Democracy is the modern god of politics yet the same democracy has been defined by some as a tyranny of the majority. One particular allegory suggested that it is the equivalent of two wolves and one sheep making a decision about what to eat. In the 21st century, there has been an unprecedented advocacy directed towards establishing democracies in the world. The fact that democratic systems have worked for the West justifies the way they have been so emotionally championed the world over. Suggesting that democracy might not be the best system for Africa will therefore attract a backlash but it is important that this delicate relationship be explored. Does Africa need democracy if it is to unleash its potential?
Democracy is not a necessity for economic growth
China has been a cause of much confusion in the modern world. There is very low corruption and very high economic success in this country where the Communist Party is unchallenged. Some petty dictators whose countries are no-where close to the success of China have argued for their stay in power by citing China’s success. They thwart dissention using China as a model but they are not as vigilant as China is when it comes to thwarting corruption. China is probably one of the most effective autocratic regimes in terms of economic growth thus showing that democracy in itself is not a requirement for economic growth.
Some of the most celebrated African leaders who championed the charges to success in their countries like Thomas Sankara and Kwame Nkrumah were autocrats rather than democrats. It has therefore been argued that the changes they had to effect could not have been implemented by democratic systems. Sankara for one aspired to lead Burkina Faso’s transition from being a dependent colony of France to being a self-sustainable power-house. The changes would have been slow if consultations with the masses were to be held before every decision.
Though his plans were cut short by a bloody coup, what leaders like him have brought to the table is an alternative to democracy. Many people would rather not have freedom of speech and have a stable economy than have all sorts of freedoms on an empty stomach. However, the question is; what makes great countries? Is it simply economic growth or freedom? If it is economic growth alone, then democracy is not a necessity.
Can democracy be reconciled with African tribal diversity?
One very important question that African political systems have been called to answer is that of ethnic and tribal differences. The common idea of democracy rests in a multi-party political system son as to provide controls and checks for the ruling party in the form of opposition parties. The problem has however been that some parties are drawn on tribal lines thus encouraging fragmentation of a society which needs unification.
Most people agree Kwame Nkrumah’s answer to this fragmentation was introducing a one-party state where people were not encouraged to support parties on grounds of ethnicity. At face value, this is downright dictatorship but when the rationale behind is to unify a country, it starts to make sense. Nkrumah may have taken it too far as shown by how his regime brutally dealt with opposing voices like the Big Six but his heart was in the right place. The conundrum most African leaders have had to face because of the tribal differences is the ever looming threat of civil disturbance thus justifying authoritarian leadership.
This has been called “a perpetual state of emergency”. Having one party in such circumstances makes sense but only if the leaders are an incorruptible crop with a mind for unity. At the end of the day, the success of having a one party state to unite the people can only be achieved if the party leaders do not again promote the tribal domination of their own people. Unfortunately, such leaders are hard to come by and this makes democracy look more alluring.
The truth of the matter is that while democracy has its weaknesses when effecting the change African countries need and uniting their diverse people, it is still the best political system there is. In Winston Churchill’s words, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Autocratic systems simply cannot be trusted as they are potentially disastrous when power lies in the hands of despots (which it usually does).
Simply taking Sankara and using him as the argument against democracy is unfair as he and a few others are a few of the best non-democrats that ever existed. They were the exceptions and not the order of the day. Their ability to control the excesses of their power speaks of their great statesmanship and not of the authoritarian victory over democracy. So does Africa really need democracy? Yes, it does because the other options are worse. What is necessary is to fashion a democracy which does not encourage disintegration and fragmentation of countries.
One of the most obvious steps is to advance democratic proportional representation in political leadership to encourage tribal inclusion rather than its anti-thesis, the winner takes all system. If African democracy is to work, it needs to be deliberately fashioned for diverse African societies. Things here are way more complicated than they are in the West. The democracy practised here should tell that story.