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Africa Must Practice Its Own Democracy:

Fri, 18 Oct 2013 Source: Kwarteng, Francis

A Moral Necessity

We were very glad indeed when Nii Ashitey, a well-informed Ghanaweb contributor, brought this piece?“Prof. Prodi: Africa Must Practice Its Own Democracy”?to our attention. The piece is both pointedly informative and intellectually unambiguous and hints at many of the guarded arguments we have been making for some time now. After all, we were not the first to raise this question; others had before us!

Celebrated prescient leaders like Kwame Nkrumah made this philosophical mantra part of their political platform, so were others?Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, etc. Literacy scholars like Chinua Achebe, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o; international economists like Dambisa Moyo and Yaw Nyarko; political scientists like Ali Marzrui, Godfrey Mwakikagile, and Mahmood Mamdani; legal experts like Shadrack Gutto and Randall Robinson; world-renowned anthropologists and linguists like Cheikh Anta Diop and Theophile Obenga; and Afrocentrists like Molefi Kete Asante, Chinweizu, Maulana Karenga, and Ama Mazama had made similar arguments in the past few decades?via their prolific scholarship, organizations, and political activism.

That’s not all, however. The US-based Ghanaian writer Nii Akuetteh, a former professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, has also added his knowledgeably authoritative voice via several scholarly publications and international symposia on the same questions, so has Kofi Annan. The questions we may want to ask ourselves are these: Why haven’t we fashioned our own democracies in line with progressive African cultural-political traditions and values after having gained political, if neocolonial, autonomy from the West?

Yes, we agree that democracy is not a bad human institution at all, but, we still want to ask: Must we necessarily have to be told by outsiders what form of democracy we must adopt or create for ourselves? Must our democracy be necessarily patterned after those of others’ whose histories, cultures, existential philosophy of life, national economies, political psychology, demographics, technological and citizenry educational level, judicatory politics, and sociality of racial-ethnic constitution are markedly different from ours?

Let’s look at the question(s) via another analytic lens. We know that the Spanish Pablo Picasso, for instance, appropriated African art forms and turned them into what has become known today as Cubism (See “Picasso’s African Idea,” Nadeen Pennisi’s brilliant essay “Picasso and Africa: How African Art Influenced Pablo Picasso and His Work, and Adam Hochschild’s “King Leopold Ghost”). In fact, most of the African art works which came to Picasso’s artistic attention came from regions of Africa where pre-colonial African democracy thrived well into the colonial era.

But how do we sufficiently explain the fact that progressive traditional African institutions produced these covetous artistic works? If Picasso, one of 20th century’s most influential and greatest artists, can take our complex art forms and take them to another level, why can’t we do the same with our progressive traditional democratic institutions? We may have to recall that he lived during Spain’s Francisco Franco, one of Europe’s most brutal dictators after the fascist Benito Mussolini and the Nazi Adolf Hitler (See Mazower’s “Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century”). In fact, he and Franco were contemporaries.

Not that we disagree with Prof. Romano Prodi. After all, both the American Adam Hochschild and Chinua Achebe have told us pre-colonial Africa had progressive democratic traditions before the advent of colonialism. Diop has also explored the indigenous idea of constitutional monarchy, an institution practiced in ancient West Africa a thousand years prior to the first appearance of its kind in Europe (See “Pre-colonial Black Africa: A Comparative Study Of the Political And Social Systems of Europe and Black Africa, From Antiquity To The Formation of Modern States”).

Why don’t we, for instance, wed our progressive traditional concepts of African democracy to its modern version? Let’s listen to one of our progressive scholars. “After a brief appraisal of the definitions and practice of liberal democracy, this paper focuses on the conceptual and contextual notions of democracy and democratization in reference to Africa. The principles of democracy and democratic values are neither novel nor alien but rather indigenous to the African continent. It exposes the politics behind the deliberate elision of the African indigenous concepts and practices by Western thinkers and policy makers since the colonial era,” writes Apollos O. Nwauwa in a paper titled “Concepts of Democracy and Democratization in Africa Revisted.” So, Achebe, Diop, and Hochschild are right after all.

What then are we waiting for? America appropriated Western (France, England) democratic ideas and transformed them to suit the particularity of its psychology of national politics. The Japanese appropriated the concept of “diet” from 19th century Prussia, the British Westminster system, and the German Reichstag (Wikipedia) and wedded them to its traditional Imperial Diet. Look where these countries are today! Why don’t we try to see if a similar approach may work better for us?

Oh Africa! It’s not only laughably disarming but anachronistically strange to see our learned lawyers and judges, after all these years following independence, still wearing European wigs in sweltering heat! In one of the high-profile trials in Uganda related to the atrocities committed by Idi Amin, a Western observer, Andrew Rice, author of “The Teeth May Smile But The Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda,” wonders why Ugandan jurists still wear wigs in air-conditioned-less environments! Do American and Japanese judges of today wear wigs? If they do, please let’s know!

Interestingly, the amount of sweat trickling down the judges’ and lawyers’ temples became, for him, Andrew Rice, the cynosure of Uganda’s judicatory process. Why do we consciously make emotional caricatures, minstrelsies, and gargoyles of ourselves? What is wrong with the African hair to make us hide it in the white chambers of the law? In fact, if we don’t like the color black of the African hair, why don’t we dye it white or blond, or, better still, make graying men and woman administrators of the white law?

