Africa: The wrong perception of democracy ~ Abubakar A Musa


Amidst a malevolent delay and serial quirks that is the norm with most African election results announcement, Kenya's election was even more curiously demanding to many keen observers of African politics. While trying to figure out the trend of such mis-norm that'd characterized the African elections, I got nicked by a snip of thought on why all of a sudden, everyone's attention got shifted to Kenya. The astounded response released down my throat by my cerebral composition was too poignant to be considered relevant. Oh! They are holding elections. I quickly acquiesced. But what makes Kenya a less politically eye – catching nation prior to her elections was more worst a concern than the general election itself. Now, that's the African problem.


Many within the African political enclave believed that democracy is all about elections. Unfortunately, the political few hold and represent the views of the majority across. Though some may argue that it is more of global trend than African, I'd rather stick with a familiar terrain than venture into the fringe of an obscure territory. Overall, the debate is up for grabs depending on which tent one chooses to pitch his/her tent. After much of a thought, the simplest connotation I was able to come about with is that, democracy is the government of the people. It implies that all the people should be able to have their say in one way or the other in everything that affects their lives. Any system of democracy is fine if the people subject to that system are happy with it. The gulf between democracy only in name and democracy that works is that, being democracy in name only is easy as holding elections. Democracy that works, on the other hand, represents a system based on universal values which should be refined and perfected to what it should be a predominant system of political and economic organization. 
Election exists, definitely, but only as one of the core principles of true democracy. Regrettably, people live under the illusion that democracy is all about elections. In Africa, campaigns for the next election usually begins the moment elections are won and lost. What becomes of the period between those elections (immediate and the subsequent) is much well predictable. Flunkies are rewarded with top governmental positions even with little or no excellent track records. They're assigned the tasks of transposition against the next run off. The folly of too much power vested in too few hands to abuse the democratic system in its wholeness is one basic undoing of African politics. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The analogy is yours in a palm to correlate logically. Nothing prima facie puzzling about the thought that certain few individuals – rational or otherwise – will choose to dictate for almost everyone without consulting their slightest of views. The results, as they'd always been, will be quasi disgusting or otherwise viscerally reviling. Like former Ghanaian President Mr. Kofi Anan once said, "Building democracy is a complex process. Elections are only a starting point…" People vote only once every four or five years. Inadvertently, they do not vote on any issues affecting them because other principles of democratic processes are highly compromised and excessively abused. They just elect their so called representatives who until the next elections have no obligations by law and little or no incentives to base their decisions on individual issues and wishes of the electorates. What become of the years before the next elections? What happens to the processes of democratic principles after the immediate elections? The answers to these questions are where the biggest problem lies. Mishandling of core democratic elements that include free independent and pluralistic media is our major shortcoming as a political system. The media do not only have to be free and independent, but also pluralistic to create a buoyant and sustainable democracy. Diversity of views and opinions promoting different perspectives enriches citizens to participate in a people driven democratic processes. Another element is power separation. Many like referring to it as 'trias politica', separation of power is a key element in ensuring democratic liberty and to a larger extent, individual safety. Generally, responsibilities must be divided into distinct branches to limit any one branch exercising the core functions of power concentration as well as provide for checks and balances. Transparency and accountability are no less valuable principles of true democracy. Within the wit of good governance and effective democracy, transparency and accountability are pillars central to any hope of a well built political system. They're two components that represent the 'locus classicus' of the freest democracy if any system wishes to achieve one. A democracy devoid of transparency and accountability does not only represent a shadow of excellence, but is nurturing ogreish ambitions. Access to power and its exercise in accordance with the rule of law is another element worthy of preserving in ensuring ill free democracy. The neutrality of accessing power is best what defines healthy democracy and its sustainability. Clinging to power as it is with most African power mongers will only but add to the 'confusion theory' that African democracy is a total default not only in proxy, but evidently. For any democratization process to succeed, rule of law must be established and civil societies' voices allowed to loom. Without an independent, strong, and viable judicial system, democracy is practically non – existent, and even the election itself will be rendered merely a comical series. Democratic elections alone do not change the political culture of a society. Long term efforts of all democratic processes are necessary to build an all inclusive democracy that respects human rights and laws, administer justice fairly and encourage full citizen participation in government. So, when next we are throwing our beams searching for political attention and topical relevance, it shouldn't be gleam or restricted to just elections, but all democratic processes. For they too, like elections, are very vital to establishing and sustaining true and viable democracy.


Abubakar A Musa writes from Nigeria

More than meets the eye on democracy and Africa