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    Africa Doesn't Needs Democracy But Needs Development

    Zimbabwean Prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai (C), former President Robert Mugabe (L) and Vice-President John Nkomo (R) at memorial service for Susan Tsvangirai in Methodist Church in Harare on 06 March 2010 a year after she died in a car accident. Photograph: Desmond Kwande.
    This article is a derivative of the first ever debate organized by ''The Africa Report'' in partnership with the Mo Ibrahim Foundation that pitched the debate from the supporters of 'developmental sprints' against those who argue democratic institutions should come first. This is a matter of trying to provide justice to a person on empty stomach!  The debate examined some questions: What should be the priority, democracy or development?  Is justice more important over a bread that needed by the hungry people?

    The failure of many African governments to deliver development consistently to their populations leaves many people to ask the question: Should Africa look to countries like Rwanda and Ethiopia, where economic growth takes precedence over political pluralism?

    Over several decades, it has become fashionable to argue that democracy is not good for development in Africa. It is said that elections often lead to political instability and conflict and undermine the unity needed for economic growth. Authoritarian leaders such as Paul Kagame of Rwanda include (late Gadhaffi who built a flourishing Lybian oil-rich state ever been existed), by contrast, have been lauded for driving economic development and reducing corruption at the same time. Economic problems engulfed African continent have created a strong impression that the political fragility as well as division has slowed economic growth and largely have been driven by destabilizing multiparty system, and competition.
    Bread without democracy is bitter. Democracy without bread is fragile.
    It is hard to argue with the development records of the administrations in Kigali and Addis Ababa for example, be it on shared growth, education or maternal health care. So do African people want bread or justice? Some political philosophers argued that Africa needs a strongman, a person like Xi Jinping in order to accelerate development and reconfigure the economy. If there is a priority between development vs democracy, then it is far better to say that democracy should wait!  African countries may hope for a Lee Kuan Yew or someone who is strong enough to derive them from political destitution and poverty.

    John Mahama, Ghana's former president, launched the discussions in front of a glittering crowd, saying: "Democracy will never be a perfect system because people will always be imperfect beings." He added: "But the problem with dictatorships is that you don't get to choose which dictator you are going to get." His speech recalled his personal experience as a young man living under curfew during a military dictatorship in Ghana, where he saw his brother mistreated at the hands of soldiers.

    The rest of the debate took as its starting point the great economic sprint that Africa needs to make if it is going to provide jobs for the 300 million Africans who will join the labour force over the next 15 years. Quality of democracy as President Mahama pointed out, many Asian countries begun with Singapore and others have had "authoritarian governments that propelled them from the bottom pit, brought about vital models and bring about immediate change or unprecedented growth." On the ground, the call for tangible progress often wins the argument in this regard, despite no practical action.

    In conjunction with GeoPoll, The Africa Report surveyed people in Ghana, South Africa, Uganda, Cameroon and elsewhere trying to palpate about the importance of democracy and development. In Ghana, 31% of people interviewed wanted democracy prioritized, whereas 67% wanted development – a result echoed across the other countries. This shows the dissatisfaction and disillusion many have with their governments. "A democracy that doesn't produce results is an empty promise," said Arancha Gonz├ílez, executive director of the Geneva-based International Trade Centre, during the debate. "Can we say that there is freedom when so many politicians spend so much money to contest elections?"

    For South Africa's former reconstruction minister and labour activist Jay Naidoo, the continued push of money and power into democracy is dangerous and is corrupting government, leading to cases of "demokratura", where you have the window dressing of democracy without genuine representation of the people. "We are seeing electoral authoritarianism," he explained. Strongman rule was one of the many governance weaknesses discussed in the debate. One question from the hall: "How do we get a democracy of ideas and issues rather than a democracy of tribalism and identity?" On that front, the debate participants were unable to come up with a one-size-fits-all recommendation.

    Ultimately, panelists on both sides of the debate agreed that the quality of democracy is crucial. Experts in attendance also provided solutions for reform. Franklin Cudjoe, head of Ghana think tank the IMANI Center for Policy & Education, pointed to the phenomenon of the "imperial presidency", whereby the president has the ability to directly appoint 4,000 posts, leaving huge room for corruption and partisan choices. He argued that such reforms must create checks and balances on executive power.

    There no country that sprung to development within a democratic system. Be it Britain, Holland, Singapore, United States or Scandinavia, all went through a sort of unitary government or monarchy system that first laid the strong foundation of discipline and social harmony before integrating to democracy. Understand that democracy essentially is a good thing, but to have a democracy, people first have to understand what is a democracy. And this is not a case for AFRICA at this early stage of development: How can people understand Democracy and live within its providence as well as the limits it offers, when about 85% of Africa people still cannot read or write and those who do are ignorant? Africa needs a benevolent strongman; someone who loves his country and acts for his country fairly. 

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