Dr. Femi Kolapo, University of Guelph in Canada, reminds us of the unresolveed issues on demoracy:
Wishing all contributors to this forum a Happy New Year. The discussions have been most enlightening and I hope they somehow contribute some tangible good to the improvement of the African situation. They have clarified as well as raised important questions about democracy and the search for development in my mind that I will like to follow up here.
Ill start by observing that by declaring that democracy is useless to the hungry, Dr. Abaka obviously did not imply a political process (including the necessary institutions, laws and the accompanying culture that reinforces it) that could ensure responsive, responsible and accountable governance but rather the specie of post cold-war electoral processes that seems to have legitimated the old guard, created a more orderly and democratized looting of the treasuries of African countries and the continuing poverty and neglect of the majority of the hapless peasants, workers and artisans of democratizing African countries. It is a view, not at all isolated or restricted to the any group of people, that reflects impatience with electoral democracy that seems to still foster governments in power who preclude groups, rivals, opponents and the majority of the poor citizens from participating in governance, exclude them from decision making that could positively affect their lives. It is a description that seems to fit well the democratic practice in Nigeria so far, a system that has maintained in power political groups of elite who have demonstrated lack of vision and courage to lift their countries out of the malaise they have been thrust in to. A lot has been said in the the discussion in this forum to show that the occurrence of these elections and their increasing frequency-in the least, the orderly replacement of governments (however, ineffective these governments still are)-are in themselves major achievements that must not be slighted. Perhaps it is too soon to begin to criticize what in itself is an initial step in a process that is in its earliest infancy. These democratic practices promise to introduce order and predictability or stability into the lives of the peoples affected, as well as serve in a way to validate the popular perception that military rule is terminally out of fashion in Africa.
Nonetheless, Dr. Abaka's characterization of democracy as been useless to the hungry African evokes the paradigmatic differences in nineteenth-century socialist/communist versus capitalist understanding of democracy. While Western democracies have generally been able to produce developed economies that increasingly enhance the lives of their citizens, they still face considerable challenges of evident social, spatial and racial differences in access to social and economic opportunities, riches, and good life. Hence, to ensure policies that would improve their lots, interests group still rely on electoral democracy to bring in governments that could be expected to introduce policies able to address their economic and other concerns. Hence, as Dr. Ochonu has argued, democracy, at least Western one, is considered a political instrument independent of the economic benefit that it might or might not produce. But it is axiomatic that people expect the economic sector to positively benefit from democracy than otherwise. In Nigeria, and indeed in many other parts of Africa, Dr. Abaka's statement would not be considered amiss. The ordinary Africans have been taught to identify their poverty, suffering, rural desolation, etc., with bad government (translated to be the lack of democracy.) They would of course expect that the introduction of democracy must relate directly to tangible delivery of some development "products."
The peasants, workers, artisans, unemployed and underemployed peoples who struggle to improve their lives, send their children to school, acquire a few modern conveniences do not necessarily consider the long term view of history appropriate to their immediate situation. Unlike academics, the ordinary working person is unlikely to want to evaluate the achievements their nations or continent has made on the basis of a thousand years historical overview, nor would they ordinarily engage in contextualizing the state of political affairs in their country in light of the history of such development in Europe or America so as to be able to realize that African democracies and economies have made progress nonetheless.
However, I assume that for the political activists (and it will be good to know what they think of this), and especially for the ordinary person, farmer, artisan, civil servant, or labourer who has a lifetime of 50 to 80 years to experience any good in their real lives, 50 years of poverty, or of not been represented, or being represented by those they did not choose, and could not recall or call to account is just too long a time of failure. Any democratic achievements made by an African country that would not soon translate into measurable tangible or physical improvements by the people in the amount of voice they have in governance, increased quantity and quality of the food they eat, materials they can buy, in what new products they can produce, how their labour is enhanced by machines and the impact of science harnessed by their own increased understanding of nature, as well as translate to definite number of students that attend school and quality of the education they get etc etc - all within a lifetime, will soon loose support.
It will be interesting to have some more discussion of what has been alluded to in previous contributions - sustaining and deepening the incipient democracy said to have taken hold in some African countries. This is the creation of an enabling culture environment. How do you get the people to not associate development with democratic governance if such association is considered uncalled for (Dialogue 190)? How do you get rid of the mutual suspicion by competing social, ethnic and political groups of the likelihood of exclusionary plans by incumbent ruling groups - and simply believe that the democratic system will serve all equitably. How do young people begin from the secondary school or even earlier, to naturally think and act democratically, to know they have rights, begin to assert those rights, and how do we have leaders (including tradition-bound elders and university lecturers and administrators) accept that youths, children, and women, and the disabled, and indeed, the imprisoned have constitutional and human rights that all must uphold. How does one ensure that African university systems operate democratically rather than continue to produce graduates that have been trained in the school of authoritarian tendencies?
