AFRICA NEEDS GANDHI !
Africa needs Gandhi
Africa needs Gandhi1
It is the desire of any rational being to live in a good and sound social and political system. For harmony and peace to reign in any country, it must be governed by competent leaders in a good political system. All through history, think-tanks have sought to formulate social and political theories and systems most fit for any country. While Plato and Aristotle had a pejorative view of democracy, and viewed it as a system of rule by the masses at the expense of wisdom, it is clear that our contemporary era in contrast with the ancient period has opted for democracy as the ideal political system. In this chapter, we will analyse the democracy in Africa and make allusions to Gandhi in order to propose some solutions to the African political problem.
Before delving into the core of this chapter, some pertinent questions run through the mind of any rational being: Why is democracy which seems to be a widely accepted political system so problematic for Africans? Can Gandhi in this contemporary era meddle into state affairs here in Africa in order to shape its democracy? This chapter attempts to unveil our minds of the above queries in four stages. We will first of all succinctly define democracy and its general understanding, Secondly; we will try to make a hermeneutics of the problem with democracy in Africa. Thirdly, we shall navigate succinctly into the Cameroonian democracy. With the problem exposed, we will in the fourth stage of the essay make recourse to Gandhi’s vision of Democracy to support the efforts of installing true democracy in Africa, especially in Cameroon. But what is this democracy all about?
Towards Defining Democracy
Democracy is derived from the Greek word Kratos, meaning power or rule and Demo referring to “the people”. Democracy thus means “rule by the people”. The problem with defining democracy is that it seems to have no agreed meaning. It can mean anything to anyone and therefore risks having no meaning at all. Some see democracy as the most promiscuous word in the world of public affairs. North Korea is a “democracy” – and its official name is the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea. Libya practises its form of democracy. Uganda, under the single party rule when political parties were banned was also a democracy; today, it is a democracy as well. Robert Mugabe has regularly held elections in Zimbabwe for the past years, a standard democratic practice but we are still to hope for a true democracy there. 2 Democracy seems to sound right and good, even the most authoritarian tyrant would wish to associate with it. As shown above, in ancient Greece, democracy tended to be viewed in negative terms. Well into the 19th century, the term continued to have a pejorative connotation, suggesting a system of “mob rule”. Now, suddenly, we are all “democrats”. Indeed, as the major ideological systems have faltered and collapsed in the late 20th century, the flame of democracy has appeared to burn yet more strongly. One can thus insist that:
The most important development of the past century has been both.....simple and profound. It has been the spread of democracy. Democracy hardly makes the world perfect, but it tends to engender open economies and more respect for human rights. Ultimately, democracy promises to make the world more peaceful, for democracies are less likely to go to war against each other than are totalitarian regimes. 3
Today, the classical definition of democracy is found in Abraham Lincoln’s words: “The government of the people, by the people and for the people”.
It has not really been easy for African countries to practice democracy. When asked what he thought of elections in Africa, Fela Anikulapu Kuti quickly fumed “Democrazy? Dem all crazy, what a crazy demonstration!”4 This will be demonstrated in the succinct presentation of the democratic situation of some African Countries.
The political situation in some African nations
During the first three decades of post independence (1960 - 1990), most of the African states experimented variations between authoritarian rule and liberalisation. It was hard to find a political party using the reference to multi-party system. The perspective from 1990 was shaped by two different facts which occur simultaneously. The first is the claim for ‘’full’’ democracy, including multi-party system and human rights. The second consists in the extension of this project all over the continent. The exceptions are countries involved in “old” democratisation experiences (Senegal, Botswana, Zimbabwe...) or affected by civil war (Sudan, Liberia ...)
In Africa, the debate on liberal democracy was poor before 1990. There were many dictators like Mobutu Sese Seko of DR Congo and Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia. Different versions of “africanized” democracy existed in experiences tested by leaders like Nyerere or Kaunda. Some other regimes defined themselves after the Marxist notion of “popular democracy’’ as in Benin or Congo-Brazzaville. However, the references to the rule of majority, to the existence of a legal opposition, to more than one party or to free elections were unknown out of the circle of intellectual elite. These notions were not part of local political cultures.
