Civil Society, Emigration and Democracy in Africa: An Alternative Proposition

Article excerpt

"Men and women have the right to live their lives and raise their children in dignity, free from hunger and from the fear of violence, oppression or injustice. Democratic and participatory governance based on the will of the people best assures these rights."

(United Nations Millennium Declaration, 2000, p. 2).

I. Introduction

In many parts of Africa (especially sub-Saharan Africa) there exists a shortage of qualified human resources, particularly in the skilled (e.g., engineers, accountants, computer scientists) and professional (e.g., attorneys, physicians, teachers, professors) sectors of society, for a plethora of reasons, not the least of which is "brain drain." "Brain drain" is the process whereby a country's skilled and highly skilled workforce perpetually leave the country for a variety of reasons. As a result, the political and economic systems are transformed and can become fragile, even more so in weak states.

Moreover, large-scale departures (emigration or mass exoduses) of corporate executives and university graduates have contributed to this shortage. This mass exodus is primarily due to the desire to improve their living conditions, either by pursuing higher education studies abroad or by seeking better paying jobs. Other native citizens depart to flee from insecurity created by civil unrest, regional conflicts, and repressive authoritarian regimes exacerbated by unstable political and socioeconomic conditions. The resulting "brain drain" heightens the dependency of African economies on foreign aid. The aid is primarily from the West, which is often viewed as a new form of colonialism, that is, neo-colonialism. This new form of colonialism creates an abyss of dependent economic entrenchment.

As more African countries make the arduous transition to democratic rule (currently nineteen of the fifty-three countries are democracies), the likelihood of mass exoduses may become less attractive, since democracies tend to accommodate skilled and highly skilled workers far better than non-democracies. By accommodation, we are talking about things like higher wages and salaries, adequate healthcare, advanced educational opportunities and more opportunities for vertical mobility in all sectors of society. However, even if the mass exoduses continue, I am suggesting that civil society and emigration may actually create vacuums of opportunities for ordinary as well as privileged citizens throughout Africa.

Thus, this paper seeks to view democratic transitions and consolidation in nascent democracies in Africa from an alternative paradigm. That is, by investigating democratization in Africa while considering civil society and push and pull factors like emigration and "brain drain," such evidence should reveal more germane discussions on the complexities of democratization in Africa. Perhaps, nascent African democracies may be creating an alternative wave of democracy as opposed to "riding" the third wave (Huntington 1991).

Qualitatively and quantitatively measuring democratic processes and outcomes in Africa is a recent occurrence, and most results are tenuous at best and inconclusiveness at worst because of the various methodological analyses, which do not necessarily reflect the complexities in Africa (McHenry 2000). Nevertheless, democratization is a maturation process as it always has been in emerging democracies as well as developed Western democracies. However, because of the enduring entrenchment of ethnic, class, and religious cleavages, the process of democratization is that much more demanding for embryonic democracies in Africa. Akinrinade (1999, p. 238) appropriately warns us that "democratization can be a highly disruptive process as it encourages existing conflicts to manifest freely." Akinrinade (1999, p. 238) goes onto to posit that "democracy presupposes and requires elite fragmentation, the formation of competing groups that jostle for power in a consolidated political space. …