The thesis of this article is descriptive rather than prescriptive of the democratic governance structures prevailing in most African countries today.
In his words spoken in Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln (the 16th President of America) described democracy as the “government of the people, by the people, for the people" and he ended assuredly that such a government "shall not perish from the earth.” Indeed, democratic governance dispensations have become the preferred governance method globally. However, the way democratic governance structure is designed and approached varies from country to country around the globe with some structures and approaches yielding better and more sustainable developmental results than others.
The structure and approach to democracy in most African countries make one wonders if the ordinary African electorate is truly represented in the various echelons of the governance structure or it is a birthright sold? Straight away, my view is that the ordinary African electorate sells his or her birthright or voting right in every election year and gets nepotism, tribalism, cynical leadership, deafness in leadership, democratic dictatorship, political deception, poverty, poor healthcare, poor formal education, huge taxes and many other unpleasant conditions as a result.
We learnt biblically in the Book of Genesis 27 that Esau sold his birthright or blessings to his twin brother, Jacob and there were unpleasant ramifications to Esau’s decision. This is what citizens of democratic African states seem to do in every election year. They sell their birthrights to only few political elites who often promise heaven on earth and offer nothing or offer the reverse once the elections are over.
Very often, we hear African politicians say that the people keep telling them to contest and the former often oblige. This has become a common saying and in most cases, it is not true. Even if it is true, when someone offers you a job, you should do a self-assessment to be sure you can truly do the job before you accept it. It is one thing the people falling on someone to lead them and quite another thing the elected leader doing the job expected of him. To only say the people called on you to lead them is not enough.
In most African countries, the political scenes depict the situation whereby most of the politicians represent themselves, their family, cronies and loved ones to the detriment of the ordinary electorates. In an election year, sweet promises are made and the electorates receive warm hugs from the politicians on the campaign trails. After elections are over, the elected leaders beef up their personal security and change their cell phone numbers or acquire new ones thereby cut off the ordinary electorates till the next election year. Politicians preach policy but think politics.
Perhaps it is this unfortunate situation that compels some electorates to virtually sell their votes in every electoral year and are either paid in cash or in kind. In such cases, a politician who lacks the patriotic spirit will not undertake any developmental projects for the benefit of the ordinary people who had already sold their birthrights and perhaps those of their unborn or young descendants.
In Africa, it appears most manifestos are prepared just to win the elections and not to serve as a developmental blue print. Something may be presented nicely in a manifesto and well marketed to the electorates who fall for it and vote along that line. To their dismay sometimes, other conditions are introduced when what was promised is being rolled out.
Academic qualifications do not seem to be a prerequisite for political appointments and election to certain political positions, yet the ordinary African electorate who is even more educated than the elected African politician is paid something meagre called salary while the politician receives very fat salaries with several other benefits. Is this really fair? This situation has led to some of the African countries being ruled by guns. It also led to certain people going for political positions just to acquire wealth and stash public funds in foreign countries for their benefit. Cynical rather than selfless leadership in Africa.
In some African countries, developmental projects are even carried out based on whether or not the beneficiary communities are strongholds of the political party in power. The ordinary voter who is given a nice name as the employer of politicians has no say. The ordinary African electorates or masses are worse off in every facet of life than their counterparts in political positions. It creates a class society of the haves and the have-nots.
The situation mimics the George Orwell - like animal farm where four legs are better than two legs and where the only good human being is a dead one. The annoying aspect is that whenever a political party is kicked out of power its leadership now pretentiously accuse their opponents in power of putting hardship on the ordinary citizens as if they did something better and different when they were in power. Cynicism of a sort in highest echelons of the African governance system is what we see.
In most African countries, the democratic governance structure has been designed such that members of the legislative arm of government represent the people. But one wonders if this is true by the modus operandi of the legislature. Most members of the legislature in Africa only represent their political parties and not the people hence whenever the executive arm does something wrong, the members of the legislature are often not willing to point the wrong out. They point out wrongs only from the opposition benches but even that is done with mischievous minds because they do not really care about the electorates but to just paint a picture that they are better than their opponents. In most cases where both the party in power and the opposition parties agree on something, it is often certain that the thing agreed on is of mutual benefits to both sides.
In well-structured and renowned democracies around the globe, we see members of parliament or legislature openly disagreeing with members of their party who serve in the executive arms of government. Doing so depicts a nationalistic opinion rather than partisan political leanings. A typical example is what happens in the UK Parliament or the American Senate. This handsome picture is not common in Africa. In fact, African politicians who criticize their own political parties’ decisions or actions are seen to be deviating from the norm.
The most surprising or perhaps nauseating aspect of happenings is when the political class contracts huge loans in the name of development and boasts of the loans as if they were manna from heaven. In Africa, securing a foreign loan is deemed a political achievement and even that, corruption swallows the loan and the ordinary African is made to pay back the loan through taxation.
If indeed the elected and appointed officers are true representatives of the masses in democratic governance in Africa, then they are employees of the masses yet the employees' living conditions are juicier than that of the employers. If this is not a sale of birthright then what is it? The argument has often been advanced that through vote buying measures, the electorates or constituents levy the political aspirants every election year so the period after election is the time for the elected officials to also focus on their own affairs. Is the African version of democratic governance a pretentious one?
In 2020 (next year), electorates in fourteen African countries will go to the polls again to elect heads of states, legislators or both. Notable among these countries are Ghana, Egypt, Burundi, Central African Republic, Somalia and Tanzania. The question remains unanswered that what significant benefits the ordinary African electorate gets from going to the polls that involves long queues and waiting time just to caste a vote. Poverty or peace or nepotism to reap in return?
Until African governments or leaders treat their own citizens humanely, they should not expect governments of other countries to do so. Other countries fear touching American citizens any how because of how America protects its citizens. Because we do not treat ourselves well, we are taken for granted on the world stage and described with the harshest of adjectives. It is as if the African masses do not deserve quality life. Political elitism has become a fearful lion to the extent that people are vilified or scolded in public for not addressing a politician as honourable. Even Jesus Christ, the King of Kings whose blood is redemptive is only called Jesus without any title prefixes. Into what are we leading ourselves?
So many titles we acquire do not have any progressive and sustainable impact on our development and living conditions. This always puts Africa at the mercy of the ever hungry colonial masters who still colonize in different forms under a new name, development partners. Like seriously? African governments need to sit up and unify their diplomatic ties and move in unison. It is in unity of strands that cotton thread can lift a heavy weight. It should get to the point that no one African should require a visa to travel to another country on the continent. So what truly is the worth of the African Union?
I hope the powers that be are listening. To the African masses or electorates, let us stop selling our birthrights on the political altar in every election year.
Author: Philip Afeti Korto