Democratization In Africa Essay

Professor Ben O. Nwabueze’s book, Democratization (Nwabueze 1993), is the best place to begin for a wide-ranging and textured examination of democratization in African societies. “Democratization is not only a concept, nor is it synonymous with multi-partyism,” Nwabueze writes, “it is also concerned with certain conditions of things, conditions such as a virile civil society, a democratic society, a free society, a just society, equal treatment of all citizens by the state, an ordered, stable society, a society infused with the spirit of liberty, democracy, justice and equality. The stated thesis of Nwabueze’s book is that democratization, “in the fullest sense of the term, requires that the society, the economy, politics, the constitution of the state, the electoral system and the practice of government be democratized” Africa’s contemporary democratization experience is a story of divergence. After decades of static autocratic dominance, the region shifted sharply toward representative government after the end of the Cold War.

Led by Benin, South Africa, Ghana, Senegal, and Mali some 30 African countries have taken steps toward democracy over the past two decades. In 1989, only three African countries could claim democratic governments. This swing has been accompanied by an upsurge in the number of civil society organizations, independent media, and opportunities for political expression. Moreover, reflecting a maturity that scholars long deemed unrealistic in low-income countries, popular support for democracy in Africa remains strong, despite ongoing challenges.

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Democratic progress in Africa is far from universal, however. A dozen autocratic governments remain firmly in place maintaining a monopoly on power and repressive practices little changed from the 1960s-1980s era of impunity. An equal number of others have adopted features of democracy, though power remains concentrated in the hands of a single political actor. While opposition parties, civil society organizations, and elections are allowed, these bodies are heavily constrained and there is little genuine oversight of the ruling leadership.

The spectrum of governance types in Africa parallels other critical challenges the region faces. Economic stagnation, underdevelopment, financial volatility, humanitarian catastrophes, susceptibility to Islamic extremism, and conflict are all closely linked to closed and unaccountable political systems. Put succinctly, a country’s political institutions define the “operating system” or incentive structure under which that society functions. Establishing constructive and responsive political processes in Africa is indispensable to addressing the many other difficulties the region is facing.

Despite Africa’s remarkable democratic advances, the future trajectory of Africa’s governance norms remains uncertain. The expanded transparency, accountability, and rules-based processes accompanying Africa’s budding democracies are countered by personalistic regimes that stubbornly cling to long-accepted norms of control, coercion, and patronage. These practices, moreover, are increasingly bolstered by disparate sources of external support that benefit from seeing these “strongmen” stay in power. History of democracy in Africa There are two schools of thought on the history of democracy in Africa.

One school holds that a series of internal protest and prodemocracy movements from within Africa have resulted in more and more countries embracing multi-party elections, at least, since the year 2000. Another school tends to see Africa’s democratization as part of what Samuel Huntington (1993) calls the third wave of democracy, which apparently began in the 1970s in Europe and spread to Africa in the 1990s. A middle ground is, of course, possible, since Africa could very well have been influenced by events in Europe (like the fall of communism) as well as embraced democracy on its own as part of a long struggle for freedom.

Along these lines, it is customary, following Salih (2001), to give name to some historical periods of democraticization in Africa: the “first wave” (1950s and 1960s), involving the struggles for independence from colonial rule; the “second wave” (1980s and 1990s), involving coming to grips with post-colonial misrule; and the “third wave” (2000-present), involving new ideas of civil society relationships, structures of governance, and norms of citizenship. A problem is that in many places there is no democraticization in progress. There are even signs of democratic reversal. This may also be because of internal and external factors.

Africa may simply be too poor for democracy, since in many places, the minimal conditions for economic development do not exist. Externally, countries like China have made the decision to not play the game, like the West does, in demanding democratic transition as a condition of monetary aid. China and India have chosen to do business in Africa through the private sector, getting into agriculture, for example, with the intent of growing food for consumption back in China and India (almost like some new kind of colonialism), and they use imported Chinese or Indian labor, with no concern for domestic policies or internal political matters.

