African Civil Society: Between a Curse and a Plague? By Njoya Tikum

2016-01-08 11.44.55 (2)The only thing that holds a nation together is not its brilliant policies, constitutions, institutions, and sound economy but rather the values and principles upon which all these are founded. The problem of our political culture in Africa lies in our readiness to abandon principle and values Under the pretext of pragmatism. Clearly, real politick requires pragmatism, sophistication and not dogmatism. But pragmatism should never be equated with naked opportunism.

The removal of dictatorship does not necessarily result in democracy.Often, the demise of a dictatorship creates a severely contested political vacuum, a space upon which a people can either build another dictatorship or construct a democracy. History teaches us that those who bitterly fight present dictatorship are not always necessarily democrats .It is ‘therefore, important to grow a robust culture and habit of dissent, accountability and transparency especially in a pro-democracy movement. It is possible when fighting an intransigent incumbent to degenerate into an authoritarian politics of opposition that lacks the flexibility and open-ness to see-let alone accommodate- dissent and difference. In other words, pro-democracy activists must always ask the question “do we epitomize the change that we want to see?”. I assume that the primary business of NGOs and the broader civic movement is fighting for a more democratic,accountable, just and peaceful social order.

Incumbent regimes the world over and particularly in  Africa  do not just fold up and hand over power and privilege without a fight. Fighting for change is inevitably, a bruising game replete with many dangers, frustrations and contradictions.NGOs are the only business that continues to be in business when it has run out of business. They are also the only sector that believes that change will come at absolutely no personal cost.

Reality is sadly the very opposite, all change comes at a very great personal cost. As a result of poor mental, moral and ideological orientation, some tire, others sell-out, others become cynical and yet others degenerate into kleptomaniacs, fanatics, xenophobes and political criminals. Psycho-social support is very important If the struggle is to be sustained and won.

If civil society is to serve any meaningful role,we also have to deal with questions of personal integrity and the personal political-economy; as School fees, rent and other obligations have to be met even as we struggle. The first real test in a Struggle for change is clearly the sacrifices we are willing to make and the next equally important is how we innovate to stay alive, rather how we deal with our personal livelihood issues in the course of struggle. This is different from a neoliberal concern with creating a civic-bourgeoisie, a military bourgeoisie or for that matter administrative bourgeoisie.

The process of unseating incumbency or transforming the status quo (which is an American phrase that means ‘the mess that we are in’)is often long and protracted thereby creating a career for some and a personal political-economy for others. This paradoxically creates an internal movement incumbency whose logic is that it is unstrategic to change leadership before the broader struggle is complete. Our history is full of instances of institutional capture both at the state level and within civil society either by founder patriarchs, populists or usurpers who at some opportune time assume leadership in such institutions. In the ultimate analysis, the greatest struggle for freedom, for democratic practice and culture is always within and by the rank and file of the pro-democracy movement itself..

Fighting for change in economic contexts that are as depressed as those that subsist in many African countries , often raises serious issues about the role of money and patronage within the civic movement. As well perhaps the role of donors, INGOs and the corporatist culture. The difference between out-of-pocket expenses and sheer patronage is a very fine one. The absence of a framework or ethical basis for managing this issue often means there grows clientalism within civil society similar to that which exists in political parties. This ability of civil society leaders to dole out benefits to scores of unemployed citizens creates a complex set of relations that sometimes assume ethnic undertones or some form of personality cults that feed on dependency politics. So you end up with scores of poor or unemployed for whom mobilization meetings, demonstrations and workshops are income-making activities. They insist on being paid for the very effort they put into their own liberation.

This behaviour can not be solely blamed on the decadence of Citizens or lack of critical consciousness.The leadership of pro-democracy civil society often portrays itself as a fairly well paid and comfortable class of elites, a ‘civilocracy’. A self-selected and self-legitimating group of friends bound.

With this state of play, how do we progress?. Eloping from this state of decadence  demands  legislative enhancements and moral navel-gazing in most of our countries. to begin with, the  funding edifice of civil societies must mutate from internationally driven to nationally construed.

Part two of this blogpost will elucidate simple steps and methods necessary to  transforming African civil societies into one that is responsive  and true to its watchdog stature..

Adam: Democracy in Africa will affect us all in 2016

Many issues and events will shape the world in 2016, for better or worse. International terrorism will continue to haunt us, but the clear and present danger is posed by lone wolf attacks that can happen anywhere and are difficult to track. Plummeting oil prices will continue to wreak havoc on world economies, particularly Canada,…

Source: Adam: Democracy in Africa will affect us all in 2016

UBUNTU: Power of Collectivity or Principle of Success?

