Published by ACFIM on

Democratic backsliding in Africa

(Courtesy Photo)

Democratic erosion may be better than democratic cataclysm because it is less likely to be kinetic, but cumulative decline still presents us with profound challenges. These comments were made by Mr. Jude Obitre, an associate of King’s College London on ACFIM’s weekly virtual talk show last Friday.

Mr. Obitre acknowledged that the unregulated use of money plays a big role in determining electoral outcomes hence disrupting democracy. Since money is a critical enabler in manipulating votes, many of the leaders that win are not proficient enough which explains the deficit in leadership and governance in Africa. Mr. Obitre also described elections in Africa as bitter struggles to access power and state resources. Electoral manipulation equals to money squared, Obitre said.

According to him, democracy in Africa has been weaponized because power revolves around those who hold the gun pointing at the electorate. Africa is caught between democracy on one hand and authoritarianism on the other. He blamed the army for militarizing the politics of many African countries suggesting that they need to take a back seat role. This militarization of politics in many countries in Africa has undermined democracy. He also called for the need for a strong constitutional culture that isn’t altered by the incumbent when as they please. 

In a paper recently presented by Mr. Obitre, he alludes that at a more general level, slow slides toward authoritarianism often lack both the bright spark that ignites an effective call to action and the opposition and movement leaders who can voice that clarion call. Executive aggrandizement takes place precisely where a majority that supports exits. Strategic electoral manipulation takes place where incumbents already deem themselves capable of either securing or reinforcing majority support.

Since both forms of backsliding emerge precisely where oppositions are already weakened by performance failures and internal divisions, mustering the power of numbers to reverse them is especially hard. Even when opposition leaders succeed in mobilizing mass action against a stolen election, their success is often heavily dependent on foreign allies.

In his paper, Mr. Obitre, highlights that domestically democracy is on the lower trajectory because of the alterations in electoral laws, district boundaries, electoral commissions, and voter-registration procedures which may seem too arcane to be the stuff of mass mobilization. Court-packing and media restrictions are probably easier to frame as dangers to democracy, but the jurists and journalists who are likely to mobilize in opposition to these maneuvers can easily be counter framed as “special interests” or tools of a discredited old order.

According to Mr.Obitre, civic organizations representing disadvantaged groups of other sorts can be framed and silenced as tools of foreign forces. The fact that they often are funded from abroad makes this especially likely and effective. Piecemeal erosions – salami-slice strategy of autonomy may thus provoke only fragmented resistance.

Electoral turnout, partisan affiliation, and interest group membership all have significantly declined, transforming the participant component of the civic culture. Confidence in government and in public officials has declined even to a greater extent, reflecting the spread of an alienated subject mentality. The Civic Culture rested on an “allegiant” subject mentality, and a constrained and filtered “participant mentality”.

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