In short, they do not let stuff like human rights and governance get in the way. Many Africans and African leaders are comfortable with such arrangements, and that is probably because of the powerful appeal of “self-determinism” or (shall one dare say) stubborn determination to do things their own way. The growth of democraticization in Africa is paradoxical. There are failures where all the opportunities are right for success, and there are successes where one would least expect them. In many ways, Africa is a victim of its own history when it fails (and it never fails to fail). Some of its failings are self-induced. nd some of its failings can be blamed on the rest of the world, but the main problem may be that the average African citizen does NOT seem to show outrage at all the violent or illegal political change that comes about. Criminal acts, especially political criminal acts, seem to be the accepted norm. Further, the international community, as well as the AU, do NOT seem to have much political will to intervene when they ought to intervene. A countless number of times, the U. N. , the U. S. , the AU (and indeed the whole world) have only issued banal statements or engaged in political posturing like “we strongly condemn … [… the latest illegal political act in Africa], or “we urge all parties to … ” [find a peaceful and amicable resolution]. How long can the world remain docile and helpless? The Democracy before Democracy in Africa Since the dawn of African independence from colonialism in the early 1960s, African liberation leaders and founding fathers qua dictators, military junta and “new breed” leaders have sought to justify the one-man, one-party state — and avoid genuine multiparty democracy — by fabricating a blend of self-serving arguments which converge on the notion that in Africa there is a democracy before democracy.

The core argument can be restated in different ways: Before Africa can have political democracy, it must have economic democracy. Africans are more concerned about meeting their economic needs than having abstract political rights. Economic development necessarily requires sacrifices in political rights. African democracy is a different species of democracy which has roots in African culture and history.

African societies are plagued by ethnic, tribal and religious conflicts which can be solved not by Western-style liberal democracy but within the framework of the traditional African institutions of consensus-building, elder mediation and conciliation. Western-style democracy is unworkable, alien and inappropriate to Africans because the necessary preconditions for such a system are not present. Widespread poverty, low per capita incomes, a tiny middle class and the absence of a democratic civic culture render such a system incongruous with African realities.

Liberal democracy could come to Africa only after significant economic development has been achieved. Any premature introduction or misguided imposition of it by the West could actually harm Africans by destroying their budding faith in democracy itself. Stripped of rhetorical flourish, such self-serving arguments exploit manifest contradictions and deficits in African societies for the purposes of justifying the consolidation and fortification of the powers of the one-man, one-party state, and preventing the institutionalization of a competitive multiparty democratic process with electoral and constitutional accountability.

The claim of primacy of “economic democracy” is based on an impressionistic (not empirically substantiated) assumption that the masses of poor, illiterate, hungry and sick Africans are too dumb to appreciate “political democracy”. In other words, the African masses are interested in the politics of the belly and not the politics of democracy and political rights. Africans live for and by bread alone. Elections, legal rights and liberties are meaningless to the poor and hungry masses.

This assumption is pure nonsense as various well designed and executed empirical studies of democratic attitudes in Africa have shown. The claim of ethnic conflict to justify the one-man, one-party system is internally self-contradictory. If indeed the communalism and the institutions of traditional, pre-colonial African societies are the most effective means for dispute resolution and consensus-building, it is illogical to insist on investing a single leader and his party with sweeping and expansive powers.

All the layered sophistry and paralogism of African dictators is intended to mask their insatiable hunger for power and produce one set of self-serving axiomatic conclusions: Africa is not yet ready for genuine multiparty democracy. The one-man, one-party system is the only means to save Africa from itself, and from complete social, economic and political implosion. The one-man, one-party system will evolve into a genuine multiparty democracy at some undetermined time in the future. In the meantime, the one-man, one-party show must go on.

Post-independence African history is instructive in understanding the scourge of the one-man, and the curse of one-party rule in Africa. Ghana’s independence from colonialism as the first sub-Saharan African country in 1957, and the role played by its first prime minister and later president Kwame Nkrumah is central to understanding the pervasive problem of civilian and military dictatorships in Africa. Ghana was undoubtedly the most economically and socially advanced country in sub-Saharan Africa with an advanced educational system and relatively well-developed infrastructures when it gained its independence.

