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Feature Article of Sunday, 28 August 2011

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The International Community and Africa’s Democracy Construct

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

More than ever as Africa gets entwined in the international system, the international community is becoming increasingly part of Africa’s development. Ever more, the international community includes the ever-growing Africans working in numerous international organizations and diasporan Africans across the world’s capitals whose transmission of billions of dollars annually to Africa have given them immense influence on their homelands.

Most times, the international community is the last resort in resolving Africa’s self-inflicted complications, especially in the face of frightening leadership as we saw in Nigeria under Gen. Sani Abacha and his associates. The reasons vary Africa-wide, but the constantly ringing arguments are feeble political leadership and weak institutions. Against these backgrounds, international pressure to democratize for stability and development are impacted on African countries where threats of coup d’etats, weak economies, fragile underdeveloped infrastructure, and unstable domestic authority structures are strongly prominent.

As Sierra Leone, Liberia and Burundi reveal under such dire conditions sovereignty is eroded and Africans hopelessly suffer, gapping for mortal help in the face deadly unstable domestic authority structures. Under such condition, as the American thinker Francis Fukuyama argues in State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century, “sovereignty and therefore legitimacy could no longer be automatically conferred on the de facto power holder in a country. State sovereignty was a fiction or bag joke in the case of countries like Somalia, which has descended into rule by warlords.”

In such situations, the “international community,” as Francis Fukuyama contends, “ceased to be an abstraction and took on palpable presence as the effective government of the country in question.”

When ex-Cote d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power after loosing the November, 2010 presidential elections, the international community, sensing more deaths and destruction of properties, helped not only remove Laurent Gbagbo from power but before that cut-off the Gbagbo regime from all Ivorian funds and diplomatic relations, sending his diplomats abroad packing.

The same treatment was rendered to Niger when the military took over power from President Mamadou Tandja. On April 7, 2011, Mahamadou Issoufou, of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS-Tarayya), became President after successful multiparty elections.

Tied to foreign aid, international investments and diplomatic influence, as democratic Ghana and Botswana show and are enjoying, the idea is linked to the international community’s policy of “democracy promotion” in the world. This is part of the international community’s international development architecture. As Nigeria’s elections show, initially elections may not be free and fair, but overtime it becomes better. The April16, 2011 elections in Nigeria was better than the one in 2007.

Whether dealing with African civil wars, post-conflict countries, coup d'etats, post-elections crisis, or political instability, distressed Africans point to the international community for decisive help as countries in Africa’s Great Lake Region show. The assistance is made more critical because of the fact that most African countries depend on international donors for their budget sustenance.

However, increasingly, the African diasporan financial remittances are matching up with foreign financial aids. But the problem with the African diasporan remittances is that it is not organized as a force for political reforms but individuals sending money to families. Sometimes, diasporan groups lobby international institutions and foreign governments for certain actions against definite African situations when need arises. This makes their collective force on African issues, superlatively, frail. So the real force to help change difficult African issues such as building democracy for greater development, rest, in the final analysis, on the international community’s assistance.

But the international community could be a problem in the democratization of Africa. Patricia Daley, a human geographer at Oxford University, argues that what happens in Africa’s democratization process is that if African elites sorely take hold of the democratic process without fully bringing African traditional institutions on board, the elites, mimicking the West, allow the international development community to commandeer the democratic process, who usually do not understand the African sensibilities, and with their lack of control and dearth of knowledge, mess up the democratic process.

Regardless of this, the international community becomes the last card in helping build democracies in Africa. Latest research by political scientists Hein Goemans (of University of Rochester) and Nikolay Marinov (of Yale University) about post-coup d’etats African countries, under immense pressure to survive, is most likely to transit to democratic practices as soon as possible. The successful stories of Sierra Leone and Liberia demonstrate the investigations by Goemans and Marinov.

Entitled “Putsch for Democracy: The International Community and Elections After the Coup,” Goemans and Marinov point out, using most of their data from African coup d’etats and elections, that before 1991 majority of successful African coups installed their leaders in power. The picture changes dramatically between 1991 and 2001 – with most African coup d’etats leading to competitive elections, in five years or less. Niger, the Central African Republic and Guinea-Conakry come to mind. In this sense, Post-Cold War Africa has progressively seen conflict-ridden African states under immense pressure by the international community to democratize through timely competitive elections. Goemans and Marinov characterize this as the “electoral norm.”

