By Kenneth Nkemnacho/ Contributor
Infrastructures don’t build institutions; durable institutions build durable infrastructures. Until we realize this, we’ll keep pedaling in anti-clockwise direction on the premise of self deception, reveling on the assumption that we make progress, when in actuality; we are merely dissipating energy without any work done. If we are a square peg, and decide either deliberately or ignorantly to force ourselves into a round hole, we have no chance of fitting in. And if by concoction, we decide that as round pegs, the best place we can fit in is square holes, the dire consequences of our manipulations will stare us boldly in the face and mete out to us what we duly deserve; retrogression.
Africa has come of age to understand what viable institutions are, and their undiluted significance in building viable societies. No convincing explanation is enough to shelter the catalogue of excuses continuously made by those in charge on why we are still where we are. By now, we need no one to inform us that what build thriving societies and national economies is strong, working and enduring institutions – and without that, a people will keep gyrating in a vicious cycle.
Africa’s democratic institution has been on a roller coaster because of those who manage it. The other parts of the world like it the way it is, and we are so oblivious of the reason why. Developments don’t occur without practicable and logical democratic institutions. The one who isn’t developed makes up the big market for every junk produced by the developed. There isn’t junk money, but there are junk products. The money made from using Africa as a dumping ground is big addition to the economies of where they come from. As reactionary measures, some African governments hastily or angrily ban certain foreign products – that, I consider ludicrous because you can’t ban something when you don’t have an operational alternative solution; otherwise, you’ll put the people in undue hardship. Building judicious institutions is what takes care of the various arms of government and governance, whether in the public or private sector.
According to documentation, the inception of democratic institutions is traceable to ancient Athens around the 6th Century B.C.E. It was officially born to fight against the oppressions of aristocracy. Then, the imbalance between the rich and the poor was colossal, and in order to narrow this contrast, the people revolted. The revolt led to many dispensations of democratic metamorphosis until it became what it is today. To get to what it is today, political philosophies became the bedrock of democratic institutions. Socrates was the first to philosophize democracy; after him, came his student Plato. Plato’s protégé took over from him; that is the man called Aristotle. Aristotle summed up in direct terms the philosophy that must guide democratic institutions when he wrote in his work titled Politics that, “Now a fundamental principle of the democratic form of constitution is liberty—that is what is usually asserted, implying that only under this constitution do men participate in liberty, for they assert this as the aim of every democracy. But one factor of liberty is to govern and be governed in turn; for the popular principle of justice is to have equality according to number, not worth, and if this is the principle of justice prevailing, the multitude must of necessity be sovereign and the decision of the majority must be final and must constitute justice, for they say that each of the citizens ought to have an equal share; so that it results that in democracies the poor are more powerful than the rich, because there are more of them and whatever is decided by the majority is sovereign. This then is one mark of liberty which all democrats set down as a principle of the constitution. And one is for a man to live as he likes; for they say that this is the function of liberty, inasmuch as to live not as one likes is the life of a man that is a slave. This is the second principle of democracy, and from it comes the claim not to be governed, preferably not by anybody, or failing that, to govern and be governed in turns; and this is the way in which the second principle contributes to equalitarian liberty.”
Democracy existed in Africa before slavery and colonialism; although the west chose to call it tribalism or primitive democracy, but it worked. As we expanded, and civilization and exposure took preeminence, our eyes became larger; we began to see what we shouldn’t see, and put our hands where we shouldn’t put them. Our first victim as we became more aware of our world was to rip the fabric of institutional philosophy and what it represents. Today, we struggle, and don’t seem to be conversant with where we currently are; we are confused, bemused and lost. Until we go back to the philosophy of life, understand the reasons of our existence, and the direction we sail, we will grope in outer darkness and still call it the brightest day ever.
