Col. Malick Diaw, Malian Military Leader

Why Mali may be the path to the future and salvation of Africa


Last month’s military coup in Mali, our West Africa neighbour is not only momentous but extremely significant to the future development of Africa as well as other developing countries. A military coup in the era of a global practice of democracy may seem anathema, outlandish and incongruous, but necessity and expediency impose a patriotic and philosophical burden on us to interrogate the current assumptions and preferential addiction with liberal democracy. Just a few decades ago, most of the known world outside Western Europe and America was under some form of undemocratic regimes.

But today, democracy has become the norm and political mantra that countries and leaders who are patently undemocratic in their actions and internal governance dynamics have hypocritically become symbols and advocates of democracy. Such was the case that after the coup in Mali, several ECOWAS leaders, including Nigeria, tried to intervene in defence of democracy in the country, when in practical reality they may be even worse than the coup plotters.

What is democracy if it does not lead to respect for individual rights and, social and economic uplifting of people, and human dignity? Is democracy just the mere exercise of a political franchise that does not carry any value in its outcome? When people no longer determine their leaders through the vote, democracy has lost its essence. A military rule may have become obnoxious and unacceptable in the present political context of global democratic practice, but what is the alternative to the political brigandage and rascality on open display across Africa and the Third world? We will be pretentious, and indeed, living in denial, to continue to preach, justify and advocate for a system that is even failing in the ‘mother’ countries.

Let’s face the brutal fact: Democracy is not working in Africa, and has actually become a burden on its future economic and social development. It has only brought violence, wars, corruption and poverty to the continent leaving the people with no viable choice. Take Nigeria, for instance. Can we say, with all honesty, that democracy has done us better than the military, even in terms of human rights, except in few extreme cases, that we should continue to romanticize the system? In qualitative terms, democracy has done worse than the military rule in improving the lives of people.

Democracy has brought war and insurgency, which is devastating a whole region of the country and obliterating its people and economy; democracy has imposed an inhuman and wicked governance structure that is impoverishing the generality of the Nigerians in favour of a handful; it has made corruption a culture that is unimaginable in any sane society, and turning the country into a failed state, where lives of citizens no longer count for anything. Elections which are the hallmark of democracy, and a source of expressing sovereign will and mandate, have become a situation of anxiety, pains and anguish to the people, as every election has turned out to be worse than the previous one.

Nigeria is dropping further down in all human development indices since 1999, crowning it all with becoming the poverty capital of the world. So, what should that tell us? We should be defending what is neither useful nor productive. No reasonable person continues to persist in any ruinous activity for a long time without introspection, self-examination and caution; that would be the height of absurdity and irresponsibility. So, why are we digging deeper in this political hole we have found ourselves? At the rate we’re going, the inexorable fact is that within this decade, Nigeria may become a basket case – hopelessly unable to reverse its dire development challenges.

Our country must have been the butt of other countries as we championed the restoration of democracy in Mali – a kettle calling pot black-situation. The problems that led to the coup in Mali are ever-present in Nigeria, even in greater dimensions: Shamelessly manipulated elections, rigid and insensitive leadership, political logjam, unwinnable insurgency war and corruption. Why, then, are we so concerned and interested in solving their problems when ours in rearing to explode in our face? Is democracy an end in itself and a means to an end?

Given the deep-seated divisions and animosities in this country and insolvable nature of the conflicts and interests, Mali may eventually be the inconveniently advisable option for Nigeria. Civil Societies, including the media and even politicians, maybe appalled and horrified at such contemplation, but the question is: In whose interest is this democracy? Is the country moving forward and what are the democracy dividends? All the vocal groups against military rule are less than 10 per cent of the population; what about the other 90 percent whose daily life is a struggle created by this system?

And this is exactly the point, as former U.S. president and professor of Public Administration, once quipped: “Democracy is the rule of public opinion and where the public rules there is no development”. This should be our consolation to rethink our romance and fascination with democracy, as those imposing it on us have not only attained their material goal but are presently at their wits end over the workability of the system.

Lord Acton once said, “Form of government let fools debate, what works best is the best”. This is simply a pragmatic approach to the system of government and not the colonial imposition that has plagued the world. Government has responsibilities and when it is unable or incapable of performing such, then, it has failed on its mandate and the basic reason for existence.

Democracy is a consequence of unipolarism that emerged after the fall of communism in 1991. But most of those elected under democratic process, even in Nigeria, Kenya, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire etc. are subverting the system and hardly desire to leave office. Violence, intimidation of the opposition, manipulation of results etc generally characterize most elections in the so-called democracies making a huge mockery of the term.

All over the world democracy is on the edge of chaos. Demonstrations have broken out and angry citizens demanding a greater say in their political and economic future, better education, healthcare and living standards. The bottom line of this outrage is the same: People are losing faith in the system and demanding their governments do more to improve their lives faster, something which policymakers are unable to deliver under conditions of anaemic growth. Rising income inequality and a stagnant economy are threats to both the developed and the developing world, and leaders can no longer afford to ignore this gathering storm.

In ‘Edge of Chaos, why democracy is failing to deliver economic growth’, Nigerian born economist and Oxford scholar, Dr. Dambisa Moyo sets out the new political and economic challenges facing the world, and the specific, radical solutions needed to resolve these issues and reignite global hope and growth. Edge of Chaos is a warning for advanced and emerging democracies alike: we must reverse the dramatic erosion in growth and suspension in development, or face the consequences of a fragmented and unstable global future; and argues for a fundamental retooling of liberal democratic capitalism to address current problems to deliver better outcomes in the future.

 The military rule may be out of fashion and detested because of its predatory and abusive nature and disposition, but democracy has neither acquitted itself better. It has become a choice between two evils and given the distressingly oppressive and pervasively high poverty rate, compelling an urgent need for development; and coupled with the general state of insecurity, the military rule makes for a far better and wiser choice – at least, on economic reasons.

The cliché that the worst democracy is better than the best military rule is a ruse and needs critical interrogation and reexamination. In fact, most African countries are not ready for democracy; QED. What works best in terms of stability and economic development should be the best system for them.

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