Democracy: A Compelling Necessity
As Africa is well into the second decade of the new millennium of what is euphorically called “Africa’s century”, there is still a profound sense of hope being frustrated, of stereotypes being reaffirmed — once again, of particular countries embarrassing the African continent. The most common perception about Africa remains that of democratic government under siege, of constitutional governance being undermined, and of the rule of law being flagrantly disregarded. This situation presents itself not because of biased media coverage, racial prejudice, the arrogance of Western powers, or an un-African response to a particular problem, but because there is no binding commitment by African leaders to democratic governance, and the consequences that flow from such a commitment. Clearly, in many African countries the fundamental principles of democratic governance are consistently, deliberately, and openly being violated.
Democracy in Africa should be focused on two critical elements: the political will to uphold the basic principles of democracy, and concerted efforts to create an economically enabling environment for democracy to thrive (Hutchful, 1991, p. 55). Efforts to build institutional, administrative and other capacities will be wasted if the political context is not favourable (Herbst, 1990, p. 957). Indeed, democracy has to be carefully nurtured, because democratic values (especially, political tolerance) cannot be inculcated in, and internalised by, African societies overnight. In addition, relatively sound economies (to provide basic human needs) are essential ingredients for the ultimate success of a democratic order. Economic growth and Fighting Corruption: The Imperatives of Democracy, Governance and Leadership 4 sustained development are of the essence in supporting Africa’s fledgling democracies and preventing further tragic relapse into despotism and authoritarianism (see Venter, 1995, pp. 184- 185). The dismal record of democracy on the continent raises the question of whether there is anything about Africa that makes it inherently difficult to sustain reasonably fair and enduring multiparty democracies. The popular argument against democracy suggests that, in what are essentially artificial African states, democracy must inevitably lead to the mobilisation of ethnic identities, which will then, in turn, split the state into its constituent ethnic communities and render impossible any form of government based on popular consent. Evidence, however, strongly indicates that multiparty democracy is much more likely to promote national unity than destroy it. By contrast, those regimes that have nearly destroyed the unity, or even the very existence, of their states have all been autocratic (see Clapham, 1995, pp. 1 & 2).
How democracy is visualised and defined varies from situation to situation, and nowhere is this more of a truism than in Africa. However, in almost all circumstances, democracy involves social justice, governmental accountability, and human freedoms. Certainly, democracy involves the procedural minimum of contestation for political office and policy choices, of popular participation in elections and other elements of political decision-making, and of the accountability of elected public officials under the rule of law. A