In Sierra Leone, rumour had it that military junta Head of State, Brigadier-General Julius Maada Bio, despite promises to hold competitive elections after Sierra Leone’s 11-year-old civil war had thought privately of reneging and transforming himself into civilian President, as Ghana’s Ft. Lt. Jerry Rawlings did. But unrelenting international pressure, in addition to the diasporan Sierra Leonean lobby, forced Gen. Bio to hold on to his public pledge.

The result was Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, of the Sierra Leone People’s Party, winning the presidential elections and becoming President in March 29, 1996 - May 25, 1997 and March 10, 1998 – September 17, 2007. For this, post-conflict Sierra Leone is profoundly donor-dependent and over 60 percent of its national budget comes from the international community. In total Sierra Leone receives over US$300m annually in international aid.

Most African countries that depend heavily on international development aid are easily the first to go for competitive elections, after coup d’etat, civil war or political crisis. Goemans and Marinov hypothesis is that since 1990s there have been decline in illegal seizure of power in Africa. In this context, the current African political picture is that coup d’etats (which normally lead to civil wars and political instabilities) is the most important case for toppling African democracies.

Goemans and Marinov explains that their “ … findings indicate that the new generation of coups have been considerably less nefarious for democracy than their historical predecessors.” What is striking in Goemans and Marinov supposition is that “outside pressure” has surely engendered “electoral norms,” that have dissuaded “coup-entrepreneurs.”

One of the success stories of the “electoral norms” is Sierra Leone. Dubbed Britain’s sore “successful humanitarian intervention,” Sierra Leone continues to be held up by former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, as proof of the success of the “new doctrine of international community” he introduced in 1999. With threats of coup d’etat, weak economy, brittle underdeveloped infrastructure, and unbalanced domestic power structures, the only development card for post-conflict Sierra Leone to play was with the “new doctrine of international community.”

In its struggle to play well with the doctrine of the international community, today, Sierra Leone is one of the fast growing democracies in Africa. Formerly at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index that measures human well-being, Sierra Leone has risen dramatically to the 158th rank out of 167 countries ranked in 2010.

Whether dealing with coup-entrepreneurs, post-conflict actors/groups or political volatilities, the international community, through its famed unrelenting pressure and provision of critical financial aid, has forced various out-of-place African actors/groups to ensure that key institutions of the African state, as Errol Mendes, a constitutional and international law expert at the University of Ottawa, Canada, explains, “are subject to the rule of law and respect the fundamental rights … This means focusing on the imperative of an independent judiciary, a free media, an independent election commission, security forces cleansed as much as possible, and ensuring that forces do not terrorize the people.”

The ability to nurture these democratic tenets in Africa, as Oxford University’s Patricia Daley argues, is how to deal with limitations the international community finds itself in grasping the nuances of traditional Africa values, that are supposed to be lubricant for authentic democratization of Africa.

International pressure or not, significant financial support or not, Ghana, Botswana, Sierra Leone, Mauritius, Nigeria, among others, exhibit that democracy has to be a homegrown enterprise, with the citizens acknowledging its mammoth attributes to their ultimate progress. In this logic, Goemans and Marinov divulge that “democratic norms have a far better chance of taking root in a country if some minimum procedural trappings of democratic government can be maintained over time.”

This makes the delicate work of democracy building and the fostering of development in Africa by the international community sometimes convoluted. In Africa today, as Goemans and Marinov’s research discloses, coup-entrepreneurs, post-conflict actors/groups or perpetuators of political volatilities really “care about the attitude of the international community.” Conversely, the international community as well cares about “the dangers of irregular transfer of power” in Africa.

As an advancement undertaking, as Kofi Abrefa Busia, the late Prime Minister of Ghana and a democracy philosopher, enthused in The Prospects For Democracy in Africa, this makes democracy building in Africa a deeply faithful enterprise that should be driven by Africans’ traditional values. A realistic venture that should be informed by the African facts of fear of coup d’etats, weak economies, fragile underdeveloped infrastructure, and wobbly domestic authority configuration.

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