African nations have faced economic hardship and corruption, leading to social and political movements demanding government accountability and policies to improve living standards. Financial struggles have mobilized citizens to seek systemic change, resulting in protests, crises, and coup attempts between 2019 and 2023.
Despite its vast mineral wealth, Africa remains home to some of the poorest economies globally. Within its 54 countries, the World Bank has identified 22 of them as either fragile or conflict-affected. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war have exacerbated economic conditions. This has led to high inflation rates and escalating public debt across the continent, resulting in hardships, extreme poverty, underemployment, and unemployment, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
Among all regions, Africa has borne the brunt of income loss, severely impacting impoverished households. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reveals that the poverty headcount rate, based on a daily income of $1.90 purchasing power parity (PPP), has increased by 3% due to the pandemic, compared to pre-COVID-19 projections for 2021. In 2019, approximately 478 million people in Africa lived in extreme poverty. But that number rose to a staggering 490 million individuals living below the $1.90 PPP per day poverty line in 2021—an alarming surge of 37 million more impoverished individuals. That in itself is brewing agitation across SSA countries.
Addressing these challenges is crucial for Africa’s development and stability. Stakeholders need to make a concerted effort to tackle corruption, promote transparent governance, and implement policies that foster economic growth and inclusivity for a more prosperous future for the continent. Also, international collaboration and support can play a vital role in assisting African nations to overcome these daunting obstacles and uplift their societies toward greater prosperity and well-being.
Emancipation from false democracy
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – Lord Acton, Nineteenth-century British Historian.
Democracy in Africa falls far short of the standards seen in most developed countries, where the sanctity of the constitution is paramount. Throughout the decades, a lack of accountability has allowed political officeholders to flout constitutional provisions and manipulate laws for personal gains, disregarding the well-being of citizens. It has become a dishearteningly common occurrence to witness heads of state, having served their official terms, colluding with corrupt lawmakers to craft a new constitution that accommodates their desire for extended tenures. These politicians seem to be tethered to the seat of authority, unwilling to allow anyone else the opportunity to lead their nations.
In Nigeria, democracy often appears as an organized charade orchestrated by corrupt officials who show little interest in remedying the nation’s economic challenges. In places like Zimbabwe, South Sudan, and Cameroon, critics have long regarded democracy as merely a facade that serves the interests of the political ruling class. Similarly, we observe seemingly endless democratic reigns in countries such as Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Chad, and Eritrea, where heads of state have clung to power for decades, presiding over repressive governments.
However, amidst these disheartening realities, a glimmer of hope emerges as people awaken to the true ideals of democracy. Sub-Saharan African governments are witnessing and experiencing street protests (e.g., Nigeria’s #EndSARS movement), civil conflicts (as seen in Sudan), and coup d’états (such as those in Mali, Niger, Chad, and others). These actions serve as clear signs that citizens are demanding political and socio-economic emancipation from their current oppressive realities.
As the call for genuine democracy gains momentum, there is a growing urgency for transformative change across the continent. Leaders must heed the voices of their citizens and work towards a truly inclusive and accountable governance that prioritizes the welfare and aspirations of the people. Only then can Africa move closer to realising the full potential of democracy and achieve meaningful progress for its societies.
A spate of coup d’etat, post-colonial revolt, regional defiance and emerging alliances
“Transparency is not about restoring trust in institutions. Transparency is the politics of managing mistrust.” – Ivan Krastev, Bulgarian Political Scientist.
African politics have experienced significant disruptions in recent times, with eight successful coup d’états in Francophone regions between 2021 and now, showing the deep hunger for economic transformation. Most remarkably, these crises have displayed resistance to post-colonialism among Francophone countries, reflecting the deep-seated sentiments these nations hold towards their former colonial ruler.
On a call with Ventures Africa, Oluwapelumi Obisesan, a PhD Candidate in Development Studies at the SOAS University of London, explained the distinctive dynamics that persist between the French government and its former colonies. “What we are seeing now is a revolt against that status quo,” Obisesan commented.
Regardless, the root cause of civil crises in many conflict-ravaged societies continues to be corruption, lack of transparency, government loyalty to the French and widespread mistrust. Politicians’ failure to gain the confidence of their electorates has led to citizens’ defiance and, in some cases, widespread support for military takeovers. “Many of the Presidents who were ousted from power by the military were perceived to be pro-France. And the support from the populace only goes to show how much citizens have become wary of France’s influence,” she stated.
An illustrative example of this trend can be found in Niger’s recent coup d’état, where thousands of citizens took to the streets to support the military takeover, expressing their disillusionment with the democratic system. Notably, they also voiced their disapproval of their former colonial rulers, the French government, with some even flying the Russian flag in allegiance.
Unfortunately, regional blocs have been ineffective in restoring peace and order to the conflict-ravaged zones, indicating a loss of respect and faith in these institutions by their members. A recent incident involving Sudan’s General Yassir al-Atta illustrates this point, as he declined a Kenyan-led proposal for East African peacekeepers to intervene and end the conflict. Similarly, military leaders in Niger warned the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) against any military intervention, signalling a growing reluctance to rely on regional bodies to address the crises.
The failure of regional blocs to effectively address these challenges and restore peace further exacerbates the situation, leading to citizens’ loss of confidence in democratic processes and a turn towards military interventions as an alternative.