How can one celebrate democracy in countries where the ruling party, its officials and cadres have more powers than state institutions such as the police, courts or local authorities?
What is democracy if the sitting President can merely refuse to leave office when their constitutional tenure of office comes to an end and still remain in power while persecuting or suffocating the opposition to hell? What is democracy if the same system is becoming the main source of perpetual political hostility, national disunity, tribalism, regionalism, civil unrest and internal deadly wars? Why should anyone celebrate democracy in Africa when party rivals increasingly hate, insult, physically fight and kill one another in the name of politics? What is democracy if free, fair and credible elections cannot be guaranteed?
What is democracy if many local civil society organisations or media outfits have no independent voice of their own than to constantly being hired by the ruling party, opposition or Western donors for them to operate? What is democracy if many poor voters can merely be bought with sugar, salt, shirts, chitenge, books, pants, bicycles, beer, cigarettes or K10 by the ruling party or opposition? What is democracy if one’s tribe or region is the main stubborn basis for political party loyalty or voting justification? What is democracy if the state still beg for land to undertake development or create new districts from some local traditional leaders who own thousands of hectares to themselves? What is democracy if it has no local self-driven soldiers and non-sponsored ideological defenders to champion and promote it? This is the state or curse of the so-called democracy in many countries across Africa.
Although Africa has some form of sponsored democracy that is taking root today, it is clear that more financial investment and technical work need to be done as many ‘democratic states’ still fall below the minimum standard of being what should be a called ‘a democracy’. From the Limpopo River in the Southern part to River Nile in the Northern hemisphere, the Western governance ideology and political system is constantly under serious victimisation and attack as both politicians, civil society, scholars and media are trading it in exchange for either money, appeasement, contracts or mere phobia. The annual Democracy Index under Freedom House or the Mo Ibrahim Governance Award under the Mo Ibrahim Foundation all speak to this fact.
‘Redemocratization’ should be taken to mean a consistent quest to review, rethink, revive, guarantee, promote, improve, protect, strengthen and sustain liberal democratic tenets and practices in Africa while taking into account diverse local needs and political conditions in each respective sovereign state. It means applying democratic values within the context of already existing indigenous political, cultural and traditional institutions for each country and sub region. By ‘Redemocratisation’, it means Africa’s version of democracy must suit and fit into its environmental conditions and local texture for each respective state as the linear one model is being ejected for different reasons in many countries. It is very similar to the 18th century ‘democratization of America’ and ‘Americanization of democracy’ where the framers of the American Constitution redefined and designed a democratic governance model of their own – different from Western Europe in line with their political kind, taste, color, nature and values.
As we speak, democracy is being ejected in many states because it is too Western and lacks an indigenous political face and taste for most local Africans. In most parts of Africa, democracy is not integrated nor supported by some powerful local institutions such as the faith and cultural leaders or civil society leaders as they are treated as political agents or mediators and discriminates and pushes them out of the actual political power. While many welcome and desire to boost, preserve, promote and sustain western democracy as a political ideology and governance system, the challenge remains that it is too alien and Western for many key African political stakeholders such as chiefs, kings, religious leaders and community gatekeepers who belong and understand a different political system of their own. Without the support of such political gurus, it is not possible for democracy to be consolidated especially in countries that are highly superstitious or culturally solid.
Dangerously, democracy is failing to be truly understood, supported and internalized among most of its current defenders i.e. African politicians, party members, voters and citizens. Thus, many African states have ‘democracy without democrats’ – which is practically a mere political mockery to the Western sponsors of democracy. This is the greatest tragedy and political curse standing against the workability and sustainability of democracy in the region. Although being called democratic states, it is a notorious fact that many African states need to be politically ‘born again’ in order to enter the beautiful kingdom of democracy where the ‘free citizens’ of Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, USA, Germany, UK, Australia, Japan, Netherlands, Israel, Canada, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, New Zealand or Greece, among many others, are happily living and enjoying their fundamental freedoms and inherent human rights. Many African states have what could be termed as either ‘Savage’ or ‘Miscarriage Democracies’.
In conclusion, ‘Redemocratization’ should also be taken to mean redesigning or restructuring local efforts being made by the media, scholars, civil society, religious organisations, trade unions, business sector and other pressure groups to promote and strengthen democracy in the region sponsored by Western donors. This is one of the hallmark weakness of democracy in Africa as it is still a Western sponsored political system in many countries. It is like a baby that entirely depends on its mother’s milk to survive and live for tomorrow. For democracy to work and be sustained, there is need to build and support permanent community soldiers and organizations that will be responsible to defend it beyond providing public awareness and political advocacy. But this can be more viable through the local institutions that seem undemocratic and are constantly being avoided or kept outside politics.
Chris Zumani Zimba is a Political Scientist, Author, PhD Scholar, Lecturer, Researcher and Consultant