Sub-Saharan Democracy

February 15, 2011 • Volume 5, Issue 4
Is freedom in retreat in Africa?
By Jason McLure


Outraged supporters of Ivory Coast presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara (AFP/Getty Images/Issouf Sanogo)
Outraged supporters of Ivory Coast presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara take to the streets in December in Abidjan after incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo was declared the victor in the November election. Initially, the country's electoral commission had declared Ouattara the winner. Neither candidate has conceded, leaving the government in limbo. (AFP/Getty Images/Issouf Sanogo)

Despite a recent economic renaissance, some say much of sub-Saharan Africa is drifting toward a new age of authoritarianism. After the Cold War — when the superpowers propped up African dictators as proxy pawns in a global ideological chess match — the seeds of democracy rapidly spread across the continent. By 2000, nearly half of sub-Saharan Africa's 48 countries were considered electoral democracies. But democratic progress stalled and even regressed in the 2000s. By one measure, freedom in the region has retreated to about the same level it was in 1992–1993. Human rights are eroding in influential countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Ivory Coast. Experts blame Africa's continuing ethnic tensions and the emergence of China as a major trading partner. Western governments are skittish about pressing for democratic reforms now that they must compete for Africa's natural resources with China, which ignores such issues in its business dealings.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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Oct. 20, 2017  Democracy Under Stress
Jul. 17, 2012  Myanmar's New Era
Jan. 17, 2012  Emerging Central Asia
Jun. 21, 2011  Peacebuilding
May 03, 2011  Turmoil in the Arab World
Feb. 15, 2011  Sub-Saharan Democracy
Jun. 2010  Democracy in Southeast Asia
Apr. 01, 2005  Exporting Democracy
Jan. 30, 2004  Democracy in the Arab World
Nov. 03, 2000  Democracy in Latin America
Oct. 08, 1999  Democracy in Eastern Europe
Jul. 24, 1998  Democracy in Asia
Aug. 17, 1990  Initiatives: True Democracy or Bad Lawmaking?
Feb. 02, 1990  Free Markets, Free Politics and Growth
Jun. 14, 1967  Greece: Monarchy Vs. Republicanism
Feb. 04, 1959  Revolutionary Ferment and Democratic Processes
Global Issues
Regional Political Affairs: Africa