By Chris Zumani Zimba (UNILUS-PHD Scholar; OSNA-MA; UNZA-BA; and ZIDIS-CERT)
In the recent past, many democratic African countries like Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ghana or Nigeria among others have been witnessing a systematic and unstoppable come back into politics of traditional leaders through either partisan statements, going into alliances with some political parties and candidates or calls for self-rule and regional autonomy. Thus, most traditional leaders certainly pose a real threat to the consolidation and sustainability of democracy in Africa given that the manipulative and oppressive colonial tactic of marginalizing them from national governance is increasingly proving unworkable, unhelpful and futile to guarantee and sustain the desirable national unity and political stability that is necessarily for healthy governance atmosphere. This is emerging strong because western democracy is being piloted in Africa without Africanizing it. Given that most Africans did not pass a vote of no confidence not to be ruled by their traditional leaders except for European colonialists and imperialists who gambled, overpowered and overthrew them due to illiteracy, primitivism and ignorance, the question of Africanizing western democracy by ensuring that the transplantation of Bretton Woods governance system from the north is built on right ancient local stones in the south becomes very critical and significant.
Thus, one of the main reasons why western democracy is failing to work and be consolidated in Africa is because it has been promoted on the pretext of “one size fits all model”. It is purely a classical modernization theory of WW Rostow which is misplaced and unfounded by thinking that “copying democracy from Washington, Paris, London, Athens, Berlin, Ottawa, Sydney or Tokyo and pasting it in Lusaka, Accra, Kampala, Lilongwe, Lagos, Maputo, Mbabane or Cairo will yield the same results and work. This is empirically failing in Zimbabwe, Uganda, Zambia, Rwanda, Egypt, Nigeria, Cameroon, Libya or Swaziland. The fact remain that western social-cultural and religious conditions are totally different from heterogeneous social-cultural and religious environments of Africa. And for democracy to work and be consolidated, we believe that there is need to build it on the ancient local stones of these traditional structures and systems. Going by Eisenstadt’s theory of ‘multiple modernities’ or the author’s notion of ‘multiple democracies’, we are simply saying that there is a Swiss, Zambian, Haitian, Japanese, South African, Chinese, Nigerian, Indian, Egyptian, Iranian or Ugandan indigenous path to attaining what in the west is called democracy. Certainly, it cannot be “one size fits all model” or ‘copy here and paste there’. This is one of the root causes as to democracy promotion is facing many challenges and on the sure path of democratic decline and backslide in most parts of the world.
What is democracy in Zulu, Kikuyu, Chichewa, Sotho, Buganda, Arabic, Swahili, Lingala, Setswana or Ibu? The fact remains that this English word called ‘democracy’ is not known or expressed in most local languages across Africa. Democracy is being promoted to work and be consolidated among African people whose social-political orientation and ancient governance systems are either too backward or totally different from what is in Canada, Spain, Australia or Switzerland. Most African citizens clearly understand the traditional structures and leadership roles of their kings, chiefs, indunas and village heads far better than the western system of councilors, senators, parliamentarians, prime ministers and presidents.
Therefore, for democracy to work and deliver in Africa, it needs to be Africanized. This is what the author call ‘Redemocratization of the continent’; a school of thought which appeals to Africans to welcome, promote and sustain western democracy as a governance system on the basis that it is applied within the context of already existing indigenous political institutions and local social-cultural conditions. Generally, democracy could be consolidated or made to work better in Africa if elected African politicians abolished colonial structures of ‘governing throw traditional leaders’ and restore ancient governance foundations by ‘governing with chiefs and kings’ either at legislative or executive level on non-elective basis. This is what Africanization of western democracy mean: transplanting and integrating Bretton Woods governance systems by mixing and fixing them on right ancient local stones i.e. traditional or/and religious structures in and for each local context.