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Africa Democracy

Visions Of African Democracy

Fundamental to the question of democracy in Africa have been different conceptions and visions of what democracy means and entails. The views range from minimalist conceptions of liberal democracy, emphasizing competitive electoral processes and respect for civil and political rights, to maximalist notions of social democracy embracing material development, equality and upliftment, and respect for the so-called three generations of rights, civil and political, social and economic, and development or solidarity rights. Five prescriptive models can be identified in the writings of African political thinkers and leaders: nativist, liberal, popular democratic, theocratic, and transnational.

Nativist model.

To the proponents of the nativist model, democracy in Africa can be consolidated only if it is articulated with the "consensus" or "consultative" model of democracy found in "traditional" institutions. Maxwell Owusu believes mobilizing the language, rituals, and working assumptions of traditional chieftaincy that are easily understood by local communities is essential to what he calls the "domestication of democracy." This vision is shared on the ideological right by George Ayittey, who urges a return to indigenous practices and values in political and economic management if Africa is to recover from its debilitating crises of poor governance and development, and on the ideological left by Claude Ake, who believes it is imperative to ground democratic movements and practice in the "communal ethos" that defines many Africans' perception of self-interest, their freedom, and their location in the social whole.

Liberal model.

To the pragmatic defenders of the liberal model, such as Jibrin Ibrahim and Peter Anyang' Nyong'o (1995), democracy rests solidly on a multiparty system and periodic electoral contests to promote the trinity of good governance: efficiency, accountability, and transparency. Their critics have charged that this model offers a mechanism of elite competition, recruitment, circulation, and control but presents limited benefits to the often atomized and powerless citizenry. A modified version incorporates the development imperative, the need for Africa's emerging democracies to "bring development back in." Thandika Mkandawire argues that a developmentalism will emerge out of the early-twenty-first-century context, democratic because of the continuing popular struggles against authoritarianism, and capitalist because capitalism constitutes the political program of the key actors in the struggles for democracy and of the dominant forces at the global level, following the collapse of "actually existing" Soviet socialism. Adebayo Olukoshi contends that the struggles for democracy ultimately entail struggles for material existence, although they are not purely economic, and that the possibilities of democratic consolidation are firmly tied to democracy's ability to deliver development.

Popular democratic model.

Many of the critics of liberal democracy advocate the popular democratic model in which both the political and economic domains are based on democratic principles. For Samir Amin, a democracy restricted to the political sphere, as in Western democratic regimes, while economic organization is held captive to nondemocratic principles of privatization, is an incomplete one. Besides the incorporation of economic rights, the defenders of popular democracy emphasize the rights of subnational communities as a necessary part of the process of reconciling the colonial bifurcation of power between a racially exclusive urban civil society for immigrant settler citizens and a decentralized rural despotism for the "native" subjects. According to Mahmood Mamdani, African states are confronted with the challenges of democratizing the state, particularly customary power, removing state control of citizenship rights, deracializing civil society, and restructuring the unequal external relations of dependency. Feminist scholars such as Amina Mama and Ifi Amadiume have called attention to the gendered dimensions of state formation and power and the fact that democratization without women's empowerment and gender equality is clearly inadequate.

Theocratic model.

All these debates and visions are secular in orientation. There are also theocratic visions and discourses about political transformation and democracy in Africa. The debate has been particularly contentious in Muslim communities undergoing revivalism due to contemporary religious, political, and cultural imperatives and pressures facing them. Ali Mazrui has argued that different forces in different countries have fostered Islamic revivalism. For example, in Somalia and Sudan

it grew out of desolation; in the case of Libya and Iran revivalism grew out of the hazards of newly acquired oil wealth.… Muslims were rediscovering their faith either in dependence or in renewed self-confidence. (p. 516)

On the one hand, there are militant clerics and intellectuals, such as Hassan El-Tourabi (b. 1932) in the Sudan, who propose sweeping political changes to enshrine Islamic law (shari'a), ostensibly to strengthen the Islamic community and eradicate the corrupt Western influences of modern society. On the other hand, there are reformist scholars, such as Abdullahi An-Na'im, also from the Sudan, who offer a radical reinterpretation of the Koran in an effort to develop a modern version of Islamic law that conforms to international standards of human rights. Feminist scholars, such as Ayesha Imam, have also sought to reinterpret women's rights under Muslim laws to advance women's empowerment.

Transnational model.

Finally, in response to the perceived pressures of globalization, which seem poised to erode the already diminished powers of the postcolonial state, a transnational model of democratization has emerged as embodied in new visions of regional and continental integration. Some scholars argue that none of the models above, all focused, more or less, on the nation-state, hold the key to lasting change for Africa. The economic and diplomatic justifications of regional integration for Africa's global competitiveness are as old as independence; the cultural and racial rationales go back to colonization and the origins of Pan-Africanism. What was new by the 1990s were the arguments centering on the democratic possibilities of regional integration: that it might curtail the authoritarian reflexes of the postcolonial state, thwart coups or raise the costs for the perpetrators, and facilitate the decentralization and dispersal of power, thereby dissolving incendiary clashes in conflict-prone countries.

The African Union, launched in 2002 as the successor to the Organization of African Unity, embodied the new hopes of African integration, development, and democratization. It envisioned the creation of an African parliament, a court of justice, a peace and security council, and an economic, social, and cultural council, some of whose members would come from civil society organizations, including some from the diaspora. Various economic instruments were also created, most importantly, the New Economic Partnership for African Development and a peer review mechanism for African states to evaluate each other's adherence to the principles of democratic governance and human rights.

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