Is democracy un-African?

By Tafi Mhaka

Libya has experienced nothing but war and brutality since the reign of King Idris I started in 1951. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi deposed the monarch in a bloodless coup in 1969. Under Gaddafi, or ‘Brotherly Leader,’ as he loved to be called then, oil-rich Libya was ruled by decree for an astonishing 42 years.

African dictators club
African dictators club

When Libya finally had a taste of democracy in 2012, civil war broke out in the desert nation of 6 million, and two centres of power based in Tobruk and the capital Tripoli surfaced. Libya remains utterly chaotic till this day, and plenty of armed Islamist militias are thriving there, in what seemingly appears to be a failed state.

So, it is surprising to note Libya had the wonderful honour of chairing the African Union (AU) in 2009. One of the stated objectives of the AU is “to promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance”.  How did the chairmanship of Gaddafi promote the aforementioned aims in Libya – or Africa?

For all of his philanthropy and support of liberation movements in Africa – Gaddafi was no democrat himself. He brooked no dissent to his absolute rule and basically quashed opposition protests or tried and hanged dissidents. Gaddafi certainly did nothing to embrace or nurture an embryonic democratic dispensation in Libya.

But his brand of leadership was not unique in nature or practice. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, who led the AU in 2011, is the longest serving leader in the world. He has ruled the central African nation for 37 years.

That is quite an achievement for the man who started his long reign by staging a coup and ordering the execution of his uncle, Francois Macias Nguema, the first president of Equatorial Guinea, in September 1979. Obiang was elected President in 1982 and re-elected in 1989 and 1992 – as the only candidate. He won elections in 1996 and 2002 with an incredibly sky-high 98 percent of the ‘popular vote’.

The people of the Equatorial Guinea must really enjoy his autocratic rule – or they do not have much of a real say in the political affairs of the country. But does the AU care that Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, son of Obiang and Equatorial Guinea’s vice-president, is currently standing trial in France for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from government coffers? He has purportedly stashed away hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten fortunes in overseas banks, and ostensibly holds enviable portfolios of upmarket real estate in France, America and elsewhere.

Does the AU believe that Obiang, a former chairman of the continental body, is not a dictator? Can the leaders of the AU not see that oil-rich Equatorial Guinea is a tightly controlled nation that is brimming with deep poverty?

Perhaps the democratic credentials of Obiang and Gaddafi represent the real nature of African democracy. Look at Egypt for a moment. It has been embroiled in a vicious cycle of military dictatorships and pseudo democratic dispensations for decades on end. The Arab Spring and election of Mohamed Morsi provided brief and minor distractions for the anti-democratic forces in Cairo: The Egyptian Army. The removal of a fragile Hosni Mubarak in 2011 merely made room for General Abdel el-Sisi to become the latest military officer to lead the most populous Arab nation on earth.

Is Egypt still a member of the AU in good standing though? Oh, yes it is. Has the AU suspended Egypt for the illegal and undemocratic removal of Mohamed Morsi in 2013? No: of course not. Has the AU called upon Egypt to hold free and fair elections? No. Has the AU released a statement calling on Egypt to release hundreds of imprisoned journalists and political activists? No – it has not at all. But Egypt had a one-month stint as head of the AU Peace and Security Council in September 2016.

So President Sisi might lead the AU any day now. That is the African way. You can ask the people of Angola about the African way of manipulating democracy, seemingly for peace and national unity and establishing perfect dictatorships. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos led the former Portuguese colony of Angola for 37 years as well. Interestingly, for a country that gained independence in 1975, Dos Santos presided over the first multiparty elections held in mineral-rich Angola in 1992. So for 13 years Angola had an unelected leader at the helm of the country.

And there is the small matter of Isabel dos Santos. She is actually the richest lady in Africa and just happens to be the daughter of – yes, you guessed right – the former president of Angola. Forbes Magazine estimates she has a current net worth of US$3.2 billion dollars.

Democracy in Africa is floundering about as personality-driven fanatical cults and military dictatorships destroy African societies and thwart social and economic progress at the shrine of social and political conservatism. When will boatloads of refugees fleeing famine and political instability in Africa cease to invade the waters of the Mediterranean Sea permanently? And when will democracy in Africa deliver happiness and financial and social security for all and sundry?


  • @NehandaRadio, please follow closely developments in Zimbabwe at this hour (7 – 8pm), he has called for a press conference and his is rumoured to be resigning. pls follow!!

  • The so called “democracy” is an overrated Western rhetoric. Africa is better off without it just like religion (although I’m religious myself)

  • The effects of colonialism and liberation struggles will be very difficult to erase in the minds of many.
    If there could be peace,love n forgiveness we will have a better Africa.
    It will take us long but what is needed are brave Africans to spread the word of unity,reconciliation and tolerance.its time to start now or we will perish in poverty.

