By Feyi Ijimakinwa
A couple of days back, a friend had asked, in a Whatsapp group which I belong to, if there is any country in Africa where the military is in power. He said his son had asked him and he wanted to confirm from his ‘fellow daddies’ before giving the appropriate answer to the young boy.
We informed him that, as of the day he was asking that question, there was no African country being ruled by the military.
But less than 72 hours after my friend gave his son the ‘factual answer’, the picture of democracy in Africa was greatly altered. The world was jostled by the reported abduction of the President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, by mutinous soldiers. President Keita and other principal officials of his government were taken away from their different official residences by soldiers.
When the news of the action of the soldiers broke, there was reported jubilation across the landlocked, economically-challenged West African country. Swiftly, the regional body, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, and the African Union, AU, as well as France, condemned the abduction of the President and his team.
Barely 24 hours after President Keita was removed from the Presidential Palace, he reportedly threw in the towel and resigned as President. It is instructive to note that this development came on the heel of months of political crisis, occasioned by protests and unrest by Malians against what they perceived as the government’s weak handling of the country’s worsening economy and security situations.
There is a widely-held position that military rule is not an option, talk less of being a viable alternative, to democracy hence the quick condemnation by other countries and bodies. But, when a situation becomes ‘yam-pepper-scatter-scatter’ (chaotic) as it was in Mali for months, and as it is many other African nations, then safety and survival become key.
The Mali standoff is the same in different African countries including, and not limited to, South Sudan, Uganda, Togo, Congo DR, Tunisia, Nigeria, Cameroun, Chad. It is the same stories of widespread and deep disconnection between the leaders and the citizens. Brazen constitutional infractions, corruption and directionless leadership are some of the many ills in these countries.
Most African countries do not have good tales to tell of democracy. The political class in many African nations have become menaces to their societies. People are frustrated and despondent, and in many cases have resigned to fate— cruel one for that matter. Many believe that they may never enjoy good lives under the political leaders of their countries.
To say that democracy is not working in most African countries may not be a heresy. Aside from this, one may not be entirely wrong to say that Africans will appreciate and gladly wish for remarkable revolutionaries and reformers like Thomas Sankara, Abdel Gammal Nasser, Jerry Rawlings and Muammar Ghadaffi, even if they appear in military fatigues.
To this set of Africans, the garb is not as important as the heart. The glorious yesterday of Africa is long gone, as if it never existed. The legacies of past Pan-Africanist pioneers like Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, Samora Machel, Julius Nyerere, Patrice Lumumba, Jomo Kenyatta and Leopold Senghor, among others, are nearly totally obliterated by years of misrule by successions of political and military rulers across the continent.
Indeed Western-styled democracy does not have good success stories in Africa. The ideals of democracy seem to be different in Africa and most African countries are proofs of democracy that does not work. Electoral and constitutional crises, corruption and mismanagement, political and economic underdevelopment as well as nepotism are some of the depressing and peculiar evidence of democracy in Africa.
As institutions and systems gradually move from dysfunctionality to total collapse across the Motherland, the nagging question in different minds from Algiers to Lusaka, Ouagadougou to Windhoek, Yaounde to Addis-Ababa, Kampala to Niamey, Cape Town to Casablanca, Maputo to Bangui is ‘how do we continue with a system that has obviously failed in every way?’ Africans are tired of hearing of democratic culture and other lingos.
Where are those selfless leaders who see power as privileged elements that must be used for the good of the people? Most African countries are crying for visionary leadership, virile citizens’ engagements, efficient and functional institutions, robust policies as well as stable polities.
The western-themed narrative on the political situation in Africa resonates with calls for continuous engagement with democracy, but are the people really stuck with democracy, even when it is clear that this system of government has no sustained success story on the continent.
So, now that democracy is not just failing, but has obviously failed in Africa, what is next?
Ijimakinwa is of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan.