The world heard it very clearly when Abraham Lincoln said, “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people.” In Africa, where distrust in the abilities of the fellow countryman has been deeply set into the minds of the people, it becomes difficult to have power of the people. When democracy has become a pre-requisite for grants and donations from the developed world, power is not by the people and even at times the people strip themselves of their right to freedom in search of this system of governance that offers them better liberties. Where most countries were under colonial rule and ties with colonial masters are never completely severed, governance of the day cannot truly be for the people. In the African context, democracy may live, but not thrive, and yet it plays a major role in the overall development of the continent.
African countries have a predefined and foreign form of Democracy that has been handed to them by an outside force that seeks to “advance its own agenda.” Where we have the question of Democracy promoting development, it is best to look for a source that has contrasts of both democracy and, in this case, autocracy. Libya under Gaddafi “had the highest Human Development Index, the lowest infant mortality and the highest life expectancy in all of Africa” (Chengu. G). Currently, “Libya is a democracy, but one with an extremely fragile political order, where the muscle of armed militia often supersedes the authority of elected government. Libyan politics is chaotic, violent, and contested between rival regional interests and military commanders who have been vying for power since the fall of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s dictatorship in 2011” (Manfreda. P). We cannot point out that African democracy has failed because Libya’s democracy failed to promote their development, but Libya is a case study that shows that maybe democracy in Africa doesn’t always promote development.
According to Ake (1996), “…the assumption so readily made that there has been a failure of development is misleading. The problem is not so much that development has failed as that it was never really on the agenda in the first place. By all indications, political conditions in Africa are the greatest impediment to development” (p. 1). Democracy brought about the inception of a multi-party system that allows the people to elect a candidate through free and fair elections. This process provides the people with a choice to vote into power whoever they find credible to move the country forward. The choice of people is more or less based on feelings and interest. No one would vote someone who they did not think was capable of leading the country forward and would help to improve upon their financial situation. Due to the influence of the people’s choice by personal interest, people vote because they may get special benefits. They tend to forget that the leader who is voted into power is meant to ensure that every citizen is comfortable. When this happens, people in government divert the nation’s money that could be used to improve the situation of the country into their private accounts.
It is a common perception that a person who asks for aid is nothing but a vanquished loser who could not find ways and means to manage resources at hand. Even though I beg to differ, there is still an evidence of truth in that. Africa is desperately searching for the sweet taste of development; where will this development be found if we are not able to rely on ourselves but seek aid from other continents, most specifically, colonial masters? Why is the African not self-sufficient? There is much difficulty in understanding the context of the situation and provide the anxious enquirer an apt answer. France alone is enslaving a lot of African countries by giving aids to these countries and in consequence, have to struggle to pay back. A strong belief emerges that this is pulling us back even though it seems these funds are making a difference albeit a temporary one. The point here is, countries who stand the chance of receiving aid are countries who are known to be practicing democracy. In this era, financial aid is a thing of democracy. As an added example, according to Joy Online, this year alone, Ghana received a 4 million Euro aid from the government of the United Kingdom to conduct the 2016 elections. The article went ahead to explain that the British Minister of State for International Development, Desmond Swayne, after presenting the aid, said (verbatim) to the Ghana Electoral Commissioner, “We believe you are a beacon of democratic values in the region and we want other countries to envy what you have achieved and to emulate you”. Affirmatively concluding, surely, through democracy, the African has been given large opportunities to be able to partake in a developmental projects. A question remains unanswered, though – What happens in situations where the receiving country is required to pay back? Does it stop all its developmental process to pay back?
It would be folly to ignore the reality that with the many democratic nations in Africa, the continent is said to be 100 years lagging behind in technology. Before mention is even made of technology, it is notable that economically, not many states are thriving in Africa. We would then question whether it is the failure of democracy that is stifling progress and development. Political conditions in Africa are the greatest impediments to development. (Ake, C. ,1996, p.1) Comparing that era of the 20th Century with our current 21st Century, one would not be wrong to support Ake in mentioning that in most cases African economies have been stagnating or regressing. Different leaders have been sworn in, some overthrown and some re-elected but the development of the continent for the long run remains unresolved. According to Bratton as cited in an article by Schuster L, “ordinary Africans do not separate political democracy from economic democracy or for that matter from economic well-being. In their eyes democratic reforms must be accompanied by growth resulting in employment and redistribution.” It is suggested that economic growth and progress is a result of the democracy within a nation. Giving people freedoms to vote and voice their opinions, as well as trusting the leader they elect (having faith in the politician) is certainly giving Africa less competitive advantage.
Critically reviewing these, an analyst of Africa’s general political framework would find it difficult to tie in the state of the African democracy and the continent’s development. He would find it even more difficult to convince the average African man – who wakes up daily to toil, bleeding sweat into the ground, and seeing his hard-earned money pour freely into the pockets of his so-called democratic leaders – that the egalitarian system of African political rule is in any way helpful to the advancement of his homeland. It would, however, be very fair to say that this is not a definite end-point: African democracy at the level it has reached has very dazzling prospects of leading the continent to the highest standards of development reached in the Western world and beyond, if only we would elaborate and build on our positives and stamp down on all the negatives we can identify.
Ake, C. (1996). Development and Democracy in Africa. Washington D.C: The Brookings Institution.
Chengu, G. (2015) Libya, from Africas wealthiest democracy under gaddafi, to terrorist haven after US intervention. Retrieved on November 9, 2016 from http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/10/20/libya-from-africas-wealthiest-democracy-under-gaddafi-to-terrorist-haven-after-us-intervention/
Schuster, L. (2002) What are the main impediments to democracy in Africa. Munich Germany:GRIN Verlag. Retrieved November 9, 2016 from http://www.grin.com/en/e-book/13831/what-are-the-main-impediments-to-democracy-in-africa
Unknown author. (April 6, 2016) UK gov’t gives £4m aid towards Ghana’s elections. Retrieved on November 9, 2016 from MYJoyOnline.com: http://www.myjoyonline.com/politics/2016/April-6th/uk-govt-gives-4m-aid-towards-ghanaselections.php