Africa and the Arab Spring: A New Era of Democratic Expectations
Author: Joseph Siegle et al.
Size: 72 pages (1.36)
This paper suggests that the Arab Spring is a trigger for further democratic reforms in Africa, rather than a driver. There are few linear relationships linking events in North Africa to specific shifts in democratisation on the continent. However, the frustration propelling the protests in North Africa resonates with many Africans. The Arab Spring is instigating changes in the expectations that African citizens have of their governments.
Democracy in sub-Saharan Africa, while at different stages of progress, is not starting from scratch, unlike in most of the Arab world. Sub-Saharan Africa has been experiencing its own democratic surge with important advances in Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, Niger, Nigeria, and Zambia, among other countries. This progress builds on nearly two decades of democratic institution building on the continent. Even so, regime models remain highly varied, ranging from autocracies, to semi-authoritarian regimes and democracies.
The Arab Spring is serving as a spur for further democratic reforms in the region. There have been protests in more than a dozen African capitals demanding greater political pluralism, transparency and accountability. Some have even explicitly described the Arab Spring as a model. At the same time, a number of African governments are so fearful that they have banned mention of the Arab Spring on the Internet or in other public media.
As well as changing citizens' expectations of their governments, the democratic protests in North Africa are teaching important lessons that democracy is not bestowed on, but earned by, citizens. The changed expectations are especially potent since they combine with more fundamental drivers of change that are likely to spur further democratic advances in Africa in the next several years. These drivers include the following:
Despite the noteworthy progress, however, significant obstacles to further democratic progress persist:
While positive outcomes are not assured, prospects for further democratic advances in Africa are promising. These advances will not be as sudden as in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya but are likely to be widespread, depending on the starting point of each given society. To realise these gains:
Siegle, J. et al., 2011, 'Africa and the Arab Spring: A New Era of Democratic Expectations', Special Report, Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Washington DC