Nkrumah was a role model for the dozens of leaders of African countries that achieved independence in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite Nkrumah’s status as the unrivalled champion of Pan-Africanism and strong advocacy for a united Africa, he was also the single individual most responsible for casting the mold for the one-man, one-party dictatorship in post-independence Africa. Barely a year into his administration, the once fiery anti-colonial advocate of political rights and democracy had transformed himself into a power-hungry despot. He enacted a law making labor strikes illegal. He declared it was unpatriotic to trike. Paranoid about his opposition, he enacted a preventive detention act which gave him sweeping powers to arrest and detain any person suspected of treason without due process of law. He even dismissed the chief justice of Ghanaian Supreme Court, Sir Arku Korsah, when a three-judge panel Korsah headed acquitted suspects accused of plotting a coup. Nkrumah amended the constitution making his party, the Convention People’s Party, the only legal party in the country. He capped his political career by having himself declared president-for-life. Other African leaders followed in Nkrumah’s footsteps.

Julius Nyerere became the first president of Tanganyika (Tanzania) in 1962 and announced his brand of African socialism built around rural folks and their traditional values in ujamaa (extended family) system. Millions of villagers were forced into collectivized agriculture. He modeled his constitution after Ghana’s and followed Nkrumah’s script. Nyerere established a one-man, one-party state around his Tanganyika African National Union, outlawed strikes, nationalized private banks and industries, duplicated Nkrumah’s preventive detention act to go after his opponents and greatly increased his personal power.

With the exception of a few countries, Africa had been incurably infected by Nkrumah’s one-man, one-party virus before the end of the 1960s. Most of the leaders of the newly independent African countries followed Nkrumah’s political formula by declaring states of emergency, suspending their constitutions, conferring unlimited executive powers upon themselves, and enacting oppressive laws which enabled them to arrest, detain and persecute their rivals, dissenters, and others they considered threats at will. The economic and political outcomes of the one-man, one-party dictatorships by the end of the 1960s were dismal.

Nkrumah’s program of rapid industrialization by reducing Ghana’s dependence on foreign capital and imports had a devastating effect on its important cocoa export sector. Many of the socialist economic development projects he launched failed. By the time he was overthrown in a military coup in 1966, Ghana had fallen from one of the richest African countries to one of the poorest. Similarly, Tanzania nose-dived from the largest exporter of agricultural products in Africa to the largest importer of agricultural products. The one-man, one-party state also proved to be ineffective in reducing ethnic tensions and preventing conflict.

Civil wars, genocides, low level ethnic conflicts and corruption spread throughout the continent like wildfire. Waiting in the wings were Africa’s soldiers. Accusing the civilian governments of corruption, incompetence and mismanagement of the economy and claiming a patriotic duty to rescue their countries from collapse, military officers knocked off these governments one by one. Gen. Joseph Mobutu seized power in the Congo (Zaire) following a protracted political struggle between Patrice Lumumba and Joseph Kasavubu. Col. Houari Boumedienne overthrew Ahmed Ben Bella in Algeria.

A group of army officers overthrew the monarchy in Burundi. In the Central African Republic, Col. Bokassa (later Emperor Jean Bedel Bokassa) overthrew David Dacko. Gen. Idi Amin overthrew Milton Obote in Uganda. Nigeria flipped two coups, one by Gen. Johnson Ironsi who was overthrown by Gen. Yakubu Gowon. Many other African countries suffered similar fates. There is overwhelming evidence to show that the one-man, one-party state has been a total failure in Africa over the past one-half century. Under these dictatorships, African countries have faced civil and border wars and ethnic and religious strife.

Famine, malnutrition and insufficient food production have caused the deaths of millions of Africans. The poverty and unemployment rates continue to rise despite billions in foreign aid and loans. Infant mortality is nearly 100 per thousand (compared to 5 in the United States). Africans have the lowest life expectancies in the world. After fifty years of independence per capita income in much of Africa had declined so much that President Obama had to artfully remind Africans in his speech in Ghana: “Countries like Kenya, which had a per capita economy larger than South Korea’s when I was born, have been badly outpaced. Politically, the one-man, one-party dictatorships have brought neither ethnic harmony nor good governance; and they have failed to forge a common national identity for their people. Today we still hear the same rubbish about a democracy before democracy recycled by a “new breed” of silver-tongued African leaders. Meles Zenawi, the chief architect of the one-man, one-party state in Ethiopia says: Establishing democracy in Africa is bound to take a long time and that elections alone will not produce democracy and do not necessarily bring about democratic culture or guarantee a democratic exercise of rule.

