AFRICA: Africa World Press Guide

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DEMOCRACY IN AFRICA
More than votes and free-market economics

The story is told of a U.S. citizen chiding the former president of Tanzania, Julius K. Nyerere, about the fact that Tanzania had only one political party. Nyerere is said to have responded: "Well, in the United States, you, too, hav e only one political party, but with your customary extravagance you have created two versions of that one party." The study of democracy in Africa challenges Westerners to take a hard look at political institutions and philosophies that are too often taken for granted as the way-things-must-be. At the same time, it broadens and enriches the understanding of the concept of democracy.

Many Africans consider the Western model of political democracy to be extremely narrow and even alien to African cultures. "Democracy is not merely the right to vote and seize power," the Rev. Jose Belo Chipenda, General Secretary, All Africa Conferenc e of Churches (AACC) has said. "It is about a whole complex of rights and duties which citizens must exercise if a government is to be open, accountable, and participatory." Africans like Chipenda find that Western-style democracy "places people into arti ficial antagonistic boxes, turns friends into enemies, and aims at arousing unnecessary competition." See excerpts from Chipenda's speech to the AACC's 119th General Assembly, in Development Demands Democracy (Culbertson 1994), p. 20.

The resource materials in this chapter explore the broader and richer understandings of democracy as they are found in African societies.

Democracy--African style

Professor Ben O. Nwabueze's book, Democratisation (Nwabueze 1993), is the best place to begin for a wide-ranging and textured examination of democratization in African societies. "Democratisation is not only a concept, nor is it synonymous with mul ti-partyism," Nwabueze writes, "it is also concerned with certain conditions of things, conditions such as a virile civil society, a democratic society, a free society, a just society, equal treatment of all citizens by the state, an ordered, stable socie ty, a society infused with the spirit of liberty, democracy, justice and equality." The stated thesis of Nwabueze's book is that democratization, "in the fullest sense of the term, requires that the society, the economy, politics, the constitution of the state, the electoral system and the practice of government be democratised" (p. ix).

The essays in Popular Struggles for Democracy in Africa (Nyong'o 1987) deepen the theoretical and analytical study of democratization with contributions on aspects of the broad theme of "the state, development, and participatory democracy" in Af rica by Mahmood Mamdani, Abdelali Doumou, Samir Amin, Harry Goulbourne and other leading African scholars. Case studies are presented of Morocco, Uganda, the People's Republic of Congo, South Africa, Ghana, Liberia, Kenya, and Swaziland. "However repressi ve regimes have been in Africa," editor Peter Anyang' Nyong'o concludes, "and however successful they might have been in defeating popular attempts at democratic change...the people's impulse to struggle for freedom and social justice can never completely die." (p. 24).

The link between popular struggles and the building of democracy in Africa is developed further in two additional collections of studies. The first is a highly recommended 626-page anthology compiled by Mahmood Mamdani and Ernest Wamba-dia-Wamba, Af rican Studies in Social Movements and Democracy (1996). The book's 15 studies emerged from an 8-year-long (1985-1993) "continental dialogue" sponsored by CODESRIA (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa). The second collectio n, entitled Democracy, Civil Society and the State (Sachikonye 1995) analyzes social movements and democratic initiatives in the Southern Africa region.

North Africa and the Middle East

Most of the material in the above-mentioned publications concentrates on democratization in sub-Saharan Africa. The scholarly papers presented in Rules and Rights in the Middle East: Democracy, Law, and Society (Goldberg et al. 1993) extend the stu dy of democratic structures and processes to include North Africa (the Maghreb). In what is advertised to be "the first sustained look at democracy and democratic movements in the Middle East," contributors analyze the practice of electoral democracy in t he Arab East and North Africa and speculate about the prospects for broader democratization in the region.

Two issues of Middle East Report, the bimonthly publication of the Middle East Research and Information Project (Washington, D.C.), explore broadened understandings of democracy in North Africa and the Arab East: "Democracy in the Arab World, " no. 174 (January/February 1992), and "Islam, the State and Democracy," no. 179 (November/December 1992).

The Review of African Political Economy (Sheffield) has carried a number of stimulating articles on democracy in North and sub-Saharan Africa in recent years. See, particularly, "Democracy and Development," no. 49 (winter 1990), "Surviving Democracy?," no. 54 (July 1992), and "Democracy, Civil Society and NGOs," no. 55 (November 1992).

Issues of democracy

The following books examine selected issues related to democracy in Africa:

The articles in Democracy and Socialism in Africa (Cohen and Goulbourne 1991) focus on what the editors identify as "the burning political and social issue facing the [African] continent in the 1990s": the relationship between democracy and soci alism.

Convinced that "no society qualifies as democratic, representative, and progressive until there is free and voluntary participation of all its citizens in all spheres of life" eleven Kenyan women scholars and writers examine the "structural constraints " that have kept women from participating fully and meaningfully in Kenyan society. See their essays in Democratic Change in Africa: Women's Perspective (Kabira et al. 1993).

Several books examine the nature and role of the state as this entity relates to democracy and citizen exercise of political power in Africa. See, among others,

The role of the media in the democratic process is examined in a 20-page booklet in the Seminar Paper Series published by SAPES Trust in Harare, Zimbabwe: Media and Democracy: Theories and Principles with Reference to an African Context (Ronning 1994).

Case studies

Studies of democratic processes in individual African nations are found in

Botswana: An exception
that confounds generalizations

"At a time when Africa's dismal economic performance and political corruption and mismanagement have given rise to a new intellectual movement called Afropessimism," Professor Stephen John Stedman writes, "...Botswana stands out as an example of economic development, functioning governance, and multiparty, liberal democracy."

Writing in his introduction to Botswana: The Political Economy of Democratic Development (Stedman 1993) Professor Stedman explains: "[Botswana] is...a country akin to Switzerland, an exception that confounds generalizations, but whose very excep tionality prompts analysts to see it as a hopeful model for other societies" (p. 1). The ten essays in Stedman's book present the analyses of Africa scholars from Botswana, Germany, and the United States on Botswana's political system and, more generally, on the nature of "good governance in Africa and its relationship to democracy and development" (p. 1).

On Botswana's unique experiment in democratic participation, see also

Africa Faith and Justice Network: On Democracy

Members of the Africa Faith and Justice Network adopted the following principles regarding democracy in Africa at their annual meeting in Washington, D.C., in October 1993 (excerpts):

"AFJN commits itself to support the move toward democracy in Africa by:

Contact Africa Faith and Justice Network, P.O. Box 29378, Washington, DC 20017, USA for a copy of the October 1993 statement.


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