Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NEVIS REVIEW No 8 Section II : Ref# 8.2

Section II 

 Ref# 8.2
  January 14, 2013

 Democracy and Political Culture in Africa- (continued)-part three
 by Hiwot Wendimagegn

Leadership as a determinant factor of governance holds a vital place in the political fabric of a nation. Considering the fact that African politics is often a personal as opposed to a public undertaking, it is left in the hands of a few political elites who rule it with whim. “During the past three decades, roughly 90 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s leaders have behaved despotically, governed poorly, eliminated their people’s human and civil rights, initiated or exacerbated existing civil conflicts, decelerated per capita economic growth, and proved corrupt” (Rotberg,2003:28)

Post-colonial Africa is bedeviled by the misfortune that is poor leadership. Many scholars have increasingly placed blame on military dictatorship and clientelism for the continent’s tribulations (Bahru and Pausewang (eds), 2006:17). As one author put it, “vicious, wicked and grossly incompetent, African leaders have been responsible for the undervaluing of their national economies and the near collapse of the continent as a whole” (VonDoepp, 2009:2). These leaders tend to use the state for their personal gains and thus follow detrimental policies.

When they are faced with the prospect of losing power, they make political decisions to engage in pillage rather than pursue developmental goals that would ensure the welfare of their successors (Goldsmith, 2004:88). This kind of behavior by those who hold the leadership role and all the support that sustains them (Clientelism), is termed as “predatory rule”. An informative example to this assertion is the following:

About 75 percent of Nigerians now live on less than one dollar per day “yet over the past 40 years, aboutUS$300 billion oil wealth has disappeared from the country”(…) “Nigeria presents a classical example of how people in a resource rich country could wallow in abject poverty”. However, the reason for this paradox lies in the corrupt nature of the ruling elite, which seems to have filtered down and infected the fabric of the socio-political, economic and cultural environment of the society in a way that some people have concluded that the Nigerian culture may have been embedded in monumental corruption (Baker, 2008:4).

Albeit predatory rule’s effect on development has often been the focus of researches its effect on democracy has barely been given the attention due. The current political realities of Africa, exemplified by the lack of the political values and orientations of moderation, civility and tolerance have cursed the continent with superficial democracy. It is imperative that the paucity of democracy is assessed vis-à-vis the elite culture of predatory rule considering the commonness of predatory rule in most nations of Africa.

The Political Culture of Predatory Rule

After the demise of colonialism, it did not take a while before politics took a highly personalized aura. The elite strand of African political culture started to dominate as well as to determine the fate of the continent (Chazan, 1994:68-79). How unfortunate for Africa to fall prey to such elites as they had neither the skill nor the interest to transform their injured nations. Instead, they began to develop corporate interests that coalesced around the maintenance of supremacy at the center and embarked upon using power for personal gains (Chazan et al., 1988: 82-83, Mazuri, 1978,).

Despite coup after coup, and the passing of time, “ each new leader [resembled] similar levels of corruption, mismanagement, tribalism, nepotism and other assorted malpractices as the leader before him” (Meredith, 2005:219). Power was sought for its own sake irrespective of who was seeking it. This dishearteningly insured “continuity within change” (Lynch and Crawford, 2011:288).

The Background to Predatory Elite Rulership

The inception of elite rulership in Africa can be traced back to the time the colonial powers handed Africa back to Africans. African elites took over “nations” that had been run by the colonial political culture for the past 30+ years. Colonial political models were hegemonic rather than incorporating and imposed rather than integrating. “The values of participation and competition were obviated by the hegemonic statism of colonial structures” (Chazan, 1994:65). Social standing and prosperity within the colonial order was linked to proximity to state power (ibid, Williams, 1984, Rowely, 1999, …etc). “The elites that inherited such political legacies moved quickly to consolidate it attempting to marginalize economically and to disenfranchise politically those who might compete with them for the apparatus of government” (Rowely 1999:138).

With few exceptions, Africans gained their independence not by defeating the colonial regimes but as a “gift” from their colonizers (Chazan, 1994:69). The political legacy bequeathed on the eve of independence was absolutely alien in derivative and design. The Westminster model of majoritarian rule and the presidential system of the fifth French republic constituted the major blueprints for the initial frames of African politics (ibid, Jackson and Rosberg, 1985:298). International pressure forced colonial powers to leave Africa after guaranteeing their viable succession. In this vein, they rushed to ensure their successors were political elites who were major players behind the anticolonial movements: educated in their systems and supposedly attentive to their interests (, Ake, 1993, 3, Chazan, 1994, 71, Barkan and Okumu (eds), 1984:65).

As a result, the political arrangements established at independence were arbitrary and disorganized. “Beneath the veneer of democracy and the mood of euphoria that accompanied the declaration of independence of dozens of new state, the political arena was in flux” (Chazan, 1994:71). The leaders of the new African states were faced with the question of abiding by pluralist democratic rules of alien origin when the bulk of their political education had been acquired in the highly centralized and authoritarian context of colonialism (Chabal (ed), 1986:30-51). Thus, it was no surprise that they hastily regressed to authoritarianism, to the kind of ruling system they were so accustomed to; to a system that was basically second nature.
(Editor's Note- Hiwot Wendimagegn has a Masters in International Relations at Addis Ababa University , and earned her BA degree in Political Science and minored in Public Administration again at AAU. She has worked as a lecturer, and currently works
as a consultant and as an event organizer
The section above is a continuation of her series on Democracy and political culture, part I and II of which we have presented in NEVIS Reviews No 5 and 6.)