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Democracy and the democratization process: exploring why African states and African leaders struggle to be democratic

It has become one of the major political science paradoxes of Africa that a majority of nation states and/or their leaders in sub-Saharan Africa purport to be democratic or to espouse the principles and tenets of democracy yet struggle to live up to the standards of democratization.

The question that crops to mind with regards to this irony might be why such has been the case despite decades of post independence Western ideological exposure and institutional transfer between the West and Africa. Is it a question of deliberate sidelining of democratic principles or tenets thereof by the nation states and their leaders or is it a question of their apparent failure to appreciate and come to terms with the ideology, philosophy or cultural facet that is inadvertently alien or rather ambiguous to them.

It is the object of this appraisal to endeavor to explore albeit through conjecture one philosophical perspective to such deep-rooted paradox.

The premise on which l chose to base my argument is that Democracy for the West and Westerners is rather cultural, ahistoric and a product of Western heritage and civilization.

The association of democracy with ancient Greek civilization is unequivocal. It is pertinent however to highlight that the western democratic heritage shares little in common with the African or more precisely the sub-Saharan African cultural heritage. Western civilization has little in common with African civilization although that does not preclude the potential for ideological, cultural and institutional exchange within the prefix of acculturation and globalization.

It is also presumed in this appraisal that democracy as an ideology has a lot in common analogically with western cultural products like hip-hop or other forms of the popular culture in that western democracy is construed as rather a philosophy of life, an attitude, a mindset or more precisely a lifestyle.

With that as backdrop, the author endeavors to drive home the viewpoint that the ‘African democratic paradox’ imbued with failure by nation states and their leaders to come to terms with democratic principles is grounded on challenges to appreciate a lifestyle or culture that rather contradicts the historical norms, ideologies and values of African culture.

The point is that a majority of Western states and westerners experience democracy as a lifestyle or culture and therefore have the inherent potential to exhibit or portray democratic norms and values naturally because they are culturally socialized into such.

Democracy for them is their way of life and due of they do not strive or struggle from a practical and pragmatic perspective to practice or live democracy.

Westerners and their leaders live by epithets of freedom, they live and practice liberty, they live accountability, they live transparency, they live with and uphold human rights naturally and without much ado.

Upholding democratic principles, tenets, norms and values for a majority of western nation states contrary to the African experience is not a matter of paying pointless lip-service, emulation or double standards to the principles and tenets of democracy.

Tenets of democracy like freedom, liberty, good governance, corrupt free leadership, accountability, transparency and upholding human rights are a matter of attitude – a philosophy of life. Democracy for western nation states and their leaders is therefore not just a fancy political ideology, social construction, representation or social phenomenon. Democracy for the west is a lifestyle and a cultural attitude that has historical roots in western civilization.

For a majority of sub-Saharan African nation states and leaders it becomes problematic to live up to the expectations and standards of democratization because of their variant political values and norms relative to the western norms and values. With respect to cultural orientation a majority of westerners are individualistic hence their obsessions with individual freedoms and liberties for instance.

Contrary to that a majority of sub-Saharan African states are communalistic in orientation and the individual is considered with respect to the wider society or community to which he/she pays allegiance or is held responsible and accountable. Individual liberties and freedoms are therefore not construed as paramount for the communal nation states yet they are the foundations upon which democracy as a socio-cultural institution is hinged.

Espousing democratic principles, norms and values therefore becomes a dilemma for the majority of sub-Saharan leaders between their communal socialization and the expectations and standards of democratization. To abide by a philosophy and subscribe to its tenets and principles entails more than just blind allegiance or subservience. It demands that one have a comprehensive and deep-rooted appreciation of such a philosophy, its origins and even its pros and cons.

The fact that most African leaders and their respective nation states are still struggling or rather failing to come to terms with democratic principles as manifested by the gravity of strife, corruption, human rights violations and infractions of basic laws and liberties underscores the fact that the ‘African Democratic paradox’ herewith having been appraised might have its foundations in the failure of these nation states and their leaders to grapple with an ambiguous lifestyle or culture that they cannot understand or appreciate.

In the guise of brotherhood, global solidarity, unity, peace and co-existence it remains paramount that the west continues with its cultural exchanges and institutional transfers targeting leaders and especially the young generation of leaders if democracy is to be espoused and upheld not only as a political institution or ideology but rather as a culture or philosophy of life – a lifestyle.

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