Two benchmark rankings point to a decline in democracy around the world in 2020. In Africa, the 10 most democratic countries no longer include Benin, but include Malawi.
« A leaderless struggle for democracy » is the uncomplimentary title of the latest annual report by Freedom House. This independent American think tank measures the evolution of civil liberties and democracy in the world. Its ranking, published on 11 March, is concerned about a general decline in 2020 against the backdrop of Covid-19.
Africa is no exception to the global trend, with very few champions making progress, according to Freedom House’s parameters. Cape Verde is an exception, with a score of 92 out of 100, better than that of France (90). The Portuguese-speaking archipelago is followed by two other island states: Mauritius has the same score as Greece (87) and Sao Tome and Principe (84) is one point ahead of the US.
Ghana (82) is tied with Poland and South Africa (79) is three points higher than Israel. Namibia and Seychelles (77) are better than Brazil (74), while Botswana (72), Senegal and Tunisia (71) are a step above Hungary (69) and India (67).
Mali, Benin and Senegal in sharp decline
Mali’s score fell by 11 points, from 44 out of 100 in 2019 to 33 in 2020, the year of a new coup d’état in Bamako. Benin suffered the biggest drop of all, falling 14 points from 79 to 65 between 2019 and 2020, which means that it has disappeared from the top ten democracies in Africa and lost the label of « free country ».
For its part, Senegal, another « showcase » of democracy in Africa, fell by seven points between 2017 and 2020 and is no longer among the « free » countries, of which there are only nine in Africa. Like India in 2020, Senegal falls back into the group of « partially free » nations, alongside Malawi (66), Madagascar (60) and Burkina Faso (54), as well as the many states that do not have the Freedom House democratic average, such as Kenya (48), Nigeria (45) and Côte d’Ivoire (44).
Finally, among the so-called ‘unfree’ countries, some of Africa’s most populous nations stand out: Ethiopia (22), Democratic Republic of Congo (20) and Egypt (18). Other strategic countries that play key roles in their sub-regions, such as Rwanda (21), Chad (17) or Cameroon (16), also stand out for their authoritarian leanings. At the bottom, Eritrea and South Sudan (2) fall between North Korea (3) and Syria (1).
Malawi enters the dance
Another benchmark ranking, the Democracy Index by the London-based research firm The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), also finds that « democracy had a very bad year » in 2020, with an « unprecedented decline due to the pandemic ». It reveals more or less the same African ranking, but in a different order, due to different calculation methods and a shorter list of countries analysed (167, compared to 210 for Freedom House).
Mauritius ranks 20th in the world, between Costa Rica and Japan, and remains the only African country qualified as a « complete democracy » by the EIU, on a par with Norway or Finland. Next in the « flawed democracies » section are Cape Verde (32?) and Botswana (33?), both ranked between the Czech Republic and Cyprus. South Africa (45?) and Tunisia (54?) are followed by Colombia and the Philippines respectively. Namibia (58?), Ghana (59?) and Lesotho (64?) follow, while Malawi (82?) and Madagascar (85?) make it into the top 10, but are part of the ‘hybrid regimes’.
It should be noted that Malawi moved up five places in 2020 due to the decision of its Constitutional Court to annul the results of a disputed presidential election in 2019, which was re-run in June 2020 under more transparent conditions. Malawi and Madagascar are among the few African countries to have improved in 2020, according to the EIU. Neither Senegal (86th) nor Benin (102nd) are in the Democracy Index’s African top 10, despite their long-standing reputation for openness, freedom of expression, term limits and democratic changeovers.
Decline of Mali and Togo
Mali shows the sharpest global decline in 2020. It falls 11 places to 111?, just behind Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire. Along with Algeria and Burkina Faso, Mali moves from the category of « hybrid regimes » to that of « authoritarian regimes », also falling into Freedom House’s list of « unfree » countries. Explanation from the EIU: « Mali does not have full control over its territory and rampant insecurity led to a coup in August 2020, by officers aggrieved by the lack of progress against jihadist insurgents. A junta set up a transitional government, overturning the results of the largely free and transparent March legislative elections. «
The other major African drop in 2020 is Togo, which falls 15 places to 141st, between Cuba and Cameroon, « due to a deeply flawed election and subsequent crackdown on the opposition ».
Covid-19 restrictions contribute to Africa’s poor performance. The EIU points to Nigeria, « where more citizens died from police shootings than from the coronavirus in the first weeks of containment ». Riots have occurred in Angola and Uganda, two countries where political participation is not high because of health restrictions. The last presidential election in Uganda, with health constraints « disproportionately applied to the opposition », shows, according to the EIU, how « autocrats use the excuse of new threats such as the coronavirus to suppress the opposition and cling to power in times of crisis ».