Political stability is a quality hard to acquire in African governments, and often fleeting once obtained. Politicians once taking office can hijack a democratic system to remain in power indefinitely, turning the country into a ‘paper democracy’ that has democratic institutions like a constitution, courts and legislature but in fact is an autocracy whose governance institutions serve the head of state. Political stability is also a relatively new factor in the governance of Africa. The longest continuously stable democracy is Botswana. The vast arid country has faced its own governance issues but remained committed to its constitutional roots that ensure a government that benefits the Botswana people rather than any one leader.
Is there a formula that allows an African country to sidestep the pitfalls of military coups d’état and ambitious tyrants that in an instant can upend years of progressive democratic governance? The answer lies within the collective will of the governed, the people of any country. The pro-democracy movement that in 2011 rid North Africa of its despots during the Arab Spring and the subsequent removal of long-seated autocrats in Angola, Burkina-Faso, The Gambia and Zimbabwe, suggests that populations are willing to be denied their political rights only for a finite period of time. In Togo, President Faure Gnassingbé whose family has ruled since 1967 is subject to massive weekly street demonstrations seeking an end to his dynasty. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, another family dynasty continues as Joseph Kabila remains in office more than a year after his last presidential term expired. However, he must rely on security forces to suppress unprecedented resistance from political opposition groups. Though in office less than two years, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli and Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu are showing alarming autocratic tendencies that will subsume their countries’ political freedoms if the Tanzanian and Zambian people allow.