Elections in Africa: give us this day our daily bread, and all our problems are solved.

Author:Matlou, Matlotleng


Until proved otherwise it is widely accepted that humanity originates from Africa, so also the foundation of civilisation; then migrating s to other continents over the centuries leaving no part of the globe uninhabited, presently. Through adapting to different climes, local conditions, natural selection and mixing of different peoples, today largely three major human physical variants, exist. In Africa they are represented by the--Bantu-Benue-Congo Negroids mainly south of the Sahara; Hamatic Semitic Afro-Mediterranean caucasoids found in North Africa and Sudanic Mongoloids; representing over 2,000 distant and close-related languages and cultures. These shared origins, largely south of the Sahara, created a commonality of culture, laws, governance systems and other attributes amongst Africans that exist up to today, even as foreigners inhabited and colonised Africa; espoused through Ubuntu, that a person is a person because of others, communality especially in land ownership,, rights to life, education, freedom of movement, justice, participation in and benefit from community affairs, and work etc as outlined by Williams (1974:171-186) amongst others. Niang (2006: 75-77) further elaborates through the 1236 Kurufan Fuga Charter which still guides some west African societies, though some of its tenets contradict modern international human rights conventions. Various polities across this vast, heterogeneous continent underwent largely autonomous development but with interesting similarities as per the charter mentioned above, founded on the principles of common purpose and inter-linkages and inter-dependence between people.

Much as there were conflicts and the rise and fall of states across Africa, when there was stability there developed space for greater participation in public affairs, even where slavery existed. People captured during conflict, were often integrated into society on the basis that all humans are inter-dependant. Power was diffused in the various monarchies across Africa; rulers or leaders were rarely absolute; accession to various state offices was based on elections, and succession was not always automatic with the people having a say in choosing rulers. There was separation of powers and rulers were assisted by councils, advisory bodies and law makers. Feudalism did not really take hold because there was no widespread stratification like in other societies. Even though there were castes, there was a limitation to exploitation, less fortunate persons were to be assisted and land could not be alienated since it belonged to all. Leaders were required to consult widely in taking decisions, certainly with the public representatives. Individual freedoms were assured to large extent. Democracy has its roots in Africa and from here some foreigners learnt the tenets and adapted it in their countries. This very interaction led to African resources being fraudulently acquired by foreigners and being utilised to under-develop, control and castigate Africa. This explains why today Africa is at the bottom of the global ladder.

Africa and Its Relations with Foreigners: Exploitation, Enslavement, Colonisation and Marginalisation

Precolonial Africa consisted of over 10,000 polities with different political and socioeconomic organisation. These ranged from small hunter gather groups of the KhoiSan, clans and villages spread across central, east, Horn and southern Africa to the city states and larger empires of Angola, Congo, Dahomey, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gao, Ghana, Mali, Nubia, Oyo, Songhai, Zimbabwe and Zulu etc. The topography of the land especially in the east of high plateaus and rift valleys, deserts in the north; climate and preponderance of wild animals influenced where people settled and their development. Some of the major economic activities were agriculture, arts and craft, hunting, bronze and iron smelting, livestock breeding, mining, trading etc.

Being divided into so many states of varying sides, meant lack of size advantage and unity, limited power and incapacity to effectively stave off foreign invasion and other dangers (especially with Ubuntu values which welcome foreigners, leading to the loss of African independence and resources). The denigration, exploitation and humiliation of Africa started from the time foreigners landed on its shores: Phoenicians (800 BC); Persians (525 BC); Macedonians led by Alexander (333 BC); Romans led by Caesar (48 BC); Arabs (C7th); Europeans (C15th) and Ottomans (C16th); from then Africa has been at the receiving end of the negatives of globalisation. Arabs commenced their enslaving activities from their arrival until the C20th, taking more than 18 million Africans mainly to the eastern world. Barbary pirates or corsairs also called Ottoman corsairs were North African Arabs also enslaved southern European; transporting to the Americas more than one million commencing in the C13th until 1830, until France conquered Algiers. The US navy formed in March 1794 was actually a protection against the Barbary. Arabs colonised all of North Africa, Arabising the local cultures and converting the people to Islam.