The high point of African democracy was doubtlessly reached on the 27th of April 1994 when South Africans trooped to the polls to elect a government led by Nelson Mandela in the country’s first democratic elections. In fact, a decade ago, it seemed democracy in Africa would have a bright future. Tyrannies in Benin, Ethiopia, Liberia, DR Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Ivory Coast and Mali had been ousted and many more were under threat. Opposition activists in Francophone Africa organised national conferences holding leaders to account on claims of corruption and brutality. Pro-democracy activists in Ghana and Nigeria stepped up their campaigns. Nowadays, it seems clear democracy has not come to stay in Africa. The reason is clear: Incumbents have become adept at winning polls: doctoring voters’ rolls; stuffing ballot boxes and using violence against opponents. Has democracy succeeded or failed? Can we say that the democracy glass is at least ‘half full’? It is clear that there have been outright successes thanks to the efforts of opposition parties, quest for press freedom and above all, the presence of election observers. There have equally been many setbacks. A few countries will be taken as case studies here for better understanding of how bad leadership and dirty politics under the canopy of democracy have done a great blow on the African continent and is still doing.
In Uganda on the 25th of January 1971, Idi Amin overthrew the government of Milton Obote and became president through a very bloody coup d´etat. He formed a squad with whom he carried out his brutality on the innocent Ugandan citizens. Killing for him was a hobby. He ruthlessly killed the Archbishop of Luwun. He heartlessly massacred and humiliated people. It is on record that within three months of assuming power, he massacred ten thousand people. In two years it was about eighty thousand and after eight years the figure reached three hundred thousand. He ruined Uganda and later on fled into exile. Thank God that today, there is apparent peace. Nevertheless, much has to be done to checkmate the present democratic government.
Back in South Africa, Apartheid ravaged the black race seriously till the early 1990s. They were discriminated against by the white people who saw themselves as having the full political right. It reached a stage where, black people were forced to live away from white people, to go to separate schools, not to intermarry, etc. defaulters were maltreated subjected to torture and even killed. This was the case with Nelson Mandela who suffered imprisonment for 27 years!
Tension interspersed with bloodletting has been the norm in Eastern Chad for the past years, and policymakers most often view the crisis in Eastern Chad through a Darfur lens. Consequently, conflict resolution efforts have thus far focused principally on the tensions between N’Djamena and Khartoum. It is believed that Chad is fuelled by weapons and support from an external patron. The rebellion in Chad is the latest chapter in a decades-long internal power struggle. Chadian rebels’ lightning strike on the capital N’Djamena in late January and early February of the year 2008 is one of the most dramatic consequences of two combustible situations that remain on collision course. The first is the continuous tragedy in neighbouring Darfur and the support for Chadian rebel groups by the government of Sudan, to topple the Chadian President Idriss Deby. The second combustible situation is the internal political crisis of Chad. Despite the Chadian government’s assertions that all of Chad’s problems emanate from Sudan’s capital Khartoum, Chad’s government is among the world’s most venal and its citizens are among the world’s most destitute and disenfranchised.
Chad provides an accommodating theatre for regional conflict and proxy war because it is grappling with its own very serious internal crisis. In the wake of the most recent coup attempt, the Chadian government has cracked down hard on the unarmed political opposition. Some opposition leaders have been arrested, some have fled to neighbouring countries, while others have been driven underground. Refugees from Chad fleeing from the situation fill the neighbouring countries like Cameroon and Central Africa. Chadian politics for the last 40 years have become synonymous with violence, political assassinations, military intimidations, insecurity, etc.
Democratic Republic of Congo
In Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, the former president Mobotu Sese Seko held a military rule for 32 years. “32 years of Terrorism”. According to John Odey, Mobutu ruled as a megalomaniac and as a kleptomaniac. He ruled his people from the throne and from the bunkers through the brutality of his mercenaries. He embezzled the country’s funds. According to the IMF in 1984 and the US treasury, Mobutu’s personal money had risen to the tune of 4 billion dollars. Mobutu died leaving behind an institutionalised kleptocracy, corruption, violence, a senseless plunder of a nation’s resources and the impoverishment of the country and everyone in it.5 Under the regime of the young Joseph Kabila, one would expect a messianic change. However, the situation in the Goma region of Congo, which occupies a special place in international news, is an eyesore.There is an urgent need as Professor Ka Mana will put it for Congo to invent a new Independence.
Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
We were about praising Ivory Coast in a few lines above but ever since the last elections this December 2010 the stories have been gradually changing. A decade ago, Ivory Coast was seen as a haven of peace and prosperity in West Africa. This country however had internal divisions according to ethnic, religious and economic lines. Because of the Cocoa people from neigbouring countries fluxed in to earn their living and they stayed mostly in the North. Because of this some Ivorians portrayed northerners as not being real Ivorians. Ivory Coast has been called a Country of Two Presidents. On the one hand we have Laurent Gbagbo: 65-year-old former history teacher, southern Christian; president since 2000; backed by security forces. And on the other hand, we have Alassane Ouattara: 68-year-old economist, northern Muslim; prime minister 1990-1993; backed by former rebels, UN, African leaders and the West.
The Independent Electoral Commission declared Ouattara winner and almost simultaneously, the Court declared the incumbent president Gbagbo winner. Here are the results after the elections:
Constitutional Council: Laurent Gbagbo 51%, Alassane Ouattara 49%, annulled results in seven northern regions
Electoral Commission: Laurent Gbagbo 46%, Alassane Ouattara 54%True enough, The Ivorian IEC was not supposed to publish the results of the election as stipulated by the Ivorian law. Nevertheless, that does not mean the results she published were fraudulent. May be the IEC anticipated the results for fear it would be edited and the results given to the people would not be their choice. The Constitutional Council, headed by a Gbagbo ally, annulled the votes from the north, leaving Mr Gbagbo with a slender overall majority. The UN observer mission says that there was violence in parts of the north, as well as in Mr Gbagbo's home region in the west, but that overall, the vote was democratic and peaceful.
Did Gbagbo actually win the elections therefore? To whom do we give credibility: Gbagbo or Ouatara? The main question is this: was the vote in the north free and fair? People are loosing their lives, homes and country because two old men in their sixties, nearing 70 cannot and do not want to doff their caps to each other. We have an impression that some of the international bodies supporting either of the parties do so not only for peace sake, but to support their private interests. The only way forward for Ivory Coast is Peaceful Dialogue between the two parties. Thousand of national and international bans will not solve the issue. If force is applied, to remove one of the parties, the country will continue to wallow in a situation of unrest. Real peace must come through Dialogue in a Nonviolent atmosphere.
The political situation in Sudan cannot be left out. After a 21-year war in the south, the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) hoped for a peaceful situation only to see a new war erupting in Darfur in February 2003 after years of skirmishes over land and water between ethnic groups that identify themselves mainly as “African” or “Arab”. The two main rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement, accused the central government in Khartoum of supporting Arab pastoralists in their disputes with African farmers. Most observers have blamed the Sudanese armed forces and a pro-government militia, known as the Janjaweed, for most of the atrocities in the war, including killing and raping civilians and destroying homes, wells and crops. The situation in Sudan has been described as “A complex conflict which brings mixed responses.”6 Unlike Southern Sudan where the majority are Christians, almost all the people of Darfur are Muslims. This is one of the reasons why Darfur conflict is arguably more complex. No doubt, Alfred Taban comments: “followers of the same faith living in the same region are fighting each other over resources, and ‘outsiders’- including northern-based Islamist opposition groups, the government and SPLM/A-are either giving tacit or open support to one faction or another.”7 Crime has always been a problem in Darfur but it has increasingly taken on political overtones with government vehicles being hijacked or businessmen associated with the government being targeted for attack. On a more general note, Sudan has suddenly become a land akin with moving corpses, kwashiorkor children, children soldiers, hunger, sickness and all forms of political unrest.
Central African Republic
In a continent beset with bloody conflicts often triggering banner headlines, the Central African Republic (CAR), located in an unstable triangle bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Southern Sudan and Chad, is a silent crisis crying out for increased international donor support and media attention. In March 2003, with the world’s eyes riveted on Iraq, CAR suffered another political unrest in a long history of coups and uprisings when General Bozize led an army of insurgents to topple elected President Ange-Felix Patasse. The situation in CAR remains fragile and volatile. In spite of its economic potential - rich in timber, gold, diamonds and uranium. The Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the least known countries in Africa and the world. Because of its relative obscurity, it is often overshadowed by its better-known neighbours such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan. Recently, however, internal conflicts stemming from its historical past and its present realities, as well as the spill over of political unrest and violence from Sudan and Chad, have given the CAR more prominence on the international map.8
The situation in Zimbabwe is a pitiable one because:
The popularity of opposition parties and the unpopularity of the incumbent regime do not guarantee political change. Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, widely reckoned to have won two much-criticised elections against President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, languishes in opposition without effective regional or international backing.9
This situation persists till this present date. It is hard to listen to any news focussing on the African situation without any mention of Zimbabwe. The population of Harare is victim of terrible economic crises and is turning more and more towards religion. They are much monitored by Mugabe’s regime. He has always sought to corrupt even religious leaders. The Baptist pastor Raymond Motsi and the Catholic Bishop Emeritus of Bukwayo Mgr Pius Naibe have “paid it hot” for challenging Mugabe’s regime.10 The country is presently undergoing a high rate of political unrest coupled with its almost crumbling economic situation.
In the Republic of Cameroon, we are living in a system where leadership seems to be stagnant and reserved for some privileged few. Cameroonians are said to be practising democracy with many political parties (multi-partism) like the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) which happens to be the ruling party and the Social Democratic Front (SDF) the main opposition party among many others. We see democracy as a common denominator while paradoxically speaking, ever since independence in 1960, Cameroonians have experienced just two presidents, Ahmadou Alhidjo and Paul Biya. The latter will be celebrate on the 6th of November 2010 his 28th anniversary as the president of Cameroon and has done all in his capacity to modify the constitutions and remain forever as an everlasting monarch in ‘democratic Cameroon’.
It is true that there are no civil wars in Cameroon; neither do we have frequent strikes like in other African countries. There is ‘apparent peace’. The peaceful atmosphere in Cameroon was polluted by violent demonstrations and riots in the month of February 2008. These riots paralyzed Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, and Douala, the economic capital and a major port city, as popular anger exploded over high fuel and food prices and a move by President Paul Biya to extend his rule.11 As if to flare up anger, Cameroonians were named “apprentice sorcerers” by the president during his speech and military men filled the streets, leading to destruction of life and property. The ruling party used the pretext to say that opposition parties where at the base of all these rioting. During the strike, TV stations and Radio stations like Equinox TV and Magic FM Radio Station who dared to speak were banned with the accusation of not meeting up to the current standards.
Many artists who sang anything against the Government tasted the koboko (a Yoruba word which means whip) and still taste it now. This is the case of the great musician LAPIRO who sang against the change of the constitution. He was thrown into prison with the charges of “inciting violence, simple rebellion and extortion of funds”. The musician himself feels that “the CPDM is at the bay and is bent on reducing to silence all those who opposed this catastrophic project ‘constitution change.’”12 In his last album, “Constitution Constipée” (Constipated Constitution) he denounced the project of Biya to change the constitution and accused him of trying to remain in power despite his old age.
The political agendum in Cameroon as seen by most Anglophones is increasingly dominated by what is known as the ‘Anglophone problem’, which poses a major challenge to the efforts of the post-colonial state to forge national unity and integration, and has led to the reintroduction of forceful arguments and actions in favour of ‘federalism’ or even ‘secession’. Some Anglophones especially in Bamenda felt ‘neglected’ by the president who had not visited them for almost 20 years. Hopes of Anglophones were uplifted with the recent visit of Biya to Bamenda. It is the first time in about 20 years that Paul Biya comes to Bamenda after the visit of 9th February 1983, the 1984 agro pastoral show, March 1985 and in 1991 during the operation ghost town.
Between 1991 and 2010, the distance between the President and the people of the North West was ‘widened’ but recently it has also been reduced and with time it will become better. To the people of the Northwest Region, the President announced the creation of the University of Bamenda, the pursuit of negotiations to finance the Ring Road, and the construction of a thermal energy plant in Bamenda. He equally announced studies for the creation of referral hospital in Bamenda and the long-run option of constructing a hydroelectric plant on the Menchum Falls. We are waiting in hope for the day this will be realized. Action as we say speak louder than words.
