Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World 2014 found that sub-Saharan Africa declined in all seven categories of global political rights and civil liberties.
Most telling was that, of the 10 countries listed as the “Worst of the Worst” in this year’s report, five were African countries, including the Central African Republic (CAR), one of the report’s most startling changes, moving from the category of “partly free” to “not free.” The CAR slipped a total of 33 points on the report’s 100-point scale. Benin, long listed as one of the few “free” countries in sub-Saharan Africa, received a downward trend arrow, reflecting increasing efforts by the executive to consolidate power. South Sudan declined in the civil liberties category following the political instability turned violent power struggle between the president and the former vice president.
Positive improvements in civil liberties and political rights registered in several African countries, including Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Madagascar, Rwanda, Senegal, and Togo. Significantly, Mali was the only country globally that successfully rose from “not free” to “partly free.” Kenya improved marginally because recent parliamentary and presidential elections were considered more credible than the 2007 election. Nonetheless, the new government’s limits on freedoms of expression and association (culminating with the Kenyan parliament passing a repressive law forming a government review body to regulate media in the country) resulted in an overall net decline in scores.
Freedom House emphasizes that many of the losses of freedom globally are the result of “a crisis of confidence among leading democracies, particularly the United States.” Given the growing turmoil in Africa and the emergence of what the report’s authors label modern authoritarian states, democratic governance is losing ground in the region. The authors make a pointed observation that, for the Obama Administration “the encouragement of democracy is no longer a priority.”
A decade ago, freedom may have been (in the words of George W. Bush) on the march, but if President Obama does not take these losses seriously, much of America’s political and economic investment in sub-Saharan Africa will be lost at the hand of authoritarian regimes.