By Alexis Coopersmith
The year 2013 ended with the passing of South Africa’s father of democracy, Nelson Mandela. World leaders, African politicians and people throughout the world united in celebrating the life of Mandela while reflecting upon his pursuit of social justice, equality and democracy. After his death, many African heads of state praised Mandela as a courageous leader, an inspiration for the African people and a “global icon of peace, justice and freedom,” but will these African leaders actively uphold the legacy of Mandela?
This year could prove to be definitive for the progression of democracy on the African continent. South Africa will hold presidential elections in April. Following the example of Nelson Mandela, incumbent Jacob Zuma previously promised to serve one term before stepping down; but now, as elections draw near, Zuma seems to be preparing his campaign with the African National Congress for another term of presidency.
At the memorial service held for Mandela in South Africa, loud boos and taunts bellowed from the crowd as President Zuma took the stage. Twenty years after liberation, many South Africans are disappointed with social inequalities and economic hardships that continue throughout the nation. The unemployment rate “remains 24.7 percent, while average earnings for black households are a sixth of their white counterparts,” demonstrating a lack of the economic and social progress that South Africans expect. In the past, the ANC pursued economic policies that were decidedly left behind by Mandela during his time as president, upsetting citizens.
President Zuma and the ANC are the focus of people’s disapproval of the government. Decreasing approval ratings among the youth are a particular concern for the ANC’s campaign. According to South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission, over 80 percent of new voter registrations for the 2014 elections were young people.
Despite these issues, Jacob Zuma’s campaign for re-election continues as the ANC’s only presidential candidate. The ANC recently released its election manifesto for 2014, promising to create 6 million new jobs while in office. The April election will demonstrate if South Africans are confident in the promises of their incumbent. It will be interesting to see how Zuma responds to the will of South Africans, whether it is as their re-elected leader or as the losing presidential candidate.
In addition to South Africa, Botswana, Guinea Bissau, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria and Namibia will all host general elections this year. The last local elections held in Malawi were in 2000, stalling the democratic development of the country in the 21st century. The 2014 elections may also elect municipal leaders alongside presidential and parliamentary candidates, though the issue is currently being debated.
In the past, the international community praised Malawi President Joyce Banda for her stance against political corruption, but recently the international community berated President Banda for her alleged part in the “Cash-Gate Scandal”. Malawians recently learned of financial mismanagement of public funds within the executive branch, including the authorization of $3 million to a non-existent firm by an accountant in Banda’s office. Malawians suspect that Banda and her supporters used public money to fund her upcoming presidential campaign. Though President Banda refutes the allegations, western donors halted aid to Malawi.
In her eulogy at Mandela’s memorial service, she recalled Nelson as “a great reformer” but it is questionable whether she will bring democratic and legal reforms to Malawi. In light of the corruption scandal, prospects of such reform seem slim. Local elections are integral to democracy and social equality, and if Banda were to uphold the legacy of Mandela, she would ensure that people could elect their local government officials in the upcoming elections.
Though the 2011 Nigerian elections “were seen as among the most credible the country has ever held,” post-election violence surrounding the reelection of President Goodluck Jonathan led to the death of more than 800 people. His victory was thought to be fraudulent by many citizens of Nigeria. Considering the volatility surrounding allegations of fraud in the last ‘democratic’ elections, the early 2015 Nigerian presidential election may be pertinent to democratization and social progression within Africa.
There is a tradition of rotating presidency within Nigeria in which power rotates between people from North and South Nigeria. This was the source of the 2011 violence, where many disputed the legality of re-electing Jonathan after he served a partial term as President in succession following the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua. If Jonathan wished to avoid election violence in 2015, he should adhere to the rotating tradition and not run for presidential re-election. On Jan. 16, Jonathan announced the elections would be free and fair, but he did not state whether he will be a candidate. Despite domestic pressure to step down from the upcoming elections, there are rumors that Jonathan will announce his bid for reelection soon.
Amid international criticism, President Jonathan signed an Anti-Gay Bill into law on Jan. 13, criminalizing gay marriage and same-sex relationships. The bill states that those convicted will be punished with a 14-year prison sentence and any person who “participates in gay clubs…or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship” will be sentenced 10 years in prison.
It is suspected that President Jonathan passed this bill just before the announcement of his presidential candidacy to boost his popularity within the nation. Regardless of the policy’s domestic support, this bill denies equal rights to the Nigerian people. This event and rumors of Jonathan’s bid for re-election casts into doubt the prospect of future peaceful relations and social justice in the state of Nigeria.
In the words of Mandela, “Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.” The upcoming year will demonstrate whether the leaders of African nations will remember the model of leadership and the words of wisdom left behind by the great Nelson Mandela.
Photo By tlupic