If we lose sight of, or fail to deeply reflect on the evolution of politics and governance systems in Africa, we only create room for replacing one authoritarian leader with another.
As long as we cite western value systems as models in our quest to strengthen democracy, the people will resist that encroachment on their values.
As long as we keep repeating the colonial narrative as to what governance means, the people will resist.
Africa before the coming of the European invaders was a society with institutions, value systems, and organized governance systems. Despite their claims of ‘civilizing the savages’ with the introduction of Christianity and opening avenues for the salvation of the ‘savages’ through the acceptance of Christ, the fact is that colonialism is exploitative in every aspect.
For it to survive, it has to be exploitative and oppressive because man by nature does not willingly submit his sovereignty to another. Economic exploitation, physical oppression, mental subjugation, and false indoctrination were the pillars upon which colonialism was built and sustained. Existing social and political institutions had to be dismantled to give way to the new system of exploitation. This of course was met with resistance of all forms from its inception to its demise in the so-called declaration of independence of the various states. But a few centuries of systematic and institutionalized exploitation leave in its wake visible scars and new realities.
In the mindset of the colonizer, the colonized is inferior both in intellect and human capacity and so belongs in subjugation. Out of that sense of entitlement and patronage enforced by oppression was borne the ‘democratic’ culture that we celebrate today; a democratic culture that has not progressed much beyond entrenched dictators and corrupt public servants for the past half century. Little wonder oppression and tyranny is the norm in Africa, a method inherited from the invaders further strengthened with new methods.
That sense of white supremacy is what made the colonizers feel entitled to impose their value systems on the African territories they invaded. That value system, which thrived on exploitation, oppression and individualism, is what the Africans rose up against and resisted; not democracy in the true sense of the word. Consider for one moment if all ‘citizens’ of the colonial territory were treated equal as it obtained in the home country of the colonizers? If that was not the case, and if what they had back home was democracy, then what was it that they have us inherit and push us to strengthen?
One can only wonder whether any of our so-called democratic proponents even take a moment to reflect on what systems were in Africa before the Europeans dismantled them. Do we study how democratic they were, or how efficient they were? We do not need a trip back into history to uncover what governance system was in place and how efficient it was. All one needs to do is look at a typical African village and the way it is set up. The only surviving traditional institution in many respects, is a replica of what used to obtain in the days of yore.
Anyone familiar with the roles of the Alkalo and the system of administration at the village level will tell you it is democratic. Why is it that we cannot extend that to the national level and govern based on our values and beliefs? The fact that the Africans believe in their systems and refuse the see the need to replace them is enough to inspire resistance. Democracy that reflects our unique realities and values is the only solution to Africa’s governance struggles, nothing else will work. Europe and the West are hundreds of years ahead of us in terms of where they are in their democratic process. If we want to be at par with them in that regard without building the needed foundations of knowledge and experience, we will fail miserably. Making use of existing systems and norms and reforming them gradually to suit our realities and goals is a prerequisite to building a sustainable and progressive democratic culture.
It is true that no system is perfect, but denouncing it all together for one wrinkle here or there is a disservice to all concerned. And until we take a pause and look within, we will continue churning out the same tyrannical leaders and corrupt public officials who care nothing for the welfare of the people and everything about their personal gains and status.