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IS DEMOCRACY IN RETREAT IN AFRICA?

Africans fought very hard and sacrificed a lot, including their lives, to win political independence from their colonial masters and other oppressors. The high expectations at the time were that this would lead to political and economic freedoms. It was also their fervent hope that they would create free and just societies for all the people. Most countries had visionary and committed nationalist leaders, such as Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmed Sekou Toure, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenneth Kaunda, Milton Obote, Patrice Lumumba, Modibo Keita, among others.

These expectations were short-lived as military takeovers gripped the continent, particularly in West Africa. There was also a rush for one party systems in many countries, including Zambia. It took many years for the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to begin taking a stand against the unconstitutional removal of democratically elected governments and eventually declaring a policy of zero tolerance to military coups. We then began to see a new wave of democratisation on the African Continent, which sadly saw internal conflicts in a number of countries. Some of these conflicts are still going on in countries like the Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan, South Sudan, Democrat Republic of Congo, Burundi, Libya, among others.

We also witnessed a new generation of African leaders ascend to power and the hope then was that they would strengthen democracy and respect human rights of their people more than the leadership of freedom fighters. What did we instead see? We saw this new generation of African leaders become more repressive as they sought to muzzle the press, amend constitutions of their countries to extend their stay in power, plunder the national resources and coffers of their countries, deny legitimate opposition parties space within which to operate and even resist political dialogue, which is essential in every country that claims to be democratic. Democracy is rule by the people, where they make decisions through their votes during free, fair, credible elections, devoid of violence and intimidation. Elections are not about war. They are a mere contest for power, which permit citizens to change their governments from time to time. The sight of political party cadres carrying pangas, machetes, other offensive weapons and being transported by their parties, makes a mockery of democratic governance and a very negative advert of our continent. As someone who participated in the liberation struggle of Zambia and the African Continent, I could never have imagined that I would live to see Africans stand in queues to be auctioned for as little as US$200 and get into boats off the coast of Libya, to go and drown in the Mediterranean Sea, all in search of better lives in Europe and run away from the new African tyrants.

Democracy institutions such a parliaments, the Judiciary and a Press have succumbed and are on the retreat, fearing the new African dictators whose popular theme is “you are either with us, or against us”.

There is however a glimmer of hope in countries like Kenya where President Uhuru Kenyatta and the main opposition political party leader, Raila Odinga, no longer treat each other as enemies, but brothers committed to the peace and stability of their country and people. They have rejected violence, conflict and confrontation, in favour national dialogue and reconciliation. Recently in Ethiopia, the opposition leader was unconditionally released from prison, together with thousands of other opposition leaders by the government of Ethiopia, who have also opted for dialogue for the love of their country and people. Experience has shown in Africa and elsewhere, that where there is genuine democracy, respect for human and political rights, freedom of press, a free judiciary and an independent Parliamentary system, there is less recourse to violence. It is my hope that this new generation of Africans will be as brave and as courageous as my generation, by standing up firmly to defend democracy and ensure that our continent does not go backwards and re-earn the unwholesome distinction of being called “the dark Continent”. There is nothing dark about our continent. If anything, Africans must show that we are the continent of the future and that we have a new generation determined to correct past and current mistakes, move our continent forward and take its rightful place among the civilised countries and continents of the world.

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