  • Chirwere cheshuga

    Depends how u define democracy.

    There are European states that are not different from those African nations , eg Ukraine , Scotland , etc , then in Asia there is China , NK , Russia , etc , in South America you can list a few as well.

    People do what gives them an advantage in wealth possession , jobs creation and peace , hakuna true dhefinesheni ye democracy.

    Mari ndiyo yakaipa , vanhu vatema vanotengesa nyika , haazi LOBENGULA ega.

  • Tafi Mhaka it’s just a barbarian man. Democracy yechii?

  • guys I have a question is there a country in southern Africa we’re opposition has worn an election and the ruling party agreed to seed power ?

    • Muchati Bhuu

      Zambia, but then, they voted the thug Chiluba in.

  • Democracy in Africa has done more harm than good…We are attempting to adopt systems of Governance we just arent ready for and which we just do not need.. Americans took centuries before they had real democracy but Africans are being force marched to support principles that just arent compatible with what Africa needs… Its time we find other means of Government

    • Muchati Bhuu

      Democracy is a simple concept, let the best man win. The real cause of struggles is lack of intergrity amongst our politicians. They are easy to corrupt, they do not take pride in developing their own communities and they are not ashamed to cheat and grab power . No honour at all. Whatever model of governance Africa may adopt, will still not work as long as the above attitudes persist.

  • Yes

  • What is that thing you call democracy .a visionless ideology that makes ni sense .its a lawless agenda tht brings nithing but arnachy . We dont need it

  • Yes Ronald Zambia Kenneth Kaunda giving Levy Mwanawasa Malawi Kamuzu Banda achipa Bakizl Mluluzi

  • Soutg African can there is a bit of democracy

  • Chikiti

    Democracy is only read in their speeches

  • sdkkdkdk

    The whole problem with the african continent these leaders are never prosecuted even when they step down after committing crimes against humanity and that is why they loathe the ICC and find something to cover their tracks from being prosecuted . There is no Court of Justice at the All Useless Club there is No COurt of Justice at SADC the tribunal was removed and it is up to the members of civil Society and Human rights Organisations to have it re-instated at SADC not even a Court to prosecute them for corruption LOL LOL

  • sl;

    Had to laugh at this guy Gaddafi when he was alive reading an article already naming himself as the first president of the United States of Africa without even going to a ballot box the African continent has to many madmen at the top presiding over their ordinary people and are only there to enrich themselves because it is them who should be the ones to stamp out corruption but no they dont because they are the biggest lootes on the continent , The ordinary people are not even allowed to make a decision by something called a “referendum” to hear their voices but it is the lunatic leaders who decide on their behalf without consulting them. Neither does the AU or SADC enforce a referendum asking the ordinary citizens for their opinions Big question why is the Human rights organisations and members of Civil Society not asking this on behalf of the ordinary people they say they represent .

    SADC has been on record for corruption among staff members within the Organsation which leads to the question How can a Corrupt Organisation deal with Corruption when these leaders who loot and are not prosecuted no one chases afte them to get the loot back -that is where the continent has gone wrong . The othr question most of the african leaders want their term in office extended and do not ask the ordinary people they just wake up in the morning and decide to extend their term and treat the ordinary people like children and expect them to do as they say we are living in the 21st century but certain things on the african continent are like living in the Dark Ages

  • ~:::~

    “DEMOCRACY (noun)- Fair and equal treatment of EVERYONE in an organisation and their RIGHT to take part in making decisions
    Democratic (adjective) – based on the principle that ALL members have an EQUAL RIGHTS to be involved in the running of an organisation etc. The decision making process should be more OPEN and DEMOCRACTIC

    One should also observe that the SADC and AU do not engage with Members of Civil Society and Human rights Organisations who do they think must deal with the people leaving North Africa crossing the Meditteranean and those in the Southern Hempishere whereby people are in South Africa ?

    When there is a meeting at these organisations it seems it is only for Leaders and not for Members of Civil Society and Human rights Organisations to also attend .

    COMMUNISM (noun) a political movement that believes in an economic system in which the STATE controls the means of producing everything ON BEHALF OF THE PEOPLE. It aims to create a SOCIETY IN WHICH EVERY ISN REATED EQUALLY


    TRANSPARENCY (NOUN) The fact of being easy to understand AND NOT BEING A SECRET”

  • Ls

    One also wonders if these Organisations like AU and SADC have a Constitution that can bar a leader if they are deemed to be “Dictators” from chairing the organisations and bar them and the Country that they are represent from Chairing as it is done on a rotational basis. What makes Africa are the ordinary people, the cultures found on the continent not the leaders most of them are a disgrace

  • Godfrey

    Hahaha! Well it is as African as the shoes and clothes that we wear, the cars that we drive, and the houses that we live in, etc. Democracy is human and therefore African!

error: Content is protected !!