Several elections will be held in West Africa this autumn. A quick run-through of 23 countries on the continent shows that democracy was already in better shape. The time of coups is over, but many countries are as authoritarian as ever under the liberal cloak.
In the second half of the 20th century, violent upheavals were common in sub-Saharan Africa. In the meantime, however, they have been replaced by what are sometimes called constitutional or electoral coups d’état, i.e. (re)elections that are formally democratic but so manipulated that they hardly reflect the will of the people.
It is striking that neither the West African Economic Community Cédéao/Ecowas nor the African Union, neither the former colonial power France nor the EU intervened. All four of them measure with different cubits and, depending on the country, protest or even intervene militarily (as Cédéao did in the case of Gambia) – or not.
In some states, such as Burkina Faso, where citizens are called to vote on 22 November, the situation is so tense because of the Islamist threat that it is impossible to hold orderly, safe elections in large parts of the country, even if the government wanted to.
The presidential elections in Guinea will take place on Sunday, followed by Tanzania on 28 October, Côte d’Ivoire on 31 October, Burkina Faso and Niger in November, and Ghana in December. West Africa has long been seen as a pioneer of democratisation in Africa, but experts agree that things are not looking particularly rosy in the region at present.
There are encouraging signs: In Niger, the current President Issoufou is no longer running for office after two mandates; Ghana, where the current President Akufo-Addo is running against his predecessor Mahama, is rightly considered a model of freedom, even if violence against journalists has increased recently. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, peace has been maintained after the civil war, and a peaceful democratic changeover has taken place in both countries.
Gambia has made the transition to democracy with the resignation of dictator Jammeh, although the current President Barrow is becoming increasingly authoritarian. Senegal, which like Ghana is considered a democratic beacon, is alarmed by the rumour that President Sall is seeking a third term in office.