How the Western world has decided our future for us and it seeks to impose it on us
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | President Yoweri Museveni’s suspension of the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) has caused uproar. This has been a big programme by Uganda’s “development partners” aimed at “providing harmonised, coherent and well-coordinated support to state and non-state entities to strengthen democratisation, protect human rights, improve access to justice and enhance accountability in Uganda.”
I sympathise with many Ugandans whose livelihoods have been ruined by this suspension. But I have a problem with Western efforts to shape African nations and societies in their own image. While many Western actors in these endeavours genuinely believe they have our best interests at heart, and while they have many local allies who share their vision, they are not any different from their colonial ancestors who came here claiming to spread the three Cs – Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation. These efforts to shape us according to their fancies show contempt for our uniqueness. Africa needs to be given space to shape its future.
I think the West suffers from chronic racial (though often presented as cultural) hubris. There is a widespread belief in the West that their political institutions are not just Western but universal and should be emulated by every society. Thus the West has decided our future for us – we should be liberal democracies. It funds a host of programs to direct us to that destination.
Yet liberal democracy grew out of a very specific historical experience! It was largely a result of the industrial revolution, which produced social change reflected in the development of new social forces. These animated political struggles, which were nourished by a nutrient culture – norms, values, habits, mentalities, etc. producing a particular set of political institutions. If these institutions serve the West well, it is in large part because they evolved organically out of the above-mentioned processes.
Yet today the West thinks their institutions are universal and can apply anywhere, anytime and under any circumstances. So the Western mind-set is to cajole and even force other societies to adopt its ways. This is done through economic incentives and/or diplomatic pressure, and in the most extreme cases of Libya and Iraq, through force. This thinking has achieved hegemonic status. Large numbers of elites in other regions of the world, especially in Sub Sahara Africa, embrace these beliefs and their accompanying institutions – liberalism, democracy, free markets etc. unquestioningly. I used to be that African elite and am not sure I have fully changed.
Every government in the world is dichotomised into two categories: it is either a democracy (meaning modern and humane) or a dictatorship (primitive and cruel). Democracy is presented as a moral crusade which every country should embrace or else risk economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation or even war. Yet to become democratic, the West went through a long and tortuous process of political struggle and social upheaval. These struggles lasted decades and even generations. Progress was never linear. Often it was characterised by gains and reversals.