MUNYAGA: Africa needs more functional democracies


Some African states oppose sending peacekeepers to Burundi, Gambia's president said on Saturday, the first ...
AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. PHOTO: Courtesy

Sipping coffee at a Dar es Salaam restaurant recently, some friends and I found ourselves drifting to the touchy question on how to strengthen institutional democracy in Africa as the only way to quick development and guarantee lasting good governance in the continent, which currently tends to rely on individual leadership styles.

One friend suggested the primacy of a strong and independent judiciary with constitutionally guaranteed security of tenure for judges as the only hope for solving Africa’s woes about rampant corruption, growing inequality and the general lack of shared values without which no community or society can prosper.

The idea looked good in theory but the general consensus was that the model cannot work in the African context. If the judiciary and the executive happened to differ on major policy issues, conflicting decisions, especially on basic rights, would inevitably throw a country in crisis, some argued.  Thus, despite all the talk about democracy and the rule of law, Africa at this point in time, still needs working within the aura of a “benevolent king!”

Perhaps, not all can agree. But that coffee room chat drove home the reality that Africa actually lives in two worlds, the medieval past and the modern era of multiparty democracy and freedom, a kind of contradiction in terms that tends to slow down the wheel of progress. However, there are no two ways about it. If Africa is ever to enjoy freedom and broadly shared values, then there is no alternative to putting in place strong and independent institutions of a functioning democracy.

We hear too often the complaint about Africa being turned into a dumping place for cheap commodities from elsewhere. That would not be possible if countries had strong and independent regulatory authorities, free from corruption and manipulation by those in power. In Tanzania for example, the communications regulatory authority (TCRA) shall from this coming June, switch off all fake mobile sets across the county.

It is a good and plausible move but a question arises as to how those phones entered the market in the first place. The answer is simple. Someone’s hands were definitely oiled to let in the contraband. Such are the enemies of the people and their progress. Tanzania has a highly respected bureau of standards (TBS). It is hard to imagine that the phones entered the market without someone ticking their quality as genuine. Subsequently, the phones have been in use all that long cheating and endangering the health of unsuspecting customers who place their trust in institutions that are supposed to serve them.

We know that fake products, be they phones, cosmetics or drugs, pose serious health risks to unsuspecting users, which is a serious violation of a fundamental and basic human right, the right to health. Politicians on the other hand, like to harangue the people with messages of the need to maintain peace and stability as prerequisites for sustainable development and will not hesitate to deploy armed forces to enforce their power. However, they fail to see how violated the people are by fake products.

 

It is high time that Africa fights corruption with all the contempt it deserves. At the ongoing anti-corruption summit in London, Prime Minister, David Cameron called Nigeria as being “fantastically corrupt.” But it takes two to tango. So who are Nigeria’s partners in the illicit industry?  We all know the root of Nigeria’s corruption disease. It issued out of successive military dictatorships, which the west, including Britain supported.

 

Cameron’s remarks reminded this author about Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s fierce arguments on corruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo under Dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, at one time a darling of the west who amassed personal wealth at the expense of the state. Mwalimu said if he were the leader of Congo he would not pay back the country’s external debt because the lenders know exactly where the money is.

 

It is good for Cameron to shed light on Nigeria’s extent of corruption. There is nothing new about it. We all know it. But what the Prime Minister did not say was that that money actually lies somewhere in western banks. And, President Muhammadu Buhari, who attended the summit, minced no words. He was not going to offer an apology, he said, but rather he wanted the money back in Nigeria. If the world is indeed sincere and honesty about fighting corruption, then let us see the beginning of looted wealth flowing back to the respective treasuries of Africa.

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