Frank & Fair

June 12, 2021

Multi-Party Democracy: Africa’s oversized shoes

A gift from her white masters.  On democracy days, we must mourn. Democracy is not an end. African countries have worn western liberal multi-party democracy like an oversized shoe—gifted by an uncle—and stumbled from generation to generation. 

Shoes are good. They protect the feet and aid movement. But shoes must fit both feet and purpose. They must be worn well. We have been made worshipers of the concept. Democracy is not sacrosanct. Africa has shortchanged herself by a religious devotion to the western brand of democracy whose prerequisites she lacks. Democracy is a means to the ends of stability, justice, freedom, peace, unity, and progress. Africa must calibrate democracy to fit her peculiarities and shortcomings.

The critical element of democracy is the leadership recruitment process. Once that suffers chronic malfunction, the citizens switch off and abdicate civic and political responsibilities. Rascals assume control. Without accountability, the rule of law is jettisoned, and rights protections fall apart.   

Western countries crafted their democracies. Their systems evolved. We can’t just copy or swallow. History and culture defined the scope and character of the democracy that exists in those jurisdictions. The purity of representative democracy exists in shades and degrees. In The United Kingdom, an unelected queen is the head of state. The position of the Prime Minister only exists as a convention.

The Prime Minister of the UK exercises powers vested in Her Majesty. Such a situation would be an anathema in the United States. The Americans might view the Queen as a relic or superfluity. But while she might not be the sovereign her ancestors once were, the royal institution exists to stabilize the country, her unwritten constitution, and democracy against the arbitrariness and shortsightedness of everyday adversarial politics. The Queen can, lawfully, sack an errant government.

Since the best democracies have naked deficits, allowed deliberately to secure unity and progress, Africa must tailor its democracy to its strengths.

Africa must fashion her politics to fit snugly the way she fashions her skirts. That way, her beauty might come to the fore, and her potentials realized. The one-man-one-vote democracy is an ideal. It requires an enlightened and free electorate. In Africa, the bulk of the voters are illiterate and live below the poverty line.

They have no social security net. Institutions cant provide checks against arbitrariness because, without the deep roots of good faith in governance, institutions become stunted at infancy. An enlightened but jobless and hungry voter is psychologically handcuffed. His vote can be bought with a bag of rice.   

The United States prides herself as a champion of democracy. She runs, to an extent, a more democratic system than the United Kingdom. The presidential system of government with an elected bicameral legislature in a federation gives the electorate greater democratic say. But even in the United States, the president is not a product of popular votes. Hilary Clinton won the popular votes in 2016 but lost the electoral college votes and lost the presidency to Donald Trump.

In the American presidential election, everybody is entitled to a single vote, but votes might have different weights depending on geographical location. The democracy practiced in Holland ensures the stability of the polity. A constitutional monarchy mediated through elected bicameral parliament. A council of states (peopled by statesmen) that counsels the legislature and doubles as the final court on administrative law. A stakeholder democracy that reflects the country’s history and social pillars of Catholicism, Protestantism, Socialism, and Liberalism. 


Since the best democracies have naked deficits, allowed deliberately to secure unity and progress, Africa must tailor its democracy to its strengths. In Nigeria, every four years, the electoral commission gulps about 400 billion naira. The hemorrhage doesn’t end there. Apart from the budgetary vote for elections, politicians divert over 600 billion naira from national and state treasuries to prosecute elections.

These humungous sums are wasted on a ritual whose outcome is predictably futile in a country haunted by child malnutrition. A survey of the political field and the charlatanism that pervades it should instigate an inquiry. A conveyor belt that recycles mediocrity and inflicts misery on the people cannot be accepted as a fait accompli in the name of civilization.   

After the colonial masters bequeathed democracy and departed, Africa that had sizzled with optimism started wobbling. Democracy birthed loquacious and avaricious internal colonialists to replace the Europeans. As the continent convulsed in the 60s and 70s, many countries slipped into one-party autocracy, and others fell off the cliff into the hands of the military. Democracy, the oversized shoe, was removed, and the continent walked barefoot and bled.

As the continent languished in dictatorships through the 80s, the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of the European Union, saw a rise in the stock of human rights and democracy. African countries were forced into the shoes again. Those who lingered barefoot were treated as pariahs and were starved of respect, opportunities, and funds by the international community. So gradually, Africa was shooed back into the big shoe. And she began wobbling again.

A few African countries have stumbled and staggered into a dance rhythm and have been showcased as good examples of democracy. But not even in South Africa has democracy yielded development and dignity for the citizens at the pace envisaged. The problems are similar. The gulf between the haves and have nots has widened. African Democracy throws up charlatans and opportunists who impoverish the masses while perpetuating themselves in formal and informal power. 

So should Africa abandon democracy? 

Africa must find a shoe that fits. With overwhelming poverty and illiteracy compounded by youth unemployment and disenchantment, African must find a cost-effective system that offers measurable freedom and answerability. A system that must elevate development over electoral conquests and self-aggrandizement. A stakeholder system that would not be hamstrung by the crippling squabbles of partisan politics practiced by gluttons.

That system cannot be the exorbitantly prohibitive winner-takes-all presidential system of government that has left Nigeria disoriented and retarded. It cannot be the parliamentary system run by the United Kingdom because multi-ethnic countries like Nigeria and Ghana cannot find central royal institutions that embody their traditions and espouse their aspirations. 

But Nigeria can find a shoe that fits her. That shoe, I believe, is a stakeholder parliamentary system. An Africanized hybrid system.  A unicameral parliamentary system will save costs. The executive will be part of the legislature.

The stability provided by the monarchies in the United Kingdom and Holland would be furnished by the participation of the military, police, traditional rulers, religious rulers, retired civil servants, sportspeople, and civil society in the parliament. They could constitute 50% of the parliament. The other half would be elected. We must sacrifice purity for functionality. We can debate and agree on the method of selection of stakeholders. Leaders of the labour union and professional bodies would be part of the government. Elected by their constituents and selected by the country.

In the Africanized parliamentary system, the selected stakeholders would not owe allegiance to parties and shallow politics. They would represent their constituents and the country without the pressures and obligations of party politics and elections. Only those who have excelled in their careers would be qualified. The stakeholders would anchor the nation. 

As we observe another democracy day, we must mourn. We must engage in a clear-eyed sober reflection. 

Vanguard News Nigeria