The State of Democracy in Africa

Military coups in Africa have always promised transformation but experi­ence over the years showed that the military were not to be trusted in establishing democratic governance. A few who showed initial leniency toward democracy only prepared themselves for permanency in civilian garb but could not deviate from their regimental backgrounds. Until late, however, the incessant, military ad­venturisms kind of abated but reared themselves in the early 20s in West Africa. In Niger the military ended their short stay in the barracks bring­ing them back in 2021 in a country conceived as gradually achieving democratic stability.

Is western democracy relevant to Africa? Sure enough, in several African countries experimentation with democracy has not been so hope­less. In Ghana there is the perception of an end to coups but the fragility of the current system ironically is em­bedded in the same political and civil freedoms allowed under democratic governance. The bane of African de­mocracy is the politics of democracy. It probably is the same in the west where it emanated from. Its attendant corruption has become the reason to question its relevance for the con­tinent. But it is perhaps pertinent to examine the origins of democracy as it pertains in Africa.

Western democracy emanated from the political culture of ancient Greece, developed and examined by western political thought and nurtured over the years for acceptance. Democracy as we practice here in Africa is a colonial legacy imposed on us by our coloniz­ers. In both cases the common vein is majority rule. The difference comes in the form of political groupings or par­ties, each with their own ideologies.

Governance is driven by the philo­sophical underpinnings of the ideol­ogy of the ruling party. The only mode of choice or selection of governors is elections. And the differences in ide­ologies could make all the difference in the direction of the polity or the country. What we see in Europe and the United States of America is the result of a long process of consulta­tions among the polity. It is also an evolutionary process, something we in Africa could not put claim to. But even more important is the cultural sub­structures of their people. It is there­fore safe to say that what we are seeing here in Africa is not original, as our cultures and traditions are ignored.

Interestingly African cultures and traditions are integral to its political systems. Traditional governance sys­tems were adopted in administering the British colonies of the Gold Coast, Nigeria, Kenya, among others. The colonial policy known as Indirect Rule used traditional rulers in governing and it worked quite well providing the Europeans an insight into the African political system and the needed assis­tance to entrench colonial rule.

Post-independence Africa could not sustain the relative stability of colo­nialism. It was racked by constant forcible removals of elected govern­ments. Western democracy failed and new countries like Ghana, Nigeria and most of the Francophone ex-colonies in West Africa fell victim to incessant coups. In Ghana and Nigeria it was a spate of coups and in a few years sev­eral military coups had been replaced one after the other. The incidence of coups in post-inde­pendence Africa was caused, in the main, by corruption and mismanage­ment. Lack of discipline in managing the economies and the inclination to dictatorship and oppression of the polity spawned bitterness among the opposition whose leaders suffered constant harassment and imprison­ment. Leaders supplanted the colonial leadership and, in the process nothing much changed.

In almost all African countries what little freedom was available was soon whittled away by the replacement African leaders. Post-independence Africa had to grapple with an alien political system where the opposition confronted the ruling government with its faults and ceaselessly embarrassed it. Traditional politics was more refined and accom­modating. Governments also became tyrannical with punitive laws and established legal systems that only sought to stifle all forms of legal op­position. In Ghana, for instance, not long after independence in 1958 a pre­ventive detention act was enacted to silence opposition to the CPP admin­istration under first Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah.

It wasn’t long before some opposition elements were arrested for planning a coup. Term limits were stretched to life terms as others extended two terms to three terms. Paul Kagame, Alasssane Ouattara of la Cote d’Ivoire also did same as Alpha Conde of Guinea Conakry. Ouattara’s decision was met with anger and strong opposition. Conde of Guinea was removed further to his decision to extend his two terms. Scholars against the imposition of western democracy opine that the idea of term limits is alien to African po­litical thought and that some modern African leaders assume leadership and begin to behave like traditional rulers. But then considering the fact that term limits are equally alienated in Western countries like the United Kingdom, Germany among a few why should African ex-colonies with the experi­ence of their political past be saddled with it?

Military coups do not solve the prob­lems they purport to solve. The cor­ruption and the economic mismanagement for which they re­moved the governments continue and even worsen. Ghana went through that cycle of economic deprivation under the PNDC and later the NDC until the NPP was elected in 2001. Their resort to social regimentation only serves to create social instability, especially among the youth. It could also affect the stability of the nation, especially as the military con­tinues to remain in the shadows in the event of a civilian government. Most often as shown in Ghana and Nigeria, leaders elected after the military are ex-military heads of state as Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo and Flt. Lt. J. J. Rawlings showed. Current President Mohammed Buhari is a former mili­tary head of state.

Notwithstanding, Western democracy with its faults as a human institution is preferable in many ways to mili­tary coups and their accompanying unpleasantness.

Posted by on Sep 20 2021. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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