By Prosper Munyedza
YOUNG Africans are disillusioned by democracy.
We have not seen much of the benefits that democracy promises.
We envy our brothers and sisters in places such as the Emirates which are still under orthodox monarchical rule because they are enjoying a lot of development which remains elusive in post independence Africa.
This irony is evidence that we need to rethink our practice of democracy.
Many countries such as America and Britain propose that democracy is the panacea that will heal the continent’s deepest wounds such as war and poverty.
Yet despite having democratic features such as multi-party elections and constitutional governance which entrenches people’s rights, most African countries are still battling to fulfil the salient socio-economic aspirations of their people such as access to land and housing.
African countries must develop a unique concept of democracy that is efficacious in addressing our problems.
The Europeans themselves who we mimic tailor their democracies to address their own challenges.
In some cases such as in France it has historically been a counter force against despotic monarchical rule.
During the French Revolution, Louis XVI was overthrown by his subjects because he failed to use his power to uplift and empower them.
The misery of the French under his rule made them yearn for democracy.
They had also been familiarised with its precepts during the American war for independence against Britain, in which they had sent troops to aid the Americans.
They too wanted an accountable and representative elected government through which their needs and views could be expressed.
The British also tailor made their democracy to suit their culture.
They did not completely do away with the monarchy as evidenced by its current system of governance.
They have retained some of their uniquely British political institutions which are arguably undemocratic and they have mixed them with some modern democratic features.
Queen Elizabeth is still the unelected head of state while the government which is led by the Prime Minister is directly elected by the people.
This version of democratic governance is informed by their unique experience as a people.
It was tailor made to give effect to the socio-economic aspirations of the British people.
In Africa democracy was necessitated by different circumstances.
Colonialism gave democracy the appeal it has today.
The political system that was introduced by the white people was their greatest tool of oppression.
It was used to enrich the white minority while simultaneously disenfranchising the black indigenous majority.
The law was developed and used to legitimise white corruption and to wrest the blacks of their civil rights, minerals and land.
The colonialist rulers had pseudo democratic institutions yet the black majority was excluded from enjoying democratic processes such as free and fair elections.
As a result it was envisaged that genuine majority rule through a system of one man one vote would guarantee a progressive continent where the indigenous people could also enjoy the fruits of the land.
However, even though the black majority is now politically free our problems, which have their roots in the colonial past, persist.
This is a strong indication that regardless of the presence of certain democratic benchmarks, the Eurocentric form of democracy we inherited from our former masters emphasises form over substance.
Furthermore, it is informed by European experiences and therefore it would not make sense to adopt it without giving it a meaning derived from our unique history as a continent.
Our current form of democracy is failing because it does very little as far as addressing the day-to-day challenges of the average African.
Many of our people continue to suffer the same fate as they did during colonialism.
In most parts of Africa the means of production, especially land, remain in the hands of the white minority and Western multinational corporations.
This means in spite of political democracy, the white minority retained power and the fate of our people depends on them.
Take for instance, South Africa, which prides itself as Africa’s democracy lodestar.
Most indigenous South Africans are landless and a lot of them live in squatter camps because they are poor and do not have access to land.
In spite of a very progressive constitution (which entrenches socio-economic rights) and a majority black electorate it is arguable that South Africa is not yet a democracy because the black man still finds himself in the same socio-economic position he was before he could vote.
Oyekan Ouwaseyi put it best when he asserted that democracy is a means to an end.
It is based on the assumption that by giving the majority a voice it is most likely that they will solve their problems.
His assertion that the aim of democracy is to acquire development is true.
As such, democracy in Africa can only be assessed in terms of the aims it seeks to achieve rather than the presence of Eurocentric political institutions.
Since it is a means to an end, it will only have meaning to the extent to which it achieves the aims for which it was established.
As we have already seen from the South African example above, certain standards of democracy may exist yet the socio-economic situation which the democracy is meant to address will remain the same.
Africans therefore need to adopt an Afro-centric democracy.
Its legitimacy will be derived from socio-economic processes like land reform and economic empowerment which actually give power to the majority rather than by political events.
In other words, African democracy is in urgent need of a paradigm shift.
Our biggest problems include hunger and poverty which are a result of losing the land to our colonisers in the first place.
Therefore it is irresistible for our democracy to be based more on victuals rather than votes.
There can be no democracy if the people can vote and form political parties, but they have no land on which to grow food at the very least and not empowered.
Instead of being throttled by a version that was developed by those who consider our continent an intellectual backwater, we must tailor it suit of distinct needs and our culture.
In this regard lessons can be learnt from Zimbabwe which has initiated this revolution of thought through its land reform and economic empowerment policies.