I recently came across this great story of a farmer who grew superior quality and award-winning CORN. Each year he entered his CORN in the best Farmer fair where it won honor and prizes.

Once a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learnt something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors.

The reporter asked, “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering in the corn competition with yours each year?”

“Why sir, “said the farmer, “didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior, sub-standard and poor quality corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my
corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors also to grow good corn.”

So it is with our lives. Those who want to live meaningfully and well must enrich the lives of others, for the value of a life is measured by the life it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all. Call it power of collectivity. Call it a principle of success. Call it a law of life. The fact is, none of us truly wins, until we all win!!

And as my good friend Chris Ayangafac will say, “bro, Africa is endowed with the spirit of UBUNTU:I am what I am because of who we all are.”

Should Presidential Debates be Mandatory in Africa?

ImageAs Ghana prepared to hold its  presidential debate in  October 2012,   a writer with the  African Review  concluded that “holding live debates in Africa  only currently makes for good television only; the continent is still a long way from issue-based politics”.  This assertion instigated many  rhetoric questions for me;what is issue based politics? if Africa presidential debates were not issue-based, what then were the candidates discussing during the two hours session?.  I was thus persuaded to follow the Kenyan presidential debate last week (broadcasted On TV and online), to see if what this writer had said made any sense. To my delight, the Kenyan presidential debate did not only cover very substantive social, economic and military issues (jobs, youth unemployment, human rights, Kenya–Uganda border crisis, piracy, ethnicity and race) it  also showed the progress made by the continent  in the democratization of the electoral process.

As the primary means through which people express their preferences and choose their representatives, elections are a powerful democratic governance tool of voice, accountability and, ultimately, economic development. Elections feeds into the governance process which then provides economic and social policies that are responsive to people’s needs and aspirations and that aim at eradicating poverty and expanding the choices that all people have in their lives.

If inclusiveness and participation are fundamental ingredients for effective elections and democracy, then presidential and even local/ representative debates during election provide an avenue for these two ingredients to be added into the process of governance. In the Kenyan presidential debate of last week, the citizen had a chance to ask questions to the different presidential candidates through social media. Young voters embraced the new found medium of participation and engaged in the process as advocates or critics of the different policy visions advanced by the candidates. While this may not be life changing, a retrospective reflection of the political and electoral process that dominated the continent two decades ago, reinforced the reality of today’s changing Africa (two decade ago, citizens of most Africa countries could easily determined the outcome of the elections before people actually cast their votes- today, they get to engaged with the candidates directly, challenged thier propositions and share their opinion throughout the process). This is a recognizable mile stone that can easily be undermine with useless comparison to the so called issue-based politics in America ( btw:  are  America presidential debates really based on issues?– did any body watched the last Republican primaries?)

The other glaring progress noticed was the presence of a female candidate on stage during the presidential debate. Though this would have been considered a taboo two decades ago, the Kenyan presidential debate and the strength of the arguments advanced by the lone female candidates elucidates a changing reality in the continent.  That a female candidate was able stand toe to toe on live TV with other male politicians is an indication of what Africa’s tomorrow will look like and an inspiration to  all the intelligent sisters who  dare to dream  in countries with  some form of societal oppression and prejudice.  Beyond the debate, this shows that there will come a time  in africa when no special measures will be required to address deep-seated gender inequalities and provide traditionally excluded communities access to political power and the institutions that serve them. Though the continent now boasts of a number of female presidents, no one is blind to the challenges faced by women and the girl child in Africa.

Elections are usually the only means by which power is pursued and attained, and resources accessed in many African countries. They become, in the absence of a broader democratic system, a winner-takes-all proposition. As a result, those perceived as being  exclusive and flawed – can trigger violent conflict or call into question the legitimacy of the entire political system.  I’m not naïve to think that presidential debates alone will usher in a new era or transparent politics. This is not the case in most developed and developing countries. However, whether the presidential debates are issue based or not is irrelevant considering the broader role it plays in fostering inclusiveness and participation  and hence democratization in the countries that adopts this model. As my old friend would say,  “if  presidential debates are mandated in all African countries, most dictators will  not be able to stay in power  that long because they will run out of ideas to justify  perpetual renewal of their mandate”. With that, I concur that presidential debates should in deed be a norm in Africa’s presidential electoral systems.