EDITORIAL: Its failings aside, democracy still emerges winner

Sunday November 08 2020

People stand in line to vote at the Morton and Barbara Mandel Recreation Center on November 03, 2020 in Palm Beach, Florida, US. PHOTO | AFP

By The EastAfrican

Should African leaders be celebrating the election debacle in the United States? Probably not.

The peculiar circumstances of the US presidential election this week, have fascinated audiences across the world. From Harare to Tehran, the US has been the butt of jokes as willy-nilly democrats in tin-pot dictatorships imagined mirror images of their countries in the drawn-out US contest.

There are many reasons why events in the US should not offer comfort to African leaders who may see them as a validation of their own failings.

The true lessons from what is happening in the US are far removed from whatever opportunistic interpretations one may choose to take.

One is that there will always be occasions when man surrenders to temptations but institutions reign supreme. Second, regardless of its shortcomings, free and fair elections in a democracy are actually the closest thing there is to anything that represents the popular will.

In his hour of desperation, President Donald Trump fell back to one of the long-established institutions of the United States — the justice system. He does not have to agree with their verdict but he will be more respected and the US will be better off if he abides by the ruling of the courts.


There should be little excitement about the US electoral college system because it has little bearing on what actually happens in Africa and many other regions outside mature Western democracies.

Much as he finds court outcomes inconvenient, Trump has not tampered with the electoral system per se. He has participated in the election within the confines of that system and is trying to challenge the results within institutional bounds.

President Trump’s reaction has put democracy on trial because for long, the US has been the inspiration and symbol of what that system represents.

The challenges it’s going through right now are far from a repudiation of its merits or a validation of the rampant abuses it often suffers elsewhere.

In almost all recent elections in Africa, democracy has not been given a chance.

In Uganda which elects a president on January 14, 2021, the iconic images of the opposition candidate from the Forum for Democratic Change, who arrived barefoot to the nomination grounds, are likely to be etched in the collective memory of Ugandans for a long time.

Just as will be the scenes of violence that followed the nomination of Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, who has emerged as President Yoweri Museveni’s most formidable challenger.

Democracy is not perfect but it is the best shot at a tool for arbitration of political competition. It deserves a chance and should be accorded special protection.

Even in ancient Athens where it originated about sixth century BC, it was not always perfect. There were still many Athenians who were excluded from the process.

But the system was able to create impartial institutions that made leaders subject to the will of the masses.

That is the notional barrier that Africa and other regions around the world are yet to cross.