Guest Column

Let's promote democracy on the continent

2018-05-27 06:02
Former public protector Thuli Madonsela. (Pic: Wil Punt, Peartree Photography)

Former public protector Thuli Madonsela. (Pic: Wil Punt, Peartree Photography)

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During my days as a student at the University of Swaziland, we celebrated Africa Day on May 25 with pomp and glory. We also undertook the fashion part of the day with the same seriousness that people give to the state of the nation address and the Durban July. I still remember my last Africa Day outfit – a Ghana-inspired leopard skin maxi dress.

The speeches, which focused on the African dream we shared and its betrayal by African political leaders of the time, were the highlight of the day. Speakers would recount the African dream that drove the gallant acts of Kwame Nkrumah to liberate the continent. They would highlight examples showing betrayal of the African dream by parochial African leaders who then blamed the past for their failures. They conceded, though, that the past continued to have a negative bearing.

In this regard, we were highlighting the forceful repatriation of Africa’s mineral and human resources to the West, as well as the legacy of corrupt governance that colonial governors left behind and which was promptly emulated by African leaders whose governance skills did not match the dreams that had brought them to office.

Inspired by Africa’s epic leaders, particularly Ghana’s first postcolonial president Nkrumah, Africa Day speeches were characterised by hope that Africa would rise again. There was a belief that Africa remained rich in human and mineral resources and that, with the right leadership, it could be leveraged for sustainable shared prosperity and peace. We also believed that Africa had the potential to stand shoulder to shoulder with other continents in all areas of human endeavour, including intellectual prowess, good governance, development and peace.

We believed then, as Nkrumah and others did, that Africa’s progress depended on solidarity in action across the continent. We believed that we were children of one continent and were destined to either rise or fall together. Indeed, this was the ideological anchor of all anticolonial collaboration, which expedited decolonisation in Africa and later helped subdue apartheid.

One of the Thuma Foundation trustees, Wantu Madonsela, recently suggested that, on this year’s Africa Day, we host a #DemocracyDialogue on the role of international solidarity in pushing back against political leaders who derail democracy through the extension of political terms and human rights violations, among other excesses.

He expressed concern that young people today seemed uninterested in political and economic upheavals beyond their borders. He gave the example of his #JusticeforNoura tweet asking all to #SaveNoura, a child victim of a forced marriage who allegedly killed her purported husband in defence against rape. He pointed out that very little interest was shown in this. He further alleged that few of his contemporaries knew or cared about political development, including state atrocities, beyond their borders, or why Congolese, Somali, Sudanese and other nationals were continuously flooding to South Africa.

We should ask whether we can make our democracy work for all in our respective countries if we do not ensure that there is democracy everywhere. It is my considered view that, if we don’t lend a hand to defend democracy among our neighbours, our own democracy remains under threat. This is the paradigm that drove the thinking of Pan-Africanist visionaries such as Nkrumah and Pixley ka Isaka Seme.

Solidarity was the philosophy that inspired Che Guevara to help those beyond his own borders. It was the philosophy that drove Africa’s support of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Incidentally, South Africa is increasingly seen as an ingrate that has forgotten that Africa, particularly frontline states, sacrificed for its liberation – a view raised at Brand Summit SA in Cape Town earlier this month.

Young people and women are among the key groups that bear the brunt of bad governance, impunity and violations of the rule of law in Africa. Women and children flood the internally displaced persons and refugee camps. Women also tend to bear the burden of looking after the sick and maimed in these camps while being targeted for gender specific war crimes such as rape and abduction. Young people disproportionately swell the forced migration outlets.

We, accordingly, must agree that democracy derailment and state fragility in any part of Africa is a threat to all of Africa.

Neighbouring states and relatively developed countries such as South Africa bear the brunt of the influx of refugees and those seeking better socioeconomic opportunities in a stable democracy. But uncontrolled and unplanned migration can be a threat to democracy as it means more demands on employment opportunities and service delivery systems such as health, education, sanitation and housing. Even the documentation of people requires additional resources to ensure expeditious processing of applications.

The advent of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement offers an opportunity for all Africans to think about anchoring and defending democracy beyond their borders. If some of the African states that are party to the agreement have dysfunctional states, their documents are susceptible to fraud and corruption. This means a lot of documents relied on for free movement of goods and persons may be fraudulent.

One of the consequences is that this opportunity may be used as a way to leave dysfunctional states and related economies. In this regard, states and citizens in rule of law states will be shortchanged.

Accordingly, it’s fair to say that we ignore democracy challenges on our continent at our own peril. This includes state-committed atrocities and other human rights violations. Calls such as #JusticeforNoura and #SaveNoura should be everyone’s business.

We should also be concerned about what presidents Joseph Kabila and Pierre Nkurunziza are doing in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi, respectively. We should be concerned about the treatment of opposition parties, human rights activists and LGBTIQ people in countries such as Zambia, Uganda and Sudan. Whether the complaints are valid or not, they are worth checking. In other words, if we want to anchor our own democracy, we should be our neighbours’ keepers.

We don’t need rocket scientists to advise us that, if we continue in the direction we are going in democratic governance trends, we will not be able to “silence the guns in Africa” by 2020 as per the commitment in the African Union’s Agenda 2063. It is also unlikely that we will make progress on the other developmental goals in Agenda 2063 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

As Africa prepares to implement the groundbreaking free trade agreement, it is important that the rule of law be standardised. It is important that we ensure that economies are strengthened and that inclusive development is advanced. This is the vision driving Agenda 2063.

Is it not time that, whoever we are and wherever we are, we become excited about Africa Day again? Shouldn’t Africa’s intelligentsia platforms such as universities and think-tanks be seized with the dialogue on the African renaissance again? The young people at the Thuma Foundation believe it’s our time to drive Pan-Africanism again while being global citizens.

Madonsela is professor and chair of social justice at Stellenbosch University, and founder of the Thuma Foundation

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