Democracy can be seen as a set of practices and principles that institutionalise, and
thereby, ultimately, protect freedom. Even if a consensus on precise definitions has proved elusive, most observers today would agree that, at a minimum, the fundamental features of a democracy include government based on majority rule and the consent of the governed; the existence of free and fair elections; the protection of minority rights; and respect for basic human rights. Democracy presupposes equality before the law, due process and political pluralism. A question arises as to whether reference to these basic features is sufficient for a satisfactory concept of democracy. I believe that Democracy can and will work in Africa. Last year Nigeria experienced it's first democractic change of power. The unseating of the incumbent ruler throught the ballot box is an extremely positive political event in a country that has hitherto known only military coups and civilian governments that have clung on to power. In a region that has a mixed record with democracy, and a number of upcoming elections, political leaders will be looking to learn lessons from one of the continent’s political and economic powerhouses.
An incumbent being defeated is not unheard of in Africa. Over the past 20 years, incumbents in countries such as Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Senegal and Zambia have been defeated in elections—but it is rare. Cabo Verde is also due to hold a presidential vote in 2016, in which the incumbent could well lose. Yet, free and fair elections are firmly established in the small island nation and Nigeria’s influence on eventsthere will be minimal. The same holds for Zambia, where elections tend to be reasonably free and fair and the idea of regime change is widely accepted (it has had five popularly elected presidents over the past 25 years).
Elsewhere, the impact of the Nigerian precedent has been, or will be, less noticeable. Côte d’Ivoire its presidential poll in October 2015, but, with the opposition imploding, the country’s two main political parties backing the incumbent , an upset at the ballot box was not on the cards. Meanwhile, in Burundi, the incumbent, Pierre Nkurunziza, ignored widespread opposition to his seeking a controversial third term as president in July 2015, bringing the country close to a new civil war. Nigeria’s credibility as a promoter of democracy in the region will be strengthened, and it could use this to influence developments beyond its borders. Voters will also be inspired by the example set by their Nigerian peers, and, assuming election processes are relatively credible, this could help to tilt the balance in favour of peaceful regime changes in places such as Benin (February 2016), Liberia (2017), and Sierra Leone (2017), where there will be no incumbents to defend their positions.
There is no consensus on how to measure democracy. Definitions of democracy are contested, and there is a lively debate on the subject. The issue is not only of academic interest. For example, although democracy-promotion is high on the list of US foreign-policy priorities, there is no consensus within the US government as to what constitutes a democracy. As one observer recently put it, “The world’s only superpower is rhetorically and militarily promoting a political system that remains undefined—and it is staking its credibility and treasure on that pursuit,” (Horowitz, 2006, p114).