Dr Abaka's piece on democracy (No. 180) has generated considerable uproar, especially his remark that "democracy is useless to the poor." George Ayittey responds. Four former African Heads of State are now on the list, and all postings get to 17 governments at their request. All postings are archived and may be used for teaching and research purposes. With new additions this morning, the no. of people on the list is now close to 12, 000. To be specific, each posting now reaches 11, 814 people.
I read with bemused indignation a recent contribution[by Abaka] that "democracy is useless to the hungry." Here's a quote from Amartya Sen, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics in 1998:
"One of the remarkable facts in the terrible history of famine is that no substantial famine has ever occurred in a country with a democratic form of government and relatively free press. They have occurred in ancient kingdoms and in contemporary authoritarian societies and in modern technocratic dictatorships, in colonial economies governed by imperialists from the north and in newly independent countries of the south run by despotic national leaders or by intolerant single parties. But famines never afflicted any country that is independent, that goes to elections regularly, that has opposition parties to voice criticisms, that permits newspapers to report freely and to question the wisdom of government policies without extensive censorship" (The
Washington Times, Oct 20 1998; p. A12).
Out of the 54 African countries, only 16 are democratic and a free press exists in only 8 of them. Any wonder that famine and starvation are frequent occurrences in Africa?
Any analysis of Africa's present predicament requires an unerring and vigorous introspection, particularly with regards to the role we, Africa's intellectuals, placed. It is a very sad commentary on the caliber of our intellectual scholarship if after all these years of education and after all these decades of independence, we must argue over democracy: Whether Africa is ready for democracy and what type of democracy will be suitable for Africa? Place democracy on the table and we will argue till the goats come home. Sad indeed. Sadder still is the fact that, with all our so-called "education," we have little or no understanding of such elementary governance concepts, "accountability," "rule of law," "transparency," etc. besides "democracy." If we do, why haven't we demanded these from African governments in the post-colonial period? But, but, but what? Would it be fair to say that we, Africa's intellectuals, have aided and abetted the ruination of Africa by shirking our duty to demand accountability from African governments? And
what have we done to promote the democratic model that would be suitable for Africa?
I know this will get me into trouble but it must be stated. You see, an enduring myth not only among Westerners but also, shamefully, among African leaders and INTELLECTUALS is that Africa had no viable institutions of its own before the European colonialists arrived. The primary source of this myth is the confusion between the existence of an institution and different forms of the same institution. For example, a mall and a bazaar are different forms of the same institution: the MARKET. The fact that malls do not exist in African villages does not mean the market as an institution is unknown in Africa. Neither does the absence of hamburger in the diet of Africans mean that they do not eat.
In fact, it can be stated categorically that the European colonialists introduced no new institutions into Africa -- only different and more efficient forms of already existing institutions. The institution of money is one example. The Europeans introduced paper currency, while
Africans had been using a variety of commodity money, such as gold dust, cowrie shells, and salt. Thus, the Europeans did not invent the institution of money in Africa although the paper currency they introduced may have been more efficient than, say, salt in purchasing a cow, for example. In the same vein, the Europeans did not invent the institution of marriage, democracy, or even imperialism; there were empires, kingdoms, and states in Africa before the advent of
There are various FORMS of capitalism. American-style capitalism is not the same as the Japanese-style; nor the British form or French capitalism. The traditional African form of capitalism is different from the American form.
In traditional Africa, the means of production are owned by extended family, not the individual as in the West. The extended family is the basic social and economic unit. Land, for example, is LINEAGE-OWNED or controlled and the lineage is a private entity. Farm produce is owned by
the extended family, not by the entire village. Thus, there is PRIVATE PROPERTY.
Surplus produce is sold on open, free village MARKETS, where bargaining is the rule. Prices are not fixed by African chiefs, who lock up market traders who violate price controls. Profit is shared, not sequestrated by the chief. In West Africa's cocoa farming, profit is divided into
three: A third to the owner of the farm, another third to the workers or laborers and the remaining third is set aside for farm maintenance and expansion.
This type of indigenous African capitalism is different from the American but closer to the Japanese brand. Capitalism is simply an economic system in which private individuals solve the economic problem of what to produce, how much and for whom. In traditional Africa,
extended families (the economic units) made these determination, except in only a few centralized states such as Dahomey, Ashanti and Zulu.
Similarly, democracy as an INSTITUTION has many forms. A democratic
decision can be taken in two ways:
1. By majority vote,
2. By consensus.
Each has its advantages and demerits. Taking decisions by majority vote is faster. All one has to do is to count votes in favor of a decision. But the downside is that it ignores minority positions. Remember that, in Africa, it only takes a few to wreak havoc and devastation. President
Museveni started out with only 27 guerrilla fighters; Charles Taylor with 150 rebel soldiers and Mohammed Farar Aideed of Somalia started out with 200 fighters.
Taking decisions by consensus is the indigenous African way. It takes all minority positions into account but the disadvantage is that it takes a looooong time to reach a consensus. It is instructive to note that the Nobel Peace Committee and the WTO take their decisions by
consensus. As I have indicated in previous postings, the village government in most traditional African societies was one of participatory democracy based upon consensus under African chiefs.
This is not to "romanticize" about ancient Africa but the question I have is this: Why should we, Africa's intellectuals, accept or peddle this crap that "democracy is alien to Africa"? If not, did we construct a modern democratic model that is consonance with our own democratic
That fact is, WE DID NOT - only Botswana did. In the vast majority of African nations, we accepted this idiotic "one-party state system" and the lunatic military regimes that proliferated across Africa. Were we not the same African intellectuals who were DEFENDING these hideous and
alien systems? It was the WEST which came to tell us to establish "democratic systems." Naturally, the West naively assumed that their form of democracy will work in Africa and, thus, dictated Western-style multi-party democracy for Africa. Now, Mr. African scholar and intellectual, you can rave and rant all you want about the unsuitability of Western-style democracy for Africa but have you constructed a democratic model that will be suitable for Africa? If you haven't, then what is the point about railing about Western-style democracy?