|Dr. Jerry Rawlings|
Simply put, the right of the people to have a voice in the management of their countries and societies is vested in a few selected individuals who are expected to protect the interests of the people.
We can juggle various definitions of democracy, but true democracy is the process where every individual is involved and convinced that his opinion has been factored into the decision-making as far as the management of his society is concerned. A government, irrespective of its mode of appointment, which gives ear to the people and approaches decision-making and policy implementation from a human-centred and continued consultative process is closer to democracy than a duly elected government that fails to consult and also treats the opinion of the legislature – the elected representatives of the people – as of little value.
Soon after Ghana underwent political transition in the 1990s many were those who were quick to state that Ghana had embraced democracy. I strongly disagreed and explained that Ghana had throughout the period of the revolution been practising democracy, because the grassroots participation in local and national affairs was heightened throughout the period. The transition in 1992 was rather a transition to constitutional rule. Let me add that constitutional rule is not necessarily synonymous with democracy. That is why we have a number of leaders across the world who are practising constitutional dictatorships. I must emphasise that this is not unique to Africa.
Emerging democracies are defined as countries with governments that have emanated out of a perceived legitimate democratic electoral process but are still saddled with complexities of dominant political parties and poorly applied rule of law.
Many scholars on the subject have listed a few countries in our region as emerging democracies, but I find it difficult not to refer to most of our continent as emerging democracies. Even more complicated is the fact that many of our countries progress from that nascent stage into well-managed democracies only for them to slip back into a democratically embryonic state partly because some of the managers of our political systems are adept at ensuring that the institutions of state do not perform efficiently leading to their disempowerment and a weakening of the rule of law.
No true democratic arrangement can be successful if the institutions that are meant to serve as checks and balances are not properly structured and equipped to operate at optimum. These institutions include independent judiciary, security services, the electoral machinery, a well-oiled and independent media as well as a vibrant and non-partisan civil society.
The major factor required to get these institutions operational is to have a well-framed constitution that is not lacking in definition and that protects adequately the independence of these institutions. It is important also that the same constitution protects these institutions from abuse as they are managed by humans – fallible as we are.
Emerging democracies are grappling with problems of incoherent constitutions and weak institutions, allowing some political leaders the leeway to abuse the system through clever and sometimes blatant actions such as the appointment of unprincipled and very partisan personalities to head such institutions. The judiciary and security services are also not free of excessive control. Abuse of the media either through intimidation or inducement is also part of the challenges such countries face.
We are also saddled with civil society who instead of exposing ills in government and society and offering concrete options on the way forward rather metamorphose into partisan political entities attacking or overprotecting government as if their survival depended on it.
The average African is in dire need of a working democracy that truly protects not only himself but also guarantees a progressive and development-oriented political system that defends freedom, guarantees justice and ensures that society also remains disciplined and focused on what is good and right.
The primary challenge for emerging democracies in Africa, is the failure of Western democracy to acknowledge its inherent flaws and encourage a system of democracy on our continent that is dynamic, home grown and imbued with the socio-cultural backgrounds of individual African states.
Our societies are borne out of a strong traditional political framework of monarchies that wielded both spiritual and political power as well as judicial authority. Many of these societies still look up to traditional authority for moral fortitude while our ‘imported’ democratic and secular leadership is seen unfortunately as synonymous to immorality and corruption. With such perceptions how do we expect our emerging democracies to evolve?
The biggest misconception in embracing democracy is the argument that it comes with economic progress. The Western sponsors of democracy and their allied institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank who offer democratic prescriptions with the promise of financial support for socio-economic development usually present such arguments.
Allow me to quote Merillee Grindle, a Professor of International Development at the Harvard University, who states that: “Democracy is perceived as not having delivered what was promised. Scholars, NGOs, democracy movements, politicians, and others really have oversold what can be expected from democracy and have raised expectations about what a form of government actually can achieve. Certainly, a democratic regime can deliver, in time, on promises for personal freedom and liberty, for participation in the decisions of government, and on equality of rights. But democracy has also been sold as a way to engender economic growth, as a way to achieve economic and social equality…democracy is not a panacea for economic development.”
Democracy should however be made to provide the political stability for development. A practicing democracy that cannot create the climate to correct economic ills and corruption cannot and will not be a democracy. A democracy that cannot protect the sanctity of its electoral process is engaging in a fraudulent electoral coup d’état. Equally destructive is the unfortunate practice of using money to buy the conscience of the electorate.
There is no doubt that when democratic structures are instituted in a manner that recognizes the socio-cultural and socio-political context of individual countries, it will have a better chance of survival and success. Management of countries and societies is still dependent on a system of governance, which requires that every citizen has a role to play in the decision-making process and how leaders are elected. The citizens of every society must have an input in the format their political structures take and it is never too late to modify our constitutions to embrace what we overlooked.
