African liberation in the 21st century: Navigating freedom, democracy, and dictatorships


THE African liberation project sought to break the chains of colonialism and empower African nations to build their futures. Decades later, many African countries have made progress in governance, development, and human rights. 

Africa Day: Balancing freedom, democracy and dictatorships in the 21st century
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa. 

However, the cases of Uganda, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Sudan highlight a persistent problem—the prevalence of dictatorial regimes that contradict the ideals of freedom and democracy. And this is something we ought to reflect on as we commemorate Africa Day. 


Under Yoweri Museveni's rule since 1986, Uganda has seen human rights violations, election fraud, and crackdowns on opposition and civil society. 

Despite economic development and relative stability, the lack of political freedom and fair elections reveals a tension between the government's proclaimed liberation project and democratic principles. 

This nation also endured an ugly dictatorship under the rule of Idi Amini.


In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe's 37-year rule was marred by authoritarianism, economic decline, and violent suppression of dissent. 

While Mugabe was ultimately deposed, the current government continues to face criticism for human rights abuses and political repression. This highlights the resilience of dictatorial tendencies in post-liberation politics.


Paul Kagame's government in Rwanda has been credited with fostering impressive economic growth and stability. However, it has also been accused of curtailing political freedoms, intimidating opposition, and limiting media independence. 

The tension between Rwanda's development achievements and its authoritarian tendencies challenges the understanding of liberation as merely a triumph of self-determination.


Sudan's tumultuous political history, including years of military rule and the turbulent ousting of Omar al-Bashir in 2019, illustrates the grip of dictatorial regimes in post-colonial African states.

Although Sudan is transitioning to civilian rule, its progress remains fragile, underscoring the need for long-term vigilance in sustaining democratic practices.

Looking at the AU

The African Union (AU) was established with the vision to promote unity, solidarity, peace, and prosperity among African nations. However, despite its commitment to democratic principles and human rights, the AU has often been criticized for failing to effectively address the issues of dictatorship and human rights violations across the continent. 

In countries such as Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, authoritarian regimes have maintained power through repression and the curtailing of freedoms, often with little consequence or reprimand from the AU.

The principle of non-interference in member states' internal affairs, enshrined in the AU's Constitutive Act, has inadvertently provided a shield for authoritarian leaders, allowing them to act with impunity. 

Furthermore, the AU's reliance on consensus-based decision-making often leads to inaction or delayed responses to crises. The AU's inability to hold leaders accountable has dashed the hopes of many Africans yearning for freedom, democracy, and the realization of the Pan-African dream. 

Ultimately, the legitimacy and effectiveness of the AU as a continental body depend on its willingness and capacity to uphold democratic values and ensure that its member states adhere to these principles.

Towards Reconciliation

The cases of Uganda, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Sudan highlight the complexity of the relationship between African liberation projects and democracy. While liberation might have facilitated self-governance, it has not necessarily translated to democratic rule.

Moving forward, African countries must find ways to reconcile the aspirations of the liberation struggle with democratic principles. This involves promoting transparency, accountability, the rule of law, and the protection of civil liberties. 

African nations must ensure the fruits of liberation translate into enduring freedoms and rights for all citizens, preventing the perpetuation of authoritarian systems.


The 21st century presents an opportunity for African nations to address the legacies of dictatorial regimes, strengthen democratic institutions, and embrace the values of freedom. 

By doing so, they can fulfil the promise of liberation – not just from foreign domination, but from domestic authoritarianism as well.

*Liam Takura Kanhenga is a human rights activist and writes here in his personal capacity.

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