Last Friday, the African Student Organization for Democracy and Progress held a panel on democracy in Africa. The panel, which consisted of Dr. Jacqueline Vieceli and Dr. Avra Johnson, touched on a wide range of issues. Dr. Johnson is an associate professor in the Government Department. Dr. Vieceli is a professor in the Department of Government who has lived and studied in Swaziland.
The following are some brief excerpts from the event.
Jake Tolde (President of ASODP)
“Politics in Africa is very, very important. Elections [often] follow with violence. The incumbent wants to stay in power even though he lost. The opposition party says ‘no, I don’t agree with your results. It’s not true.’ People behind each group try to fight and sometimes the army gets involved, and sometimes it’s deadly, like we see in Kenya, in Ivory Coast, and many other African countries. Africa has a long way to go coming to democracy.”
Dr. Avra Johnson
“[Africans] had a civil society already in place before colonization and it was based on cultural trends and patterns. Then colonization comes in to shake it all up and [it] ignored cultural patterns and trends, ignored geography, ignored everything. And so that may not be lost totally, but it is lost. And now you come out of colonialism and you’ve got to build all those infrastructures again.”
“Democracy is an instrument. It should be an instrument of good. The democracy is weaved into [the country] by the people, not by someone dictating that it’s democracy. If the people had never been a part of it, it is not democracy. And what I understand of Africa is that the people in a lot of these countries had never been ‘breathed’ in democracy.”
“Democracy doesn’t have to look like the United States. Those are two different things. You have to mold your democracy in a way that fits the texture that you’re in. And that takes time – lots of time!”
Dr. Jacqueline Vieceli
“When you have a rentier state and it’s not really based on production, then you have an even harder time dealing with corruption. One of the problems is exclusion of people who are not part of the president’s group or from the group that is most represented by the majority party and so on. Everybody wants state positions. ‘We need the president or prime minister’s post so we can eat.’ And everybody’s fighting about that.”
“When you think about the post-election violence in Kenya or violence that’s happened in other countries, if you don’t have much information, you haven’t got much schooling, and so on, and you’re told that the outcome of this election is going to determine whether your kids can go to school, whether you have a clinic, whether you have a road, [whether] the government’s going to come and do this to you and that to you. You really think ‘it’s the survival of my family and my children!’ Might you take a machete and go to the street?”
“I think that there may need to be modifications to make sure that it’s not just this winner-take-all kind of scenario where people are – at best – taking turns for who’s going to eat everything and everybody else is left out.”
ASODP meets biweekly to discuss issues concerning African politics.