When democracy was imposed on the African people by Western liberalist ideologues, it was packaged as a progressive panacea to all political problems in Africa and the world.
It is now about 30 years since Africa returned to multiparty democracy, yet the story is the same across the continent. Wielders of real power, working behind the scenes in cahoots with other “invisible hands” have constantly overturned the will of the people in the electoral process. We have seen it in Uganda. We have seen it in Rwanda. We have also seen it in Ethiopia, Kenya, Burundi, Liberia, Nigeria, Gabon, DR Congo, Benin, Mali, Zambia, CAR, Seychelles, Angola, Mozambique, Comoros, Malawi, Guinea Bissau, Algeria, and elsewhere in Africa.
The will of the people no longer matters. Democracy lacks essential safeguards to guarantee the realization of a people’s will. So, what other role does it serve apart from assuaging the egos of the West that their ideology is working? Nothing at all, in my opinion. Democracy has been abused, and like oil and gas, turned into a curse in Africa. It is responsible, every election cycle, for needless deaths, internally displaced persons, protracted political negotiations that often turn violent, assassinations, ethnic alienation, balkanization, mistrust, and lack of cohesion among other vices that continue to bedevil Africa. In a nutshell, democracy has failed to amicably address Africa’s political realities. Isn’t it about time Africa said “enough is enough, and to hell with democracy?”
A working democracy is premised on regular elections that are free, fair, and transparent. Our experience in Africa has shown that most times, elections are free, fair, and transparent up to the time of voting. However, counting the vote is almost invariably shrouded in mystery. African power men loathe transparent vote transmission and counting processes and are always reluctant to invest in them.
Where development partners have financed the acquisition of functional Voter Management Systems and supporting infrastructure, African governments have sabotaged them with claims of lack of reliable power supply or mobile telephone connectivity to support such systems during presidential elections. Surprisingly, these systems work perfectly well with parliamentary and local elections, which are more elaborate and strenuous. The same systems also work very well elsewhere in the world, except in Africa.
The link between the electoral process and the quality of leaders
It appears to me that African leaders have really never taken time to think hard about the link between the electoral process and the quality of leaders it delivers on one hand, and the service delivery and development of their countries, on the other. But if they have, then they have chosen to ignore it for purely selfish reasons. Africa cannot afford to continue in this manner, as it clearly undermines her capacity to unlock the huge development potential buoyed by abundant natural resources and a youthful population.
The foolishness of the African leadership is clearly depicted in their quest for more power to facilitate wealth accumulation in the hands of a cabal of captors, without commensurate development of the countries that they preside over. Strangely, these state captors never learn any lessons from their predecessors. Mobutu Seseseko of Zaire had to flee the onslaught of Desire Kabila’s Western-backed forces, leaving behind the loot as he scampered for dear life. He finally died, and his remains were interred in a nondescript grave in Rabat, Morocco. Whatever he had stashed in foreign bank accounts remains as unclaimed assets, helping to strengthen Western economies. How stupid can a human being be?
The story of Muammar Gaddafi is still fresh in our minds. There are many such opulent African dictators with tragic ends. The tragedy is that African dictators never learn from their recent history, as they continue to ravage their countries with buffoonery.
The Western countries, who are the purveyors of democracy, no longer care as much about African elections as they do about their interests in these countries. The end of the “Cold War” created a sense of lethargy in the relations between the West and Africa as there was no longer any power to checkmate the USA and Western Europe on African soil. This has in effect created impunity on the part of African leaders who no longer need to pretend to be non-aligned. Provided the interests of the superpowers are taken care of, African leaders can do whatever they will, whether that means overturning the people’s will in the electoral process or clobbering demonstrators into submission, as has been witnessed across the continent of Africa. This is the worst contradiction of the Western-type democracy that I have witnessed in my lifetime.
Those Africans who were hoping for “salvation” from the West had better wake up to the reality that they are on their own! In view of these contradictions arising out of African experiments with the “democracy enterprise” in the continent, Africa now needs to have an objective dialogue with itself regarding homegrown methods of governance as alternatives to this dysfunctional democracy.
For instance, in Kenya, I suggest a rotational Presidency based on the original 7 provinces, with Nairobi as the 8th one, to be placed under a gubernatorial system, which is also rotational among ethnicities. A similar approach can be replicated across Africa to reduce instances of ethnic competition and hostility.
Alternatively, presidential powers should be dispersed to the regions so that voters can have real power to elect, oversight, and remove governors through a functional system that is properly embedded in the supreme law. Kenya’s devolved system has attributes of it, but remains dysfunctional due to deliberate legislative and political emasculation.
The writer is the CEO of the Global Peace Foundation.