Democracy in Africa has come a long way, and over the years, the continent has had its own fair share of struggles in building strong democratic institutions. From its shaky, unsure beginnings in the 1960s following the retreat of European colonialists, to its present status as the prevailing form of government across all Africa nations, democracy has grown in leaps and bounds on the continent.
Multiparty, representative democracy is arguably the best form of government, because it ensures transparency, fairness, and promotes an egalitarian society. Democracy also prevents tyranny and the injurious domination of one group by another. When properly implemented, democracy as a system of government is almost always accompanied by growth, progress, and the all-around development of a society.
But building strong and enduring democratic institutions anywhere in the world requires a great deal of effort. This fact has not been lost on many African nations, and an increasing number of them are putting concerted effort into strengthening their democratic institutions.
This small landlocked country is located in southern Africa and is perhaps the best example of strong democratic ideals on the continent. Since its independence from Great Britain in 1966, Botswana has never suffered a military coup or a non-democratic transfer of power. The country’s first post-independence leader, Seretse Khama, laid the foundation for a strong multi-party democracy.
Through qualitative leadership, Botswana and its 2 million citizens have managed to turn its fortunes around as one of the poorest countries at independence to its current status as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Its current per capita GDP of $18,825 is one of the highest in all of Africa. The country also ranks very highly on the global Human Development Index coming in at 106.
Senegal is regarded as one of the most successful post-colonial democratic experiments in Africa. The West African country of 13 million people has never suffered a military takeover of power. In 1980, Senegal’s first President, Leopold Senghor, set a precedent for the country’s future leaders after he voluntarily relinquished power and retired from public life.
The Senegal constitution describes the country as a republic with a president. The president is elected for a five-year term and is eligible for re-election. In 2008, Senegal ranked 12th on the Mo Ibrahim Index of African governance.
With a population of more than 50 million people, Tanzania is one of the most-populous countries in East Africa. Formerly known as Tanganyika, the former Arabian outpost and protectorate of Great Britain gained independence from the U.K. in 1961 and the Arab dynasty in 1963.
Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s prime minister under the British, became president at independence. Nyerere, who held power under a single-party system, helped Tanzania align with the left by adopting a socialist ideology. In 1992, the constitution was amended to allow for multi-party elections. The president of Tanzania and the members of the country’s national assembly are elected by popular vote for five-year terms. The country enjoyed another peaceful transfer of power last October with the election of John Magufuli.
After years of resisting colonial rule with the “Mau-Mau” uprising, Kenya won independence from the United Kingdom in 1963. At independence, Jomo Kenyatta and his Kenya African National Union party (KANU) formed a government with Kenyatta as the founding president. Like Tanzania, early post-colonial Kenya operated a single-party system of democracy.
When Kenyatta passed on in 1978, he was succeeded by Daniel Arap Moi. In 2002, a landmark election saw the defeat of Moi and the ruling KANU party by Mwai Kibaki of the National Rainbow Coalition.
Kenya went through a period of political upheavals during the 2007 presidential elections, which were marred by irregularities and riots, before degenerating into ethnically motivated post-election violence that resulted in the death of nearly 1,000 Kenyans. In the aftermath of the violence, Kenya’s democracy has matured and is much stronger today.
Kenya is also one of the few African countries that has never experienced a military incursion in governance except for the unsuccessful coup attempt of 1982 that was promptly put down by forces loyal to the government.
Zambia is a landlocked south African nation of 16 million people. It gained its independence from Great Britain in 1964 and Prime Minister Kenneth Kaunda was elected as president. Kaunda led for nearly three decades under a one-party system until 1991, when he stepped aside and the country launched into an era of genuine multiparty democracy.
In 2011, Zambia became one of the first African countries to see its ruling party lose to the opposition in the general elections after Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front Party defeated incumbent President Rupiah Banda. In 2010, the World Bank named Zambia as one of the world’s fastest economically reformed countries.