Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
15 January 2021

Has the tide towards political liberalization in Africa shifted?

Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou gives an interview on the state of democracy in Africa to the Brazilian publication Estadão.

The movement towards democracy in Africa gained momentum in the 1990s – in West Africa and Central Africa in particular – as well as in the wake of the Arab Spring movements in North Africa, which inspired a movement towards democracy in Burkina Faso. Since the mid-2010s, however, the picture has changed: observers note an increase in neo-authoritarian trends and mechanisms of centralization and control throughout the continent. Has the tide towards political liberalization in Africa shifted?

For Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, speaking to the Brazilian publication Estadão, these trends are not specific to Africa but can be linked to a broader crisis of democracy worldwide. Thus, they should be understood as part of the “pace and phases of democratization, rather than the will or ability to democratize.” Generally, Professor Mohamedou says democratic values are strong in younger generations for whom authoritarian traits have become unacceptable.

“The most important setback in the African march towards democracy”, he argues, are recent attempts by leaders from 13 African countries to circumvent the limits of their political mandate. However, for Professor Mohamedou, processes of democratization should be understood in parallel with challenges in state-building: “Sudan, for example, has experienced both; namely the creation of a new country, South Sudan, and the recent and significant popular mobilization in Sudan itself in the pursuit of a democratic order. In Ethiopia, ethnic conflict continues to hamper democratic ambition. This highlight the interconnected nature of two challenging processes: the search for a viable and functional state and the introduction of a politically representative system.”


Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou is Professor and Chair of the International History Department, and Faculty Affiliate of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy.

WATCH ALSO his interview “A brief history of democracy in Africa”.