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A Review of Francis' Democracy as an Issue in African Philosophy

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By chyke2015
Words 2225
Pages 9
INTRODUCTION
Democracy as we all are aware of is a concept though which some people believe is inherent in the African culture and others believe that it is an ideology of the west which actually got it root from the old Greece. Either or not the idea or from the west of Africa is not the bone of contention here but, if this idea of democracy has actually done well in helping the development of the African person or society or it has done otherwise. Francis Offor idea in this article is to explain to us how democracy is an issue in African philosophy for the reason of improper practice of the ideology which has cost Africa much in terms of development of its people and society at large because it is applied in a manner that does not tally with the African way of democratization. Here he(Francis) also mentioned that such would have been better for all if it is applied in conformity with the cultural setting of the African and not in the westernized sense, because the idea of democracy and it effectiveness depends on the culture of one place or the other. He explained how democracy instead of building the African society has brought it down because of it improper application. But before we move to full details on how Francis explain this in his article let us take a look at the general meaning of the word democracy.

WHAT IS DEMOCRACY?
Democracy according to Wikipedia is a form of government in which eligible citizens may participate equally- either directly by voting for the passing/rejecting of laws or running for office themselves, or indirectly through elected representatives. The term got it origin Greek ‘demokratia’ meaning the rule of people. Which was found ‘demos’ meaning the people and ‘kratos’ meaning power or rule.
For Abraham Lincoln he defined or saw the idea of democracy to be ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people. In other words this definition connotes the people themselves as the government given there mandates to a representational figure to fully represent their interest and not his/her own interest since everyone in the society can’t be a leader at the same time.
Francis Offor in the attempt to give an explanation on why the idea of democracy in a an issue in Africa philosophy started with a brief conceptualization of the word democracy stating how there has been no consensus by scholars on the appropriate delineation of the nature, meaning and even practice of democracy.
From this point Francis Offor identified two types of democracy which has sprung up and also been in practice from time immemorial. He classified them as direct and indirect democracy. He maintained the direct democracy was has it original practice in the in the Greek city states. Which he mentioned that even in fact the word or idea democracy has it origin in two Greek word namely ‘demon’ and ‘kratos’ which refers to or means the rule of the people.
One of the reason why this concept of democracy became problematic Offor mentioned is the conceptual problem with is exposed to attack from several reasons. He maintained that words as we know them carries different transliteration(s) and most often do not conform to the exact concepts they are meant to express, because of the histories surrounding them. As a result of this Offor maintained that with the passage of time, a term or concept can be applied or misconstrued to something it has nothing to do with, differentiating between word and concept. For Offor ‘a word is always a particular language but a concept can be expressed in many different languages’ which makes a concept not linguistically limited to words.
Furthermore, Offor also maintained that the main problem for the conception of democracy is determining who ‘the people’ are and what it means to rule them.
Already this problem had started from the classical conception of ideology, so for Offor the practice of such ideology is problematic in a complex industrial society(s) marked by a high degree of social, economic and political differentiations. To Offor what is common to both direct and representative forms of democracy is the emphasis laid on the role played by ‘the people’ in the management of their own affairs. Offor sees the kind of democracy which is practiced in Africa today as liberal democracy and to him this type of democracy has in it the elements of political correlate of advanced capitalism and its salient characteristics. According to Offor today as the world celebrates the emergence or practice of democracy, Africa despite it speedy rate of democratization, still remain in various crises which means that democracy is not only in crises in the continent but that the institution of liberal democracy in Africa and its adoption by most African states is altogether counterproductive and what he tagged as ‘horrendous’.
Offor maintained that democracy in the Africa continent no doubt has received much publicity in Africa but that this system of government has not worked well on the continent. He maintained that critical indicators has it that Africa today is worse off under democratic governments, than he or she was many years ago before the advent of democratic regimes in the continent. He maintained that from the statistics provided by World Bank report the world gross domestic product and gross national product of sub-Saharan Africa which use to be 5.2 and 2.4 in 1965 has over the years dropped to 1.8 and 0.4 respectively by 1998. More so Africa’s primary commodity trade and her share of foreign direct investment flows to developing countries dropped from 7 and 13 percent in 1970 to less than 0.5 and 5 percent respectively by the late 1990s. Thus, Africa despite it embrace of liberal democracy still lives under the dictatorship of material poverty. Offor maintained that Africa’s own situation is compounded by two other inter-related factors. Firstly the western type of democracy is very expensive to run, secondly which is closely related to the first one is that running this system of government is detrimental to the well-being of African states which not only rank among the poorest in the world, but are also already being plagued by high degree of corruption. Aside the problems of poverty and corruption in Africa, Offor maintained that the peculiar nature of the state institutions in Africa also makes them unreceptive to the western type of democracy. And this is as a result of the level of authoritarianism practiced in Africa despite it embrace of democracy which got it root from colonization through military rule. And to Offor such heavy doses of this authoritarianism contribute to the present collapsing of the democratic experiment in Africa.
