I can’t imagine that the foot soldiers, the ordinary people as well as activists and intellectuals, who waged struggles for independence did so simply to see colonial rule replaced by authoritarian, dictatorial and despotic rulers and regimes. Tragically, the outcome of many liberation struggles has been ugly aberrations of the people’s dreams to be free and self-determining. Not only are vast numbers of Africans “citizens” of countries where the rulers/regimes are pocketing, pilfering and giving away precious resources, all too often they have to suffer political repression or an absence of meaningful and effective channels to participate in the decisions that affect their lives. As a matter of principle, African people should demand and expect the creation of inclusive structures and institutions which encourage, facilitate and maximize participation in the political life of the nation.
I mention “inclusive” because many African states are simple reflections of the boundaries and divisions imposed by European colonialists when they carved up the continent at the Congress of Berlin in 1884. The colonizers had no respect for ethnic/national boundaries and therefore created colonies which artificially included portions of territory from distinct ethnic nations. This set the stage for potential tensions/conflicts between ethnic groups once independence was won/ granted. Emulating “democratic” systems that utilize “winner take all” procedures are likely to exacerbate divisions between ethnic groups. Indeed, what we have witnessed too often are African rulers who play various ethnic groups against each other while relying on their ethnic bases to dominate governments and utilizing the bureaucracy and public till to benefit and enrich themselves and their ethnic compatriots. This is not a prescription for healing and building national cohesion. As a matter of principle, African people should demand the enactment of laws that require inclusion of all ethnic groups in every branch and body of government. Indeed, “coalition governments” should be the order of the day when a nation is comprised of diverse ethnic groups. Inclusive, meaningful participation in the affairs of state is a benchmark for good governance and leadership.
Finally, respect for basic human rights must be a hallmark of African leadership and governance. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a good yard stick to measure adherence to or progress on this principle. Much of what is discussed above is consistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of UDHR. Not only must citizens have avenues to express their views including opposition and dissent, the arbitrary detention, intimidation, torture, brutalization and killing of one’s own people by rulers and regimes is a violation of human rights and must not be tolerated. To reiterate my basic thesis, no matter how “progressive” one’s rhetoric or record as an anti-imperialist and Pan Africanist, it does not exempt a ruler/regime from criticism or repudiation based on the failure to be accountable to principles of progressive governance in the treatment of one’s own people. That’s why I can oppose the U.S. backed NATO assault on Libya without hailing/embracing Gaddafi as a hero.
Devising progressive principles of Pan African governance does not mean that we expect perfection from imperfect human beings, nor the emergence of utopian regimes. It means we should have principles standards to strive for and standards by which we judge, approve and disapprove of rulers/regimes. It is interesting how activists and organizers give rulers/regimes a pass on repressive practices they would never accept/tolerate in the U.S., e.g., bans on the right to peaceful assembly. In some respects a personal guide is to ask yourself if you would be content to live in a nation or under a ruler if you were in the opposition. Rulers and regimes will have their knots and warts; they will not be perfect, but as proponents of the Black freedom/liberation struggle, we must remember our goal should be to create just and humane societies. “We who believe in freedom cannot rest” until we create a new world!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com.
This is the last of a three party commentary by Dr. Daniels on the need to develop progressive principles for pan-African governance.