George Klay Kieh, Jr. and Pita Ogaba Agbese:
Introduction: At independence, beginning in the 1950s, colonialism bequeathed to Africa an authoritarian state. The state construct has been described variously as “absolutist,” “repressive,” “violent,” “negligent,” and “exploitative.” Regrettably, with few exceptions, the first generation of African leaders failed to provide the requisite leadership to dismantle, rethink, and democratically reconstitute the state so that it could serve as an engine of people-centered democracy and development. Hence, the authoritarian state was retained and acclimated to the changing dynamics of the post-colonial era.
Functionally, the authoritarian state is pivoted on, among others, the suppression of political rights and civil liberties, the concentration of powers in the hands of a hegemonic presidency and the accompanying subordination of the legislative and judicial branches (the lack of effective “checks and balances”) the prevalence of both de jure and de facto one-party systems, the lack of the rule of law and the resulting dominance of the “culture of impunity,” the absence of a strong and independent judiciary, the lack of accountability and transparency, and an asphyxiation of civil society. Peter Lewis provides a poignant summation of the pedigree of authoritarianism in Africa:
Historically, most African regimes have had little accountability to their people. As rulers, they have maintained political control largely through authoritarian institutions and patron-client networks … Authoritarian rulers have misused public resources . .. and refrained from providing crucial public goods needed for economic expansion.
The domination of authoritarianism as the pervasive system of public governance on the African Continent has engendered the lack of democracy and development. In the case of the former, Africa has been ruled by both civilian and military autocrats that have violated political human rights and suffocated the development of effective and robust public institutions.
As for the latter, in the cases in which some authoritarian states have attempted to promote socio-economic development, the efforts have been undermined by the absence of legitimacy and mass support. The “third wave of democratization” that was touted as Africa’s “second liberation” has failed to live up to its bidding. This is because full-blown authoritarianism has persisted in various countries on the continent (e.g., Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan), and in others, the process of democratization has stalled. Consequently, the continent is littered with several semi-authoritarian or hybrid regimes (e.g., Burkina Faso, Egypt, and Uganda). Correspondingly, the economic and social context of authoritarianism has not been transformed so that it can promote human-centered development.
In this vein, there is the urgent need to rethink the authoritarian African state beyond the holding of elections periodically. In other words, while elections are important dimensions for ending authoritarianism on the continent, they do not constitute the sufficient condition. Instead, As George Kieh argues, “…state reconstitution process must be both a holistic and comprehensive project that encompasses the fundaments … and the various spheres.” This means the trans formation of the political core, as well as the socio-economic crucible in which the authoritarian African state operates.
Against this background, the purpose of [this chapter] is to map out the major lessons that can be used to rethink and democratically reconstitute the authoritarian African state, so that it can serve as the leader for shepherding the twin processes of people-centered democracy and development in Africa.
- The fundamentals
- Democratic constitution
A democratic constitution is pivotal to caging the authoritarian demon that has terrorized Africa since the post-independence era. Such a constitution should be crafted based on popular participation. Specifically, to be credible and sustainable, the constitution-making or revision process should be process-driven and “bottom to top.” This means that all citizens as well as groups should have the opportunity to participate in the formulation of the document.
In terms of its substantive contents, a constitution should map out the political, economic, social, religious, security, and cultural contours of a society. This should include the clear delineation of the various legal norms, and the associated institutions and process through which these norms would be implemented. As Julius Ihonbere asserts,
Constitution-making [should be] used to articulate national dreams, educate the populace, draw attention to existing contradictions, and promote a new culture of tolerance, inclusion, participation, and democratization . The … constitution [should be] … seen as a road map that defines power and sets out new or alternative power arrangements. The constitution reassure disadvantaged constituencies like women and minorities, and provide a political roadmap for a new generation of Africans should also spell out the socio-economic, cultural and political rights of all citizens;
While a constitution is epicentral to democratic governance, it is however meaningless if its various provisions are not operationalized through praxis. That is, the legal precepts spanning the various spheres that are enshrined in the constitution should found expression in their practical application to the ways in which a society is governed. The responsibility for doing so falls on citizens, civil society organizations, the government as a whole, public institutions, and public officials.
Ultimately, the primary driver of constitutionalism is the imperative of demonstrating the supremacy of the constitution by canonizing the popularly used expression of “a society that is governed by laws rather than men and women.” This includes leaders and citizens alike being subjected to the norms of the constitution. As Stephen Holmes notes, “[a]s ordinary men, rulers too need to be ruled.”
