An Interrogation of Democracy in Africa
There are fusillades of evidence all over Africa that Abraham Lincoln’s theorization of democracy being government of the people, by the people and for the people lacks contextual and practical synthesis in the African continent. While not advocating for interminable military dictatorship anywhere in the region, it is important to note that most African states have not been able to wriggle out of recumbent poverty – one of the central problems democracy should ameliorate.
The overall essence of democracy is to ensure development governance through which people would be liberated from want to sustainable availability of material and economic basis for survival: adequate security, good health, infrastructure, among other welfarist fundamentals. But with the current survival crisis on the continent, there is therefore need for the continent to determine or redefine, appropriately, the form of government they want – a democracy that is altruistic or the one that is permanently manipulated and benefited by the esoteric political class.
With the current near collapse of social movements and independent media all over the continent –which is now being socially substituted by radical fundamentalist insurgency – establishing a humane and sustainable democracy remains a burden. While accepting that there is no alternative to democracy in Africa, the bourgeois template on which it is being re-affirmed must be interrogated.
One of the major challenges of Africa’s democracy today is dearth of ideological leadership. Upstart to power, historically, has been traceable to crass opportunism – in the sense that those that fought against military hegemony and dictatorship were played out and ‘rejected’ by the same people they fought for – and that is where the crisis of followership as a ‘class ally’ in the continents recumbent underdevelopment comes in.
Since 1980’s, most countries in Africa have moved from one party or military dictatorship to multiparty democratic rule. This was the outcome of pressures from within the nations and the consequences of global system change following the end of the Cold War. The result of these has been the widening of political space which include political participation and the use of election to chose ‘leaders’. The so called the elections, in most cases, are always bitterly contested because the incumbency factor always frustrates change, with the ruling party manipulating the process through the deployment of state forces and resources.
So the disillusionments are yet to be addressed and the high expectation that democracy would address decades of poverty, corruption and underdevelopment have hardly been met. Despite the current facades of democracies, countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the collapse of ‘ancient regime’ had hitherto led to coup d”etat, chaos, civil wars and regional unrests.
According to Cyril I. Obi, “Africa, in the spirit of the global moment has embraced democracy or, more precisely, liberal or multiparty democracy. This has found acceptance within Africa’s political elite, and perhaps more significantly, within the donor community and Western democracies that seek to connect the process to market-based economic reforms and development on the continent. They also seek to globalise their own political culture and market ideology as part of the process of universal homogenization.”
And to concretise this ‘international conspiracy’, Obi posited: “In this regard, they have had cause to intervene in the political crises in Guinea Bissau, Sao Tomé and Principe, and Zimbabwe in the attempt to ensure that democracy is enthroned in these countries. However, the situation in Zimbabwe is a lot more complex and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the AU, as well as the international community, have largely failed to arrest the steady slide of the country into crisis.”
Hence, according to Thomas Ohlson, there has been connection between multiparty democracy in Africa, disempowering people and favouring the elite class, and the pursuit by parts of the international community of a global hegemonic neo-liberal ideological project in Africa. He hence took the position that one of the challenges of African democratization is its deepening by returning power, ensuring social justice and a more equitable redistribution of resources to ordinary people through a transformatory process that empowers them to take control of the democratic project in the real sense of freely creating a government of the people, for the people, by the people.
All across the continent, the mental laziness of the emergent political leadership of being unable to theorise altruistic and articulating such in corporeal forms have further rendered it inert to meet up with global developmental trends. This has helplessly resulted in invidious primitive accumulation of property through unlimited looting of the state.
“Africa is poor, ultimately, because its economy and society have been ravaged by international capital as well as by local elites who are often propped up by foreign powers. The public and private sectors have worked together to drain the continent of resources…” this is the position taken by Patrick Bond’s version of ‘Looting Africa.’ The international conspiracy to eternally pauperise Africa has always been there. A recent Guardian news reveals that Western countries are using aid to Africa as a smokecreen to hide what it described as ‘sustained looting’ of the continent, saying the continent loses $60bn yearly through tax evasion, climate change mitigation and the flight of profits earned by foreign multinational companies.
The report added that while Western nations send about $30bn in development aids to Africa every year, more than six times that amount leaves the continent back to the same countries providing them. Hence the perception that such aid is helping African countries, the report added, has “facilitated perverse reality in which the UK and other wealthy governments celebrate their generosity whilst simultaneously assisting their companies to drain African resources.” The Guardian UK, while making a reference to a report by UK and Africa-based NGOs, it added that foreign multinational companies siphon $46bn out if sub-Saharan Africa each year; while $35bn is moved from Africa into tax havens around the world annually.
Despite the conspiracy which was hitherto anatomized in Walter Rodney’s famous book ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,’ it is important to note that exploitation and expropriation of the continent through various means including aids are impossible without institutional greed.