This year’s flurry of ostensibly competitive elections is prompting some activists to rethink their assessment of the forward march of democratic politics in Africa. After the unprecedented victory of the opposition presidential candidate in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest multi-party system, it seemed that the power of incumbent leaders to bend their countries to their will might be on the wane. Pro-democracy activists and oppositionists took heart.
To judge by this year’s elections, however, the political
establishment is pushing back hard. In Congo-Brazzaville,
Chad, Djibouti, Niger and Uganda, sitting presidents have
changed national constitutions to prolong their tenure and to rig
elections, either by blatant fraud or by blocking the campaigns of
rivals. Their answer to new technology is simple: turn it off. So
Presidents Yoweri Museveni, Denis Sassou-Nguesso and Idriss Déby – who have been in power
for about three decades each – ordered cellphone companies to shut down
their services. Déby and Sassou also shut down the internet.
Africa Confidential will
look at these trends in more detail in the next issue but it is clear that
the current anti-democracy wave is not anchored solely in personal
ambition. Oppositionists are responding to tougher economic conditions
with militant campaigns and regimes are exploiting fears of spreading
instability and insecurity to crack down hard. The first victim is the