Yinka Agbetuyi, poet, literary critic, and essayist, provides a cogent analysis of the debate thus far. We urge him to keep updating this piece.
Following the current debate with avid interest, I can classify the major trends into three: an oblique reference to American democracy as the ideal paradigm, which beckons to Africa as the ultimate salvation, as typified by the response of Arnold Beichman (No 2); the lamentation of the woes of Africa, and the turn to Church philanthropism as the blueprint for recovery, as typified by Leonard Shilgba (No 6); and a magisterial analysis of the unique position of Africa in terms of its triple heritage, as in the Diagnosis by Ali Mazrui (No 7). I will comment on these main streams and posit an enduring conviction that sees an alternative to a tacit endorsement of mellowed down versions of the Beichman idea.
Befitting responses have been given to Beichman's position by Catherine Vitrovitch and Trica Keaton, which I can only supplement. Indeed, Beichmann's position admits of a global scenario of competing democracies, but the question needs be posed that if the original model of the Founding Fathers as in the Articles of Confederation had not been compromised in those early days by secession threats and envisaged gains by Spain and France, which were historical accidents rather than indicators of verities of excellence in the switch to the centrist model now practiced, would it still be recommended to the world as the model of choice based on the fact that it is the American model or not? After all, the Albany Plan of Union failed precisely, because centrism smacked of all the ills of Royal corruption, against which the American Revolution was staged. (I will comment more on this when considering the Mazrui Position).
As to the question of success of American democracy, the day before the commencement of this debate, emeritus professor of History at Lane College, Dr. Arthur David emailed me regarding the then impending US elections. Titled "It Does Not Matter If You Are Republican or Democrat" he stated that the real issue should be how to "jerk the Golden Fleece Retirement Plan" from under the Senators and Congressmen." They have a special retirement plan that guarantees their full salaries for life upon retirement, while the rest of the population is resigned to a fractional pittance from their Social Security contributions. This would force them to look seriously at the issue of Social Security and retirement plans. By the way, as he pointed out, they do not contribute a dime to the Plan. The question is, is this the model being recommended for African nations, and can they afford the bill, having no imperial leaseholds in the world?
Finally, if a democracy is touted as the most successful among its competitors and it given the gender ratio in any nation, has not succeeded in electing a single female chief executive in its over two hundred year existence, is that claim actually true?
A lot of energy has been expended on pillorying the Shilgba Position (No 6), and all one can venture is to caution that the baby be not thrown away with the bath water. His position is Christian-Capitalist West inspired, but the intention seems noble. It think, however, that there is nothing wrong with making that solution a multi-pronged affair, simultaneously for Moslem communities as well as getting other paradigms of implementation (which I suggest can be linguistic).
The reason why an all-Christian approach in a country like Nigeria or other multi-religious countries will not work is basically its geo-political reality, which is different from Euro-Christian models (as Mazrui acknowledges). Indeed monotheism, as I have argued in several fora, seems not only to account for African nations' problems, but that of the world at large. It is the first rung on the ladder of hegemony, on the continuum that stretches toward tyranny. For it ultimately poses the question as default: Whose God is God, mine or theirs? In countries (or geographical regions) with proto-fundamentalist religions, like most of Europe and the US, (where one religion is supreme) the answer is simple. In countries that are quasi-fundamentalist states, where one religion is dominant, but there is tolerance for strong minority religions, the answer is simple. In countries where ultra-fundamental religions exist, where one faith is supreme and is intolerant of lesser faith, it attempts to stamp out dissent and the result is tragedy. In states (or regions) of religious parities like Nigeria, where, nationally, or regionally, major religions are organized along ethnic basis and are more or less equal, we have perennial chaos and instability; herein lies the basis for the elusive "National Question." This is most times another name for "if not my religion and its concomitant way of life, then why should it be yours?" This is basically a monotheistic problem. In some mainly dualistic political cultures like the US, each of the major parties may oscillate between proto-fundamentalism and quasi-fundamentalism. (President Bush's electoral victory speech of a Republic party based on values of family and (Christian) faith in a presumably secular state places him and his party in the earlier, while most modern US Democratic governments belong in the latter. This analysis demonstrates that not all fundamentalisms are pernicious. It also demonstrates that while a country like Nigeria is a country with religious parities, only the South West region among the big three reflect in its own dynamics the essence of that relations, while the East and the South East are mainly quasi- fundamentalist Christians, and the majority of the North, is either quasi-fundamentalist, proto-fundamentalist or ultra-fundamentalist Moslems. This analysis is germane in clarifying why the presidential system and its winner takes all assumption often lead to political instability in countries like Nigeria, and Sudan, for example, that share similar geopolitical features.
As the analyses in Ogbu's contribution (No. 3) shows, only Bruce Lawrence and Yvonne Hadda's comments on religions and politics in America reflect an engagement with another powerful world religion. Most of the others refer to mere sectional Christian differences (Liberalism versus Conservatism) as religious differences, as indeed, the case was when modern America was founded. This seems more like referring to variations in dialects as major linguistic differences as exist between say French and Chinese. Now to the last major current of the debate.
