Although it has been a long and hard road, the path to democracy is obtainable by suffering African nations. Progress is being made slowly, but there are some missing pieces that need to be resolved in order to make democracy work for the people. Overcoming a long history of violence and military rule is the challenge that confronts many nations, as for so long it was the only way to be heard and counted. The practice of democracy in African nations has been a shaky experiment where although many of the necessary motions are in place, the underlying theme is corruption.
The true power that should be in the hands of voters is still being fought for by coups, which gain support as the people become unsatisfied with the choices for candidacy and the democracies that reek of state failure. In many African nations, politics still seem to revolve around ethnicity rather than on other common grounds. Creating an infrastructure to spread relevant information that will allow open discussions between the people and their government and between people of different backgrounds and allow them to reap the benefits of democracy and will put government officials in a position of accountability. Fortunately, the kinks are slowly being worked out, as women are increasingly becoming political participants, successful elections are taking place, a system for training future leaders is being established, and the power is being distributed more evenly.
The history of war, violence and military rule are obstacles that most African nations struggle to overcome. “…Approximately 12 million civilians have lost their lives in the intrastate battles of the last sixteen years” (Rotberg, 2006). Although there was colonial rule present in Africa, it was there for a relatively short period of time (around fifty years) compared to other areas of the world who were also colonized (Rotberg, 2006). Violence is known to create a cycle and perpetuate more violence, and perhaps time and hard work at peacemaking are the only remedies to this ongoing epidemic.
Africans are losing faith in democracy as elections leave them feeling powerless. Elections are often with severe irregularities and popular candidates are excluded from the ballots (Soe, 2009). The situation on Nigeria is a perfect example of a recent election where the process is full of quandaries. The people of Nigeria, a large and rather wealthy African nation, feel helpless against the big machine of the government. When they question the obvious faults of the system, they are accused of perpetuating coup attempts by not supporting the establishment in power (Soe, 2009). The recent election itself was a violent affair where deception was uncovered and the process was not always made easy for everyone who wanted to vote (Soe, 2009). To some it must seem like a lot of trouble to go through for questionable results when most Africans are unsure of how these elections can change their lives (Vadi, 2009). By 2005, only twenty five percent of Nigerians were satisfied with democracy in Nigeria, down from eighty four percent in 2000 (Soe, 2009). The riches derived from its natural resources aren’t being distributed in a manner that will increase the quality of life for all Nigerians. Although Nigeria isn’t representative of all of Africa, who is slowly making strides towards freer society, it is an example of corruption at its worst when the stakes are high and there is a lot to be gained by cheating.
Once in power some leaders limit what the media can say. This virtually eliminates any opposition, as in Ghana. President John Kufuor’s regime doesn’t allow air time for anyone who disagrees with him, and there have been statements that his opponents are harassed by government officials (Nduru, 2009). This type of control makes it impossible for a democracy to function. People fighting for their rights and for better lives have their requests fall on deaf ears. In Guinea, President Lansana Conte has been in power for twenty three years. Recently, sixty people died when the government squashed protests about the quality of life and out of touch leadership that plagues the country (Nduru, 2009). Situations like these are examples of how despite the want for democracy, it is painfully out of reach for many.
Currently in South Africa presidential candidate Jacob Zuma, leader of the ANC party, has corruption charges pending. The proceedings will not take place until after the election, which polls predict he will win. He adamantly denies any wrong doing although he accepted money from an arms company that won a contract worth billions of dollars (Mabuse, 2009). Among some of the other charges are frauds, money laundering and racketeering. This is the man that will undoubtedly be the next president.
When there is civil unrest, like in Nigeria, coup attempts are frequent. There is a direct relationship between successful coup attempts and instability in African governments. There are four basic types of coups. One is made up of military hierarchy that collaborates to take power by force. Another type is when there is aid from the military in support of a political group or member of a particular group that seeks power. The third type is a group from a foreign land that enters and attempts to seize control (this type is rare). The fourth type is when a group from within the country seeks out the help of mercenaries from outside the country (Ngoma, 2004).
Coups have been a big part of African politics for a long time, and at times a tool for the removal of a broken government. Coups are a military like organization that’s purpose is to infiltrate and overthrow the government in order to render it helpless and then assume power. Unfortunately, the very characteristics that make them effective: aggressive, violent, etc, also tend to make them poor replacements for the governments they overthrow. The setback to democracy is huge when there is a violent overthrow.
The prevalence of coups makes some African nations a bad investment for outside countries who wish to do business there. Africa is lagging behind Asia and Latin America further every year when it comes to economic growth (Rotberg, 2006). “The general prevalence of coups d’ï¿½tat, successful and not successful, negatively affects the continent as a favoured destination of Foreign Direct Investment” (Ngoma, 2004). The instability makes it impossible to know what to expect from one year to the next and contracts can become null and void when the removal from power takes place. The overall feeling of uncertainty makes doing business hard both internationally and within the country, not to mention the stress that it adds to residence that live in fear of violence and what tomorrow will hold.
The prevalence of successful coup attempts doubled between the periods of 1991-1995 and 1996-2001. “The increase in instances of military coups between 1995 and 2001 challenges the general expectation that democratization brings about a more stable socio-political environment” (Ngoma, 2004). It has been shown statistically that a functioning democracy in Africa isn’t a safeguard against a coup takeover. Since these democracies are fairly new and not yet established they are still susceptible, but hopefully in the future, as time works toward ironing out some of the kinks, the prevalence will be greatly reduced if not eliminated.
