Southern Africa, historically the best-performing region, is now a problem child. Nepotism and corruption increasingly mar politics in the regional giant, South Africa. The president of Madagascar, André Rajoelina, has remained in power for three years after a bloodless coup. President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi is behaving ever more despotically, provoking Western donors to suspend aid. But even here the news is not all bad. Madagascar may have elections later this year. Angola, where President José Eduardo Dos Santos has ruled since 1979, making him Africa's longest-serving leader, will soon run parliamentary polls, and its ruling party may push Mr Dos Santos into retirement.
Still, Africa has come a long way. In 1990 Freedom House recorded just three African countries with multiparty political systems, universal suffrage, regular fraud-free elections and secret ballots. “Progress comes in waves,” says Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at Chatham House, a London-based think-tank. Mali aside, the rest of West Africa has enjoyed a democratic boom. Sierra Leone and Liberia, both violent basket-cases not long ago, have set up respectable if imperfect political systems. Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire overcame spasms of strife and returned to democratic rule. Coup-prone Guinea-Bissau held a calm election on March 18th. Nigeria and Niger ran their best polls in recent memory last year. Ghanaian democracy has been praised by President Barack Obama.
Yet the poor, illiterate electorates of many African countries are obviously keen on handouts, and thus easy to manipulate. Election violence has also become more common. Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe saw serious clashes after their most recent polls, driven by longstanding ethnic and sectarian rifts.
Jan 7th, 2015
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