Kofi Busia: A stimulant for today’s democracy-September 22,2011

Ghanaians are enjoying their 19-year-old democracy. Why not! They have spent most of their 54-year statehood in autocratic one-party systems and dictatorial military juntas. Freedoms, a very critical indicator of their democracy, are breaking out everywhere, wheeling the democratic tenets. One will never believe that this was a country where at some time people were gloomy, couldn’t express themselves openly for fear of either being killed, disappearing or imprisoned, and developed a disease aptly called “the culture of silence.” But Ghanaians needn’t have gone through 35 years of nauseating undemocratic practices. Come to think of it, the excruciating contours were unnecessary.

It doesn’t matter the political challenges along the path of statehood, democracy informed by Ghanaians’ cultural values should have directed the political system. From scratch, the Ghana state was founded on democracy. Though there are slight differences, the 100 ethnic groups that formed Ghana are traditionally democratic. The reminder is that whether Western liberal democracy or African traditional democracy, the erroneous view have been that Africans aren’t democratic by nature but inclined to authoritarianism. And that democracy planted in Africa from the Western world wouldn’t work.

Kofi Abrefa Busia, a trained sociologist, academic and Prime Minister of Ghana from October 1, 1969 to January 13, 1972, not only rejected such views of prospects for African democracy back in 1961 when most Africa was embroiled in political turbulence but Busia becomes a rich stimulant, an excellent fertilizer for Ghana’s and Africa’s democracies. The African democratic fruition has also seen the imperative calls for Africans to situate their democracy in their cultural values. Rationally, US President Barack Obama has told Africans that when he visited Ghana in July 2009. Despite some painful contours in Ghana’s political terrain, Busia believed unwavering that there are prospects for democracy in Africa. Like all democracies, it needs to be worked out. As Botswana has done from within African traditional values. The 44-year-old Botswana democracy that mixes Western liberal democratic ideals with Botswana cultural values makes Busia an African democracy realist way before the current thriving democratic atmosphere with its attendant democratic revolutions.

In The Prospects For Democracy In Africa, Busia agreed that coup d’etats, civil wars, political paralysis, tribalism, traditional tyranny (otherwise called the Big Man syndrome) and endemic corruption aren’t forecasts for democracy not to be grown in Africa. Rather democracy, with its accountability and decentralization, could be appropriated for democratic growth and progress. Busia thought that while such views are correct, such views should also look at the human possibility of the African – the possibility to correct himself or herself and be faithful in his or her democratic convictions. This is seen against the notion that the only language the political African understands is authoritarianism. Busia strongly dismissed this. “Such hope would need to be firmly founded on faith: faith is the strength, the appeal and the universality of the values of democracy,” Busia said in London, UK on 4th January 1961, on the 18th Christmas Holiday Lectures and Discussions for Tomorrow’s Citizens, organized by The Council for Education in World Citizenship.

Unlike Botswana, either in Busia’s Ghana or other African states, most African leaders then had little faith and conviction in democracy. That’s the human aspects of the African to live a fruitful democratic life, as most African states are enjoying now, wasn’t looked at. Faith and conviction in democracy was either weak or nil. So crisis after crisis loomed either in Mobutu Sese Seko’s Zaire, Idi Amin’s Uganda or Amilcar Cabral’s Guinea Bissau. Busia himself became a victim of such predicament, when Col. Kutu Acheampong overthrew him in 13 January 1972. For years, under Ghana’s then authoritarian systems, Busia lived mostly in exile and died in exile in Oxford, UK. But was buried in a democratic Ghana.

The lack of faith and conviction in democracy in Africa, that didn’t consider the African veracities, means not understanding the democratic principles within Africans’ traditional values that should be tapped for greater democracy. Despite the extremely complicated nature of the insurgent-ridden African Great Lakes Region, that has come from undemocratic actions, greater democracy faithfully brewed from within African traditional values are the sure card to play.

This makes the conviction for democracy stronger and not feeble, as has been the case. Busia was aware of this when he stated that, “The realization that the tender plant of parliamentary democracy planted on the African soil by Colonial powers is by no means robust, has caused apologists to offer easy explanations in defence of undemocratic actions.” Botswana and Mauritius significantly repudiate the long held notion that democracy is “alien” to “African thought and way of life” (the quotes are from Busia). For their faithful and convinced democratic practices, Botswana and Mauritius lead in sub-Sahara Africa’s development indicators. Botswana and Mauritius also confirm Busia’s view that democracy isn’t unnecessary impediment to African states’ rapid progress. Busia notes that those who opposed democracy in Africa, and called for either authoritarian one-party systems or military juntas, identified two stumbling blocks – national unity and economic development.

The national unity card is played on “narrow tribal and regional loyalties re-assert themselves,” Busia supposed. The economic development tag, Busia explains, is engaged in authoritarianism as the “need for rapid economic development. Standards of living have to be raised considerably, and in as short a time as possible, and this, it is again argued, can only be done under a strong leader and a strong centralized regime that can adopt a planned economic and social development, and impose the necessary social discipline.” Pretty much of most early post-colonial African states, intoxicated in the debilitating authoritarianism, bought erroneously into this idea. Either in Busia’ Ghana or other African states, it didn’t work but rather plunged Africa into civil wars, widespread corruption, state paralysis, misconstruction of Africa, frightening tribalism, all kinds of leaders (some horrible such Uganda’s Idi Amin and some insane such as Equatorial Guinea’s Francisco Marcia Nguema), among others.

On the other hand, African countries like Botswana and Mauritius, that convincingly choose democracy fermented in African traditional values, reveal today the Busian vision of democratic Africa in greater peace and greater development indicators. Busia, therefore, honestly asked, based pragmatically in the African experiences and traditional values, “The question which we cannot avoid asking is whether economic development and nation building must mean authoritarianism and denial of freedom. Is it true that roads, railways, houses, harbours, factories and the like can only be quickly built under dictatorial forms of government?” No matter where one turns to in Africa today, whether in oil rich Libya or diamond rich Sierra Leone or copper rich Zambia or cobalt rich the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Botswana and Mauritius, with their democratic practices of freedoms, social justice, the rule of law, equality, free press, decent leaders and good governance, accountability and transparency, choices, and public opinions, point inspirationally to the prospects for democracy in Africa as the best ways for Africa’s progress.

But the democracy has to be primed in African traditional values, history and experiences. Busia was staunchly persuaded about this in 1961. “If attention is fixed on the human resources and human potentiality of Africa, the Vision of the triumph of democracy in Africa will become clearer and more challenging; that is, if there is the faith and the conviction that democracy represents the best way yet devised by man for community life, and that it is a way of life which is open to any group of men who choose and aspire towards it. Therein lies the challenge of faith which illumines the compelling Vision not only of a democratic West or a democratic Africa, but of a democratic World.”

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong is an editor with Newstime Africa