The interesting cases of "wrong wiring" that Dr. Pius Adesanmi (Dialogue 123) reports can be replicated at all levels of society in Nigeria. Anybody who frequents Nigeria must have experienced it at one time or another, at the Customs, hospitals, government ministries, and everywhere. A commissioner in Lagos state, Nigeria, is reported to have said that he simply runs away from his office, as he could not explain to many who flock there that his position was not to give them money or build houses for them. Edward Kissi has rightly considered that these people's requests should not be condemned off hand (Dialogue 128). Their behavior is a reflection of their needs and the desires to have these needs met as well as of their accurate understanding of the goals and objects and operation of governments and government officials - at least up to now. In some respect, it reflects a traditional practice that has been continued under totally different modern contexts. What is expected of the new breed of elected official, if indeed they are new, is for them to understand rather to condemn these "wrongly wired" poor people. But that is not to say that you don't have a major cultural problem in your hands in trying to foster democratic practice. And this I think calls for the participation in this dialogue of activists on the ground, politicians and organizers. It speaks to a baggage of cultural practices that cannot and must not be continued if success were to be achieved.
If there is any consensus that I observe in the discussions, it is that Africa needs to institute a democratic process as well as engage in programs that can produce development and improvements in the lives of the people, with industrial and scientific components been very important. An underlying assumption in all the discussion so far has been that this will be achieved through reform. I would however, appreciate some more definite discussion on what appropriate agency should or could initiate the kind of change called for in Africa, perhaps on a country by country rather than a continent-wide basis. How can corrupt, weak, self-interested governments suddenly possess the will to transform themselves and their economies? What hope for self transformation can be reposed in a "rapacious, corrupt, and buccaneering ruling elite whose inept and visionless policies have pauperised our citizens and rendered the country prostrate" (Dialogue 203).
Without prejudice to all the achievement that some governments in Africa has made over the past decade, are we saying that what is needed for democracy and development to happen is to look for a godly Obasanjo, a sagely Nyerere, a maverick Ghaddafi, a wise and patient Mandela, throw them pat into the mixed melee of divided ethnic rivals, corrupt and hastily put together political parties, ethnicised, poorly trained and paid security forces, disempowered, hungry and needy peasantry, untried and untested idealists and, suspicious and scheming elite fractions and, pronto you have a solution in the African countries concerned? At the comparative level, which of the democracies or developed countries succeeded in transforming itself through the agency of discredited & disreputable governments. An interesting implication of the Nigerian Guardian editorial posted in Dialogue 206 where "one of the most predatory elite of our time" is contra posed to "the people themselves [being]Šmost complacent in history" is that an important motor in the process that could transform the people could be found in the anger of the "victim" populace. How this anger is expressed and what group(s) help(s) channel this anger productively are a different matter that actual praxis can bring out. But do the masses of the people have a leading role to play anymore in the initiation and execution of a political transformation plan in any country. If one may ask also, is it too late in history for Africa to begin to talk of the role of a progressive middle class, or perhaps of a transforming bourgeoisie, or perhaps of a mass rising of peoples as being necessary in the political and economic transformation called for? International and local governmental and non-governmental financial, economic and humanitarian agencies have come to occupy a vital place in defining and executing development programs in most African countries. In what combination would these agencies be more effective and progressive?
Since the implosion of communist USSR and the falling into disfavor of Marxism and leftist leaning ideas, the word revolution seems to have faded out of the political dictionaries of many commentators. In this discussion too, it is clear that revolution as opposed to reform has not been considered as a subject meet for discussion either as a possible, probable, or practical way that democratic governance and development might be initiated, sustained or achieved in Africa. In the final analysis, all the competing recommendations would require that some group of people implement them for development. So who would these groups be, how are they to constitute themselves. This is where I find all the calls for strategies and plans of action very apt. But activists are required to implement thought-out strategies. Who and where are these activists? Of course the NGOs and democracy movements, women, labour and student union bodies have been active in calling for good governance in many countries in Africa. How viable are they to individually or collectively constitute the transformative engine in the democratic governance and economic development processes we are talking about.
