Africa Why Democracy Has Taken Hold in Some Countries Term Paper

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Africa - Politics

Africa and democracy haven't always been two words that go together well, because following the colonization of much of Africa, democracies were established but they struggled (and sometimes failed) to become stable -- and many continue to struggle today. This paper reviews the democratic movements in Africa, some of which failed, and some have succeeded. This paper also projects the success or failure of future democracies in Africa.

What are the primary characteristics for the existence of a democracy?

A democracy is far more than just the establishment of government institutions and the setting up of a constitution. It is more than just a set of values, rules, laws, and the election of the people who are sworn to uphold those values, rules, and laws. According to the U.S. Department of State, a democracy is a government in which "…power and civic responsibility are exercised by all adult citizens" (State). The power in a democracy can be exercised either directly, or by elected representatives whose elections took place in a free and open environment.

A democracy is based on "the principles of majority rule and individual rights," and moreover, those leaders in a democracy must constantly be cognizant of the rights of citizens to enjoy free speech and freedom of religion (State). There should be "equal protection under the law" for the citizens, and the citizens should have the un-hindered opportunity to organize into political parties and become fully enfranchised into the "political, economic and cultural life of the society" (State).

Besides their rights under a democratic form of government, citizens must also accept the responsibility to fully participate in the political system that is what actually protects all the rights they have been accorded in their legal constitution. Also, in a democratic society there is generally a series of private institutions and organizations, offering a diversity of opportunities for those citizens that wish to get involved; this is called "pluralism" (State).

Why were African countries at independence mostly democracies?

Professor Apollos O. Nwauwa (Kent State University) points out that Western democracies (America and Western Europe) have viewed democracy as though it is exclusively a product of their societies. Also, the bias in the West toward Africa has led to the belief that Africans are "incapable of democratic thoughts" and that democratic values and practices are "alien to the African continent" (Nwauwa, p. 2). However, the facts show a different side to the issue, Nwauwa asserts.

What has been "consistently ignored is that democratic values and processes have been as indigenous to Africans as they were to ancient Greeks" (Nwauwa, pp. 2-3). Indeed, traditional African political cultures did practice democratic values, and though they didn't necessarily resemble Western democracies, in pre-colonial Africa "…everybody participated according to his ability, ages-status, and wishes…everybody was invited to offer the cooking of his mind" (Nwauwa, p. 6). Hence, the answer to the question is that because African countries were generally speaking participating in democratic values prior to colonization, they logically attempted to return to those values.

What made democracy in Africa so tenuous and fragile to overthrow?

Through the use of force -- military might that was far superior to African defense systems -- the European nations that colonized Africa pushed their way into power. Nwauwa explains that "…existing democratic values…were undermined and replace with the dictatorship of the colonial governors" (p. 13). With "little or no regard" for African values and cultural traditions, the European powers established governors who then administered by "authoritarian bureaucracy" and any resistance by indigenous people was considered "damnable subversion" (Nwauwa, p. 13). African chiefs became nothing more than "errand boys" for the governors,

Identify examples of African countries that retained democratic institutions.

Ghana has certainly become a shining example of democracy in Africa. When the president of Ghana, John Atta Mills, passed away in July, 2012, he was followed in office by his vice president, John Dramani Mahama. That transition went exactly the way Ghana's constitution provides that it should. The election to replace Mills was carried out smoothly in December, 2012, and those elections were "competitive, fair, and peaceful" (Mbaku, 2013). In fact Mahama won the presidency and was sworn into office without rancor or protest.

Moreover, Ghana has shown vital leadership in opening its government to transparency, Mbaku writes in CNN. Corruption…[continue]

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