While reading Democracy Works- Rewiring Politics to Africa’s Advantage, an academic research book co-authored by Greg Mills, Olusegun Obasanjo, Jeffrey Herbst and Tendai Biti; I had sensed that it hadn’t been written for an ordinary person.
Despite what I’m sure were fantastic efforts by some of the authors, the book seems to shoot above the head of the average African.
It does very little to address crucial issues inside of struggling democracies, gives no glimpse into the democratic protests taking place in many African countries (as I had hoped it would) and gives no true insight into the historical imbalances of power that have helped to ferment authoritarianism.
Most of the research is concerned with economic growth rather than economic equality.
Arguing in favour of the Mauritius model, the book claims that the success of the country can be attributed to none other than, simply put; free markets and a lack of consequences for imperialist abuse and historical injustice.
The preservation of colonial icons through statues, the lack of government interference in cases of foreign theft of resources, the inability to redress historical inequality of wealth, and the favouritism of a one-industry monopoly; are all, according to Democracy Works, the reasons for the success of democracy in Mauritius.
At no point are readers told what is meant by democratic success.
Especially given that despite Mauritius’ stable GDP and booming tourism industry, the country harbours impoverished populations.
Despite the disappointing capitalist rant issued by the authors in the formative part of the book, I believed that it would be more progressive on social issues further on.
My hopes were dashed when I came to find that this was not the case, the writers only go on to bash Rwanda and Singapore for their autocratic ways, without stopping to ask themselves why the only options they see fit for Africans is a choice between weak democracies that lack a backbone and violent autocracies both of which pander to imperialists and the bourgeoisie.
When they finally get around to the topic of human rights, we are given a mere few pages that speak only about press freedom and functioning judiciaries.
Nothing on women’s rights. Nothing on the rights of the disabled, LGBTI, children, and elders.
Nothing about accessibility to health care or education. Nothing about dealing with environmental damage or destruction of food sources, or exploitation of natural resources, or the prevalence of environmental catastrophe.
The lack of diversity in outlook could be blamed on the books large arc.
Did they really attempt to analyse every African country’s state of political well-being in a single book?
Did they know, going in, that Africa is in fact not one big country, but many different countries?
That it has a myriad of histories, varying cultures & beliefs and so many social issues it could fill twenty thousand similar books?
How can a single book hold all these identities, crisis and conflicts?
Democracy Works was not written for Africans to read, understand, relate to and use to build from.
It does not give us an understanding of the benefits of democracy or the ways in which democracy can and should be used to build better and brighter futures.
Instead, it was written for Europeans so that they might have another reason to blame Africans for our own poverty and suffering.
It was written to evade the very real and scary conversations about colonialism.
Consider that there is not a single page that addresses the dilemma of the everyday African voter, but an entire chapter entitled “A Role for Outsiders?”, within which it is discussed how pitiful it is that European leaders often struggle to “reward” African leaders, with money, for their democratic ways because this might be seen as bad.
Democracy Works is an illuminating and insightful book to read if you are wondering how not to write about Africa.