Courtesy Reuters

Democracy in Africa: No Time to Forsake It

Africa's mixed record of democratization, including the emergence of a large number of hybrid regimes committed to effective governance and real economic development but not Western-style democracy, has led some analysts and foreign policy makers to question the wisdom of promoting democracy as a core theme of U.S. Africa policy. Lately, the focus has been on the leaders who have come to power in Central Africa and the Horn -- Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and Laurent Kabila of the former Zaire (Dan Connell and Frank Smyth, "Africa's New Bloc," March/April 1998).

Attention has focused on these five because upon taking power all inherited economic basket cases, and some the legacy of civil war. What sets this group apart is not their newness or cohesiveness as a bloc, but what they are against. All are committed to sweeping away the failures of the past, including the political class associated with those failures. All want to assert African control of the continent's destiny, and thus reject a deferential attitude toward outsiders and their advice. All are also impatient with leaders of neighboring states who do not share these objectives and whose regimes threaten their own. The conventional wisdom about the new leaders is that all have embraced economic reform, reestablished political stability, and reduced human rights abuses, but have resisted multiparty democracy -- a strategy that has achieved dramatic results. In this view they deserve, and indeed have received, the support of the international community because they are committed to putting their own houses in order.


On closer inspection, one finds considerable variation among the chosen five. The so-called "new" leaders of Africa are not all new. Museveni has been in office for more than a decade; Meles and Isaias are approaching seven years. None plans to retire anytime soon. With respect to economic reform and the establishment of a strong free-market economy, all are pragmatic and

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