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Democracy and development in Africa

10 November 2014, 20:28

The clamour for democracy all over the globe is not accidental. Those who go about agitating for democratization are convinced that no society, truly desirous of development, can ignore democracy. The democratic experiences of developed nations lend credence to the truth of this claim. There is a close link between democracy and development. I am not saying that a country cannot develop without democracy, but where we have both, the outcomes are better. Before delving further, let us take a worthwhile glance at the meanings and relationship between the key terms, democracy and development.

In defining democracy

DEMOCRACY Of Greek origin, the word 'democracy' was etymologically derived from two words namely, "demos" which means "the people" and "kratien" which connotes "to rule". Put together, it is "demokratia" which means "rule by the people". The definition of Pericles - an Athenian Statesman in 431 BC - provides an elaborate picture of this concept: “Our Constitution is named a democracy because it is in the hands not of the few but in the hands of the many. But our laws secure equal justice for all in their private disputes and our public opinion welcomes and honours every branch of achievements...”

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In modern era, democracy is defined as a system of government in which the whole eligible members of a state hold supreme power typically through their elected representatives. A better clarification can be derived Abraham Lincoln's definition of democracy as “the government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Democracy has its fundamental principles, features or characteristics. Various definitions of democracy are formed from these fundamental features. The features include: equality of men, individual rights, free elections, existence of political parties, consensus or majority rule, separation of power, checks and balances, the rule of law, freedom of the press and judicial autonomy. Any democracy that does not completely have these features is not a true democracy


The term development has no universally accepted definition, yet it is an unavoidable datum of life. Many scholars have attempted a definition of the concept of development. Lebret, for instance, have defined development as "the ascent of man, maturation, growth and creativity of all human potentials achieved at the lowest possible cost in sacrificed values and human sufferings". An African philosopher, Pantaleon Iroegbu, also attempted a working definition of development. For him; “Development is the progressive unfolding of the inner potentials of a given reality. It is to de-envelop, that is, to bring out to light existential, functional and epistemic, which was enveloped, folded or hidden. As it applies to a people, development is the integration of different givens: national, physical acquired and human, of a people towards the full working out, permanently and cumulatively, of their being as persons of their community and of their real productivity.” Be it as it may, development is the growth or formation and change of something over a period of time. For me, development is the gradual growth, increase and change of a particular phenomenon over a period of time. It must be about man because he is the agent and purpose of development.

The relationship between democracy and development

Rich continents tend to be more democratic than poor continents. Understanding the link between democracy and development could be more crucial for policy making at the national and continental levels. In addition to giving citizens more political freedoms, democracies are, on average, less likely to be at war with each other than dictatorships.

A lack of democratic governance structure could prove an obstacle to sustainable development. In the United Nations Secretary General's 1994 Agenda for Development, it is stated that: “Democracy and development are linked in fundamental ways. Because democracy provides the only long term basis for managing competing ethnic, religious and cultural interests in a way that minimizes the risk of violent internal conflict. Because democracy is a fundamental human right, the advancement of which is itself an important measure of development.” Democracy is an important way to reassure some freedoms and it is important for the economic development of any continent. Hence, I posit that developing and strengthening a democratic system is an essential component of the process of development.

Why democracy failed in Africa

According to the 2009 African Governance Report (AGR II), put together by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), it seems that many of the democracies in Africa are suffering from authoritarian hangover. Many African countries adopted the system of democracy because it enjoys global endorsement as the best form of government and panacea for development. But it is a truism that development in Africa remains impeded. This is because many African leaders are ignorant, negligent of the philosophical principles upon which democracy was formed. Democracy has failed in Africa simply because African leaderships lack the moral courage to live up to it expectations. Characterised by greed, ignorance and negligence, many African leaders do not practice democracy in the light of the foundational principles upon which democracy was formed. John Locke and other pro-democracy philosophers had based the ideals of democracy on the principles of discipline, tolerance, truth, nobility, restraint, justice, selflessness, self control and equity. These principles have helped Europe and America develop rapidly. African leaders lack the moral courage to live up to expectation; hence, they easily drift from the path of democracy to satisfy their own whims and caprices, ending up practicing pseudo democracy.

What Africa requires

A democracy premised on the principles of selflessness, nobility, tolerance, truth, equality, justice, honesty, self control and restraint, will invariably promote the social, economic and political development of Africa. Hence, Africa requires the genuine operators of democracy. We require leaders with the moral courage to democratic expectations. Africa requires leaderships that will embrace true democracy and practise it in the light of the solid foundational principles upon which pro-democratic scholars had based the ideals of democracy. It requires leaders that are not bogged down by corruption and ignorance. I believe character and competence are the requisite factors needed to solve the leadership problems faced by the continent. Whilst character means the moral uprightness of an individual, competence is built by the intellectual status-quo of such individual.

Character on the part of leadership addresses the problem of corruption, which has been the bane of the continent for so long. Leadership anchored on sound morals will, no doubt, place the interest of the people above that of the self. The gale of looting in the continent is as a result of the absence of character in leadership. Therefore, to have character is to place a higher premium on integrity and service than a heartless appropriation of the people’s patrimony for self-alone. However, it will not be enough for such a leadership to be willing to serve the people. It must have a proper understanding of the dynamics of the continent’s underdevelopment in a rapidly globalizing world. Such a leadership must be wary of alliances and agreements that look harmless on the surface but portends harm for its people.

- MyNews24

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