In explaining why liberal democracy has been counterproductive in Africa Offor cited the position of Claude Ake on this. He said that Claude Ake compares the historical conditions specific o liberal democracy as they developed in the west, with what obtains in Africa. These conditions according to Claude he mentioned includes ‘the generalization of commodity production and exchange (and hence a market economy), social atomization and organic solidarity… a developed system of capitalist production’. Which he posited in Africa are still rudimentary. Offor maintained that aside the aforementioned Ake posited that for democracy to work effectively, citizens are supposed to be critical about their government and the government are supposed to be tolerant of opinions that may depart sharply from their own. Which was the hallmark of most successful democracies in the European and American continent. Offor maintained that point of the foregoing discussion is to show that liberal democracy has not been able to emancipate the continent from the shackles of underdevelopment, authoritarianism, arbitrary rule and insecurity. He further posited that in the opinion of some, the failure of liberal democracy in Africa is due to the fact that this model of democracy has no direct bearing on the historical and socio-cultural experiences of the African people. Suggesting that our values and idea could be far off better than the mimetic that philosophy.
To him he maintained that western ideology(s) come with alienism which has been imposed on the indigenous people of Africa. Thus it can’t be proposed as being authentic to the African political culture. And it is evident that our values and culture would have been the best in practicing the kind of democracies that suit our values, but instead the African has adopted the western style of democracy and in their characteristic manner, attempted to reproduce in the continent, those familiar institutions associated with this form of government in the west. He posited that according to Sophie Oluwole, a true democracy transcends specific historical institutional forms. It has to do with certain defining values, principles, rules and precepts, according to which a good government, whatever its institutional form must be run. To Offor some of these values, such as participation, accountability, tolerance and human right were the underlying principles of governance in most traditional African societies. Offor pointed out that among the various precolonial traditional communities in Nigeria, participation was operational definition of societal membership. Even the highly centralized communities where ruler existed, such rulers never arrogated to themselves the power to take decision that affected the entire community. Rather, the rulers only had the authority to pronounce decisions taken and policies made in conjunction with several chiefs which was evident among the Bini of southwestern Nigeria.
Offor posited that apart from the principles of participation and consensus, other fundamental elements of traditional African constitutional thought are the principles of accountability, tolerance as well as respect for human rights.
More so according to Offor traditional African political culture embodied the vital elements of tolerance in governance. In fact, Offor maintained that toleration of dissenting views and respect for difference of opinion was well instituted.
Lastly the human freedom according to Offor was a living reality in the political culture of the traditional Africa, especially among the Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria, can be seen in their various concepts, ideas and precepts on human rights and social responsibilities.
Conclusively Offor maintained that it is high time we return the traditional African value system to get a proper democracy because of the elements or principles inherent the African traditional values system. But to him either such should be the total refutation of the colonial idea of democracy or such should be conjoined with the traditional African system of values. Which he opted for the traditional value system and sees the western less viable.
Deducing from the above discussing on democracy as the problem in African Philosophy, though Offor in his attempt has done a wonderful job in analyzing the western style as being problematic and longing for the African to go back to their root, but this raises the fundamental question of since like he mentioned that a word is different from a concept earlier on, how do we even know that what we are going to practiced when we resort to African form of democracy is not going to be the same thing as the west ? How do we discern without having this values in the reality of the values? In every society there are values handed down from one generation to another and these values could be distorted in it passage from one generation to another, so the question is how do we connect these values together without errors and possibly adding some alien thought to it. No idea I ever original and no culture is ever pure because there must be element that has been picked or adopted either knowingly or unknowingly from one traditional or culture to another.
Conclusively, I think that the alien way may not be a problem why we are faced with underdevelopment and some other social vices and instabilities, and also adopting or going back to the African values may not also be a final solution but the self and how we tolerate each other like Offor has posited in his earlier explanation. We must have the feelings of others in our heart and plus we must be contented. The westerners were not the people that told the former Bayelsa Governor to embezzle the state funds, the western type of democracy did not say the people of Africa should not be accountable and transparent in their dealings with the people that gave their mandate to represent them fully, but the self in them is the problem. The people need to be educated in the appropriate manner to know what it means to be a leader of integrity and to fully represent the people in the manner that the society at large would benefit.
Unity is another thing that must be put in mind, regardless of any form of democracy or government we practice, the most important thing to make it effective is unity and good relation with the general populace, if such is missing, then problem is imminent in such dispensation.

REFERENCES
- www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy. 14-12-2014, 18:24pm
- www.democracy-building.info/definition-democracy.html. 16-12-2014, 11:09am
- Francis Offor (2011) “Democracy as an Issue in African Philosophy” in Olusegun Oladipo (ed) Core Issues In African Philosophy, Nigeria: Hope Publication

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