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A woman casts her vote at a polling staion
Elections alone do not make a democracyImage: Getty Images/AFP

Forum evaluates African democracies

Veronica Natalis
July 22, 2022

Stakeholders in democratic affairs from more than 30 African countries have met in Tanzania. The gathering gave attendees an opportunity to reflect on the continent's democratic principles and present solutions.


Delegates attending the Africa Drive for Democracy Conference this week said that unless issues surrounding a lack of democracy among African countries are resolved, governments are likely to lose the confidence of their citizens. 

The gathering in the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha was called by a wide range of leaders of institutions working to safeguard democratic principles in Africa. 

The attendees discussed the importance of freedom of expression, particularly during election campaigns.

Social media shutdowns

Concern was raised over several issues that could have impacted election results. 

For instance, in the run-up to Rwanda's 2017 election, people were not allowed to criticize the ruling party. 

Delegates at the Arusha meeting also spoke about how the internet and social media were restricted in the days before Tanzania's 2020 elections.

Delegates sitting on the statge at the Africa Drive for Democracy Conference
The delegates commited to claiming and occupying the institutions of democracyImage: Veronica Natalis/DW

In Uganda, officials ordered internet service providers to shut down social media and messaging applications ahead of the country's 2021 presidential election.

'Weak democracies'

Many delegates said they believe that ongoing crises across the continent have been caused by leaders failing to uphold democratic principles during their terms in office. 

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, touched on the challenges of weak democracies coupled with climate change in developing countries. 

A person looking at their phone
Social media apps are used by political parties in Uganda for campaigningImage: AFP/Getty Images/I. Kasamani

"If governments shall fail to avail basic and social needs to their populations, it means they are descending their people into abject poverty," she said. 

"Also, a big number of Africans are faced with poverty as a result of climate change, therefore democracy means inclusive leadership whose responsibility is to serve people." 

Backbone for people's rights

Aki-Sawyerr told the Sierra Leone Telegraph that it is "imperative that democracy in Africa is not a hollow word, but one which genuinely facilitates citizen participation, freedom of expression and association, access to justice and ultimately yields the dividend of improved living standards, access to services and economic growth for citizens."

Other delegates at the two-day event said that democracy could serve as a backbone for people's rights to make decisions free of any influence and meddling. 

"When we talk about democracy, we not only focus on politics but on the economy, culture and political system that hinges on rule of law that denounces any corruption-related issues," said Hardi Yakubu, from the Africa Democracy Institute in Dakar. 

Africa has demonstrated outstanding performance in terms of good governance, democracy and the rule of law.

Delegates sitting inside a marquee at the Africa Drive for Democracy Conference
The Africa Drive for Democracy Conference attracted about 100 delegates from across AfricaImage: Veronica Natalis/DW

Emphasis has been placed on amending policies and laws pertaining to how sustainable democracies across in Africa could be realized, according to Jenerali Ulimwengu a renowned journalist and political analyst in Tanzania. 

"The situation is worse in some of the African countries as presented in the conference; we have been deceived that development and democracy is to building infrastructures such as roads, flyovers, and large bridges," said Ulimwengu.

"We have been told so and we believed, that is a big lie."

The delegates commited to claiming and occupying the institutions of democracy — nationally, regionally and continentally — and to recognizing and celebrating those who have led the struggle for democracy within and beyond their boundaries. 

Edited by Keith Walker

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