- Development agenda
Sustaining democratic governance in the context of a reconstituted state needs to transcend the making of political reforms. This is because although the centerpiece of authoritarianism is political, a functional and sustainable democratic order requires improvement in the material conditions of the citizens. At the core is the imperative of formulating and implementing a development agenda that has human welfare as its mainstay. Specifically, the development agenda would revolve around African states making investments in areas like job creation, health care, education, public transportation, public housing, and food security. The overarching purpose should be to create what T.H. Marshall calls “social citizenship.” This would entail the universal right of citizens to an extensive set of state-guaranteed social and economic provisions.
- Purging the core of authoritarianism
The purging of the authoritarian core would require the restructuring of the political sphere of authoritarian African states. One major dimension is the state’s respect for political rights—the right to vote, the right to contest for public office once the qualifications are met, and the right to organize political parties and other groups, as well as the right of these political entities to operate freely within the ambit of the constitution without being suppressed by the state—and civil liberties. This is because political rights and civil liberties are basic building blocks of a democratic state. For example, as Freedom House argues, “Political rights enable people to participate freely in the political process…”
Civil liberties span the broad gamut of political freedoms—assembly, association, movement, press, etc. Collectively, these freedoms constitute what Joseph Siegle refers to as “part and parcel of a participatory competitive political environment.” This is critical because by creating a propitious environment in which various political forces can freely participate and express their views without the fear of recrimination from the state, the tendency for some to resort to extra-constitutional means such as coups would be minimized.
“Checks and balances” are also important in caging the authoritarian impulse. However, this would require the development of strong and vibrant public institutions that can monitor and check one another to ensure that no one entity becomes hegemonic. This would work by each public institution using its allotted constitutional and statutory powers to provide oversight (horizontal account ability). For example, as Torsten Persson et al. argue, “Checks and balances work by creating a conflict of interest between the executive and the legislature, yet requiring both bodies to agree on public policy. In this way, the two bodies discipline each other to the voters’ advantage.”
Horizontal accountability would then be complemented by vertical accountability. In the case of the latter, citizens and civil society organizations would help check the government through various modes, including elections and the provision of information to the general public about the activities of the government.
The related element is the need for transparency in the conduct of public affairs. Besides information that is critical to the security of an African state, the matters concerning the operation of a government should be opened to inspection and probing by citizens and civil society organizations. In part, this would help ensure that a government operates consistent with democratic tenets.
Another major mechanism that is required is the establishment and functioning of a multiparty system. In this context, political parties with varying ideological orientations should be allowed to be organized and to participate in the political process. Importantly, although these various political parties would compete periodically for power, their collective purpose must transcend the pathological fixation with state power. Instead, in spite of their ideological differences, these political parties must learn to work together in promoting the “general good” of an African state.
Similarly, the legitimacy of any government would require that it ascends to power through the holding of free and fair elections. That is, the totality of the electoral process-from voters’ registration to the counting of the ballots should be characterized by honesty and fairness. This would militate against violence both during and after elections, and help to establish the tradition of the orderly transfer of power from one elected government to another.
Also, the establishment of the rule of law would be critical, especially against the backdrop of the perennial history of the “culture of impunity” in both authoritarian and hybrid African states. This would entail the establishment of a new political culture in which everyone—citizens and public officials alike, including the president of the country—would be subjected to the constitution and statutes of an African state without any exception. Significantly, an independent judiciary is indispensable to the effective operation of the rule of law. Accordingly, efforts should be made to establish a judicial system with qualified judges and other personnel, who are not beholden to the president and other public officials. ln this way, the legal system would earn the trust and respect of the citizens as an impartial arbiter. This would then help to minimize the resort to violence as an alternative method for addressing conflicts.
Functioning democratic African states would require robust civil society consisting of various organizations covering various spheres of the society. In order to be effective and make meaningful contributions to the building of democracy, it is quite important for these civil society organizations to be independent, and free from the control of both the government and external forces.
- Creating an enabling environment for sustainable democracy
- The cultural sphere
Given the fact that the majority of Africa’s authoritarian states are multiethnic, it is important for the democratically reconstituted state to shepherd the process of establishing ethnic pluralism. This would be characterized by, among others, mutual respect for, and sensitivity to the various cultures. The ultimate purpose would be to ensure peaceful co-existence between and among the various ethnic groups.
