A functioning democracy is the form of government that insures its citizens access the most freedoms, equal opportunities, equal rights, and is responsive to their diverse needs. This, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, has been perceived as the best representative system of governing.
It is becoming more and more important to strengthen democracy and democratic regimes due to the growing delicacies of society. There seems to be an increase in the lines that cut through society – sex, religion, race, etc. Every system of governing today has growing vulnerable weak spots. These vulnerable spots, compounded by acts and threats of terror have made democracy a weaker and easier to backslide.
Although democracy has lately been backsliding; there are a number of reasons why democracy is an attractive system of governing. It is the most accommodating of minority groups, prioritises freedoms, human rights and in critical points – diplomacy instead of force in resolving conflict.
The world is at a critical point, governing seems to be at a strain continuum. Strong man make democracy vulnerable, now media freedom is a weak spot with its capital and or political biases coupled by the rise of fake news; institutions, especially in Africa are vulnerable to manipulation as is the supreme law of the country – the constitution.
At this point democratically and morally, the world is leaderless.
Africa has been trying to find its democratic feet since the toppling of colonial regimes. While great strides have been made on the democracy journey; for most African countries, it is now getting more and more complicated for African states to just emulate full and or old democracies. While democracy is backsliding, demand is now for Africa to define its own system of governing that prioritises and benefits its people.
Democracy evolved from being all about one man one vote, to embody core values that include respecting free elections, rule of law, and human rights. However, the latest conundrum of democracy emanates from value confusion that has been portrayed by the world`s oldest constitutional democracies. As witnessed in the 2016 elections in the world`s oldest constitutional democracy, the United States of America (USA), democracy is not guaranteed. Instead it needs to be safeguarded through continuous conscious efforts in line with the constitution.
The example of USA is classic, but more importantly, it presents a world trend of democratic backsliding. The extent of press freedom is being tested, there is marginalisation of monitory groups e.g. transgender people from the military, migrants etc – in essence, Donald Trump is testing the core American values and priorities.
In Africa, democratic backsliding is happening faster. South Africa, a leading democracy, is grappling with private sector influence in politics, Tanzania, after widespread celebrations of the anti-corruption Magufuli`s election victory, the country is now seeing persecution of media, and opposition; Zambia, once a respected democratic state, is now at the fore front of opposition persecution, Rwanda is gambling with constitutionalism to accommodate one man.
Every country is diverse in its demographic composition. There is always a majority. Democracy has contributed to a multiplication in minority groups through its provisions of broad freedoms. In some instances, this multiplication has become the greatest challenge to democracy itself. As groups pursue recognition, equal treatment and rights – there have been ideological, cultural and sometimes violent clashes. One timeless aspect of democracy is that it is representative – what is often directly referred to as representative democracy. Each citizen has the right to choose who must lead them. Peace demands that all citizens be treated equally regardless of colour, religion, sexuality and or tribe/ethnicity.
Freedom of expression is important to any healthy society. To progress a society needs freedom to question, appreciate, criticise, and even protest against an action, policy and or behaviour of a leader or a group. The people don’t have to quietly bear the burden of the exploitative rules of the powerful in society. In a democracy, equality is sacred– echoing the preamble to the American Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The law is supreme and all citizens are subject to the law. Whether you in a position of power, rich, poor, old, or young. The decision given by the interpreters of law i.e. the courts is binding on all subjects, which includes the government representatives. This is a result of a chief feature of a democracy – the emphasis on independent institutions – especially the judiciary, executive and legislature. Democracy then is an important facet in the building of an inclusive and progressive future. It trumps dictatorships, communism, Islamic states, and monarchs. Although not perfect, democratic states enjoy more freedoms, peace and citizens enjoy better benefits.
A Changing World
Democracy as we know it is not enough for Africa. The United States has the world’s oldest democratic Constitution still in force. It has often crowned itself the democracy advocate and in some instances, the democracy enforcer. To the world, it seemed that democracy as an ideology is grasped fully by the American politicians and by extension – the citizens alike. This understanding would mean that America stands for democracy and all its tenants. It would suggest that no leader serve for the ones that grasp this type of governing and its principles will ever lead America. Well, alas, to the Americans and the world – the Trump menace.
Democracy in America birthed Donald Trump, who has attacked democratic institutions such as free press and the judiciary. He has repeatedly dismissed credible, corroborated, truthful reporting as fake news. Trump has also maligned judges in highly personal and reckless ways simply because they ruled against his administration. His White house claimed that some judges provided a “gift to the criminal gang and cartel element in our country.”
Unless challenged, the ideals that run society will always be held true. Centuries have gone by, and we have assumed that Western democracies will always be governed by political movements fully committed to liberal democracy, trade, and cooperation. These core values (free trade, cooperation) have echoed the political chant for decades. Respect for free and fair elections, the constitution, human rights, and civil liberties seemed sacrosanct and, despite some major challenges and notable setbacks, elections and democratic values appeared to be spreading to every corner of the world.
Anxiety recently accelerated rapidly in Europe following the shock of Brexit and then Trump’s victory. Both these events have reenergised populist hopes. Prognostications differ but we can`t help but detect worrying signs of a global democratic retreat, and the onset of a reverse or probably a permanent wave of democratization.
Africa to the World
Africa is important to the world. The perception of Africans about Africa should not be from an inferior position. Based on the IMF’s estimates … `ten of the twenty countries with the highest projected compounded annual growth rate from 2013 through to 2017 are found in Africa. Four of the ten countries that are expected to have the most economic growth, ranked from first to last by percentage of GDP growth, are in Africa. `
Africa is the youngest by population distribution in the world; this is the future that needs to be harnessed. The continent is the most centrally located place on earth, not to mention the fact that Africa is the world’s richest continent in terms of mineral resources—with the most arable land and waterpower in the world. In fact, Africa is the most habitable place on earth given the limited occurrence of natural disasters compared to other parts of the world. It is important how Africa is governed, how it harnesses the youth dividend, nurtures the growing economies and sustains the world`s most habitable place.
Democracy in Africa
In parts of Africa (i.e. Zimbabwe, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea), autocrats are still in power and in some other countries (i.e. South Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali) wars still rage on and off. However, most leaders in Africa now seek at least a veneer of respectability; elections have become more frequent and more regular; economies have opened up and peace and prosperity is central on the development agenda.
In Africa, democracy has stalled or even gone into reverse in some instances. Too often, especially in illiberal pseudo-democracies the incumbent demonises the opposition, exploits the power of the state to stack the electoral contest in his favour and removes constraints on his power. That bodes ill for a continent where institutions are still fragile, corruption rife and economies weak.
The latest worrying example is Zambia. It was one of the first African countries to undergo a democratic transition, when Kenneth Kaunda stepped down after losing an election in 1991. In 2016 Edgar Lungu was re-elected president with a paper-thin majority in a campaign marred by the harassment of the opposition, closure of the country’s leading independent newspaper, accusations of vote-rigging and street protests. Post-election environment is no different; the leader of the main opposition Hakainde Hichilema has been incarcerated, and charged with treason.
In East Africa – specifically Kenya – political tensions are rising; there are growing worries about violence as opposition disputes the election outcome. Freedom House estimates that in 1973 only about 30% of sub-Saharan countries were “free” or “partly free”. In its latest report the share stands at 59%. That is a big improvement, obviously, but it is down from 71% in 2008. Countries that are “not free” still outnumber those that are. A big chunk in the middle is made up of flawed and fragile states that are only “partly free.”
The people of Africa deserve better. For democracy to work, we need trusted institutions to act as both arbiters and stabilisers. The problem is aggravated by the complex, multi-ethnic form of many African states. These ethnic lines are manipulated by political leaders to sow discontent and distrust of other groups and or tribes. Voting patterns often follow tribe or clan rather than ideology. Dealing with variegated polities requires doses of decentralisation (as in Kenya), federalism (as in Nigeria) and requirements for parties or leaders to demonstrate a degree of cross-country or cross-ethnic support. Where democracies are fragile, the two-term rule for heads of government is invaluable, as it forces change. The two-term rule should be enshrined and enforced as a norm by Africa’s regional bodies, just as the African Union forbids coups.
It is more important now than ever for the African Union to take the lead in helping African countries transition to democracy. Africa countries need strong electoral institutions that can be trusted by citizens to conduct credible and fair elections. These institutions must have the best systems to protect themselves from outside interference. Access to internet and information cannot be over emphasised. An informed citizen is an involved citizen. Access to the internet makes it easier to report criminality, harassment and generally helps citizens coalesce together.
There must be deliberate institutions set up to demystify race, religion, tribe and ethnicity. These differences have been manipulated by leaders to extend or secure power. To build harmonious countries, minority issue must be embraced with understanding not used to perpetuate hate and anger. The constitution is the supreme law, amending it at a whim to keep a man in power is a long-term tragedy. Judicial institution must be sacred, it`s the only way to maintain law without favour.
A Beneficial Africa
Africa through the African Union has to advocate for a system that works for the African people. A system of government should be specifically designed to address needs. Democracy is great, but some African leaders have demonised it because the USA and the European Union have been enforcing it. Although the opinion of the executive means little in how they are governing, it is still important because it influences decisions at continental bodies like the African Union. At the local level, what`s important is the citizen, and devising any system of governing must be influenced by the citizens as they will benefit or suffer from the consequences thereof.
Africa needs to focus on what expedites development, on what brings tangible benefits to all people irrespective of colour, tribe, ethnicity, religion or sexuality. It is not beneficial to praise or complain against democracy, it is more beneficial to focus on what brings more benefits to the people and explore governing systems that do that. Democracy is evolving and Africa needs to be influencing the direction of this evolvement.
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