Somebody earlier on in the discussion in this forum defended his practical idealism with reference to the progress of actually doing something rather than just talking endlessly without any structure to make the talk become action. The advantage of the naïve and simple or single-minded activist is that s/he can begin to act. We would remain armchair academics for so long as there is no structure that can begin to make these talks into actions. Our cogitations, arguments, book writings, keynote deliveries, conference presentations, become ends in themselves in which we take pride, satisfaction, accolade, promotion and stay inactive. So for once, lets have some knowledgeable naïve people begin to put something together - in addition or in opposition to a lot that we already have that don't seem to be working or not working well. I don't see this process being practical for the African continent as a unit. Development, I think is never an absolute affair. It more often than not is partial, piece meal, here and there, in this and that sector, from where it then spreads its benign influence on other spheres and eventually envelopes the whole country and continues thereafter to evolve. Hence, there cannot be the solution out there as the only one solution for either one country or for the whole of Africa. There will be hundreds or thousands of positions - possible solutions - as there were when those ideologies and programs that brought up the UK, Germany, US, Russia, Britain, Japan, China were being argued and forcefully pushed by their protagonists. It or they become(s) the solution only in praxis as the problems get solved by the program(s) of action and as the program of action evolves, matures, weathers oppositions and sabotage and become linked to tangible transformative progress. Of course, there will always be arguments as to whether some are better than the other; but there is nothing like praxis to vilidate the usefulness or appropriateness of ideas or plans.
So my rhetorical questions continue: where are the activists, the idealists, the organizers, the mobilizers who will seek out themselves and begin to organize. Somehow, I don't see doers succeeding if they are not thinkers as well, or are not thinkers transformed into doers. Where are the optimists, the dreamers, those who know it is impossible in a thousand years for Africa to emerge from its sorry state except some committed, idealistic, stubborn, knowledgeable, teachable, selfless group(s) of people begin to actively plan for, seek to execute action plans, inculcate their views into a new generation of youth who up to now are themselves been brought up in a corruptive and corrupted culture and society, begin to establish an optimistic culture that prides not just in acquiring and in selling but in making and in doing, not just in respecting of the elder but also in respecting due process of law and affirming of human right for every person: children, youth, women, foreigners and prisoners. Where are the people who plan to set out to beat the US, Japan, & Britain etc., in specific scientific and industrial fields? How have they thought about and around it, to provide themselves with the funds, the support, the protection, the assurance that they need for the next 2, 5, 10 or 20 years that it will take to get their ideas or projects implemented. What are the economic, social, and international factors that condition the emergence of such a group of activist radicals out of a disparate group of Africa's refugee academics, poor peasants, or well-to-do government officials or technocrats, etc. Can a different type of political party or a revolutionary body be in view here- the name does not matter as much as the purpose and actions of the party. Is this too wishful, too elitist, too technocratic and dangerously liable to hijacking by opportunistic ideologues? May be. But so are other programs of actions, including incumbent government-led reformism, or so I feel.
In the meantime, an important question that comes up in some of the discussions so far is how Africa or African countries can build up democratic or progressive culture, at the same time as they tear apart debilitating ones must give way for progress to occur. And is it possible to destroy an entrenched culture, expectations and aspirations and corresponding institutions that are anti-development and anti-democratic without intense mobilization, massive information blitz, ideological confrontations, and indeed without a consideration of the possibility of debilitating (or liberating) violence? Africa, colonial and post-colonial, has of course, endured enough violence and it is understandable that for the sake of the poor who are always the easiest target and worst victims of violence, academics and political thinkers in this forum so far have been careful lest they clothe violence with some respectability. Hence, the role of violence has not been seriously considered in the discussions surrounding development and call or plan for change of governance practice in Africa, but in major ways, most of the wars going on in Africa, with all their complexities, demonstrate that the search for change could willy-nilly involve tremendous violence and must therefore be an issue for prior discussion and analysis.
Nor is such violence an issue only in the transition period when particular group(s) of elite try to replace the governing ones, it could be a major issue in the building and sustaining process for the new governments and the new economies. What plans could best avoid (an excess of) such violence. A plan that focuses on mobilizing capital resources only from within (in the contexts of an underdeveloped, poor, & technologically backward populace) for example, would seem to me to need to replay Mao's Great Leap Forward with its untold suffering and dehumanizing death of millions. On the other hand, a plan that plugs into the global context to maximize opportunities therein risks the possibility of the Central interests, institutions, and global market forces overwhelmingly driving development efforts along current unequal and self-perpetuating lines. Either way, what agency in today's world will be capable of, and accepted by the world and helped along to attempt to transform African countries.
Assuming that democratic culture has been successfully instituted, are all African countries possessed of equal opportunities to develop? Should and could democratic change and the development we have been talking about have regional loci or must they be national to succeed? Has there ever been a continent-wide single political or economic development process or several individual, if connected, processes in the developed world that one could use as an analytic measure.