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Democracy & African Political Development
By Alhaji G.V. Kromah
(BA, LL.B., LL.M., MA,, MAIR, SJD-cand.}
Posted July 20 2008
Written in 2003
In the ongoing effort to identify the most relatable framework for African political development, it is fundamental to consider the appropriate forms of Democracy, the quality of Military Intervention often involved, and the character of the accompanying Education Agency that could help translate development paradigms into practical value for the populace.
The concept of democracy as an idealistic political objective is understood globally on the basis of experience, culture, and aggregate political philosophy. In Western value systems, democracy fundamentally means popular participation of constituent members through the mechanism of elections based on universal suffrage. This exercise is considered the epitome of democracy that leadership of a nation can be changed through elections. Capitalism - the phenomenon and vicissitudes of private ownership - is the economic doctrine.
The largely hitherto communist system viewed democracy fundamentally as opportunities and access to safety and other basic socio-economic needs. The state is thus the proper apparatus for controlling the means of economic production and distribution, as well as national and community political dispensation. Political representation on an individual basis is subordinate. Hence a key objective of development is the providing of mans basic necessities as the platform for comprehensive progress, and preventing the exploitation of the larger society by the few everybody is either poor or rich together, at least in theory.
In the so-called Third World - Asia, Latin America, Africa - and in the slowly developing economic dungeons of Eastern Europe, polarization caused by the vestiges of colonialism and the just-ended Cold War have painted a confused outlook of democracy. While there had been clearly identifiable alliances with the West or the East through adopting capitalist or socialist/communist economic systems, there seemed to have been an enormous ignoring of the election component of the Western concept even by those who profess the Western doctrine.
While professing to be adherents of Western democracy, leaders have at the same time often claimed to be dedicated to their own cultural versions of democracy, though the tenets of the indigenous democracy adhered to are not identified. This occurs when there is failure to fulfill the promise to deliver justice and liberty. Not only political liberty but economic freedom. The challenge of minimizing the gap in the "get-want" ratio and attaining a status of progress that is achievable through collective approach is subsequently compromised.
Political growth has been greatly affected by the inability of many actors to commit themselves to sustained development and rid themselves of corrupt tendencies that directly undermine national political maturity. Under the circumstances, government is largely seen as a source of accumulating personal wealth.
The structure of wealth production has been equally unfriendly. The mono-culture economy in most of these developing countries have accounted for a diminished or totally absent economic middleclass. Foreign exploitation and exportation of natural resources do little for national development. This activity pumps up export value figures, but because there is no accompanying industry for finished goods, robust economic growth is unachievable. The finance capital required to undertake development cannot easily be obtained from these export resources, as the prices are internationally determined and revenues have external homes. Finished goods that could have come from the raw resources being exported have to be imported from elsewhere with unaffordable cost and therefore prices. Consequently, the economy is disadvantageously dictated by the fluctuations breathed by international cartels and the rest of the international economic system.
Under these economic and political failures, the people's fundamental options might include the mobilization of their human resources for their own redemption. And this has always been the challenge. Those who lead the new mission must know the usefulness of the lessons of popular participation and proactive consciousness. When progress, as a process, is achieved through means the people do understand and participate in, development can be a realistic objective. A good political basis of this development is when the common values that constitute the more useful character of that society are identified and honestly utilized as part of the guidelines for national redemption. But contemporary history of African party politics ideology has had its toll as well.
Constraints of Post Colonial Party Politics
The independence of African states in the 1960's produced a plethora of one-party systems, monarchies and a few hybrids such as Liberia (1847) that was democratic by law, but mono-party in practice. The net effect of the dominant one-party system and the monarchies was the same monopoly of political power.
Proponents of the one-party system as an instrument of development, held that the multiparty system was not timely for the conditions of Africa - high illiteracy, bitter opposition, and the strong adherence to traditional selection of leaders. This group, including the illustrious late President of Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, believed the one-party system could be a cohesive force as well as a pivot in consolidating human and other resources for national development. Somehow, the early experiences manifested in places like Tanzania gave hope. But in many places on the continent, the undemocratic party system has only been exploited by dictators. This has in turn provoked military coups.
