Panoramic View of African Democracy: “A Glass Half Full”
By Jesse N. Mongrue
The map above demonstrates that there is still a long way to go for full democratic process in Africa. Research findings about reform efforts placed African countries in six categories: full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regimes, authoritarian regimes, failed states, and no data (African Democracy, 2011). However, reformers are hopeful that progress has been made in a number of countries, as indicated on the map. Mauritius is one of the only full democracies in Africa. While it is true that the glass is half full when it comes to democratic reform, one can argue that a number of countries are making progress. Many wonders which way African politics will head in the twenty-first century. Will it take the path of Senegal, where its president conceded in an electoral defeat to a younger rival, extending what is considered a democratic tradition unbroken since the country’s independence in the 1960s? Or will African politics in the twenty-first century be like Senegal’s nearby neighbor Mali, where a few days before the Senegal electoral process, a group of junior army officers stormed and looted the Malian presidential palace in the capital of Bamako, ending abruptly the twenty-year democracy that raised hopes in Mali and the wider region.
Democracy in sub-Sahara Africa is taking an increasing downturn, while at the same time electoral contests and term limits are accepted as fixed rules. Many Africa watchers perceive a gradual erosion of the democratic process. A report from the Horn of Africa put Eritrea on record as the one African nation that holds no elections. In the 2011 general elections in Liberia, former warlord Prince Yormie Johnson cruised the countryside wearing a red fez. The veteran fighter was seen winding down a window of his Ford Expedition as he tossed banknotes at assembled voters and then speed off to the next village or town. At one campaign event Mr. Johnson lambasted the sitting Liberian president for corruption, while one of his aides fretted about running out of cash to pay off journalists for good coverage.
This is the nature of African politics, not necessarily predicated on substance or issues but on need and popularity. Prince Johnson is one of the candidates who is biting for the second time in the 2017 presidential elections, as his popularity continues to rise in Liberia. African elections do not necessarily produce representative government, according to experts. In oil-rich but poverty-ridden Equatorial Guinea, President Teodoro Obiang
was elected with 95 percent of the vote in 2009. His party also won 99 percent of the parliamentary seats. President Obiang has been in power since 1979, making him one of the longest-serving presidents in Africa. A look at Gambia, one of the smallest nations in Africa, shows that opposition parties in that West African nation have had less trust that its elections will be held on an equal plain. Rigging elections across the continent in Africa is nothing new, making experts to wonder if Western style democracy can truly be sustained. According to academic studies, there is a gloomy picture on the nature of democratic reform in most African countries. The annual democracy index of Economic Intelligent Units ranks Mauritius as the only African nation that is a “full” democracy.
The index uses tough criteria that count countries like much-praised Botswana as a “f lawed democracy,” a narrative that is open for debate given Botswana’s impeccable record on democratic reform. According to the Mo Ibrahim Index, a quantitative measure of good governance, African political participation has seen a 5 percent decline since 2007. Another study by the Freedom House, an American think tank, reports that the number of full electoral democracy out of the forty- nine sub-Saharan African nations has dramatically declined, from 24 in 2005 to 19 at present. Even southern Africa, which has historically been considered the best performing region, is now a “problem child” according to this study. There is a record of nepotism and corruption in South Africa, the regional giant in southern Africa. In neighboring Madagascar, President Andre Rajoelina maintained power for three years after a bloodless coup.
In 2014, fifty-five-year-old Hery Rajaonarimampianina became Madagascar’s president with the backing of the former president. Mr. Rajaonarimampianina is considered Madagascar’s hope for economic change. In the same region, President Binguwa Mutharika of Malawi is behaving more despotically, behavior that has provoked Western donors to suspend their aid programs in the country. But in 2012, Malawi became the second African nation to put a female in the top leadership position of president after the death of President Binguwa Mutharika. In Angola, President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos has ruled the country since 1979, making him the longest-serving president in Africa. The cup is truly half full when one takes an inventory of democratic processes across
the continent, giving some countries a thumb up, while other are above average. Yet some countries are struggling to make reform a priority.
