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Sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab Spring

Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011

After a groundswell of anti-government protests enveloped many corners of North Africa a year ago, observers around the world began to wonder how far this democratic contagion would spread. In particular, many wondered whether northern Africa would inspire its neighbors in sub-Saharan Africa, which share many of the same demographic characteristics found in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), including a large percentage of unemployed young people, high food prices and years of oppression and unrealized opportunity at the hand of often-brutal dictators. At the time, political commentators in several corners of Africa seemed optimistic that the Arab Spring would indeed spread southward.

Sure enough, in a continent marred by decades of dictatorship, military coups and fraudulent elections, sub-Saharan Africa in 2011 witnessed an unprecedented number of parliamentary and presidential elections -- in 17 countries -- as well as the creation of a new state, South Sudan. On Dec. 11, Cote d’Ivoire elected a parliament for the first time in more than a decade. The elections, though easily won by President Alassane Ouattara’s party after followers of former President Laurent Gbagbo decided to boycott, were nevertheless noticeable for the absence of deep violence and conflict that engulfed last year’s presidential election. ...

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