The failure of democracy in Africa
The rashes of successful military takeovers in some African countries signpost the failure of democracy on the African continent.
Before the Caucasoid race brought democracy to Africa, the many different kingdoms in Africa had their pre-colonial types of government. Then, we had the Dahomey kingdom, Benin kingdom, Oyo Empire, and others. Their respective pre-colonial types of government throve, ensuring and guaranteeing orderly succession of pre-colonial governments in Africa. The evolutionary trends of our pre-colonial governments were stymied by the white people’s introduction of democracy to the African people(s), however.
Democracy, which originated in Athens, Greece, is one of the types of government in our today’s world. In addition to democracy, we have plutocracy, gerontocracy, aristocracy, mobocracy, and others. Democracy is said to be the best type of government owing to its peculiar and sterling features. For example, the concept of the rule of law, which is enshrined in democracy, stipulates that everybody is equal before the law.
However, before countries in Africa started practising democracy, they were under colonial rule for a great length of time. White people from France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Britain, and Portugal carved up Africa into colonies and subjected the African peoples to colonial rule. So we had the French, German, Italian, British, and Portuguese colonies, then.
But such African freedom fighters as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Kwame Nkrumah, Agostinho Neto, Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyetta, and Robert Mugabe fought fiercely for the political emancipation of their countries. So in the late 1960s, African countries started gaining political independence from their colonial masters. Ghana became a politically independent country in 1957 while Nigeria achieved self-rule on October 1, 1960.
However, many African political leaders practised egregious variants of democracy. They practised democracy in the breach, which resulted in the political implosion of those countries. Sudan and Ethiopia disintegrated, with other countries emerging from them. Africa’s political leaders’ promotion of ethnic chauvinism and practice of religious bigotry, which negate secularism that characterized democracy, were at the roots of the failure of democracy in African countries. Corrupt political leadership, indisputably, contributed significantly to the failure of democracy in most African countries, too.
In Nigeria, the civilian government of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa was overthrown six years after we had gained political independence. The factors of ethnicity, religious bigotry, and corrupt political leadership caused the military to oust Alhaji Tafawa Balewa from power. Later, there was a counter-coup, which snowballed into the Nigeria-Biafra fratricidal civil war.
Until 1999, Nigeria, the so-called giant of Africa, had witnessed military interregnums at different periods in her chequered history. The military ruled our country between 1966 and 1979, with Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, and Olusegun Obasanjo taking turns to rule Nigeria. And between 1983 and 1998, save the brief period when we had a civilian government, the soldiers ruled Nigeria.
Although the military rulers we had in the past branded their military regimes corrective governments, they fared worse than the civilian governments that preceded them. The military rulers would put our country’s constitution into abeyance, and rule with decrees. So while Ibrahim Babangida institutionalised corruption in Nigeria, the vampiric Sani Abacha, who had sanguinary proclivity, took much delight in killing democracy activists.
Before Sani Abacha and Ibrahim Babangida ruled Nigeria as military heads of state, the rambunctious and ramrod straight Muhammadu Buhari instilled fear into Nigerians by executing his draconian decrees. He infamously made laws, which had retroactive effects, resulting in the death of three drug couriers. At the time the three drug traffickers committed the drug offence, death sentence was not the penalty for the offence. But we are not unconscious of the fact that laws ought to be forward-looking, and not back-ward looking.
And Muhammadu Buhari trampled on our fundamental human rights while trying to reform Nigerians. Nigerians who violated traffic rules and failed to stand in queue during official events were dehumanised. So the saying that the worst civilian government is better than the most benevolent military regime is made true in the Nigerian case, then.
Happily, now, Nigeria has been enjoying uninterrupted civilian governance since 1999 in spite of the inherent and deeply-embedded flaws in our variant of democratic practice and culture. Here, in Nigeria, sovereignty does not belong to the people; and, election results are not the true reflections of the wishes and will of the people. In the face of all this, our democracy has remained resilient, though inchoate, with one civilian government succeeding another civilian government.
But now, there is recrudescence of military takeovers in some African countries, with Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Chad, Niger republic, and Gabon being ruled by military juntas. The rashes of military coups that took place in some African countries are symptomatic of the political leadership malaise, which has afflicted Africa. The stark fact is that most African countries have not got it right, politically.
The reason for the failure of democracy in Africa is not far-fetched. African political leaders perceive their occupation of the most exalted political posts in their respective countries as opportunities to amass stupendous wealth at the expense of their long-suffering fellow citizens. Being megalomaniacs, they trample on the fundamental human rights of the people and amend their countries’ constitutions to elongate their stay in office. Their attempts to perpetuate themselves in offices by transforming democratic governments to monarchies; and their political maladministration of their countries predispose them to becoming victims of military takeovers.
The failure of democracy in Africa is linked to our political leaders’ practice of representative government in the breach. African political leaders should play the roles of a servant-leader in their leadership of their respective countries. And they should subsume their self-interests beneath the collective good of the people. Their doing the aforementioned is the anti-dote to the wave of coup d’etat sweeping through the African continent.
Okoye, a poet, wrote from Uruowulu-Obosi, Anambra State. (08062220654)
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.