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Kony 2012: clueless compassionate capitalism

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Richard Dowden and Parselelo Kantai debate African 'deal democracy'


Last year’s disastrous elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe raised new questions about what kind of democratic practice works best in Africa. Here our East Africa correspondent Parselelo Kantai challenges the case for “more inclusive systems of democracy” which was put forward by Richard Dowden in an article in Prospect magazine, the main points of which we reproduce here:


Richard Dowden?


?Can electoral democracy work in Africa? After catastrophically bad elections in Nigeria, Kenya and Zimbabwe, many people, both inside and outside the continent, are starting to have doubts.?


There is certainly no lack of elections – almost all the continent’s 53 countries are multiparty democracies, and since the beginning of 2007, they have held 35 presidential or parliamentary elections – just not very much real democracy.


?Western governments point to the rising number of elections in Africa and claim that their flaws are merely teething problems. The assumption is that electorates will force governments to behave better and deliver development for their citizens. But this is not the case. Many African rulers have neither the will nor the capacity to improve the lives of their people, and the people do not, at this stage, have the political power to force change through democratic mechanisms. Vote-rigging and election-related violence are getting worse, not better.?


Behind the façade of African nation states lie networks of political and business elites. These may be family, ethnic, regional, religious or social in basis, but no one can escape them. Power and influence in Africa is exercised mainly through such connections. It is very hard for people like judges and civil servants to operate independently of them. Those who try to uphold the rules are often overruled by other, more powerful players whose commitment to national development depends on their own interests.?


From the late 1980s into the 21st century, the Western agenda – ‘open your markets, allow multi-party politics and respect human rights’ – was written across Africa. But that period came to an end on 12 July 2008 with the Chinese and Russian veto of the UN resolution calling for sanctions on Zimbabwe. Now African governments have other allies, who ask no questions.?


Those used to Western multiparty democracy may see a government of national unity – outside a national emergency – as a form of authoritarianism. But looked at from Africa, governments of national unity may be the best way of holding these countries together, as long as they are constrained by accountability and the rule of law. Elections would not bestow absolute power but serve to determine the share of power.


?Politically and culturally, Africa needs more inclusive systems – an African form of proportional representation. The trick is to combine this with the rule of law, checks and balances, and the right to dissent. A better system might be for electoral support to determine not only how many seats in parliament a party gets, but how many positions in government. It could hardly be worse.


??Parselelo Kantai??


There are many problems with this argument. By privileging the West it hints, once again, at a new set of experimental solutions either promoted or supported by the West. More worrying is its prescriptive one-size-fits-all approach. While Richard’s Prospect piece is a cautionary tale of how disastrous Western intervention has been for Africa, he cannot help doing the same. Even as he rightly identifies the fragmentary nature of African states – the states within states bound by the colonial project – his proposed solutions fail to see beyond the elite competition for power. Power-sharing at the top does not necessarily translate into consensus at the bottom.?


The true meaning of power-sharing in Kenya – a re-orientation of power at the centre among rival political elites, but elites nonetheless – has become clearer with every passing day. Sold to the Kenyan public as a means of fixing deep-seated ethnic and resource-distribution problems as well as a real attempt at creating national cohesion, attempts at deepening power-sharing have been half-hearted and vague. Political deal-making and the noisy re-alignment of the politics around President Mwai Kibaki’s succession suggest that real political intentions lie elsewhere.?


He fails to mention the enduring struggles within African countries for a new constitutional order. In multiethnic republics such as Kenya, power-sharing remains a fiction without the establishment of a constitutional infrastructure that first acknowledges historical contradictions – that we were thrown together by a colonial enterprise but have always, to paraphrase Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, been held together by geography. Building such infrastructure is perhaps the first step to solving the riddle of governance. ??


Richard Dowden


??Parselelo has misunderstood what I am saying and where I am coming from on the issue of first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all multiparty democracy in Africa. He accuses me of “privileging the West”, whereas I am doing the exact opposite. I am complaining that this ‘Western’ model of democracy has been imposed on Africa by outsiders and Africa’s ruling elites. It does not appear to be producing stable, effective states, and the reason may be that it does not suit the multiethnic make-up of Africa’s artificially-created states. As used, most blatantly in Kenya, by ruling elites to secure power through ethnic chauvinism, it will always leave a group of losers excluded by government.?


Nor was I calling for a single ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer. I drew attention to this problem with the suggestion that Africans should develop new constitutional systems of their own, more suitable to their circumstances. Western democratic systems grew out of European and American history, and I do not believe that they are either universal or the best forms of democracy for all nation states. Africans must develop their own. But which Africans? I would like to hear more about these “enduring struggles within African countries for a new constitutional order”.


