Causes of State Failure in Sub-Saharan Africa
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This project sets out to examine the causes of the failure of the state in sub-Saharan Africa. Since the introduction of democracy in the sub-continent in the early 1990’s, the process has been a slow and cumbersome, casting doubts on the possibility of instituting genuine democracy on the sub-continent. The political crisis gave room for autocrats who were the fomenters of the problem to eternalize themselves in power in the name of avoiding further conflicts or problems. They have advanced a whole range of different problems as the cause of this crisis where as the problem lies in the absence of a democratic culture or the proper understanding of it.
In the words of the great Africanist, the late Professor Ake Claude, the sub-continents problems is but one of leadership crisis. As this dawns on us at a moment when democratic regimes are a necessity in the new global context, how do we solve the problems which have stalled the institution this much cherished democracy? The answer the thesis states lies in the institutionalization of democracy.
The quest for good governments in Africa has been a high priority item on the agenda of African and world politicians for well over half a century. The African continent for several decades now has been replete with ills such as low living standards, a stagnant economy, and high rates of unemployment, poverty, low infrastructural development, a violent political environment, dictatorships, ethnic clashes and above all a general disregard of the fundamental rights of the people. It still grapples with these political uncertainties, economic adversities, and social inequalities today (Chazan, 1999). There is thus a need to device the best means possible by which the state can be organized and empowered so that it deals adequately with these problems.
Democracy’s ability to organize society, ensuring the respect of the rights and liberties of the people, pressing for accountable leadership, ensuring effective participation, a transparent economy and a just and equitable social order, in essence ensuring the socio-economic and political prosperity of a nation, which in summary are Africa’s biggest problems, makes it the best possible solution to the problems Africa faces today. As a result, the quest for democracy in Africa has been seen as vital if Africa has to set up a harmonized community that will develop and catch up with the demands of the ever globalizing world.
The story of instituting democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa has been a long drawn one, with many highs and lows; several events have made it seem very probable and promising, but also there have been on the other hand other very challenging events which have questioned the possibility of democracy’s survival. As a result, several debates have ensued amongst Africanist, who have focused on a large part on the prospects of democracy on the continent, some arguing that it is doomed to fail and other optimist who believe that a genuine democratic system can and will emerge in sub-Saharan Africa. Their focus therefore have been how democracy can be properly instituted, its challenges and how the inherent problems it faces can be adequately resolved so that Africa will benefit from good governance schemes.
There have been several events starting with the legalization of political parties and the return to multiparty elections in the late 1980’s which suggested that democracy was well under way on the continent. But as it was being instituted it faced several challenges which resorted to disorderliness throwing back the move to democracy; new forms of electoral authoritarianism, return to military and in some extreme cases gruesome civil wars broke out on the sub-continent. This has left many critics of African democracy to question the possibility of instituting genuine democracy on the continent, despite it being the choice of the people.
Apologist of African democracy have since argued that Africa’s political crisis were as a result of an imposition of a western culture or style of administration which is not compatible with the African society. They consider democracy alien and in violation to the African culture (Ake, 1991). This according to them has been the reason for the failure of democracy. They rather support the one party dictatorial style governance, which they claim is the best means by which the continent can unite to develop (Busia, 1961).
Another school of thought which emerged after the transition period, the modernist, advanced reasons for the failure of democracy in Africa, blaming the superficial nature of the state, and its failure to penetrate the African society adequately, calling the state a weak leviathan (Chabal & Daloz, 1999). This same school and notably Patrick Chabal note that Africa’s economic crisis does not favor the successful implementation of democracy on the continent. Democracy he argues is underpinned by capitalism, a uniquely dynamic and productive system, in its absence therefore there is doubt that democracy can be successfully instituted on the African sub-continent. This view has also supported the point that democracy is an imposition on Africa and thus will always fail the aspirations of those who seek to implement it on the continent.
This thesis therefore sets out to answer some of this cynicism and provide a possible solution for the problems democracy in the African sub-continent faces. If anything democracy has not failed Africa, but Africa as shown by the poor actions of its leader, has failed to grasp the concept of democracy. It sets out trying to systematically bring out how through its political evolution, it is the failure to properly institute democracy during the second wave democratization process which has brought about the political crisis the sub-continent is facing. Secondly if neo-patrimonialism exists and survives today it is because leaders have twisted democratic tenets to suit their whims and caprices, thus legitimizing such authoritative regimes.
The set backs it faced during the mid-1990 did not spell doom for democracy, but rather served as an eye opener for Africa. “The democratic struggle is a gradual process which will emerge from experience and improvisation as it continues to struggle” states professor Claude Ake, who believes that Africa’s experience will develop the best suited type of democracy that will solve its problems (Ake, 1993). Democracy can survive in Africa, but the players and fomenters must take several factors into consideration, like picking up more democratic ethics and tenets and developing a strong united civil society, showing more good will and respect towards their people and the state as opposed to the selfish and greedy attitude which has been noted to be the norm on the sub-continent.
With time as adequate steps like institutionalization and consolidation are taken, democracy will be a success story in Africa. This view is also supported by Larry Diamond, who stated inter alia “… if progress is to be made towards developing democratic governance, it is likely to be gradual messy, fitful and slow, with many imperfections along the way” (Diamond, 1989, p.24). Thus this piece looks at how these imperfections were created and how certain responses will set the sub-continent on track to democratic governance.
This thesis starts off by looking at the development of democracy on the African sub-continent in the 1990’s. Chapter one will therefore start off looking at why the third wave started, how it happened and why it was believed to have been the new way for Africa. The case of post independent African politics was very elusive of the masses. The one party patrimonial state had proven to be disastrous, the military regimes which later emerged, preaching immediate growth and development also failed the aspirations of the people and so there was a general move by the people towards democracy. This was in addition to the external pressures that existed at the moment. Thus there was a general surge towards democratic elections in the sub continent, with several parties legalized and the political life of the sub-continent in different countries.
