After the G8 summit that was dominated by Silvio Berlusconi’s scandals than demonstrations, the world’s most popular leader, Barak Obama headed to Ghana for a snap visit. The speculation was that the choice of Ghana was due to its ‘good democratic record’, even though Botswana can match that. Nonetheless, Ghana is more visible on the world map and has larger presence on the global scale.
Given the reasoning behind Obama’s choice of Ghana, one would easily predict that the theme of the visit would rally around democracy, good governance, development, aid, civil war etc… all the four topics sprung up, civil war did not, Mr Obama preferred to use the softer word: conflict.
However, I believe good governance is the key if any of the issues that Obama highlighted are to be achieved. The primary prerequisites of democracy are separation of powers, executive, legislature and judiciary. For checks and balance, we may include the media, which is free of corporate interest, free of state interest and manipulation, the media that is there solely to serve the interest of the nation. Such media holds the three branches accountable while also acting as a connective tissue between the electorate and the elected.
These are basic prerequisites of every functioning democracy. However, the mere existence of these structures do not guarantee good governance. Good governance can only work where public office holders are not immune to scrutiny and persecution. This is where Mr. Obama’s words and plea for good governance will not deliver. Mr. Obama has acted like a farmer who sow his fertile seeds on hard ground, if the seeds germinate they won’t bear any fruits because the roots will be two shallow to support it.
Just as many nations around the globe, rich and poor, great and small, a huge majority of African states have rule of law that fosters bad governance and not otherwise. According to ARTICLE 19′s press release of 13th July 2009, its survey on decriminalisation of defamation laws has shown that of the 168 countries it surveyed, 158 have criminal defamation laws and 113 countries have laws offering special protection to the most powerful and privileged figures in public life.
“These laws shield public figures from criticism, public scrutiny and investigation by virtue of the power they hold, thereby eating at the very heart of global efforts to promote good governance and combat corruption.”
Not only does such laws encourage corruption they also offer incentive to incumbent presidents to cling on to power or try to hand pick a successor that will not persecute them. The best example is Bakili Muluzi of Malawi, who unsuccessfully tried to change the Constitution to stay in power and later hand picked a successor when he had ran out of options. Fredrick Chiluba of Zambia, had the same case. Today Muluzi is under investigation by Malawi’s anti-graft body and Chiluba is in the dock answering corruption charges. Daniel arap Moi of Kenya and most recently Olusegun Obasanjo in Nigeria all hand picked successors who failed in the subsequent elections.
Until these constitutional issues are dealt with, once and for all, good governance in Africa and, indeed elsewhere, will remain but a fretting illusion to be pursued but never attained.