How democratic is African democracy?

…..Strengthening Voices For Democracy

By Ter Manyang Gatwech, Kampala, Uganda.

Opinion.

 

Source: www.pipelinedreams.org

Source: www.pipelinedreams.org

  September 22,2014 (Nyamilependia) — Let me defines the word democracy; The word democracy is derived from Greek words Demos meaning ‘’the people’’ and Kratus meaning ‘’rule’’. Thus put together, the Greek word Demokratia means’’the people rule’’

According to Abraham Lincoln, a former president of the United States of America, democracy is a ‘government of the people by the people and for the people.

Viewed in another way it is the participation of the people in making decision on issues which affect them. It is a system of government which offers political equality, liberty, freedom, accountability and social justice.

There are two types of democracy namely;

1.      Direct Democracy
This is when every entitle citizen in the society or nation participates in decision making and government. In this type of democracy all entitled citizens assemble for discussion and deliberation on matters of common interest to them, Athenian democracy is an example of direct democracy.

2.      Indirect Democracy

This type of democracy is also known as representative or parliamentary democracy. It is where the people will and interests are presented and discussed by persons directly elected by them. People elect their representatives to a national assembly or parliament to represent them. The question is; does the MPs of South Sudan represent their people in parliament?  The answer is no, due to lack of democracy in South Sudan.

Back to our question,

Every year September 15th is dedicated to lobbying and reflection on democracy and its ideals. The UN chose this year’s theme to be ‘’STRENTHENING VOICES FOR DEMOCRACY’’. It intends to give a spotlight to the importance of people’s voices explicitly or implicitly through their elected representatives. Activists want the grassroots to have a say in today’s political, economic, social development; and of, course religious deliberations too.

The ability for people to raise their voices and decide how they are governed lies at the heart of democracy.
The challenge is how to empower the voiceless and the silenced of the global community including the Africa populations. During summer 1987 an elderly French lady asked me why Africa had many dictators who don’t relinquish power unless forced by military coup.  I remember telling her it was because Europe introduced an alien system of governance to Africa. It was simplistic, but by then that was the best answer I had. If the same question would bounce back to me now after 26 years, I would have a different rejoin, exactly what is trying to do in this script. Back to the little: How much DEMOCRATIC is Africa DEMOCRACY?  May be we should first ask, if the phraseology ‘African Democracy’’ really exists.

However, like all aspects of life also democracy has several flaws; not only in Africa, but in all continents of all generations. Even the Athenian democracy did not extend equality to all persons and therefore, allowed direct participation   only by male citizens, small political elite, to the exclusion of the majority of the populace consisting of women, slaves, and foreign residents.

Purging prejudice from facts

I prefer to use ‘’Democracy in Africa’’ rather than ‘’African Democarcy’’, for the simple reason what the values of democracy are inherent in all cultures whereby neither the West nor the Greeks can claim copyright. Indeed as the Nigerian Professor Apollos O. Nwauwa writes, the desire for representation, inclusion, and participation in public affairs—essential elements of democracy –are universal to all human; the difference rests in the methods of attaining these goals. I want to make a further distinction yet between modern African politics and traditional African system of governance. A society may have democratic values and not modern democratic structure.  On the other hand, it is also a proven truth that a society can have democratic institutions devoid of democratic principles and ideals.

Unfortunately, talks on democracy and democratizations in Africa continent are usually presented in the West as though they are entirely new notions and practices to Africans. Professor O.Nwauwa, lecturing in North America, summarizes the whole concept as follows: ‘’the ideas of democracy itself are viewed almost exclusively as a Western concept of which African societies now stand desperately   in need. Similarly, the presumption has been that democratic values and practices are alien to the African continent, with the West posturing as their culture bearers and defenders. This mindset considers Africans as incapable of democratic thoughts and hence they should be infused with the ‘civilized’ notion of West democracy’

Unless this wrong perception is corrected the opinion about the African society will always remain biased. As our Nigerian Professor rightly pinpoints, what has been consistently ignored is that democratic values and processes have been as indigenous to Africans as they were to the ancient civilizations. African traditional political cultures and organizations would give credence to this conclusion. While the term democracy might have been borrowed from the Greeks, democratic thought and values have never been exclusively Greek or Euro- American conservation.

Basic concept of democracy:

As already indicated, democracy is a complex reality which does not have unilateral method and / or significance. The meaning of democracy has continually shifted paradugmsthus, producing many variants. Democracy is now a relative concept; it no longer means the same thing to all peoples and cultures at all times. Actually the concept itself is contestable. It is understood by many people to mean a form of government in which a significant portion of the governed society has authorization to elect members of the governing today. Other observes would argue that a ‘’true’’ democracy is a system of government that embraces a universal adult franchise. While imperfections exist in all democratic, most advocates accept Churchill’s dictum that contemporary democracy; as we know it is the least bad of all systems of government.

However, the popular understanding of the term ‘democracy’ is there are three basic forms:  direct, representative and constitutional.  Direct democracy is a form of government in which the right to participate in making political decisions is exercised directly by all citizens, acting under procedures of majority rule. In large states, direct or participative democracy is not possible.

The question is, does Mr. President Kiiir understand the meaning of democracy in Dinka language?

Indigenous African democratic

Many African languages have proverbs that underscore the ideals of participation, sharing and inclusion in public affair. The Ethiopian saying in Amharic, ‘’if tiny threads join, they tie a lion’’ is but one to mention. Implicit in these axioms are the notions process of democratic values in the African continent.

Several researchers have shown that in period preceding colonial rule, Africans practiced a variety of political organizations ranging from direct and representative democracy to various forms of monarchical and decentralized systems. Many African indigenous governments were open and inclusive, including to foreigners.

How democratic is African democracy?

If we intend by traditional African social system we can affirm and confirm that in many parts of traditional Africa the Ethnic groups were guided by democratic values, principles and ideals. We have several historical evidences that some traditional Chiefs who abused power were removed by the general public without guns or bombs.
However if we talk of post-colonial and modern Africa a lot leaves to be desired. This year’s ‘UN theme, ‘’strengthening voices for democracy’’, has a long way ahead. According to political analysts, since the years of independence, Africa has experienced more than 200 military coups, with 45 percent success and resulting in a change in power at the top.

This involves displacement of the head-of-state and government officials, and /or the dissolution of previously existing constitutional structures.  According to the report published in African Development Bank  journal Septmber 2012, of the 52, only 10 countries have never experiend a ‘’military coup detat’’ ( successful, attempted, or plotted, namely; Botswana,Cape Verde, Egypt,Eritea, Malawi,Mauritius,Morocco,Namibia, South Africa, and Tunisia.

By Ter Manyang Gatwech, a finalist student of Cavendish University Uganda. Pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts in Public Administration and Management. A chairman of Gawaar Community in Uganda. You can reach me through email address; termanyanggatwech@yahoo.com or Face Book above name.

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