What made the visit so interesting was the encounter with the chief opposition party SDF, in the person of Ni John Fru Ndi. According to the latter, it was a time of Dialogue. In an interview granted to The Post he showed that Dialogue was going to be the answer for a better Cameroon. “But the good news is that we finally met and we started dialoguing and by the time we rounded up we agreed that we will continue with the dialogue because we realised that information was not flowing between the two of us. May be there was a blockage somewhere” (http://www.thepostwebedition.com). This discussion was the first time since the historic return of multipartism on the 19th of December 1990. Biya received Fru Ndi on the 10th of December. This is very symbollic as this is the day which commemorates the Declaration of Universal Human Rights.
Cameroon just celebrated 50 years of Unity, Stability and Peace. Is there really peace? Is everyone in Cameroon really happy? These are unanswered questions to tickle our medulla oblongata.
Nigeria like any other African country is also concerned with the need of having a good and sound political system. It was therefore all jubilation when Nigeria finally adopted democracy in 1999. Nigeria has had a long tortured history of dancing around democracy but never quite getting it right. With the second coming of President Obasanjo, it looked like the dividends of a true democracy had come to stay. But so far, what have been the dividends of this democracy? Before delving into this, we shall in a few words analyse the political situation of Nigeria before and after May 1999. Our aim will not be to sing litanies of praises, for “when a hunter is praised, he kills his own dog”. We will show that in as much as there are positive points in democracy so far, there is still much to be desired.
Without any intention of presenting a chronology of activities we may begin by saying that Nigeria is among the African countries that have suffered from great political mishaps such as slavery, colonialism, the menace of the pathetic Nigeria-Biafra war, and is still suffering from the phenomenon of Neo-colonialism. Far back in 1979, Obasanjo made a record of returning the federal government to civilian rule. However this “messianism” did not last long. There was another attempt to return to civilian rule in 1993 under Babangida which became Abortive. He was forced to hand over to Ernest Shonekan whom Abacha was to overthrow.
Nigeria for a long period has been under the pangs of military rule which many would agree was a very tragic period. The military rulers had a growing affinity to violence, injustice and in most cases as Onyeocha would put it: “terrorised their people with arbitrary laws…those who succeeded them have invariably had to resolve to the case of force.”13 Under the military regime, not only were the rulers dictators, the people had little or no say in the government. People lived in fear and the future remained always blurred. There were many political killings and brutality of Heroes like Alfred Rewane (An icon of Nigeria's pro-democracy movement during the dark days of the later dictator General Sani Abacha. He campaigned tirelessly democracy and human rights, true federalism, honesty, transparency and accountability in public office, and ethics in business. His murder on October 6, 1995 in suspicious circumstance provoked national and international outcry.), Alhaji Moshood Abiola (who won the elections that were annulled on June 12 1993), Ken Sarowiwa (Born on October 10, 1941, he is of the Ogoni People of Nigeria. At the peak of his non-violent campaign he was arrested, hastily tried by a special military tribunal, and hanged in November 10, 1995), etc. The authorities grafted corruption as the modus vivendi of any Nigerian. Schools were seized by the government.
The Church resorted to prayers like “A Prayer for Nigeria in Distress”, “A Prayer against bribery and corruption in Nigeria”. Everyone hoped for a hay day, for a political leader - A Moses who would lead Nigeria to her promised land. As if heaven answered our prayers, there was finally a change. In effect, a new course seemed to have been mapped out with the death in June 1998 of former military dictator, Sani Abacha, and the subsequent reforms of General Abdul Salaam Abubakar. Nigeria was therefore led into the promised land of DEMOCRACY under the distinguished leadership of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
Nigerians and other citizens of foreign countries were very happy with the forth coming of Obasanjo. Hopes were very high. People expected a better situation under the democratic government. No wonder, Obasanjo did wet the appetite of many with his “rhetoretical inaugural speech” made on the 29th of May 1999. We are still waiting to see the results of his speech. He began by accusing the former governments of so many atrocities, and from there made so many promises. The ‘dividends’ of his democracy are clear. Elections are not only rigged, but conducted under bloodshed and violent conditions. John Odey did not waste time to say “This Madness Called 2003 Elections”. Despite Obasanjo’s condemnation of violence as “an ill-wind that blows no one any good”15, the elections that took place a few months later did not reflect this. Despite the fact that a few years ago, Nigeria, the giant of Africa, became crippled by corrupt, aimless and inept military dictatorship, John Odey still insist that we have not reaped positive dividends from the democracy under Obasanjo. This is because today, and for eight years at a stretch, Nigeria “has been suffering under the heavy yoke of President Obasanjo’ democratic tyranny, moral insensitivity and executive rascality.”16 In a nutshell what we are trying to bring out here is that: “when President Obasanjo took over the leadership of the country in May 1999, we thought that he had come to put things in order. We have ever since then discovered how mistaken we have been…”17
Professor Onyeocha, reflecting on the political situation of Nigeria presents to us these striking words:
Nigerian politics is one of acrimony, dissension, division, sectionalism, and political sleight of hand…Nigerian politics has as its permanent feature, the unwholesome and unsavoury epilogue of vitiation and vilification for anyone who ever dared to participate in it….It is quite an interesting speculative question whether at all it is possible to foster democratic principles in Nigeria.18
Interestingly, Onyeocha does not end in woes he insists on a more positive note that:“ Nigeria is our country….We must tidy it up and clean up whatever mess there is…Our situation is not hopeless but hopeful.”19 On this positive note, we praise the efforts of the new president of Nigeria so far. Nevertheless, we will not go deep into analysing the situation now. We give him enough time to see to the workability of his strategies. What actually prevents Africans from reaping the positive dividends of democracy?
