David Frum

11.13.12

The Thin Veneer of African 'Democracy'

Well then, it seems Kofi Annan is hopping off the optimist bandwagon.

For years analysts have held that democratic elections are key to spurring economic development in Africa and therefore ought to receive greater U.S. support. But the African democracy consensus is beginning to crack, and even Kofi Annan is skeptical. A new report by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), with Annan as chairman, tells us that elections often provide “a false veneer of legitimacy” for autocratic incumbents.

The report finds that elections often exacerbate underlying tribal, ethnic and religious tensions rather than guide polities into a bright, secular future. The fixation on elections as “the root of democracy” is doing little to help the downtrodden and keep the peace.

Then again, it never hurts to subtly remind everyone that 'progress' is not a linear concept. Yes, as Mead points out (in a later paragraph I did not quote), things don't look good in Mali. But citing the revolution in Libya as an example of problems with secular democracy? ...