Political and Economic Governance
The world will remember 2011 as the year of the “Arab Spring” when people in North Africa rose up against political oppression, social inequality and a lack of economic opportunity. The revolts against autocratic regimes have empowered democratically-elected Islamist governments and parliaments in Egypt and Tunisia. These new governments must now tackle the root causes of the revolutions to appease legitimate, but high expectations in the short run, while providing citizens with a real democratic alternative in the long run.
Other African countries also faced pressure to meet popular demands for civil rights and better social policies. Africans have become increasingly frustrated with corruption, a lack of decent employment and not seeing a share of the growing wealth from a decade of strong economic growth. As in 2006-07, soaring food and fuel prices were in 2011 a trigger for public discontent and strikes to demand better wages and labour conditions.
The increase in our civil protest indicator reflects a positive trend of African governments gradually opening up and allowing more freedom of expression, Africans increasingly adopt more peaceful ways to voice political, social or economic concerns. When demonstrations increase in magnitude and frequency, the probability of violence between governments and protesters becomes higher, as monitored by our civil violence indicator. Yet, in 2011, there was only a moderate increase of civil violence relative to the much larger increase in civil protests. In most African countries the public political debate is becoming more mature, peaceful and open.
These findings are coherent with our political hardening indicator, which shows that about half of African countries managed to accommodate intensifying social demands in less violent ways. Other African countries, however, still resort to repression to handle social unrest and political opposition, especially at election time. Governments clinging to power tend to stir up rival factions and violence between their opponents and supporters.
However, pre-electoral tensions are becoming the exception rather than the rule, as shown by the many successful elections held in 2010 and 2011. There will be another eight presidential elections and 17 legislative and parliamentary elections in 2012.
Senegal came through one democratic test in March 2012 when President Abdoulaye Wade gave up office after losing an election. The country saw violent protests in January however when a court backed Wade’s claim to be able to stand for a third term even though he had introduced a two-term limit for presidents.
In spite of this overall positive picture, some concerns remain. Since March 2012 Mali has been experiencing a protracted political stalemate following a military coup. At the same time the northern half of the country has fallen in the hands of Tuareg rebels, many of them former fighters in Libya that returned to Mali with powerful weaponry after the end of Khadafy’s regime.
The analysis in this chapter is based on 16 years of data on civil tension in 25 African countries . This includes strikes, demonstrations and violence by non-government actors, as well as government violence, arrests, bans, curfews and states of emergencies and some government softening by lifting bans and releasing political prisoners. The analysis also uses measures of freedom and democracy from Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders.