The World Today for August 26, 2021



Fighting the Undertow

Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was sworn in as president Tuesday after a stunning defeat of an incumbent bent on staying put and using all the powers of his office to do so.

What’s remarkable, though, is that former President Edgar Lungu, who blocked internet access during the Aug. 12 election, deployed the military to restrict campaigning and alleged the vote was “not free and fair,” conceded on Aug. 16, saying he would comply with the constitution.

The concession cemented “the southern African nation’s reputation as a bulwark of democracy” on the continent, the Wall Street Journal wrote.

Unfortunately, Zambia is swimming against the tide in sub-Saharan Africa these days.

In its latest annual report, Freedom House rated only eight countries in the region as free. Meanwhile, 42 nations were ranked as “partly free” or “not free.” Freedom House noted how the number of “not free” countries in sub-Saharan has grown from 14 in 2006 to 20 in 2021. These maps illustrate the situation well.

The pandemic has been exacerbating the decline of democracy across the continent, the Council on Foreign Relations wrote. More Africans live under authoritarian states today than in the past two decades.

Despite successes in ejecting longtime dictators in Zimbabwe and The Gambia over the past few years, some African leaders have continued to change laws, manipulate courts, crack down on opponents and rig elections to stay in power, said the US-based National Democratic Institute. The pandemic only made things easier for these leaders, providing an excuse to postpone elections – in Somalia and Ethiopia, for example, and crack down on the opposition as in Uganda.

And over the past 20 years, about a dozen African leaders have changed or eliminated constitutional term limits. The latest examples are in Guinea and Ivory Coast: Both held elections last year in which the incumbents were reelected despite legal requirements that they step down.

The result has been the leader-for-life syndrome. More than a half-dozen of Africa’s leaders are among the longest-serving presidents in the world: Equatorial Guinea (President Teodoro Obiang Nguema – 42 years), Congo-Brazzaville (Denis Sassou Nguesso – 37 years) and Cameroon (Paul Biya– 39 years) to name a few.

There are bright spots of political freedom and stability, says Freedom House, such as Cape Verde, Mauritius and Botswana. Officials in South Africa, which is ranked as “free,” ousted and are prosecuting a former president for corruption. And in Ghana’s 2020 election, former President John Mahama, running as the opposition candidate, rejected his defeat until the Supreme Court upheld incumbent President Nana Akufo-Addo’s victory. Mahama conceded.

Malawi, meanwhile, became a celebrated example after it overturned a fraudulent election through the courts and did a rerun last year. It was the first do-over election in Africa in which the opposition won.

Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera, the victor in that election, warned in Newsweek this week against only looking at the negative examples.

“When the recent election in Zambia defied expectations of violence and contestation with a peaceful transfer of power, few noticed it,” he said. “But here in Africa, democratic backsliding is being reversed when votes for change in Zambia are respected and elections found fraudulent are rejected by the courts and re-run – as they were in Kenya in 2017 and (in) my own Malawi last year.”

He added: “In a world beset by Covid-19, climate change, fear and crisis, it is all too easy to see darkness and miss the light.”

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