Democracy Is a State of Mind. (Editorial)

By Versi, Anver | African Business, May 2003 | Go to article overview

Democracy Is a State of Mind. (Editorial)


Versi, Anver, African Business


Britain's Financial Times recently published a contentious article on the 'democratic domino principal' in Africa. The writer, David White, says that at the end of the 1980s, there were only four democracies in the whole of Africa; today there are 17. So far so good. It is his analysis on why Africa is democratising that we take issue with.

"Much of the continent is still mired in the morass it fell into in the 1960s. Indeed, power struggles, ethnic conflict, mismanagement, profiteering and political corruption characterise much of Africa," he writes.

In short, the problem with Africa is Africans. So why are more African countries now democratic? Have the Africans changed? If the continent is still 'mired in a morass' how does he explain peaceful changes of government in 17 countries?

He also says that Africa 'fell into' the morass - implying that Africa was stable before falling in- i.e. before independence. Conclusion? Africa was stable and progressive before independence. Was it? Africa may have been relatively stable, it was not democratic. It was under colonial rule. The fight for independence was for democracy. The US warlords tell us that "after a long period under a tyranny, a period of chaos is to be expected". Perhaps after centuries of colonial tyranny, Africa had no choice but to endure a period of chaos.

But to get back to David White's article. He states: "At independence, open representative government was expected to prevail in African countries. The British, French and Belgians organised elections before handing over their colonies. Constitutions and other democratic trapping were put in place."

He is right in saying that 'democratic trappings' were put into place but wrong in assuming that democracy was put in place. With hindsight, we now know that many of the African figureheads put in charge of complex social, political and ethnic entities were little more than hand-picked 'agents' of the old colonial masters, more interested in furthering the interests of their former rulers than in the welfare of the people.

And Belgium? Where has White been? The Congo has only had one proper election and the winner of that election, Patrice Lumumba was thrown out of office, hunted down, killed and dissolved in an acid bath by Belgian assassins. He was the wrong sort of leader - he believed his duty was to the people. It is all on official, Belgian record, Mr. White. We need not even go into the role of the CIA, the promoting and support of Mobutu and the sponsorship of that unhappy country's current series of invasions and wars. Some four and a half million people have died in this 'unseen' war in just four years - the highest number of casualties since the Second World War. …

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