Strengthening Democracy: Strong Men vs Strong Institutions


By Prinston Nimene

This article discusses the impact of strong men and strong institutions in the society and goes further to determine which one would rally round to strengthen democracy in Africa.

The Concept of Democracy:

According to many political commentators, Democracy is ruled by the people, and for the people, either directly or through representatives elected by the people: a system of authority in which people are equal in constitutional rights and dignity, and the supreme control is vested in the people, by a free electoral process. Any society contrary to this is not democracy.

The introduction of democracy in Africa’s gave likelihood to several Africans that a more open method for regularized procedures for leadership range and proxy would hold decentralized, and depersonalized power, ethnic tensions, and get rid of the neo- Patrimonialism that has protracted characterized “political elites” loom to the management of African states.

Democracy in modern Africa:

According to the 2019 democracy index, based on the following democratic factors: electoral management and pluralism, the functioning of government, supporting participation, political culture and civil liberties; Mauritius is the only African country that qualifies as an ample democracy. According to the index, full democratic countries are nations where civil rights and basic political freedoms are not only respected, but also reinforced by a political culture conducive to the thriving of democratic principles. Such societies have an activate system of lawmaking checks and balances, impartial courts whose decisions are enforced, governments that function adequately, and diverse and autonomous media.

From the analysis provided by the democracy index, Africa’s democracy still a long way off mark, and African democracies are currently characterized and threatened by so-called electoral democratic regimes, where democratic procedures coexist with persistently authoritarian practices. Democracies being abused for selfish personal interest, poor management of natural resources, human rights violations, political oppression, and corruption all of which are often done by strong men.

Strong institutions:

Democratic institutions are a set of arrangements for organizing political competition, legitimating leaders and implementing rules of law. Strong institutions are the cornerstone of stable governments. As long as our institutions remain fragile, the present charade in Africa’s called democracy will not lead anywhere except there is a fundamental change in the entire structure which will put an end of strong men rule, and will establish the permanency of strong institutions, so that institutions can provide the right checks and balances to those intent on abusing their positions and abandoning their responsibilities.

A democracy with strong institutions would be able to produce the essential elements of a fully democratic government through proper separation of powers, thereby enabling a system which allows accountability, rule of law, and check and balance. It is obvious that Africa certainly needs such strong institutions, and good citizens who privilege the nation over their other identities. Because building institutions is not just the work of the leadership or a ‘’strongman’ but in addition to the keenness of the citizens to consistently comply with the rule of law.  And, the African Union recognized this under its third of seven aspirations of the ‘Agenda 2063’ — An African of good governance, democracy, respect for Human Rights, justice and the rule of law. However, this can only be done by capable, reliable, transparent, and strong institutions, vibrant legislation, independent judiciary, vibrant public sector and well-functioning civil society: A system that will give life to Africa’s democracy, and works for everyone. These strong institutions will provide the foundations for the next generation of leaders to develop and guide as they encounter the emerging and future challenges of the future.

Strong men:

As I reflect on Africa’s leadership challenges, it is important to note that Africa has a long history of strongmen who have spent decades in power, and have failed so miserably. The “Big Men” of Africa’s politics is a fascinating subject. More than centuries after the majority of African nations gained their independence, there is still too little sustainable economic development on the continent. Political conflicts continue to be explosive, corruption and the rule of law is overwhelmingly deficient. After all, few leaders (strongmen) are so powerful and uncontested in their political decision-making, and have failed miserably. Strong men will never enact laws that will bring real change but only those that will protect their selfish interests and infinitude. How long will we continue to pretend as if “strong men” like Jean-Bédel Bokassa, Yahya Jammeh, and many others never took power in Africa. Bokassa who made himself President and President for Life, and subsequently led the Central African Republic into deep crisis. He went on and abolished the legislature and constitution. Bokassa was overwhelmed by absolute power, and proclaimed himself emperor and renamed the country the “Central African Empire” and spent more time brutalizing his own citizens who he referred to as enemies. He killed farmers for protesting an increased in food prices. Bokassa lavished one-third of the country’s budget on his coronation of his idol Napoleon Bonaparte. He spent today’s equivalent of $80 million on the ceremony.

Yahya Jammeh repress critics, including journalists, citizens, and political opponents. Political   opponent who were critical of his regime disappeared after being picked up by soldiers in plain-clothes, and individuals languished under indefinite detention for years without charge or trial. Jammeh also ordered the killing of students, and was accused by three women of raping and sexually abusing them. Under Jammeh leadership corruption and human right were the order of the day, and Jammeh orchestrated the embezzlement of nearly US$1 billion of public funds. He ran the country like a criminal cartel, and left it with poor health care, bad educational system, bankrupt economy and under develop, and less than 1,000 km of paved road. The likes of Bokassa, Jammeh, and many others were/are absolute tyrant, and under the watch of these strong men the African economy fall, poverty rate increased, and brutal abuse of power rampage as democracy perished.  Nobody was spared from their wrath, not even their cabinet members. Innocent children were equally victimized by these strong men. Strong men are not interested in laws that would move the country forward. Visionless and incompetent.

Africa continues to move in the opposite direction and the suffering of vast majority of the people painfully appears not to have any expiry date. And things will be this way once the fundamentals aren’t addressed with strongmen. Strongmen have dominated Africa’s political landscape for a long time, and only interested in pursuing personal gains, and not uplifting the masses for which many have perceived them as evils.

What Africa’s needs is benevolent strong men and women, leaders, who are firm, just and act out of conviction, like our liberation heroes, our Fathers of the continent, and a few other pillars of moral authority and champions of the African cause to establish, nurture, enhance, and tinker with our institutions. Because inside strong institutions there should be benevolence leaders to make conscious decisions every day to serve the people. After all, this is the key responsibility and ‘deliverable’ of leaders and of leadership, and this will adjust our political structure into strong institutions to enable the advancement and prosperity of the continent. This will take time, but also the economic prosperity and obedience to rule of law that exists in western countries can be attributed to functional strong institutions, and not strong men.

The Author:

Prinston Anthony Sieh Moosh Nimene is a master candidate at cavendish University Uganda studying international relations and diplomatic studies.


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