No, Mrs Clinton, Africa Needs More than Democracy to Improve Welfare of its People
On her recent African tour USA’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned African leaders on bad leadership, greed and lack of concern for the welfare of their people. She reminded them that the old ways of governing are no longer acceptable and it is now time for leaders to treat their people with dignity.
“The old ways of governing are no longer acceptable. It is time for leaders to accept accountability,” she said. Adding that leaders must respect people’s rights, and deliver economic opportunity. Arguing: “if they [the leaders] will not, then it is time for them to go.”
Mrs Clinton is certainly right. Politics on the continent has changed, more citizens than ever before are demanding better governance, accountable and transparent leadership and respect for human rights. Even though Mrs Clinton observed that electoral democracies on the continent have dropped from 24 in 2005 to 19 in 2012, Africa is now holding more elections, its credibility notwithstanding, than any time in its history.
The irony of Mrs Clinton’s, words however is that she was on this tour to do what USA has been doing throughout the years: strengthening its dominance on the continent. Given the immense presence of China in Africa, this ideal has become even more important for USA. Consequently, many analysts have seen Mrs Clinton’s message as targeting the Chinese whose policy is not to intervene on internal affairs of African states – unlike the USA and its Western allies. It is an open secret that China’s huge presence in Africa has somewhat unsettled USA.
Yet Mrs Clinton’s message revealed one crucial reason why African leaders are exactly what she pointed: selfish and more interested in maintaining their grip on power rather than proving for their citizens. She said: “There are still too many Africans living under autocratic rulers who care more concerned about preserving their grip on power than promoting the welfare of their citizens.”
She’s correct, only that it is not only dictators. Democratically elected leaders too. Dictators spend a lot of resources, energy and time trying to fend of any possible rebellion and keeping their innercircle happy. Elected leaders do likewise as seek re-election or trying to secure presidency for their, son, brother, wife or any preferred successor that would guarantee them retention of some form of control and in many cases a successor that would not be interested in the corruption of their predecessor and their cronies.
Consequently, these leaders have very little interest in the welfare of the people. No African country has planned for a day without bilateral aid or budget support, for example. Some African countries have reached a point where they see foreign support as a right. Political parties are happy to portray their presidential candidates as most capable in attracting donors. For instance, Mrs Clinton’s visit to Malawi has locally been attributed to “the good leadership” of President Joyce Banda. Nothing else – it is now the ruling party’s campaigning tool.
Of course, personal freedoms and democracy are necessary for long-term stability of any country. This indeed makes democracy ideal for sustainable development. Yet the current evidence indicates that African countries need more than electoral democracies to improve the welfare of its people. Africa countries need unselfish leaders that have a long-term vision of their countries, and the continent by extension; leaders whose vision is truly beyond their personal gains.
This is what USA should be promoting. Washington’s double standards of heralding a new era of governance in Africa while it continues with its old policy of buying influence from the very corrupt leaders they criticise (elected or not) no longer hold.