Chapter two looks at the break down in the drive towards democracy. Why the democratic frenzy was short lived, only registering limited success across Sub-Saharan Africa. As the concepts of multiparty elections were applied across the sub continent, there were different outcomes with each case being very unique to the different nations. Generally democracy failed to take root. It was cosmetic and a virtual democracy as described by Richard Joseph. It will consider the reasons why this was the case. Given that almost all the countries in the sub-continent held elections of different kinds, did this imply they were all democracies? We will look at the new classifications of African regimes. Considering that they were all at this point considered transitionary.
Chapter three starts off by considering the complex nature of democracy. It brings out a list of factors which qualify a state as a democracy or not. It then looks at the regimes on the sub-continent and categorizes them per the 2006 Freedom House Review. These are democracies (11), Hybrid regimes (23) and autocracies (14). Since our focus is on the failing state we shall look at the commonalities and differences between the hybrid and failed/unreformed regimes. In that light we shall bring out the common or popular concern for democracy in Africa which is the misconception democracy suffers and the need for institutionalization.
Chapter four now looks at the problems African democracies have faced since inception. Considering the very broad nature and tone the thesis has taken this far, it will consider a case study on the Republic of Cameroon, a country in the Central African region of Africa, which has failed to properly institute democracy till date. It is considered an electoral autocracy and serves as a perfect example of how Africa, fails democracy. The problems this state faces are in effect what most of the states of the Sub-Saharan region face, certain outcomes may differ, but essentially the issues or problems are the same.
This study will provide the perfect opportunity of putting into context all the issues that I have raised this far to buttress the point of the thesis, which is that it is the failure to fully understand and properly grasp the concept of democracy that has caused democracy to fail in this country and the sub-continent as a whole. These areas include the formation of political parties, to the electoral process, the narrow political field, constrained civil society, absence of civility, politicized violence and the international support for dictatorships. These points were adequately discussed by Professor Celestin Monga.
Chapter five shall be the conclusion to this project in which we shall be looking at possible solutions to the problems raised above. It shall first suggest solutions to the problems duly raised and also consider effective institutionalization through the strengthening of the three tiers of government namely the executive, legislative and judiciary; so that there is a balance in power amongst these three. By applying these solutions in the Cameroonian context and eventually on the sub-continent, the African sub-continent will be brought closer to the mark of consolidated democracies.
The Rebirth of Democracy (1990-1993)
The period 1989-1993 was considered to be the break point for Africa. This is the period during which Africa witnessed a wave of regime changes. Hitherto to this period, single party, military regimes and presidents for life was the norm in most African states. Competitive politics was considered a luxury by most African leaders who stated that it was neither necessary nor affordable for Africans (Decalo, 1992). This belief was aptly described in the words of Sierra Leonean president at the time Siaka Stevens when he said of democracy and I quote ‘…it is a system of institutionalized tribal ethnic quiquennial warfare euphemistically known as elections which is an open invitation to anarchy and disunity’ (Decalo, 1992) a view which was endorsed by Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere who also stated that democracy was stronger with a one party state rule which unified the country.
To back up this system of administration, it was claimed that Africa had its own unique history and tradition thus the introduction of democracy was a violation of the integrity of the African culture (Ake, 1991). The African traditional system in its own right, they further argued, was infused with democracy with standards of accountability considered to be stricter than the west, though invariably patrimonial, thus it possessed signs of a democracy-hence a democracy (Ake, 1991).
A second argument put forward was the social composition of African states. Because of its plural nature, the introduction of liberal democracy could possibly inflame ethnic rivalries which will result in political disintegration. Democracy they argued was a distraction to what was important for society. It was a thing for elites and the educated masses and ended on paper, it did not provide or cater for the pressing needs of the rural masses. This one party protagonist’s concluded that a patrimonial system was going to unite and direct all positive energy towards economic development (Ake, 1991).
Thus African style democracy as it came to be termed of one party politics was considered the best option for Africa given its complex social context, endorsed by most Western governments as shown by their cooperation with them. This ideology was even backed in cases by the World Bank as noted by their remark that “…with weak states, only a bureaucratic authoritarian regime could contain fissiparous tensions and lead to a free market economy…” (Decalo, 1992). Africans believed so much in this style of administration Samuel Decalo talks of Mugabe during a state visit to the United States of America in the 80’s, who recommended to the American congress, the one party state system as an option they should consider (Decalo, 1992).
A point to note here is the hypocrisy of this political ideology. Despite preaching governments of national unity and socio-economic development, the opposite was being practiced and witnessed in most countries. The presidency and administration became the possession of whatever ethnic group held the presidency. Nepotism was rife and groups were rather occupied with gaining a greater share of the existing pie than working for equitable development (Decalo, 1992). This political practice as a result accentuated the tribal and ethnic divide which existed within the many African states and fuelled anti-government sentiments amongst the population as we shall see below.
A change to this political scenario though requisite, was least expected to occur by scholars, in a continent which had shown signs of defiance to a more liberal democracy by sticking to its own developed and formulated ideology of ‘Afro-Marxism’ (Decalo, 1992). There were strong calls both from within and without for a change to the system that was failing to provide adequately for their needs. This saw mass demonstrations, rallies and civil disobedience all calling for the return of democracy and for regime change. This was spawned by the stifling political authoritarianism and economic decay, further triggered by the spectacle of the fall of titans in East Europe (Decalo, 1992).
The one party state had yielded a form of presidential authoritarianism, through which the state economy was plundered, there was a disdain for civic and human rights, and little or no attention was paid to the plight of the rural population (Decalo, 1992). Economic projects were failing to materialize; there was the absence of infrastructural development needed for this growth and above all a high rate of unemployment. The military regimes which took over power in certain instances to sweep clean the state failed to return power back to civilian rule and fell into the same predicament by falling short of the efficiency mark.
These regimes were thus fundamentally unaccountable, personalized and patrimonial (Decalo, 1992). There were the failures of these regimes that could be considered the primary cause of the call to democracy and multipartyism. The growing urbanization and education of Africans made sensitive to the hostile political and economic environment being created by their leaders, thus they desired liberty and the respect of their rights which had been usurped and abused by this dictatorial one party system. They wanted their grievances listened to and solved by a regime that had been removed from the people, blind and deaf to their problems. The only way to do this was by mass protest against such regimes and seeking to over throw them.
Economic related reasons, mainly externally influenced, could be said to be the greatest factors which led to this drive in re-democratization. Africa relied for a large part on international aid and loans to fund most of its activities. The administrative sector was the biggest employer in most countries, thus the money aid they received was used almost entirely on salary payments and carry out government businesses, rather than invest in lucrative businesses which could eventually pay back. Civil servants in the higher echelon were corrupt and embezzled these state funds to fund their luxurious lives. The growth registered within the economy was good but this was not sustainable growth and did not guarantee a future for the economy.
Most corporations were state owned and private businesses were not promoted or were largely absent. As a result of all these, donor countries through the IMF and World Bank suggested certain adjustments be made with the governance system if they were to continue offering this aid and loans. This came to be known as the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) which called for African governments to privatize state owned corporations, cut down on its public sector and above all to democratize as conditions to receive aid. This provided a lee way for the dissenting voices of nationals who wanted change. They were joined by civil servants who suffered huge pay cuts and in extreme cases lost their jobs. This situation was further aggravated by the fall in commodity prices in the international markets meaning that African states were pretty much at the mercy of international donors, who wanted change with the regimes.
Finally the demise of communism and the end of the Cold War also had an immense impact on the political life of African states. First of all it diverted the attention of investors to the newly liberalized and potential economies of Eastern Europe, thus reducing the amount of capital investments which flowed to the continent, affecting the African economy adversely. Secondly the West no longer supported the dictatorial regimes in Africa as it did during the Cold War days. They withdrew support from these regimes (example of Angola and Togo where they had supported antagonized sectarian groups) asking them to democratize as a condition for continuous aid and loans (Decalo, 1992).
This was especially true of France who had since independence maintained a close link with Francophone African states and signed several military accords with African states offering them (military) support when they needed it; the case of Central Africa and the support they offered Idriss Deby against Bedel Bokassa 1990, one authoritarian regime for another. The Apartheid regime of South Africa also did not receive any more support from the West, who had pursued half hearted sanctions against this repressive regime. As soon as the Cold War came to an end, the Apartheid regime under pressure yielded and released Mandela, introducing reforms, forcing other African states to follow suit, who had used this regime to propagate a repressive rule against their citizens. They were thus forced to change.
The first shots of democracy in Africa were noted in Benin, when in early 1990, students, civil servants and the whole community took to the streets denouncing the rule of then president, Mathieu Kerekou and calling for what they termed “a national sovereign conference of all active forces” (Richard Joseph, 1991). This sovereign national conference was to bring together representatives of the different sectors and works of life in a voice of national unity to address the problems of society. In the case of Benin, it resulted in the removal of President Mathieu Kerekou’s control of public policy and the establishment of a transitional government (Richard Joseph, 1991).
The outcome of this was received with much delight in other African states and they later began calling for national conferences in their respective countries. This was the case in Togo, Zaire, Congo, Gabon and Cameroon. The out come was not necessarily the same as in the case of Benin, because not all the presidents yielded to such demands, they resisted these popular calls and tried making substantive concessions to the opposition (Richard Joseph, 1991). All in all it marked the beginning of change on the continent as a result of popular demand (democratic will, the voice of the people).
All this pressure resulted in the democratization of Africa as noted by the re-legalization of political parties, restored freedoms of association, assembly and expression and also in the reform of constitutions which led to multiparty elections in most sub-Saharan states (Richard Joseph, 1998). Over the brief period of 1990-1994, 54 competitive elections were held in 29 countries with 30 of the electoral outcomes welcomed by the electorates and the process ruled as free and fair by observers (Bratton, 1998). One party rule was noted to have been replaced with more open and participatory competitive democracy.
With the influx of these political parties, they were quick at pointing out the short comings of government, its administrative inefficiency, political corruption, economic mismanagement, and social decay (El-Khawas, 2001). Notably between 1990 and 1993, twenty five countries held elections with eleven opposition parties winning and coming to power. Though very commendable, the legalization of opposition parties did not necessarily mean democracy for African countries (Diamond, 1994). Even those who saw regime change sooner than later faced crisis thus questioning the durability of democracy in Africa, because certain cracks were noted in the firmament of this nascent African democracy.
Looking at the above, democracy was not brought about by conditions of the west, but rather it was the desire and commitment of the people for accountability and meaningful development from their respective governments, further fuelled by the economic conditions and effects of the SAP, which only came to show how poorly the state was being managed. On the contrary the west could be accused of complacency. As earlier mentioned they had supported these authoritative regimes and cooperated with them.
Even after conditions were placed on leverage, they never followed them up or pressed this dictatorial regimes to democratize as in the case of Kenya, Cameroon and Togo just to name a few, to which the international community still offered loans and did not question the actions of these governments like human rights abuse, which drew a lot of criticism from the press and public (Ake, 1991). Therefore the call for democracy was only emboldened by economic factors which brought change at the time to some countries (Benin ousting of Kerekou, Liberia, fall of Samuel Doe) but failed to change regimes in others (Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya) and can not be said to be the main factor but a mix of both (Ake, 1991).
