April 11, 2003


Nigerian election to test democracy (David White, April 10 2003, Financial Times)
This is where it all broke down before. On Saturday, Nigeria, Africa's biggest electorate, will choose its legislators and a week later its president. It is only the third time in Nigeria's history that an elected administration has held elections.

The first time was in 1963-64. Barely a year after general elections, the army took power. The next time was 1983 and the army returned three months later. For all the defects and violence of its struggling democracy - and the peculiarity of having two former dictators as the main presidential candidates - Nigeria will be moving into new territory if it gets safely past this election.

Tentatively, unevenly, and belatedly, democracy is gaining ground in Africa. While some countries are still bloodbaths away from it, others now have more political competition, freer media and greater civil liberties than at any time since the first flush of decolonisation.A push for transparency on oil revenues

Apart from Nigeria, 16 of Africa's 54 nations are now considered fully fledged or emerging democracies, compared with around four at the end of the 1980s, according to political analysts. The rest are a mixed bunch of aspiring democracies, pseudo-democracies, semi-authoritarian, authoritarian and collapsed states.

Could the domino effect spread African democracy in the way it once spread military coups? Kenya's change of government last December set an example, in a country that had been widely expected to implode under the weight of old political habits. Its neighbour Uganda is now contemplating a switch to open party competition.

But in Zimbabwe political repression has become worse. Ivory Coast, once envied for its stability, is teetering on the verge of breakdown. And Africa's first military coup in more than three years took place last month in the Central African Republic.

Much of the continent is still mired in the morass it fell into in the 1960s. Indeed, power struggles, ethnic conflict, mismanagement, profiteering and political corruption characterise much of Africa.

Democracy is viewed as the social, political and economic answer. On the whole, democratic countries tend to be better off financially than non- democratic ones. It is not a coincidence that Botswana, among the countries that have found new mineral wealth, should be the only one to have managed its resources effectively and also one of the most established democracies on the continent.

"It is not a question of resources," says Daniel Bach of the Black Africa Study Centre in Bordeaux. "[Nigeria, the continent's biggest oil producer,] is one country in Africa that has everything going for it. In theory."

Surveys show that satisfaction with elected government in Nigeria has fallen sharply since 2000, but that the idea of democracy still commands support of more than 70 per cent.

Getting Africa on a path to democracy and economic growth is worthwhile in its own right, but, as a bonus, imagine the pressure such a turn of events will place on the Arab Middle East. Posted by Orrin Judd at April 11, 2003 9:27 AM

They're too busy hating the US and Israel to notice.

I think I've yet to see an Arab commentator on TV who hasn't mentioned Palestine and good ol' "double standards".

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at April 11, 2003 9:46 AM