5.3. The Problems with African Democracy
If after almost an average of 40 years of Independence in many African Nations, we cannot boast of sufficient dividends of governance, then there is something wrong. One of the characteristics of Democracy is the capacity to change leaders after a certain period of time. It is worthy to note that in Africa, most countries practicing democracy do not meet up to the standards required. Presidents in Democratic regimes remain on seat for many decades, for example, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Gadafi of Libya, Dos Santos of Angola, Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea etc. African countries have been turned into political states where those who cry for justice are arrested, detained, tortured, imprisoned and even killed, but yet claim that these countries are oases of freedom. The following can be outlined as problems with our African democracy.
African leaders seek always their personal interests; their eyes are always on the material things of life, on opportunism, on what can be taken from the proverbial “national cake”20. This is a general sickness of African leaders. Billions of African dollars are daily being moved into private accounts overseas by African leaders to feed the already overflowing economies of the West. In effect, for democracy to succeed, we must take a second look at our leadership formation and succession processes. In the past years, we have been rendered miserable, hopeless and have fallen from grace to grass because of corrupt leadership. 21
CORRUPTION is a canker worm which eats deep into our politics. Commenting on the situation in Nigeria, John Odey insists:
today in Nigeria, corruption has become a structural sin so contagious that it hardly leaves anybody without a smear. And since the country was justifiably stigmatized as a den of corruption, all Nigerians, both the guilty and the innocent, have been paying very costly for it. Everywhere in the world, Nigerians are generally feared like mad dogs, dreaded like criminals, cautiously approached like dangerous snakes and watchfully avoided like lepers. 22
Cameroon keeps on ranking year in, year out as the world’s most corrupt country. When one listens to international news on Africa, one notices that corruption remains at the base of our dwindling democracy in Africa.
The biggest obstacle to Africa’s democratisation is its economic fragility. On this note, the former secretary-general of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), Dr. Salim Ahmed remarked: “Political reform cannot raise the world prices for Africa’s commodities.”23 Spoils of office are always being shared between members of the same elite wearing different political colours. In effect, the situation has reached a level where economic uncertainties chip away at idealism and new style regimes find it easier to co-opt and corrupt rather that to bludgeon their opponents.
Neglect of the Children, the Aged and the Infirm.
Njoku Francis, in the opening pages of his work Philosophy in Politics Law and Democracy (Owerri: Claretian Institute of Philosophy, 2002) dwells on Hubert Humphrey’s famous statement as a litmus test for a true government. The latter insists that the moral test for government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped. The pitiable condition is that the children are not sure of their future. Some cannot go to school because of the high prices needed for good education. Children suffer the effects of child trafficking daily. The lack of proper care of children leads to juvenile delinquency and stagnancy of future progress. What then is the essence of the so-called children’s day? The aged and infirm are simply at the mercy of their family members. There is need for proper amenities. Most old and sick people take to begging and this becomes an eyesore for the Africa and for Cameroon in particular.
Seeing the few points above and many more, it is almost a consensus that most African countries have not yet achieved the required democracy. On this note, John Odey was bold enough to affirm that “Democracy is an illusion not a reality in Nigeria.”24 We can modify this by saying that, democracy remains an illusion in most African Nations.
It is not our wish to remain only on woes. The intention here is to propose a solution, a proposal which will seriously help the African to see more positive dividends of Democracy. At this juncture, we look up to what Gandhi has to offer.
Any hope from Gandhi?
Gandhi (1869-1948) gave the world a simple message, though held no political office. A lean, frail, ‘half-naked fakir’, It was just the moral grandeur of his soul which enabled him to fight against brute power, in any form. No doubt, Einstein said this of him: “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this in flesh and blood walked upon this earth”. His message was based on “a series of his experiments with truth”25, touched upon every domain of human life: social, economic, moral/spiritual, cultural, political.
Gandhi considered the system based on nonviolence supreme and essential. Now, a question may arise. What is the system which is based on nonviolence as conceived by Gandhi? Dr. Ravindra Kumar insists that according to Gandhi:
that system can only be the real and pure democracy as Ramarajya. Whatever the basis of the democratic system of governance that exist in the countries all over the world including India may be, the real democracy i.e. Ramarajya is altogether different. This kind of democratic system can be introduced in the present ones by evolving nonviolence with all its other facets. Democracy is the government of the people. In fact, justice and freedom for every citizen are possible only under this system. There is also every possibility of having opportunity for progress. It is a source of general welfare too. Gandhi has also said, “Democracy must be in essence…meaning the art and science of mobilizing the entire physical, economic and spiritual resources of all the various sections of people in the service of common good of all.”26
For Gandhi, democracy necessarily means a conflict of will and ideas, involving sometimes a war to the knife between different ideas. The very essence of democracy is that every person represents all the varied interests which compose the nation. Nevertheless, democracy is a great institution and, therefore, it is liable to be greatly abused. It remains an impossible thing until the power is shared by all, but let not democracy degenerate into mobocracy.
In most cases, people feel violence can be included into democracy. Gandhi insists that, democracy and violence can ill go together. We can say that Gandhi supports a Democracy, disciplined and enlightened, is the finest thing in the world. Gandhi insists that “My notion of democracy is that under it the weakest should have the same opportunity as the strongest” (Harijan, 27.5.1939). To safeguard democracy the people must have a keen sense of independence, self-respect and oneness. In true democracy every man and women is taught to think for himself or herself. The spirit of democracy cannot be established in the midst of terrorism, whether governmental or popular. To this effect, Gandhi defends the place of freedom in democracy. Thus, Ravindra Kumar insists that “Gandhi has given prominence to freedom in democracy and in human life as well. He has laid emphasis on decentralization of power as guarantee for freedom. Indeed, it is very important and worth giving a thought and acceptable for maturity of democracy.”27
5.5. Is Gandhi Really Relevant For Africa?
After all said and done, a pertinent question remains: Is Gandhi really relevant for Africa? This is a question which remains very pertinent in this our continent in which Democracy has become another form of DEM ALL CRAZY. It is worth seeing how Tabu Mbeki, the former South African president15 described Gandhi as a great human being. Mbeki said it was not possible some years back for an Indian Prime Minister to put foot on “our shores”. Gandhi, he said, was “a beloved son of South Africa” and provided the leadership for “this country’s triumphant march to freedom”. Noting that India had in 1946 at the UN put on the global agenda the need to end apartheid in South Africa, he said, Gandhi had championed the cause of peace with his tenacity. Gandhi may not be here physically to do the same in other African countries. However, he remains a great soul whose ideas remain a panacea for the African/ Cameroonian democracy. It is a pity that most African countries spend time propagating Marxist theories in Africa. Avijit Ghosh does not mince words to say that “Gandhi is more relevant than Marx today in Africa (words in italics are mine).”28
In any country practising democracy, the populace must benefit from the dividends accruing from it. To this effect, in African countries, after having suffered and are still suffering political mishaps, the word democracy should not be only a meaningless sound or an aberration. The values of the democratic system should include the dignity of every human person, the respect of human rights, commitment to the common good as the purpose and guiding criterion for political life must be felt. There have truly been some good points in democracy, though not good enough. Democracy is still in a process of maturation. We cannot expect that after years of military rule and oppression, democracy will appear on a platter of gold. Despite setbacks and thwarted hopes, we can say that democracy in Africa is at least half-full. Everyone must work to foster democracy. It is not only the problem of African leaders or the church. In our offices, we can refuse bribery. A journey of hundred miles begins with a step. Here is a message for all Africans and Cameroonians: We may ignore Gandhi at our own risk. Africa needs Gandhi!
