NEVIS Review No 14
Ref # 14.2
April 8, 2013
African political culture and democracy: Part IV
The link between the political culture of predatory rule and Africa’s failing democracy
By Hiwot Wendimagegn
Unto now, the general African political setting vis-à-vis predatory rule and all the values and attitudes that sustain it have been outlined. It is now time to conclude the discussion by contrasting the African behavioral patterns with the political culture of democracy In line with the two concepts (survival and self expression values and amoral familism/negative social capital) introduced in the conceptual framework section of the series.
Survival Values and Predatory Rule
As per previous discussions, democracy needs a set of values to flourish and to pertain. If one tries to implant it in a society characterized by materialist values that gives physical and economical survival precedence, it will not be able to thrive. Instead, it needs self expression values, manifested through attitudinal traits like participation, tolerance of diversity and life satisfaction. Contemporary Africa remains a far cry from such attitudinal values. It is still predominantly pre - capitalist and pre -industrial, primordial loyalties and pre-capitalist social structures remain strong (Ake, 1993:243). Moreover, the majority of Africans continue to languish in extreme poverty and barely make it bellow subsistence level.
A Reuters 2008 report has revealed, while most of the developing world has managed to reduce poverty, the rate in sub- Saharan Africa, the world’s poorest region, has not changed in nearly 25 years. According to data collected using the new $1.25 a day poverty line, half of the people in sub- Saharan Africa were living below the poverty line in 2005, the same as in 1981. That means about 380 million people lived under the poverty line in 2005, compared with 200 million in 1981. Moreover, According to UNDP’s latest and more comprehensive, Multidimensional Poverty Index (2011), most nations of sub-Saharan Africa fall under the final (Low Human Development) category of the human development rank (the other categories include: Very High Human Development, High Human Development and Medium Human Development).In such conditions, instead of “life satisfaction” and “the pursuit of happiness”, the value driving daily existence becomes “survival of the fittest”.
Adding fuel to the fire, Africa is bedeviled by the misfortune that is predatory rule. On many occasions, the centralization of power and the curtailment of personal liberties have been justified as a means of achieving rapid development as democracy will not feed the hungry, heal the sick and shelter the homeless (Ake, 1991:37). However, African leaders too busy feeding and sheltering themselves neither brought development nor democracy. “What passed for development was usually a crudely fabricated plan that an embattled and distracted leadership put together for the sake of appearances, often with an eye to luring prospective donors” (Ake,1991: 35).The fixation with accruing personal wealth as opposed to perusing socially beneficial policies killed the hope for tolerance and popular participation. New regimes even when they have been democratically elected, and new forms of political mobilization such as militias and armed groups, consistently hastened to constitute vectors of criminalization (Bayart et al., 1999:18). As a result:
“The implication of military or paramilitary organizations in the wholesale looting of cities, in the theft of humanitarian aid and in trafficking in drugs diamonds or other natural resources has been apparent in Liberia, Sierra Leone , Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda. It has been the pattern for longer period in Chad, Angola and Mozambique to the point where several conflicts south of the Sahara can be better understood as stemming from the economic logic of predation rather than any political, ethnic or regional calculus (ibid).”
For this reason, when one assesses the elite strand of predatory rule, it is easy to detect post- independence Africa government-opposition relations is characterized by securitization of opposition/ politics of exclusion, by the government and resorting to rebellion/ protest, by the opposition (Mohammed (ed), 2003). Samuel Huntington in his book “The Third Wave : Democratization in the Late 20th Century” argues: A system is undemocratic to the extent that no opposition is permitted in elections or that the opposition is curbed or harassed in what it can do or that opposition news papers are censored or closed down or that voters are manipulated or miscounted.
Those in power are so keen on preserving it that any sort of “risk”/ “opposition”, is viewed as a security issue (the militia spread around most cities of African nations has a very strong connotation that dissent is an offense punishable by death.). In expressing the deep-rootedness of this political mania Lary Diamond wrote:
“[amidst] the myriad of ways in which leaders can and often do manipulate and subvert the electoral process, a particularly worrying development is the readiness and ease with which political elites revert to strategies of political violence including the sponsorship of informal repression or covert violations by third parties and widespread use of informal disenfranchisement ranging from ethnic cleansing to the introduction of universal but discriminatory registration methods identification requirements of universal but discriminatory registration methods identification requirements and voting procedures which disenfranchises actual or likely opposition candidate and supporters (Cited in Lynch and Crawford, 2011: 281-2).”
On the other hand, the opposition parties are often on the ready to overlook “democratic procedures” and go back to the world they know so well, that of rebellion and protest. For example, between 1990 and 2001, there were 50 attempted coups in sub-Saharan Africa of which 13 were successful which represents a much lower rate of success in comparison to earlier years, but no significant reduction in the African military’s propensity to launch coup attempts .The truth in all these mishaps is, for Africans to engage in politics, to distribute their meager resources and make common decisions by a process of debate and communal decisions, “they must respect one another’s opinion and interests. If one group cannot accept government by another or cannot accept a decision which is not in its own favor [let alone democracy], politics becomes impossible” (Elcok, 1976:74). Apparently, wrapped up with their short term material interests and lack of hindsight, African elites have made democracy impracticable.
As outlined in the previous discussions, the popular strand of the political culture of predatory rule has actually helped breed predatory elitism through clientelism, patronage and nepotism; thus, the classic case of nations eating away themselves. What can be deduced from all these assertions is that, the rat race for material resources in particular and wealth in general has reduced democracy to a mere shenanigan and a means to an end. Moreover, the utter disregard for the common good which is the cornerstone of survival values, kills off tolerance, trust and mutually beneficial existence.
[Ed’s note:The article above is the continuation (fifth part) of the series on "African Political culture and democracy" which Hiwot exclusively wrote to NEVIS. The fourth part appeared on NEVIS Review No 11,February 25, 2013, Section III (Ref # 11.3)]