The challenge for African multinational states

It is ironic that the so-called modern and independent African states suffer intolerable levels of internal violence and injustice compared to the pre-colonial traditional nations. The modern African state boundaries were determined by Western economic and political interests and these never recognised African people’s interests.

On gaining independence, Western imposed state boundaries were retained but African political leadership has failed to transform political systems and structures so that they fit in with the needs and expectations of multinational states and the increasingly demanding citizenry. The public is no longer satisfied with peripheral roles in politics but demand more involvement in influencing how they are governed.

More than ever before, African citizens expect and demand that political decisions and outcomes are (as closely as possible) reflective of the conscience of the people. This is a massive challenge in a continent where the majority of countries are home to several traditional nation-states. Indeed what we call modern African states today are, on the main, nothing more than a loose collection of villages and/ or nations some of whom have never known a peaceful coexistence. Here we are talking of nations that made raiding each other for women and livestock the norm!

In such a setting a wholesale adoption of Western inspired constitutions is never going to work yet that is exactly what Western governments and Western dominated international political institutions demand of African leadership. Often, the constitutions and elections do not address the imbalance of political power flows between nations now inhabiting the same geographic and/ or socio-political space which is arguably the teething problem for all African republics.

Elections in their various forms are the cornerstone of Western democracy; however, measuring African political legitimacy on the basis of ‘peaceful and fair’ elections ignores the fundamental problems of the election process (e.g., education) and participation hence, the validity of choices. Western democracy assumes that the electorate knows what it needs and people are prepared to choose wisely yet what is evident in African democratic elections is that people choose individuals from their own village/ tribe/ nation; the content of the character of the candidate is secondary and so are the broader policies.

Things can change but the base and architect of that change has to be Africa not Europe not China not America and not Russia. We cannot continue on this dark path where we ignore internal dialogue and solutions but, at every opportunity, run with a container of our problems to every country outside Africa hoping to return with a crate full of solutions. Asking for advice is one thinking shutting your mind and expecting miracles is another.

Africa requires a brave and creative leadership to replace the current crop of leaders driven by tribal allegiance and the fear of being wrong. For lasting internal and inter-state peace, the need for a reconfiguration of power between coexisting nations cannot be over-emphasised. It is also essential that power flows between the state and the public be reviewed; it has become the norm that resources are externalised by the State without the valid consent of the public. The State has to be accountable to the people not just to itself and its allies.

Constitutions, government systems and supporting institutions need to be reconfigured to reflect the unique nature of the modern African state. Emphasis needs to be placed on the recognition of the autonomy of each of the coexisting states/nations, the identification of mutual interests – common values and aspirations for the unified modern state and the identification of internationally shared values.

Genuine devolution of power is of essence if locals are to be closer to the decisions affecting their lives. Non executive presidency may not only the best way but the only way forward; alternatively, power will have to be shared equally across government institutions to protect people from potential abuse of power and the public being held hostage by any one organ of government.

In a modern African multinational state, every nation must be allowed to define itself and not be defined by others; no nation should find itself under the clutches of another; purposely excluding some nations from real power is antagonistic to the pursuit of socio-political justice. A ‘king’ from one nation should not be allowed unlimited power over all other nations on the basis of election outcomes pre-determined not by the quality of the candidate or policies espoused but by the coincidence of demographic factors such as the population size of their nation.

A combination of deliberately oppressive and discriminating political systems and a selection of inappropriate systems have ensured that African multinational states cannot adequately defend minority rights. In states made up of more than one nation and where ethnic identity is more important than what a candidate stands for, the first-past-the-post system cannot be the best election system in all processes. Africa needs to consider systems such as the proportional representation and various other combinations. The next blog will address election types in the context of the modern African state.


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