It might appear too early but stuffs are certainly happening across Africa to suggest a transition from just ‘Africa Rising’ to ‘Africa rising democratically’, a democratic wind of change. Although perceived largely as the one whose arrested development is what is holding Africa back from erupting into post modernity, Nigeria is, paradoxically, the cradle of the seemingly new geopolitical moment. It consists in the defeat of incumbency in 2015 presidential election and the discretion of the defeated incumbent to concede victory rather than dig in. The 2015 outcome in Nigeria is not just about the defeat of incumbency but the imaginative dare in calling technology to the help of electoral management. That process and the team that were crucial to it has opened the space up on a continent wide scale as in the last presidential elections in Kenya which also tried to rely on electronically involving framework. Following the annulment of the outcome of that election by the Kenyan Supreme Court yesterday, it could be said that there appears to have been a hitch in the electronic infrastructural outlay for that election. Some observers would, however, raise the question as to whether the fault lies with the politicians or the electronic infrastructure.
In January 2016, Yahya Jammeh who had ruled The Gambia for over three decades was eventually persuaded to quit power or risk eviction by the ECOWAS. He tried to stay put after conceding victory to the opponent in the December 2015 presidential polls in that country. Some people are crediting him with achieving tremendous development and stability in the country but it was victory for democracy as far as the people had spoken in an election he himself had supervised and even endorsed by conceding victory to the opponent in a broadcast.
Back to Nigeria, it is where the Supreme Court sent another democracy consolidating signal when it brought back to life the opposition party already declared to be in an intensive care unit with its grave dug for its burial. Considering that democracy without opposition is an invitation to dictatorship, the Court ruled in a way that Nigeria’s People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) came back to life. Today, democracy in Nigeria can talk of two vibrant political parties in spite of the weighty opinion that neither the ruling All Progressives Congress, (APC) is a strong party in power nor the PDP a strong party in opposition. To the extent that Nigerian politicians had driveled themselves to dead end in running disciplined political parties, to that extent is the Supreme Court judgement a democracy saving intervention of great import.
On August 8th, 2017, the South African parliament undertook a ‘Vote of No Confidence’ on the incumbent President, Jacob Zuma. As in nine or so previous such efforts, the Parliament did not muster the required votes to have sent Zuma packing, for good or for bad, interpreters nevertheless see something democratically progressive in the process in terms of holding an incumbent to account. It also signposted what has been unthinkable in African politics before: the opposition raising its voice to the point of successfully forcing an agenda of a No Vote of Confidence into the agenda.
From South Africa, the pendulum has moved to Rwanda. Although the incumbent President Paul Kagame has violated all known rules of liberal democratic politics in terms of respectable treatment of opposition or conforming to tenure limit, he has, paradoxically, delivered development. By doing that, he has put observers in a quandary: is delivering development which is very rare in African politics, especially the extent he has gone in Rwanda acceptable in lieu of liberal democratic principles? The jury is still out there with respect to a nuanced assessment of what is still unfolding in Rwanda where Kagame has amended the constitution and won election that could keep him in power far beyond several terms of office. Can he do all of that without transforming into a demi-god and destroying what could be an all time legacy in African politics?
There may be other examples but the last here is yesterday’s judgment by the Kenyan Supreme Court annulling the result of the August 8th, 2017 Presidential contest in which the incumbent was declared the winner, leaving the opposition crying foul. Ordinarily, it is always a done deal once an incumbent is declared the victorious party in a presidential contest in Africa. There have cases of successful contest of excesses of incumbency but most of them have resulted in transition anarchies. This time, Kenya has opened a whole new chapter via a judicial pronouncement that speaks to a judicial moment in African democracy. Nobody was killed, the opposition not only had its say but also its way against a well established incumbent who is young, educated, from an established political family and the advantage of global socialisation and exposure.
If all these do not collectively signpost a new dawn or Africa rising democratically, then it could be that nothing else might. It is a waiting game!