Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

The African Summer

| July 28, 2011

The fires of democratic revolution won't spread south after the Arab Spring. And that's a good thing.

"The sudden pace at which revolutionary fires swept across North Africa took the world by surprise: It was a hopeful Arab Spring for many. The rest of the continent, however, appears to be experiencing a long African Summer characterized by incremental democratic change and slow but steady economic growth.

True, there have been protests in a few African countries since the onset of the so-called Arab Spring, but the results have been mixed. Recent protests in Malawi and Senegal have been portrayed as signs that revolution might be catching on, but similar attempts in Zimbabwe were quickly suppressed and the country appears to have returned to its unsteady and oppressive state.

It is possible that sudden eruptions of rebellion could occur in other countries, such as Sudan, in ways that mirror some of the events in North Africa. What's much more likely is that sub-Saharan Africa will go on as it has been, with a relatively revolution-proof mixture of slow democratic reforms and gradually rising economic prospects, a dual transformation that has kept its citizens just happy enough to avoid outright rebellion. Whatever the case, 2011 will be a record year for African elections, with some 28 national-level ballots; whether most are free or not — or herald real democratic transitions — is another question entirely.

Sub-Saharan Africa's democratic march started at a time when the continent's economic prospects looked gloomy. The twin oil crises of the 1970s had played a key role in worsening macroeconomic balances in various countries. At the same time, demand for democratic reform began, when it became evident in many countries that post-independence promises of prosperity weren't forthcoming. The rise in corruption and the spread of one-party rule triggered some of the early pro-democracy movements.

This was reinforced by the fall of the Berlin Wall, when many of the repressive regimes that thrived on Cold War allegiances became vulnerable to demands for greater democracy...."

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For Academic Citation: Juma, Calestous.“The African Summer.” Foreign Policy, July 28, 2011.