Democratic principles and tenets are rarely institutionalised in Africa. This is because the votes of the people hardly count in deciding legitimate mandate for African leaders. Rather State institutions are usually deployed for the perpetuation of leaders in power, whereas the essence of government is the protection of the social welfare of the people.
Africa has long recognized the need for democracy as an instrument of rapid development. But what we are experiencing on some African countries today is a sit-tight democracy. The State apparatus are used against constitutional provisions to prolong the tenure of political office holders. This has always created political conflicts, political unrest and stagnation of rapid development envisaged by the people.
Examples abound in many African countries like Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, Burkina Fasso, Cameroun, Gabon, Zimbabwe, Libya, Egypt and Uganda, where African leaders do everything possible to perpetuate themselves in power.
The question is: How can the African continent move forward and fast-track development with such leaders who are dictatorial and antithetical to democratic tenets?
During the recent two-day meeting of Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa hosted by the government of Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe took over the chairmanship of the Union from President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Mugabe was quoted as urging Africans: “Let us make Africa a continent of opportunity for all its people by eliminating conflict”.
The pertinent question is: How can conflict be eliminated and opportunity come to Africa when some African leaders have ignored the values of democratic tenets and refused to accept change?
We can only make progress in Africa if our leaders recognize the necessity of change and accommodate divergent views that promote values of democracy.
In Zimbabwe for example, President Robert Mugabe has been in power for the past 29 years since he led his country to independence in 1980 from Britain; first as Prime Minister and later as President. The rate of human rights violation, economic mismanagement and suppression of political opposition has made Zimbabwe a pariah nation among comity of nations.
Also in Gabon, President Omar Bongo until his death few weeks ago, ruled his country for 42 years. His son, Ali Ben Omar Bongo, who is a former Foreign Minister of Gabon has even been chosen by the ruling party to succeed his father. This is what the civil society and opposition parties in Gabon are fighting to checkmate in the forthcoming presidential election.
In Ugandan, President Yoweri Museveni, a guerrilla veteran has been in power since 1986, while President Blaisses Compaore of Burkina Fasso came to power in 1987 after what was believed to be a mistaken execution of a great patriot, Thomas Sankara. These men are still in power with constitutional amendments and flawed elections.
In Libya too, Muamaar Al-Gaddafi has been in power since September 1, 1969 till date, while President Teodore Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea has also been in office since August 3, 1979. In Cameroun, President Paul Biya has also been in power since 1975 first as the prime minister under President Ahmadou Ahidjo before he became president on November, 1982 till date.
One distinguished trait of African leaders is their zealousness for constitutional amendments, while the fight against poverty, HIV/AIDS scourge, health and multifarious problems facing Africa have been relegated to the background.
Africa can only move forward into the 21st century with the rest of the world if our leaders can tackle the problems of the continent effectively. Transparency, accountability, good governance and zero tolerance for State corruption should be seriously institutionalized to enable African countries meet up with the rest of the world. And the earlier we do so, the better for us.