Dr. Abaka responds to various comments directed at him:
I certainly appreciate all the comments on my piece on democracy, especially Moses Ebe Ochonu's nuanced analysis.
Certainly, my argument that democracy is rooted in sustainable institutions with a certain number of years behind them, a.k.a the West, is valid. I hope it is. How do we create such rootedness and sustainability in our democratic institutions so that they can stand the test of time? How do we prevent teenagers who are shorter that the AK 47s they hold from joining "rebel" or anti-establishment groups? And how do we resolve a perennial orgy of mayhem in places like Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan (selection is mine) so that the people can live and let live (let the eagle perch and the swallow perch)? How do we guarantee minority rights so that government positions are not largely given to a particular ethnic group (in some cases)? If women have a "proportional representation" in parliament in some African countries like South Africa, Rwanda (an African innovation?), can we extend the democratic base to include the people in the "boondocks" (my village) who pay taxes but seem to be living in a world of their own?
While there is considerable interest in the specific comment on the poor and democracy the context is completely ignored. The point of the comment on is that Democracy will be sustained when we have created institutions that make for good governance as well as an enabling climate in which people engaged in their professions are sufficiently rewarded to be able to take care of their families, i.e. when a "worker" can put food on the table. That is to say, the salary of a worker (private or public sector) can put food on the table for the entire month, instead of two weeks. Individuals, groups and opportunistic leaders exploit such people - i.e. people who cannot feed their families or put food on the table. Where, in our democratic discourse, do we situate the rural folk such that the rights of the people in the rural areas are also guaranteed?
It seems to me that participating fully and effectively in governance and the economy does not exclude access to basic infrastructural services (roads, bridges, potable water etc), that have been missing in our urban-biased development plans. The enabling climate (does it include political and economic space), it seems to me, should include these facilities for the people who produce all the food and the export crops that yield the much-vaunted dollars and pounds to participate in the national democratic life.
We must broaden and deepen the practice of democracy to include all groups - privileged, under-privileged, urban, rural. etc. And while we do, ensuring food for all is a good way to sustain the system. That is certainly not questioning the relevance or suitability of democracy for Africa. Neither are we questioning pre-colonial African systems - democratic, capitalistic etc. because we know they existed.
Some people have lived in villages for forty or so years and have seen governments come and go with no change in their standard of living. They still have no potable water, impassable or non-existent roads, can't send children to school, and see "big men from city once every four years" (of course the road is made passable at that time). If it is so important to pave the road (via a bulldozer) for the "big man" why not pave it periodically for the villagers? What is the message in such an action? When the political and the economic are fused together - an enabling climate that will facilitate the ingenuity of the people in the rural areas - we can see some changes. That governments do not do everything for people is a truism that escaped no one. However, the state has certain basic obligations to people. People in villages have worked hard to eke out an existence for years. They should be part of the democratic discourse.
A prominent African American posed the question: "What is your Fourth of July Celebrations to Me?" He was neither denying the historicity nor questioning the importance of the July 4 celebrations of this land of freedom. He was lamenting the fact that the land of freedom and liberty held a segment of its population in bondage, and later, considered each of them two-thirds of a person. In the same vein I am of the opinion that we should seriously consider broadening the discourse on democracy to include the rural folk, unless of course, their views do not matter.