It is fair to assert that Africa has come a long way from its colonial past toward self-determination. In 1990 the Freedom House did a study, indicating only three African countries had multiparty political systems, universal suffrage, regular fraud-free elections, and secret ballots. Since that time democratic progress has come in waves, according to Alex Vines, head of the African program at Chatham House, a London-based think tank. With the exception of Mali, the rest of West Africa has enjoyed a democratic boom. For example, Liberia and Sierra Leone, two nations that not too long ago came from violent backgrounds, have set up reputable if imperfect political systems; Guinea and Ivory Coast also overcame spasms of strife and now have returned to democratic rule. The nation of Guinea- Bissau recently held a calm election, while Nigeria and Niger ran their best polls in recent history.
Highly praised by President Barack Obama is Ghanaian democratic reform, West Africa’s success story. The contrast is also clear, as election violence has become more common in a number of African nations. The DRC, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe have seen serious clashes following the results of their most recent elections. Most election- related violence is sometimes caused by a long-standing ethnic and religious difference. Unlike previous decades of civil wars across the continent, these unrests are now more or less coming to swift ends. Progress in politics in the next decade may be a bite slower than in the past, but it is undeniable that many post-Cold War advances have been made. Those interested in reforms must realize that building firm institutions is harder than putting ballots in a box in Africa. However, there are lots of reasons for reformers to be hopeful as opposition parties and civil societies become sophisticated and gain resources. This new development in African politics is moving away from what used to be a mess in the past, undemocratic with few resources.
One observer described it as “the skunks at the democratic zoo,” (African Democracy, 2012). Many people are still without hope about the political process in Africa, but some have learned that discipline and commitment can put things within striking distance of power. A few recent examples are political developments in Zambia and Senegal. One of the useful elements is the fact that voters are swayed by evidence of individual competence, not party affiliation, which tends to benefit opposition members who are competing with complacent governments. Due to Africa’s high birth rates, a pool of young voters is more likely to take a chance on political newcomers entering into politics. In many African countries, a sitting president or party can win office with the support of a young population under thirty, as long as the process is fair. In 2006, football (soccer) superstar George Weah nearly won the presidential elections in Liberia with support from a population under thirty. Like Prince Johnson, Weah is also running for a second time in the upcoming presidential elections in 2017.
The rise of technology has improved communication in many African countries. Political campaigns no long need to depend on government- owned media or the ability to travel long distance. Voters can be reached directly and remotely through the Internet and mobile phones. Technology has made it easier to expose mismanagement and tabulate poll results instantly, making it easier to detect fraud during elections. In 2011, Nigeria’s election was managed through the media; tens of thousands of monitors recorded local results and fed them by text messages into a central system run by volunteers. Research has shown that elections are one of the most-costly events in Africa. Lack of consistent and accurate voter data is another obstacle. Research also shows that most Africans, especially in rural areas, have no identity documents; as a result, electoral rolls often need to be drafted from scratch for every pool.
One of the most-costly elections was the 2011 election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The government spent $500 million, making the DRC’s elections the world’s most-costly elections after the United States. Other obstacles in the electoral process are high rates of illiteracy and lack of capable help. In the border regions of Sierra Leone, election officials judge who should get a voting card by listening to people’s accents to be sure they are not from Guinea or Liberia. Despite the quality of the democratic process in Africa, research shows that all but a few of the billion people on the continent now expect to vote in regular national polls. This is good news for Africa, compared to what 1.5 billion Asians, with all their impressive economic performance, cannot do.
