Although countries in sub-Saharan Africa started opening up to democracy three decades ago, the region is still characterised by a high heterogeneity of political regimes.
Fragile democracies often endure numerous challenges and shortcomings and share their borders with some of the world’s least democratic regimes. Virtually non-existent in 1990, multi-party elections are the norm today, yet they still only rarely lead to power changes.
The recent trends of democratic recession have not left sub-Saharan Africa untouched, but they have affected individual countries differently. Some unexpected democratic transitions have taken place at the same time as the overall democratic decline has set in.
Two sets of reasons account for the fragility of democracies in sub-Saharan Africa – those that are extrinsic and those that are intrinsic to political and institutional settings. The first include low socio-economic development, conflict and insecurity; the second include weak institutions, lack of judicial independence, manipulation of electoral laws and constitutional norms, as well as serious limitations of civil and political rights. In practice, authoritarian regimes have become skilled at using a façade of legality to legitimise their grip on power.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected the region less severely than compared to other parts of the world, but its impact on democratic and human rights norms has been significant. For the EU – which is an important partner and development aid provider to the region, while also launching frequent election observation missions there – issues of concern include the shrinking space for civil society, the need to broaden political participation for various groups such as women and youth, as well as the impact of digital developments on democracy and human rights in societies that are still suffering from limited internet access and insufficient digital literacy.
Source : © European Union, 2021 – EP