Chapter Three: The Democratic Dark Days
Following this run of political liberalization was a period of political violence, wars and crisis in a number of African countries that sent ripples down the nascent democracy in Africa. A critical look at the outcome of the first set of elections organized in the sub-continent drew a lot of criticism from pundits who considered the process as cosmetic and as failing in its objectives. What seemed to have been created on the African sub-continent was a virtual democracy as noted by Richard Joseph (Richard Joseph, 1993). This could be explained by the fact that in a number of African states, the incumbents managed to hang on to power after elections in their states, despite the mass demonstrations against their administrations and rule.
It is necessary to remind ourselves here of the popular support democracy enjoyed in the different African states; it was not an orchestration or ploy of an elitist few, but a genuine request by all for change, thus a lot was expected in the form of regime changes across the continent. Despite this, a few countries (11 of the 25 countries that held competitive elections during the period of 1992-1993) and notably Zambia and South Africa managed to see a democratic change in leadership (El-Khawas, 2001). Thus the much anticipated democracy in sub-Saharan Africa was failing to take root.
Regimes failed to be changed in Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Kenya and Ghana just to name a few, despite mass protest and popular support the opposition in these countries enjoyed. Elections were noted to be carried out in a politically tensed atmosphere, characterized by intimidation (house arrest and states of emergency), massive vote rigging and general violence. The experienced leaders with all the powers they wielded violated the rules of the country with impunity and after enjoying the booty they had siphoned from the economy, had every intention of staying in power and as a result did all to ensure their stay in power. ).
As a matter of fact, the biblical adage of old wine in new wine skins held true here since there seemed to be nothing new to the political order in a number of states that witnessed elections. The story of ousted leaders on the continent during the military coup days of the 1960’s had not been an envious one; as such they would do anything to preserve power in the event where they had been very reckless with power (Young, 1996; De Walle, 2001). This is what Professor Ake Claude termed the leadership crisis of the continent; according to the professor the African political crisis resulted from the absence of true statesmen, but rather the prominence of those with every intention of ensuring their stay in power or having their own share of the national cake (Ake, 1996). This assertion has been supported by Richard Joseph, who holds that a prebendal system is set up, with entrenched corruption, and the leaders work only for the benefit of themselves and their clients, leaving the locals to their own devices for survival (Joseph, 2003).
As such, these leaders organized charades in the name of elections, given that they controlled the judiciary and legislative and with this centralization of power they were able to corner the multitude of opposition parties they had legalized as a disorganizing technique of the opposition (Young, 1996). As such despite their inefficiencies, the leaders found themselves in power with very vindictive policies against opposition strongholds. This was the case in Kenya, Cameroon, Gabon and Ivory Coast, where particular regions and tribes were subject to marginalization and vengeance of the leader.
In Kenya, Arap Moi and his cohorts fomented tribal conflicts that led to the death of about 1500 and displaced a further 350,000 in the rift valley area, in Cameroon the Anglophone West Cameroon was massively under represented in the government that was formed following the presidential elections of 1992. Millions of dollars which were funds for other projects were misappropriated to ensure such electoral successes and thus their stay in power (Diamond, 2008; Young, 1996). These leaders were also noted by the international community as having been endorsed by the people, and as a result the West continued its support of these corrupt regimes with poor human right records, and with incumbents who had every intention to continue pillaging the economy as before.
The situation generally speaking looked bleak for the African Sub-continent which had received the third wave with such enthusiasm. The democratic quest was dealt further blows when civil wars and genocides broke out in some of the sub-Saharan countries; there was a return of the military to power in others. This period is considered to be the dark moments of African political development. The Congo Basin has been noted as one of the main trouble spots on the continent owing to the manner in which the wars which emanated from this region spread across, affecting all the countries sharing borders. Zaire for starters was under the tight grip of the dictator Mobuto Sese Seko, who did not give into the pressures for democratization.
He refused convening a national conference, blaming it on technicalities of representation owing to the ethnic diversity and broadness of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo-DRC). Thus democracy did not effectively take root there, despite calls for the democratization by the masses. Armed conflicts broke out first in Burundi following the overthrow of the newly elected president Melchior Ndadaye, by Tutsi officers, trying to reinstate Tutsi control over the Tutsi dominated state. In neighboring Rwanda, the Hutu rule came to a halt when following elections in 1994 the Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana had to form a coalition regime with the Tutsi minority, but was assassinated during the process, giving room to extremist Hutu’s to launch a genocidal raid against the Tutsi’s.
These two wars led to the death and displacement of millions further enshrining the problems rocking this continent. The National Resistant Movement (NRM) initiated by Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, an arm movement against dictators in the Central-East of Africa and enjoying the support of western powers and international donors promoted more of the armed conflicts faced by this part of Africa. It supported rebels against the Kabila regime who had earlier ejected Mobuto from power in 1997 (following the wars in Rwanda which gave the rebels led by Kabila the impetus to fight Mobuto) following a fall out between the rebels and Kabila, leading to the Congo war lasting from 1998-2003 Young, 1996; Richard Joseph, 1998).
The story of armed conflicts in the wake of an era of democratic elections is numerous on the African continent. One very interesting case to site here is that of Congo-Brazzaville, where democratic tides were considerably reversed following the forceful return to power by Denis Sassou-Nguesso who had earlier been defeated in elections in 1993 (Young, 1996). This was accomplished with the support of France and Angola in front of a dumb struck international community that only muttered on the events that were ravaging the continent. The Liberian and Sierra Leonean cases could also be sited, but given these it is good enough to make our analysis of the democratic struggle in Sub-Saharan continent.
