Is Western-style democracy suitable for Africa?

By Julian Samboma

I was involved in a discussion on the above subject yesterday on the BNVillage discussion board.  Following is my contribution to this very important subject:

Of course, Western-style democracy is not suited to Africa. That's what has been on the menu since independence, with the important exception that successive political leaders chose to ignore the positions of opposition parties - or got rid of them when they became too meddlesome.

An entrenchment of Neo-colonialism and Imperialism

You can say what we had there was a perverted form of Western-style democracy. And it got us nowhere and nothing, just countless civil wars and politically-bankrupt and financially-corrupt leaders. So, would the real version--as practiced by the UK and US, where parties replace one another in orderly fashion after elections--have served Africa better?

I don't think so. In the first place, it would only have allowed the pillaging of the finances of the various countries by so-called democratic leaders, as is happening in places like Sierra Leone and Ghana and Nigeria. Secondly, Western-style democracy is nothing but an entrenchment of neo-colonialism and imperialism on our countries.

Corruption in British Parliament

If Western-style democracy has not solved the problems in the West--such as poverty, exploitation, discrimination, etc--how is it going to solve Africa's many ills?  Western-style democracy is corrupt, as illustrated by the Westminster expenses scandal, a gravy-train which had been going on for many, many years. How can its African variant be expected to be different?

Also, the answer is not to go back into some African mythical past of kings and queens and chiefs and elders. First, there was no uniformity in political structures to enable one to make a blanket generalisation about Queen Mothers and what not.

Argument full of holes

I believe Mr George Ayittey (right) is misinformed. Where did the Queen Mother come from? She owes her very position, by definition, to being the mother of an existing Queen. So why would she be needed to choose a leader. He is trying to make something out of the great Asante anti-imperialist Yaa Asantewa (left) but ties himself up in knots. Think through Mr Ayittey's construction and you'll find it full of holes.

When you bring together all his institutions and put them in place of what we have now, you are left with precisely another version of the self-same "Western-style democracy" he says is not suitable for Africa.

The Revolution will be Televised

Under Colonialism, the French ruled directly, bypassing traditional political structures; the British ruled indirectly, grafting their political structures on local ones. But, hey, they both exploited their colonies to the bone! They got what they wanted.

My prescription? I believe we just have to keep struggling against the oppression and exploitation wherever we find it. We are the workers and toilers of the world and our creativity will be unleashed in the furnace of the struggle and we will come up with a political system that will work for us.

And that Revolution, brothers and sisters, will definitely be televised.

What’s the Big Idea?

The unifying ideal is the construction of a society based not on the exploitation of the many in the interests of the few, but one where the abundance we see all around us is used to satisfy our material needs, so that no-one has to be without the basic necessities of existence.

Essentially, the goal is to build a better world.

With due respect, I cannot say before the fact what shape or form the future political system has to take. It will be fashioned in the heat of the coming struggle. I can only say that the system will be truly democratic, for you and I will have our say; we'll have our input--and it will be intrinsically better than having to cast a piece of paper into a box every couple of years.

We have no Crystal Balls

The system will obviously be anti-capitalist, for the very simple reason that we are at the mercy of a system of exploitation of man by man. We are obviously talking about a socialistic system here, but again, we cannot prescribe forms because we have no crystal balls.

This will not be an easy task, for success would mean that similar revolts will have to be carried out in different parts of the world, in order to offer support to the others--without that, it could mean that popular struggles could be stifled by imperialist reaction.

Cuban Revolution stifled by America

Look at the example of Cuba, a revolution which has all but been stifled by America. This is not to say that we are looking to carbon-copy Cuba. Cuba is an example of an anti-capitalist struggle. Just like Burkina Faso under Thomas Sankara (above). The latter was killed before he could lead his people to complete the revolution. That tells you that the struggle won't be an easy one.

The struggle will take different forms, manifesting itself in different ways. The one constant in all of this will be that there will always be struggle. What we have to do is make sure we point it in the correct direction.

I hope this sheds some light on the issue of a unifying goal and project.