We brought you colonialism, now we’ll teach you democracy
7 months ago, 6 Dec 19:42
So finally, Robert Gabriel Mugabe is gone. It is clear from the ways things developed after he was deposed, that his departure has been cause for mass celebration around the continent. But as it is often said, one man’s poison is another man’s meat. Comrade Bob, as some were wont to call him, will also be missed by many, especially pan-Africanists and anti-imperialists who revelled in his defiant anti-West diatribes. I know someone who works himself into a genuine rage each time Mugabe is criticised or attacked. And no, he does not say Mugabe was a saint. Nor does he not sympathise with ordinary Zimbabweans who put up with him for so long, at great cost to themselves, their families and their country. Only, he argues, Zimbabwe would not have gone the way it did “had it not been for imperialists who saw it as their business to pursue regime change” in a country where it was not up to them to decide who led it. Anyway, all that is now behind us. It matters not who likes Comrade Bob and who does not. Zimbabwe is now in the hands of its new leader. The really important question now is what next. Answers came flooding in even before it was clear when Bob would be stepping down. As if on cue, correspondents of the “international media” in the country were already prescribing what Zimbabweans needed. Democracy was high on their list. Now, of course, “democracy” can be a good subject for a long debate as to what it means exactly, and whether what it means ought to be universal or specific to a particular context, taking into account historical, cultural, and other peculiarities. In Africa, however, democracy seems to amount to something straightforward and applicable to all countries without modification: Regular, adversarial electoral contests. The contests pit different factions of the same political elites against each other, mobilised in loosely organised groups that are usually not worthy of the label political party, with none pursuing more than power and the privileges that go with it. And as we have seen so many times in so many places, these contests rarely solve outstanding problems. More often than not, indeed, they create new ones and exacerbate old ones, often leaving bitter ethnic and other divisions in their wake. If we were to learn any lessons from the many repeated episodes of these contests, one of them would be that they are not to be recommended for societies that are just emerging from decades of autocratic rule with zero experience of peaceful, issue-based political competition. It is pretty much predictable that, with its history of divisive and violent electoral contests, with most of the contestants still alive and likely to be facing off with each other again, amid unresolved grievances, the last thing Zimbabwe needs are adversarial do-or-die, winner-takes-all elections so soon after their collective sigh of relief at seeing Comrade Bob step down. Listening to all the punditry by democracy ideologues selling ...
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