Developments in Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire over the past two decades and recent developments in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt call for a thorough revision of political processes and structures in these countries. Some of these countries were also seen as relatively advanced democracies and economies but today a few of them cannot even boast of being emergent democracies having retrogressed within weeks of uprisings or violent electoral dispute.
Kenya has learnt many lessons from the electoral violence of 2007, which had huge ethnic connotations. The constitution has been reviewed and political tolerance was tested through a unity government. The judiciary is more empowered and today the country’s leadership boasts of two former adversaries working together. Appointment of Supreme Court justices is not the entire prerogative of the President of the land and has to go through a selection and consultative process that ensures that the President — even though he has the final assent — cannot manipulate the appointment.
Nigeria has made strides over the past decade politically but still faces complicated challenges, which many of you will bear with me has socio-cultural implications that have been ignored for a significant period. That is why institutions such as the National Institute for Legislative Studies should be welcomed as one of the structures that will enhance and strengthen emerging democracy.
Democratic institutions across the continent are poorly equipped to offer the best support to governments. As a capacity building institution dedicated to provide professional research, advice, training and advocacy for members of the legislature, your organization is in a unique position to be a pacesetter in empowering our senators and parliamentarians to better serve the interests of their constituents.
It is embarrassing sometimes to observe our various legislative assemblies struggle to competently debate issues of serious national concern because members are handicapped information-wise.
Emerging democracies present attractive opportunities for investment and development and we cannot allow the progress that has been achieved over the past few decades to retrogress because of the challenges we have encountered and continue to encounter.
Relative political stability means we have an opportunity to turn our economies around and not only through the exploitation of traditional export commodities but also through investment and improvement in the service related sectors.
Africa’s share of investment within Africa rose from 3.2 per cent in 2007 to 5.6 in 2012 according an Ernst and Young report. The trend of investment and growth is not related to just a few countries but spread across the continent and this means the potential is huge if we adopt more aggressive efforts at strengthening our monitoring institutions especially those entrusted with the power to stem corruption – a major factor that restricts foreign direct investment.
An African think-tank recently reported that illicit financial outflows cost the continent between $38.4 billion and $25 billion between 2008 and 2010 respectively. Our countries do not fare any better in the annual corruption index of Transparency International. While there may be a lot of factors that enhance corruption including the connivance of major global international players —whose jurisdictions ironically exact huge penalties for white-collar fraud — Africa is primarily saddled with corruption because some members of a minority elite connive to rape the continent and ensure that the positive economic indices are only on paper and do not reach the pockets of the ordinary people at the grassroots.
We cannot continue to pay lip service to the strengthening, empowerment and independent management of our multiple anti-corruption institutions. We live in countries where poor, petty thieves get imprisoned for several years while businessmen who evade taxes in millions of dollars or a politician who misappropriates millions of state funds escape punishment.
These inequalities are recipes for the retrogression of our democracies and we cannot allow the negative tide to continue. As I said earlier a democracy that cannot provide socio-economic justice cannot be a healthy democracy and will remain vulnerable and fragile.
Our institutions are weak because we do not strengthen and protect them adequately in our constitutions. While the legislature can enact laws that empower institutions, constitutional entrenchment of such provisions would ensure that political parties with majority control within legislative assemblies do not manipulate the powers of these institutions.
Institutions in the advanced countries have evolved over time having encountered huge challenges, but we have the capacity to ensure true independence for these institutions in a manner that does not infringe on the rights of the senior politician in government, the critical opposition leader or the cobbler at the street corner.
Africa has bright prospects, but these prospects can only see fruition if we embrace a patriotic desire to witness even development within our societies and not a selfish, myopic desire to enrich oneself at the expense of national development and cohesion.
One of our proudest assets must be our sense of nationalism. Emerging democracies in putting in place structures such as the National Institute for Legislative Studies must endeavour to inculcate in their citizenry the pride in defending one’s country against corrupt practices that sow seeds of disaffection especially amongst the less-advantaged in society who feel disregarded, abused and disrespected by a minority elite.
Can we change the cycle of profiting from wrong to profiting from right? If not, once again our democracy will continue to remain vulnerable and fragile.
A former Attorney General in Ghana who has waged a relentless campaign against the payment of questionable judgment debts to individuals and institutions obtained a Supreme Court ruling ordering the retrieval of over 40 million Euros from an international company which had earlier convinced government to pay her the said amount over an alleged abrogated contract. The former Attorney General who at times faced serious ridicule from his compatriots stood his ground against all odds and won the case for Ghana. Today he is ironically being touted as a hero. But did he have to fight a lonely fight in defence of his country’s meager resources?
Does Nigeria have its lonely heroes too? Yes indeed!
By H.E. Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings,
Former President of Ghana.