Has democracy let down Africans?

AFTER every four to six years, most African nations go to the polls to choose a new leadership or retain the current one. While there is little evidence linking the take-off in economic growth to an outcome of an efficient democratic system, elections are part of the rituals adopted by most African countries at independence. Elections are often used as one of the major indicators of democracy. The abuse of power, human rights violations and plunder that happen in-between elections are not taken seriously.

The adoption of democracy by most African countries has little or nothing to do with laying down a foundation for economic growth. In fact, the reasons most African countries adopted democracy are largely a result of self-interest. Democracy earned them acceptance into global governance institutions, a seat in the global arena enabling them to access credit lines and legitimacy from which sovereignty and independence are subsumed — often times a tool used to repel international community pressure over mismanagement of their countries.

Today, seven decades after most African countries started attaining independence, nearly a billion people in the continent are yet to see the value of a free people and free markets, despite that there has been more investment in elections and the democracy agenda than sprucing up economies.

Economic growth in African has remained stunted on the presumption that political democracy must effectively work first before economic growth can take off, even though historical evidence suggests otherwise. International finance institutions and donor countries have either withheld or conditioned their funding, supposedly as a way of enforcing appropriate political behaviour among African leaders, but that too has had negative effects on citizens.

I have previously addressed how flawed the notion that democracy is a pre-condition for economic growth. Placed under intense global pressure to deliver more, better and faster growth while attempting to pursue political survival, African leaders have become creative at manipulating democracy, mainly elections.

This creativity has enabled them to subvert norms of democracy in order to retain political power. This technically means allowing people to vote, so as to create an illusion of a free and fair election. The electoral management system, led by an appointee of the sitting leadership, is charged with the responsibility of ensuring the results favour them. The judiciary is oftentimes arm-twisted to favour the sitting leadership in the event that election results are contested.

Part of the reasons Africa has not been able to rise economically is because of this and that most African leaders are more concerned about external political pressure than domestic. They have developed brutal means to effectively deal with domestic political pressure by deploying security forces to harm hungry citizens while reciting from ‘the constitutionally-elected government’ hymn book. This, they cannot do with external forces, save for using the sovereignty card. But again, the international community has lately been so shy to physically intervene in instances where citizens of a country have been weakened and have called for such. And this has aided some African leaders to solidify their hold to power, and development is side-lined as politics takes centre-stage.

But that is not all. Deepening poverty works to their advantage and helps them stay in power longer. For that reason, African politicians have kept the masses poorer, illiterate and destitute thereby incapacitating their ability to protest. Second, the plunder of national resources for self-enrichment means they become even more powerful against weakened institutions of democratic governance which are meant to hold public office bearers accountable. These State institutions are stifled of resources in order to weaken them so their neutrality in the delivery of national service is compromised.

In addition, the more capital they accumulate from national plunder, the more they become key inter-locators with international investors, and in the process compromising the ability of the international community to intervene in political matters. With that, the citizen is left in the cold.

This explains why poverty in most of those countries has continued to deepen because addressing it is not in the interest of the leadership as doing so would be counter-productive to their political agenda and plunder of national resources.

It also explains why government institutions in African countries have become poorer and weaker while the politicians (either in government or opposition) have become even richer. It is the same reason why politics has become a career of choice in Africa because it gives politicians quick access to public resources.

While democracy is an excellent idea, in the absence of solid State institutions to back it up, it actually favours those in power and it suffers at the whim of both political and capital power.

Again, the interface by the international community in resolving political issues tends to happen through the same autocratic leadership, with the poor citizens remaining at the bottom-end of the ladder, a scenario that cripples the ability of the former to make an objective analysis of the situation.

Oftentimes, the outcome of such conversation ends with calling on the same autocratic leadership to reform. I have argued in previous instalments that democracy is a culture that is built through many years of investment in it. It cannot be planted like a flower but it must instead be grown like a plant until it matures to produce fruits.

 Tapiwa Gomo writes in his personal capacity

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