These crises resulted in the deaths of millions, refugee problems, food shortages and famines, poverty, a poor economy and low rate of development not only in countries involved, but affected the economy of other states in general as it stalled possible investments in this part of the world. International investors feared investing in a place which did not guarantee the safety of their businesses; they rather invested in the newly democratized states of West Europe. African investors themselves were fleeing with whatever capital they had; leading to massive capital flights and brain drain as whole families sought new places and beginnings.
This far Africa was not providing a perfect home for Africans. If anything these moments looked to be supporting the claims of some African democratic skeptics and proponents of African socialism (and thus one party style democracy) that democracy let alone liberal democracy could not be instituted in Africa or even solve African problems. They rather argued that the humanitarian crisis that rocked the continent were as a result of the recently organized elections, which had also brought out the intricate socio-political nature of the African continent which did not make the continent adaptable to the liberal democratic system being introduced (Young, 1996). They made this assertion following political unrest faced by the sub-continent leading to the deaths and displacement of millions.
This is a very strong assertion which has gone a long way to undermine the institution of democracy in Africa on the grounds that its socio-political formation is in-penetrable by this system of administration. It has thus made the transition to full democratic governments slow in certain countries, where there is the fear that the full institution of democracy is bound to stir tribal or ethnic conflicts which will end in the further disintegration of the state. As such the international community and the local African have been cajoled into accepting the status quo of democratically elected authoritative regimes as the best option of governance against more liberal or inclusive forms of administration, so that peace is maintained and the very fragile nature of the African state maintained.
The limited role the international community played during the crisis on the continent can also be faulted, given that they were an influence and possessed the power to prevent or stop some of the events that took place on the continent. Though levying limited criticisms at illegitimate governments that emerged, they still cooperated with some of these regimes providing loans and assistance; in some extreme cases as earlier mentioned they did intervene militarily (Congo) to further cement the political crisis rocking some of these countries. The most irresponsible action of the international community at best here is the fact that they stood at akimbo, and watched one of the most gruesome political events happen on the continent (Rwanda-Burundi genocide) and did little or nothing to stop or prevent it, despite the ability to do so, resulting in the most shocking massacre of the decade.
They supported and sponsored some of the wars that ravaged the continent, by their illicit support of junta’s and rebels (case of Angola and Jonas Savimbi). Critics also point out to this limited role on the premise that democracy is a western thing, now if it is plagued by all this mishaps, it can only be explained as being a ploy by the West to disintegrate the African continent further and stall any plans of uniting for progress and thus leaving its resources open to exploitation by the west; what has come to be known as neo-colonialism. Thus all democracy has done is tear the people apart and given them a false hope of better governance.
The local African welcomed the reintroduction of multiparty politics and thus democracy as an end to all forms of corruption, clientele politics and favoritism which was characteristic of the one party state (authoritarianism/patrimonism) and had resulted in nothing but under development of the state and inequality in public life. Thus in any area that failed to see regime change, the people immediately lost faith in the democratic process of change by the ballot hence not being able to solve the leadership crisis on the continent (Chabal, 1998). Neo-patrimonial states as is coined by Larry Diamond who describes them as “a combination of the formal architecture of modern bureaucratic states, constrained in theory by laws, constitutions and other impersonal standards with the informal reality of personalized, unaccountable power and pervasive patron client ties” (Diamond, 2008, pg 2).
This loss in faith in democracy as a result of this can be considered to be very detrimental to the political life of some African states as can be noted in the lackluster approach adopted by the locals in states like Cameroon, Gabon, Togo, just to name a few, in ensuring accountability from their respective regimes. This has prompted scholars like Richard Joseph to consider the fact that there has been ‘closure’ in the democratic process in Africa (Richard Joseph, 1992). This statement is made against the backdrop of political violence and electoral (democratic) malpractices that have ravaged the sub-continent and the crisis it faced by the mid 1990’s which it could barely manage. This has further gone to question the possibility of genuine democracy surviving on the continent. Can we blame it on the nature of democracy or on the manner in which it was implemented?
Chapter Four: Understanding Democracy Better
So far we have seen several accusations levied on the democratic process and it has been shown to be failing the aspiration of the people. If anything there was the claim that African democracy was at a stand still and in some cases subsiding. But is there any formula to democratizing? African states as earlier mentioned had shown all the necessary signs and seemed poised for democracy, but when the crisis broke out and tides changed, critics considered the process a fiasco. It seems to me that these skeptics believed that Africa had set out on a path which could result in nothing less but democratic regimes in a short space of time. Is there a particular route countries must take before becoming democratic?
Democracy is very transferable; as noted by Valerie Bunce, there is no single form of democracy let alone means by which it is attained (Bunce, 2007). The democracy that was started in ancient Greece is not what is in practice across the globe today. As perfectly expressed in the words of Alexis de Tocqueville the construction of democracy is an “…irresistible revolution advancing century by century over every obstacle and even now going forward amid the ruins it has itself created…”. As such he was portraying the long drawn nature of the democratic process and the many hurdles it was bound to face before being fully established.
Even the most developed states today have had to face these tumultuous moments in their political history before installing a true democratic order (Boron, 2006). The civil wars that the sub-continent had just witnessed, though gruesome and inadmissible, can therefore be considered the price the African sub-continent has had to pay in order for democracy to be implemented. This does not imply in any way that they are never going to be democratic, but rather it will come as a result of the need for democracy, the same way by which the French Revolution resulted from the need of civil liberties and equality.
Critics must therefore realize at this point that democracy is not failing the continent, but on the other hand the course is taking its natural route as defined by the factors that are in play on the continent like leaders circumventing the rules of the game for personal gain.
No single definition can be indentified as best for democracy. It is a very ambiguous term; one of the most ideal definitions of democracy was that coined by Abraham Lincoln who defined democracy as “…a government of the people by the people and for the people…” This definition according to Boron was long replaced by the Schumpeterian formula of democracy, which regarded this definition as very radical and impracticable, thus democracy in practice was noted to be detaching itself from the very idea and agency of the people and rather focusing on the means by which the peoples concerns could be represented (Boron, 2006).
