The nurture of democracy and our role in ensuring rule of law

Africa is not failing in democracy because Africans do not want democracy. [iStockphoto]

Democracy is a lot of hard work. We have to nurture it. The winning of an election and acquisition of office are not the nurturing of democracy.

Democracy is not an event every five years. It is a process over those five years. Successively. Democracy is brought into the lives of citizens by structured good governance.

Structured good governance is a collective effort. By the sovereign people themselves through their duly elected representatives, (from which is drawn the Executive), by the public service, by the Judiciary, by the Press, by the Police Service and so on. Some ministers cannot be democratic in their office, and others are. Democracy is a collective responsibility and a joint effort.

A collective executive, whether of a nation, county or a national corporation, needs to have the habit of vision. That means to hold the office for a good purpose. In the task of nurturing democracy and for this habit of vision, a most important gathering took place a few weeks ago in Arusha, Tanzania.

It was the Elders' Retreat on a Drive for Democracy. The Elders were several former African Heads of Government. Present and participating were Bai Koroma (former President of Sierra Leone), Joaquim Chissano (former President of Mozambique), Hailemariam Desalegn (former Prime Minister of Ethiopia), Jakaya Kikwete (Former President of Tanzania), and Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson (former President of Liberia).

They were meeting with nearly 80 representatives of women, youth, NGOs, academia, professions, activists in an unrestricted exchange of views on major arenas of democracy, peace, women rights, security, the rule of law, and conflict resolution. The retreat was opened by Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan.

Her attendance and major address dealing with the imperatives of regional unity and Pan-African economic concerns, underscored the importance with which Tanzania viewed this major step to enhance democracy and rule of law. Other former African heads of state were also supportive of the retreat but could not attend. What was further extraordinary was that over two days of tightly filled schedules, each of these former heads of state met with small groups of participants, in a free exchange of views, and unscripted question and answer sessions, all on the basis of the Chatham House rules.

All of them were forward looking and gave special attention to the youth. The retreat was followed by the 2nd African Drive for Democracy Conference involving nearly 200 youth from all over the continent. This was the second in the series began last year.

These exceptional enriching personal exchanges are a measure of the commitment of African leaders to nurturing democracy. It is a testament of their investment in Africa's youth. Our vision of a democratic future is found in our history, in our continuous resistance to colonialism and imperialism over the past 100 years. This resistance has to be consciously renewed.

The vision of the continent is contemporaneously found in the writings of our public visionaries like Wole Soyinka, Mahmood Mamdani, Jenerali Ulimwengu, and Bitange Ndemo. Other rich veins are the writings and lives of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the late Chinua Achebe. It is no coincidence that common to all of them is a lifetime of thought as well as political activism.

Africa is not failing in democracy because Africans do not want democracy. Afrobarometer's findings over 2022-2023 have confirmed an overwhelming demand for democratic governance (67 per cent).

Endemic corruption, greed, reliance on incompetence in spite of widely-available merit, and a resultant self-renewing poverty, are formidable barriers. Contributing international factors present now are the return of mercenaries, return of geopolitical Cold War moves on our continent, and the fresh scramble for Africa's strategic minerals.

The cumulative impact is our return to deep dependence on the IMF. Despite all this, across Africa these structured steps on the thousand-mile journey are being taken.

Kenya has to play its part. Around all Kenyans is a very hard-won working democracy. But, in the face of claw backs, national anti-constitutionalism and international manipulations, neither Kenya nor Africa can sustain gains in the rule of law without constant nurture of democracy and conscious passing on of its vision to succeeding generations.

-The writer is a senior counsel