22 July 2019

A Brief History of Democracy in Africa

Professor Mohamedou presents a concise survey of the history of democracy in the African continent.

How are democratisation efforts faring in Africa and where does the African project of democracy historically spring from? In this short video, International History Professor and Chair of the International History Department Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou offers a pithy, analytical history of the different phases of the evolution of the question of democracy in Africa.

Whereas the discussion on democracy in Africa tends, on the one hand, to be confined to the past few decades, and, on the other hand, is dominated by a narrative of failure, Professor Mohamedou places the question in a much longer historicity, starting from the pre-colonial structures of power and deliberation, and invites a more complexified and nuanced outlook away from the one-dimensional failure-to-democratise story. In particular, he highlights the role of colonial dispossession and post-colonial authoritarianism and stresses the cumulative importance of the forgotten 1990s democratisation moment and the post-Arab Spring push by African civil societies.

The analysis was produced by Professor Mohamedou at the invitation of a group of students for a conference on “Democratisation in Africa – A Neocolonial Project Foredoomed to Failure or An Effective Driver of Development?” Organised by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation, the conference took place on 13-16 June 2019 in Würzburg, Germany. The four-day gathering was aimed at providing a broad overview on democracy and democratisation on the African continent, focusing on the historical evolution of democracy in Africa and the link between democracy and socioeconomic development.

Manuel Brutus Simon, a first-year master student in Development Studies who attended the conference, said: “We critically discussed external programmes aiming to promote democracy in Africa. The video by Professor Mohamedou was of great use for the conference as it provided a clear overview on the history of democracy in Africa, covering pre-colonial, colonial as well as post-colonial developments.”  He added: “When screening the video, we divided it into different parts and stopped after every part, in order to recap the most important aspects and discuss questions from the participants. After going through every period, we had an open discussion on the topic, during which participants drew connections between the three periods covered.”