Following the collapse of communism, democracy became a global phenomenon at the start of the 1970s. By 2005 a recorded 64 percent of the world’s states were electoral democracies, compared to only 40 percent in the 1980’s.
Democracy is historically an all-inclusive term as it is comprised of several tenets in order to be fully realized namely; the rule of law, elections, human rights, freedoms (expression, assembly, speech, and press), the separation of powers, constitutionalism, transparency, and accountability – to name few. As such, today we see countries classified according to their level of democratization, common titles scale from being ‘full democracies’, ‘flawed democracies’, ‘hybrid regimes’ to ‘authoritarian regimes’
In the past decade it has be argued that we are experiencing “a pause in democracies’ march”. Democracy is coming under greater scrutiny as leaders question whether it is the most viable form of governance – an increasingly growing sentiment on the African continent.
Authoritarian regimes such as those of Lee Kuan Yew saw to Singapore rapidly rising from a poverty-stricken nation to become an Asian Giant following the implementation of a national campaign which suppressed opposition, press freedoms, and personal liberties. Singapore’s authoritarian rise to economic independence and supremacy inspired a generation; “democracy is less of a priority and they waste less time talking [Asian Tigers] – but get economic results. It’s proof that there is more than one way to get things done”.
Undisputedly democracy still reigns supreme, albeit compromised in its presentation. In Africa, the convening of regular elections has become the favoured indicator of being democratic; whilst elections themselves are often fraught with contestation, rigging or conflict. Global discourse suggests that we are seeing “a crisis in democracy”as governance selectively implements favoured principles of democracy rather culminate them in realizing a ‘full democracy’. This trend can be seen as a threat to democracy, other protruding threats include; constitutional amendments which allow for unlimited term limits, conflict prone elections or the muting of civil liberties and opposition.
It has been proposed that Africans should “Africanise” democracy; the understanding is that Africa has informal governance and power structures rooted in traditional and ethnic leadership. Thus these structures need to be incorporated into formal government – even given legislative powers – in order to achieve democratic governance. Whether such notions are viable or will indeed allow for democratisation in Africa, one conclusion can be made: democracy as a concept, ideology or value system is fundamentally dependant on how it is practised by leadership more than how it is, or should be defined.