Democratising African States
Considering the political challenges facing Africa, one may be quick to suggest democratization as a solution. Democratization in itself is very appealing; imagine a government of the people, for the people, with the people, around the people and as the people. It means that each citizen is self-governing in the sense that his/her voice is put into consideration in the making of national policies. Like any other ideal, concretising a democracy seems to be more complicated than many can imagine. In a state, each individual or group of people has its own unique and often selfish interests. In African nations there are numerous sub-groups that people are loyal to.
There is the clan, the tribe, the region, religion, party and ideology. Unlike in other places where manifestos matter, loyalty to own group or sub-group is what matters. With ethnicity playing a major role in national planning and policy making, people rarely go by facts in their objectivity. Rulers, in their greed, are happy perpetuating the situation because they gain from it. They are not questioned about policies but about whom they are associating with; of what tribe he/she is. Stereotypes and prejudices abound; the electorate doesn’t look at individuals’ personal character but easily use stereotypes to judge. Rigging of votes in African countries is made easy by the dictatorship of the rulers but also the ignorance of a large percentage of the electorate as concerns their democratic rights.
Government Formation: the forming of governments in Africa is not about what is best for the nation but about what is best for my political survival as an individual. That is why all sorts of ministries are created so as to accommodate every king pin from the different clans. It does not matter how much is being spend or how much the citizen is being taxed. Issues of social welfare only feature as election pledges but once a government comes in power, the song changes and its about how to increase taxes, how to increase the salaries of the policy makers or law makers and how to set up elephant projects that will attract votes come next elections. This is what our leaders call being smart i.e. good planning, strategising and foreshadowing, is it not?
Corruption and other Ills: Corruption and favouritism needs special mentioning. Subsequent to bad governance, government officials do whatever pleases them. The rule is, get the chance and eat and if you have not found a chance yet, relax and wait for one then do your best. Once you have found your way and another way comes up, find one of your own to help you siphon as much as possible. There are very few African countries that have not been on the world map of corruption. Jobs are not offered on merit but privilege - the privilege of being known and connected to the big man or woman. The hardworking Africans’ efforts are in vain because of the phenomena under discussion. Consequently they give up and famously join them who are grabbing because they cannot defeat them. Once they have joined them, they try to beat them at their own game by becoming even more insidiously corrupt. Once the foundations have been destroyed, what can the just do? Many recoil into complacency and indifference or cynicism because the world no longer makes sense; things are not as they ought to be.
International Constraints: problems are not only at the national or continental levels. India, Latin America, some parts of Asia and Africa’s interaction with other regions of the world is very problematic. Those other regions are more advanced than the mentioned unfortunate ones. At a closer scrutiny, one realizes that they enriched themselves after bleeding the less advanced regions of their natural resources and even manpower in the form of slaves. Yet, at this time in history, all nations it is argued have to play on level ground in international trade among other issues. For the weak ones to get their right, it is at the stronger ones discretion. It appears that all desire supremacy and none can work for the supremacy of another especially if he/she perceives the other as a threat to his/her own supremacy. This, it seems, is what is happening at the international level especially as concerns trading. The richer nations cannot allow other nations, potential competitors, to grow economically.
Consequently, all sorts of games are played to ensure economic supremacy of given parties, nations, or regions. There are issues of subsidies, taxation, quotas and other trade restricting measures that are taken by rich nations that automatically lock less rich countries out of trade. This limits the capacity for less rich countries to empower selves such that their citizens maybe empowered in return.
International Organizations: There are bodies that are supposed to govern international relations and trade. These bodies, it has become clear, are not free from manipulation by the richer nations. Most of the running funds at the disposal of these bodies come from the richer nations. The going goes rightly that the one who pays the piper calls the tunes, of course according to his/her taste. In case of any policies that do favor less rich nations but are a little bit unfavorable to the status quo, the rich nations use their veto power or their economic power to manipulate the bodies out of such policies. There is aid and grants offered to poor nations but the strings attached are often more crippling than can be imagined.
National Policy making: What is done at the international level not withstanding, respective less rich nations’ economic policies also raise eyebrows. Because of factors already discussed, selfishness guides many of the African policy makers. ‘What is in it for me’ is the guiding question in national policy formulation. Africa remains in its rot because of lack of commitment to certain rational principles in public policy formulation. This lack of commitment leads to patronage, favoritism and despotism, among other ills that lead to decline rather than progress or development. Many African policy makers look for easy answers rather than following each argument to its logical/correct conclusion thus making viable policies.
Development follows from progress of reason. If only people would think right? If only policy makers would follow issues to logical conclusions, development would ensue i.e. freedoms would be facilitated, acknowledged and respected thus leading to development. Freedoms would be facilitated through provision of functional education, women emancipation, political rights and property rights. Once people have been awakened to freedoms i.e. that they have capacity to choose the kind of lives they value, people would do their best leading to more progress.
The factors I have briefly highlighted point out only one poignant factor, that the people, more especially the policy makers, in less rich nations need think technically if progress is to be seen. Thinking is a faculty that we posses by virtue of being human. However, just as one has to train his/her limbs to be strong enough, our thinking faculty needs special training. It needs to be informed right, if we are to think right and act right. At this point, the question of education systems comes in very forcefully. What is happening in schools such that the scholars who come out are only selfish policy makers? I will investigate into the Kenyan education system to see if I can get in any way enlightened on this issue.