A presidential election in Togo and Ivory Coast, legislative elections in Guinea and in Ethiopia. The year 2020 will be rich in elections for Africans. Do they guarantee a full and complete democracy? Nothing is less sure. Because despite the strength of the African political sphere, democracy is in decline. This is the finding of the latest index from The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a group of researchers affiliated with the British magazine of the same name, on the subject. In this 12e edition, analysts, deemed demanding, assessed the level of democracy in the countries according to five criteria: the electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, political culture and the state of civil liberties. The result is a classification, in which the 165 states studied are classified according to four types of regime: “full democracy”, “imperfect democracy”, “hybrid regime” or “authoritarian regime”.
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Africa in decline
Even if an overall decline in democracy was observed in 2019 – the index, at 5.44, is the worst score observed since its creation in 2006 – Sub-Saharan Africa appears to be a bad student alongside all regions of the world. Its index, at 4.26, is the lowest since 2010. In question, according to the report: regressions noted in the electoral processes, and less political pluralism. In Niger and the Comoros, for example, “the authorities have implemented rules prohibiting opposition figures from standing in the presidential election”, justifies the study. In Nigeria, although the February 2019 general elections were deemed free and fair, the electoral process remained unsatisfactory, EIU said.
For economists, the prevailing security situation in the country has indeed hampered the vote, and is one of the main reasons for the low voter turnout, at only 34.8%. “Low voter turnout, caused by declining interest in voting, but also by transportation or electricity issues, hampered the electoral processes that took place in 2019,” said Benedict Craven, economist in charge of the Middle – East and Africa within the EIU. Another element pointed out by the researcher, “the changes of Constitution”. An initiative that is on the rise in Africa and which, for Benedict Craven, is “an open door to the manipulation of the population”.
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Despite poor results in most African countries, analysts have noted some progress. They welcome, for example, the election in Madagascar, which, despite controversies around its candidates, “Held free and fair elections”. Another good African student in the study, The Gambia, whose analysts welcome the launch of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Responsible for shedding light on the crimes perpetrated under Yayah Jammeh, the body participated in the promotion of human rights in the country, and in the citizen debate. In the Maghreb, Tunisia is collecting the good points from EIU analysts. The country, whose ranking has increased again this year to 53e world rank, brilliantly passed the test of free elections, despite an unfavorable context with the brutal death of Béji Caïd Essebsi.
The initiatives of the new Ethiopian and Angolan presidents, Abiy Ahmed and Joao Lourenço, are also welcomed with optimism by the study. But because of “the rigidity of these patronage-based systems, which have been entrenched for decades, they will be difficult to reform,” she warns. “In Ethiopia, positive reforms have been launched, but it will take patience to reap the benefits,” says Benedict Craven. The creation of the Prosperity Party, the grand coalition of Abiy Ahmed, is also open to question. Now that the opposition has joined him, where is the counter power? This is not a good sign for Ethiopian democracy. “An observation which, for the economist, justifies the country’s position in 125e place of the index, and its classification in the group of “authoritarian regimes”.
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Expectations around Algeria and Sudan
A status that Algeria no longer has in the new classification. Now a “hybrid regime”, the country has moved up 13 places, going from 126e at 133e rank. The numerous and regular demonstrations, which led to a presidential election in December, have boosted democracy in the country. Despite everything, the situation remains fragile. Certainly “Abdelmajid Tebboune won a clear victory with 58% of the vote,” said the study. “However, the candidates were all generally close to the army, and many opposition supporters boycotted the elections.” Benedict Craven confirms: “Despite a year of hirak and elections, the army is still there. “
This military hold on revolutions, the study also observes in Sudan. The country, which has gained eight places in the ranking thanks to the explosion of “political participation”, is on the verge of a profound change. Omar el-Béchir dismissed, the members of the Sovereign Council have the heavy task of driving the democratic transition. But here too, the process remains tangible. Because the influence of the army in the political sphere remains strong. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the Transitional Military Council, is indeed the president of the Council for his first 21 months. “There is a real risk of not seeing the promises of the transition materialize. Sudan has a long way to go, ”warns Benedict Craven.
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One of the biggest question marks of the study remains the Sahel. The violent security crisis in which the region is mired amplifies “gaps” already noted for several years in the area of democracy. Above all, it makes Burkina Faso and Mali “more and more dependent on their former metropolis, France”, which analysts describe as “low level protectorate”. A trap, into which the region and its governments are gradually locking themselves, “who have lost control over the situation”, deplores Benedict Craven. The region’s planned elections this year will be a final test.