Yes, Africa can breed its own type of democracy 

Crispin Kaheru

What you need to know:

  • In this piece, I will attempt to show how different societies anchored their socio-political systems to their localised contexts, history and culture.

A couple of weeks ago, I authored a piece on these pages titled “Africa should breed its own type of democracy”, which has received overwhelming feedback and mixed reactions with many asking whether there would be a difference between the ‘African type of democracy’ and the conventional western liberal democracy.

In this piece, I will attempt to show how different societies anchored their socio-political systems to their localised contexts, history and culture.

Traditional African societies were more in touch with their values. Social development was primarily modeled along the philosophy of ‘communalism’ rather than ‘individualism’, which is a common identifier in the West. 

Through the communitarian system, there would always be shared values and identity holding the family unit, nation and community together. It was a “we” and not “I” type of society. It was “I am because we are” – what many African dialects know as Ubuntu – and not “I am because I am”.

The fabric of the African texture was centered on, “we can all win and share in the victory”, not “I win and you lose”. 
Sidestepping these cardinal elements in our social construct of democratic governance would oftentimes be a source of disunity that could lead to dissolution and tearing apart of families and multiethnic nations. 

In order to preserve this communal system, communities acted more collaboratively than competitively; decisions were made through consensus; society was regimented and every individual had, and knew their roles. The gerontocrats and the youth were dynamic in their respective responsibilities.

It is likely that this ancient social organisation made Africa the very root of human civilisation and political powerhouses. 

From the oldest research, science and technology centres like the University of Timbuktu in Mali (982CE) to empires such as Aksum, Wagadu, Mali, Songhai, Mutapa, Kongo, Benin and Zimbabwe; African societies were able to trailblaze in knowledge creation and unity of purpose.

Societies in East Asia have successfully modeled their governance and development path along their Confucian traditional values. Confucianism is a philosophy and belief system from ancient China that emphasised benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and trustworthiness. The theory and practice of Confucianism have indelibly marked the patterns of government, society, education and family in countries like China. 

In Japan, on the other hand, it is the Bushidō moral code upon which social and economic organising was framed. The Bushidō code stresses a combination of sincerity, frugality, loyalty, martial arts, mastery and honour until death. Here, emphasis is laid on obedience to authority and a deep sense of duty even if it entails violation of statute law.

Other societies weaved their governance doctrine around liberal democracy, whether as constitutional monarchies or as republics.  These are examples to demonstrate how society could successfully tailor its prosperity path to its peculiar history, culture, institutions and stage of development. 

Political cultures arise from different circumstances and it is these contexts that shape the thinking accordingly. Any form of copy-and-paste of a model that negates the unique experiences, histories and values of the people will most likely always turn out as a bad experiment. These bad experiments are glaringly all over the place!

 Without a doubt, people everywhere want the opportunity to meet their needs, feel a sense of security, fulfillment and happiness. They want a system that represents their overall interests, regardless of whatever form it takes; they want a voice and a measure of participation. 

How precisely they get this is less important than that they do. The point is simple; a model that organically provides progress is what human beings want. What people are searching for isn’t the ideal but something more down-to-earth: a practical and credible political delivery vehicle that is from within.

With the hindsight of modern political civilisation, it is clear that through objective exploration and struggle, each society can realise a system that responds to its context.  

Therefore, may each society in this day and age, have the utmost humility to let the other explore, develop new theories and pragmatic solutions that derive from their respective social codes.

Crispin Kaheru, Member, Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC)