Is democracy in Africa a ‘dictatorship of the majority’?

By Mebeelo Kafungwa

What is a democracy? Africa’s democracy in practice is not as theory tells it. An African democracy is said to by the people, for the people, democratically elected and with liberal ideals espoused by western democratic nations. Perhaps it is just the political systems within the countries. This article exposes on a new language in governance being referred to us a “dictatorship of the majority?” It has existed in Africa since post-colonial times. This is a democracy with only a small group of people rotating the leadership circle to govern a nation, and yet they still earn their power through the “democratic process”. It is leadership with the same network of people having access to stand for or be nominated for the presidency or any other high-profile leadership position because they are part of a majority or willing to die for a ruling government agenda. One would think that after decades of independence and adoption of democratic systems of governance, Africa would be well established into a real democracy. Yet to the contrary, a high amount of evidence and examples of ‘dictatorship of the majority’ can be drawn from most of the African nations, including, but not limited to, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Kenya, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, and Malawi. Thus, it is worth noting that although current leaders throughout Africa may have been elected through a democratic process, the governments are not creating opportunities for their populations, because what the leaders care about is shaping a power that can protect their own interests throughout their tenure in office and beyond. It is unfortunate that not all elected officials in African countries have the passion and hope like the founders of most nations during the liberation struggle of most African countries from colonialism.

After the end of colonialism, African governments began establishing development agendas throughout the continent. The problem is that these agendas are only presented at election times and never followed through. Furthermore, there is a repetitive cycle that trends in most nations, were leadership development agendas are still kneeling to the ideas of capitalism through industrialization that may only have benefited a small minority in both the developed world and in African nations. I would argue that most renowned democratic presidents and their governments are overwhelmed with old ideas which no longer have a place in shaping today’s Africans governance towards sustainable development.

Africa is a continent blessed with a growing young population for the future. The African youth aged 15-24 represents 19 percent of the global youth population. By 2030, the United Nations has projected this group to increase by 42 percent and double by 2055. The world is changing with much uncertainty in the globalized economy and world order. Yet, through an open digital information platform and access to information via the internet, the African youth is now up to date with information on science and technology, the flaws of governance, success stories of policy, good financial systems, and entertainment, as quickly as it is published. This has given them a platform to become more ambitious about who they can be in life just as any youth on the globe. What strikes me most is that the current leadership in most African nations is neither transitioning to e-governance nor absorbing innovative ideas to the system, especially if it is from the African youth. Government systems and strategies are not moving at the same pace as its youth’s mindset, constituting the next generation of leaders. Most African governments are moving more slowly than the rest of the world, subsequently affecting the African youth. The results are country-led and supervised by outdated ideas which are failing to accommodate or absorb the ambitions of the crisp gold innovative youth of Africa.

African governments are failing to create policies that benefit the average person’s well-being. Rather, they are busy protecting their individual interests. For every young African to have a share in their localized economy, I believe there is a need to base any democratic government on the rule and law of the land and on human dignity.  So, how do we create an agenda that will stand to support the average person even after a change of government? How do we support the idea that democracy in African countries is founded on human rights and is in line with the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda? How do we establish a system that is fully embedded on leadership to create a climate of equal opportunity for the youth who feel the system is unequally represented by the current government system? Not addressing these issues means continuing with the current status quo.

