Bringing Democracy to Africa


Does Africa need elective, majority democracy or some other method of government? Maybe what Africa needs is a different method of government instead of modern democracy. History and the statistics seem to favour this view, and it is the aim of this article to explore it.Obviously there are various forms of democracies and numerous other methods of governance which nations can choose to model themselves around. I have this feeling that constitutional democracy achieved by majority vote maybe somewhat flawed for the African continent, as indeed it is not universally embraced outside Western Civilization. Africa found itself adopting models of government of former masters by default, without regard to how they ruled themselves previously.

Someone I highly respect first suggested this notion to me and of course I naturally scoffed at it, dismissing it out of hand. On close inspection of trends within the African continent and disasters that countries there have encountered as they strived to institute democracy along the Western model really got me thinking, and researching.

Historically, Africans have always had kingdoms, which kingdoms were successful and whose subjects were always proud of their king. The king either died in office or was overthrown. Kings were kings for as long as they could subdue all would be conquerors. The closest form of government to African culture was therefore Aristocracy, Meritocracy or Monarchism. Think about it for a moment, I will give you examples in Southern Africa with which I am familiar. Take Shaka the Zulu, and other Zulu kings before him in the Zulu Kingdom. He won his leadership by proving his ability to lead and by conquest. He could only step down by conquest or death. Can you imagine him giving up his leadership to someone else simply because ten, twelve or fourteen years making up his two terms were up? There were other empires in Southern Africa, like the Munhumutapa Empire. The Mambos (kings) successfully ran their kingdom which covered large parts of many countries in Southern Africa to the Mozambiquean Coast for several years, only to be dislodged largely by the coming of the Colonialists. The Swazi Kingdom is another example, the vestiges of which remain to this day. I believe this was replicated across the African continent beyond Southern Africa.

I obviously advocate for progressiveness and civilisation and am by no means implying Africa should have remained in that state where rulership was purely by conquest, but the argument is that there are other forms of government which might have been more suited to our African background than democracy along Western Standards; where an adored and respected leader could lead for as long as he was able, where he could appoint successors to his rulership. The idea of constitutional democracy and multi-partism, in my humble submission, has more managed to destabilise the African continent than do anything else. There could then be a mixture of, say Monarchism and some form of managed democracy, for example that you find in the British Empire or in many Islamic Countries.

Another aspect of African kingdoms which we threw away with constitutional democracy was the Theocratic inclination of the Kingdoms. The Kings was often a Spiritual leader as well, or worked closely with Spiritual leaders. In effect, the King was obliged to be a moral leader, which requirement present day leaders gleefully trample upon.

In the end, what has happened is that a lot of African leaders have clung on to power, but have been largely demonised not really because of failure alone, but because in the first place, they were expected to have vacated office earlier. In many instances, those that felt the leaders had overstayed, particularly from the West, created conditions where their positions were not tenable anymore. Obviously former colonialists had vested interests to protect, apart from governance, which is why they have encouraged anarchy in other former colonies where it suited them, for example in the DRC.

So despite the gospel of Constitutional democracy being preached to Africa, there is an interesting pattern of long-serving African leaders, turning their countries into de-facto Monarchs. Name them(and years in power!): Omar Bongo (41), Muammar Gaddafi(39), Gnassingbe Eyadema (38), Eduardo Dos Santos (28), Robert Mugabe(28), Hosni Mubarak (27), Yoweri Museveni(22), Paul Biya(25), Denis Sassou Nguesso(20), Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali (21),King Makhosetive Mswati (21), Lansana Conte(20), Milton Obote(15), Idi Amin, Kibaki, Nunjoma etc.

An affinity for power characterise these leaders, using any and all at their disposal to remain in power. Consequently they have been labelled dictators, but would that perception have been different if they were doing this under a different governance model. Just lets take one extreme and notorious example of Robert Mugabe. For those in the know, you will agree with me that RG did not start as a despot. He was loved by his people, envied by his foes and admired by those that beheld. Why, the queen of England is said to have given him the highest order of the British Empire, he is Sir Robert Gabriel Mugabe! In his early rule education, medical and many critical aspects of social welfare were accessible to the ordinary people. Zimbabwe is highly literate today because of his policy of Education for All. The catastrophic developments in Zimbabwe that have really led it down the precipice were largely done by RG to gain political mileage, because his rule was threatened. Right from granting of unreasonable War Veterans pensions, parcelling out land in an unplanned manner etc, was all mostly done to gain political high ground. My question is, would it have been different if he had not been under this pressure and knew he would rule or occupy a position of respect no matter what he did or did not do?

On the other side, only Nyerere, Mandela, Chissano and a few others are exceptions to the rule in that they have stepped down graciously without manipulating their Countries’ constitutions etc to remain in power, handing over power or losing graciously; but they are by far in the minority. The writer hence concludes that this cannot be coincidence: democracy is foreign to African states and another form of governance must be found, otherwise we will always be going backwards and forwards in our quest for stability, development and progress. The recent developments in Kenya show the fragility of our democracies even when they ‘exist’.

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