Busia Speaks of “African Democracy” – Part 5

Thu, 29 Mar 2012 Source: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

But that the “State Capitalism” of the sort staunchly and doggedly advocated by Ghana’s Convention People’s Party (CPP) was bound to be booted back to the proverbial drawing board, is elucidated by Busia poignantly as follows: “But all [those socialist-oriented African states] have State enterprises, though some have more than others. Ghana, Guinea, and Mali established more State enterprises in their respective States, bringing more sectors of their economies under public ownership or control than other States in West Africa have done; but compared with countries in the region which have similar resources, such as Nigeria, Ivory Coast, or Mauretania, the States with more State enterprises fare worse in terms of losses and rates of economic growth. Ghana, which is richer than Guinea or Mali, has been showing considerable losses from State enterprises. In the 1963-4 Financial Year, there were thirty-five State-owned companies operating in Ghana. Three of them could not present accounts of their operations; the remaining thirty-two showed between them losses which amounted to £ 14 million. The total investment in all the companies was £ 40 million; so in a single year over one-third of the invested capital was lost. The Ghana Finance Minister attributed the heavy losses to ‘high wage and salary bills, inexperienced management, lack of proper accounting and control within the enterprises, under-utilization of plant capacity, and inadequate sales promotion.’ Guinea[,] which also embarked on extensive nationalization[,] had to change its policy after two years because the enterprises did not add to the national wealth, but on the contrary increased the economic difficulties. Such experiences justify the pragmatic approach to State ownership. The Kenya Government policy that nationalization will be considered ‘if the need is urgent, if other less costly controls are ineffective, and if it is understood that most industries will not be operated at a loss,’ is the more representative of the approach of African governments to State ownership”(Africa in Search of Democracy 80-81).

Even as Western capitalism has squarely depended on the enslavement and abject exploitation of Africans, and other Third-World peoples, for its sustenance and triumphs over the centuries, African socialism, almost invariably, has tended to depend on Western investment capital. For the most part, the Eastern-bloc countries, notably China and Russia, have paid generous lip-service to the very cause which these two mega-states have vehemently pretended to champion as emulative role models for the newly independent African nations. On the preceding score, this is what Busia has to say: “Whether they avow socialism or not, African countries have established mixed economies based on State and private ownership. Paradoxically, it is Western capitalism that is being employed to finance African socialism. This is most evident in the countries which have announced that they are building Marxist Socialist States. Ghana provides a good illustration of the paradox. A recent report by the World Bank has given a table of investments in Ghana from 1959 to 1964. The figures were [as follows]:

The West

Great Britain…………….£80 million

West Germany…………£40 million

United States……………£ 30 million

France……………………..£10 million Total: £160million

The East:

Soviet Union……………..£15 million

Poland………………………£10 million

China………………………..£2 million Total: £27 million

Thus over 85 percent of the investments over the last five years came from Western capital; the development of [Marxist-]Leninism in Ghana is heavily dependent on the capitalist systems of the West. ¶ Both Russia and China decry the economic links between Africa and the West; Russia would like to replace them with links between herself and Africa; but China would disrupt the links, even if she cannot herself fill the vacuum. ¶ Both countries teach that socialism cannot be genuine as long as this heavy reliance on the capitalist countries of the West remains. The African countries, however, in accordance with their declared policies of non-alignment are collaborating with Western capital, and this has to be accepted as a common feature of African Socialism”(Africa in Search of Democracy 83-84).

While he is primarily known to be a staunch subscriber of capitalist democracy of the Western breed and brand, nevertheless, in his book Africa in Search of Democracy, Busia demonstrates himself to be far less concerned with ideological orthodoxies than their respective susceptibility to manipulation by despots, tyrants and dictators. Implicitly, the author seems to observe, capitalist democracy offers far more salutary room for operation, with its intrinsic and ineluctably codified system of checks and balances: “As far as democracy is concerned, socialism, of whatever admixture, has dangers to which attention must be drawn. Socialism is beneficial when it is democratic; but it can exist without democracy, and then it can be very despotic. The State ownership and control of economic enterprises leads to the concentration of both political and economic power in the hands of those who are governing, from the big bosses at the top, through the whole range of officialdom to the smallest organization. Experience has shown that men who come to have such power can use it to enrich themselves, to deny employment to others, to arrest and imprison them, and to impose all kinds of restrictions and punishments in order to have their own way. They can crush their opponents, and all who do not do as they command. Power under socialism needs to be decentralized and widely distributed; there should be effective checks on those who rule; individual citizens must have safeguards, institutions, and laws which protect them against tyranny; without such checks, socialism can be an instrument of appalling despotism and dictatorship. What we learn of the ‘New Imperialism’ in the Soviet Union and China, and other socialist countries behind the Iron Curtain warns us of terrible dangers of socialism without democracy. Some African countries, such as Ghana, are already on the road to where the wrecks of freedom and justice are warning signposts. Socialism[,] in essence[,] is a moral doctrine which rests on human dignity and social justice. Its perversion becomes frightening oppression and tyranny”(Africa in Search of Democracy 89-90).

Ever a keen observer and felicitous commentator on the rhetoric and practical realities of the African political scene and culture, Busia often prefers to have the facts speak for themselves rather than vacuously beg the question, as many an Nkrumah partisan prefers to do. On the question of which African leaders are honest practitioners of democratic political culture and which are shameless charlatans, this is what the future Prime Minister of Ghana had to say in 1967, the year in which his book Africa in Search of Democracy was first published: “The difficulty about democracy is that countries with quite different political ideologies use the same word to describe their respective systems. This is no less true of Africa than Europe[,] where countries both of the ‘East’ and ‘West’ claim to be democratic. President Sekou Toure of Guinea is reported to have said: ¶ ‘There are two ways of governing a country. In the first way, the State may substitute itself for all initiatives, all men, all consciences. At that moment[,] it deprives the people of their liberty of initiative, places them under conditions, and in consequence passes itself [off] as omniscient by trying to solve general problems and problems of detail simultaneously. Such a State can only be anti-democratic and oppressive. We have adopted the second way and chosen to be a democratic State.’ ¶ Guinea is a Marxist-inspired one-party State which does not allow the legal existence of an organized opposition. The institutions of democracy are not the same everywhere. We have to examine the values. ¶ On the other hand, President Azikiwe has also written of Nigeria: ¶ ‘The domestic policy of Nigeria will be framed on the assumption that Nigeria shall continue to be a Parliamentary democracy. The Government of Nigeria shall exercise power so long as it retains the confidence of the legislature. It will express its belief in parliamentary democracy as government by discussion, based on the consent of the governed, whose will is collectively expressed by the duly accredited representatives of an electorate that is based on a universal adult suffrage and votes by secret ballots at periodic elections.’ ¶ By contrast with what obtains in Guinea, President Azikiwe goes on to say that democracy must include a recognized opposition, and that without the opposition, ‘democracy becomes a sham.’ He also insists on two other ingredients as essential for democracy: the Rule of Law, and the enforcement of fundamental Human rights”(Africa in Search of Democracy 90-91).

That the logical thrust of President Sekou Toure’s concept and theory of democracy eerily mirrors that of Ghana’s President Kwame Nkrumah, the former’s closest ideological ally and, some have even claimed, bosom friend in the West African sub-region, ought to give pause to those who had hitherto underestimated the capacity of the two leaders for abject chicanery. Indeed, it is when the preceding patently unconscionable and downright quixotic expounding of democratic governance is coupled with the fact of Guinea’s having once been wedded into a political union with Ghana and Mali, albeit rather briefly, that the epic mettle of extant Ghanaian opposition leaders like Drs. Danquah and Busia, Messrs. S. D. Dombo, Modesto Apaloo and R. R. Amponsah begins to remarkably impress itself on the keen and sensitive reader and critical thinker.

Another significant aspect of Busia’s Africa in Search of Democracy is the author’s lucid attempt to differentiate many an African traditional society’s communal ethos from that of the contemporary cross-ethnic and multiethnic, and in some cases multiracial, and multinational polity: “Democracy cannot work unless those who seek to exercise these civil liberties [also] recognize the equal rights of others to exercise them too. They must recognize the right of others to think differently, and to choose differently. In traditional societies, all members held the same religious beliefs, shared the same rituals, held the same views about the universe. The highly valued solidarity of traditional society was based on conformity; but it is old-fashioned to hope to achieve solidarity on the basis of conformity in the circumstances of today. In the contemporary situation, a State consists of people holding different religious views – Catholics, Protestants, Moslems, or animists; they may hold different views not only in religion but also in science and philosophy, or politics, and in other ideologies or subjects. It is assumed that they can all[,] nevertheless[,] agree on the validity of the ideals of democracy and be equally loyal to them. Where there are opportunities of wide contacts and of access to different ideas, there are occasions for different opinions and beliefs. Therefore, an important requirement for the success of democracy is tolerance, and it can be said to be one of the most important characteristics of [a] democratic society. The late President Olympio of Togo showed penetrating incisiveness when he said that[:] ‘the test of a democratic regime in Africa might not necessarily be the actual presence of a second party or several parties, so much as whether or not the regime tolerated individualists.’ This is the crucial point, for societies are not built or improved by conformists”(97-98).

For Busia, beyond questions of ideological proclivities and the civilized and meaningful pursuit of democratic governance lies the need for a new and realistic re-conceptualization and reconfiguration of the definition of a “Nation,” one around which all ethnic nationalities with diverse cultural and historical experiences may rally for the common purpose of development in peace and loyalty for the common good: “The problem posed by the existence of different tribes and ethnic groups in different African States must be approached in the context of what a nation is or is expected to be. Some tend to think of the nation in terms of [:] ‘the ideal model of a nation towards which the European precedents pointed, even though no such nation existed in total purity, (which) is a single people, traditionally fixed on a well-defined territory, speaking the same language, preferably a language of its own, and shaped to a common mold by generations of shared historical existence.’ ¶ Accordingly, they aim at the creation of a nation in which differences of tribe, language, religion, economic development and education, and loyalties to all smaller groups, give place to the nation as the only desirable expression of unity. ¶ The new African States were created by European Powers who brought together under one administration heterogeneous ethnic groups, speaking different languages, sometimes possessing distinct cultures and religions. There are States in which the component tribes have memories of traditional animosities and tribal wars. Added to [the foregoing] are differences in social, economic and political development which in most States have caused wide regional variations in standards of living and degrees of modernization. We have noted this of Nigeria. It is a common feature of social change in Africa. Aristide Zollberg has noted it in his study of the Ivory Coast. He records that[:] ¶ ‘differentiations between traditional societies have been intensified by the cumulative effect of uneven Western impact, and in recent years, by differential rates of cultural and economic change…. Today the Agni or the Aboure are different from the Bete or the Gouro[,] not only because they eat different foods, speak differently, or settle disputes according to different norms[,] but because they are wealthier, [better] educated, and more Christian. The Malinke and the Senufo in the past were of two different civilizations, but now the Malinke are also more likely to be Moslems, traders and urbanites, while the Senufo are subsistence farmers and continue to practice their traditional religion.’ ¶ In situations such as these, it would be visionary to conceive of a nation as one people, speaking a common language, bound together by a common heritage and a shared historical experience. Africa must break loose from this alluring European model. It does not fit in with the social realities of the continent; even in Europe[,] the model applies only to countries like England and France, where it is the product of unique and long histories. ¶ The African situation, in its contemporary context, calls for the concept of a nation of different tribes, possessing a diversity of traditions and even cultures, inhabiting a common territory, bound together by the common desire to preserve their newly won independence and unity, and by the goals of economic, social, cultural, and political progress which they share in common, and which they see can be realized only if they stay together as a nation. There is plenty here on which a stable democratic society can be built. It is in such realistic terms that the problem of tribalism should be approached. ¶ There are some who think that tribalism should be eradicated by repression and coercion, on the grounds that it obstructs national unity. But coercion violates the democratic principle of government by consent. Repression only leads to instability. Quite apart from this, the forms which tribalism has taken in new social settings give warning that it is too resilient a social force to be dealt with in this way. In a social survey of Sekondi-Takoradi (Ghana) undertaken in 1947-8, the author [i.e. K. A. Busia]noted that intense tribal loyalties were manifested in the many tribal associations which existed in the town. Even those who had been town-dwellers for many years showed strong loyalty to their tribe and home village. But ‘tribal associations, through the control they exercise over members, are potent factors for law and order, and in this sense form part of the governmental institutions of the municipality”(Africa in Search of Democracy 115-7).