Ali Mazrui's magisterial analysis shows the uniqueness of the African situation (in what he calls Africa's Triple Heritage) but his solution is not definite, and in part points to the prevalence of some Western notions such as socio-cultural ideologies, as opposed to socio-economic ideologies, and then appends to these the discredited (by Soyinka's "tigritude" among others) notion of emotion being Black and reason being Greek
I have, in particular, maintained for the past twenty five years that the separation of reason and emotion into compartmentalized faculties is based on specious self-serving logic. Reason feeds emotion and emotion feeds reason in a reversible continuum. In the same vein, Western-based theories fail on African soil because the recipients easily discern the continuum in socio-cultural ideologies and socio-economic ideologies, and ask as the bottom line; "are the interests of me and my people being served?" -which is why ethnicity and religion loom large in African politics. This again, perhaps, explain why Africans may not be easily deceived, as the Republicans are purported to have succeeded in making their people live poor and vote rich (No 21). This on the contrary has led on many occasions to a state of near-anarchy, that provided the pretext for military intervention.
Ken Wiwa in his letter to Gayle Smith (No 5) seems to miss the point when he hopes for a day when US style democracy would be successfully launched on African soil. The day might never come, because "dollar diplomacy" or American Imperialism dictates that Western Christian-Capitalism perform what I referred to elsewhere as "osmotic" operation on "developing" countries, while purportedly showing them the workings of a transplant Western democracy. This is set by default to protect US interests at the expense of the recipient states, in this live/die proposition. This Western Christian-Capitalist democracy was set in motion by the series of events which Alamin Mazrui and Shariff (1994) have shown as the bull granted by Pope Nicholas V to King Alphonso of Portugal for the monopoly of trade with African peoples, provided they were brought willingly or by force to baptism, "to submit all the Saracens, Pagans and other enemies of Christ, wherever they may be; and to seize the kingdoms, the dukedoms, the princedomsŠ and all the wealth they withhold and possess; and to submit to submit these persons to a perpetual slavery" (p.22). Need we say more on the consequent fate of our African-American brethren and sisters?
I now sketch what I had earlier canvassed as a linguistic model that replaces a hankering after Western ideals on African soil.
It must be made clear that just because a practice is Western does not necessarily make it an anathema on African soil. Democracy is not alien to pre-colonial African culture despite enduring parodies by Western apologists, but Western-style democracy certainly was; and why not? The Igbo pre-colonial village democracy, arguably one of the most egalitarian in the world, and, the Yoruba monarchical-divine pre-colonial have amply demonstrated this fact. The key difference between these two and the Western concept of democracy is that they did not cast paper ballot (in the Yoruba example non-paper ballot was a regular feature with oracular intervention) because they were not based on written cultures. They respected democratic rights in principle and observed dos and don't of citizenship. In fact, American plutocratic neo-monarchical style of rulership came to several African countries as a result of what I referred to as neo-Berlinism (to regress beyond Ali Mazrui's 1914 cut-off point in his analysis on Nigeria). But first the alternative. I argued for a triumviral system of government in 1998 in an open letter to the then military leader Gen Abubaker in an effort to break Nigeria's political impasse, and developed the concept further in July 2000 in an open letter to President Obasanjo and the principal officers of state of the Federal Republic, when the race for his second term was flagged off. I argued for a novel system of government that takes the heat off competing for the top job, stating that the structure of the top should be diffused from a pyramid to a plateau comprising three triumvirs, from the three most populous ethnic groups who are perennially represented at the center as chief executives. Each triumvir would serve a year in a rotational chairmanship, with the trio subject to only one three year term. This arrangement is to be replicated in all the executive arms of all state governments in the federation (The Dame Shirley Porter gerrymandering claim under Margaret Thatcher's Premiership in the UK is an indication of the verity of my position, so is Tallahassee 2000 and in Nigeria of recent the letter of rejection of national honor by Chinua Achebe(No 17).
My position is premised on the assumption that if Africans do not know (and are distrustful of) where they are going with Western-style democracy, they, at least, know where they are coming from, with their various religio-ethnic composition whose enduring marker is their linguistic tongue. This would also in one fell-swoop help them get rid of the neo-colonial baggage of organizing their lives (and thoughts) in foreign tongues (except for those who are diplomats and those who are personally interested in the foreign affairs of countries of their choice.) The British did something similar when they got rid of Latin and French as official languages of the Court, after throwing off the yoke of the hegemony of Rome.
I gave the innovation a life span of fifty years (or about two generations) to allow for cooling down of tempers based on religio-ethnic competition for spoils at the center, much needed time to nurture real development in Africa, and to build consensual politics. It represents a coalitional governmental initiative at all levels of governance with an African flavor. In such demonstrably plural executive system, accountability is more transparent, because under the envisaged climate of stability, it does not take too long to catch up with rogues, and with such different world views adequate watch in a climate of mutual trust is maintained.
In sum, my views agree in large part with Ali Mazrui's; the point of difference was his non-clarification of how his views could be used to develop an optimistic rather than a pessimistic polity on the African continent. My views also agree with those of Shilgba on the need for a net inflow of funds into Africa, but they are, unlike his, not solely Christian-based, since African nations, in the main, are neither quasi-Christian fundamentalist nor proto-Christian fundamentalist countries.