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:
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
the classical definition of democracy is found in Abraham Lincoln’s words:
“The government of the people, by the people and for the people”.
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.
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.
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 Independent Electoral
Commission declared Ouattara winner and almost simultaneously, the Court
declared the incumbent president Gbagbo winner. Here are the results after
Council: Laurent Gbagbo 51%, Alassane Ouattara 49%, annulled results in
seven northern regions
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.
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
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
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
President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, languishes in
opposition without effective regional or international backing.9
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
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
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.
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
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:
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
(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,
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
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
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
Is Gandhi Really Relevant For Africa?
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
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
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,
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,
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
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,
28. A. GHOSH, “Gandhi is more relevant than Marx today” http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1514583.cms.