Central to the promotion of ethnic harmony is the imperative of the state and its government not privileging any ethnic group. That is, the state should not be used as an instrument for ethnic domination—the outcome Kidane Mengisteab refers to as an “ethnic state.” Instead, the state should seek to treat all ethnic groups fairly, especially in the provision of public goods. In addition, access to positions in the public bureaucracy should not be mediated by ethnic affiliation. Instead, the qualified citizens of an African state should be able to obtain positions based on a system of merit.
- The economic sphere
In order for the democratic state to address the welfare of the citizens, steps should be taken to address the perennial problem of corruption in the public sector. The foundational pillar would the transformation of the character and mission of the African state. In the case of the former, the state needs to be expunged of its criminal, exploitative, predatory, and negligent character. As well, the African state’s mission needs to be changed from the creation of an enabling environment in which the members of the ruling classes—consisting of state managers, relatively well-off business people, and the owners of foreign capital—can engage in the predatory accumulation of wealth to one in which addressing the welfare of the citizens is paramount.
Similarly, the democratically reconstituted African state should address the critical issues of mass abject poverty and deprivation that have made the subalterns in Africa live perilously on the margins of society. The key culprit is the peripheral capitalist political economy that is the dominant framework on the continent.
Hence, this framework should be transformed in ways that advance the material well-being of ordinary Africans, especially addressing their basic needs such as employment, education, health care, transportation, housing, and food. As Pambazuka News argues, “Poverty is a structural problem inseparable from power relations that have defined the making and re-making of [African] political economy and society over the last four decades-and magnified during the current one.”
Linked to the imperative of tackling mass poverty is the exigency of addressing the age-old problems of inequalities and inequities in wealth and income within various African states. This is critical to the pursuance of people-centered development. As Jose Antonio Ocampo, the former UN Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs notes:
Ignoring inequality in the pursuit of development is perilous. Focusing exclusively on economic growth and income generation as a development strategy is ineffective, as it leads to the accumulation of wealth by a few and deepens the poverty of many.
The problems of unemployment and underemployment are key issues that need to be addressed as well. In the case of the former, in spite of high growth rates, it remains a daunting challenge. The situation is particularly alarming for young people on the continent. For example, in 2011, Africans aged 15-24 comprised 60 percent of the continent’s unemployed (about 40 million people). Accordingly, ways would need to be found to generate employment, including addressing the grave problem of joblessness among the youth.
The latter problem is characterized by sections of the employed Africans not earning enough wages to be able to meet their basic human needs, such as food, housing, and transportation. One solution would be for African states to establish minimum wages that are reflective of the cost of living in their respective societies. The thrust would be to design a wage structure that would enable the employed to earn sufficient wages to be able to address their basic needs,
- The social sphere
Like the other spheres, the social one is loaded with several major challenges that have implications for sustaining democracy, once an African state makes the transition from authoritarianism. One of the key problems is the general sordid state of education. Against the background of the multidimensionality of the general educational problems on the continent, the solution would need to be comprehensive as well. This means that they would need to address issues like funding, access, qualified personnel, including teachers and school administrators, the provision of instructional materials, equipment, and the development of the infrastructure. The pivot is the imperative of African states making increased investments in public education to address these challenges.
Like education, addressing the continent’s healthcare challenges would require the use of a multidimensional approach that would seek to address issues such as access, the availability of trained and qualified health care professionals, drugs, equipment, logistics, and the infrastructure-hospitals, clinics, and other facilities. As Dan Kaseje suggests,
An appropriate, robust and sustainable model for improvement in health system performance is essential in order to reverse the declining trends in health and development-status and break the vicious cycle of poverty and ill-health in Africa … A robust model for improvement would embrace all of the dimensions that are critical to health by addressing not only the risk factors of disease but also cross-cutting issues and linkages between health and employment, food security, nutrition , and financing for health .
Importantly, given the diversity of the health systems across Africa, improvement would be contingent upon the convergence of commitment, expertise, and resources throughout the system.
Housing is another major challenge across the African Continent. At the vortex is the challenge of the housing stock not keeping pace with the continent’s population explosion. As Anna Kajumulo, the former UN Under Secretary-General and the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, laments, “Most African countries have failed to tackle the multidimensional housing problems militating against the continent despite population explosion resulting in rapid growth of slums across the continent.”
The housing crisis is framed by many major issues, including affordability, the inadequacy of the stock, and quality. In this vein, addressing the crisis would require both public and private efforts. The thrust of these efforts should be to construct adequate amounts of low-cost housing that are habitable and durable throughout an African state. ln turn, this would address the crux of the housing problems.
