Africa And The Ills Of Majoritarian Democracy: Western World And Democratization

02 March 2011

By Aminu F. Hamajoda

Far from being a panacea for African unity and development, majoritarian democracy encourages ethnic, religious and regional conflicts as recent politics and conflicts in Nigeria and elections in other African countries had shown. Vote numbers is the cardinal basis of neoliberal democracy a form of government touted as the most humane form of rule in the world, an alternative to autocracy. While it surely works in the Western world, in Africa democratization appears to encourage divisiveness and post election violence. It is an irony that the "third wave" of democratization sweeping across the world also brings with it a wave of internal conflicts that were hitherto non-existent. Unless our politicians and lawmakers take drastic consociational measures to mitigate identity politics, citizenship, regionalism, and religious differences, the path of democracy will mean the path of division, conflicts, and anarchy. Examples abound in Africa.

Ivory Coast incumbent Laurent Gbagbo for instance, refused to step down for the world-acknowledged winner of the October 2010 national elections, Allassane Ouatara, despite prior consensus on dialogue and elections by the Ivorian political leaders. Gbagbo immovability stems from the pain of losing narrowly in an election that has no role for the loser despite the number of votes he scores. Gbagbo scored 46% of the total votes while his opponent Watara scored 54%. This finger-biting difference in scores could be the actual cause of the impasse rather than the allegations of rigging that Gbagbo has been taunting. In any case, the conflict does not really stop at the party or personal levels as it would have ideally been in a Western country, but has transcended to revive the north-south dichotomy and the politics of citizenship. Between 1963 – 1993 Houphouet Boigny had encouraged massive migration of people from other countries to support his economic development. During that period citizenship was not an immediate issue until Konan Bedie introduced divisive citizenship laws that distinguished "pure Ivorians" from "circumstantial Ivoriens" the later made up mainly of immigrants. It is important to note that Alassane Quattara, a former Minister and the acknowledged winner of the 2010 elections was a victim of this denial of citizenship and Gbagbo is therefore afraid of his victory.

Even in Guinea where the results of a second round election were accepted in November last year, it was preceded by a renewal of the rivalry between the Malinkes and the Fulani who form the majority of the population in Guinea. Both ethnic groups were trying to renegotiate their control of the government of Guinea under an atmosphere of increasing distrust. Both Cello Dialo and Alpha Conde made vigorous negotiation for the support of the other key presidential candidates, Lansana Kouyate and Sidya Toure, but in the end the voting was ethnic and had set a pattern of election alliances heralding a possibility of increased rivalry between two dominant ethnic groups in Guinea despite their emergence from a long military rule.

Earlier in Angola, majoritarian election had only helped to re-ignite war in the 1990s. Although enshrined in the 1991 Bicesse Peace Accord was an electoral process that envisaged MPLA and Savimbi's UNITA competing in the polls, what happened in the end was a war that became more violent as it took ethnic dimensions. During the cold war era, MPLA was considered a Marxist movement supported by the former USSR and UNITA was considered a capitalist pro-west movement supported by apartheid South Africa and the USA. With the end of the Cold War and the ideological principles it created, conflicts in Angola took on ethnic dimensions. The MPLA was seen to represent the interests of the Mbundu whilst UNITA was seen as the protector of the Ovimbundu ethnic group. When Savimbi lost elections in 1992, he accused the Dos Santos government of electoral fraud and thereafter embarked on a new deadly and violent war that led to the immediate death of 120,000 Angolans.

In all the cases cited above, elections were conducted where losers are left with nothing despite representing sizeable percentages of votes and in most cases representing cultural or regional groups. Refraining election losers from governance is a bad idea for African democracy because it creates a sense of insecurity for both the leaders and the people they represent. In Ivory Coast, Alassane Watara, a former victim of a controversial citizenship law, could reverse Konan Bedie's constitutional engineering that divided Ivorians as "pure" and "circumstantial". In Guinea, although the Fula control the economy, they have been subjugated for a long time beginning with the rule of Sekou Toure and may like to redress their political marginalization. In Angola when Savimbi perceived the elections as ethnic, he quickly rearmed and received far more support from the Ovimbundu ethic group then he ever did during the cold war period.

The lesson from the above examples to us in Nigeria is the need to acknowledge that we are susceptible to the vagaries of majoritarian democracies. Majority of the recent conflicts we had since 1999 stem from the politics of numbers that drew the sentiments of identity. The genesis of the recent Jos crisis was the Jos North Local Government elections, where voting patterns have been religious for several years. Numbers might also be the source of the violent identity conflicts that had arose earlier that had included; the Tiv versus Jukun, in Taraba State, the Tiv versus other ethnic groups in Azara of Nasarawa State in 2001, the Hausa/Fulani versus the Anaguta, Afizere and Berom in Jos North Local Government Area of Plateau State in 2001, the Tarok versus Hausa/Fulani in Wase Local Government Area in 2004, the Goemai versus the Hausa/Fulani in Shendam Local Government Area of Plateau State in 2002.

Although several centrapetalist measures are taken to ensure democracy unite Nigerians, more drastic consociational measures should be taken to stem the ethnic and religious conflicts that the nation face today. One constitutional measure already taken is the distribution requirement. The ‘distribution requirement' applies both at presidential elections and party formation to encourage cross-regional politics by requiring winning presidential candidates to gain not just a majority of the vote, but a spread of the vote across the country to ensure that winning presidents receive a regional spread of electoral support and thereby a cross-ethnic and religious base, rather than drawing their votes from one region only. Similarly, the presidency rotation strategy adopted by the ruling party, although at present jettisoned, is still a sound consociational strategy that should be practiced at all levels of government despite of it ideological backwardness. The advantage is to demystify Nigerians that having a leader coming from their ethnic group, region, or religion would better their lot. Ridding Nigerians of this myth will go a long way to paving the path for a conflict-free democracy.

Another strategy that needs to be adopted is constitutional creation of duties for losing contestants especially at the national and state levels. The fear of adversarial sabotage should not prevent a provision for a losing contestant to contribute to the development of his state or nation. Meaningful roles should be found for loosing presidential and gubernatorial candidates especially in the legislative arm.

However, by far the most important measure that should be taken is the issue of citizenship versus indigeneship, a nefarious gap that remains a time bomb for the nation. The issue is the most currently sour aspect of African political economy. Research by some development historians has shown how a colonial legacy is twisted to harm Africa. Between late 1950s to late 1970s, most postcolonial discourse has concentrated on the economy of post colonial African states, especially during the cold war era when forces were labeled as ‘progressive' or ‘retrogressive'. Engrossment with ethnicity was considered truly backward by then. Angola again provides a good example of this change. MPLA was previously regarded as a Marxist movement dedicated to socialist ideals, while UNITA was considered a pro-capitalist pro-west movement. In the 1990s, these same movements turned into defenders of Angola's major ethnic groups, Mbundu and Ovimbundu respectively.

Many historians blame the colonial legacy of creating native and customary authorities for the present dilemma of ethnic identities. During the colonial period, the British for instance created two types of political identities, civic and ethnic. The civic identity was mostly reserved for whites and educated Africans while the ethnic identity was designed for cultural groups using native authority and customary laws to preserve their ancestry.

The constitutions of modern African states no doubt give full citizenship rights to its people but in most cases for instance in Nigeria these rights are curtailed at state and local government levels, where indigeneship deny citizens rights to political power, educational subsidies, employment and sometimes resources as a away of protecting groups of people who claim ancestry to the area. A striking example of the dichotomy of constitutional citizenship and indigenous citizenship is the Tiv versus Jukun situation in Taraba state. Deadly clashes have been recorded between the two ethnic groups since 1964, 2001 – 2002 being the deadliest. The same scenario is what is occurring in Jos presently. The consequence of this citizenship-indigeneship debacle is the curtailment of economic dynamism and social fluidity. While the nation's economy dynamise citizens, states and local governments disenfranchise them. Yet the Nation sees no anathema in this contradiction.

One of the solutions proffered for this predicament is to rethink our situation as a colonial treachery. Our political leaders and lawmakers must redefine political identities, rights, and justices and probably banish indigeneity. The persistence of the colonial concept of ‘native' and ‘settler' in our political psyche will disintegrate Nigeria and the whole of Africa. But any undertaking to refashion our political destiny requires a restoration of Nigerian history and civic education in our educational curricula. Prior to the 1990s, no Nigerian could graduate, no matter his discipline, without passing the mandatory course, Nigerian History and Culture. The Cicerion adage, ‘Not to know what happened before one was born is always to remain a child'. The fact that senior journalists, political leaders and even scholars use misnomers like ‘settler' to refer to a Nigerian indicates lack of historical knowledge. Nigeria's history did not start when the whiteman arrived at the cost and blew a whistle. None of Nigeria's over 250 ethnic groups was here less 400 years ago and surely over 85% of the migratory routes of each ethnic group in Nigeria have been established. It is pertinent to revive, fund and madate the Historical Society of Nigeria to continue with the groundwork they started in 1970s by writing books on the history of Nigeria suitable for all levels of our education. While the authors of the treachery that is consuming Africa are dogged on uniting Europe, Africans are busy falling apart. Our legislature and judiciary must use 2011 to pass drastic implementable laws to mitigate the current trend of ethnic chauvinism and religious bigotry that is taking us nowhere but to calamity.


©  EsinIslam.Com

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