Do black Africans understand democracy?

images of democracyThis is an attempt to review and provide a non- empirical comparative analysis of the behaviour of black Africans towards democracy and see if democracy is really the ideal leadership model for Africans.

Being African and Nigerian precisely I have always been very passionate about anything Nigeria and Africa. I am privileged to have been born in England, raised in Africa and now live in the UK from where I regularly travel around the West. I therefore consider myself a very privileged citizen of planet earth.

While growing up in Africa I was unfortunate to have lived through the Nigeria Biafra civil war. As a result, I usually describe myself as a war child t and thus my total admiration, understanding and everlasting awe of Chimamanda Adichie for her best seller narrative of the war in Half of a Yellow Sun.

To think that a woman so young, beautiful, privileged and intelligent as her could travel back in history, identify with the past and narrate events so vividly well that they give life to that unspeakable sad part of Nigeria’s history which has forced many Ndi Igbos to be distrustful of the one Nigeria dream, is a true manifestation of her outstanding creative mind set and the sorrows which many Ndi Igbos of Nigeria felt and still feel. The deft with which she narrated events is also evidence of the memories which the war has etched on the minds of those who witnessed it and helped her research. It goes further to reveal to me that my people the Ndi Igbos of Nigeria have not healed from the mental, emotional and physical wounds of that war thus the need for sincere dialogue s and if possible, peace and reconciliation of all parties involved in the mayhem. We need serious and complete healing before we can move on.

I feel this way because the attitude of Ndi Igbo to the current campaigns for the election of our next president is evidence that there is still so much pain and sorrow in the minds of many Ndi Igbos. Therefore unless honest steps are taken to address the truths and lies about that war and Nigerians reconcile their differences, the hatred I see among many Nigerians will never end. We may actually walk into another unplanned and unjust civil war.

I urge every young Nigerian and reader who does not know about the war to pick up a copy of Chimamanda’s Half of a Yellow Sun. It will give you a little glimpse of what it means to live hungry, cold and fearful of what the next minute may bring just because of the failure of adults to think about the next generation and a greater tomorrow as a legacy for their generations.   So think twice if you are among those beating war drums.

Moving swiftly forward, I am compelled to think and wonder whether the situation in Nigeria which I have identified the root to be in the bitterness arising from unsettled scores of the civil war needing urgent address; I took a look at the attitudes of many other African nations towards leadership and democracy.  I would like to provide an incisive and totally clinical analysis of leadership in every African country but as I know that many people do not have the time to read long documents I will restrict myself to mere references.  So bear with me if it is not as specific or detailed as you would like or expect.

As Nigeria gets ready to elect her next president or re-elect the current president for another four years I have come to see how divided Nigeria remains due to prejudices of religion and tribe. Nigeria has had series of developmental setbacks due to bad or poor leadership since our independence. Majority of our 54 years of independence have been under military rule. Our nascent democracy came into being in 1999. Since then we have had leaders who in my mind are Nigerians and must be seen as such but who unfortunately in the minds of many others are simply Hausa and Yoruba who therefore do not represent the generality of Nigeria especially Ndi Igbo.

What is amazing that I believe to be unconscious but which many Ndi Igbo consider to be the wilful /conscious exclusion of Ndi Igbo by Nigeria who hates them for daring to stand up for their belief in the failed attempt to secede and have the State of Biafra for Ndi Igbo; is that all the leaders at presidential and vice presidential level since 1999 have all been Yoruba and Hausa until 2011 when the current president by a stroke of fate became the first president of Nigeria from a minority tribe.

His stay in office has not been a very safe or easy one. Over the years, we have had disturbances by people who many believe to be Muslim Fundamentalist seeking an independent Muslim caliphate in some parts of Nigeria or total Islamisation of Nigeria but nothing like what we have seen from Boko Haram insurgents. Their ferocious attacks in Northern Nigeria first started with what many believed to be the determination to wipe out Christians who in their minds are infidel and not born to rule. The dynamics have since changed because if the truth be actually told, their madness has seen the unprecedented killing and abductions of more Muslims in Nigeria than ever. I consider this current President’s leadership the most difficult in the history of our new democracy.

Sadly his failure to respond decisively and silence Boko Haram like many previous leaders has not only brought him the disdain and consternation of many Nigerians, but has also turned him into a renowned failure in many respects.

For instance corruption, the hallmark of many Nigerian leaders and the biggest bane to democracy and survival of Nigeria as the giant of Africa have become cancerous growing exponentially without any sign of control. The poor are becoming poorer. Civil and public servants are becoming richer than hard working business people, children are out of school, lecturers are abusing children and living uncontrolled lecherous lives, kidnapping became fashionable, intimidation of opposition politicians and their supporters have become the order of the day, the police and military are constantly named in serious corruption and many unbecoming conducts but no one seems afraid of anything, key organs of government seems to be nonchalant about enforcement of law and  principles of morality and conscience, those left in charge of law enforcement have become law breakers, immorality has become the new definition of morality in our country, the business of religion has become more lucrative than real business with followers of these new movements being the ever willing tools of politicians, pastors give false prophecies and our leaders are constantly their guest with many receiving proceeds of corrupt practices in cash or gifts of jets, cars, land, oil wells and just name it.

