Lessons from Africa's democratic upheavals.

Author:Resnick, Danielle

During the last month, three democracies in Africa witnessed incumbent presidents exit office in very different ways. The most dramatic was in Mali where a coup by the military resulted in the ousting of President Amadou Toumani Toure only one month before that country was due to hold elections. In neighboring Senegal, a potentially violent election resulted in the incumbent Abdoulaye Wade peacefully leaving office after 12 years and handing over power to his former prime minister and erstwhile protege, Macky Sall. At the other end of the continent, President Bingu wa Mutharika's controversial tenure in office suddenly ended in early April with his death from cardiac arrest.

The fates and legacies of these three presidents illustrate varying aspects of Africa's democratic trajectory since the 1990s when many of countries in the region underwent transitions to multi-party regimes. Ever since Toure militarily deposed the autocratic Moussa Traore and helped pave the way for a democratic transition in 1992 when Alpha Oumar Konare was elected president, Mali has been viewed as a democratic success story. The presence of a vibrant press and civil society, along with a peaceful electoral turnover from Konare to Toure in 2002, reaffirmed this perception. The military takeover in March 2012 was therefore unexpected, and contradicted the claims of some scholars of democratic consolidation that coups become less likely once countries have had at least two decades of multi-party rule.

The immediate catalyst for the coup was the lack of resources for the military as they combat two main types of rebellion in the northern region of the country. The first has been the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) led by Tuaregs who believe that they have been discriminated against politically and economically and who want to establish their own nation-state. Indeed, inequalities between the north and south on a wide variety of socioeconomic indicators are woefully large. At the same time, Al Qaeda in the Maghreb has taken advantage of vast, uncontrolled areas of the north to engage in a wide array of criminal activities. Setbacks to the Malian military against these rebels had prompted widespread discontent among the public, highlighted by marches in the capital of Bamako prior to the takeover by Captain Amadou Sanogo. Nevertheless, while many did not approve of the Toure government's handling of the rebels and were becoming increasingly...

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