Part 1: Introduction

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Why democracy?

In Africa democracy is sometimes seen as a foreign idea not suitable for the continent’s culture, or even as a new form of Western interference. Yet before the arrival of colonialism traditional African political systems had a participatory character and enjoyed high levels of accountability. The societies were patriarchal, but in the Western world, too, women’s suffrage, or the right of women to vote in elections, came only towards the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century.

Of course, modern democracy differs in many ways from its traditional African forms. Nevertheless, the core elements of popular participation and accountability of the rulers to the people are far from alien to the continent. The difference today is that meaningful political participation by citizens is assured by their right to vote in a government that is then held accountable to the citizens and ought to respond to their demands.

Democracy means individual freedom, in contrast to authoritarian governments where citizens do not have any voice about by whom or how they are ruled, and where the leaders do not give their subjects free choice but decide what the people can or cannot do. The hard and long struggle for liberation, which ended the rule of the authoritarian apartheid regime, has thus returned democracy to the African people.

Next up:
Studying democracy