Last month, May, Zambia's President Frederick Chiluba abandoned his attempts to amend the constitution and run for a third term. So far at least, he has agreed not to contest the next Zambian election. Some time earlier, Abdou Diof of Senegal gracefully accepted the voters' verdict and handed over the Presidency to Abdoulaye Wade. Kenya's Daniel arap Moi is expected to respect the constitution and not seek yet another term in office. Ghana's strongman Jerry Rawlings also bowed to the inevitable and did not impeded the accession of John Kufour to the Presidency.
Elsewhere in Africa we have seen encouraging signs of Heads of State vacating the high office, either when they have lost at the polls or because of constitutional limitations. Zimbabwe remains a problem and it will be interesting to see if Robert Mugabe allows free and fair Presidential elections when the time comes. He is coming under increasing, if discreet, pressure from other African leaders to respect the rule of law and not interfere with the electoral process.
Is this the true dawning of the age of democracy in Africa?
We believe so. True, several other African countries still groan under dictatorial rule, either by civilians or soldiers and some countries hardly have a government to speak of. But then Africa is not and has never been a homogeneous entity. Nevertheless, the momentum provided by some of the most influential African nations will surely carry the African continent, sooner rather than later, towards real democracy.
What will this mean in terms of development of the continent? Why is democracy so important? Is it in fact necessary at all for Africa in its current state of under-development? Will it change people's lives? Will it reduce poverty? Will it bring the cycle of violence that Africa is so prone to, to an end?
In our humble opinion, Africa perhaps needs democracy more than most other regions of the world. Whether democracy will reduce poverty or curtail violence or lead to an accelerated development we cannot say. There is just no way of knowing. What we do know is that without democracy, Africa will never break free from violence and poverty.
Africa needs true democracy because it was after all this desire that led to the fight for independence which cost millions of people their lives. That battle, for freedom, is not over. The first part involved freeing Africa from colonial clutches. Colonial rule was undemocratic. Power was used to extract resources...