Ultimately, for Busia, progressive democratic governance necessitates the forging of a system of decentralized political culture that enables all the pre-colonial ethnic polities to meaningfully participate in the new political dispensation, as a means of harnessing hitherto parochial but strong tribal loyalties into a collective national force. The epic failure of the Nkrumah-led Convention People’s Party to recognize this fundamental fact of postcolonial African political culture, clearly appears to have fore-doomed the Show Boy’s expansive pan-Africanist agenda: “Accommodation with territorial tribal units implies decentralization and devolution. There are traditional precedents for the devolution of power from the center to the component units. We have pointed out that decentralization marked the Ashanti political system. In the plural societies of the new States, it is necessary that people should have opportunities to look after their own affairs as far as they are able to do so. The problem becomes one of what local authorities to create, and how to divide functions between central authorities and local authorities. Each State will have to face its own problem of devolution in its own social context. A democratic nation is strengthened by a foundation of local democracy. ¶ Some see decentralization as yielding to separatism, and so they advocate measures that tend to increasing centralization and authoritarianism; while others see it as a means whereby tribes of diverse traditions, and sometimes of wide regional differences, can be kept together to preserve the nation from breaking apart. It is at the level of regional and local government that there is the strongest case for the development of political institutions that must meet the particular historical and social realities of African States; yet it is at those levels that there are the most conspicuous examples of efforts to copy irrelevant models from Britain and France. Tribalism, whether it is manifested by an ethnic group large enough to be a region, or only a small one occupying a village, offers opportunities for ventures in local self-government, and for strengthening the base of democracy by developing political institutions which enable all the groups to manage their own affairs within their respective competences, and contribute to the larger unit of the nation. If the regions of a State are more evenly developed, and the people are able to share adequately in the government of their own areas, tribalism will cease to be a decisive force. People will not cease to be members of their tribes, or to cherish that membership; but they can also be members of the State, along with fellow citizens who are members of other tribes, and share with them a sense of belonging together, and cherish their citizenship, because it makes them members of a wider society”(Africa in Search of Democracy 120-22).

For those Nkrumah partisans who rather quixotically insist on envisaging their idol and/or hero as a visionary “ahead of his time,” Busia’s informed academic, professional and empirical appreciation of the proverbial “African Personality,” and his foresighted and practical contribution to both Africa’s democratic political culture, as his country’s premier, and his phenomenal contribution to the theory of postcolonial African political culture easily dwarf the largely emotive, albeit well-intended, rhetorical effusions of Mr. Nkrumah on the same subject. Such observation hardly amounts to the acknowledgment of anything other than the purely mundane and even pedestrian. For not only was Professor Kofi Abrefa Busia a world-class sociologist and foremost social thinker among his peers on the African continent, he was also first and foremost a cosmopolitan humanist above all else, where Nkrumah may be aptly envisaged to have been a tragic victim of “PAN-AFRICAN TRIBALISM,” in the decidedly parochial sense of the term.

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is Director of The Sintim-Aboagye Center for Politics and Culture and author of “Dr. J. B. Danquah: Architect of Modern Ghana”(iUniverse.com, 2005). E-mail: okoampaahoofe@optimum.net.


Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame