TOAfrica cannot afford to continue the despotic forms of government that still proliferate across the continent. Authoritarian and dictatorial governments are repressive, corrupt and inefficient. Their main interest is to retain power and loot public resources for the benefit of a few political elites, leaving the majority of citizens in poverty. As a result, although rich in raw materials, our continent remains the poorest in the world.
We have seen this trend of authoritarianism in Zimbabwe, and now we are seeing it in Uganda, which has just had absurd elections.
These authoritarian regimes share a common thread: they do not tolerate dissent. Anyone who speaks out or asks questions is treated as an enemy of the state and not as a constructive part of the civic process. In this way, these regimes stifle competition and justify exclusion and repression. Such a manual has been shown in Uganda, where the regime unleashed atrocious violence against Bobi Wine and his movement during the election campaign.
Another common characteristic of these repressive governments is their refusal to allow young people to develop politically and assume leadership roles. This despite the reality that Africa has the world’s largest population of young people: the the average age is 19.7. It is also projected to have a population of 2.5 billion by 2050, most of whom will be young.
Young people represent a critical force in Africa. This future population projection is often called “demographic dividendAnd economists predict that this growth will be good for Africa. Others warn that this dividend can only be an asset for Africa if we can fix governance institutions, improve our infrastructure and move beyond being merely extractive economies.
Deliberate policies are needed that include young people in the political and economic architecture of their countries. Unless this is done, the demographic dividend will turn into a nightmare, as more young people depend on the state for their well-being.
Unfortunately, dictators get in the way. Young people seeking leadership are dismissed as upstarts and frustrated by the coercive power of the state. They are constantly told that they are the future, but that future never comes. The vision of the aging authoritarian generation in power is very self-centered and short-term: they have no real incentive to plan for a future that they have no prospect of experiencing. The result is that they think only of the now and only of themselves, their families and associates.
In Zimbabwe, we know all about false and misleading promises. When the current regime seized power from Robert Mugabe in November 2017, they made big promises that included a new democratic process, respect for human rights, and reintegration with the international community. But despite all these big claims, the Emmerson Mnangagwa government went on to oversee the exact opposite: contested elections, human rights violations and grand corruption. Lately, they have been using surrogates to undermine and wipe out the opposition. The Zanu-PF government has taken money destined for the opposition and diverted it to its associates. It has facilitated removal from elected representatives of parliament and local authorities from my MDC Alliance party.
Zimbabwe cannot afford any more corrosion of democracy in this decade, and neither can any other country in Africa. The government must be by the meaningful consent of the people: any consent that is coerced is not legitimate, it is not free choice. Elections must be free and transparent: When results are announced amid gross and obvious voting irregularities, the process lacks legitimacy.
The international community should not continue to approve of these illegitimate results in the name of presumed peacekeeping. The consequence of doing so is the continuation of exclusionary systems of government that face demographic and political changes.
Now dictators are cruelly exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic to strengthen repression. In Uganda, Yoweri Museveni used the pandemic to prevent his main rival from campaigning effectively during elections. In Zimbabwe, the regime suspended elections under the pretext of fighting the pandemic, but the ruling party continued its political activities.
The Mnangagwa regime has been arrest opponents and journalists and throwing them into crowded and sordid prisons, exposing them to Covid. When our MDC Alliance spokesperson, Fadzayi Mahere, was recently released from jail, she tested positive for the virus.
It is important that both the African and global communities take a firm stance on these illiberal regimes. Organizing elections is part of the dictators’ playbook because it creates a facade of democracy. It makes no sense to recognize unfair elections, like the one in Uganda in January, it only serves to legitimize and strengthen authoritarian regimes.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism