Thu, 14 Sep 2023 Special Report

Recent coup d’etats in Niger and Gabon underscore costs of democracy deferred — African Youth Survey shows

By Marc P. Serber
Recent coup detats in Niger and Gabon underscore costs of democracy deferred — African Youth Survey shows

Young Africans have in some instances come to see military coups d’états as a viable solution to other democratic end-runs, research from the Ichikowitz Family Foundation indicates.

In the wake of recent coups in Gabon and Niger, the Foundation’s latest African Youth Survey suggests that the rising generation wants to see democracy with distinctly African features prevail. When this is stifled, the next best alternative may be surprising to many.

While 61 percent of respondents to the Survey oppose coups d’états, or instances of the army stepping in to govern the country, an alarming 22% or more than one in five youth are in favour of the army coming in to govern.

Coups are indeed more popular than one party rule or when all power is monopolized by the President. Support for one political party rule only garners 16%, while support for Presidential rule, where elections and parliament are abolished, received only 15%.

The African Youth Survey, commissioned by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, is world renowned as the most comprehensive measurement of how Africa’s rising generation thinks about key issues. The study has twice conducted polls interacting with over 4,500 respondents, young Africans between the ages of 18-24 years, with its latest rendition engaging across 15 African countries – Angola, Congo Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, and Zambia – as carried out by leading global polling firm, PSB Insights.

The Survey reveals that 21 percent of African youth have participated in a political demonstration themselves within a 12-month window of the Survey’s administration (24 percent of Gabonese youth polled).

Gabon’s coup earlier this week came on the heels of a disputed presidential election in which then President Ali Bongo clung to power in a vote condemned by international observers.

The Gabonese military have named a general temporary head of state in what is now the eighth coup in Africa in just three years.

In Niger, the military toppled the democratically elected President Mohammed Bazoum in late July - only halfway into the civilian head of state’s term - in part because of public dissatisfaction with the government’s ability to provide essential services, analysts have observed.

Niger has a long history of military coups, though many in the West had seen its recently deposed, civilian government as making progress in the war on terror.

Overall, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents to the Foundation’s most recent survey believe that democracy is better than any of its alternatives when it comes to governing their country. However, more than half (53 percent) also suggest that Western-style democracy may not always be appropriate for their situations, and that Africa must develop its own, unique model.

That process is not without its challenges - The most important pillar of democracy as indicated in the Survey was the notion of equality for all citizens under the law (49%). However 47% polled disagree that at present, their country treats citizens evenly, and in fact view inequality as dominant.

Youth are also split on where power should be concentrated within their country.

Nearly half (44%) believe that it would be beneficial to their country if more power was given to the national government; the other half (48%) contend that it would be more beneficial to grant greater authority to local and regional governance.

More than half (53%) polled ultimately suggest that their own national leaders and elected officials are untrustworthy, with the political establishment being the least trusted of all institutions evaluated.

“The two coups which we witnessed unfold in the last few months can be compared to the growing pains of a continent that is democratizing and asserting its own identity,” Ichikowitz Foundation Founder and Chairman Ivor Ichikowitz stated. “These coups are a physical manifestation of the findings of the African Youth Survey that predicted how Africa’s youth are ready for change. We are likely to see more young Africans voting with their feet and initiating change when democratic processes are failing their expectations.

“But military coups are not the solution. These events serve as a wake-up call to Africa’s leadership to listen to its young people – listen to their aspirations, their needs and dreams for the future. Who is listening to the voices of the youth today - the Presidents or the Generals, or neither? It is clear, ignoring the voices of Africa’s youth is no longer an option.

“Young people are expressing their desire for a new style of democracy that meets the realities and challenges of the continent. A democratic system that will foster economic growth and true inclusivity, nation to nation, across the continent; ensuring greater representation of Africa’s youth, in most cases comprising the largest demographic of their country, so as to avert military intervention and to allow popular-based, civilian rule to grow and thrive in Africa,” Ichikowitz concluded.