Creating a democracy in poverty-ridden and illiterate societies that have not yet fully embraced democratic values and are not yet familiar with democratic concepts, rules and procedures is bound to take a long time and to exact huge costs. Similar arguments are made by Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda; and even the wily old coyote, Robert Mugabe, pulls the same stunt at age 85 to justify clinging to power. The “new breed” dictators are trying to sell the same old snake oil in a new bottle to Africans.

But no one is fooled by the sweet-talking, iron-fisted new breed dictators who try to put a kinder and gentler face on their dictatorship, brutality and corruption. They should spare us their empty promises and hypocritical moral pontifications. For one-half century, Africans have been told democracy requires sacrifices and pain; and they must look inwards to their village communities, traditional elders and consensus dialogue to find the answers. Africans don’t want to hear that “democracy” takes time and they must wait, and wait and wait as the new breed of dictators pick the continent clean right down to the bare bones.

Africans want Africa to no longer be the world’s cesspool of corruption, criminality and cruelty. The fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as democracy before democracy. There could be either democracy or one-man, one-party dictatorships in Africa. We all know exactly what the latter means. The only question is how best to implement constitutional multiparty systems in Africa. On this question, there may be an ironic twist of history. As Ghana was the original model of the one-man, one-party state in Africa, Ghana today could be the model of constitutional multiparty democracy in Africa.

Today Ghana has a functioning competitive multiparty political system guided by its Constitution. Article 55 guarantees “Every citizen of Ghana of voting age has the right to join a political party. ” Political parties are free to organize and “disseminate information on political ideas, social and economic programmes of a national character. ” BUT TRIBAL AND ETHNIC PARTIES ARE ILLEGAL IN GHANA under Article 55 (4). That is the key to Ghana’s political success.

The Ghanaians also have an independent Electoral Commission which ensures the integrity of the electoral process and under Article 46 is an institution “not subject to the direction or control of any person or authority. ” Ghanaians enjoy many a panoply of political civil, economic, social and cultural rights. In 2008, Ghana (population 23 million) ranked 31 out of 173 countries worldwide on World Press Freedom Index (Ethiopia- population 80 million ranked 142/173). There are more than 133 private newspapers, 110 FM radio stations and 2 state-owned dailies. Ghanaians express their opinions without fear of government retaliation.

The rule of law is upheld and the government follows and respects the Constitution. Ghana has an independent judiciary which is vital to the observance of the rule of law and protection of civil liberties. Political leaders and public officials abide by the rulings and decisions of the courts and other fact-finding inquiry commissions. Ghana is certainly not a utopia, but it is proof positive that multiparty constitutional democracy can and will work in Africa. Africa’s and Ethiopia’s future in the 21st Brave New Globalized Century lie in genuine multiparty democracy, not in recycled one-man, one-party, pie-in-the-sky-promising dictatorships.

Poverty, ethnic conflict, illiteracy and all of the other social ills will continue to haunt Africa for decades to come. Dealing effectively with these issues can not be left to failed-beyond-a-shadow-of-doubt, one-man, one-party dictatorships. If Africa is to be saved from total collapse, its ordinary people must be fully empowered in an open, pluralistic and competitive multiparty political process. NOTE Full Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.

It allows eligible citizens to participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination. Hybrid regimes –They combine elements of representative democracy and direct democracy. Flawed democracies: These countries have free and fair elections and even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties will be respected.

However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation. A failed state has a central government that is so weak or ineffective that it has little practical control over much of its territory; non-provision of public services; widespread corruption and criminality; refugees and involuntary movement of populations; and sharp economic decline.

Authoritarian regime: is a government that concentrates political power in an authority not responsible to the people. | | | Challenges facing democracy in Africa | | Lack of credible opposition | Absence of a strong opposition parties that can challenge the policies and programmes of the ruling party; absence of alternative policy programmed choices required by electorate; zero-sum struggle for power. Weak civil society | Lack of strong, dense and vibrant civic groups who will act as a counterbalance to state hegemony; such groups are expected to resist cooptation by state but, instead, provide a permanent independent check on state power; the weakness of civil society is often as a result of a lack of strong middle class with its own class interest and stake in society. | Weak economies | Productive economy needed to allow state to supply goods and service to electorate; scarce resources could persuade, even force, electorates to abandon democratic processes. At worse, citizens can be “bought” to vote for wrong choices. No separation between state and ruling party

