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The real enemies of democracy

–Heard a funny noise, like a loose bolt somewhere and I thought I should see whether it is what I could handle myself. I am putting DIY into practice.

–And what could that be?

–It means ‘’do it yourself’’, being personally engaged, or being hands- on. Getting to know how things work. It’s not always that you take things of personal effect to other people to fix for you. It might interest you to know I do my hair- cut myself, though I must say I miss the gossip at the barbershop. And what is more, psychologists have said when you engage your hands in chores it keeps your mind from wandering too much on useless issues.

— Which is why I come always to discuss salient matters of importance with you.

–And I say your timing is too suspect. Coming always at lunch time looks to me the visits are targeted at free lunch!

–As I was saying, the coup in Mali and the outcome of run-off election in Senegal are some of the salient matters on my minds.

–A group of disgruntled khaki clad, beret and jack boot wearing brass button boys who seize power in Mali is not a big deal to me. It happens every time and it will continue to happen, no matter how much stuffy institutions like the Africa Union (AU) and the Economic Commission of West Africa States (ECOWAS) agonise. The other time it was Guinea (Conakry) and I am not too sure whether democracy has been restored there yet.

—Your tone suggests you support the coup. Is the coup not overtly against the new democratic ethos sweeping across Africa? The AU and ECOWAS have continued to insist that they would not brook seizing power through the barrel of the gun. Political power, they say, must come only from the ballot box, through the people exercising their right to choose their leader freely.

—Its all very well to insist on democratic niceties, but you’ve also heard the saying “Na democracy we go chop” and it is gaining currency. In Mali the same people that voted during democracy are the same ones that are marching in Bamako and other places in favour of Captain Amadou Sanogo’s coup. Doesn’t that amount to something? If you listen to Amadou Sanogo and his group, they are saying they have come to protect the territorial integrity of Mali and that left to the politicians, the Tuareg war of secession in the North would succeed. The Tuaregs, the rump of late Muammar Ghadaffi’s foot soldiers, armed with weapons provided by the late Colonel, had routed the Malian soldiers in a recent encounter between the two. The remainder of the rag-tag Malian army fleeing the Tuareg onslaught who got safely to Bamako do not like the fact that they lost and they blame the politicians for their failure, for not providing the weapons to prosecute the war. Can you beat that?

–You used to be a rabid enthusiast of democracy. What has happened to warrant this sudden volte face, this support, even though mealy- mouthed, for arbitrary, whimsical and authoritarian tendencies, such as the Mali coup makers. I am confused.

–Calm down. Deploying idioms and euphemisms would not help in this matter. Let’s consider the matter critically. Is democracy an end in itself or a means to an end? We all accept it’s a means to an end. The end being good governance, by which is meant that those in power run the affairs of state in such a way that there is no want, hunger, destitution and desperation.  As long as those in power are not able to solve these conditions, so long will democracy remain threatened, as it is now in Mali, in Niger whose dry and parlous land can no longer feed its people and many other places including our own Nigeria. But mark you saying that does not make me anti-democratic.

—In other words, the only insurance for democracy is provision of its dividends.

— Good and no amount of institutionally inspired boycotts and ostracising of the latest coupists would solve the problem. Consider this fact: Mali has enjoyed some thirty two years of democracy; therefore you would expect the politicians in all these three decades to have been able to make democracy irreversible, to make it count for something. Democratic institutions should have been so deep-rooted as to make its overthrow impossible. In other words if it had served the people well they would have come out to defend it, meaning therefore that wherever democracy is easily shunted aside, as in Mali, it has failed the people.

— But if anything is learnt at all in the few years of democracy it is that it takes time before the ‘dividends’ begin to manifest. Shouldn’t there be patience on the part of everyone, including the soldiers? Anyway anyone who wants to have a go at power should acquire it through laid down procedure—the political parties and the ballot.

—That is when those who are already ensconced in power make the procedure work as it should, if they don’t use ‘do or die’ and mago, mago subterfuge to thwart the peoples’ wishes.

—If you mean by that that everyone should play by the rule of the game, it is like waiting for the ocean to dry up, it is impossible. A recent example is the farce that was the election to the Chairman’s position  of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) where some sham consensus was sold to a bewildered party people and other Nigerians.  A ruling party unwilling to subject itself to internal democracy shows how must faith it has in the democratic rules and tenets that guide relationship between it and other parties.

—But with the tomfoolery that passes for governance characterized by graft, sleaze, and general inordinate pursuit of personal comfort through subversion of the commonweal in many countries on the continent does it mean democracy is doomed?

–Not necessarily. In the overwhelming dark cloud, there is still some silver lining on the horizon. A few countries are helping to hold the democratic beacon aloft. Ghana is one; it has been able to groom politicians that are not too besotted with stealing public funds, who perform creditably in providing the dividends of democracy. It has even been able to replace one party with another in government. Any country that can pass that test is truly democratic. Tanzania, Botswana, Malawi as well as Mozambique are not too far behind. And Senegal, warts and all, has shown how democracy can be defended, by forcing old man Abdullahi Wade to respect his age and go into deserved retirement.

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