Thus the Schumpeterian ideal defines democracy as “a set of rules and procedures devoid of specific content related to distributive justice or fairness in society, ignoring the ethical and normative content of the idea of democracy and disregarding the idea that democracy should be a crucial component of any proposal for the organization of a good society rather than a mere administrative or decisional device” (Boron, 2006). By this definition democracy is considered here to be rather a method, a decision making model, in which the will of the majority will triumph over the minority as per elections (Boron, 2006). Such a definition of democracy will give credence to the recently organized charades in the name of elections in Africa, which according to the various government stats indicated that they had won the majority of votes in election. Boron argues vehemently against this method, as it takes away the very essence of democracy. It is not just the implementation of the will of the majority which is democratic, but other factors come to play for a country to be considered democratic.
Valerie Bunce joins in this argument and identifies a few factors that have to be considered if a state was to become democratic. These factors as noted by Bunce include the existence of a large and diverse civil society; a sharp political break with the authoritarian past, followed by regular turnovers in political leadership and governing parties; stable state borders; and political institutions which empower parliaments and, in culturally diverse societies, give minorities political voice without locking them into permanent coalitions that block collaboration across group and divides the pursuit of common goals (Bunce, 2007).
Patrick Chabal also suggests four approaches to understanding democracy namely the instrumental, institutional, cultural and historical approach. Summarily the instrumental approach was the practical means by which a democracy is established and this comprises of the legal and constitutional frame work which ensures a peaceful hand over of power, also it involves the setting up of conditions necessary for conducting free and fair elections. That is the conditions must be favorable for all to partake in and all should have an equal opportunity, so the selection process is genuine. This approach alone does not imply a democracy has been set up, but is only a first step in that direction, thus the multitude of elections that were noted on the continent throughout the decade did not imply democracy.
This takes us to the second approach which is the institutional approach; Chabal at this point focuses on the bodies of a political order. He considers the relationship between these bodies which will ensure a genuine democracy and as a result the smooth running of state affairs. This is only possible if there is a constitution and a politically independent judiciary, along side an effective legislature (parliament), political accountability by the executive and a system of representation (Chabal, 1998). Culturally, Chabal points out that for true democracy to thrive certain attributes have to abound. These include factors like the need for representation, a democratic mentality and a notion of accountability, which the people and actors in particular need to possess. Though disputed as imposing western culture on Africa, it still plays an important role to the institution of democracy on the African sub-continent. This may be contradictory of the point that states in the democratic process develop and pick up ethics, but in essence, these are the key factors of a democratic culture per its definition as a way of life.
The people need to trust the mechanisms of a democratic system, which has been developed to suit the needs of all, with the political supremacy of the citizen at its heart as a must have for democracy to survive (Chabal, 1998). Leaders on the other hand are expected to be accountable to the citizens for their actions, a culture also akin to the African context as witnessed during the pre-colonial days, which just has to be continued though not as was practiced during these periods, but importantly so because, failure to do so will result in leadership crisis. A final approach to consider according to Chabal is the historical approach. This like the assertion of Boron earlier reiterates the point that no democracy appears arbitrarily, they have all developed overtime to be what it is today. The west has also witnessed their fair share of crisis and violence in the form of the revolutions.
If anything the system has been proven to be a very fragile one, irrespective of what culture or people it is brought to, crisis seem inevitable for starters. Considering this point it draws us back to the issue of a political culture akin to the West. It may be argued that if states evolve in to a democracy, then there is no guarantee that they will need to develop a particular culture, but what best suits them. In the case of the sub-continent as shown so far, the people seek for a representative system and an accountable administration. These all tie in with the democratic culture, thus they will develop such a culture at their pace as they move along.
Chapter Five: Different Regimes In Sub-Saharan Africa
Following the above definitions and conditions of democracy, does sub-Sahara Africa fulfill any of the requirements or conditions for democracy? If not what how do we qualify the regimes that have since emerged from the electoral process? Regimes in Sub-Saharan Africa vary from country to country, ranging from liberal democracies to outright dictatorships. Freedom House statistics of 2000 noted that there were 9 ‘Free’ 22 ‘Partly free’ and 8 ‘Not Free’ regimes of the 39 that are found in the Sub-continent.
Free regimes are those regimes that have organized free and fair elections and have succeeded in consolidating democracy; they are constitutional and accountable states with a free judicial and legislative system able to challenge the executive (de Walle, 2001). Hence they are able to set checks and balances for the system and freedom of the civil society is to a great extent respected in these societies. These include South Africa, Botswana and Mauritius just to name a few.
The partly free regimes on the other hand are those regimes that show signs of a democratic set up (hold regular elections) but fall short of exercising other democratic attributes like accountability or ensuring the freedom and development of a civil society. Such regimes have come to be referred to as ‘Hybrid Regimes, pseudo-democracies or electoral autocracies’. The final group of regimes refers to those that have not experience any form of transition; they are still autocratic or dictatorial and a vibrant opposition absent which has given the incumbent the opportunity to hang on to power. Power lies in the hands of the president and a small clique of tribe people form the ruling class. These are the military, repressive neo-patrimonial regimes like Guinea, Burkina Faso, Gabon and Mauritania (De Walle, 2001).
The introduction and implementation of democracy was marred by certain inherent faults which were either over looked at the time or not noticed at all given that most of these countries were first timers. The thought of this gives even more hope that they did learn from these mistakes and continue to learn from the mistakes they have made and at some point they will be able to come up with good democratic governments. Celestin Monga in his article ‘Eight problems with African Politics’ identified and discussed the pertinent issues that plagued African democracy at inception and still do till date. Several other reasons exist as to why the democratic process in Africa went down the route it did. The experience of these states have proven the point that, democracy is not born in a day and these mistakes need to exists if states are to choose the best form of administration and better understand their polity.
