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The Paradox of African Democracy: So How Things Got Mixed Up?
In those uneventful old days, way back to the scenario of bipolar superpower rivalry, things were much predictable and less dramatic for an average African street-person regardless of cold peace or wartime situation. Changes and struggle for the power among the ever-determined and competing elites are particularly the cases in mind. You may also argue that things were less traumatic, though replete with plenty of other inherent perils, compared to the current socio-economic, institutional and developmental harsh realities that many African nations are facing today.
Okay, don’t get me wrong! I’m not deeply nostalgic about the discredited past system and its geo-political status quo but as the familiar adage goes, give the devil his due as every system has its own failure and vise verse. The previous counter-balance of the global world powers was healthy in many ways including a relative efficient of social order plus other valid, antidotal effects against the unfettered, tyranny of capitalism/corporatism school of thought and the vice versa.
To the point, look at a moment what is happening and the type democratic values exercised in Africa, i.e., in the sub-Saharan region. There is an emerging trend without exception that while in many instances these countries purport to be governed by a rule of democratic ideal only to be found years later that every case negating its prior commitment: a multiparty system, fair election promises, lofty goals of political slogans, tenets of free speech, etc., were embraced decades ago. This was mainly due to the western power’s dubious prescription or terms in the form of development aid, economic reform and petty capitalism peddling schemes here and there. In turn, African leaders were accepted all conditions though begrudgingly and with public little resistance.
But the fact of the matter still remains that old habits die hard overnight. Any one of theses nations has yet to deliver a sense of democratic culture on the ground and fulfill the expectation of destitute masses. On the contrary, the situation has often moved into uncharted territory of deadly mix-ups of ballot boxes with the barrel of the gun caused by sham elections carried out by Machiavellian leadership cohort.. What’s even more alarming about it is also the rupture of the inter-ethnic fabric or rise of tribal tensions in the societies with high incidents of civilian causality rates ensuing after the farce elections.
Latest incident on the Kenyan election’s impasse and prior similar situation in Ethiopia, among others, where hundreds of people were mowed down and thousands others were either wounded or jailed are a living testimonies. These events were characterized by well-orchestrated and deadly gunfire on the part of agents provocateur of the regime along with flying machetes between ethnics and neighbors. How and why? I don’t know for sure, but the root cause of the disaster seems not so far-fetched after all.
Lot of things has been said or written about the subject so far and of course countless blames, real or virtual, have to go around. Ethnicity factor, creed, colonial legacy, foreign conspiracy, global warming, Malthus factor (population) and even the voodoo sciences have been cited as the main culprit. However, a common sense dictates that, while most of the said sources or in combination may involve except v-word, none of these factors can fully explain the debacle. These issue is not per se necessarily unique for Africa’s history and socio-political landscape. Other continents share and dealt with it. Instead, the source of problems stems from non other than the brand of African leadership in charge and where their instinct, true political beliefs are - - an Stalinist virtues coupled with a petty capitalistic appetite.
To begin with, many African leaders don’t believe democratic process at heart. Most born, grew and nurtured in either colonial/feudal or dictatorship environ. Besides, they came to power through the back door and barrel of the gun, and thus have no faith on a fair system. It is just absurd to expect from. Second, the self-serving, ‘realism’ design (as opposed idealism) policy of the West keeps perpetuating clientele dictators’ status quo further. It means that while paying lip service about the African plight of governance, they will not shy away dealing with the cliques as long as their strategic aims promoted, on the other hand, and even to detriment of African nations survival.
Third, current leaders became so complicit in the extreme divide of the poor vs. super-rich minority of societies in last decades by blindly executing western corporate schemes of the Chicago School, IMF, World Bank, etc. that are devoid of any social responsibility in exchange for personal riches through corruption. Such ill-advised policies devastated the local substance economy and public sector thereby trapping millions in vicious poverty and fueled ethnic/tribal animosities and suspicion in its wake. “The violence also speaks to why Kenya, along with of the African continent, must with all deliberate speed, find a different path to development, since the path laid out by the Washington, the IMF, et.al., is not a path into garden but a path into a minefield.” wrote Bill Fletcher, an American journalist.
The fact that these regimes also loath and thwarted headlong two principles of democratic pillars at all cost, namely an independent judiciary and election commission mechanism on top of stifled press freedom, is another ominous sign of system failure. Referring to the recent Kenyan crises with regard to these factors, Prof Errol P. Mendez of constitutional and international law at University of Ottawa pointed out “These elements in so many emerging democracies were also critical factors in the debacle we see in Kenya and Pakistan.”
As for the status quo of the orderly pastime, one cannot help but give some due credit in retrospective. Especially in comparison with the present story state of affair of stability issue and vicious cycle of the intra- and inter-ethnic poisonous rampages in the continent. Sure, there are obvious pitfalls in any given dictatorial rule including its sustainability question in the long-term.
The “big man” used to prostitute or cast his allegiance with one of the superpowers. In turn, subsidized state economy, controlled inflation and whatever military hardware needed were given. Open ethnic revolt or rivalry were not tolerated, and in those rare events where the “president-for-life” needs to exercise his primacy rights, a single ballot box guarded by the state cadres to stuff papers in, lest someone misses it, was sufficient. No two individuals, let alone tribes, would argue over the candidate. No sense of heightened expectations and dashed hope followed by instant flying bullets. Unless those roving Fronts or another coup d’etat disrupts the situation, a temporary normalcy was assured.
I miss the dreaded, old status quo and I really mean it. Note that is was lesser evil or anything, but it was a matter of dealing with a known devil. Masses are now fed-up with the reoccurring mockery display which become synonymous with a machete-wielding mobs and state agents licensed to kill.
Mohamed A. Awale