Opinion: The Problem with African Democracies – By SUNDAY EZE
“Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve” – George Bernard Shaw
Leadership failure is at the heart of the problem with African democracies. Others are authoritarian monarchy in the garb of democracy and sit-tight syndrome by those at the helm of affairs, glaring impunity, and corrupt enrichment of leaders, failed institutions and many more. Over the years democracy has produced the worst form of government accomplishments in Africa. Gross under development, poverty and the incurred debt burden weighing down Africa on account of financial recklessness of leaders, failed policies and decayed infrastructure were painful outcomes under democracy. Manipulation of democratic processes in favour of a certain political class and rigging of elections are the fruits citizens reap under African democracies. In some countries, top leadership positions have become the exclusive preserve of one family – family business. How could one man and or his family hold the democratic process to ransom and perpetuate themselves in power for years?
Report has it that when put together, eleven different African presidents had/have stayed in power for over three hundred years. They are Yoweri Musaveni of Uganda 37 years, Paul Biya of Cameroon 42 years, Paul Kegame of Rwanda 23 years, Theodoro Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea 43 years, Denis Nguesso of Congo 38 years, Isias Aferwki of Eritrea 30 years, Alhassan Ouattara of Ivory Coast 13 years Gnasingbe Eyadema of Togo 38 years, his son Faure Eyadema 18 years, Omar Bongo of Gabon 42 years, his son Ali Bongo 14 years. Collectively, these group of people ruled different African countries for 338 years in the name of democracy. This is unbelievable and it can happen only in Africa.
After the coup in Gabon, some of these sit-tight leaders like Paul Biya, Paul Kegame and Yoweri Musaveni have quickly reviewed the security architecture of their countries as a way of further consolidation of their grip on power. The empire these people are building and interests they seek to protect will soon collapse in their very presence. It is a matter of time. To make matters worse, these past and incumbent leaders have altered some portions of the constitution to suit their desire for tenure elongation. The electoral bodies and security agencies always offer themselves as willing tools to manipulate the process in favour of the above leaders.
While those in positions of authority live in undeserved opulence, majority of the citizens are consigned to abject poverty. This is frustrating and has led to growing mistrust among leaders and the led. In fact, African citizens desire positive change in governance and also transformation of their poor status. They are obviously fed up with the ongoing exploitation but counting on their votes only are not good enough to dismantle the status quo and effect needed change. People now tend to believe and support the incursion of military rule in some African countries because they see them as the only institution with the capacity to change bad government on behalf of the people. Citizens of nations involved in coups are joyous and hopeful that the new regime will bring succour and right the wrongs.
Until these military administrations behave otherwise and disappoint the people, their expectations of dramatic change are very high. Democracy is an ideology built on fairness and transparency. However, it does not seem to have the right meaning in Africa. People may no longer foolishly accept democracy as the best form of government. Many do not think it is especially for us in Africa. It has failed! Why must African nations be forced to elect leaders who rig their ways to power after every four years in the name of democracy? Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirate (UAE), and Qatar are trail blazers in development without democracy. This implies that good leaders matter more than the type of government practiced by nations.
Out of the five continents of the world, Africa is the most blessed in terms of mineral resources, ironically it is the weeping child and most underdeveloped. The current global economic politics are designed to shortchange Africa. It defiles logic for a nation blessed with raw material not to have local companies to transform them into finished goods. Rather African nations harvest raw materials, sell cheaply to somebody else who processes same into finished products and re-sell at higher rates. The global tax regimes and trade policies on African products has made it difficult for nations to complete favourably and effective in international markets and investment arena.
The growing consciousness of African nations to take charge of their given resources by changing the old paradigm of alliance with colonial masters is the master stroke. The emergence of BRICS nations, the hot economic romance between China, Russia and Africa are the best things to have happened to the continent. It has changed the face of relationships and businesses. However, Africa should be more circumspect in signing any bilateral agreements that will return them to status quo. It is gradually dawning on the old order in developed nations that it is no longer business as usual as they struggle to maintain and retain their lost ground. France’s refusal to recorganise the military government in Niger was a move to protect its strategic interest and never in the interest of democracy or Niger.
The insistence of France that her ambassador must remain in Niamey and take instructions from the deposed ex-president Mohamed Bazoum despite failed diplomatic relations between the two countries and quit notice issued to her diplomats shows how important Niger’s Uranium is to the survival of that country. Africa is not interested in ending relationships and old alliances. However, the continent is open to new breed of honest, favourable and fair alliances. The world cannot rate Africa as being poor while the reason for poverty in Africa can be traced to the unfair global rules of engagement.
One had thought that Nigeria will be at the forefront of the struggle for the emergence of a new Africa. It was unfortunate that the ‘giant of Africa’ is not a leader and shining example of this rising wave of regeneration rather it has to emanate from less endowed African nations. Good a thing the message of continental rebirth is reverberating throughout the nooks and crannies of Africa. With little or no time the entire continent will embrace the message of renewed self-dignity. Then Africa will be completely free, enjoy her given wealth and compete favourably with other nations. It is an irony for Africa to be taking a bath in an ocean and still come out unclean. It is high time Africans ensured they be governed no better than they deserve.
Sunday Onyemaechi Eze, a Media and Development Communication Specialist writes via email@example.com and can be reached on 08060901201