Friday, November 2, 2007

Looking to build democracy in Iraq? Look at Africa's history first

If Bush wanted to study the track record of democracy-building efforts in cultures with a long history of tribalism, he should have looked no further than the experience of Sub-Saharan Africa, where democracy’s introduction a half-century ago spelled disaster, writes Mukui Waruiru in the interesting Taki’s Top Drawer.

Most of the Black African nations that gained independence after Ghana followed its path by establishing one-party dictatorships. Observers soon began to describe the practice of democracy in Africa as ‘one-man, one-vote, one-time’. In many of the cases, the winning political party at the independence elections used its majority in the national parliament, to pass legislation outlawing the existence of opposition political parties. This left the ruling party with a monopoly of power. This trend challenged the widely held notion that pure democracy leads to more freedom. If anything, in many countries, Africans enjoyed greater personal freedom and prosperity under colonial rule, than they do today under independent governments. While opposition parties have been permitted to exist in some countries in the last few years, the oppressive habits associated with one-party dictatorial rule have been hard to break.


Today, if one was to argue in favor of restrictions to the right to vote, one would be labeled as an enemy of freedom. But, as we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela, and in much of Black Africa, democracy does not necessarily lead to freedom. With hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fleeing their country as a result of the violence that has engulfed that nation, can anyone seriously suggest that Iraqis are freer today than they were under Saddam Hussein? Are the nations of Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo freer today, than they were under colonial rule?

He also quotes, um, liberally from William F. Buckley’s book Up From Liberalism. This line sticks out: “It is more important for a community, wherever situated geographically, to affirm and live by civilized standards than to labor at the job of swelling the voting lists.”

Using the examples of the failed attempts of democracy in Nigeria, Uganda, Guinea to Ghana, of course Zimbabwe (and the soon to be failing South Africa), Waruiru then goes on to champion Christian values and the lessons learned in Ian Smith’s autobiography, the Great Betrayal, which will eventually help dismantle the disastrous “Marxist legacy that [Ghana’s Kwame] Nkruma and [Zimbabwe’s Robert] Mugabe have bequeathed on Africa.”

“Once they learn about the link between property and freedom, and how pure democracy and political independence do not necessarily translate into freedom, then they would get a true idea of what freedom is all about.”

It’s an interesting argument, all right. The problem I have with it is that intellectual warriors railing against the legitimacy of democracy in Africa (like Wariuru and the Economist) is they always point out the worse-case scenarios. Military-run Nigeria and Uganda and Sekou Toure’s Guinea were never going to be considered anyone’s democratic paradise. (In fact, today's incarnations of those three countries could only be termed "democratic" in name.)
Another popular example is the sordid history of Zaire/Congo Kinshasha? How again did Mobutu win the presidential election after the assassination of Patrice Lumumba?

My point is that don't these bad examples say more of a product of the Cold War, where one power propped up a nasty leader to carry out its aims and larger agenda, than they say about the inability of Africans to handle participatory democracy?

On the bright side, what about today’s Ghana? Or Mali? Not perfect, but they’ve come a long way since the fall of Nkruma.

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