VOL. 20 - NO.2

The state of democracy - The case of Africa

From the guest editor 

The state of democracy – the case of Africa

Based on demand, our last edition featuring a discussion on the state of democracy in Latin America certainly seemed an apt and topical theme to pursue. Continuing unstable situations in Venezuela and Nicaragua have led to considerable decay in the social and economic situation in each of these Latin American countries and to considerable flows of outward migration. As of writing, the ISS has kept up to date with the debate on Brazil democracy and the impending second round vote. A polarized public, authoritarian rhetoric by the right-wing candidate, and uncertain outcomes define the current terrain.

Our desire to give some brief insights into ‘the state of democracy’ continues into this edition, this time with a focus on Africa. The article by Hintjens and Asiimwe on Eastern African politics amply illustrates the dependency of legitimacy on a (perceived) need to deliver immediate results for some (or at least for those with most voice and power). The slippery slide into forced, administered or cajoled further terms in office has been the case in most East African states in recent times. 

The fragility of the concept and practice of democracy in East Africa does (as suggested by the authors) appear to require the support of forces with most voice and power – those that ‘determine its day-to day conduct’. The fragility of processes and institutions is shown. In this sense, this is also what is happening in Venezuela and Nicaragua. Times will tell whether Brazilian institutions can uphold democratic legitimacy alongside a quite different regime to that defined by the Labour Party. From an African and internationalist perspective, as noted by Jan Pronk (also this edition), the effectiveness and popularity of the Presidential role played by Kofi Annan in terms of democracy in Africa stands out as exemplary in this respect. 

Nevertheless, the practice of democracy can take many forms. One example is the gradual movement to more active citizenship for women in Rwanda, as noted by Muhumuza in this issue. The role of mobile phones in helping to give voice and a sense of inclusion/legitimacy to voiceless sufferers of HIV/AIDS in Africa, illustrated by the work of Wagner et al in Burkino Faso, is another. The activities of former students (e.g. Nderitu’s promotion of voice to the LGBT+ community) and academic writings (e.g. Icaza et al) in respect to the need for a decolonized (and gendered) perspective on development, further underline the role of ISS in these broader democratic awareness initiatives. Our questioning (staff–student interview, Schneider-Schiavoni) of standard conceptions of food security, as one needing the active involvement and views of local communities and other affected actors in its day-to-day application (moving to a concept of food sovereignty), is another good example. 

We hope this issue of DevISSues will give you a snapshot of who we are and what we do, as we roll into another winter in the lowlands.

Dr Lee Pegler – chair, DevISSues


Rector’s Blog: Erasmus by the Sea

Kofi Annan

Post-liberal politics in East Africa: the tickbird and the rhino

Rwandan women: from submission to active citizenship

Focus on ISS

Student Life


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