The area of transportation requires attention as well. The overarching problem is that the transportation systems of most African states have not been able to keep pace with the burgeoning rate of increase in the population. To make matters worse, given the pervasiveness of poverty on the continent, the vast majority of Africans cannot afford to purchase private vehicles. Hence, they rely on both commercial and public transportation. In order to address the central challenge plaguing transportation, several major interlocking steps would need to be taken. Both the state and private businesses would need to invest in the transport sector. In addition, the sector’s geographic scope would need to be expanded to cover the various regions of an African state. Also, the transport sector would need to be integrated. The improvement of roads by paving them would be key as well. Then, the issue of transportation safety of all the modes should be stressed.
- Other lessons
Three other major lessons are quite instructive for the democratic reconstitution of the African state: the provision of clean drinking water and adequate sanitation, and addressing the problem of food insecurity.
In the case of the inadequacy of clean drinking water, it constitutes one of the major development challenges con fronting the continent. And this has implications for public health. At the heart of addressing this problem is making clean drinking water available to everyone, irrespective of the place of abode either through the pipe-borne route or pump powered wells. The state would need to play a pivotal role in the provision of this major resource. One of the major reasons is that some private businesses have commoditized water, and are selling it at prices that are not affordable for the members of the subaltern classes across the continent.
Similarly, poor sanitation remains an enduring challenge in various African states. The problem is even more acute in the various slum-based communities that have sprung up in urban centers around the continent. In order to address this challenge, several issues need to be tackled, including the cleaning of com munities, streets, and other areas on a regular basis, the safe disposal of garbage, the availability of an adequate supply of water, and addressing the broader problem of slums.
Food insecurity has become a major threat to the physical well-being and survival of many Africans. As the United Nations Development Program observes, “For too long, the face of [Africa] has been one of dehumanizing hunger …” For example, in 2010, more than 218 million Africans suffered from hunger. Similarly, 41 percent of the continent’s population experienced chronic mal nutrition. Left unchanged, this could result in irreversible mental and physical disabilities in this and future generations.
In this regard, the efforts to address food insecurity should revolve around the critical issues of the availability of food, people’s access to food and their use of food, as well as the stability of all three components. The drivers of the process should include: the development of the agricultural sector for the ostensible purpose of increasing food production, the formulation and implementation of the appropriate public policies that would be supportive, the undertaking of various steps to address poverty, and the removal of the barriers to market access for small scaled farmers.
The authoritarian African state that has been the mainstay of the African land scape since the dawn of the post-colonial era has proven to be an anathema to both people-centered democracy and sustainable human-centered development. Hence, the state needs to be deconstructed, rethought, and democratically reconstituted. The approach should be comprehensive by including the fundamentals—the formulation of a democratic constitution through the use of a process-driven method that is inclusive, the importance of constitutionalism, and the design and implementation of a development agenda that focuses on the material advancement of the African peoples.
Then, the political core of the authoritarian state should be dismantled and replaced with a democratic one that is anchored on the respect for political rights and civil liberties, the establishment of a system of “checks and balances” anchored by strong and effective public institutions, the practice of account ability, transparency, and the rule of law with an independent judiciary playing the pivotal role as the arbiter, the establishment of a multiparty party system, the holding of free and fair elections at regular time intervals, and the establishment and functioning of a vibrant civil society that is independent of manipulation by both the state and external actors, including donors.
Central to the political restructuring of the authoritarian African state should be the redistribution of power for the purpose of promoting equity and social justice. This should include the empowerment of citizens at the grassroots level, so that they can fully participate in shaping the decisions that affect their lives and communities.
The transformation of the authoritarian state would also require the creation of an enabling environment that is indispensable to sustaining democracy and development. In the cultural sphere, this would require the promotion of ethnic pluralism based on mutual respect and peaceful co-existence, and the fair treatment of the various ethnic groups within a state by the government. Economically, the vexatious issues of corruption, mass abject poverty, unemployment, and underemployment need to be addressed.
In the social domain, the critical areas of education, health care, housing, and transportation need to be addressed. In addition, attention needs to be paid to the provision of clean drinking water and adequate sanitation, as well as addressing the challenge of food insecurity.
George Klay Kieh, Jr. is Professor of Political Science at the university of West Georgia.Prior to this, he served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of West Georgia. His research interests are in the areas of peace and conflict studies, democratization, the state, political economy, development, American foreign policy, and regionasl and global goverance.
Pita Ogaba Agbese is Professor of Political Science at the University of Northern Iowa. Previously, he served as Acting Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Norther Iowa. His reasearch interests are in the areas of civil-military relations, the militaary and politics, peace and security studdies, and political economy.