September 12, 2012 Mad Hatter

Democracy the African Way

the excerpt is true to the fact that liberty is inalienable and that liberty expresses itself in a pronounced manner in the way people choose government; and that when the government derogates from the expectations it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.

In my opinion, democracy as a concept has never been clear. Just like all forms of freedom, it is not entirely “free”. In fact, the idealness of someone being free is nonexistent. Freedom has a relation with concepts such as rights, liberties and what have you. Liberties for instance have responsibilities attaching thereto and in many cases, these responsibilities partially negate the very liberty that brings them forth. That is why for instance, while humanity largely believes that everyone has a right to determine their form of government, and that the determination largely comes forth through voting; the very belief in a vote comes with a responsibility of respecting the outcome, which in turn means, if your favorite candidate lost, you are led with a government you did not choose.


Choice is a word centrally embedded in human life with actions and consequences revolving around it. Choice, I believe is self regulated in the ultimate, but for purposes of human coherence, and the knowledge that individual “ultimate” vary with individuals, even before the threshold of self regulation is reached, human choice is subjected to restraint through custom, law and conventionalities. When men exceed “the ultimate” we see extremism, when they exceed the conventionalities and customs and laws, we see deviance.

It was not my intention to delve into philosophical nuances of choice, but neither does it hurt to have a firm substructure in anything. Prudently, humanity gives forth some of its rights to get protection. We give up personal liberties to create societies, states and nations and give to ourselves leaders who exercise those rights for us and in turn guarantee the protection of the rights we retained.

In turn as civilians we remain cautious of the liberties we have foregone. We demand with growing persistence for prudence in their exercise and we create social contracts with wielders of state authority in forms of constitutions and laws and require that they be faithful to our expectations, and us to our responsibilities.

The creation of states has not, however, been a willful agreement between leaders and the led. The world, records of ages when states emanated from conquests or royal lineages. People obeyed thrones because they were thought to be reserved for certain persons. Submission to state authority was default as such, the veneration inborn. My ancestors perhaps thought if you castigated a throne you would call the wrath of the gods upon you.

In Africa, colonization merged villages and clans and kingdoms; implanting notions of sovereign boundaries. As clan leaders fell by the baron, my ancestors might have been awed by the power of the baron. They were “triggered” into submission I would say.

It did not take long before Africans realized that this was not a “willful” submission to authority. And since anytime “freewill” is negated, man is no longer obligated to respect the state, they took clubs and machetes, some took bows and some opted for negotiating tables to reclaim their liberties.

One of the maxims I consider sincerely true is found in the American Declaration of Independence. In part it says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”


Though drafted slightly over 236 years, the excerpt is true to the fact that liberty is inalienable and that liberty expresses itself in a pronounced manner in the way people choose government; and that when the government derogates from the expectations it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.


Africa has exercised this variously. We have seen multiple changes of governments, through rigged and fair ballot exercises, military and civilian coups and transition governments established through regional bargains. But in the end, Africa’s inalienable desire to have a say in her own way of forming government has never diminished, even when her expression through the ballot or otherwise is disregarded by wayward sons.


Is democracy an alien subject to native Africa? I doubt that. If choice is the central concept in democracy, and participation in both social and economic endeavors of the society form part of a democracy, then even in our dark days, Africa has been splendidly democratic. Africans have always freely given themselves to thrones and chieftaincies and clan headships, they trusted the ability of these institutions to execute judgment, to determine boundaries and lead into mass clearance of farms to grow yams and sow sorghum.


I have always resisted the finger pointing nature of African scholars who trace our problems to colonization and neo-colonization. My holding is influenced by knowledge that colonization afforded Africa diversity and that diversity can never go wrong in entirety. However, I almost believe that we can trace mistrust of government to the alterations occasioned by colonialism.


The immediate post independent leaders who fought for our restoration stand out in the legacies of our history because they sought our lost glory of being free. As a continent we hail almost all our independence leaders one thing, independence, but equally trace almost all our problems to them or the immediate successors.


Consider that 21 Independence leaders in Africa were deposed from rule by a coup with 8 being killed either through assassination or execution. Most of the presidents who were deposed from power began as statesmen and later degenerated into egocentric individuals who forgot that state authority belongs to the people.


Neo colonial interests might account for suspicious deaths of Moshoeshoe II of Lesotho, Samora Machel of Mozambique, Patrice Lumumba and a couple more, but the bulk was shoved out of office due to imprudence. Which I posit might have been due to the incoherence of African values and the art of bossiness they acquired from settlers. I will not make the fatal attempt of excusing all coups we have witnessed in the continent, but some of them were deservedly so.


This insatiable greed was incompatible with African values. They had to go. The last two years has seen a wave of demonstrations forcing out of power modern autocracies; Muamar Gadhafi  (Libya), Hosni Mubarak (Egypt), Ben Ali (Tunisia). These are not new phenomenon, many presidents have been forced out of office through civilian strikes. Hubert Maga of Benin for instance was forced out of office due to riots long before some African nations gained independence.

The people of Africa have always and will always have a desire to determine their own form of government. And After two decades of trunk pounds and gun shots, I saw hopeful Somalis waving placards in what in Kenya might have been confused for college congressional elections. It was a beautiful sight. These Somalis did not have a voting card, I even doubt whether they have identity cards, in fact most of them were children, but they were happy, happy that they had freely chosen to give 250 Mps whom they did not elect a trust to determine their next president.

It was a mockery to the extremists who thought they could impose government based on religious misconceptions, terrorism or barrel might. That after they brought Mogadishu down to its knees, riddled its walls with bullets, established courts and raised extremist flags, the last wave, and the last shout will always belong to the people.

A democracy the African way; my ancestors danced to the politics that ran in their blood, joined hands to pull tree trunks as they constructed foot bridges, They sat by trees to determine whether people should be excommunicated. I wish we could translate the same spirit into our modernity; to participate in entirety in the creation of our dream. I wish we could defy the echoes of war trunks and sights of bullet ridden walls to wave placards of those who embody our future. This is our legacy.


Long live President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. You embody the Somali hope. A restart, a trouncing of extremism. Sheikh, you embody the African spirit that it is the people who will always have the last wave, that trunks will scream but it is the resilience of an African person that wins. Long live Somalia.

Somalia’s new president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a political newcomer, speaks at a ceremony after being elected by the Parliament over outgoing President Sheik Sharif Sheikh Ahmed who conceded defeat, in Mogadishu, Somalia Monday, Sept. 10, 2012.
Photo by Farah Abdi Warsameh

Writer is ELC secretary General

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