Democracy in Africa needs help

Voters show their voters cards while queueing to cast they ballots at a polling station in Agege, Lagos on February 25, 2023, during Nigeria’s presidential and general election. (Photo by Benson Ibeabuchi / AFP)

It was in a policy development class many years ago that a teacher asked us to listen and understand what he was teaching and how to apply it to our work instead of thinking and focusing on how to develop a Political Theory since even our teachers are not developing any. Being a post graduate class, the statement was not very palatable.

I struggled with it for a long time. Over 25 years, though I have made some contributions to the world of knowledge by my writing and verbal expose on different subjects, I still have not been able to develop any Theory and it appears I have given up.

In the light of this, I make an open proposition to informed minds to help democracy in Africa before the wobbling feet of this model of governance become completely paralyzed and ipso-facto eternally doomed. Straight on, I pose the challenge to the Western World, and this, for two main reasons. First, they birthed democracy, defined as government of the people by the people and for the people. They also better appreciate its underlining principles and ordinances and are in the vanguard to taunt it as the best form of government.

Second, they are more likely to muster the needed resources and alliances to develop a help/assistance/modification theory that will, as we have always been referred to, meet international, universal standard. The shortcomings and failings of democracy as practiced today in most African countries benefit some among us, in fact, the most benevolent in the search for its workability, hence we are stuck in resolving the matter within.

It’s not that we bother much about universal acceptability since any model we all are deeply convinced about can, at least, serve our purpose. Example is gay marriage which Africa will never accept. We are happy and proud of our family structure. In any case, democracy is not bad a system.

It is foolhardy for the developed countries to spend their citizens money to support preparations for general elections in countries of Africa; commit more resources and encourage their institutions to do same to monitor those elections, only to be disappointed and hopelessly return to their countries.

I hasten to ask, “What do these foreign missions and international organizations and observers do with reports of the elections they monitor in African countries? For instance, what will they do with reports of the general elections which ended in Nigeria a few days ago? Every of their reports as presented expressed reservation on the conduct of the elections, how the elections failed to meet expectations of the electorates. Is it all about semantics and diction? We heard them speak of a flawed election, infractions expressed in percentages, rigging, vote buying, bribery and other lexicon enriching phrases. To what end? What role can the United Nations play to ensure that the will of the people in the choice of their leaders is not undermined which is the root cause of most of the conflicts in societies.

For decades and in most African countries, the whole world watch as the will of the people expressed through the ballot box is subverted and brazenly annulled by a few hostage takers of the collective heritage, enemies of democracy and orchestrators of the general rot in Africa. Every election year, they raise the hope of citizens who thirstily yearn for genuine change in leadership and in the order of things; people enthusiastically file out, even under debilitating conditions to use the ballot box which democracy claims is the conveyor belt of their wish, only to have the hope dashed. This is aside enormous resources with the attendant opportunity cost, cornered for the elections.

As we readily see, most elections in Africa are programmed to achieve predetermined outcomes, thus negating the ordinances of democracy. For instance, I can never be convinced that majority of voters in Cameroon file out, every seven years to willingly thumb print for sickly Paul Biya who is now their life president of sort. The same for Yoweri Museveni in Uganda.

Unfortunately, electoral umpires have, instead of midwifing, proven to be major obstacles to credible elections here. This stems from the general malaise of weak institutions. None check-mates the other; all work at the whims of a few individuals in power at the time. And those with sacred mindset and principles are coerced or cajoled to tow the same path of dishonour. The input of security forces in all this is most disheartening.

Whatever solution being considered must therefore give serious consideration to how to secure clear cut separation of these institutions from transient political offices. I know that having strong institutions will also engender some order in the workings of government and society including, to an extent, putting a check to the exploitations of the West here. But there is nothing to worry about as this will ultimately reduce the nuisance value of Africa to the world.

Even as we accept that democracy is better than military rule, an average Nigerian will easily question several aspects of its operations as practiced here, including the level of greed and corruption on display, it becomes very unbearable when the very basic and critical aspect of it which is conduct of elections is jinxed. The West that introduced it and claim to defend it should re-examine its operations and give us a model that works, else we fashion out our own model no matter how crude.

Our hopelessness in applying this model that is working well in other climes to solve our governmental challenges, and helplessness to identify solutions to flawed elections make me appreciate better my erstwhile teacher’s position on our special situation.
Obibi lives in Lagos



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