different categories, including electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, civil liberties and regime type.

“A notable improvement has been made in the political participation category over the past five years, as elections have become commonplace across much of the region,” the report says.

“In 2018 SSA’s average score for the category improved to 4.37 (up from 4.32 in 2017). Improvements in six SSA countries drove this rise, including in Djibouti, where representation of women in parliament rose to around 26 percent following the holding of elections in February 2018. Progress in this area has also been supported by increased political activism and protests throughout 2018 in Uganda, highlighting a growing willingness of the population to demand political reforms.”

However, the score for electoral process weakened slightly to 4.30 in 2018 (down from 4.31 in 2017). The report noted that while elections have become commonplace across much of sub-Saharan Africa, the regional score for electoral processes has been persistently low, reflecting a lack of genuine pluralism in most SSA countries. This is evident in the fact that around 18 African presidents have been in power for more than a decade. An example is Cameroon, where the president secured a seventh term in elections held in October in a poll characterised by low voter turnout amid poor security and severe irregularities.

Political culture, which assesses the population’s perceptions of democracy, deteriorated to 5.24 in 2018 (from 5.27 in 2017). SSA’s average score for civil liberties also remains poor relative to global standards, weighed down by continued attacks on the media and on freedom of expression by governments in several countries. From Tanzania, where the government introduced prohibitive regulations on online content providers via expensive licensing requirements in 2018, to Togo, where the government has regularly placed bans on opposition protests denouncing the rule of the Gnassingbé family, freedom of expression is threatened across Africa. That said, score for civil liberties improved marginally in 2018, to an average 4.51, up from 4.5 in 2017, with greater civilian freedoms in Gambia, where the president has taken steps to promote media freedom and in Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has freed several political prisoners.

In 2018, Mozambique’s regime type changed as its score deteriorated to 3.85 in the Democracy Index, and is now classified as an authoritarian regime (it was previously classified as a hybrid regime). The deterioration in Mozambique was triggered by a disputed municipal election in October 2018, which risks destabilising an ongoing peace process between the ruling party, the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique, and an armed opposition party, the Resistência Nacional Moçambicana. In contrast, Ivory Coast was upgraded to a hybrid regime as democratic improvements were recorded in three categories (electoral process, functioning of government and civil liberties) after the country held a broadly free and fair municipal elections in October 2018.

Mauritius is the only full democracy in SSA. In many other countries in the region, scores have fluctuated over the years, with changes often noted around electoral cycles.

This is how countries holding elections in 2019 ranked on The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index

Country Rank on the EIU Democracy Index (in SSA)
Nigeria 20
South Africa 4
Senegal 8
Mozambique 23
Mauritania 24
Comoros 26
Malawi 11
Botswana 3
Namibia 7

Also published on Medium.