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Africa’s democratic dilemma

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.

5 comments

  1. “….they are not any different from their colonial ancestors who came here claiming to spread the three Cs – Christianity, Commerce and Civilization ” . Mr Mujuni continues “These efforts to shape us according to their fancies show contempt for our uniqueness. Africa needs to be given space to shape its future”

    Just a comprador!!

    Mr Mwenda, up until now you don’t seem to have realized how you’ve come full circle in untiringly trying to speak like your god!

    You sound so bitter and pretend to really abhor the so-called western colonial three Cs!
    Yet you’re, of all people, the most happiest beneficiary of the three “Cs” you so viciously claim to mourn! How?
    You have never ever made any slightest attempt to:

    A) swear an affidavit to denounce the name Andrew to any other Chwezi name, instead you proudly identify yourself as “Andrew” a purely colonial name (one of the colonial three Cs – Christianity)!;

    B) denounced any of your academic papers acquired from schools established by the colonialists, instead you’ve gone ahead to even follow the much despised colonialists up to their homes continents thousands of miles away from your most beloved continent Africa (leaving Mountains of the Moon University in the backyard of beautiful Fort City!) to further acquire more prestigious academic papers, for whatever reasons you know better (second colonial “C” Civilization); and finally

    C) Without the benefit of the second ‘C’ which is civilization Mujuni Mwenda wouldn’t have left tending to his father’s goats in the Rwenzori mountains to come to Kampala to engage in modern trade i.e. printing and publishing words to earn a living! The 3rd ”C’ which is Commerce!

    So Mr Mwenda you’re a hypocrite eating your own vomit for the sake of pleasing your god M7, but, may be, just may be, you’re unaware because your brain clocked the point of diminishing marginal returns long time ago after you threw your consciousness in exchange for silver coins!

    • A. What’s in a name? Human interactions are dynamic, which means cultures and societies influence each other. Some of the influences of course come through occupation, like European names through colonialism. And yet its not necessarily the name that is a problem, but the ideology. Thus an Andrew can choose to retain a European name but be an activist against the sins of colonialism.

      B. Knowledge has no borders. There’s not a single human being or culture that can claim exclusivity to a specific knowledge system. All knowledge today is built upon the foundations of the very first human beings – whether that was Adam or Zinjathropus.

      So formal education as we know it today, is not a European thing. It traces its way from way back in time – Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Great Zimbabwe, Indus Valley, Aztec, early Pacific Islanders, the Bantu pygmies, etc etc.

      So every human being has a right to any form of education, without shame.

      C. Commerce has existed as long as human beings lived. Different eras called for different systems. And for particular epochs in time, specific commercial systems were superior for that time. Goat herding as a commercial activity, in the right era, is neither inferior nor superior to professional writing in the capitalist era.

  2. 1.Its difficult to enforce good practices like Democracy in Africa because of poverty .Can you imagine up to now brands like Colgate(American),Blue band(Denmark) are still being consumed worldwide?
    2.The term “Dictator”is soon losing meaning especially when you critically analyze the contribution of M7 towards the development of Africa.
    3.Africa for now should focus more on industrialization rather than Democracy.
    4.Ugandan officials should not underestimate the threats from the first World for example; why do you think China pleaded with USA and Britain not to cancel Hauwei ‘s expansion?Why did Turkey panic when USA imposed more tariffs on her Steel?Why is there a crisis between UK and the EU over Fish?Uganda is still too backward to begin talking back at the First World.
    5.It was so embarasing to see Bobi being manhandled by security forces. My fellow British where wondering what was going on in Uganda so with my heavy British accent i told them that i was also surprised that handsome men like the Two Muhoozis who were incharge of security would accept such crap to happen.
    6.To teach the army in Uganda a lesson never to poke their noises in elections;The Judges of the Supreme Court should cancel the Presidential elections held in January just to save face.
    7.It is easier to draft paperwork for DGFs coz most of Africa has simillar Politicial,Economic and Social problems.

    • But who says Africa is mired in poverty? By whose standards?

      Let’s do a quick comparative case study – the UK and Uganda.

      Both countries are the same size as far as land mass is concerned, though most wrongly assume Uganda is a tiny country and the UK is a big country.

      Both countries almost have the same population – 60+ million for the UK and 40+ million for Uganda. Yet some will tell you that Uganda is overpopulated and needs family planning more than the UK (remember both countries have the same land mass and Uganda currently is more self-sufficient food wise than the UK, which imports a bulk 9f its food).

      The “typical” Briton (about 70%) earns an average of £30,000 annually. About 70% of the UK population goes to work. As per current living expenses, the minimum salary for a truly decent life in the UK is £50,000; yet the biggest proportion of the working class earn below £21,000.

      In other words, the typical Briton today, lives hand to mouth. Are roads tarnacked? Of course. Is the infrastructure superb, definitely. But it’s a mirage.

      Now let’s look at the typical Ugandan. Lives rural. Grows their own food. Doesn’t worry about paying mortgage on their abode. Probably has only one pair of shoes. Doesn’t have to worry about having money in the pocket because they grow their food and they pay no rent. Unfortunately, many will call this poverty and say the typical Briton is better off than the typical Ugandan.

      There are 14 million Britons in 2021 who struggle to pay for their meals. There’s sections of Ugandans who struggle with food too, but that’s a small proportion, especially in the urban areas. So food is currently not a big problem for Ugandans when compared to Britons.

      But wait, how about disease?

      Well, just one comparative statistic will suffice: the annualnumber of preventable deaths due to diabetes in the UK is the about the same as for malaria in Uganda. But all you will hear about is death due to infectious disease (eg malaria) and no one asking how a so called rich nation like the UK can have the same number of deaths by a lifestyle disease.

      And this is the problem with assuming (and buying into) the wrong notion that when it comes to social systems one size fits all, just Andrew Mwenda points out in the main article.

  3. for once i agree with Andrew, the whole electoral process is designed to give the president legitimacy before the world especially the western world and nothing else.

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