I am a neophyte in what concerns the analysis of forms of governments and my colleagues must be glad that this article is finally seeing the light of day. Ruining their coffee breaks and barging into their conversations with rather silly hypothesis that attracted some askant looks has been fairly detrimental to my already threadbare political respect.
Notheless, i could not help but talk about my views, considering the fact that almost every interesting article i read last week boiled down to the very political issue of forms of government. Mamadou Diouf, a Senegalese Historian at the University of Columbia, fervidly deplored the “autocratic tendency” that embodies democracy in some African states. Whilst in his editorial in the African Report, Patrick Smith, talks about Market Populism, refering to the African political scene as being populist. But what type of populism was he refering to? A quick research gave me a wide range of confused definitions: from the loosely used term by journalists and political analysts to denote a type of governance whose classification observers are unsure of, to those who use it to define a government that thrives on demagogy and appeals to people…etc. Is populism used by journalists as a quick escape from the complexities of African politics? I don’t know, but i guess i would do the same if i had to describe the African political scene in one word.
That though is not going to be the case today.
Continents And Worlds Apart
Africa has come a long way since independence. A much longer way than France did between the English Magna Carta signed in the 13th century which separated church from state to the end of its (France, that is) Absolute Monarchy in the 18th century ( 18th in theory, 1905 in both theory and practice). And although i, like Mamadou Diouf, do not condone the disrespect some African leaders show to their democratically written constitutions, i think that Africa has done remarkably well in its quest to emulate the western form government in under fifty years without any world wars.This is progressive politics.
Talking about disrespect for the constitution, the last few month have seen a string of African countries amending or planning to amend their constintutions to enable their leaders run for 3rd terms. First there was Chad followed by Cameroon. These follow an amendment by the Zambian ruling party in 2001 to nominate Chiluba to run for a 3rd term as president. The discouraging list goes on. Trying to find a name for this sort of democracy beats me without mercy. It is still democratic in as much as the people are involved, isn’t it? But Cameroon qualifies for a more complex form of government. Does jailing journalists
and homosexuals make it a totalitarian democracy?
Raubwirtschaft to Kleptocracy
Africa has come a long way indeed. Some countries though are stuck in the past, taking examples from their colonial masters. Mugabe for example takes himself for the imperialist from whom he took over power and condemns with such salivating vehemence.What name is to be given to this type of rule? Progressive-home-grown-imperialism or simply autocratic, tough one to deal with, when there is a supposedly democratically elected government! His late compatriot Mobutu Sese Seko was even a much better example in what concerns the emulation of his predecessors. In fact, a special name was coined for the Belgian crown’s governance of the Congo, “Raubwirtschaft” (robber economy), but since Mobutu himself, who took some serious lessons from his masters was not considered an outsider, we can safely tag him as a kleptocrat. Things have changed since his death, but to what extent? Shall we or not, still call the natural-resource-wealthy Congo a Kleptocracy?
Plutocracy, Putsch, Mobocracy, Democracy, “Necessitocracy?”
President Gbabo remained a thorn in Houphet Boigny’s throat until the latter’s death. Houphet Boigny had so much money that he built a replica St Peter’s basilica as a parting gift to his country. We cannot call Houphet a kleptocrat for one thing. He developed his country in the most spectacular way, unlike Mobutu. Laurent Gbagbo was an angry man when he took over power in the Ivorian state. He had won the Ivorian general elections, but his predecessor Robert Gueï, who had come to power through a putsch by overthrowing Bedié who himself was a sort of Plutocrat (it is widely believed in the Ivory Coast that he was sipping and drunk on champagne when his house was attacked during the putsch, unfazed he ordered more champagne for the putschists, perhaps a lie but one that throws light on one government disconnected from the realities of his country), had refused him his rightful place. Laurent Gbagbo’s only solution was a very intelligently planned take over, using the people. His instauration could be considered as a mobocracy, but what is it now? The postponement of elections for the “betterment” of his people surely does not qualify Gbagbo’s regime as democratic although we do understand the necessity.
Napoleon’s Popular Monarchy Revisited
Africa has come a long way since its chain of military dictatorships. Rawlings from Ghana is part of a chain of repented african military autocrats who moved out democratically. But that is the least one could say for its neighbour, Togo, where the father, a notorious totalitarian ruler, passes away and hands over power to the son. Is it military dictatorship turned absolute monarchy? Kadhafi, who came to power through a military coup d’etat seems to be going towards the same direction to most. But is it really the case and if so do we really mind? This man has pushed and promoted so much positive developments in his country and on the continent that his governance, fair or foul, can only be commended (even if uncomfortably so). In a recent interview on France 2 television, he said that Libyans were directly involved in the governing process of his country. Now that is a first. It has the look of an improved Napoleonic type of popular monarchy with a traditional participatory democratic style. Verbose!
Democracy Against Populism
I really do think that appropriating populism in such a losely manner is rather an understatement in the description of the intricate African political sphere. This could work for some, but generally, african politics are evolving in nature and do not share the same characteristics. If the class politics of France is considered democracy, why should African states like, South Africa, Botswana, Senegal and Ghana, among others, be considered, just, populist? As far as i am concerned, governance differ from country to country in Europe. Africa should be allowed to customise its democracy too. Experimenting mixtures of status quo ante bellum and modern politics could be the begining of new forms of successful governmence. Evolving and progressive in some respect, African politics will one day find its true light. Africa has indeed come a long way yet…