Case of Cameroon, An Electoral Authoritarian Regime
Cameroon serves as the best example of putting into context the problems democracy faces in this part of Africa. The specifics certainly differ from country to country, but in essence the problems were the same. These states approached the issues differently and at different moments in their political history reason why some no longer face these problems while others do. But all in all signs of these problems can still be noted in the various states. As earlier mentioned the ineffectiveness of government had sparked off the call for multi-partyism, which was resisted by government leading to demonstrations and violence as the masses fought for the voices to be heard.
The political parties that emerged in Cameroon in the 1990’s were off shoots of think tanks and pressure groups predominantly of elites disgruntled with the way government functioned. These parties started off as movements or fronts given that government resisted legalizing parties and later became parties when government caved in. As noted by Celestin Monga, political scientist have identified four characteristics a political party must have namely a nation wide appeal, ability to continue even after the founders leave, a desire for power or change and must be consistent. In the case of Cameroon, several parties emerged like the Social Democratic Front (SDF), the Democratic Union of Cameroon (CDU), Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC), National Union for Democracy and Progress (NUDP) and to cut the list short the Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD). These are the 5 main opposition parties that emerged in addition to the ruling party, the Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement (CPDM).
These parties lacked the nationwide support required, as they were either regional or ethnic movements with an aim to get a share of the national pie only. They lacked vision and a far reaching manifesto which could continuously garner popular support. These parties had emerged out of the need to challenge the status quo as opposed to actually developing a political agenda which served as an alternative to power. This is the reason why there existed a plethora of political parties in this state which had a stumbling 208 political parties by 2001! Cameroon looks a state which is clearly torn apart by these parties.
Elections held in such a context are bound not yield any fruits, but only pave the way for the incumbent to walk to power as has been the case in Cameroon for almost all the elections held in the country. Results from the elections also showed that parties received mainly regional support as opposed to national support. They lacked the technical, financial and human resources to compete during elections, and also faced threats from government during campaigns. The intimidation and victimization of opposition supporters also cut into the support they should have gained from government workers, who feared loosing their jobs. All in all the political parties that emerged were naïve and inexperienced.
The electoral process on the other hand suffered immense irregularities. In Cameroon the incumbent, Paul Biya, did all in his might to hang on to power and ensure electoral victory. The election process lacked civility as opponents to the incumbent were viewed as enemies of progress and thus they enshrined themselves in personality and physical attacks, he called them thugs, sorcerers and vandals. Politicians failed to regard the process as a debate of policy objectives and qualification for the job, who could deliver the goods. They rather focused more on very sensitive punch lines like ethnic background and cabinet make ups.
The electoral process handled by the government ministry of Territorial Administration, despite calls from the opposition for an independent electoral commission. Results were usually twisted in their favor. With such power, government could disqualify opposition candidates on any flimsy grounds like how long they have resided in the country uninterrupted or on cooked up stories on nationality. These results gave room for the opposition to potentially resort to violence, which they did in Cameroon following the results of the 1992 elections. A state of emergency was declared in opposition strongholds and the results rammed down their throats. In extreme cases, this should have resulted in war as was the case in Angola and Congo, but the opposition in Cameroon refused to go down that path. It did create secessionist sentiments especially amongst the Anglophones who felt victimized for supporting the opposition.
A third point to consider is the absence of a strong civil society in Cameroon has been a major problem for the democratic process. For the fact that the regime failed to change in 1992, a lot of people lost faith in the democratic or better still electoral process, which transcribed into their political lives generally. Government had tactfully disbanded such social groupings and workers unions from getting involved in politics. This implied politics was left entirely in the hands of politicians and their multiple parties, who at this point had nothing but their interest at heart and were seeking ways of getting into government, some of which finally got appointed ministers.
The absence of the voice of social groups and workers unions provides room for maneuvering the politicians as they are left to the devices of their party and not the community at large (Monga, 1997). The press on the other hand was largely state controlled, so they acted as a mouth piece of the ruling party, propagating their ideals and brain washing the masses, which was almost turning into xenophobia against parties from different regions. The absence of a balanced media helped to kill the prospects of developing a strong civil society much to the detriment of any viable opposition.
Also age restrictions for participating in politics has been another way by which the government has constrained the civil society, as the voting age in Cameroon was put at 21 meanwhile from 18, these young men are capable of making decisions for themselves. This narrows the political field as those involved are only of a particular class and age group, politics is extricated from the lives of the people and controlled by a small group of people.
One other major factor was the control of the arm force. In Cameroon as in other parts of the sub-continent, leaders wielded the support and allegiance of the arm force which they had created from their tribe and kins men. The president by constitution is head of the arm force himself, a power he has used to regularly send the army to quell uprisings and intimidate the people during elections and demonstrations, which they (military) happily did given that they had an interest to protect, one of their own in power (Jean-Germaine, 1995). Such use of brute force against the opposition scared them and they caved in stifling the political life of the nation.
This was the case across the sub-continent, even more fascinating were situations where ex-military dictators retired from the army to continue rule as civilian leaders. This was the case in Ghana with Rawlings, Burkina Faso with Blaise Campaore, Yahya Jammeh of Gambia and war lords like Idriss Deby of Chad and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. Thus control of the army had been a source of great strength for leaders who used it to secure themselves in power.
Last but not the least is the support leaders received from the international community. In Cameroon the president received immense support from its former colonial master France who had vested interest in various sectors of the economy. Thus they did all in their power to ensure that only one their own or a protégé was to ascend to power. They provided the president Paul Biya with military and political advice alongside financial support against the anti-French strong opposition leader, John FRU NDI of the SDF, the Anglophone party. Despite the president’s poor human rights records, poor stewardship of the regime and highly corrupt regime, they still continued to receive support and aid from the international community.
From the above we see in a Cameroonian context the problems faced in general by democracies in Sub-Saharan Africa. These problems which include the ineptitude of political parties and leaders, poorly organized elections, absence of a strong civil society and a constrained press organ, control of the media and international support stand out as the key concerns in Sub-Saharan politics (Monga, 1997). These factors largely reflect the words of Professor Ake Claude when he said Africa’s political crisis is one of leadership.
The actors lacked statesmanship and national character; all were drawn out to protect particular interest for different regions. All these played to the advantage of the incumbent. Cameroon is a unique case in itself because where it should have broken to civil strife as did many other states confronted by these factors it did not do so. This state still remains an electoral autocracy today with strong prospects of a democracy, but this will only happen when a true democratic culture is inculcated in the lives of the people and the above problems solved.
Conclusion: A Solution To The Problem Consolidating Democracy In The Sub-Continent
Through this epic journey of instituting democracy in Africa South of the Sahara, we have seen how a much cherished form of government by its people has been denied them by the greed, ineptitude and orchestrations of their leaders. These leaders in turn have heaped the blame on natural factors like the socio-political and economic nature of the continent as not welcoming to the concept of democracy. They have failed to show beyond reasonable doubt that there is an alternative to the much suggested and requested democracy they have so much fought against.
This rebuttal on their part has caused immense damage on the sub-continent as they have refused to change or make room for others to change, but rather fought to entrench their rule. With the passing of time, the global context has transformed, becoming even more hostile to young democracies to join on the band wagon of development.
This doesn’t take away the fact that democracy is still needed on the continent as it does solve the basic problems of state hood and respect of civil liberties, the only medium in which an effective economy can be built. Not indulging in the economic argument of whether democracy is bound to solve Africa’s economic crisis (given that it is a new topic in its own light) suffice it to say that democracy is the means by which the state can harmoniously set out to attain economic heights by whatever means they so seek to achieve it.
Whether they follow the capitalist route or the socialist route, essentially, they need democracy, which is the only means by which the support of the millions of tribes of this part of the continent can be garnered because they feel involved or represented. Echoing the worries of the nobel laureate Wangari Maathai “...why is Africa one of the richest continents on the planet, endowed with oil, precious stones, forests, water, wildlife, soil, land, agricultural products, and millions of women and men, and yet most of Africa’s people remain impoverished?” which have become my worries, it only brings to mind the fact that sub-Saharan Africa lacks effective leadership.
Taking the example of South Africa, it took the selflessness of one man to give value to their quest for democracy when he instituted a genuine form of democracy void of racial segregation, a constitution that held the people at its heart and was responsive to their plight. The truth therefore lays in the institution of democracy, strengthening the three tiers of government namely the judiciary, legislative and executive, making them independent of one another and inculcating democratic tenets into the fabrics of society. This is the only means by which these states will progress, owing to the balance that is instituted amongst these arms of government (El-Khawas, 2001).
Starting with the executive, most states of the African sub-continent are vested with so much power constitutionally. Taking the case of Cameroon, the president is the Chief Judge of the Republic and Head of the Arm force. With such powers, they can not be either impeached or taken to court for crimes against the state. The leaders become corrupted by the power this office yields and as such personalize it, like Louis XIV of France, the state becomes their property. This needs to be avoided and can be done by separating the power of the office first from the individual and then balancing the power with the other organs of administration. The president needs to respect the power of the office which stems from the people, it is the people who create the presidency and thus they must be respected (El-Khawas, 2001).
The next organ which needs to be rectified is by empowering the legislative, which is the representation of the people. Authoritarian regimes have been noted to erode the power of the legislature by ruling by decree, which implies that bills duly elected in parliament can either be implemented or discarded dependent on the will of the president. This has been the norm, which has killed the political life of these states. Legislatures have to be given more power and training to act professionally and so that power balances out with those of the president. In this regard parliamentarians who are the representative of the people will are able at this point to speak for their constituents and have their voices heard.
With the people made more aware of the duty of their representative, this all involving process will revamp the political life of the state and men of dignity will be voted to represent the people. An independent parliament will also facilitate the setting up of independent electoral commissions and other commissions of inquiry into government action and misdeeds (El-Khawas, 2001). Also it will set as a check to the excess of presidents who will be answerable to parliament during sessions and thus to the people. This will go a long way to answer Africa’s problems.
The judiciary on the other hand needs to be made more prominent in the lives of the people. It has been masked behind the administration, always supporting the cause of government rather than ushering justice for all. Political crimes have been noted to be treated with severity by the justice department as a means of scaring the opposition. Another issue is because judges are appointed by the president they owe their allegiance to him. They are therefore seen to be working for the government as opposed to serving the people.
They are also charged with announcing results of elections, this is where most of the irregularities happen, when they pronounce falsified results. In the event of an independent judiciary, by their effective and professional training, with no fear of reprisal, they will be sure to pronounce the right results. In the event of the president misbehaving they can issue a probe into his activities and have him impeached.
Such is what is needed in Africa at this point, a means of making power more responsible and responsive to the needs of the people. This is the second step in the democratic development of the sub-continent, now that the people are in the culture of electing their officials. This is been done in some states as was the case in Nigeria where parliament refused amending the constitution for the former President, Olesegun Obasanjo, to seek another term in office. Though anomalies exist like in Cameroon where the constitution was amended, there is hope that states are beginning to see the need and importance of the next step towards consolidating democracy in Africa.
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Barkan, J.D (2003) "Democracy in Africa: What Future?" in Muna Ndulo, ed., Governance and Democratic Reform in Africa, London: James Currey.
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