Why democracy will never succeed in Africa

Photo by Dami Akinbode on Unsplash

I decided not to go up close and personal in articles I wrote previously concerning Africa. But this time, I have chosen to be more direct and factual. The world is looking for answers, but the answers are not hard to get if we look sincerely. Democracy will never succeed in Africa, at least not the kind of democracy they are operating presently. This article is to show you why. I may not be able to speak directly for every African country, but I can speak for one: Nigeria.

It’s a shame the only thing the outside world knows about Nigeria is Boko Haram, Crude oil, kidnapped girls, corruption in governance and maybe now the world cup kit of the country’s national team. The first time I saw a place in Nigeria portrayed in an Hollywood movie, I understood better how the country is seen from the outside. The setup used for the place looked nothing like how the place really is. That changed my orientation about other cities I have known through movies. Nigeria has over 200 ethnic groups. Do you know what that’s like? Over 200 indigenous languages? A friend told me of a community in the country where the language the women speak is different from the language the men speak. The country was never one nation, yet it is recited in the anthem. Maybe instead of trying to form unity, they should have embraced the diversity.

The problem has a deep root. In 1914, an amalgamation took place that joined the northern part of the country to the southern part of the country. Why did they do that? Well, I don’t know if the British made any record. The divergence between the northern part and the southern part is so much that one wonders what must have been on the minds of those who joined them together. The British managed the country fairly well and handed them independence in 1960 on a platter of gold. There was no fight, no unrest, just a couple of meetings and discussions. Everybody was getting independence and Nigeria mustn’t miss her moment. Now the years have come and gone, (and looking back) the country shouldn’t have been given independence, they should have taken it.

In 2019, the country is going to have the general elections. As things stand, the country seems to be stuck with the incumbent administration for the foreseeable future. Not because the people like it or because they are doing well, but because there is no other option. If the purpose of democracy is options, that has failed. If you are familiar with the story of the country in recent times, then you must have a drawback based on what happened in 2015. For those in the dark, 2015 witnessed a transition of government from an incumbent (who lost the election) to a new party. What the outside world saw was a miracle and something that shows promise of a better future. But let me tell you how that really happened.

To know who is going to win the 2019 presidential election is very simple. List the names of the political power brokers in the country and find out which candidate has the higher number of them behind him. Voila! And you have it; the winner of the election. You might be thinking; it is a democratic process, people will vote and their votes will be counted! Actually, the voting could as well be done by chickens, goats and cows. If you are a journalist, give yourself this assignment; find out why the average person in the country votes for a candidate. Don’t do your research in just Lagos and Abuja. Go inside the country and see for yourself. Nothing less than 80% of the voters won’t know what the actual duties of a president is. In fact, educated people will tell you that the president is the leader of the country. But that is so wrong. The position is one that requires leadership, but the position doesn’t make the holder a leader. People don’t know these things because they really don’t care but they have been deceived into thinking that they care.

The loss of the incumbent president in 2015 began when a former president and ex-military general withdrew his support. Power brokers in key zones defected to the opposition. And for the first time, the power brokers lining up behind the opposition exceeded those lining up behind the incumbent. The incumbent had money to throw around, but the opposition had a better argument and forged key alliances. As for the general elections by the people, there was a negative sense about the incumbent among the educated (because of corruption) and more importantly, nobody wants to line up behind someone who is going to lose. The name of the game is ‘get behind the winner as early as possible’. Ideology, policy, and plans are basically buffers. People change political parties like underpants. Not just lower level people; I mean major political figures. That is the democracy for you.

Can things change? Yes! No condition is permanent. Will things change? That depends on what comes up. But with the way the country is headed right now, it might take 200 years to get somewhere reasonable. The most annoying part of it all is that some see this snail-speed progress as hope. They believe if the country continues the way it is going, things will eventually get better. True, but in like 200 years! It’s like a car going at 5 mph on a highway. Is it moving? Yes! Will it get to its destination? Sure, someday. But when will it arrive? Not in the near future.

Why should you care? You should because when people grow desperate and frustrated in the country and decides to ditch it for a better place (without a plan, education or any relevant usefulness) guess who they’ll create problems for? The government of Nigeria? Not at all! There are about 200 million people in the country today. Do you know what that means? Check the statistic of the number of persons from Nigeria living in another country. Ignore the educated ones and the useful ones (and yes, there are a lot of them), number the escapees and liabilities (the migrants with nothing to offer). Look at that same number from other third world countries. They won’t stop and the number will keep growing. The international organizations know this but they are unsure of how to deal with it. Charities will not work. No matter how much money you spend in the country doing “charity” works, it won’t make any reasonable difference. The government is faulty and there is nothing that can be done to really affect the country if the government is not right.

