Africa's sham democracy
Barry Crawford on how Africa is being recolonised and ruined under the
banners of multi-party democracy
Over the past two years dictatorial presidents in more than 20 African states
have been overthrown, voted out of power, or forced to agree to elections.
The pace of change is unprecedented in the post-colonial era, and there
seems to be no stopping the multi-party bandwagon. But this is not Africa's
second liberation, nor is it real democratisation. In effect, Africa is
The West has initiated the reform process. The transition to multi-party
politics is a top-down affair with the masses either indifferent or quietly
applauding from the sidelines. For example, the celebrated electoral defeat
of Zambia's president Kenneth Kaunda took place after the participation
of only half the electorate. The same apathy was evident more recently in
Alpha Oumar Konare's election as president of Mali. The new political agenda
has been drafted in the West, adopted by a new African elite schooled in
the economics of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and presented to
the masses for rubber stamping.
Notice of the West's new agenda for Africa was given last July by the World
Bank's outgoing chairman, Barber Conable. He told the heads of state at
the Organisation of African Unity summit in Nigeria that Western decisions
about debt rescheduling and aid would now be based on the criteria of 'good
governance' and 'transparency'. In other words, if you want Western support,
open your country up to Western supervision.
The twin weapons of aid suspension and debt repayment have forced through
reforms with remarkable ease. On 28 November last year the aid donors' meeting
in Paris, chaired by the World Bank, suspended all new assistance to Kenya.
It then took president Moi all of five days to lift the ban on opposition
parties. This follows the precedent the West set in Zambia, and Moi seems
destined to go the same way as Kaunda. So too are Malawi's president Banda
and Congo's president Mobutu.
The Western financiers justify stopping aid by saying that they cannot
stand by while African regimes abuse human rights. The idea that the West
has become squeamish after decades of underwriting corrupt despots and sponsoring
terrorist groups like Unita stretches all credibility. This new-found affection
for human rights and democracy is a cover for an agenda which promotes neither.
The old guard of Africa is being swept aside because its function was specific
to the Cold War. The West no longer requires the corrupt old client regimes
that it sponsored to contain Soviet influence and wage war against
African liberation movements.
Instead, what is demanded today is the removal of all barriers to Western
economic penetration. The Western bankers are imposing programmes of privatisation,
currency devaluation and the abolition of state subsidies, supposedly to
attract foreign investment and stimulate competition. But in the middle
of a slump, Africa is just about the last place Western capitalists will
invest in. All that these 'structural adjustment' programmes have produced
is mass redundancies and immiseration. Eight years of structural adjustment
have halved Ghana's gross domestic product. Nigeria's per capita income
has fallen by two thirds over the past decade. The IMF now has similar agreements
with 23 African governments. Not one has been carried through to completion
and economic take-off.
This failure and the resulting human misery have not deterred the West.
Instead, the programmes are moving into higher gear, using multi-party democracy
to smooth the way. As the Economist cynically put it, 'people tend
to accept painful policies more readily from elected governments than from
dictators'. Zambia is a case in point. Violent food riots thwarted Kaunda's
attempts to cut the maize subsidy in 1986 and 1990; the 100 per cent price
hike following Chiluba's election produced no protests. The subsidy is now
likely to be ended altogether.
By making a break with its old stooges and sponsoring the democracy debate,
the West seeks to key into the popular revulsion against corruption and
nepotism. The collapse of Stalinism has brought down with it all ideological
barriers to Western domination. Since a Western solution is now accepted
on all sides, at least by default, so too is the idea of African blame.
Instead of exposing Western responsibility for Africa's crisis, the democracy
debate is putting Africa in the dock.
All kinds of theories are being advanced as to why democracy has had such
a bad time in Africa. The Economist suggests that democracy is alien
to African culture, arguing that there isn't 'any African language whose
political lexicon includes the concept of a leader of the loyal opposition.
Instead there is a clear concept of a political enemy' (22 February 1992).
Newsweek asks whether democracy in Africa is 'just an alien spell
that is bound to wear off?' and adds that 'making the leap from the palaver
tree to multi-party politics is made harder by the often volatile ethnic
mix of African states' (9 December 1991).
The Western-defined terms of the democracy debate have been accepted
by the African intelligentsia. They promote the image of the 1990s as the
era of Africa's second liberation. The argument is that Africa's marginalisation
in the New World Order is indicative of a loosening of Western control,
giving Africans the breathing space to build their own political and economic
institutions. This is turning reality on its head. Africa's lowly international
status is the result of firmer Western domination in the post-Cold
Instead of fantasising about liberation, the evidence of recolonisation
needs to be honestly examined. Ghana has had World Bank officials sitting
in on its cabinet meetings; an ex-World Bank technocrat is prime minister
of Cameroon; Benin's IMF representative is now caretaker prime minister;
Angola is looking into compensating Portuguese farmers for having seized
land from them 17 years ago; Mozambique is inviting them back to their old
sugar estates; South Africa controls the sales of Angolan and Botswanan
diamonds. And so it goes on.
The current preoccupation with dictatorship and corruption is misplaced.
African governments implementing Western strategies all have these attributes.
The overriding issue in Africa today should be the obscenity of imposing
austerity economics upon a starving continent. The democracy debate obscures
this criminal process. Worse, it endows those who are responsible for it
with legitimacy. Let us have no more of this sham debate about democracy.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 47, September 1992