1. Mahatma Gandhi is considered to be one of the greatest sons of the Indian soil, but through this write up, we want to defend the fact that he remains so relevant to African Democracy because he started this in South Africa.
2. O. KALINGE NNYAGO, “Political crisis in Africa; time to rethink western democracy” April 18, 2008, http://www.monitor.co.ug.
3. G. F. SEIB , “Democracy Tells the Real Story of Our Century”, in Wall Street Journal, December 29, 1999
4. P. SMITH, “Crazy for Democracy”, in BBC Focus on Africa, Vol. 15, n° 2, April-June 2004, 26.
5. J. O. ODEY, Mother Teresa and Mobutu Sese Seko: The Beautiful and The Ugly-A Lesson for African Leaders, Enugu, Snaap, 1997, 11.
6. ITAI MADAMOMBE “Darfur crisis challenges Africa, world” in Africa Renewal, Vol.18 #4, January 2005, 3.
7. A. TABAN, “Darfur Fury”, in BBC Focus on Africa, Vol. 15, n° 2, April-June 2004, 12.
8. J. C. WOODFORK and J. CHARNY “The Central African Republic: Worsening Crisis in a Troubled Region” in USIPeace Briefing, September 2007, http//:www.usip.org/pubs/ USIPeace_briefings.
9. P. SMITH, “Crazy for Democracy”, 28.
10. A. COMETTO, « Au Zimbabwe, les Églises tiennent ferme face au régime », in La Croix, 11 April 2008, 8.
11. In 1998, the Biya regime amended the country’s constitution to extend the presidential term of office from five to seven years and to allow the president to appoint one third of the Cameroon Senate. There isn’t anything again as term of office. The president can be voted as many times as possible. This is a real case of “Dem all Crazy”. Despite all the oppositions, Biya successfully changed the constitutions again! On that fateful day, military men filled the crux and the craniums of all the towns in Cameroon to terrorise any mob opposition.
12. P. EBWELE “Mbanga without Lapiro”, in Le Jour, n°150, Monday 28 April 2008, 5.
13. cf. I. M. ONYEOCHA, Idealism, Politics and Nation Building: The Nigerian Experience, Washington DC, The Council for Research and Value, 1994, 55.
14. Vanguard, Friday March 7, 2003.
15. J. O. ODEY, Africa: The Agony of a Continent: Can Liberation Theology offer any Solution?, Enugu, Snaap, 2005, 152.
16. Ibidem, 158-159.
17. I. M. ONYEOCHA, Power and Authority in our Culture, Orlu, Chimavin Productions, 2005, 69.
18. Ibidem, 76.
19. As if there is a cake somewhere and each one goes and cuts his/her share. Are we under a leadership curse? Can’t we follow the examples of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jnr., Mandela, etc.? We must begin to encourage good people to participate in politics.
20. Also linked to this problem of leadership, is that of Ethnicism and god-fatherism. It is almost not who qualifies who can lead the democratic government. Governance/leadership is now an issue of ethnic groups wanting to rule. A leader may be bad, but since he comes from a particular ethnic group, he would be preferred to a better person from a different ethnic group. In countries like Cameroon, we hear comments like, those from the north of Cameroon have ruled. It is now time for the betis in the central region to eat the national cake. Jobs are given with one’s capacity to speak the vernacular!
21. J. O. ODEY, Africa: The Agony of a Continent: Can Liberation Theology offer any Solution?, 153.
22. P. SMITH, “Crazy for Democracy”, 28.
23. J. O. ODEY, Conference delivered during the NAPSSEC (National Association of Philosophy Students, Seminary Chapter) weekend held at the Claretian Institute of Philosophy, 15th January 2005, Unpublished.
24. This is the title which Gandhi gave to his own autobiography.
25. R. KUMAR, “Gandhi: Freedom and Democracy”, http://www.globalpolitician.com/23656-gandhi, 6/27/2008
28. A. GHOSH, “Gandhi is more relevant than Marx today” http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1514583.cms.