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Analysis: South Africa's elections are a boost to African democracy
Although still outnumbered by autocracies, other West African nations like Mali and Senegal routinely carry out transparent elections. Perhaps most significantly, various regional bodies have taken unprecedented steps to ensure that democratic development in Africa has both a legal foundation as well as practical support. The African Union recently established a small but active "democracy assistance unit". The Economic Community of West Africa States, too, has its own electoral division and the treaty which established the Southern African Development Community (SADC) specifically commits member states to “human rights, democracy and the rule of law”.
Attending the official announcement of South Africa’s electoral outcome at the high tech results center in Pretoria, I overheard a local political activist remark breathlessly to his companions: “This is a wonderful day; the people have spoken!" Minutes later, the chairperson of the country’s electoral commission gave an emotional speech in which she quoted Thomas Paine on democracy.
Not so many years ago, I would have interpreted such expressions as either wildly naïve or deeply cynical. Today, thanks to committed men and women all over Africa, I believe them.
Christian Hennemeyer is a vice president at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems in Washington, D.C. He has lived and worked in Africa for over 20 years.
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