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A New Age

Anyone looking for cause for hope in African democracy should cast an eye over West Africa. Nigeria set a strong example, starting the year by defying critics and conducting a peaceful transition from former President Goodluck Jonathan to serving President Muhammadu Buhari. The smooth handover of power from one political party to another was a landmark success for the country where an incumbent president was unseated by the opposition.

Many have argued in the past that democracy remains a shallow construct in most African countries, and elected governments have been cited as a cause of disputed results, political upheaval, and further instability. However, Buhari’s peaceful transfer into power has illustrated that perhaps the blame lies not with democracy itself, but with organizational shortcomings.

Buhari’s moves have thus far confirmed that hypothesis, and he has impressed the business community in his quest for stability. The president’s unwavering anti-corruption stance signals a new era, one that prioritizes good governance. It came as no surprise when Buhari announced that he would act as Minster of Petroleum, entrusting no one else to enforce transparency standards in the most crucial, and corrupt, component of the Nigerian economy.

The majority of business leaders that TBY has spoken to were confident that Buhari’s election marks a chance for redefinition. They believe that with the right framework, Nigeria has the potential to inspire Africa and to show the world that a complex, dynamic, and diversified economy is possible in West Africa.

So far, the international business community has reacted warmly to President Buhari’s key policy priorities to address the symptomatic issues of corruption, continued insurgency in the north, and militancy in the Delta. Anxiety remains over the direction of Nigeria’s economic policy, and whether or not a devaluation of the naira will be forthcoming. However, the desire to have a more stable business environment seems contagious.

Regionally, there is an increasing sense of political fruition. Some states have accepted that in order to secure sustainable economic growth, commodity export based economies in the region need to begin manufacturing and increase the value chain in-country. Such projects cannot be totally funded by governments, therefore the need to attract FDI is pressing, and FDI depends on stability.

Regional stability is key to this, with cross-border alliances working together. One example of this regional commitment to stability came in September after General Diendere declared a coup in Burkina Faso, just weeks ahead of a general election. The move was followed by international condemnation, with statements from the UN, the EU, and the African Union. However, it was a delegation from the regional organization, ECOWAS, who, following an Extraordinary Session in Abuja, sent a six-member mediation team. Two days after the select delegation, headed by former ECOWAS head Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama landed in Ouagadougou, General Diendere announced, “The coup is over.“

Mahama spoke to France 24 after his time in Burkina Faso welcoming the return to civilian rule. “What happened in Burkina Faso is a sign of hope that Africa has changed,” Mahama said. “It’s a success of democracy in West Africa.”

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