A Decade Later: Why Western Democracy Has Failed in Africa.

Who is the judge?
The judge is God.
Why is he God?
Because he decides who wins or loses. Not my opponeent.
Who is your opponent?
He does not exist.
Why does he not exist?

Because he is a mere dissenting voice of the truth I speak!”

– “The Great Debaters”, one of the coolest movies ever made.

Ten years ago, towards the end of 2001, I was on stage in full school uniform about to embark on one of the defining moments of my life. It was the Finals of The Nairobi Inter-Schools Debate Competition and my school was up against some feisty chicks from State House Girls School in a 3-on-3 Westminster-style face-off.
The motion was read out to the entire hall: “Western Democracy Has Failed in Africa” My team was selected to propose the motion and I was the third man therefore I was the one doing the closing arguments.

The nerves. The lights. The millions of eyes fixed on you. The quick shuffle of cue cards. That final deep breath. Then the moment of truth.

It’s been a while since that memorable debate but I still feel just as passionately about the issue then as I do now.

One of the problems we have always had as a continent is our uninhibited belief that what the West sets as the benchmark must be the one and only universal way of doing things, therefore if the West says that democracy is the best form of government, we embrace democracy even though in actuality, what we practice is plain oligarchy and dictatorship.

I strongly believe that our leadership problems will only be solved through violent confrontation with the agents of oppression. The reason is that the agents of oppression sustain their reign of terror through violence and thus the only language they will understand is violence and indeed only violence can wrest power from them. So, in the spirit of Vladimir Lenin, we must call for an alliance of the military, the workers, and the peasants in this march to freedom land.

By arguing that Western democracy is failing in Africa, that doesn’t mean I am against democracy or its ideals. I am however against a type of government that has resulted to unrestrained squandmania, the elevation of some to the position of owners, and the reduction of the greater majority into a class of slaves. I am also against the fouling of our communal air by the corruption bloated politicians such that foul smell has become the perfume of all of us.

Perhaps the idea of a type of government where the electorate empowers the elected, while the elected listen to the opinion of the electorate was probably what the proponents of Democracy had in mind. Unfortunately, it has become an unrealizable feat in Africa. Furthermore, I would argue that instead of forcing democracy to succeed, Africans within their diverse societies have the capacity, flexibility and rationality to study their own societies and consequently evolve their own workable systems of government.

PS: In case you were wondering, State House Girls didn’t know what hit them. My debate team totally kicked ass and although I didn’t scoop the Best Speaker Award, the Winners’ Trophy wasn’t too bad of a consolation.

9 thoughts on “A Decade Later: Why Western Democracy Has Failed in Africa.

  1. The Great Debaters! – A VEEEEEEEERY Great Movie!
    All the same your arguments are very valid in as far as democracy is concerned, but I believe Violence may not necessarily be a solution “You don’t defeat the Empire by fighting by his rules!” Am sure there are many alternatives and Egypt Et Tunisia has shown that its possible (Though not the best examples) bt still possible

  2. I agree with you to the extent that our bastardized form of Democracy is doing us, as Africans, more harm than good. Ideals such as respect for the rule of law, supremacy of the people’s will and collective responsibility are lost on today’s leaders.
    So where does that leave us? I would argue that it is a bit too late in the day to start cooking up a homegrown system of government. Mature democracies like the US and the UK have also gone through but it’s taken them centuries, so perhaps we too will be able to find our own stable way of “domesticating” these ideals of democracy.

  3. Capitalism is the mother of Democracy and Religion. First they sold us religion and we submitted to slavery. Now they are selling us Democracy what do we do? we fucking killing each other and they are busy making a kill out of it.
    Democracy should be power for the people, by the people. In the the so-called mature democracies that type of democracy don’t really exist. like seriously? When you have the power of mental manipulation vested on corporates like Fox, Time Warner and the rest, it’s even more ignorant to say there is democracy in the west. All I see is second phase of colonization. When leaders that play along to the western tunes can stay in power for as long as they still have the might to manipulate their subjects while Leaders who can’t play along to the western tunes and labelled dictators and sh*t like that, Democracy will still seem to me a capitalistic vehicle that will eventually stop at Colonization.

  4. That PS note is suspect i need to doublecheck state house girls didnt kick your ass hehe. I dont think the ideals of democracy work anywhere anymore-theory and practice couldnt be more divorced these days just look at so called established democracies…if you could create a type of govt where people were no.1 priority it would be nirvana….a world with no greed, ego and hunger for power..not happening

  5. The way I see it it is that humanity is evolving and all we are doing is adapting to the new environment. right now many more of us are aware of what is happening globally, have access to millions of books via the web and can communicate freely. its getting harder and harder to manipulate via blatant ignorance. . .maybe we should give it more time and keep doing what we are doing and we will reach a singularity where there wont be any turning back. An idea whose time has not come will not take root however much we flog it. the timing has to be right.

  6. I’m having a lazy couple of days and I don’t really want to put words together to make a coherent statement of opinion. But Fort Knox is killing me with that ‘(American) capitalism is the mother of all evil’ vibe. So quick statements before I return to the comfortable world of mental lethargy:

    1. Fact: The origins of democracy are traced back to in Greece as ‘demokratia’. ‘Demos’ meaning people and ‘Kratos’ meaning power… combine. If you want to know what America came up with try googling this line (what was really invented in america)

    2. Fact: There are several forms of democracy. Examples? Direct democracy like what exists in Switzerland. Representative democracy (presidential or parliamentary). I’ve always wondered what ‘western’ democracy is… really. Here’s one idea: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/36362/

    2. If you subscribe to the social contract theory you may impute that democracy started as far back as the origin of state… when man tired of having a short brutish and nasty life. The social contract theory basically states that individuals got tired of living in an every-man-for-himself kind of way. So, of their own free will, they united, agreeing to live by a code of conduct and let go of some of the rights that they had as free men (e.g. the right to attack your neighbour and take off with his property). They in turn took up responsibilities e.g. to protect each other bla bla. This theory further states (and this is the relevant part) that the people freely gave up part of their sovereignty to an ‘authority’ to maintain social order through the rule of law… lemme kill that lecture there. But just note that the entire contract is based on power being vested centrally with the consent of the people.

    4. I believe that (some) Africans too exercised a form of democracy. Don’t shoot me yet… Think about it. We were organized into cognizable societies with proper governance structures based on the consent of the people, to exercise their power for the good of the people. I think Mzee Jomo Kenyatta illustrates this quite well in “Facing Mount Kenya”… just an example. The people exercised their power through a central authority… council of elders, a religious leader (orkoiyot, oloiboni) etc. If the people did not like them they were kicked out… anyone remember what happened to Orkoiyot Kimnyole (that’s the guy who came before Koitalel arap Samoei. He may not be not the best example though). Several societies had a sort of election of their leaders (through their clan representative)… etc etc

    This theory could go on forever. What’s my point? NV may be on to something when he says Africans should “study their own societies and consequently evolve their own workable systems of government.”

  7. Even as we grapple with democracy we also note that the nations in Africa were created by colonial boundaries heaping hitherto separate communities together and trying to make them act as one. Democracy has been misused in Africa largely due to those tribal loyalties promising to reward my community and that kins of thing. For democracy to work we have to think as individuals. What’s in of for me?

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