Most of the African countries refer to themselves as democratic and have leaders who are elected by the majority of the citizens. The characterization of democracy in Africa is multi party regimes where a country has more than one party that seeks for votes at the various levels.
The majority of the countries have presidential form of government and the presidents are the ‘defacto’ rulers of the countries. Elections are held every five years in most places and in many cases a president is only to have a maximum of two terms with some exceptions where the president have been ruling for an elaborate period of time.
This is the case for instance in Uganda and in Zimbabwe. Voting is seen as the basic way that Africans will be able to determine the nature of their government and this has resulted to huge voter turnout in most places in Africa with the average being over 66% which is much higher than in most developed countries including USA in the 2016 presidential vote which had a voter turnout of 55.4%. For instance the turnout in Africa has been a high of 78.28% in Sierra Leone in 2012 and a low of 38.6% in Liberia in 2011.
Despite a large percentage of countries being democratic, elections in Africa have been characterized by voter buying by the political leaders although this situation is fast changing. The maturity of the elections in Africa is becoming more evident as the interest on issue based politics as opposed to partisan politics becomes more pronounced. For example, the introduction of presidential debates like what was seen in Kenya in the last general elections and the attempt to introduce electronic voting in a number of countries to promote transparency and accountability.
Namibia in 2014 was the first African country to use an electronic voting system. In the media, Africa is portrayed as the hotbed of conflict especially with the highlights in Central African Republic and in South Sudan. This is however not a representation of the situation in Africa as civil conflict in Africa is on the decline in the last five years. Generalization of the African situation by the main stream media has led to this conclusion although this is not always the case.
Although traditionally in Africa political leadership and business & leadership positions were for men and this situation is changing drastically especially with civilization and more so began to change after the women declaration in Beijing. There is deliberate effort to promote equality and this has borne fruits with two African countries Liberia and Malawi having women presidents.
Africa is leading the rest of the world on the gender equality especially in politics. In Rwanda, for instance women hold 64% of the country’s parliamentary seats. While other countries Namibia, and South Africa women account for more than 40% of parliamentary seats. Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, Burundi, Algeria, Tunisia, Cameroon and Uganda are closely following with over 30% of seats being occupied by women. By contrast, in the US women hold on average 20% of the political leadership both in the house as well as the senate. Gender mainstreaming is something Africa can now teach the rest of the world.
The challenge with the Africa continent has always been after the election and whether the manifestos of the leaders that are elected are actually implemented. For instance, a typical scenario in Africa is that the newly elected leader will launch an ambitious manifesto, normally before the election as a campaigning tool. Such master plans will include ambitious reforms that should help in creating jobs, revival of agriculture or any other major sector in the economy, reduce corruption in government and the guarantee of equal treatment of all citizens despite whom they voted.
Once the elected leader is in place, he will normally forget about the master plan mainly due to the powerful forces who are defying the change mainly because they benefit from status quo and continued patrimonialism. They will frustrate the elected leader who due to frustration will only be able to achieve less of his manifesto. This is an area where the continent can learn a lot from the developed countries on how to put to task the leaders who do not meet their promises. This should be done on a real time basis as opposed to waiting for four to five years when the next election will be held.