Selfish Africans Will Advance True Democracy

Published on 21st December 2007

Reports that Kenyan political elite will spend an estimated Ksh 1.8 billion in voter bribery is a probable indication of a gap between governments and citizens in Africa. The rural electorate is reported to be asking for “listening allowance.” Some even argue that they do not expect political returns and therefore have to “eat” whenever they get an opportunity. For Africans, the government is something else and they have their own lives and challenges to battle after elections.


The concept of “government of the people, by the people, for the people” seems alien here. When the colonialists left, ordinary citizens in Africa felt that the government belonged to those who “fought” the colonialist. The retreating Western powers made matters worse by picking up the “by the people” part of democracy through foreign aid.


The aspect of electorates expecting candidates to dish out money could be informed by the assumption that victors during elections will simply “eat” from government coffers – no connection of the electorate to the coffers! Picture this, if the electorate were to be informed that all cases of corruption translate to one person pick pocketing over 35 million people at a stroke of a pen…will they refer to political elites who steal as “waheshimiwa” (honorable)?


If Kenya and Africa is to be “by Africans”, we need selfish individuals who see the strategic importance of making profits by offering products to the market. So far, the continent has produced a constituency of people who benefit from simple government connections. Africa offers opportunity for talented individuals to mine our subsurface wealth and offer services to address infrastructure, health, famine and housing challenges. In the spirit of the African Union’s quest to identify independent voices; more Africans ought to start businesses.


A few weeks ago, I was honored to be an election observer for the African Union’s Economic and Social Cultural Council (ECOSOCC). I was impressed by a move from the African Union’s election guidelines that demanded that all contestants must represent civil society groups that do not rely on over 50 percent of their budget from non African sources. In other words, the A.U would wish to receive advice from Africans who have an African agenda at heart. It is expected that by end of this year, the African Union will have identified 150 such groups in Africa. At least on paper, somebody in Addis Ababa is making attempts to invent a new Africa, but such a person will not go far unless Africa identifies another class of selfish individuals among its populace.


One lesson from the African Union’s electoral guidelines and the rural Kenya electorate’s guidelines (of demanding listening allowance) is that both are at a loss of who exactly can serve the African interests. The leaders and the governed are both caught in the famous Henry Kissinger predicament with Europe. Henry is said to have asked, “If I want to speak to Europe, who do I call?” The electorate has lost faith in representative electioneering as we know it, and hence tax politicians at the door step. The African Union is attempting to peg budgetary support to sound advice (in respect for who pays the piper determines the tune).


The African should invest in starting profitable business ventures for purposes of generating money that can make Africa claim the “by the people” part of government through paying of taxes. Identifying selfish Africans keen to make profit in return for service to the continent ought to be the norm. The political elite should by now have noticed that in the long run subjecting people to poverty does not pay. Let us make it easier for Africans to start and run business.   

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