Africans know what they want, they have feelings; listen to them

3 Min Read

May 9, 2011 By Jimmy Kainja

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“[It is] time to avoid the dictatorship v democracy debate in Africa… For good governance in Africa we should be thinking more about alternatives to the agenda that western donors have been pushing since 1989, writes David Booth, ODI’s Head of Africa, Power and Politics Programme.”

No, David. You’ve got this upside down.

First of all, it is not for Western aid and development workers to decide right debates for Africa and its ‘development’, Africans know exactly what they want. The current political events indicate that people want much more than ‘development’: they want freedom. This will not come with centralised systems of government. It will come with democratic governments where people have a real say in how their governments are run and have their grievances attended to. This is the only basis for lasting stability. Development cannot take place without stability.

To suggest that the current “democratic” regimes in Africa are there as a result of the West’s post 1989 democratic agenda is not only patronising but also disrespectful to people who fought, and are continuing to fight, against dictatorial regimes on the continent. And the battle is not over, from Cairo to Malawi, Uganda to Burkina Faso, people are still fighting for their rights.

The move towards democracy in many African countries in the 1990s happened at the backdrop of decades of colonialism and dictatorship. It is inconceivable that these countries were expected to establish themselves, democratically within two decades. Sticking with dictators is not an option, people want to have a say. It’s time to start listening to the people’s wants and model “your” [as you’re addressing yourself as “we”] development programmes around people’s desires. Listen and talk to them – they will respond; they have feelings!

NOTE: a part of this article was posted as a comment on the original piece on Guardian website.

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