Then as if though this was not enough aggravation, the already mounting foreign debt secured for national development is structured externally to leave an unending burden that actually prevents development. The stagnation, if not deterioration, paves the way for military intervention, which would have otherwise been military intrusion.
Contribution implies help, assistance that is capable of making things better, perhaps notwithstanding whether such help is short-range, mid-range or long-term. On the basis of the period of colonization in Africa, it can be said that the role of military leadership is neither new nor peculiar to Africa. On the continent as well as in Europe years past, the leadership was invariably characteristically military. The victors of war established their rule over the conquered.
Though this tradition significantly switched with growing leadership systems of non-military background, it would appear that where the civilian leadership has rendered itself incapable and entrenched its probably illegitimate hold on the reign of government, the society has had to resort to the military for uprooting force with force. In post-independence Africa and other places where the starting leaders in some instances fell short of delivering the political and economic promises made to their constituents, the military had been used by such leaders to survive in power. Ironically, it is the same military that had to remove their civilian masters.
Accordingly, the opportunity for shattering a dictatorial or dehumanizing regime comes as a move by the soldiers, many times as a climax of public agitation. If every opportunity must have a beginning, then military intervention is a contribution in making reform physically possible, at least in the short-range. The precedent that a dictator can be removed, provides hope for political rearrangement of the system. Though some military regimes perform worst than those they topple, the act of removal brings relief to the oppressed, however brief. Even the soldier who becomes an unbearable leader, faces his own experience the wrath of another coup maker.
In an oppressed society of a sizeable militant constituency, the civilians, with the cooperation of the military, have had the opportunity to pursue sequential actions that create hopes and opportunity for reform. And even where the military betrays their civilian partners, citizens action inertia soon overcome the illusion of soldiers that they can be the exclusive custodian of power politics and supervisors of the national destiny.
The democracy wave, that has emasculated autocrats around the globe in the past two decades, has continued to develop or strengthen civil society militancy in pushing for their rights.
Education as Change Agent
Political empowerment implies an appreciable level of consciousness within the body politic. It means the people understand their rights, and they are aware and confident they can take measures to exercise these rights, in spite of the risks. Could education therefore be an agency of political development?
The response to this should be as blunt as the question itself. If reference is being made to formal education, the reaction certainly is no, if education is restricted to acquiring knowledge represented by awards in academic institution. Desirable education is the kind that determines whether the product is an agent of change, which is construed to mean positive change.
In the African, particularly Liberian experience, where the content of our educational system has become a mutant from the Western value system, the youths, and later adults, have had no choice but to assimilate volumes, many times at the expense of their heritage. They have imbibed more of what is not relevant to their socio-cultural realities; more of what has only therefore confused them, aligning them with values that make them look down upon themselves.
Notwithstanding the heavy appetite for external education, African countries are still decried for lacking the knowledge to develop their countries. Is something not wrong?
The answer may lie in a totality approach to education. The attainment of professional skills must be balanced with full awareness of the constraints and potentialities of the environment the skills are to be applied. The national education curriculum and syllabus must be properly designed and efficiently implemented. The experiences of failure in the external "model" societies must be vigorously taught in Africa along with the success stories. Disequilibria in the equation have made the African acquisition of external education virtually a sentence to hard labor.
Democratic Empowerment is manifest in the structuring of the national system that almost automatically rejects autocracy. The education and communication subsystems complimentarily provide a level of preparedness that enables the citizenry to engage the task of national development with confidence that they would be the benefactors of their own sweat. The resulting enthusiasm is a good basis for private sector entrepreneurship. The creation of an accompanying economic middle class through small scale industrial and financial lending macro activities provides roadmaps for the desired economic development.
It is possible from this foundation to establish and sustain mass participation in national decision making processes. Our culture must induce an environment for genuine elections based on universal suffrage, but within the bastion of a contemporary, long awaited African renaissance.
Genuine democracy expressive of truthful exercise of individual suffrage to determine leadership, the virtues of discipline, meritorious placement and utilization of human resources, and its significant byproduct of reducing undue antagonism and enmity in the society, are pillars that can defuse the landmines in African political growth and development.