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Democracy Africa

By Anver Versi

Evolution of African democracy

The events in Sudan that have been unfolding since the beginning of the year have generated a massive amount of interest all over Africa as well as in many developing countries.

The interest is understandable. Globally, there has been a marked shift in the pattern of governance and the relationship between the ruled and the rulers. At best, one can characterise this relationship as being unusually fractious, with the populations of many countries bitterly divided, either over the person of the leader or on issues.

The election of Donald Trump, a political outsider who had been given virtually no chance at all at the start of the 2016 Presidential election campaign, perhaps best underscores this trend. He was anything but the accepted Presidential material – his language and manners were not cultured, his views verged on the extreme, his vocabulary was limited, his position changed with each viewing of Fox News.

Each one of these shortcomings could have proved fatal to his chances; collectively, they seemed to have doomed his bid from the outset. Yet, against all expectation, he won the election and inherited a country more polarised and divided than it had ever been before.

We learn from Global Citizen that the overall turnout for marches, rallies, vigils and other protests since the 2017 Presidential inauguration falls at somewhere between 10 and 15m – of which 90% have been anti-Trump. “That is certainly more people in absolute terms than have ever protested before in the US,” says Global Citizen.

Elsewhere too, there has been a spike in the number of people organising themselves into protest movements and in the case of Armenia, massive protests led to the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan in 2018.

There have been other massive anti-government protests in Nicaragua, against Daniel Ortega, in Russia against the banning of a messaging service, in India against police and politicians implicated in brutal rapes, in Palestine during the March of Return campaign, and several more.

As we write, some two million in Hong Kong have been protesting against changes to the extradition laws.

This is not counting hundreds more protests across

The number of mass protests across the world has increased greatly in recent times. In Hong Kong (right), mass rallies organised to protest against a controversial extradition bill have led to violent clashes with the police the world, including one in Liberia, against the rule of President George Weah.

Why and how do such massive protests happen? According to political science theory, “Mass protests throughout history have come at a time when enough of the population has been affected by policies of the rulers and elite. They have often been met with a brutal, efficient crackdown by the guardians of the elite, be they local police, militias, national militaries, or even another nation’s military forces.”

Clearly, there is a correlation between the huge numbers of people who have been protesting and the swing to right-wing governments in many parts of the world. These protests also signify a fear among populations that their democratic rights are under threat from increasingly authoritarian governments and their supporters, who almost invariably also attack and attempt to muzzle the free press.

It is against this global backdrop that the current situation in Sudan must be viewed. However, there is a major difference. In most of the above cases, the protests have taken place in countries that are at least nominally democratic but where the protesters feel the prevailing systems do not address their concerns.

In Sudan, the protests, although initially directed against the government, are in fact an attempt to wrest true democracy from a system that has been using sham democratic rituals such as elections to perpetuate an

22 new african july 2019

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