Below is a classification of African countries according to level of civil service rehabilitation efforts, democratic reform and good governance:
a. Full Democracy (advance reformers)
- Cape Verde Islands
- South Africa
B. Flawed Democracy (committed reformers)
- Burkina Faso
- Sierra Leone
- Kenya Zambia
C. Hybrid Regimes (hesitant reformers)
- Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
- Guinea (Konakry)
D. Beginners and nonstarters (Vicious circle)
- Central African Republic
- South Sudan
E. Authoritarian regimes
- Sudan Eritrea
- Congo (Brazzaville)
- The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
- Comoros Islands
Sharing information among the reforming African countries is very vital to ensure sustainable improvement in African public administration systems. The idea is similar to the information-sharing policies among most Western countries, especially in the United States, regarding interstate commerce, law enforcement activities, and other important information between states. African countries with weak public services can improve their systems by following the footprints of the advanced-reforming or committed-reforming countries. Reinventing African public service by implementing homegrown methods is a major development, but it must be combined with the support of ethical and accountable changes in African countries in the “vicious circle” as a first step, according to experts. The attempt by public service ministers to work at reinventing the public administration must accept advance-reforming countries like Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, or Mauritius as focus points of orientation. It is true that foreign investments in African governments must not repeat the mistakes of the 1980s by letting donor countries pressure the implementation of reform schedules. The homegrown methods also offer some cultural advantages that encourage the involvement of African professionals with knowledge and expertise in doing business the African way. African professionals will understand the social dynamic of people and their needs.
Democratic Reform in Mauritius
The republic of Mauritius is a group of islands in the southwest Indian Ocean, consisting of the main islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues, plus several outer islands. The islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues, with a total of 1, 969 square kilometers, have a total population density of 644 per square kilometer. The population is estimated at 1.3 million, comprising Hindus, Muslims, Sino-Mauritians, and those of mixed European and African origins (Singh, 2012). The nation of Mauritius has been successively a Dutch, French, and British colony. It became independent from Great Britain on March 12, 1968, and subsequently acceded to the status of republic within the Commonwealth on March 12, 1992. The official language of business is English, but French is widely spoken. Locally, however, Creole is the most predominant mother tongue, and ancestral languages are still spoken (EISA, 2005).
Reform in Mauritius: Africa’s Success Story
Since independence in 1968, Mauritius has successfully transformed itself from a low-income, mono-crop agricultural economy based largely on sugarcane to an upper-middle-income country with a gross national income (GNI) per capita of US$8, 570 in 2012. The economic growth has been accompanied by significant progress in the areas of human development, good governance, and economic freedom. Mauritius has remained resilient in the wake of the world economic crisis. Due to a progressive implementation of a bold reform agenda, it has transitioned from a culture of administration to a focus on performance in the public sector. Mauritius has a good track record in respecting human and fundamental rights, as well as democratic principles, since its independence. When it comes to formulating public policy, the civil society and stakeholders are regularly consulted and involved in issues of national interest (National Assessment Report, 2010).
The country has a parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster system; a democratic parliamentary system of government modeled after the politics of the United Kingdom. In 2002, an important political development occurred in Mauritius when the island of Rodrigues obtained a significant autonomy, as well as its own regional assembly. In Mauritius, national and regional elections are held every five years under the universal adult franchise. According to that system, all registered electorates who have attained the eighteenth year have the right to vote. Mauritius is considered one of Africa’s success stories. It is one of the most stable and democratic countries in Africa. Mauritius has an acceptable constitutional and legal framework; a largely satisfactory electoral system; a sound and transparent electoral process, and legitimate and credible electoral management bodies (Singh, 2012).
Freedom of speech, press, and assembly are protected, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. Mauritius is the first country in Africa that passed the post-block vote (FPTP-BV) and best-loser system. The advantage of the block vote system, according to experts, is that it allows voters preference for individual candidate. But it also has a disadvantage; if voters cast all their votes for candidates from the same party, the BV system produces highly disproportional results. As the record shows, Mauritius has one of the best democratic systems on the continent. One of the most prevalent issues that produces conflicts in Africa is lack of a free and fair election. Mauritius has been very fortunate, holding elections for more than forty years without falling victim to serious electoral conflicts. This is the reason why Mauritius is considered one of the most stable and democratic countries in Africa. As a result, its citizens enjoy political and civil rights.
This does not mean the country has no challenges, especially when it comes to elections. Any electoral challenges are managed through the judicial process. The government is committed to upholding the fundamental principles of human rights and freedom embodied in its constitution. It also upholds the legal framework in holding free, fair, and credible elections. A practice that is prohibited in Mauritius’s electoral process is vote buying or forcing citizens to vote against their will, which are very common in most African and many developing countries. Reports show that no vote-buying incident has been found so far in this tiny island nation. In an effort to prevent such a f law, all the electorates have mobile phone to inform police officials if there are any concerns. The use of mobiles, especially on the eve of elections, is very strong to ensure free and fair elections in Mauritius. The media is a critical stakeholder in helping the electorate to make a well-informed choice. In order to influence voters, prospective candidates use newspaper, radio, and TV stations.
UNDP’s Support for Reform in Mauritius
With the support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Mauritius has put in a budget management process through the introduction of the Program-Based Budgeting (PBB) system. In
2007, UNDP introduced the PBB system to improve transparency and accountability. The program was recognized by the collaborative African Budget Institute (CABRI) as the “big bang” because rolled out to all the ministries’ land departments simultaneously rather than being piloted in selected institutions.
The PBB system is an integrated approach that has changed the focus of the Mauritian budgetary process from an input-based annual activity to a performance-based exercise with a key objective: to improve expenditure efficiency and effectiveness by systematically linking funding to results through the use of performance information (UNDP, 2013). The aim of the PBB program is to allocate public resources in line with the government’s priorities and improve the performance orientation of the budget process.
In order to ensure success, the PBB reform continues to receive technical support from UNDP. Since the introduction of program-based budgeting, the Mauritian government has put in place a budget management process by linking public resources to clear and agreed outcomes and outputs. The process provides a framework for reporting on results and has encouraged stronger performance accountability. Under the UNDP’s leadership and guidance, all government ministries are required to prepare a three-year PBB strategic plan for the first time since 2011.
An evaluation of public finance management showed significant progress in comparison to previous projects. Mauritius has received international recognition for its budget reforms. As a result, several African countries have requested that Mauritius share its experience with them. In 2013, a study tour on the PBB reform was organized; participating were three delegations of senior budget officials from Maldives, Zanzibar, and Burkina Faso.
Another area that UNDP supports in Mauritius is human resources management to further strengthen the PBB approach. An important parallel is in the area of investment project planning (IPP). The IPP project enabled the Mauritian government to identify successful investment projects in line with longer-term strategic directions for Mauritius in the following ways:
- Set up the Project Planning Committee, an Inter-Ministerial committee mandated to assess project proposals before they are considered for the budget
- Investment in staff training and development efforts
- Development of the Investment Project Process Manual, which defines the evaluation criteria for a new project
In 2012, the Mauritian government decided on an initiative to formulate a ten-year national plan known as the Economic and Social Transformation Plan (ESTP). The ESTP, according to the Mauritian government, is expected to enhance the benefits of PBB by integrating the three-year budget into a long-term prospectus. Experts believe the ESTP will establish the road map to the country’s future and provide the physical infrastructure and human resources to support progress and development. It will also accelerate pace in a sustainable and equitable way and move Mauritius from an upper-income country to a high-income country (GNI of $12, 615 per capita) by 2022.
The ESTP initiative is intended to generate significant economic growth in Mauritius. The final project UNDP is supporting in Mauritius is the Learning Management System (LMS) which was tailor-made for the Mauritian civil service through an e-learning platform. UNDP supported setting up the LNS, writing and designing a first course on basic public finance management (PFM). The agency is assisting with setting up a web- based interface with the goal of making the first PFM course accessible to ten thousand civil servants.
Some illustrations of Mauritius’s success have to do with the government’s ability to cooperate and collaborate with the international communities with the view to work for the benefit of the population and meeting the objectives of the international organizations. An example is Mauritius’s willingness to combat terrorism at the beginning of the millennium by passing the Terrorism Act in 2002. The government also supports the international community’s fight against piracy, which was causing much harm in the Indian Ocean.
When it comes to internal management of the society, the Mauritian government has tried its level best to practice good governance by allowing the population the opportunity to voice their opinions and views. That is the true meaning of good governance; it refers to the process of decision making and the process by which decisions are implemented or not implemented (Suntoo, 2012). The UNDP defines good governance as the exercise of political, economic, and administrative authority to manage a nation’s affairs. Cleary and McConville (2006) argued that good
Governance occurs when the state, free of abuse and corruption, conducts and manages public affairs and public resources efficiently and effectively. They assert that good government means doing the right thing in the right way with due regard to the law. According to the United Nations Commission, there are eight principles and practices of good governance: participation, rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, equity and inclusiveness, consensus orientation, effectiveness and efficiency, and accountability. A close look at Mauritius’ governance record reveals that most of the principles are carefully observed. But it is also fair to argue that there is always room for improvement in any modern democracy. In any nation (developed or under developed), there are issues to deal with.
