As the last survivors of the generation of long-serving African leaders once engaged in Africa’s decolonization are – hesitantly – leaving the scene, the way politics is made on the continent is changing. New heads of state are subject to higher demands and pressure for good governance. Elections in most countries are now subject to stricter international monitoring and, more importantly, populations are becoming politically aware and capable of organizing themselves.
Africa is undergoing rapid transformation. Its countries were among the fastest growing economies in the first decade and a half of the 21st century. As a result, the continent features a rapidly expanding middle class, firming democracy, regional integration, demographic growth and rapid urbanization. However, state weakness, bad governance and armed conflicts remain common despite these changes. Three African countries extensively covered by GIS showcase the challenges, but also the emerging, indigenous governance solutions.
The Republic of Rwanda
Notorious for the 1994 genocide and ethnic brutality that claimed 800,000 lives in the course of a few months, Rwanda emerged less than two decades later as a World Bank economic poster child. In many respects, it stands as Africa’s most astounding success story. The country has become one of the continent’s fastest expanding economies. Most importantly, its growth, sustained by a combination of strong leadership, clear goals and rigorous management of public resources (Rwanda is among the least corrupt states in Africa), has been translated into improved living standards for a majority of the Rwandan people. GIS expert Teresa Nogueira Pinto set out to explore the East African country’s amazing transformation in January 2012.
The starting point was extremely low, the expert noted: Rwanda was the world’s second poorest country even before the genocide, lacking natural resources and development prospects. After the conflict, its state coffers were empty, major buildings and standard infrastructure destroyed and even the most basic materials were missing. On top of that, the country lost its cultural, political and economic elite. Yet, Rwanda has escaped the poverty trap and overcome economic collapse.
At the core of Mr. Kagame’s development strategy has been a textbook set of liberal, free-market-based prescriptions: stimuli for the private sector, export diversification and attracting foreign investment through an inviting fiscal policy. But there have also been other parts. Ms. Pinto wrote:
Rwanda is a world champion of gender equality with the highest proportion of female parliamentarians. It has an efficient education system, near-universal health insurance, low crime rates and an impressive “green agenda” which includes measures such as a national ban on plastic bags.
Mr. Kagame’s record as president is not free of controversy, however. He stands accused in the West of permanently delaying a transition to real democracy, crushing the opposition and harassing independent media and human rights organizations working in Rwanda. His model for the country, the expert explained, seemed to be a balance between the “Beijing consensus” and a more Western vision for the country’s future.
“Politics in Rwanda is still hostage to the genocide. Security concerns are the argument against any political dissent,” Ms. Pinto noted in her follow-up report on January 24, 2012. It presented examples of the Kagame government’s harsh treatment of critics and opponents. The report included the hint that Mr. Kagame may want to run for the presidency for a third time in 2017 – despite the country’s constitutional ban on such ambitions.
In this report, published in GIS in January 2013, Teresa Pinto investigated why the president of Rwanda so firmly believed in the necessity to prioritize economic growth and stability above democracy. It is all there in Paul Kagame’s biography: the harrowing experience of violence that erupts so easily from incendiary speech; the bitter lesson of Western inaction in the face of the genocide; and the future president’s 30 years spent in exile, as a guerilla fighter longing to return home.
By early December 2015, the syndrome of incumbent leaders seeking to extend their time in power beyond legal limits had already become known as “third-termism” or “constitutional coups,” a hot topic in African politics. It was against that backdrop that Ms. Pinto analyzed in her GIS report the popular – if slightly orchestrated – push in Rwanda for allowing a third term to President Kagame.
“The country’s history of genocide and its recovery under Mr. Kagame’s tenure make it a singular test case,” the expert wrote. She described the elaborate process of the constitutional change but concluded that the outcome was becoming clear. When President Kagame would reach the end of his second seven-year term in 2017, the maximum allowed under the 2003 constitution, she wrote, “the only candidate to succeed him will be … Paul Kagame.”
On Dec. 23, 2015, GIS founder Prince Michael of Liechtenstein commented on the Rwandan referendum, which had overwhelmingly approved an amendment that changed presidential term limits. The new rules meant that 58-year-old President Paul Kagame could run again for the presidency in 2017 and serve until 2034. The Prince, who had lived and worked in Africa, observed:
The initiative has been criticized in Europe. But the choice does not lie with the Americans or Europeans. The decision is the Rwandans’ alone to make. The international community should abstain from judgment.
In another comment, in February 2017, Prince Michael made a case for the Rwandan leader by comparing his record with the less-than-stellar one of the president of neighboring Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, also seeking a third term.
No major surprises were expected after Rwanda’s presidential elections on August 4, 2017. Mr. Kagame would win with at least a comfortable majority, Ms. Pinto correctly predicted at the beginning of 2017. In her July 2017 report, she listed the Kagame administration’s successes in developing the country. However, the author also pointed out the uncertainty about the president’s plans for his third term, at a time when Rwanda’s model of growth and development without political power-sharing was starting to be contested at home and internationally.
On August 4, 2017, Paul Kagame was reelected to his third term with 98.79 percent of the vote.
The Democratic Republic of Congo
Early in 2012, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) stood at the brink of another of its countless internecine wars. Three months after the chaotic elections in November 2011, the country had two sworn-in presidents: Joseph Kabila and Etienne Tshisekedi.
Incumbent President Kabila, Teresa Pinto wrote in her report, prevailed at the polls with 49 percent of the vote. Mr. Tshisekedi, one of more than 30 opposition candidates running in the contest, received 32 percent but refused to accept the result and was sworn in as president by his supporters.
The electoral process, Ms. Pinto pointed out, lacked credibility and transparency. “[M]ultiple locations, notably several Katanga province constituencies, reported impossibly high rates of 99 to 100 percent voter turnout with all, or nearly all, votes going to incumbent President Joseph Kabila,” she wrote.
Polling was held on an uneven playing field. The expert explained:
A constitutional amendment, which included a switch from proportional representation to majority voting, was seen to favor 40-year-old President Kabila and his political entourage. So was the appointment of people from his inner circle to the Supreme Court and the Independent National Electoral Commission.
The conflict was characteristic of Africa’s most populated Francophone country – rich beyond belief in natural resources but lacking in infrastructure, rules-based governance and holistic development after centuries of colonial and commercial extraction.
“Democratic elections in ethnic and regionally divided societies tend to accentuate cleavages and rivalries,” wrote the GIS expert. She added that in a country where rebels and armed groups still hold much power this is even more dangerous.
Perennial war zone
The Great Lakes region of Africa, and eastern Congo in particular, has been the battleground for armies and rival rebel militia groups since ethnic violence exploded between Hutus and Tutsis in the 1990s. As the defeated Hutus fled into Zaire, the Rwandan and Ugandan armies followed. The Second Congo War started in 1998 and ultimately nine African countries and 25 different armed groups were involved in the hostil