The nation is rapidly descending into total anarchy with allegations of intimidation of other politicians, their supporters or ordinary Nigerians by our security forces on the alleged instigation of the leadership of the current president.  Key organs of government like the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), NAFDAC, the courts etc. which were previously vibrant during the administration of President Obasanjo and partially functional during the administration of Yaradua are nearly paralytic to the point that not many blatantly criminal politicians and business men have been brought to book in Nigeria. It is rather the case that they are these days celebrated with common criminals who should be behind bars wining and dining with our leaders.

Any attempt by ordinary Nigerians to protest the recklessness of the regime is seen as an attack on Southerners who have just by divine intervention managed to smell leadership of Nigeria. Anyone complaining about it is a common enemy of Ndi Igbo and Southern Nigerians and must be avoided or intimidated. In what I consider to be a very bizarre and totally distressing approach and attitude to leadership under any democracy, many claim that “no matter what anyone considers wrong with this administration, it is our time and we must be given the opportunity to enjoy leadership just like Northerners and others who have been leading Nigeria all these while. It is indeed an attempt to return power to Northerners many of whom are believed to still be living in the faulty illusion of Usman Danfodio who believed that Northerners are born to rule Nigeria and Muslims cannot be led by infidels.  The most worrying aspect of this attitude is that majority of people from the South and East admits that this administration has failed and they are suffering the consequences of their failure. Nonetheless instead of letting a Northerner lead them again, they would rather die suffering”.

I find this quite worrying and believe that although Nigeria may be feeling that our “No Victor No Vanquish” mantra has healed the wounds of the war and restored trust in our one Nigeria stand, there is still remaining so much pain to be resolved before we can fully heal and feel the same.  That a people can be feeling so wronged and marginalised with no one taking notice and believing that it will all go away is a very faulty approach because underneath the façade of unity and greatness lies deep mistrust, hatred and resentment powerful enough to break up Nigeria if it is allowed to fester and erupts.

In my mind, there is need for a truthful national dialogue with reconciliation, peace and unity of Nigeria or peaceful separation as the true objectives. Until we do, so leadership in Nigeria will remain the preserve of mediocre business people dressed like leaders or politicians and the time could not be better than now.

Moving away from this now is the big question which is the title of this report is “is Nigeria alone in this poor attitude to democracy, do Africans understand democracy and is democracy the best or most suitable model for Africa? I doubt that it is and will skeletally mention some of our African nations who have been traveling the same route as Nigeria and who if proper care is not taken will be role models for the future Nigeria many of us are not seeing today.

The Tutus and Hutus of Rwanda, Burundians, Ivory coast, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Somalia, Sudan and a few other brown skinned African nations like Egypt comes to mind.

These countries have either had wars similar to the Nigeria Biafra war, are fighting similar wars with no end in sight or have become slaves to leaders who should lead them for their collective good not their personal aggrandizements and corrupt enrichment.

Today, Rwandan is seen as one of those who have learnt hard lessons after the end of hostilities which saw the unforgivable massacre of their people and overcome the challenges many of us still face today and forging ahead economically and otherwise.

South Africa went through years of apartheid which cost many lives leading to the historical sacrifices of Nelson Mandela which eventually paid off with him becoming the first African President of South Africa. He graciously handed over power to others some of whom like our Nigerian leaders have been embroiled in one corruption smear or another. Thankfully they have managed to keep corruption a little under control and more than Nigeria have ever managed. But there remains serious room for improvement and total departure from the recklessness which has become the face of leadership in Africa. The shortcomings not withstanding people are still divided along ethnic and tribal lines.  The South African Presidents briefing was invaded by protesters who accused him of corruption and reckless leadership plus attempting to turn the country into a police state.

Then take a look at Zimbabwe, the same president has been in power for over thirty years with life drifting from good to totally poor for the average citizen. The rate of inflation which means that a loaf of bread is no longer affordable to many families and people are dying of hunger, frustration and fear of the murderous regime of one man, there are still people who would vote for him to remain their president.

And thus goes the rest of the nations I have mentioned above. The peculiar similarities in the governance of these nations are that they are supposedly practising democracy.  From the experience I have had living and travelling around the west, I refuse to recognise what we have in many of these African nations as true democracy based on the competence not the tribe or religion of the leaders and wonder if this will ever happen.

The attitudes of the leaders and citizens are morally repugnant and totally opposed to what I understand to be the true ideals of democracy.

The fact that everyone seems to be comfortable with what they are giving and receiving as leaders and citizens due perhaps to cultural differences between the main proponents and practisers of democracy leads me to think and believe that it may be time for black Africans to review their systems or belief, culture and traditions and perhaps design a more suitable leadership model which will take into account their backgrounds and natural disposition to injustice as a way of leading themselves.

Unless we do so the situation we see in Nigeria is bound to escalate and affect many other African nations robbing much the right to be governed and led in a way suitable to their environment and nature.

The time could not be any better than now as the fate of the fallen giants of Africa can be used as an example of how to lead and not lead.


 Picture credit: Brain Pickers.

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