“Democracy is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequal alike” Plato (BC 427 – 374BC).
Open rigging and clinging brazenly to power have become common features of emerging democracies in the world today especially in Africa. Many Countries in Africa have become accustomed to “sit-tight dictators” or military style of leadership, with democracy being propelled by the West for their replacement. This is at the centre of the on-going conflict in many emerging democratic nations. Democratization of the world today as being championed by United States of America cannot have an easy ride. There has to be a deliberate effort to build Institutions that will serve as democratic pillars before democracy can be successfully enthroned in Africa.
Agreed that democracy is the political fashion of the 21st century, the question and the problem that still remain unanswered and unsolved are: what is the worth of democracy without economic prosperity? What is the purpose of it without institutions that will serve as pillars? One begins to wonder when Africa and other third world countries will get it right especially with regard to the transformation of their electoral processes and economies. The case of Nigeria has shown that the effects of electoral fraud can be deeply devastating and destructive and likely result in instability and an immediate erosion of a new government’s credibility and legitimacy.
Starting from 1970s, the world witnessed four different paths to democratization. The first is relatively peaceful transition to democracy from an authoritarian regime, achieved through lengthy negotiations between the rational factions and the opposition. Countries that used this form of transitional method include Chile, Argentina, Greece, Uruguay, Spain, Portugal. The second path towards democracy in the late twentieth century involved countries coming out of civil war through internationally -sponsored peace agreements, such countries as Mozambique, Cambodia, El Salvador, Angola, and, recently, Sudan. These two paths account for over one hundred democracies formed around this period. The third is the forced democratization resulting from U.S and allied occupation of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories of West Bank and Gaza embraced democracy out of conflict between Israel and its Middle East neighbours. Between the mid 70s, and early years of 21st century, the countries where democracy was introduced increased in number. But the major threats to the democratization of the third world countries include intellectual bankruptcy, corruption and electoral fraud. The recent presidential election in Ivory coast is a perfect example of the stagnation of democracy the African continent.
Looking at the electoral malpractice that has characterized elections in Africa which unfortunately Nigeria symbolizes, what comes to mind is: what are the factors behind this irrational quest for power and the unwillingness to relinquish same? Insecurity of life outside power, economic gain, political influence, dynasty, et cetera are some of the factors that have kept genuine democracy away from most African countries. Without these and other factors, what else could have made Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast cling to power until his disgraceful removal even when the whole world acknowledged that he lost re-election through free and fair election? What else could still be keeping Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi in power after 42 years even with his country coming under rebel attacks and no fly zone imposed on his country by allied forces? Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda who was recently re-elected for another term amid protest and Pedro Verona Rodrgues Pires of Cape Verde have been clinging to power for the past 24 years each. 85 years old Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who has served for 30 years is still yet to consider if it’s time to quite. Theodoro Mgbasogo of Equatorial Guinea has clung to the seat of his birth right for the past 31 years and the same goes to Eduado Santos of Angola. President Campaore Blaise of Burkina Faso who by means of force has been on the throne for the past two decades and half is yet to think of the noble thing to do. President Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia is 19 years in power just as presidents Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali and Idriss Deby Itno of republic of Chad are also 19 years in power. Former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali who dictated the tunes Tunisians danced for 23 years was deposed by the new political wave that pervades Arab world and north Africa presently. Egyptians also kicked their sit-tight president Muhammad Hosni Mubarak out of office after 30 years rule. The style of leadership in Togo and Gabon has been that of dynasty by two self wisest families in those countries and there are still lots of examples of sit-tight never quit democratic dictatorship in Africa.
Nigeria that was seen at independence as country that would show other African countries the road to true freedom and economic prosperity has been lagging behind in all the indices of modern statehood, allowing South Africa and Ghana to take the lead. Nigerians in their wishful thinking often pride themselves as the giant of Africa. But each time I hear that slogan, I always ask myself: in what way is Nigeria the giant of Africa? Probably in an unproductive population and bad leadership. The world watches Nigeria with keen interest as 2011 elections have come and gone to see if Nigeria will get it right this time around or at least put herself on the right track.
Immediate past Tunisia’s acting prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi promised to leave politics after elections being planned in the wake of former president Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali’s fall few months ago which unfortunately he will no longer be in charge. Our own, president Jonathan Ebele Goodluck Azikiwe (JEGA) also in far away Ethiopia promised not only to hand over after one term but that he would make sure that 2011 election is free and fair which is now a matter of perspective. When it was so hot for former president of Egypt Muhammad Hosni Mubarak, he was no longer seeking for his continuity in power but to be allowed to stay until after the next election that is coming up this year. These are indications that sit-tight style of leadership is fast phasing out in Africa and a clarion call to countries like Zimbabwe, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Uganda, Cape Verde, Angola, et cetera to embark on a serious and truthful democratic reforms before they become casualties to latest political upheaval sweeping across Arab world and north Africa as we have seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Ivory coast and presently happening in Libya.
Writes from University of Jos.