“In 2006, the African Peer Review Mechanism published a report that said politics are too often based on ethnic rather than social or economic interests” (Vadi, 2009). This factor has led to unrest in many African nations, especially Kenya, and makes many unable to identify themselves as a member of their nation rather than their ethnicity. People are still grouping together politically based on cultural background which is creating a divide in communication and common goals. When a politician is found guilty of crimes while in office, they will often be able to resume the job out of pressure on the part of the ethnic group they represent. The group doesn’t want to lose their representation, since having an elected official of the same background often means that favors and opportunity will arise.
They are also more likely to be violently in protest when someone from a different group is elected and they feel like these needs will not be properly represented by this person since most politicians are obviously in favor to relatives and clansmen. Some suggestions for overcoming this obstacle include opening the discussion forum regarding ethnic issues, eliminating special favors for those within the same cultural group and family, respecting and identifying the languages of minority ethnic groups, and giving all ethnicities appropriate representation based on their population (Vadi, 2009). Something similar to the House of Representatives that is used in the United States would be a good compromise. A common ground is possible in Kenya and other African nations if the people can figure out a way to respect all ethnic groups equally and distribute the power accordingly.
In order for democracy in Africa to be truly representative of the people, there must be great strides made in accepting women in roles of authority and in government positions. Africa represents both ends of the spectrum when it comes to women’s participation in politics. The religious beliefs of some Africans make it inappropriate for females to associate with males other than family in any way, even for matters of business (Nduru, 2009). Also, there is the issue of childcare for some women who wish to participate. Often the men simply don’t want the women to leave the children behind at home in order to participate in community organizations. Women all over the world struggle to be a voice in government, but in Africa the struggle is multiplied by years of violent practices against women that leave them without the confidence necessary to make important choices and stand up for what they believe in. Some tribes still practice female castration as a means to deprive women of humanity, although there has been a worldwide effort to stop this practice.
Despite these factors, women have made some strides in the right direction in Africa. Currently there is “more than 48 percent women representation in parliament in Rwanda, more than 30 percent women representation in South Africa and Mozambique, one female head of state for the first time in the history of Africa — Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, president of Liberia”(Nduru, 2009). Mozambique is regarded as a successful example of a thriving democracy and an economic winner after a long history of civil war, which can be partly attributed to the equal representation and contributions of the women in government (Vadi, 2009). These African countries are some of the best examples in the world of assimilating women into politics. While some countries are catching on fast, others like Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Guinea are making strides a lot slower, as is the case across the world.
An infrastructure of information technology would allow for better communication in many aspects that could improve democratic success in African countries. The spread of knowledge would allow everyday citizens to know how candidates feel on certain topics, and what their accomplishments and history say about them. It would also serve to educate people on what is being done with government funds and tax monies. Most importantly, politicians would have to be more accountable for their actions and would have open lines of communication available that would allow them to best represent the people that they have been hired to serve. It would also allow for freer media and more organized citizen movements.
The potential for the spread of information technology to all Africans is limitless. The productiveness of the government would increase exponentially. Although creating an infrastructure that could facilitate this widespread of a project is definitely out of reach for many impoverished African countries, baby steps could be taken to start. Maybe just an internet connected computer in every town would be a good start as long as time was allotted to everyone with equal opportunity. Outfitting the government with computer equipment is definitely a feasible goal for all countries that haven’t already done so.
Education is has not been widely available in much of Africa, especially secondary education, which is costly and only recently available (Rotberg, 2006). The history of Africa has been a powerful case against putting uneducated people in positions of great power, examples are those who carried out successful coup attempts and ruled militarily. Two examples of democratic success are Botswana and Mauritius (Rotberg, 2006). Both have established a tradition of free enterprise in their countries while allowing for freedoms of speech and expression and have been a shining example to the members of the African Leadership Council (Rotberg, 2006). This combination has led to satisfaction on the part of the residents of the country and businesses who have invested in them.
There are models for successful democracies in Africa who have characteristics that could be a valuable model to the rest. There are leaders in Africa who have recently come into power that are a breath of fresh air and have a lot to offer the people they govern. The key to producing more such leaders is education. With help from the Kennedy School, the African Leadership Council was established to afford young Africans interested in public service and those already in positions of leadership an education necessary to be successful for their country and the people that inhabit it (Rotberg, 2006).
As this paper discussed, there are many interferences getting in the way of democracies that work for the people of Africa. The violent past resonates leaving many frustrated people feeling like it is the only way to get a point across. There are an alarming amount of corrupt politicians who are using their positions to benefit themselves and those who are like them instead of the good of the entire nation. As coups contribute to the violence they also create an air of uncertainty that inhibits economic growth and stability. Since Africa is a land of diversity, from the languages spoken to the vast tribes, there is also instability and distrust between the different groups that makes it hard to accept representation from anyone other than a fellow clansman (or woman). Africa also has both ends of the spectrum in the area of women in positions of power. Some countries are very proactive in that area while others have little or no women in politics. Fortunately there are up and coming political leaders that are heading in the right direction, in addition to steps that are being taken to reap the benefits of technology and educate future leaders on what will make their democracies a success. There is hope for democracy in Africa. Education and communication are the keys to their success.
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