It is time for African leaders and their governments to be held accountable for failing to deliver on the promises they have made to their people. These commitments should be made official to prove that what they did was for the best and done to protect the interests of the public. Let us have a system that will hold democratically elected leaders accountable during and even after their tenure and one that will allow people to make accusations on their governments’ actions during their tenure in office. Any criminal activity, inaction to act for sustainable development and ultimately the betrayal slap on people’s faces often seen in most African nations (i.e. lying to the people who elected them in power). Only then this majority type of dictatorship running many African nations will stop mushrooming and will be alerted to serve its people. Ultimately, this will give confidence to the youth of Africa today who need to be shown that they have a role in this majority dictatorship governance system. If the goal of the democratic system of governance will be to create an ideal system where the youth is inspired and supported by the governments to achieve future equitable and sustainable societies. An accountable system of governance will remind African youth leaders that to achieve economic equity, democracy is still relevant. However, a new system of accountable governance will give Africa a strong stance for peace. The implementation of ideas for sustainable economic development strongly requires the passion of today’s African youth. Yes! because no matter how educated someone is, the high levels of youth unemployment and corruption fueled by this new disease of majority dictatorship is a scourge on African communities. The positive dreams of the youth are fading leading them into criminal activities to make ends meet. It would be accurate to say that majority dictatorship is failing to take advantage of the ultimate resource gold of Africa – its labor and of course the rich natural resources overshadowing the real benefits this has to make it a reality for African economies to be independent and equitable.

It is vital to understand that this idea of holding democracy accountable for its loopholes requires maximum acceptance from each host nation’s citizens. Pause a bit, give this a very clearly unbiased moment of thought. A democratic system that will hold a trial sitting to audit the out-coming president to state the case of his legacy. If she or he had failed to rule their democratically free and elected power on fulfilling the promises given to the people, grounding it on its people human rights, and his commitments signed to support the improvement of his citizen’s needs. To mention a few commitments are the vision brought forward in every nation. Only then should we follow up on their leadership and hold them accountable for abuse of power during their tenure in office. This is a big crime that has been brought down to acceptance as a normal trend. Abuse of power in a democratic nation grounded on human rights and integrity based agenda will be a serious crime at all levels of public service. For a start, this can be the platform, meanwhile exploring more ways in which it can be made out of corruption. However, it is only through such a commission that nations’ incoming presidents will be able to scrutinize an outgoing president’s ideas and then try to build on the highlighted failures or success. Mostly because of she or he would then know that without protecting the people’s interests they will soon be subject to similar justice.  By testifying in front of the nation and its people before handing over power to the new government, will they clearly state how they tried to achieve what they promised? Defend what they did if every action or time spent in office was for the people or for their majority interests.  Thus, each elected official from local councilors (or local governments) to the president should have that in mind as they plea for votes from citizens of African nations. This will allow them to govern and most importantly support the idea to replace a new democracy which is also now called a dictatorship of the majority. Through this type of governance which makes democracy to operate on internationally declared human rights and with every leader knowing that a commission will be held to audit all their tenure years in office. Weighing every second spent in office to see if their actions or inactions in office did save the peoples’ interests. Did they improve or try by their possible means to make every citizen have an environment that is clearly designed to improve their well-being?

Once future leaders have that deeper understanding in mind, I am certain that with Africa being the fastest growing continent in urban development, with its growing youthful population, a decade from now there will be a different yet successful, story coming out of many nations. This cannot be fulfilled when there is a system that is only benefitting a small minority. Who are a few fractions of the total population setting up governments grounded on policies that are protecting their interests? It is only these types of ideas that will give the youth hope for an equitable Africa in the future. They will add one important thing in mind to their future hopes ambitions. They add the strong principle that any government will be set to stand for every action and decision they make.

Furthermore, this notion of closing doors to others in the name of democracy must end. It is mushrooming very fast. Democracy is not totally reflecting the interests of everyone during the implementation stage of most governments in Africa. It is argued that the African population knows and has in mind to put to trial their government after a term in offices. If a government is put to vote or commission to stand to its people after a tenure in office. If it shows that it failed because of inaction, should we proceed to the courts? If we implant this in every African leader or youth who wants a public office that democracy is not a system to use for your personal gains. If they have that in mind as they file for office, only then can we have truthful, dedicated, passionate and enthusiastic leaders in office who are voted to lead with vision and genuinely share the nation’s profits, protect citizen’s interests? They will take being a president, minister, a member of parliament or mayor as a position to serve the people and not themselves.