Ghana: Africa’s Success Story of Good Governance
A few countries in Africa are considered success stories when it comes good governance, despite the challenges with accountability many still face. One of those nations is Ghana, which, due to its aggressive agenda of reform, has continued to enjoy a robust economy. Ghana, like many other African countries, experienced a great expansion in the civil service sector after the 1960s. The global oil crisis during that time period meant an African economic decline, ending the ideal of business-oriented reforms of public administration, which had brought growth (Adamolekum 2005, p.1). As a remedy to the crisis, donor countries provided African states with the necessary financial assistance to make up for the cutbacks in civil service, in the case of Ghana to enhance accessibility. The shrinking of the Ghanaian public administration was tackled through several reform steps. Among the steps taken was a grand movement of organizational restructuring that led to a reorganization of the government ministries. The reform efforts resulted in the elimination of four unnecessary agencies during that time period. The other method, which was very well supported by the donor countries, was the Ghanaian retrenchment policy. Donor countries favored the approach due to the conviction that a smaller public sector would work more efficiently, given the UK’s experience, for instance (Chaudhry 1993, p. 246).
Another development that received much support from donor countries was the idea of a rollback of the state. The involvement of the state was seen as one of the major problems in developing countries after the 1970s. The primary goal of the policy was to cut back unneeded civil servants in order to shrink the country’s public administration system, reducing the number of civil servants from 131, 089 in 1990 to 80,000 in 1995 (Olowu
1999, p. 4–5). Despite the reduction of Ghanaian civil servants, their pay was increased, decomposing the wages and providing higher salaries for public managers. Interestingly, the information about the increases varies depending on the source. The actual salaries in Ghana, according to experts, did not rise significantly. Although salaries were much higher than in many African countries, the increase during the reform period was modest. According to experts, the retrenchment of Ghanaian civil servants in general proved to be more-costly than expected in the beginning.
Despite the cumulative losses as a result of downsizing in the 1980s, Ghana is classified as a committed reformer. The Ghanaian reform program can find its place in history without criticism from Robert Dodoo, former head of the Ghanaian civil servants, who asserted his dissatisfaction in regard to the reform movement. According to him, the fundamental reason for the lack of improvement in the country’s development lay in the “donor time-table, agendas and conditionality” (Dodoo, 1996, p. 30).
While it is true the external financial support was necessary and vital for improvement of the Ghanaian civil service, the provision of money came with unreasonable short-term expectations. It does not seem surprising that a country in danger of losing all monetary support decides to hustle through a reform and risk less successful implementation policies instead of losing crucial financial aid. Research identified two core weaknesses after the evaluation of the first part of the Ghanaian service reform:
- 1. The manner in which reform was embarked upon
- 2. The overall goal of the reform
As indicated by Mr. Dodoo, the pressure for success coming from donor countries was not beneficial for the improvement of the Ghanaian civil service. Ghana, like many African nations that received external financial support, had agreed to reduce the cost of the public sector and implement some questionable structural adjustments in its programs as a condition for financial support from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The results of such cost savings were modest. The question is why reduce the African public administration to begin with? The African civil service was no bigger than those in many other states. Expanding it after the colonial rulers granted independence was a vital step toward a functioning economy and sustainable development for countries like Ghana.
Even the World Bank agrees in the following policy statement: “An effective state is vital for the provision of goods and services—and the rules and institutions—that allow markets to flourish and people to lead wealthier, happier lives. Without sustainable development, both economic and social advancement are impossible” (World Bank, 1997). The third reform step that was evaluated was the alteration of salaries in the civil service. While there was some increase in the salaries of civil servants in Ghana, studies show that they were relatively low, especially since highly qualified human capital will usually leave the country for better-paid jobs. Often, high- qualified human capital will leave and travel to Western countries for better-paid jobs or become open to corruption. The problem of corruption is another major weakness of African public administration, added to practices such as nepotism, sectionalism, and tribalism. A study by the IMF shows a strong correlation between wages in public administration relative to wages in manufacturing: “It is estimated that government wages needed to be 2×8 (…) times higher to make corruption negligible.” The other repercussions of corruption in Africa are the waste of financial resources and cancellation of international aid programs as punishment.
To reinvent a successful policy of African public administration, public service ministers came together in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in 2003 to
respond to the “unfolding challenges.” The goal of the new reform is to switch to homegrown and demand-driven methods directed at specific problems and challenges instead of the goals of broad downsizing and cost- cutting policies as donors demanded. Another argument has to do with ethics in public management, which has a fundamental influence in the quality of decisions made in public administration, as Von Maravic argues (Maravic 2009, p. 3). If one could ensure the ethical comportment of African public officials, public administration could be highly improved. Another problem that faces African public administration is lack of resources. According to the United Nations, “In many countries around the world, but in African countries in particular, public administration remains weak largely owing to a shortage of human resources and deficiencies in staff training and motivation” (UN, 2005, p. 13). One has to be cautious not to apply improving African public service reform to all African countries. There is a significant differentiation that provides a possible classification of African countries that must be taken to account when referring to Ghana as a reform-committed country.
Ghana has made significant democratic gains since it made a transition from a quasi-military to a democratic government in 1992. In spite of major challenges that still exist, the nation has not suffered any economic stagnation or gone back to an unstable democracy, as has occurred in other African countries. The strength of the Ghanaian democracy was recently put to test following the death of President John Evans Atta Mills in July
2012, with the smooth transfer of the power of government to the vice president. The peaceful transition was an indication of how far Ghanaian democracy has come. Ghana has seen continuous improvement in the competitiveness, peacefulness, and credibility of its multiparty elections as demonstrated by the two peaceful turnovers of the executive power following the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. When it comes to the transition to democracy, the Ghanaian parliament inherited a very weak institutional structure due to the fact that preceding military governments had no role to play. According to studies on Ghanaian democracy, the executive had significant representation in the parliament and a strong whip system, which allows a vast patronage powers to the incumbent president. As a result, the executive branch of government largely succeeds in getting its policies through the House. The reform policy has to look at the interpretation of article 108 of the Ghanaian constitution to prevent
the parliament from proposing any initiative or bill that places a financial burden on the state. As difficult as these challenges were, the reform process had to deal with them to bring about the level of transparency and accountability that has made Ghana one of the committed reformers in Africa.
The Impact of Foreign Aid on Ghanaian Democracy
Assistance from donors has helped to support and promote elections, Ghanaian parliamentary reforms, political parties, civil society, and the role of media in Ghana. While it is fair to argue that aid from donors has made a tremendous difference, it still faces some obstacles to promote further democratic process in Ghana. The recent growth of budget support, which plays a positive role in promoting Ghana’s ownership of its own development process, has a practical effect on the marginalization of parliament’s role in financial affairs. According to experts, many budgetary decisions that have to do with how budget support is accepted and how it is used are made by the president and the finance ministry and are subject to only perfunctory approval by parliament. Donors have continued to support the civil society organizations. That effort has enabled civil society organizations to undertake a number of successful projects locally to increase governmental transparency and accountability. An example is the financing of the 1996 project, spearheaded by local civic groups, to carry out the first nonpartisan election observation. Another donor- funded project in 2000 enabled civic groups to observe and report on the unfair treatment and inadequate coverage of opposition parties in the media. That project made a significant difference in addressing concern of electoral fairness in Ghana.
Donors have also helped to promote a fruitful dialogue between parties concerning issues of election fraud. One of those interventions was the creation of the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) in1995, funded by donors. As a result of IPAC, opposition parties won concessions that led to several transparencies to enhance reforms at election time. The policy enables counting at polling stations, transparency of ballot boxes,
and permission given to party agents to be present at polling stations. The Advisory Committee helped to re