ADDRESS OF H.E. JERRY JOHN RAWLINGS AT THE 5th ANNUAL TRUST DIALOGUE

TOPIC: THE CHALLENGES OF DEMOCRACY IN AFRICA
ABUJA, 17TH JANUARY, 2008
(excerpts)
. . . a serious study of the history of traditional governance on the continent confirms that democratic ideas are not new to Africa, and that the majority of precolonial systems of traditional governance in Africa had, and in many cases still have, strong democratic elements. The pre-colonial contact with Europeans and the colonial period itself rather disrupted the old systems in many ways, and have left behind situations which are the root causes of many of today’s problems.

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. . . for the purposes of this presentation and in the interest of brevity, let me place the challenges into the following general groups:

  • Political challenges
  • The challenges of African Political Leadership, and
  • Economic and social challenges.
Political Challenges

Most of our peoples have already noticed that the new system of governance is being severely tested by the lack of good faith in certain leaders and administrations. What is more, it is clear that some of those very politicians who gained leadership positions as a result of the strict adherence to the norms of democracy are now, and at the end of their tenures, the very people trying to corrupt the democratic system of governance because of a selfish lust for power and money.
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A second political challenge is how to avoid the politics of exclusion and the creation of a society of unequals. The ‘winner takes all’ mentality that we have inherited from the Westminster and other systems of western democracy . . .

This form of challenge has manifested itself in a number of countries, mine included, when an in-coming leader and his ministers have resorted to the vilification of the previous leader and his government and the purging of the military and civil services in the bid to garner support and loyalty for their style of governance. This conduct is particularly deleterious and contributes to political tension that eventually polarises the country because it needlessly excludes important actors and sows the seed of division or polarisation in society.
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A third form of challenge to democracy in Africa is the refusal of governments to adhere to the ‘Good Governance’ Agenda. We are all aware that for democracy to succeed, there must necessarily be a role for the opposition, decentralization must also be equitable, the media must be assisted to be free, pluralistic and independent, civil society organisations must have the unfettered freedom to operate and lastly, there must be a strong commitment to anti-corruption. In all these areas, we have seen leaders fail badly as the opposition is openly hounded and denied any significant role in governance, as leaders have themselves become absolutely steeped in corruption and opulent life-styles, as the powers that be refuse to prosecute corrupt Ministers especially, as the purchase of the loyalty and bias of a large section of the press erodes the rights of opponents and as the use of radio stations to attack opponents is sanctioned in the hope of making opponents unpopular over time, and as decentralisation is destroyed by targeting districts and ethnic areas for discrimination. . . . African women still hang precariously on the lower rungs of the political ladder, in spite of many constitutions and United Nations resolutions urging all countries to pay attention to their status and roles. The youth continue to be largely illiterate, unemployed and disillusioned, and ethnic minorities continue to live in fear and obvious disadvantage.

These are political challenges that we ignore to our own detriment.

Challenges of Political Leadership

The lapses in the practice of democracy in Africa can be attributed to many factors, both internal and external to our respective countries, but there is the unquestionable evidence that the lapses are mainly as a result of bad political leadership. At the top of this failure of leadership is the scant respect that many of our leaders have for constitution and constitutionalism. The ease with which extra terms of office are pursued by certain leaders and the ruthless manner in which the illegal or unconstitutional objective is pursued has made this failing particularly objectionable and attributable to failed leadership.

A second challenge to African leadership is the tendency of leadership to foster ethnic or tribal ascendancy in political parties, the military and security situations. And so we are beginning to witness the creation of ethnic crimes and civil services. This deplorable tendency is one of the bagagges of our colonial period, when our peoples were not only identified in ethnic or tribal groups but also when in a number of colonial territories but certain tribes were preferred to others.
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Perhaps the most current of leadership failures on the African continent is the manipulation of election results, described variously as ‘rigged election’ or ‘sham elections’ or ‘stolen verdict’. . . . Democracy is not only the observance of certain norms and traditions; its first requirement is the upholding of the integrity of the electoral process itself. An inseparable collateral to the respect of the electoral process is the assurance of a peaceful and constitutional transition from one government to another. As a leader whose political party has tasted defeat at the polls before, I can say that there should be nothing to fear in losing an election and therefore there should also be no need to tamper with the rotational principle in good governance.
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I would be remiss in my responsibility toward our continent and its people if I fail to also draw attention to the unpalatable truth that more often than not, such deviant political behaviour is prompted and encouraged by certain outside powers who, for their own selfish national interest, prefer one African leader to another. It is a more daunting challenge as this patronising attitude of outside powers is more often than not predicated on the conscious corruption of leaders and the playing upon the abject poverty and ignorance of our people. . . . We must, Ladies and Gentlemen, strengthen our resolve to do away with such plain criminality in order to strengthen good governance in all parts of Africa.