Ruling party dominate and manipulate the political process; constitutions are regularly amended to retain power; state resources are ostensibly used to advance the interest of the ruling party; state security forces are used to coerce citizens and opposition groups | Ethnicity, religion ; nepotism | Politics and governance are mitigated by divisive sectarian tendencies; democratic process (voting etc) is held hostage by the sectarian sentiments and loyalties of political actors and voters; state policies are influenced by sectarian fragmentation and sentiments. Potentials of military intervention | There is high chance of military intervention as a result of any confusion created by political deadlock between parties. | Weak democratic political culture | Ruling elites do not respect democratic values such as rule of law and human rights; opposition parties and pressure groups are forced or induced into abandoning their role checking the excesses of state officials; weak democratic structures and values such as participation, civil liberties, voting etc. | Lack of regime change (incumbency continuum) | A sustained tradition of limited political change; egime continuity; oppression of dissent. | Conclusion Although many African countries are termed ‘emerging democracies,’ the absurdity of “democracy” in Africa is that the majority, including “democratically elected” leaders, do not really understand how democracy works. In Africa, democracy is generally equated to the right to vote. This is where the misconception begins. The election process that is often confused to personify and signify democracy is routinely compromised by factors such as negative ethnicity, violence, bribery, rigging and illiteracy.

Isn’t this really a problem of our bad politics as opposed to the un-workability of democracy in Africa? The fact that citizens don’t fully comprehend their role in the period between elections has not made things better. The citizens often disengage from public affairs, complain passively and wait for another election time. Democracy doesn’t work unless it is worked. Democracy works at the initiative of citizens. Therefore, citizen disengagement leads to irresponsive leadership.

When the citizens don’t get the fruits of democracy which include among others good governance, development and security, they attribute the failure to “Western democracy. ”To use opportunistic dysfunctions resulting from the misunderstanding of the working of democracy to disparage democracy as a western concept that has failed in Africa is unfortunate, preposterous and unacceptable. To use selective and limited information on Chinese economic successes to swallow the anti-democracy misinformation is laziness.

In my view, while democracy as practiced in the West has evolved over many centuries, in Africa, it is in its infancy. To contextualize the significance of understanding how democracy works, let us examine the connection between political and civil rights, which are aspects of democracy on one hand, and the prevention of major disasters such as famine that characterize Africa on the other. Political and civil rights are essential in mobilizing citizens around their general needs to forcefully demand appropriate government action.

Anywhere in the world, a government’s response to the acute suffering of people often depends on the active pressure that is put on it. This is where rights such as criticizing, open debates, participation in politics and protesting, among others, make a difference. As a matter of fact, no substantial famine has ever occurred in a country with a functional democracy, a robust opposition and a relatively free press. In case of disaster, respective governments respond swiftly to ensure that the affected have adequate relief and can resume normal life.

The leadership responds quickly because they know that delayed action or faltering response can quickly turn the disaster into a protest and referendum on the leadership. In my opinion, this type of active and forceful citizen engagement with the leadership is lacking in Africa’s emerging democracies. Democracy does not serve as an automatic remedy of ailment as quinine works to remedy malaria. Democracy should become an everyday instrument for our people to engage each other and their leaders.

It provides opportunity that citizens must take advantage of in order to achieve the desired effect. This is the right perspective for emerging democracies in Africa. More important, for democracy to work as it should, African citizens must take on a new attitude, become more responsible, be informed and get involved in public affairs. Africans must reclaim the culture of coming together regularly to discuss community welfare. They must shun criminal activities that cheat democracy such as election manipulations, voter bribery, tribalism and election related violence.

There is power in people coming together and organizing around their felt collective issues. The rulers have incentive to listen to what people want if they have to face their criticism and seek their support in elections. Initiatives such as public debates can work wonders in assessing a leader’s competence in articulation of issues, vision and clear policies. Open discussion, debate, criticism and dissent are essential to generating informed and reflected choices. This makes politics issue-based, eases voters’ decision on who to vote for and spurs accountability.

Once we get it right with our politics and work on democracy, there is no doubt that we shall experience the fruit of democracy – development. Of course to get a transparent and responsive government, citizens’ consciousness must be backed up by attendant reforms in institutions such as judiciary, parliament, police and electoral system. It is time we put our democracy train on the rail.


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