Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Democracy and Africa's Quest for Development

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Democracy and Africa's Quest for Development

Article excerpt


The role of the state in development ought to be predicated upon democratic governance. It goes without saying that development cannot be left to market forces alone. That development needs an active state participation brooks no controversy today. Interestingly, even the World Bank has come to accept the centrality of the state in development after peddling policies premised upon market fundamentalism for decades (World Bank, 2000). Consensus is now emerging in development discourses in Africa that both states and markets do play an important complimentary role in the development process. Thus, Africa needs a developmental and capable state for socio-economic progress and sustainable democracy. The democratic experiences of the developed countries of the world lend credence to the truth of this claim. Africa has for a while been tending towards being democratic but the situation on ground leaves one wondering whether democracy really brings about development everywhere or not. In this paper, we shall emphasize the role of democracy in development and point out that African development has fallen short of anticipated expectation because of miss-governance and corruption.

Conceptual Clarification of Democracy and Development

Democracy is by far the most popular form of government in the world today. There is hardly any leader who does not wish to be seen as a democrat or a regime that does not seek to be described as democratic. Democracy also holds a strong appeal among the ordinary people. In the last two decades or so, the world has witnessed the emergence of mass organisations in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, that have risen to demand an end to dictatorial rule and its replacement with democracy.

But what exactly does the concept of democracy imply? Many of the elements of modern democracy are taken to have originated in ancient Greece, particularly the city state of Athens. Indeed, the word, "democracy" derives from two Greek words 'demos' and 'kratei' meaning 'the people' and 'rule of or by'. The term "democracy", therefore, literally means 'rule by the people'. In addition to its Greek antecedents, modern democracy is also taken to have evolved from such medieval institutions as the British Parliament and the jury and from the political theories of the seventeenth century such as equality of men, natural rights and sovereignty (Heater, 1964, p. 117)

However, it is now widely understood that democracy is not exclusively Greek or Western value. Historical and archeological findings have shown that some of the basic principles of democracy existed in other civilisations. For instance, the principles of accountability, consensus building and popular participation were important features of many pre-colonial systems of government in Africa. Democracy therefore consists of principles that have universal relevance and multiple sources.

Development, on the other hand, is a term borrowed from biology. It describes a process through which the potentials of an object or organism are released, until it reaches its natural, complete, full-fledged form (Oladipo and Olorunyomi, 1999, p. 13). Development as a concept can be looked at from two perspectives. The negative and the positive perspectives. In simple term, negative development is underdevelopment. A retrogressive or regressive kind of development (Opafola, 1997, p. 1). Positive development is a more advanced form of growth which implies progress. Infact, it is growth plus change. Change in turn is social and cultural as well as economic, and qualitative as well as quantitative. The key concept must be improved quality of people's life. In the view of Walter Rodney (1972), "development in human society is a many-sided process. At the level of the individual, it implies increased skill and capacity, greater freedom, creativity, self-discipline, responsibility and material well being" (p.9). Development in this sense can be categorised as qualitative development. …

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