Economic and Social Challenges

. . . democracy will not survive for long unless the mass of our people are introduced to significant economic prosperity. The failure of a large number of African economies in the first three decades of their independence showed all of us that the economy is also doomed to failure if such internal and external mismanagement of the economy is not brought to an end and reform, based on certain demonstrable capacities of leadership, is immediately substituted. The first challenge of that economic goal is therefore the achievement of economic self reliance and independence.
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The second economic and social challenge to democracy on our continent is the lack of efficient attention to our non-existent or poor economic and social infrastructure. The building of roads, railways, harbours, and communication as well as the rehabilitation of dams, electricity plants, water systems etc continue to be of top priority for all of us. The reason why only a few are able to emerge out of this particular difficulty is the pervasive and debilitating nature of corruption which make those involved see this need only in terms of what is in it for themselves. The erstwhile 10 percent syndrome of corrupt countries has now turned into an evil partnership between African administrations and representatives of developed country donors to short-change an already poor people. While it is also true that the all-too-evident shortfall in human capacity is also part of the challenge, I have come to the painful conclusion that corruption and political apathy are the main culprits in the slow progress at the provision of the infrastructure necessary for the development of African countries.__ . . .

Another critical challenge at this point in time is the absence of economic cohesion among African states when it comes to confronting the developed economic organisations, cartels and the chief controllers of the changing patterns of world trade.__ . . .

The challenge facing the continent here is to develop the economic and technical skills and the adequate human resource for negotiating with the developed world at the World Trade and other fora. Unless we show a collective resolve in negotiations, our future will continue to be decided by those who are in the race for the fast dwindling resources of our planet.

The last economic challenge to the survival of democracy in Africa which I wish to draw attention to in this presentation is the lack of resolve to empower certain important economic actors in the various countries.__ . . . There is no alternative to the economic empowerment of the masses through an investment directly in their collective abilities to produce and market. African governments must ensure the survival of their citizens by appropriate administrative, medical and economic policy interventions. Our peoples must of course live and enjoy good health in order to produce. They must be paid living wages and not wage that will put more money in the pockets of those who are already comparatively well- off. What is more, leaders must adopt economic policies that will teach the lesson that work pays as opposed to glorifying corruption.

Conclusion

In trying to find out why democratic governance is not working as well as intended, I have proffered certain reasons which I deem important, even critical, in our endeavour to succeed. The reasons are by no means exhaustive but have been advanced to assist the dialogue that is on-going on the matter. But, perhaps more importantly, let me advance a few ideas that I feel will assist in meeting the political, economic and social challenges. In so doing, it is not my intention to pontificate but rather to instigate discussions among our own peoples as to how to overcome the difficulties challenging us all.

In the first place, I believe that we must persevere and even fast-track the building of those institutions that will promote democracy and economic betterment on our continent. Our laws and institutions such as Parliament, the Judiciary and the Civil Service must be so reformed and strengthened as to make them extremely difficult to be subverted by politicians and political leaders. We must strengthen the judiciary and anti-corruption units in our countries so as to enable them join meaningfully in the anti-corruption war. Secondly, African countries need to develop the systems that will hold their leadership to accountability without fear or favour. This comes from strengthening institutions such as the opposition, parliament, auditing bodies and the general public to be able to ask questions and demand answers.

. . . Thirdly, it is also important that Africans undergo an attitudinal change towards leadership that does not meet their expectations. Unless the citizens learn to boldly reject fraud and criminality in leaders, wrong-doing will persist.

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Fourthly, we need to co-operate among states in confronting corruption and waging war on other lapses. The continued existence and prospering of many of these challenges in one another’s country gives support and nourishment to the lapses themselves. In this regard, the example of the holding of today’s dialogue is a fitting lesson on how to begin the exchange of ideas and the subsequent determination of how African countries should find strength in cooperation against such the challenges as posed by outside powers. But above all, we must respect ourselves, for without this self esteem and respect for one another, we cannot teach any lessons to those who suffer from tyrants, incompetent leaders and economic exploiters. I hope we are successful in achieving these aims.

I thank you for your kind attention.

Read the entire speech here.