Every educated person agrees that something is wrong with the government of the country. But almost nobody can say what exactly is wrong. They think if honest people are elected into governance positions, things will be better. I have seen through that. It won’t work. Many of the current people in various positions in government are not so bad personally but they cannot be good. If you play good and right, you will be out of the game. More than 60% of the current members of the senate in Nigeria will remain in power one way or another after 2019 regardless of how the election turns out. These are people that are professional politicians. They can’t do anything else. They are unemployable. They can’t manage a business. And many do not even understand the word ‘government’, let alone ‘policy’. I can tell because I have heard many of them talk. If you doubt me, meet them and ask them this impromptu question; what is the primary purpose of government?

These professional politicians are the problem. They will defect to the winning party at the nick of time. If not, they just have to spend one or two terms outside of government and they will be back in again in one capacity or the other. And they will continue to do things they way they have been done and there will never be a change. And if you are new and think you can stir up a change, you will be surprised when you get there and see how outnumbered you are. At the end of the day, it’s democracy! He who has the numbers gets his way. Good people get frustrated and often join the bad gang. After all, the “bad” people were once “good” people. Electing better people won’t make any difference as long as the political landscape remains the way it is. What is required for a rapid transformation of the country is a new system of government. It’s not that democracy failed, rather democracy was not designed for this kind of society.

The country has no system. Everything managed by the government has seen better days. I cannot think of one thing managed by the government that has made considerable progress in the last 50 years. You know things are horrible when the generation of parents and grandparents today tell the young ones that they schooled in excellent conditions even though their own parents were nobodies. An elderly man once mentioned that he had a scholarship to go to Europe when he was through with technical school many years ago. He said he chose to stay because staying in Nigeria was financially better than going to that European country then. And there was no oil boom then. The man almost regrets that decision today. The generation of the parents had a better life than the generation of the kids. And with the way things are going, it’s only going to get worse. How do I know? The elites (especially the political elites) get health treatment abroad and also send their kids to school abroad.

It is unwise for a more powerful and organized government to topple a lesser government in another country. They don’t need to. There are always answers for those that seek them. Many countries in the bid to be honest and transparent have created a government that is not fit for their society. You need to understand the history of African communities with governance and society organization. It has never been democracy. So now they call it democracy, but the concept has no life. I once heard the governor of a state in Nigeria refer to himself as the father of the state. Someone who is going to spend 4 years (or 8 years maximum) in office. A father for 8 years, really? And the naive people celebrate these men for doing (in many cases, significantly less than) what they are supposed to do. This is democracy in Nigeria and it is killing the country piece by piece.

This is about Nigeria but the story of other African countries are not so different. Please don’t call them nations. They are countries that contain nations. Democracy will continue to fail the people. This is because the people don’t know what they want. A military autocratic rule is not the answer either. That didn’t work in the past and certainly won’t work today. The continent needs a new system of government designed for the unique structure of the society there. This is the only way Africa will grow.

The key is a new system of government

A system of government that carries the people along but at the same time has a single voice of direction. A system of government that puts the best people in positions and gives them no reason to fail. A system of government that takes popularity contest out of governance. A system of government involves the traditional rulers and forces them to be who they were crowned to be. A system of government that makes it possible for exhaustive decisions to be made in minutes without disregarding any side of the argument. A system of government where everybody accepts the person in office and there are no bribes, phony campaigns, or hate speech. A system of government where execution is king and sympathy is secondary. A system of government where people decide what part of the government they want to fund with their taxes. Maybe the whole world needs it, but Nigeria needs it more.

If the peg doesn’t fit, it doesn’t matter who is trying. If the pipe leads to the wrong place, passing water instead of urine won’t make the pipe lead to the right place. If the wiring is wrong, a new light bulb won’t make a difference. I can only hope that someone passionate enough with the means gets interested in something in this direction. Who wouldn’t be glad to be among the team to design this new system of government? It’s a lifetime opportunity to change the course of history. This has to be designed, sold to the people in carefully organized educated campaigns, then the people can push for a referendum when they get it.

Honestly, it’s about time to say goodbyes to the inconsistencies and the divisions the current style of democracy has brought. The system is old, at least you must agree with that. And third world countries are not going to grow with democracy. All that’s needed is one good person at the helm making the calls (after careful scrutiny of the arguments). Of course, this would not be a permanent position. See the bigger picture; democracy has outlived its relevance.

Think about this; have a conversation about it.

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