Why Democracy of the Ballot Threatens Stability in Africa

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The turn of events in Egypt following the ouster of the country’s elected president, Mohamad Morsi is very regrettable, not only for the effect it has on Egyptians and the country’s economy, but also the entire Arab world. Most commentariat have specifically argued that the army’s decision to depose Morsi, or is a coup? Could set a very bad precedent for the region’s burgeoning and still unsteady democracies.

Despite, military intervention has no place in democracy. Even the ineffective Africa’s continent body, African Union (AU) has made it a point of suspending Egypt’s membership until the military is out of the way. Forget the (ir)relevance of the AU suspension, it is the principle that matter in this case.

Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister and now a Meddle East Envoy, who since his unpopular decision to accompany George W Bush in invasion of Iraq in 2003 has developed a curious and somewhat a shameless knack of jumping on unpopular adventures for personal gain, this time defended the military intervention. Arguing that the estimated seven million people that took to the streets left the military with no option but to intervene; claiming that otherwise the country was spiraling into “chaos”. With hindsight, one would wonder if the “chaos” could have been worse than what ensued after the military intervention. More than 50 pro-Morsi supporters have died; a lot of people have been injured; Morsi and scores of his party colleagues are still in detention; and Egypt is now a dangerously divided nation.

Tony Blair is of course completely wrong on the military intervention. Military has no role in civilian politics. The estimated seventeen million protesters were on the street demonstrating peacefully – their democratic right. The army’s intervention has indeed undermined Egyptian democracy, not only by deposing an elected leader, but also by hijacking people’s zeal and determination to force out a leader they felt had failed them. I respect those who believe that Morsi should have been given a chance to seek re-election at the end of the four years term, but those protesting clearly felt otherwise, and I sympathise with their position.

I think it is a dangerous to set the idea that once elected leaders should see out their term, whether they are delivering or not. An election into a position of power is not a blank cheque. Leaders are elected to perform and deliver on specific issues. Employer must act when an employee is not performing, that is the principle. As culpable as Blair’s support on the intervention is, he got it right on this point:

“What is happening in Egypt is the latest example of the interplay, visible the world over, between democracy, protest and government efficacy… democratic government doesn’t on its own mean effective government. Today, efficacy is the challenge. When governments don’t deliver, people protest. They don’t want to wait for an election. In fact, as Turkey and Brazil show, they can protest even when, on any objective basis, countries have made huge progress. But as countries move from low to middle income status, the people’s expectations rise. They want quality services, better housing, good infrastructure, especially transport. And they will fight against any sense that a clique at the top is barring their way.”

Democracy of the ballot is a phenomenon that if left unchecked could blight emerging democracies on African continent. Many people have so far been contented with the right to vote for leaders of their choice, and they get it even where votes are tampered with. This is mainly a generation that grew up under dictatorships in Africa. It is therefore easy to see their appreciation for the right to vote.

This right is more precious to those that were starved of it for a long time. 20 years after majority of African countries, especially sub-Sahara, attained democracy, a new voting generation has come of age. This generation is demanding more than a right to vote. They want sound leadership that can deliver and are sensitive to people’s needs and demands. No wonder the ‘Arab Uprising’ has mainly been led by the youth. Stats are that 65% of sub-Saharan population is aged between 15 and 35 years of age. Yet 72% of this population is unemployment, and leaving bellow the $2 Dollar poverty line.

This is a grim fact that the turn of events in Egypt has masked – it is not just about the military, seventeen million people took to streets demanding that the president step down. Democracies must be measured beyond the ballot box.On her visit to Africa, in August 2012, Hillary Clinton then a Secretary of State bemoaned African leaders’ tendency for self-enrichment and reluctance to loosen their grip on power. She observed that there were still too many Africans living under autocratic rulers who cared more about preserving their grip on power than promoting welfare of their citizens.

At the time I wrote in agreement with Mrs Clinton at the time, I still do, and as I pointed out then, it is not only dictators, as she thought, democratically elected leaders were just as bad if not worse. Here is the only difference: Dictators spend a lot of resources, energy and time trying to fend of any possible rebellion and keeping their innercircle happy, as this article clearly states of Mobutu Seseko, the former Zaire president, now Democratic Republic of Congo. Elected leaders do likewise as they seek re-election or trying to secure presidency for their, son, brother, wife or any preferred successor; the case of Uganda today. It was the case with Malawi’s late Predident Bingu wa Mutharika who tried squeezed out his deputy, Joyce Banda to pave way for his brother Peter.

Consequently, these leaders have very little interest in the welfare of the people. This is by no means my invitation of people onto the streets, but unless the status quo changes, it will be naïve to rule out Egypt-style street protests in at least some of countries bellow the Sahara.

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