Election officials count votes in Benin-City, Nigeria, 2015. Several Nigerian diaspora organisations have been making the call for diaspora voting, but the complexities involved are mammoth / Photo: TNN

Rejoinder: Why Frisky Larr is wrong on democracy in Africa

Kolapo Fujah, writing from Lagos, joins issues with Frisky Larr, whose book Lost in Democracy calls for an alternative to the Western-inspired system of government in Africa because it has failed to deliver good governance in the continent. Fujah argues that the problem with democracy in Africa is not with the system itself but how it’s practiced.

For starters, democracy everywhere does not promise, talk less guarantee, economic prosperity, balanced income distribution, jobs, or good governance more generally.  

Democracy is designed to deliver nothing more than a smooth transition of government from one administration to the next through the ballot box.  

Despite its apparent inadequacies, only democracy can guarantee that government changes hands consistently in an orderly manner.  

The author misleads himself thinking that what obtains in Africa is democracy in principle.  It is not.  
What you have in Africa is a “virtual” democracy that does not even guarantee a smooth change of government.  This is not because democracy is inapplicable to Africa.  It is because the African democratic infrastructure is designed never to function in favour of the people.  

Elections are rigged. There is too much secrecy. Supposed democratic appointees behave like military dictators or monarchies. The people are powerless. Politicians tell so much lies that the people are no longer interested to vote. Rather, elections frequently mean that the government buys or steals votes, or simply invents election results.

There are of course various ways that democracy should be underpinned through adequate laws to ensure transparency, accountability and active involvement of the grassroots in governance, particularly in fiscal budget preparation, implementation, monitoring and appraisal.  

You cannot have democracy without adequate legal basis. The legal environment is an important leg of democracy that Africa and many other stagnant developing democracies lack.  

Africa is backward because democracy remains a pretext to maintain the status quo rather than a sincere movement towards majority rule. Light up governance with relevant legislation on transparency and accountability; give more powers of investigation and hold politicians accountable to the people, and things should gradually improve.  

On the other hand, replacing democracy with diarchy (a mixture of monarchy and military rule) cannot find support in science and logic.  Even the already slim chances of smooth transition from one government to the other will become lost.  Africans do not have a culture that is incompatible with fundamental freedoms based on science and logic.  To argue otherwise is to suggest that Africans are not rational or reasonable, or are really inferior to the rest of the world.  Democracy is not a magic wand.  It requires constant upgrading through laws and regulations everywhere it is practiced.  

Read a review of Lost in Democracy by Frisky Larr.



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