03 October 2010

Article: Why western-style democracy is not suitable for Africa

George Ayittey is the author of a commentary article titled "Why western-style democracy is not suitable for Africa", published on 20 August 2010 on the CNN news website.

The full text of the article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "Western-style multi-party democracy is possible but not suitable for Africa. [...] The alternative is to take decisions by consensus. [...] In the early 1990s, following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the winds of change swept across Africa, toppling long-standing autocrats. In our haste to democratize – and also as a condition for Western aid – we copied and adopted the Western form of democracy and neglected to build upon our own democratic tradition. The Western model allowed an elected leader to use power and the state machinery to advance the economic interests of his ethnic group and exclude all others [...]. Virtually all of Africa's civil wars were started by politically marginalized or excluded groups. At Africa's traditional village level, a chief is chosen by the Queen Mother of the royal family to rule for life. His appointment must be ratified by the Council of Elders, which consists of heads of extended families in the village. In governance, the chief must consult with the Council on all important matters. [...] If the chief and the Council cannot reach unanimous decision on an important issue, a village meeting is called and the issue put before the people, who will debate it until they reach a consensus. [...]

"If the chief is 'bad' he can be recalled by the Queen Mother, removed by the Council of Elders, or abandoned by the people, who will vote with their feet to settle somewhere else. [...] Africans could have built upon this system. In the West, the basic economic and social unit is the individual; in Africa, it is the extended family or the collective. The American says, 'I am because I am.' The African says, 'I am because we are.' The 'we' denotes the community. So let each group choose their leaders and place them in a National Assembly. Next, let each province or state choose their leaders and place them in a National Council. Choose the president from this National Council and avoid the huge expenditures on election campaigning that comes with Western-style democracy. Those resources can be better put to development in poor African countries. Next, let the president and National Council take their decisions by consensus. If there is a deadlock, refer the issue to the National Assembly. This type of democracy is in consonance with our own African heritage."

Ghanaian-born George Ayittey is a Distinguished Economist in Residence at American University, Washington, DC, a Research Fellow at the libertarian Independent Institute, and an Associate Scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI). In 2008, the magazines "Prospect" (UK) and "Foreign Policy" (US) listed him as one of the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals".

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