Requiem for Democracy? Interrogating Democracy Decline in West Africa

Democracy in West Africa, and Africa in general, has been on a worrying decline in the last five years. The democracy index of the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) shows that democracy declined globally in 2019. The average score for Africa fell from 4.36 in 2018 to 4.26 in 2019, its worst score in over a decade. The index is based on five sets of criteria: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation, and political culture. In 2019 Togo, Niger and Guinea were ranked as authoritarian while Mali, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Burkina Faso are ranked as hybrids; halfway between authoritarian rule and democracy. In 2020, Freedom House reported that the region that showed the fastest decline in political rights and civil liberties was West Africa. This is within the context of a global rise in authoritarianism and decline of democratic values in countries like United States. Of the 12 countries with the largest score declines around the world no fewer than five were in West Africa—Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, and Nigeria. In Freedom House’s classifications of Free, Partly Free, and Not Free countries, Senegal and Benin fell from free to partly free status, leaving Ghana and Cabo Verde as the only two countries classified as free in the region. For a continent that was once the bastion of democratic progress, the current realities are worrying. Besides the worrying information provided in this index, dangerous personalization and manipulations of procedural democracy for the benefit of incumbents have taken place in Togo, Benin and Cote d’Ivoire. In Senegal, similar concerns are being raised about the trajectory of Macky Sall’s administration, especially its intolerance toward alternative voices and the consolidation of state power across the three organs of government.

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