Reinventing Africa for the Challenges of the Twenty-First Century

Step Three: African Political parties must reform for democracy

Modern democracies are built on political parties, periodic competitive elections, public policy and programmes, and committed leadership.  The truth is that politics is still “war” in most of Africa often culminating in violence, court cases, and everlasting opposition to those in office.  Some regard it as a business and spend large sums of money to sponsor aspirants and candidates.  Once voted into office, such sponsored persons become conduit pipes for draining the national treasury.  Campaigns may not be too necessary, platforms or manifestoes are not necessary and you do not need to have the best profile or qualifications.  Just have a godfather, sufficient wild-looking thugs, money- the source is not relevant-, and strategise on how to influence the electoral commission, the police and the media, and pronto you are “elected” into office.  They believe that the end justifies the means especially where court cases can be tied down for the duration of office.
Politics in Africa is costly, diabolical, unsteady, uncertain, and announced results hardly ever reflect what took place on election-day.  Only in few cases are the best candidates presented for political office and aspirants are almost bankrupted before they get elected.  This, in itself, lays the foundation for the arrogance of power, executive recklessness and unbridled corruption.  Until our political parties become truly and fully reformed, Africa cannot move forward or reinvent itself.
For Africa to meet the challenges of the 21st Century and show the world that it is reinventing itself, parties must begin to respect their own rules so as to produce credible, capable, courageous and visionary leaders that will build the political economy and consolidate democratic institutions and practices.  The parties must begin to perform some of the basic functions of political parties- identify and train leaders, develop policy platforms, present the best aspirants and candidates for office, regulate office holders, conduct research on party and political development, encourage public discourses, and commit openly to the sustenance of democracy.  Without these basic changes, there is no hope for Africa.  Existing contraptions that are called political parties will continue to produce politicians that dislike democratic practices and lack the necessary vision to transform the continent for progress.  The need for political, constitutional and electoral reforms are, indeed, very urgent.

Step Four: Review the Constitution: Build it on the people

If the constitution is the road roadmap with which nations travel to collectively desired and defined destinations, then they must truly reflect the wishes, hopes and dreams of the people who must collectively compact it to give it legitimation. Most African States and leaders think that this is a joke.  While countries like Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Namibia, and South Africa opted for variants of participatory constitution making as mechanisms for mobilizing the populace, resolving festering conflicts, and reforming the nature of governance; others like Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Nigeria have used constitution making as a strategy for organizing a transition from military dictatorship to democratic rule.  Laudable as these new developments are, some have unfortunately not been guided by any systematic articulation of mechanisms and principles of constitution-making.  Hence, at the academic and policy levels, the relationship between constitutionalism and governance is yet to be fully appreciated in Africa.  Many leaders simply assume that it is enough to enact or compact a new constitution.  In reality, that is only the beginning of the road to developing and nurturing a culture of constitutionalism.
It is true that where constitutions have emerged from a participatory, people-driven, consultative and bottom-up approach, they have become veritable weapons for addressing the national question, mobilizing the people, increasing political education, addressing the needs of non-bourgeois communities, and laying new foundations for democratic politics.  The resort to such popular approaches to constitution making is part of the contemporary strategy for eliminating political cobwebs by dismantling existing structures of oppression and undemocratic politics, and establishing new and democratic patterns of governance.  To be sure, the making of a democratic constitution does not automatically resolve all national contradictions and conflicts.  It also does not automatically guarantee good governance and good leadership.  But the constitution would have meaning and value only if it remains on the political screens of the people irrespective of class, religion, gender, generation, and location.  In other words, the people must continue to see it as the embodiment of their democratic aspiration, the basis of governance, and the instrument for guaranteeing their ultimate power in the political balances.
This process can be enhanced if, and only if the constitution contains the relevant provisions that build the necessary institution(s) for outreach and civic education.  Such an institution would be constitutionally mandated to design and implement strategies for making the constitution a living document, building ownership around it, making it available and accessible to all in society, and encouraging the people to deploy it in the defense of their individual and collective rights.  Aside from ensuring that the constitution is translated into as many local languages as possible to make it accessible to all, specific measures must be designed to promote a robust and continuous civic education.  Of course, the constitution must be produced in large quantities and distributed to all citizens free of charge.  For instance, South Africa produced five million copies of its draft constitution in 1995 and the Constitutional Assembly made every effort to distribute this to generate further debates.  When the final constitution was ratified, it produced eleven million copies in all eleven national languages for distribution with special attention to the military, prisons, schools, libraries, and correctional services. All post office boxes received a copy of the new constitution while 500,000 copies were distributed through civil society groups.  Each copy of the constitution was accompanied with an Illustrated Guide which was also available in South Africa’s eleven national languages.  A teachers’ aid was produced as were over a million copies of a human rights comic.  As evidence of sensitivity to the physically disadvantaged, “tape aids and Braille versions of the Constitution and guide were available to visually impaired members of the community.”  In Ghana, Uganda, Eritrea and Ethiopia there are empowered agencies to educate citizens on the constitution.
It is disappointing that Nigeria is yet to grasp the meaning of a people-centred and people-driven constitution-making process much less the need for a culture of constitutionalism.  The on-going exercise will culminate in some form of amendment but will not resolve the national question or establish a people-centred constitutional governance process.   Nigerians are once again missing the opportunity to use constitutional amendment to deal with issues of re-federalisation, fiscal federalism, local governance, citizenship, structures of governance, socio-economic and human rights to mention a few.

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