?Parselelo Kantai


??I find Richard’s arguments both over-determined and reductive. As far as he is concerned, Africa is Europe’s fault. Europeans created those arbitrary colonial boundaries and gave us Westminster-style governments. The former ignores the fact that Africans, for good or ill, consciously retained those colonial borders on the premise that, having been dealt a bad card, they were determined nevertheless to begin forging new realities. That was the meaning of independence. Whether they failed or succeeded, they had, by the act of taking power, now become solely responsible for their destiny. The blame-the-West game is, therefore, dead. Blame the Africans.?


Most worrying is his power-sharing idea. By portraying it as a kind of affirmative-action argument in the negative, a cry of surrender for a continent chronically unable to play by the rules of normal democratic competition, Dowden (inadvertently, one hopes) endorses criminal behaviour. The trigger for the violence in Kenya last year was that President Kibaki stole the election, as did Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Power-sharing was introduced as a stop-gap measure. Nobody recognises it as a permanent solution. In Kenya, it will soon cannibalise itself as rival factions of the corrupt coalition turn against each other in a bid to protect themselves from rising public anger.


?Dowden’s power-sharing argument only holds in a context of failure. It is designed with the idea of impending doom in mind. Coming in the immediate aftermath of the Kenyan and Zimbabwean debacles, I dare say that this theorising would have been considerably less bold if the outcome of the Ghanaian elections had been known.


Letter from Moscow


Africans are no longer welcomed as they once were during the era of international socialist solidarity; in fact they now have to take extreme care whenever they travel around the city


With more than 12m people, Moscow is Europe’s biggest city and a melting pot of sorts for Russia’s 100 or so different ethnic groups. But Moscow is not Russia. In speed and style, it has been playing catch-up with Western capitals since it shed communism in the 1990s.?


Moscow’s powerful mayor Yury Luzhkov, in office since 1992, has spent billions of dollars from the well-padded city budget to give the city a facelift. The drab concrete apartment blocks have given way to brightly-coloured residential towers and glass buildings for investment banks and oil companies. Luzhkov’s government has encircled the city with ring roads and created a business district called ‘The Moscow City’, his answer to La Défense in Paris and Lower Manhattan in New York. Under construction here is the Federation Tower, a 600m steel-and-glass symbol of new Russian wealth and power, designed by British architect Norman Foster to be Europe’s tallest building. ?


Muscovites are the richest people in Russia, which explains the stark differences in lifestyle between Moscow and the faraway provinces. Grocery stores and supermarkets such as French discount retailer Auchan have been springing up everywhere. But Moscow was never a cheap option for expatriates and immigrants: for the third year running it has been designated as the world’s most expensive city.?


African food is rare here but there are two Ethiopian restaurants downtown, in Krasnaya Vorota and Zemlyanoi Val. Lovers of North African food can visit one of three Moroccan restaurants.??




?Moscow’s Metro is a showpiece. Built in the 1930s, the 230km-long underground network is known for the design of its marble stations, many of them decked with mosaics, chandeliers, sculptures and precious materials. Each of its lines is identified by a colour, the Red Line running from south-west to north-east. ?


Unlike London, Paris or New York, Moscow never had a resident community of Africans and there is little racial harmony here. The Red Metro Line is a living metaphor for many dark-skinned residents who regard it as a danger zone to be avoided on certain days of the year and at certain times of the day because of frequent assaults and attacks from the city’s skinhead population.


?“It is no secret that blacks get beaten up on Hitler’s Birthday or People’s Unity Day by skinheads and football fans on the Red Line,” says Msangi Nsangu, who heads the Association of African Students. “Every time we venture out, it’s like going to a war front, especially in the Metro, where escape is difficult.”?


In private encounters and within the confines of their apartments or around the kitchen table, Muscovites are jocular, witty, superstitious and generous. But there is also a deep feeling of otherness rooted in years of relentless communist indoctrination that makes them unwilling to cosy-up to foreigners, especially those with non-Slavic looks.?


Moscow’s largest concentration of Africans is in the south-west, at Patrice Lumumba Peoples’ Friendship University, which attracted thousands of scholarship students from developing countries in the days of proletarian internationalism. Now there are fewer than 1,000 Africans there, down from 2,300 in the 1990s, as stipends have all but dried up and the welcome mat has disappeared. ?


Doctor Lyubov Ivanova, a lecturer at the Moscow State University’s Institute of Asian and African Studies, attributes frequent attacks on African immigrants to the poor image of the continent projected in the Russian media. “The image of Africa as an extremely poor continent is stressed to raise the level of self-esteem of the Russians,” Ivanova said. “A mindset has been created in which Africans are used as scapegoats to redirect social aggression and as the only way for showing masculinity by declassified Russian youngsters.” lTai Adelaja

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