No philosophy, regardless of how strong or important it is works without a conscience. Africa’s democratic institution has always had, and will always have compelling philosophies, but the biggest challenge is the conscience to adhere to its guiding principles. The leaders aren’t the only ones guilty of negating democratic institutional precepts; the led share equal proportion of the blame. When elections are rigged, they aren’t rigged directly by the political aspirants or candidates; it is the eventual victims that actually victimize themselves. Those who suffer the denouement of the political and economic harshness are those who steal ballot boxes to cast a trillion votes where there are only goats and chickens. With no conscience or seared ones, they grind democratic institutional philosophies to a halt, and still expect the society to flow smoothly with men who have no vision for their communities. Conscience and the will-to-do are the initial factors that support great democratic institutional foundations. Without that, every structure will stand idle until it finally collapses. Durability is built by conscience and the attitude to obey the rudiments of what holds the structures together.
Conscience, not partisanship defends democratic institutions. On 15 July 2016, a faction of the Turkish Armed Forces attempted to overthrow the democratic institution. Men without guns foiled the coup. The public came out in their thousands to resist the soldiers because they had the conscience to defend the institution. Not all who came out were supporters of the government; they were simply supporting the democratic institution, not personalities. Personalities may be wrong, but the institution must stay.
It is no longer an institution if the philosophy on which it is built is removed and destroyed. For instance, staying put to power and becoming a monarch in democracy is no longer democracy. Any rule or law that empowers narcissism counters the growth of democratic institution. African leaders must realize that they disenfranchise the people when they take away the only thing that gives them sense of responsibility; that is, their honest ability to decide who rules them. To disenfranchise the people is to weaken them; and a weakened voice is a weakened democratic institution. Stealing the power of the people doesn’t make you stronger; it makes you vulnerable and weakens your visionary ability. No wonder, many who hold on beyond their stipulated time aren’t still able to develop their nations and better the lives of their people!
No democratic institution can thrive without a strong independent law enforcement department. On Sunday 21 January 2007, the United Kingdom Standard newspaper reported how the prime minister’s aide was arrested by the police followed by a search on Number 10 computer system. For those who don’t know, Number 10 is the UK prime minister’s office. That is what I call strong independent law enforcement agency. No wonder the democratic institution of United Kingdom is so strong.
In Africa, the police are a tool of the incumbent rather than a tool for ensuring quality governance. The African police are used to hunt down political opponents, the media, human right advocates and anyone who dare challenge the government in power for their exuberances. These actions cripple democratic institutions.
For fiddling their expenses, a number of British Parliamentarians, the equivalent of Senators in a presidential system of government were arrested by the police, prosecuted and sent to jail. The democratic institution is sustained and strengthened because of the independence of the police. Where the police have no power of their own to challenge an institution, that institution will misbehave, and misbehavior will weaken it.
Another nutritional input required to make the African democratic institution grow is a strong and independent judiciary. The police cannot send anyone to jail; they don’t have the right and power to. It is the responsibility of the police to prosecute, but those who make the final decisions are the judiciary. A corrupt judiciary means an irresponsible democratic system. If politicians control the judiciary, the overall institutions are in trouble. And that is what is affecting the general growth in Africa. The judiciary is corrupt because it isn’t free of political incursions, direct or indirect. We can’t correct the judiciary when we haven’t given them the power to correct themselves. If they are handed the authority to do their jobs, and they refuse doing it, then the public court will prosecute them and put them exactly where they belong. There isn’t a court on earth that is more powerful than the public court.
What gives the public a strong voice is the media, but unfortunately, rather than help build viable institutions, the African media have become part of the problems. Sycophancy is plaguing the African media; truth is being twisted with the pen by many who should be advocates of the common man. A great media call politicians to order, and remind them emphatically what the democratic philosophy is about. In western democracies, politicians fear the media because of their bold and incisive reports, opinions and stands. And in the west also, the same media that takes you up can bring you down if you become too big to heed the warnings of decorum, but in Africa, some media live on the handouts of politicians, and so, are unable to probe, question and reprimand them when they go out of order. How then can the democratic institution grow when the catalyst of change has become inhibitory?
