To Be Mandela Or Amin? New Video Game Lets You Try To Build Democracy In Africa

Democracy 3: Africa, is the latest standalone game in the indie game darling “Democracy” series, by Positech Studios.

The “Democracy” series places the player in the position of the head of government for a country, and gives the player the ability to tinker with policies, with the eventual goal of being reelected, and maybe solving a few social problems.

This is complicated by the existence of several mutually exclusive, or otherwise contradictory interest groups vying for your attention, i.e. Conservatives and Liberals, Capitalists and Socialists, etc.

“D3:A” takes several creative and technical leaps from the more “vanilla” Democracy 3.

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An example of Democracy 3: Africa’s gameplay. Photo Credit: EnterElysium/ Youtube (Screengrab)

Positech Studios is in fact a one man show; the brainchild of developer Cliff Harris.

RISE NEWS contacted Harris via email to expound on some of these additions, and how they reflect the realities of policy making in the variously depicted African countries.

Central to what Harris wants players to take away, is the caveat that Africa is not homogeneous.

” Its not just how you see it portrayed in the media, especially the US media,” Harris said. “The continent faces some really tough problems that are far harder than the problems that Western Democracies face.”

Some of the problems in “D3:A” do crop up quite often, and central to that is the addition of a new game feature- Stability.

“Pretty much everything else becomes an irrelevance unless you have stable government.”

“I think the one thing that I have learned from the modeling of these countries is the importance of stability,” Harris said. “Pretty much everything else becomes an irrelevance unless you have stable government.

“Nobody invests in a country where they may lose their whole investment in a coup, or a currency devaluation. Nobody takes a holiday somewhere where there are riots or a civil uprising. It’s something that we absolutely take for granted in the West.”

Managing stability becomes more so pressing when capital deprived environments are unable to attract investors.

This led Positech to make Foreign Policy a more active component of the game.

WATCH: Trailer for Democracy 3: Africa

“We have tended to skirt around foreign policy in the original game… We felt that it would simply be impossible to do this with African states, because the impact of foreign policy, especially when it comes to foreign investment is so large,” Harris said. “There is an assumption that corruption is low, stability is good and there are no major human-rights abuses that may reflect poorly on investors, but none of those statements are true for certain African states, so it would simply have been inaccurate not to be able to reflect that in the game.”

This line of thinking lends itself to institution building, a commonly echoed theme in   addressing floundering democracies in the region.

Harris illustrates an inherent contradiction in efforts to build institutions:

“Essentially, it’s easier to fix a countries problems if you are an all-powerful dictator, because things just ‘get done’ without argument, so there is a temptation to keep hold of power to make the job of government easier. Obviously the end goal is to fix a countries problems AND have a functioning Democracy, but there is tension between these two goals when your country has real problems, and I think that gives some insight into how so many dictators originally feel they are acting ‘on behalf of the people’ and then cannot let go of power.”


President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (right). Photo Credit: Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äußeres/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

This kind of paradox is perhaps most prevalent in the rule of el-Sisi in Egypt, who simultaneously is backed by the military, but has arguably improved the standing of women in Egypt and taken some measures to secularize education.

While “Democracy 3: Africa” is not a survey of African politics, it does offer a cursory look at the challenges that affect countries on the continent in an accessible interactive platform.

Perhaps most importantly, and optimistically, the game can be seen as a lesson for those that care about democratic institutions.

“Ultimately all political problems *can* be resolved given the will to do so,” Harris wrote in an email.

Democracy 3: Africa is available on Steam, GoG, and Positech’s own website.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Photo Credit: Harvey Barrison/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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About the Author
"John Massey has a B.A. in political science and history from the University of Alabama. His primary interest is in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but he also finds time to study French and political theory. "
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