“There can only be one type of democracy and that is the democracy that recognizes certain pristine notions… “(Muyiwa Falaiye).* Democracy, no doubt, remains the best form of government in Africa. As a result of the dictatorial leadership of our colonial masters, it is only logical to give power back to the people, after independence. Universally and roughly speaking, democracy refers to a government of the people, by the people, and for people. It is a form of government that gives power to the people, and this is what Africa needs. Unfortunately, democracy has been altered and excessively polluted here in Africa.
Africa pretends to practice western democracy, whereas the political modus operandi, is “African Democracy”. In other words, while other Continents practice western democracy, Africa settled for “African Democracy”. This gives us a dichotomy between “democracy in Africa” and “African democracy”. The former is western democracy without any alteration, while the latter is democracy entangled with African cultural values.
Historically speaking, the status quo in most African nations was the practice of African democracy. Apart from our communal societal setup, African democracy was in existence, even before the advent of our colonial masters. In precolonial African societies, African democracy allowed the ruling ‘party’ to conceive the opposition ‘party’ as an enemy. An enemy that will sought any means to destroy the ruling ‘party’. But when the British came, they introduced their own western democracy which allowed the opposition party to act as a checkmate to the ruling party. Also, in this kind of governmental system, the opposition party is expected to give constructive criticisms to the ruling party, not destructive criticisms. This kind of system was indeed alien to most African Societies. But unfortunately, particular during the early post colonial era, this pure democracy being introduced by the British, was abandoned and most African Countries either practiced half of this democracy (which led to the practice of today’s African democracy), or nothing of it. It was at this point that western Democracy was excessively polluted with cultural values.
Due to the wide spread of this African democracy, ordinary people no longer have a voice in politics. African democracy is simply filled with inequality, corruption, nepotism, and so on. Perhaps this is why most African Countries are underdeveloped today. As a Continent who recently got liberated from the claws of colonial dictatorship, African democracy is not what we need right now.
At this juncture, it is paramount to add that I am not advocating for the total eradication of our cultural values. Rather, I am advocating for the total exclusion of our cultural values from our politics. There is nothing wrong with our African cultural values. But amalgamating cultural values with western democracy, involves rendering a grotesque view of the very concept of democracy. For instance, our cultural values demands that we respect our elders, and the young boys have no business in the discussion or dealings of our elders. In fact, a young boy has no right to question the views of our elders. In a Democratic setting, this is outright inequality. Democracy, demands that everybody involved in the political institution of their society, should have equal rights, no matter their age. So you see, there is a conflictual lacuna between our cultural values, and western democracy. Other examples of these cultural values includes, Godfatherism (a political figure who determines who rules, and is also frequently worshipped by young “godsons”), the power to rule being in the hands of a specific class of wealthy individuals, and so on.
My point is, democracy should be a government of equality, free from all forms of Godfatherism, and where people have equal participatory rights, whether directly or representatively, no matter their age. Hence, democracy should not be situated or practiced within the confines of cultural values. Doing this, amounts to distorting the very concept of democracy. Unfortunately, this is what is being done in Africa here.
Democracy is a government by the people. They decide the kind of ruler they want. Albeit, some scholars have argued that democracy is not the best form of government for Africans, and their reason for this, is the high rate of uneducated people in Africa. But this also means that African leaders should occupy themselves with the task of providing conducive atmosphere for learning, proper learning facilities, and more establishment of schools and higher Institutions. When this is done, the rate of illiteracy in Africa will be reduced drastically, and Africans will elect their leaders in a complete democratic setting.
Western democracy is the best form of government for Africa. But the practice of African democracy, entangled with cultural values, is like forcing a dagger into a Man’s chest. In the end, the man will die. Thus, something needs to be done. We can not sit still and watch this Continent being pull to drift. “The greatest problem facing Africa now, is the absence of ideology” (Franz Fanon). We need to think, purvey ideas and act on these ideas. Our founding fathers of independent Africa, (Azikwe, Nkrumah, Senghor, Peter Abraham, Awolowo, Hastings Banda, Jomo Kenyatta, and George Padmore), all purveyed ideas on how Africa can gain political independence, and they acted on it. “Evil prevails when good men fail to act”. Hence, I challenge we youth as leaders of tomorrow, to put an end to this African democracy (especially Godfatherism and political inequality), before it becomes too late.
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by Wale Giwa