The Advocate: Which is more beneficial to Africa, Dictatorship or Democracy? | Plus TV Africa

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A debate that has recently captured the Nigerian public’s imagination, especially in the light of my Rwandan adventure is “does democracy serve a developing Africa well, or is ” benevolent dictatorship” the way forward for us? To Botswana or to Rwanda? Sustainable progress via consensus or quick progress via military fiat?

Dictatorship Has no Spectrum

I always make the point that post-independence African dictators – whether perceived as ‘benevolent’ or otherwise – all failed to achieve the goals that dictatorship is supposedly optimised for- all of them without an exception. Whether Thomas Sankara or Mobutu Sese Seko, dictatorship really has no spectrum of “good to evil,” because it always results in the same things – disregard for rule of law, intolerance of political opposition, development of a personality cult and eventually – inevitably, the dreaded corruption.

Mobutu, Idi Amin and Mengistu may have specialised in open villainhood, but even the supposed “good” ones like Thomas Sankara also ended up misusing their power and oppressing people. Sankara favoured setting up show trials where the defendants were not allowed legal representation and were then hit with unreasonable punishments including ludicrously long prison terms. Conveniently, his political enemies tended to end up on the wrong end of those things.

The regular counterpoint to this is “Well we’ve had democracy since 1999, so what has it done for us?” To this, I have one clear and simple response – what Nigerians have known since 1999 is only “democracy” in the most general sense of the word.

The first “civilian president” in the 4th Republic was General Olusegun Obasanjo. Well, “Retired General” if that makes you feel better. The next was the brother of Shehu Yar’Adua, another prominent military figure. The third was a rank outsider who was quickly noted out when the empire struck back in 2015, and the fourth – well we know all about him don’t we?

The actors are almost exclusively derived from the military era, and the apparatus of state is still configured toward a military dictatorship. If you don’t get the scale of Nigeria’s sheer lack of any kind of democratic tradition, consider that Nigeria only passed a Freedom of Information Act (under a non-military-affiliated president) only within the last decade for the first time in our history.

More Democracy – Always More Democracy

In other words, the point I am making is that the problems Nigerians have with the current political system are the results of dictatorship – not democracy. The reaction to the perceived failure of civilian administration to get the results we want to see should not be to hanker after the military jackboots that hamstrung their civilian successors in the first place.

I wrote recently about General Murtala Mohammed’s unilateral gutting of the civil service in 1976, which effectively destroyed the country’s central institution by removing its knowledge bank and instituting a grab-all-you-can, ad-hoc culture. The results of that bone-headed dictatorial decision still live with us today under what is at least in name a civilian administration.

Our dissatisfaction with these problems should clearly not impel us to go back to our proverbial Egypt, craving for a strongman to come sort everything out in his strong, unilateral, unquestioned, process-free and unaccountable wisdom. This would seem to be a basic point of logic and common sense, but unfortunately it seems as if the penny really has not dropped with a significant number of Nigerians and Africans.

In case the point I am trying to make is not clear, I will reiterate in plain language – the solution to the problems associated with democracy as we know it is more democracy. Dictatorship is never the answer, except the question is “Do you want to go back in time and die of toxic nostalgia?”
It is not easy to accept the annoyances and responsibilities that come with democracy – but life is never easy. Africans of all people should know that.

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