Today almost one third of the African land mass is under Arabs. They also sought to spread their religion and culture to other parts of like east and west Africa, usually through holy wars (jihads). Europeans initially traded commodities and manufactured goods with Africans whose kingdoms were often far advanced than them. However, with the benefits of the industrial revolution, increasing military superiority, need for labour in the Americas, they turned to enslaving Africans from the C15th to C19th taking more than 12 million people; the most productive in procreation and work, plus youth who were the future. Many perished in the process and untold suffering was rained upon those captured. This was genocide, rape and dehumanisation of Africans and those of them that colluded with the enslavers soon suffered similar fates. Africa's resources--intellectual, human, financial and material--became fair game for all and sundry; culminating in enslavement and ultimately in being colonised. In this process African culture, history were corrupted and falsified; being replaced by that of the exploiters and conquerors. The divineness, solidarity, unity, justice, consensus driven, communalism, democratic and human rights bases of African society, were eroded and soon replaced by Arab and European systems of greed, individualism, exploitation and undemocratic rule.

The enslaved undertook numerous uprisings; escapes; destruction of property; cultural assertion and many abolitionist groups like Sons of Africa in London composed of Africans mainly ex-slaves themselves campaigned against slavery. Africans resistance was more successful against the Europeans and Americans than the Arabs who virtually eliminated or assimilated them into their societies. The Maroons escaped and formed their own communities in the Caribbean and in Haiti the 1791 African rebellion led to independence on 01 January 1804, defeating the French, Spanish and US allies. However, they were forced to pay a crippling debt for this to the French and USA until the 1940s, never recovering from this sword of Damocles remaining today highly underdeveloped and poorest country in the western hemisphere.

Interestingly, the industrial revolution financed by exorbitant profits made from exploitative extraction of labour provided more productive machinery and technology therefore undermining its own success and rationale for slavery. Unsurprisingly, the British the biggest enslavers who were also the most advanced industrially led the charge to abolish slavery. Slavery was abolished in 1807 in Britain, but continued in other countries formally ending in Brazil (having received over 4 million enslaved people) in 1888. From 1808-60, the British navy, strongest then globally through its West African Squadron seized over 1,600 ships and freed over 150,000 people. To add insult to injury, former slave owners instead of who were exploited and developed other lands with no compensation were compensated for losing their property! Some of the global corporates Barclays bank; Lloyds; etc existing today were from that era. Europeans found that they could get more of the commodities produced in the Americas from Africa cheaper, whilst supplying them with manufactured goods at exorbitant prices. Europeans then turned their efforts to colonialism through their explorers, armed forces and missionaries.

This laid the foundation for the Kongo (Berlin) Conference of 15 November 1884 to 26 February 1885, 129 years ago, where 13 European countries (1) and the United States met and partitioned Africa. Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Turkey ended up with colonies. By 1914 when Britain annexed Egypt only vastly reduced Ethiopia and Liberia maintained a measure of independence. African subjugation and humiliation continued for 60 odd years when the winds of decolonisation blew thunderously through the continent eventually reaching South Africa in 1994. Presently the only colonies are Saharawi Democratic Republic which Morocco, another African country took over in the 1970s with the departure of the Spanish; and various islands under France and the USA. However, independence did not mean Africa had control over its affairs as it became a pawn in the ensuing cold war between the East and West; marginalised in the global socioeconomic hierarchy being largely an export of cheap raw materials and a consumer of expensive finished imports. Indeed another scramble for Africa is ongoing; the Arabs and West are joined or being superseded by emerging nations led by China, India and Brazil. Africans are to blame for naivety when engaging with foreigners, not learning from their bitter past and mentally liberating themselves.

African Genesis of Democracy and its progression across the...

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