In the absence of strong institutions of leadership shepherding the order in society, like in monarchies, in an environment of weak party organizations, unlike in the United States of America or in China or in India or in Britain or in France, with a poorly motivated citizen-base, something would have to give if democracy must remain, for African societies, the cradle or agency for transformational leadership.
Being of a higher calling than business, than the academia, than the professions, with greater power to impact, for better or worse, the fate or prospect of mankind, the fate or future of business, the fate of the professions, and of knowledge and research, it is indeed a huge irony that political leadership, especially in Africa, permits abysmally lower thresholds (in capacity and character) of entry, Dr. Graham Hart, a development consultant, quips.
One of the great injuries of colonialism was shifting Africans from their natural, cultural trajectories of leadership and civilization, while imposing European ways of life and of governance. While Africans were, through miseducation and propaganda, made to collapse their cultural institutions for leadership into liberal democratic systems, European societies continued to maintain theirs. Britain presents a good example.
The British monarchy, for example, is not past or indeed passing. To the British, the ideal monarch stands for a higher good and a deeper principle than that of the politician, in leadership. Indeed by personifying the nation, the British Monarch holds politicians and democratic politics to a higher standard.
They, the British, continue to preserve and reserve a prime role for the Monarch in their conviction that, paradoxically, democracy itself is not enough to ensure the continuation of democracy.
“Unless powers that represent other interests than that of a temporary and often manipulated majority are institutionalized, societies will be dominated by the contest for electoral superiority, and determined by the unlimited rule of those who win.”
Are African democrats, those that are holier than the Pope, listening?
The British monarchy helps to sustain the democratic process by mixing a power other than that of democracy with democracy. And in this respect, mixed constitution – the combination of the rule of the many, the few and the one – is more effective than the division of powers in preventing elected tyranny.
The monarchy – the rule of the one – acts as a kind of umpire which ensures that the democratic process itself cannot be subverted and that it displays a certain rule of fairness. In short, the Monarch upholds the rule of law.
Constitutional monarchies also comprise some of the world’s most developed, wealthy, democratically accountable and progressive states.
According to the United Nations, seven of the top 10 countries in the world in terms of quality of life are constitutional monarchies. Without a doubt, democracy (self-governance) satisfies best the human thirst for freedom; yet being undisciplined, turbulent and luxury seeking, it falls time and again to austere-minded despotism.
In that process, the basic moral principles and values that are vital to extending the frontiers of development get subverted on the altar of crass acquisition of wealth and power. So, in a sense, to defend democracy, societies need more than democracy. Were the British to abolish or further limit the power of the British Monarch therefore, they would be removing the very lynchpin that has secured the British liberties, equities, social mobility and sense of economic justice over hundreds of years.
The People’s Republic of China, through the agency of the Communist Party of China, is another great society which is making progress along this realization. The Chinese Communist Party has been leading the progress of China since its foundation in 1921, leading to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
Through its ‘National Congress,’ convened every five years, government gives account to the people of China. Not consigned into any clear ‘ideological covens,’ the organization of the Chinese Communist Party is pragmatic and interested only in ‘what truly works for China.’ This might not be very characteristic of the fancy, liberal democracy, but it does work for China and is very close to repositioning the nation as the largest economy in the world.
The United States of America provides the world’s first formal blueprint for a modern democracy, through a Constitution which was adopted in 1788. By 1796, political parties came into the fray of democratic elections. Even in those times, universal adult suffrage was considered anathema. This was because only the landed gentry (stakeholders) could vote in elections.
To everyone else, but the “few radicals” arguing that every male should have the right to vote, it seemed obvious that those with a material stake in the economy should be the only people with power to influence political decisions.
The Constitution of the United States of America came with a provision for an ‘Electoral College,’ in an effort by the framers to safeguard the electorate from the duplicity of the political class. In the words of the framers, “the American electorate was not considered sufficient mature to be entrusted directly the power to elect the president.” The Electoral College continues to stand as buffer between the ‘mob and reason.’ It is not an oversight that this provision has remained in their Constitution to date.
In Britain the successive democratic stages came in four measures, each known as a Representation of the People Act. That of 1867 reduced the property qualification to the point where the urban working class won the right to vote. The Act of 1885 effectively did the same for workers in the countryside. The Act of 1885 still contained a financial threshold, albeit a low one. This was done away with in the Act of 1918 which made proof of residence the only qualification. This was the Act that finally achieved universal suffrage in Britain, since it granted women the right to vote, just two years before women were to enjoy such rights in the United States, but beginning with British women over the age of thirty.
The point is that democracy is never a thing done; it is a work-in-progress. The countries of Africa must not fall for the charm that liberal democracy provides the ‘silver bullet’ against the challenge of leadership recruitment in the continent. For a fact, there exists no historical record of any nation that has been so served.
Societies, in seeking solutions to problems of leadership of the time, adopt forms of government that speak to their challenges, and in the course of time, qualitative democracy (political and economic) might just emerge.
In other words, democracy, for Africa, should not be the goal; it might come handy, at the appropriate time, as an instrument to achieve the goal. The goal is to reclaim Africa for the prestige of Africans.