In his book, Rogue Elephant, Harnessing the Power of India’s Unruly Democracy, Simon Denyer elaborates this point well. India’s corruption, like that of America and now Zuma’s South Africa, has entrenched itself through the financing of elections. For example, in India’s 2009 elections, voters elected 162 politicians who were facing criminal charges to the nation’s 545-member parliament, almost 30% of the total. Of these, 76 were facing charges of murder, rape and what is known as ‘dacoity’, crimes ranging from kidnapping to robbery and extortion.
Even more worryingly the numbers are rising: in the 2004 election, 128 members of parliament facing criminal charges had been elected, of whom 58 were charged with the so called “heinous crimes.” In 2012, Denyer went to cover elections in the state of Utter Pradesh. Of the 2000 candidates contesting for local elections in the state, 700 were facing criminal charges and 30 were running for office from jail. The problem is not democracy per se but an uncritical embrace of its procedures without taking into consideration the objective conditions in poor nations.
Zuma’s brazen form of thuggish politics is becoming normal even in developed countries. We have seen how Trump maintains his support base in spite of (and may be also because of) myriads of self-inflicted never-ending scandals involving nepotism, corruption and lies. This has baffled his opponents in the elite media and the republican establishment. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte, rivals Trump and Zuma. He indulges in extra judicial killings and boasts about it. He makes crass jokes about raping women. Extremist parties are in ascendance in Europe.
South Africa’s deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, openly said South Africa is becoming a mafia state. This should remind us of then Vice President Gilbert Bukenya saying in 2005 that there is a mafia that has captured the state in Uganda. Zuma reacted to his critics inside ANC by warning them not to “push him too far” or else they “will see.”
While we should not be shocked, we should be surprised by Zuma’s success. We have seen how since Uganda entered the phase of electoral competition in 1996, pubic spirited politicians have progressively retreated from elective politics and openly corrupt ones taken charge. Kenyans used to think former President Daniel arap Moi was the kingpin of graft until Mwai Kibaki took it a notch higher. Now they complain that Uhuru Kenyatta’s government is the most corrupt in their history.
This is the story of most of democratic Africa – Ghana, Benin, Zambia, Senegal and Malawi. Corruption is the way the system works, not the way it fails. It acts as glue that holds the smouldering edifice of the multi ethnic state in Africa together. If Africa wants to improve governance, we must build our democratic procedures based on our circumstances, not on theory. But who will listen to this nonsense when democratic procedures that have been copied and pasted from our masters are treated with the faith we give Biblical and Koranic scriptures?