THE BLOG

Weekend Roundup: Democracy’s Faltering Steps In Africa

Elections in Rwanda and Kenya yield mixed results. In South Africa, cronyism wins the day.
Kenyans line up to vote at a polling station in Nairobi this week.
Kenyans line up to vote at a polling station in Nairobi this week.

The first two weeks of August have been big ones for Africa. Rwanda and Kenya held elections, and South African President Jacob Zuma survived yet another no-confidence vote in parliament.

In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame was returned to power for a third term. Despite criticism of his Singapore-like authoritarian bent, Kagame has nonetheless gone a long way toward healing the wounds of the genocidal tribal war over two decades ago. He has managed to put his country on a steady path to greater prosperity by maintaining political stability while investing in education, health and women’s empowerment.

“We must develop the capacity to govern effectively and deliver in order to guarantee internal cohesion with the full participation of citizens,” Kagame wrote in The WorldPost in 2014. “Without resolving governance, growth cannot be sustained nor can it contribute to development.” While the official returns for Rwanda’s election reporting that he won around 98 percent of the vote are surely exaggerated, there is little doubt that Kagame has succeeded in creating a sense of social cohesion from which all progress follows.

That is not the case in Kenya. Post-election violence after the 2007 election resulted in brutal bloodshed. While the election commission declared incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta the winner of this week’s election, the main opposition candidate Raila Odinga is crying foul, claiming the voting process was hacked

Writing from Nairobi on the eve of the election, Salim Lone, a longtime Odinga adviser and a former spokesman for former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, argued that Odinga is “Kenya’s only political leader with passionate support beyond his own ethnic base” and is uniquely positioned to lead the country toward inclusive economic development. Lone, above all, places his hope on the upcoming generation. “Kenya’s youth in particular,” he writes, “are leading a new push to disrupt the sectarian ethos that had long been considered unbreakable.”

Christine Mungai concurs on youth disruption. Reporting on a local election in Nairobi’s Starehe constituency, where three young candidates were vying for office, she asks: “In a country where ethnicity is the dominant form of political organization, will the ‘youth vote’ make a difference?” Locally, small change along these lines seems possible, she concludes, with this constituency perhaps representing “ground zero for a demographic shake-up that has been a long time coming in Kenyan politics.” But for the country at large, it may take a while, she says. Mungai quotes a young data analyst to explain why: “Tribal politics is so endemic in this country that most youth political organizations coming up are easily splintered by appealing to ethnic identities.”

Nanjira Sambuli, also writing from Nairobi, traces the impact of fake news in the run-up to Kenya’s election and ponders what it means for the discourse going forward. “If, indeed, the information [young voters] have been exposed to online gives birth to a new way of dividing the country along ethnic lines,” she speculates, ”‘fake news’ will have succeeded in swaying the very generation many have hoped would break this cycle of polarization” Mungai and Lone reference.

Writing from the coastal city of Mombasa, first-time voter Aleesha Suleman surveys artists, activists, Uber drivers and other fellow Kenyans about the election. She finds both a resigned cynicism among citizens over votes that never seem to change anything, and a belief in the value of democracy that will one day fully triumph. 

Nic Cheeseman, Justin Willis and Gabrielle Lynch trace the history of electoral misconduct in Kenya’s past to explain why the opposition refuses to just quietly accept official results.

If Rwanda is a bright spot and Kenya a question mark, South Africa is definitively moving backwards following a failed effort this week to oust President Zuma. As Ferial Haffajee writes from Johannesburg, “South Africa’s young democracy has gone from being led by someone revered as a saint to being run by a man many consider a hustler.” Nelson Mandela’s vision of a “rainbow nation” that brought all ethnicities and parties into one big tent, Haffajee concludes, “has been replaced by Zuma’s crony nation.”

This sad turn of events echoes what the late Nobel novelist Nadine Gordimer foresaw in an interview with The WorldPost three years ago. Mandela’s time, she said, “was the best of times for us, to come out of the racist hierarchy of apartheid. But now we’ve had many disappointments, and the most troubling one is the corruption: the politicians getting greedy and looking after their own comfort, security and luxury, in many cases with public money.” She went on: “I am afraid that we have not done with our freedom what we said we were going to do. And that makes it now the worst of times because it is a great disillusion, having emerged from a terrible past while we are making in many ways a mess of the present.”

A roadmap for managing China’s rise

Also this week in The WorldPost, Fu Ying, the chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress, reflects on how China is growing more confident in its new role as a global leader. “China is not only new to its global role; it has proposed a departure from how great powers have operated in the past that we believe is best suited to today’s highly interdependent world,” she writes from Beijing. “We will have to accumulate experience along the way, learning from our mistakes as well as our successes. It is up to us to prove by our actions that our own dream of rejuvenation is compatible — a shared destiny — with others trying in turn to realize their own dreams.”

Other highlights in The WorldPost this week:

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Jared Cohen of Google Ideas provides regular commentary from young thinkers, leaders and activists around the globe. Bruce Mau provides regular columns from MassiveChangeNetwork.com on the “whole mind” way of thinking. Patrick Soon-Shiong is Contributing Editor for Health and Medicine.


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From the Europe group, these include: Marek BelkaTony BlairJacques DelorsNiall FergusonAnthony GiddensOtmar IssingMario MontiRobert MundellPeter Sutherland and Guy Verhofstadt.

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