By Dr Ugoji Egujo
We have to ask the question. Is multiparty democracy good for Africa? It hasn’t worked. If African democracy had been fruitful, the chronic cycle of poverty and disease in the continent would have been broken. But in Africa, generations have inherited strife and penury and bequeathed misery to their offsprings.
Across Africa, multiparty democracy has left stunted countries bereft of institutions and principled governance. Yet Africa cannot be blamed for not trying. Africa divorced military regimes decades ago and embraced democracy wholeheartedly. Every 4-5 years, Africa states spend billions of dollars that could have been used to fight disease to hold elections.
In some states, ethically disoriented parties borne of opportunism rather than service to country fight for power which they do not know what to do with. In some other African countries, dictatorships robed as democracy dance around in one party costumes. Everywhere in Africa, the rituals of democracy, scripted by the West, drain Africa of its scarce resources and reward it with neither development nor peace. Democracy is good. But nowhere in Africa has it yielded enduring results.
So we must ask the question, are we stuck with western multiparty democracy till death do us part?
Democracy promised much. It was supposed to create a shared sense of belonging and prosperity amongst citizens and subnational groups lumped into countries by fate. Democracy was supposed to take the power retrieved from colonial masters and hand it to poor street folks. Democracy was supposed to distribute wealth and enthrone social justice. Democracy was supposed to ensure that the gap between the poor and rich was bridged; that would be the situation if power belonged to the people. Democracy was supposed to help enhance freedom.
But in Africa democracy has fumbled and wobbled. African democracy has brought parties which have become a recycling plant for old politicians; parties which have become citadels of inertia, indolence, shortsightedness and greed. When young politicians manage to break through, they show they have received tutelage from the old order. That way corruption and mis-governance are institutionalized.
Why can’t the suffering people break way from servitude? They are shackled. When the bulk of the people are illiterate and lack access to food, health and shelter, they can’t be free. Democracy requires a critical mass of free people. Without a free electorate, any electoral system will be inherently dysfunctional. The people can’t articulate their best interests beyond their primal needs. They cant choose freely. And when choosing isn’t rational, cant make subtle distinctions, more wolves than doves go into politics to corner power and privileges.
Democracy requires mass participation. African democracies are fellowships between millions of apathetic people and a bunch of self-centered, self-aggrandizing, scheming hustlers. That apathy sickens the system further and lets money and brigandage become the sure path to electoral victories.
People are not free to choose when the choices they are faced with are wretched. Freedom means autonomy: having rational options. If the people must choose between three thieves because those thieves have stolen the tickets of the three main parties then where is the freedom? Any democracy that is not watched by the citizenry as vigilantes watch the night will not thrive. Political vigilantism even if it’s left to the civil society requires the people to be alert to the whistles of the civil society. Good people must join politics en masse. When only a few good options get through the sieve of warped elections, they fail to impact the system because they are too few to disrupt it. The problem is the Africa of today lacks democratic prerequisites.
Why has democracy failed in Africa?
It is simple. Democracy requires a bulk of literate free citizens. African states do not have social security for citizens. Hunger is rampant. Unemployment and under employment have crippled the bulk of youthful population. The basic fundamentals for democracy do not currently exit. The picture is complicated by the influence of ethnicity and religion. Ethnicity, sectarianism and religion have become the emotional hypnotizers which the unscrupulous political elites have used to befuddle the languishing citizenry.
Take religion. Religion was supposed to birth a culture underpinned by morality and virtue. But religion in Africa is the spiritually hollow version which inflames passions and fosters divisions and causes strife. Religion should have made the improved work ethic and enhanced transparency and probity in government. But the version of religion practiced in Africa is more noise than substance. Ordinarily ethnicity might have enriched African democracies with diversity. But ethnicity is only played up by the leaders when they seek power or rents. So rather than build, multi-ethnicity has become an albatross for African democracy.
The Africa of today doesn’t have the capacity and temperament for western multi-party democracy. Africa countries are too poor to finance the rituals of democracy. The average African is too poor or too unemployed to be free enough to prioritize the good of tomorrow over the crumbs of today . The prevailing culture lacks a sense of taboo. Patriotism and altruism do not exist. Multiparty democracy has been abused. The parties are vehicles for a power grab.
Africa must seek an alternative system that is devoid of expensive rituals, fanciful labels, and acrimonious partisanship. A stakeholder system that comprises of traditional and religious leaders, civil society, the security agencies, and youths bodies should be allowed to run African countries for 50 years. This will allow theses countries breathe and chart a course that is not determined by shortsighted politics.
The clock is ticking. This facade cannot be sustained. If left unfixed, a rupture could leave Africa a huge Somalia.