Democracy is the key of peace in Africa.
A democratic decline, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, is underway in sub-Saharan Africa. More Africans live under fully or partially authoritarian states today than at most points in the last two decades.
Even before the pandemic, an increasing number of African heads of state had moved to undermine term limits or rig elections to remain in power.
But COVID-19 has given them greater leverage, providing further pretext for postponing elections in Somalia and Ethiopia, muzzling opposition figures in Uganda and Tanzania, and imposing restrictions [PDF] on media across the continent. The enforcement of pandemic restrictions by security services has often been brutal, provoking demonstrations in Kenya and even in more advanced democracies such as South Africa.
As governments across the continent become, with some exceptions, more authoritarian, Africans will be increasingly alienated from those claiming to represent them. Political instability can manifest itself in severe episodes of violence, as is already being seen in Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Nigeria.
Such turmoil will grow as elites compete for power and citizens resist oppressive regimes, and will, in turn, inhibit social and economic development, to the disadvantage of the continent’s rapidly growing population. Taken together, these forces also drive internal displacement and outward migration—both to other African countries and to Europe.
Addressing these issues will require grappling with long-standing grievances left untreated and often exacerbated by the poor, sometimes brutal governance that is all too common across the African continent.