African democracy a ‘ship in troubled waters’, says AU Commission

AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Bankole Adeoye, at the second AU Reflection Forum on Unconstitutional Change of Government in Accra, Ghana. (@Bankole_Adeoye/X formerly Twitter)

AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Bankole Adeoye, at the second AU Reflection Forum on Unconstitutional Change of Government in Accra, Ghana. (@Bankole_Adeoye/X formerly Twitter)

  • Coups d’états in Africa are a clear indication that social contracts have failed, the African Union heard this week.
  • The AU’s African Youth Ambassador for Peace for Southern Africa says one of the reasons democracy is becoming unpopular is the failure to address the needs of the youth.
  • The Ghanaian president said people celebrate change in leadership, but not coups.

With the second elections of the year in Africa, due in Senegal on Sunday, already troubled – after a disputed one in the Comoros in January – democracy on the continent is like “a ship in troubled waters”, according to the AU.

The second African Union (AU) Reflection Forum on Unconstitutional Change of Government in Accra, Ghana, just wrapped up with that stark assessment.

Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission vice president Damtien Tchintchibidja said her region, despite being the first to usher in democracy in Africa, had become known for coups and unconstitutional changes of governments.

She said this was because the social contract had been torn apart.

“The recent coups d’état in some of our member states are a clear indication that we must renew our social contract, strengthen our democratic institutions, and re-focus on delivery-oriented governance,” she said.

Six of Africa’s nine coups between 2020 and 2023 occurred in West Africa. 

Tchintchibidja added that there “is a need for the relationship between citizens and governing bodies to be strengthened”.

According to Afrobarometer, most citizens in West Africa favour elections over alternative ways to select leaders.

But they see their previous election as flawed, and that is where unconstitutional changes find space to grow.

Senegal was rescued from the jaws of an unconstitutional change of government when President Macky Sall delayed elections that were due on 24 February, to December this year. 

However, because of strong institutions, the country returned to the constitutional road, hence there are elections in Senegal on Sunday.

Speaking on behalf of AU Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Bankole Adeoye said Africa had reached a tipping point.

He added that Africa should “return to being an axis of progressive democracy, a continuum of peace, stability and sustainable development”, this is done through enforcing the continent’s zero tolerance to unconstitutional changes in governance.

He said:

We are on a mission towards monumental success if we all commonly rally against military dictatorships. Our badly bruised historical experience of dictatorship cannot be replicated in the 21st century again because these emerging anti-constitutional norms negate our commitment to inclusive democracy.

Cynthia Chigwenya, African Youth Ambassador for Peace for Southern Africa, said one of the reasons making democracy unpopular was the failure to address the needs of the youth on the continent.

As such, leaders should address this reality.

“For young people, economic challenges such as rampant unemployment, worsening food insecurities, and limited adaptive capacities to climate change leave us questioning the extent to which democracy can deliver public goods and the extent to which youth are co-creators in designing responses to the above crises with both regional and global implications,” she said.

“We need to have the courage to address and reflect on these realities at this and other fora.”

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Chigwenya highlighted that bridging marginalisation was an antidote to alternatives such as protesting, coups, and radicalisation, “which are transitory and don’t offer long-term prospects”.

Ghana will go to polls in December this year, and President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo will seek re-election.

Coincidentally, he was hosting this summit. In his speech, he said African leaders should “identify why things have not worked”.

He said he was worried that, despite a majority not being happy with coups, there was a sizable percentage in member states who supported coups.

But from his observation, he said:

The celebrations are more about change than support for coups.

“When elections are not truly free and fair, and legal tactics are employed to undermine the spirit of democracy, when legal loopholes are exploited to subvert constitutional provisions that guarantee inclusion and participation, and when state apparatus is used to muzzle freedom of expression, citizens begin to feel that democratic processes have taken them hostage and often celebrate anything that looks like an end to their present predicament,” he said.

“The answer is simple: our people simply want to enjoy the dividends of democracy.”

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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