Democracy is a system of government in which laws, policies, and the political leadership that make them are determined by the people. The human and inclusive attributes the system possesses endeared it as the most fashionable framework to govern any polity. Even socialist states apply some democratic ethos when implementing their policies and to date, every government enjoys the status of being referred to as democratic. In Africa, all states claimed to be democratic even with their proven records of undemocratic characters. I have before now argued that the only democratic credential of most African nations is the use of elections to select their leaders. Although the election is only one among the appurtenances of democracy, yet the conduct of these elections in Africa is in themselves skewed. They lack credibility, are heavily rigged, and their outcomes are not reflective of the choices made by electorates.
The purpose of this article is not necessarily to evaluate the total gamut of democracy but to discuss how African leaders see, use, and operates democratic institution. In truth, no state including the United States of America has reached the actual status of democracy. The manifestation of democracy is measured by the extent and intensity of compliance to democratic ideals, ethos, and standards. In other words, states are not democracies, they are democratizing but democratization must follow the logic and foundational principle acceptable to the system. The core among these principles is the supremacy of institutions. In a democracy, all political actors and their subordinates are subject to a set of rules (constitution) established to guide human conduct and govern the polity.
Alas, the reverse is the case in Africa. From Burkina Faso to Ethiopia, Cameroun, DR Congo, Egypt, Nigeria, and the rest, Africa operates a Guarded Democratization. Need to emphasize that Guarded Democratization is understood as the guarding of the democratic institution with hefty barons instead of rules. The assumption is that only strong men with overbearing power and influence should rule to ensure the effectiveness of rulemaking and compliance. The implication of this perversion naturally makes the institutions susceptible to various abuses and manipulation. In this disorder, institutions are stable only in situations of conflict amongst the elites. Conversely, elite consensus restrains the institutions under permanent control and as subservience of power barons.
I have used the above theory to illustrate and explain the infamous third-term agenda in the political history of Nigeria. It was widely (authoritatively) reported that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo while in office as the president of Nigeria made attempt to alter the nation’s constitution to elongate his stay in office and like Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Cameroun’s Paul Biya, he intends to make himself president for life. The initiative played a negative effect on the ambition of his then Vice President, Atiku Abubakar who was planning to succeed his estranged boss after his four years tenure of two terms in office. For this reason, Atiku in firm control of the legislative institution foiled Obasanjo’s inordinate and sit-tight plan. In other words, what the political institution almost lost was rescued by elite conflict (Atiku vs Obasanjo).
The point being made is that only characters with virtues, or those who undertook virtuous socialization are suitable to superintend the safety of institutions. The notion of the institution as I have reasoned rise beyond the building of structures along with the body of offices and officers. In essence, an institution connotes the establishment of rules with the commitment to operate it according to the ingrained standard without violating the norms and conventions.
Although no institution can exist in a vacuum. The opinion of the logical positivists who place the role of government on individuals who operate them shows that only persons with a moral compass can protect the sanctity of an institution. I am more than convinced it was this crucial demand that prompted Plato’s emphasis in his allegory; the republic, to have insisted on the complex socialization process the philosopher-king must undergo. Plato was not a utopian philosopher, he only appeared so given his penchant for virtuous leadership.
Our understanding of international laws opined that agreements are kept (laws are obeyed) only in good faith; Pacta sunt servanda. This comment places more focus on the role of individuals than structures. We can refer to the deviant policies made during the administrations of the US immediate former president, Donald Trump, and how these policies provoked and tensed the international order. So whether it is a leadership-focused theory, rational actor model, or neorealism, the role of individuals in the institutional building cannot be overemphasized. And I think that the building of institutions is a characteristic of underdevelopment. Elsewhere, institutions are strengthened and it is impossible to strengthen what has not been built.
By and large, with the crop of leaders that are elected into political offices, it is predicted that in coming years, Africa’s predicament will neither be a challenge of strengthening political institutions, nor the building of it. The focus will be geared towards rescuing the imminent collapse of Africa’s rickety institution. And beyond being a threat to democracy, these strong barons, except they are displaced, will plunge and descend the nascent democratic institution to collapse.
Azeem Salako’s research interest is on citizenship and the public sphere in Africa. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org