Don’t let the sun set on democracy in Africa

As the rule of law and democracy come under increasing pressure across the continent, Africans cannot afford to be complacent. 


The role of governments is to manage institutions that promote development, good governance and the rule of law, while making efforts to empower their citizens and increase their role in the governance of the country.

This is not only because that is in line with modern trends, but also because it is necessary in any country aspiring to attain the highest standards of economic development, democracy and good governance.

As Sierra Leonean lawyer Augustine Marrah puts it: “The rule of law and democratic governance are not the sun and the moon which rise up every day without being prompted or summoned. [They] are products of our collective efforts and commitments. We cannot and must not leave it to chance or resign in the face of increasing flagrancy of abuse of power and manipulation of laws.”

In other words, someone has got to hold the government accountable – otherwise our governments will ask us to eat cake where no bread is available. As former Ghanaian President John Mahama puts it, economic development is a dividend of good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

They come as a package and allow the marketplace of ideas to flourish. It is only when that happens that we can get the best solutions to the many challenges that plague us, including the challenge of economic development.

The rule of law is directly related to economic development. One only has to look to the failing fortunes of South Africa, whose credit rating has now been downgraded to junk status in the wake of corruption and infractions of the rule of law.

On 19th August 2017, protestors from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia lined up outside the Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state summit in South Africa to protest against the falling levels of democracy in their respective countries.

The fall in democratic standards and adherence to the rule of law appears to be a trend across the African continent. According to the World Bank’s Poverty in a Rising Africa report, while the levels of poverty have fallen from 57% in 1990 to 43% in 2012, “from a regional perspective, inequality among Africans is rising and is high compared with other regions.” This, combined with a lack of transparency and accountability in most African countries, is trouble for the Africa Rising narrative.

Adherence to the rule of law is cardinal to ensuring the highest levels of accountability and subsequently fiscal prudence and economic development. The package of democracy, human rights, good governance and the rule of law is the economy, stupid. We cannot ignore it, nor can we wish it away as an inconvenient obstacle to self-enrichment.

Africans should not stand back and allow the sun to set on what little gains we have made. If we do, more poverty for the most vulnerable of our citizens is on the horizon. The consequences of that will affect everyone. Arise Africa!

Linda Kasonde is president of the Law Association of Zambia.

Want to continue reading? Subscribe today.

You've read all your free articles for this month! Subscribe now to enjoy full access to our content.

Digital Monthly

£8.00 / month

Receive full unlimited access to our articles, opinions, podcasts and more.

Digital Yearly

£70.00 / year

Our best value offer - save £26 and gain access to all of our digital content for an entire year!