Again, if we don’t like the woolliness of the African hair, why don’t we straighten it using the African heat and the Western-made Bion iron? Of course, we are aware that Western anthropologists capitalized on the ulotrichy of the African hair to exclude Africans from the phylogenetic tree of humanity, but, it’s been decades since we gained freedom?personal, judicial, and political?from these same Toryish anthropologists and from their political patrons!

In fact, we do know why our judges and lawyers still wear wigs imported mostly from the West. Need we hazard a theory as to why they are addicted to these colonizing coiffures? Indeed, the wigs give them physical, moral, and psychological shield from what an Arab said about us many years ago: “The equator is inhabited by communities of blacks who may be numbered among the savage beasts. Their complexion and hair are burnt and they are physically and morally abnormal. Their brains almost boil from the sun’s heat.” If this is not the case, why do we still need these anachronistic wigs?

“They secrete less by the kidneys, and more by the glands of the skin, which gives them very strong and disagreeable odor,” writes Thomas Jefferson in “Notes on the State of Virginia.” David Hume also writes: “I am apt to suspect the Negroes, and in general all the other species of men, to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was any civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even say individual eminent in action or speculation.” Now we have additional evidence to account for why we do certain things! Unfortunately, some of the judicial hair comes from horsehair or fur!

Back to our preoccupation: The politics of African democracy. “The idea of democracy itself is viewed almost exclusively as a Western concept of which African societies now stand desperately in need,” continues Nwauwa, adding: “Similarly, the presumption has been that democratic values and practices are alien to the African continent, with the West posturing as their cultural bearers and defenders. This mindset considers Africans as incapable of democratic thoughts and hence they should be infused with the ‘civilized’ notion of Western democracy.” And here is the interesting part: “What has been persistently ignored is that democratic values and processes have been as indigenous to Africans as they were to the ancient Greeks. African traditional political cultures and organizations would give credence to these.”

So, what is the problem with African leadership? Our cultural traditions have a lot to offer by way of democratic progressivism, so, why, then, don’t we make good use of them? In fact, Prof. Prodi, an Italian, seems to have a better grasp of the complexity of the situation than most African leaders presently do. He says: “African countries must chart their own cause and adopt their own type of democracy; each country’s democracy must have elements of its people and the way of life of its people.” Some of our readers would have blushed to hear Afrocentrists say this and may have even taken them to task for political heresy. But a white man says it and its okay. Yet Prof. Prodi’s observations are equally emblematical of Diop’s arguments set forth in “Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis For A Federated State.” In fact, Diop’s are merely theoretical amplifications of Prof. Prodi’s.

Let’s continue. Prof. Prodi makes yet another provocative Afrocentric observation: “Look, this is an African problem; I think that external power must be the most external as possible because clearly they bring division, not integration. If you wait for integration from external push you are wrong…” Yes, the white man whose ancestral brother Rudyard Kipling wrote the Toryish poem “The White Man’s Burden” is doing all the thinking for African leadership. Prof. Prodi knows the truth and voices it out from the analytic depths of Edward D. Morels’s “The Black Man’s Burden.” No emotions. No crocodilian tears of inferiority complexes. Simple, raw, and unadulterated common sense! It’s even creative African wisdom he hospitably regurgitates for intellectual consumption by African leadership!

Meanwhile, in the 15th century the Portuguese Henry the Navigator came to Africa to lay the foundational carpet for the majestic colonizing feet of Europe to step on. Nearly six hundred years later his descendant, Prof. Prodi, comes to Africa to tell us how Henry the Navigator wants us to free ourselves from the colonizing claws of his foundational carpet! Is this not shameful? We ask: Where are the emotional and clueless detractors of Afrocentricty? Are they scared of the Afrocentric wisdom of a white man, of Prof. Prodi? The Afrocentrists have respectfully asked Prof. Prodi to do all the talking!

Let’s continue. “French democracy is good for French people, and American democracy is good for the people of America,” says Prof. Prodi. “Therefore African countries cannot be trying to adopt these types of systems to apply to themselves since the demographic are totally different.” Mandela seems to catch Prof. Prodi’s drift. He says: “If the United States of America or Britain is having elections, they don’t ask for observers from Africa or Asia. But when we have elections, they want observers.” Yet we do know that elections are sometimes rigged in these countries, as happened between Bush and Al Gore!

“We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly,” Putin once said to Bush. How could Bush describe the American-generated anarchy and lawlessness in Iraq as a “democracy,” a democracy where ballot boxes were hidden by American military forces and certain Iraqi political and social enclaves were excluded from voting? And where only those Iraqi elements that aligned with America’s geopolitical interests were allowed to vote under the blanket of darkness?

We leave this for African leaders to think about: “While the term “democracy,” now a Western buzzword for representative government, might have been borrowed from the Greeks, democratic thought and values have never been exclusively Greek or Euro-American preserve. Indeed, the desire for representation, inclusion, and participation in public affairs?essential elements of democracy?are universal to all human beings; the difference rests in the methods of attaining these goals. To what extent a society “democratizes” is incontestably dependent on its sociopolitical milieu, whether it’s African, European, Asian, or even Islamic societies. Efforts by the West to “introduce” democracy to Africa bear a close resemblance to the concept of ‘civilizing mission’ trumpeted by Europeans during the era of colonialism in the 19th century…”

From the creative island of Jamaica, Burning Spear says “Greetings” to Africa. Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers say “Black My Story” to Africa. Ghana and Africa, please read the rest of Nwauwa’s “Concepts of Democracy and Democracy in Africa Revisited!”

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis