Africa Day Also Means Democracy, Alleviating Poverty

26 MAY, 2021 - 00:05 

African leaders should be pre-occupied with how they can improve economic development, fight hunger and other prejudices to set conditions necessary for democracy to thrive

Lovemore Chikova

Development Dialogue

Each year, Africa unites in celebrating Africa Day every 25th of May, marking the formation of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963, which has since been turned into the African Union.

The 25th of May yesterday was not exceptional as people throughout the world, especially those of African descent, marked the day in different ways.

Out of the 54 countries on the continent, only 12 — Zimbabwe, Ghana, Mali, Namibia, Zambia, Angola, Chad, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Lesotho, Liberia and Mauritania —mark Africa Day as a holiday.

But this does not mean the day is not recognised in the remaining countries, although it might not be a holiday.

Africa Day is marked by various activities in many countries on the continent, while academic gatherings, cultural showcases and debates centering on the continent are held in some capitals of the world, including in the United States, Europe and Asia.

In declaring Africa Day a holiday and holding various activities to celebrate, Africans are being driven by the quest to totally liberate themselves from the shackles of imperialism.

For Africa Day’s first major agenda was to ensure total political independence on the continent, which has since been achieved, with all countries now independent.

The major issue facing the continent now under the African Union is to achieve economic development, another form of independence that is now overdue. In fact, following debates and discussions in many countries about Africa Day yesterday, it became clear that many observe that while African countries got independence, it was only the political side that changed.

Now, Africans are clamouring for economic independence which remained a mirage in many countries despite getting political independence.

It is time to thoroughly examine issues such as democracy which Western countries tend to press for African countries to achieve ahead of economic independence.

This has led to debates around issues like: Which should precede the other between democracy and economic development?

Is it possible to achieve democracy in a country where the majority remain poor and cannot fend for their families? 

The answer lies on the model which former colonisers pushed on Africa after independence, which emphasised on achieving democracy in a state of shocking economic disadvantages and prejudices among the people.

In fact, in such a situation, democracy becomes more like an abstract as people do not realise its value as they will be concentrating on how to extricate themselves from poverty.

Not that democracy is a bad concept, far from it; it is good and everybody talks about it.

But if you ask any African to choose, they will tell you that they would want economic development and poverty alleviation first before they start talking about democracy.

What this clearly means is that as African leaders mark Africa Day, they should think hard on how they can balance between achieving democracy and alleviating poverty.

Otherwise they risk pushing a concept that is far removed from the people, who do not see how democracy can bring bread on their tables.

Fight poverty first, then everything else, including democracy, will be much easier to preach.

Democracy in a sea of poverty is meaningless, hence the popular statement that “people do not eat democracy”.

Let us have economic development as the first step of achieving democracy in African countries.

In Africa, many countries have achieved democracy as it relates to the election of political leaders, and sadly that is where it ends.

The elected leaders are still facing a situation where the ordinary people feel holding elections whenever they are due is not democratic enough as long as they live under disadvantaged economic conditions.

As they mark Africa Day, African leaders should be pre-occupied with how they can help improve economic development, fight hunger and other prejudices to set conditions necessary for democracy to thrive.

This involves fighting prejudices and colonial hangover from the same colonisers who today are still holding the levers of economic development in African countries.

We have seen how some Western countries are quick to fight back once their hold on economic power in African countries is threatened.

Zimbabwe is a good example, where the land reform programme and indigenisation and economic empowerment policies were received with disdain in Western capitals.

The United States and the European Union actually came up with various forms of sanctions to scare away the Zimbabwean government from implementing such economic empowerment programmes.

This is a good example of the work before African leaders, who have to stand and fight hard to unshackle economic imperialism which remain rooted even after political imperialism was defeated.

In fact, it is time that African countries look for viable alternatives to the Western narrative which seems to thrive through perpetuating poverty on the continent.

It has since become clear that the emphasis on liberal democracy and political rights can hardly put food on the table in African homes.

What is needed is to press ahead with the developmental agenda that can uplift the lives of the majority to create conditions for democracy to thrive.

Other countries did it perfectly, and in this case China easily comes to mind.

The Chinese model, which emphasised on economic development and uplifting people out of poverty, has created an alternative to Western countries’ emphasis of democracy ahead of economic rights.

That explains why emerging economies are increasingly turning to the Asian giant whose model has managed to uplift 800 million people out of poverty between 1978 and now.

It is correct to point out that liberal economic prescriptions from the West have had too many pitfalls in Africa, hence many countries that took on such policies still have their people in poverty.

What has made democracy a fallacy in Africa is how it is being pushed hard by Western countries ahead of economic development.

Surely, a person who lives in a slum, for example, will tell you to go to hell with your democracy if it does not immediately address the situation they are facing at the moment.

Economically empower that person first, then you can come and successfully preach about democracy.

As Africans mark Africa Day, it is time to reflect and think hard on the developmental trajectory that the continent needs to take.

Priorities should be set right and the ultimate should be the right to economic development for everyone.

The economy is much more important because it brings such necessities as food, accommodation, healthcare, education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Politics and democracy cannot bring these necessities to the people.

Africa Day should afford time to reflect on why a continent touted as the richest is actually classified as the poorest when it comes to the standard of living.

It is a huge inconsistency that needs urgent action, and this should start by emphasising on economic development ahead of everything else.

This should be accompanied with addressing conflicts that still haunt some African countries with Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, jihadists attacks in some west and central African countries, armed terrorist attacks in Cado Delgado in Mozambique and internal armed conflicts in Libya and South Sudan.

lchikovahh@yahoo.com



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