If you’ve been following the popular revolutions in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt—and the violent aftermath of elections in Cote D’Ivoire as President Laurent Gbagbo clung to power—brace yourself: There are 12 more African elections to come in 2011. While diplomats like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are calling this “the year of democracy” in Africa, the events of the last few months might cause one to downgrade the happenings to “the year of potential democracy.”
Even as the region makes unprecedented economic and social progress, leadership lags behind. It’s usually unwise to paint African politics in terms of black and white, good and bad. But since 1960, more than 200 men (and one woman) have led the 57 diverse nations of the continent. Only a few of those leaders have succeeded at ensuring freedom and decent lives for their people. There’s a reason Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim created an award for African leaders who surrender power peacefully—and why he hasn’t given it to anyone in two years.
Many of the handful of despots left on the continent are up for election this year. Which of them might be the next Laurent Gbagbo or Muammar Gaddafi? We assess the threat level in seven countries. Illustrations by Sara Saedi