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Africa’s democracy journey vis-a-vis USA’s

Why Americans shouldn’t dictate what Africa should do or position themselves as templates for African countries

| MOSES BAGUMA | Well, the first country to acquire independence in Africa did so on January 01, 1956. Since then, it’s now 64 years to date. Before colonialism, most African societies were monarchs headed by Kings with nearly absolute power. Heads of monarchs were unquestionable and therefore authoritarian. When the colonialists arrived in Africa, they introduced a new form of government which comprised of systems and democracy. Then Africans were tasked to adapt themselves to the new form of government even when very few were allowed to actively participate.

The African leaders who inherited leadership after the departure of colonialists didn’t have significant experience in running systems and that explains why coups were evident and some presidents ruled without parliament and judiciary. However, some progress towards democracy has been made across Africa.

Now, my disappointment is with the whites who don’t seem to see that Africa is indeed embracing democracy. They have literally become dictators of what Africa should do and positioned themselves as the templates from which African countries should copy and paste – forgetting that they themselves didn’t embrace democracy as fast as they want us to. Ironically, most African countries have embraced democracy faster than USA did and yet USA sees herself as the best template for Africa. USA acquired her independence on July 04, 1776. Since then, it’s 244 years. Over this period, USA has embraced democracy gradually to get where it is as indicated below;

In 1776: The year of independence)

Voting was controlled by individual state legislatures. Only white men age 21 and older who owned land could vote.

In 1868

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted full citizenship rights, including voting rights, to all men born or naturalised in the United States.

In 1870

The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution eliminated racial barriers to voting; however, many states continued practicing voter discrimination. Poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud, and intimidation still prevented many from voting. Native Americans were still denied the right to vote.

In 1910 (134 years after independence): Washington voters amended the State Constitution, allowing women to vote and run for office.

In 1912: Washington voters amended the State Constitution, giving citizens the power to propose initiatives and referenda; the first statewide initiative in 1914 banned alcohol sales.

In 1920 (144 years after independence): The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote nationwide.

In 1923: Washington State voters passed Initiative 40, repealing the poll tax. Poll taxes were used in many states as a way to discriminate against certain voters.

In 1924: The Indian Citizenship Act granted Native Americans citizenship and voting rights.

In 1964 (188 years after independence!): The federal Civil Rights Act was passed to ensure that all men and women aged 21 and older, regardless of race, religion, or education, had the right to vote. The 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, eliminating poll taxes nationwide.

In 1965: The federal Voting Rights Act suspended literacy tests. Registration and voting rights were then federally enforced.

In 1971 (195 years after independence!): The 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution lowered the voting age to 18.

In 1975: The federal Voting Rights Act was renewed, permanently banning literacy tests nationwide. Section 203 was added; requiring translated voting materials in areas with large numbers of citizens with limited English skills.

In 1984: The federal Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act required polling places to be accessible to people with disabilities.

In 2000: The U.S. Supreme Court decided the Presidential Election after dubious ballot counting practices call into question Florida’s electoral votes. The incident sparked national outcry and a wave of election reforms. The U.S. Census revealed that Washington’s non-English speaking population had grown large enough that some counties had to translate voting materials in compliance with the 1975 Voting Rights Act.

In 2008: After a lengthy U.S. Supreme Court battle, Washington enacted the “Top 2 Primary” that allowed voters to choose any candidate regardless of party preference.

In 2009: Washington became the second state in the U.S. (after Oregon) to vote entirely by mail rather than in person at the polls.

Even today, after 244 years of independence, USA’s democracy still has some challenges. Donald Trump alleged voter fraud; the voter turnout has steadily declined for the last many years except last year when it increased slightly. Even after increasing, it didn’t reach 70%.

In Africa, with the oldest country at 64 years of independence, all men and women aged 18+, regardless of their level of education and financial status are allowed to vote. Such a thing in USA happened in 1975, after 199 years, when literacy tests were permanently banned.

USA and other European countries are preaching human rights but little do they know that some Africans don’t even know what their rights are. How do you even expect the natives to fight for their rights which they don’t understand?

Most of our leaders are old-fashioned and still share traits of authoritarianism because they belong to the pre-colonial times.

Democracy is a process, not an event. It starts from ordinary people’s mindsets in society from which leaders emerge. How many ordinary Africans are democratic in the way they run their families, companies etc.?  How many ordinary Africans value other’s rights outside leadership?

However, this doesn’t mean that they will never become purely democratic or respect human rights. They just need more time.

Conclusion; Africa should be left to go through the process of becoming democratic or, Africa should design its own model that will work for it. If Africa is forced to sprint through the process, we are likely to get there at a very heavy price or we will take very long time to get there.

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Moses Baguma is a business man and a social critic

One comment

  1. I totally agree with your analysis: Democracy is a process and not an event.

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