Skip to content

A shot in the arm for democracy?

5 Dec 2016

Repost from South South News.

If democracy was looking a bit frayed around the world, then the stunning win by the opposition in Gambia may inject a bit of hope that the bad guys don’t always win.

The multiparty wave is three decades old in Africa. There have been victories, but many more setbacks. However, sometimes it does just seem that when it’s time, it’s time. And so an unlikely coalition of Gambia’s fractious opposition, helmed by a little-known leader, has ridden popular anger over Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year rule to victory. What happens next will be interesting.

Gambia is perhaps not so unusual. Half of all Africans live in functioning multiparty systems, according to a new Afrobarometer survey. The real question is whether pluralism improves people’s lives: “you can’t eat democracy” is a common aphorism. In 16 countries surveyed since 2002, “a steady, decade-long upward trend in demand for democracy has ended with a downward turn since 2012,” notes Afrobarometer, disconcertingly.

“The quality of elections helps to explain demand for democracy,” says the survey. “African countries with high-quality elections are more likely to register increases in popular demand for democracy than countries with low-quality elections.” Government performance once elected to office may also play a part!