Africa's Failing Democracies

Article excerpt

Byline: Jason McLure

When human rights Watch criticized the results of Ethiopia's May elections, in which the ruling coalition "won" an improbable 545 out of 547 seats, leaders in Addis Ababa didn't ignore the influential NGO. Instead, they paid tens of thousands of demonstrators to gather in the capital and denounce the report.

Ethiopia's political shenanigans are emblematic of a growing trend away from democracy in Africa. The swing includes not only pariah states like Eritrea and Sudan, but also U.S. allies like Rwanda, where President Paul Kagame is up for reelection and seems set to duplicate the improbable 95apercent victory he posted seven years ago. Rights groups have already cried foul: a general who criticized Kagame was shot, charges have been brought against a top opposition leader, and a dissident journalist was killed. In Gabon and Togo, the deaths of long-serving autocrats have meant elections in which power was smoothly -transferred--to their sons, that is. Mauritania, Guinea, Madagascar, and Niger have all suffered coups in the past two years. Freedom House, a nonprofit that tracks democratic trends, dropped three African countries from its list of "electoral democracies" last year, and reported declines in political freedom in 10 others. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation--which offers a lucrative prize to African leaders who both help their countries and peacefully leave office--decided not to offer an award last year. …