African Democracy Series: Africa and Democracy
This post is the second one in a series titled African Democracy that deals with the issues related to democratization process in Africa in the contexts of its historic and contemporary local realities. The general presumption of the series is that immense complexities Africa represents are not necessarily suitable for a direct adaptation of an “American version of Democracy” and that the task of democratization of Africa may require a paradigm shift in defining what is truly involved in building a system that is socially, politically, economically and ecologically just but also feasibly implementable in Africa by peaceful means.
Source: Reprint of the post titled Africa and Democracy posted on Ogbunwezeh blog in 2009 by Dr. Emmanuel Franklyne Ogbunwezeh. He is a Nigeria-born social and economic ethicist and philosopher interested in politics, society, ecology, social and economic ethics, history, human development, African issues, global governance/sustainability issues, and human rights. He is based in Germany. Dr. Ogbunwezeh is also the African Section’s director at the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR), Frankfurt Germany.
Africa and Democracy
We have seen the theoretical promises of democracy. But to confront African problems with alien conceptual schemes has not availed much in terms of concrete, actionable results. The conclusions have long approved themselves that vivisecting Nigerian problems with theories is really a blind approach. The safest path has always remained viewing the problem without prefabricated prejudices or theoretical scaffolds, as one would eventually be disappointed by them. Nigeria, nay Africa has defied every known sociological or economic theory. For instance, in other climes, democracy has paid its dues in the coinage of progress, development, social welfare, economic well-being, and qualitative standard of living, for those nations that really patronized it; learning and applying its lessons, as their societies evolved. In those climes, it occasioned as well as nourished a great semblance of order, social equilibrium, economic progress and the respect and exercise of fundamental freedoms. In these instances, democracy has been the driver of renaissance that has underwritten the voyage to progress.
But in contemporary Africa, democracy has due to a complex conglomeration of factors refused to function. This is against the backdrop of the fact that Democracy was not a Greek invention (Keane, 2005) . The etymology may have been very Greek. But it was a human invention. It was not a western gift to Africa. Ndiigbo of southern Nigeria were running an egalitarian society, quite democratic, and quite independent of ancient Greece, at the time when many other civilizations were slumbering in primitivity. What is practised today almost all over Africa in democracy’s name is an abomination; a hyper-repulsive aberration.
Although 70% of African countries could technically qualify as democracies, African democracy has been an aberrant hybrid of despotic kleptocracy and rogue Machiavellian manipulative statecraft (Ogbunwezeh, 1999). This manifests all the characteristics of Hitlerist megalomanic vision, shorn of its territorial expansionistic and eugenic content. For Fela, Anikulapo Kuti, the late Nigeria Afro-beat exponent and social critic, this version of democracy is the “demonstration of craze”. In this embrace, a quasi-police state edged on by political anarchy masquerades as democracy. Here politics lacks ideology; institutions of state are non-existence, or where they exist, are patronized unto dysfunction with unparalleled dereliction. Free speech and free press are partially discountenanced to maintain the democratic façade. Fundamental liberties are greatly circumscribed. Executive recklessness reigns. Primordial allegiances are consulted to manipulatively rule over the state in the Machiavellian fashion. The power of incumbency is shamelessly deployed to eviscerate opposition into submission or self-destruction; paving way for a one-party state headed by a midget tyrant, whose word is law. Separation of powers only graces the statute books in such constructs. In such states, there are no political parties, only a conglomeration of petty interests of primeval provenance; bent on peddling influence and trading on their offices for individual profit. This is made possible by the absence of state institutions that would have been the engine driving a democratic state.
Zimbabwe circa 2007 under Robert Mugabe, represents a perfect example of a dysfunctional democracy on its way to full blown anarchy. Africa is replete with other contextual examples. One wonders if Nigeria in 2009 could be said to be ruled by its people when Yar Adua was imposed on them, by Obasanjo in an election that personified fraudulence and everything that election was not supposed to be.
The failure of democracy in Africa and in Nigeria has equally cast doubt on the suitability of democracy for the African clime. Is democracy the problem or do Nigeria, nay Africa need a redefinition? This constitutes the fundamental questions that must be posed and resolved, before we can effectively grapple with who the institutions of state like the security forces should owe allegiance to. Democracy may not be functioning because we are not ripe for democracy, or that we are operating a non-democratic type of democracy. It may have repeatedly failed because we have been unable to resolve the fundamental problems that have kept defining our existence as well as the trajectory of our progress. A look at what democracy is in Nigeria, nay Africa will actually expose the need for a resolution of these questions before we can actually question the loyalties of the servants of the state.
However, the fact must be reiterated that democracy functions where there is a state. It can never function in a pseudo state, or a state on the road to becoming a failed State. Democracy can never be a cure for dictators, if the structures of state make dictatorship a lucrative option for adventurers. It can never cure economic depression in a land where corruption and economic sabotage has been elevated to a fine art. It cannot cure civil wars where primitive allegiances are allowed to erode national identities, and inspire a hate-filled campaign to wipe out those considered to be inferior to our genetic, racial or tribal acquaintance. It cannot cure poverty, where feudalistic exploitation is the norm, or where leadership genuflects in timid subservience to elitist greed. It cannot equally do that where a dynasty of calibrated and indentured rogues populates the leadership corridors, and pursuant to that are busy constructing monuments of atrocity, while masquerading as leaders. It cannot produce a productive populace, where laziness is a tradition. It cannot empower innovation or underwrite enterprise, where fear and risk aversion are cultural constants. It cannot make a people out of a motley crowd of amorphous interests, or create a nation out of entrenched solipsistic social amphictonies constructed by impervious tribalism.
Democracy is tool. And how this tool is used greatly affects the outcomes it confers on a society. It is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. To this end, democracy is a process, which evolves in line with the social nourishments it receives, which it reinforces. Democracy is much more than voting on Election Day. It is a culture of governance, established upon the fundaments of liberty and the rights of the people to rule themselves or mandate people of their choice to rule and answer to them.