The trouble with Mugabe’s apparent continuing election shenanigans in Zimbabwe – formerly the breadbasket of Africa – is that it tars the entire African continent with the same brush of unfree election cycles, which is simply no longer the case. Mali’s highly-praised presidential election just a few days before Zimbabwe’s got almost no attention.
The majority of nations in Africa – and there are 54 which together have 1 billion citizens – are peaceful, ‘broadly’ democratic, and seeing rapid decreases in levels of corruption. The term ‘broadly’ is important. These nations are not hundreds of years old like many European countries; they are lucky if they are 50 years old. Democracy not only takes time, but is also constantly changing. The democracy of Britain 100 years ago (or even 50 years ago, when Oxford and Cambridge graduates were entitled to two votes at elections) is nothing like the democracy of the modern era.
A subtle theme of my travels around the coast of Africa during the Encircle Africa expedition was free elections and the rule of democracy. Not only had the Arab Spring led to positive change in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, I witnessed protest in Morocco and Sudan (unheard of and dealt with harshly), and elections (parliamentary, state, and presidential) almost everywhere I went. Liberia was in the middle of its presidential run off; which was peaceful, free, and fair. Graffiti in Senegal read ‘Wade must go’. The opposition united against the 92 year old president, he lost, and left power with honour.
Democratic elections are not only possible in Africa, they are commonplace. While we must report irregularities wherever they occur, it is also vital we acknowledge, praise, and learn about the steps taking place across the continent to make these occurrences a rarer and rarer event.