Welcome to Day 6 of #WinterABC2022 and in continuation of the stories of Africa theme. Today I decided to take a stab at African politics. In particular if democracy is something that truly works for us. Today, I will highlight another great source of African current events, The Continent and it is published weekly. You can find my previous #WinterABC2022 posts here.
Sometime back I watched a documentary that touched on the 2003 American Invasion of Iraq and its aftermath. Part of the documentary talked about how the deposing of Saddam Hussein as president of Iraq with no proper succession plan essentially plunged Iraq into a civil war that it is still trying to recover from. Saddam for all his faults and tyranny essentially held the Iraqi population together. The different sects and tribes were able to coexist, it was not a perfect coexistence but at least the country worked. Then came America with its “democracy” and the Iraqis are still picking up the pieces almost 20 years later. This commentary got me thinking of Africa and its fragile political states which are more or less held together by tape and glue. The political transformation my country of Malawi has gone through over the past three years has got me thinking if the western model of democracy is something that really works in Africa. I did a bit of google research on democracy and according to the council of Europe website, a democracy in theory is government on behalf of all the people according to their “will,” it is not a rule of the majority if minorities’ interests are ignored. Put simply, the people’s will is what should be carried out.
In my political readings over the course of several years, I feel a bit qualified to make some commentary on the following countries. Malawi went to the polls in 2019 and 2020, Uganda and Zambia went in 2021, Kenya is going this year and Nigeria and Zimbabwe are scheduled to go in 2023. In Malawi, most people vote along tribal lines, which means that as long as the candidate is from their tribe or home region, they feel that their interests will be foremost on the agenda. It does not matter what we are going through collectively as a country. The 2019 elections and ensuing demonstrations showed just how fragile things could get and in as much as our courts upheld the rule of law, we are now entering a period where other forms of censorship might start to arise. When Uganda played Malawi in the African Cup of Nations qualifiers sometime last year, one of the running jokes in the Twitter war that ensued was a meme showing US and Ugandan presidents since the 1980s. While the faces of the US presidents changed, Uganda’s remained the same. Yoweri Museveni has been in power since 1986 and the 2021 election which I followed showed that anyone who dared oppose him was not going to have it easy per the case of Bobi Wine.
The post election violence in Kenya in 2007 was partially attributed to tribalism. The Kikuyu and Luo tribes who seemed to have much at stake in the election went to war and massacred one another. According to some news reports I read while researching this piece, there are still some internally displaced persons in Kenya due to that period of violence. The Nigerian Civil war and the continued struggle for independence by Biafra further prove just how fractured our nation states are and can be. And now with Boko Haram causing havoc on the Nigerian people, one tends to wonder just how safe Nigerians feel in their country. Last week, I was reading up on the 2008 Cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe and was quite astonished to read that part of the reason for the poor sanitation that caused the outbreak was due to politics. ZANU-PF having lost the municipal elections in some cities, did not provide funding for some municipalities as retaliation which led to budget cuts. This lack of funding led to cities like Harare unable to purify their water and human sewage ending up in Harare’s main reservoir.
How then do you expect people to express their will when their lives are literally at stake? Should we say we have democratic African societies or African societies are being held hostage? When you have a section of the people whose will is not being represented, one can make the argument that there is no democracy.
In Africa, the current democratic structures are a legacy of colonization, before the colonizers came, Africa was more or less a place with tribal societies that coexisted with a version of democracy that reflected the will of the tribes. And now, we have tribes separated by borders, imagine the shock of waking up one morning and being told your grandfather is on the other side of the border and you need a passport or border pass to go see him? That was the reality for some people who grew up in border towns. I digress. The nations that the colonizers created essentially locked people from different tribes into one nation and a smooth existence was expected. The audacity of colonizers is something that still leaves me speechless to this day. It is then not surprising that when most African countries go to the polls, there is a mild panic in the matrix.
I would like to make a case for the abolition of borders and the reunification of tribes but that would be wishful thinking. Of course, I would also find myself in a rut as I am a product of two tribes but the issue remains the same. Our nation states do not work according to our will but neither would tribal councils in present day Africa. The Anglophone crisis in Cameroon, the creation of South Sudan, among others cement just how fragile these nation states of ours can be. In the mean time, I hope we all sit and reflect on ways we can have an Africa that is the will of all.