Maybe this is what it is like to have a deep crisis of faith. A 3am thought woke me up the other day and I haven’t been able to get rid of it since. What if democracy is wrong? Not wrong in the sense that it is an ideal that everyone strives towards, but actually wrong-wrong?
A common truism is that young people think adults have it all figured out until they become adults themselves and realise that is fiction, and that with time it just gets easier to plod along dealing with whatever life throws at you.
I always thought of it that way when people — especially idealists like me — would be confronted with the whole “African democracies are not mature yet, that’s why they are so dysfunctional.” I took that to mean that we are in our difficult years and with time things would settle down, then we would buy a house and an ecologically sound car and get a responsible economy.
And then Trump happened, and Brexit and now Boris Johnson and the EU is struggling and I woke up one 3am and thought: uh-oh. There is the other camp of Africanist political thinkers who say that democracy is not natural for Africans, that we need to find our own way of doing things. I have always dismissed this on the simple premise that democracy just means “rule by the people” and how one packages that can vary according to size, culture, other factors.
What would be this third way or alternative they keep talking about? Most of the time it just comes off as patriarchal, monarchistic, ethnocentric and deeply suspicious. It’s not like folk have not experimented.
Tanzania itself did, and in the end Nyerere himself had to admit that his experiments had an economic and social cost — and even that opposition would come from within the single party itself. Arguably, we sacrificed the chaos of democracy for the stability of nation-building. And don’t get me started on any of the communist attempts from around the world: Not a single one of them came close to Marx’s vision.
Now that “exemplary” countries that have been practising some form of democracy for centuries are flailing about wildly, doesn’t that put the entire concept into question?
I want to believe. I want to cast my vote and through various avenues have a chance to participate in our social lives. The ultimate dream is of a strong and neutral civil service that can withstand the winds of political change, a free and fair and fiercely protective judiciary, an informed and professional parliament and an executive that doesn’t have a head (perhaps a triumvirate?). Oh, and of course some serious devolution of funding and power to local government.
But I am only a creature of my time, flogging our dead donkey. Perhaps if I was born in the past I would have scoffed at anything other than the God-given rule of a king.
Perhaps if I was born in the future post-WWIII wastelands with six limbs, anything other than chaotic anarchy would seem unfathomable.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org