As the entire world watch the advance democratic system unfold in the US elections, one thing is obvious to all critical observers – it is a flawed Democracy so what are the lessons for Africa?
In other words, democracy is not a perfect system of government and the democratic process is flawed everywhere including in so-called advanced democracies.
America’s democracy is two hundred and forty (240) years old and yet, it is still flawed.
A free and fair electoral process can still produce a flawed democracy where there are still issues of voter suppression and intimidation, curtailment of media freedoms, problematic voter registers, multiple voting and many other voting malpractices.
The issue of voter suppression is very rampant in the US elections as African Americans and other colored people are more likely to be prevented from casting a vote in the elections though all kinds of schemes including intimidation and other voter suppression schemes against minorities.
The US criminal justice system also ensures that ex-convicts in many, if not all US states (more likely to be African Americans) do not get to participate in the democratic process simply because they served time in jail.
When universal suffrage gets a new meaning, it is a flawed democracy indeed.
In the past two weeks, many republican supporters of the US President Donald trump or indeed many Americans have alleged electoral fraud in the US.
This may be easily dismissed as partisan republican politics. But some Americans who may not necessarily be republican supporters of Trump have made damning claims against the US electoral system especially regarding mail-in voting.
In one instance, a woman alleged that her dog registered as an eighteen-year-old college student and voted in the just ended elections through the mail.
Interestingly, the dog’s vote apparently got counted even before her owner’s vote could be located. Is this true? Who knows?
Who did the dog vote for? The owner cannot tell. How was this possible in such an advanced democracy? We cannot tell. What we can tell is that these sorts of things occur in flawed systems, so what will be the lessons for Africa?
Some, including mainstream media have said that those allegations are without basis or evidence.
Yes, maybe; but so are the allegations of fraud that are made in other emerging democracies around the world.
If America’s democratic process can remain flawed after two hundred and forty years, it means that this system of social, political and economic organization of statecraft is a work in progress – everywhere it is practiced or experimented.
What is therefore most important is to have the democratic institutions within the system working autonomously and independently for the greater good regardless of the flawed process.
The process may be flawed but the outcome can still be legitimate.
Are there any lessons for Africa?
Many have often argued that democracy does not work in places like Africa just because it is flawed in its experimental stages.
Africa’s multi-party democracy, as borrowed from the West, is less than eighty years old from their independence movements.
Unfortunately for Africa, the democratic experiment has been intermittently interrupted over the years by military adventurism and autocratic dictatorships.
These African military adventures or rather misadventures have often caused many African republics to reset the clocks of their democratic processes.
Thus, in many African countries, we have first, second, third and fourth republics.
Ghana is a typical example where a new republican constitution came into effect at the end of every military adventure since the overthrow of the founding President Kwame Nkrumah in 1966.
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How then can we so harshly judge African democracies and unfairly suppose that democracy does not work in Africa?
Surely, not all African democracies are thriving in their flawed state like the American democracy.
Indeed, many are not just flawed, but they are also absolutely shambolic.
This is because many of the democratic institutions in Africa are under the control of political leaders who try to bend them according to their own whims and caprices. What should be the lessons for Africa as far as democratic institutions are concerned?
Indeed that maybe the very big difference between the flawed African democracy and the flawed Western democracy.
Apart from independent democratic institutions, independent media is also very crucial in nurturing a flawed democracy and electoral processes such as the one we are still witnessing in the US.
For example, it is commendable that a staunchly conservative and Trump supporting media house such as FOX NEWS in the USA called the 2020 US elections for Democratic candidate Joe Biden even before liberal leaning CNN did.
It is a clear indication that the flaws in the US democratic process do not stop the system from thriving every step of the way.
So, maybe it is time for African democratic watchers to start looking at the glass as half-full rather than half-empty.
Yes, many African countries are struggling to organize credible elections.
Yes, many of the leaders find it difficult to handover power at the end of their legal and popular mandates, and indeed, they do not.
And yes, some still have dictators who have stayed in power for almost forty years whiles others are fomenting civil wars as a ruse to divide and rule their helpless people.
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Yet still, there are shining examples in Africa and Ghana is one of them.
Ghana’s democracy is flawed too – no doubt about it. Just like in the US where dogs are allegedly voting in elections, Ghana too have ‘ghost names’, minors and sometimes ‘foreigners’ in the electoral roll.
There are also alleged issues of voter suppression in some regions and some critical media have often suffered closure prior to elections for various reasons throughout her democratic experiment.
Criminal libel was once a law that criminalized critical and free speech and sent journalists to jail in the democracy but has now been repealed.
Yet, since 1992 when the fourth republic began after several years of military interruptions of the democratic experiment, Ghana has shown the way for all of Sub-Saharan Africa.
On December 7 2020 when Ghanaians go to the poll to elect a President and members of parliament, it would be the 8th consecutive time that Ghanaians have gone through the multi-party democratic process of electing leaders through a free, fair and transparent process; and peacefully transferring power between one ruling regime to another without any form of interruption, civil disturbances or refusal of one regime or the other to hand over power after loosing.
Yes, it is a flawed but a thriving democracy in Africa – one to be looked up to as a shining example for many others.
Of course, there will be allegations about voter fraud and stolen ballot papers.
There will be allegations about cheating.
There may even be gun- shots by some miscreants at some polling stations but in the end, the winner and the looser will come together and the country will move forward – even if the Supreme Court will have to determine the final outcome – like it happened in 2012. The rule of law works.
So as we continue to follow and admire the flawed American democracy, let us keep at the back of our minds that democracy maybe a better system of government than a communist dictatorship, or autocratic oligarchy or even a totalitarian regime, but democracy is always a work in progress – whether in an advanced America or in an emerging Africa. There are surely lessons for Africa and the rest of the world.
By: Sacut Amenga-Etego