The understanding that democracy is continuity and transcends individuality is key to strengthening Africa’s democratic institution. We should realize that the president is not the government; the office of the president is only a part of the institution. To make the president absolute is a movement in the backward direction of institutional leadership. In short, it is a fraud and a monumental one indeed. Nations that treat elected presidents as monarchs end up having monarchs as presidents – it is only death that takes them out of power, and before they die, they make sure that their children take control of everything.
Democratic continuity does not destroy the hard works of previous governments just to prove a point, because if they do, they are in essence, destroying the institution; it is equivalent to a divorcee killing her children because she remarried another man. That is murder! In democratic institutions, once you are in charge, you take over the responsibilities and irresponsibleness of previous governments. You become accountable for completing what the previous couldn’t or didn’t complete, and fixing what they couldn’t or didn’t fix. You took over on your own volition claiming that you can fix it; so stop complaining – do the fixing or step out for someone who is more visionary to do it.
Visions strengthen democratic institutions. How? Vision sees beyond self, immediate and extended families; it looks at a nation as a single entity and projects into the future by making plans and building holistic and all-encompassing structures that will take care of the expected and eventualities. It is vision that suppresses nepotism to pitch enduring tents that can withstand socio-political and economic tremors. Without foresight, no leader will envisage the need for a viable democratic institution. Looking ahead of the immediate and discouraging psychoanalysis are major determinants in erecting admirable democratic institutions.
Finally, I will like to emphatically impress the most urgent need for building a top of the edge strong and independent electoral bodies in Africa – electoral bodies that are apolitical, non-partisan and free of the bullying manipulations of incumbent governments. No democracy thrives when the electoral bodies become utensils of any government in power. The challenge of political transitions in Africa is current governments not allowing electoral institutions do their jobs. Sometimes, they sack the whole system and appoint their stooges in order to continuously hold on to power. Where the system cannot be sacked, they mock-up charges against them and falsely make unfounded accusations that hold no water – some go to the extent of threatening them with deaths, and a number of them have been killed under mysterious circumstances. Institutions that are subjected to the whims and caprices of gangsters’ paradise can’t self-sustain – they can’t take care of the now, let alone the future. When out of selfishness, we shut down an institution from working properly; we ignorantly forget that it will, in the near or far future work against our own offspring.
To reiterate a previous point, strong institutions build strong economies; it doesn’t just build strong economies, it gives you a better perception among the committee of nations. To get the trust of those we mingle with, and to make our continent safe for foreign investments, we must conscientiously with undying determination erect the structures that can’t be pulled down by mega forces.
To conclude, I have this caveat for the African population; stop helping politicians rig elections because you are digging your grave and that of unborn generations. For years, I have lived in Europe, observed the way they run their elections and even voted a number of times. All these years, I have never seen elections rigged. No one goes on the street with snatched or fake ballot boxes. No one is reported killed by opposing parties. It goes so quiet that you wouldn’t know anything is happening. In short, I have never seen election monitoring groups from different nations, because there is nothing to monitor. The electoral bodies are allowed to exercise their independence, and that tradition has made the institution stronger and better.
The power of the people can only be twisted by the few aristocrats and self-centered men if the people allow it. If the people say no, no one can make it a yes. Power truly belongs to the people, but the people think power belongs to the politicians. Like I mentioned earlier, the people of Turkey were able to prove that the strength of the public is mightier than that of guns, armored tanks and military helicopters. With bare hands, they stopped the recent coup and beat up the soldiers in order to protect their democratic institution. They didn’t do it because the system was perfect; of course, it was far from being perfect. They didn’t do it because they all supported the incumbent government. They did it to shield a growing institution that needed credibility before the whole world, and for that, they won the hearts of the world. African public must rise up to win the hearts of the world. Let us defend our democratic institutions because POWER BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE!