African countries need to develop a hybrid of governing styles to achieve modern-day democracies was the consensus at a recent conference in St. Paul.
Tom Gitaa, the founder and publisher of Mshale Newspaper, who was the keynote speaker urged African governments to re-democratize.
“African countries should use old African democracy processes that were participatory and consultant in nature.” Gitaa said that a combination of traditional African governments, and Western-style democracies would take Africans away from the current myriad of problems that have affected the continent following independence.
“Colonialism interrupted democracies in Africa,” Gitaa said. On the other hand, Gitaa warned Africans against putting all blame on colonialists.
“Some of our problems have nothing to do with the West. Some of these are internal problems, and the underlying fight for power and resources.”
Following his speech, Gitaa engaged other community leaders in a discussion on the success and potential challenges faced Africa in its adoption of such hybrid governments.
Professor Mahmoud El-Kati from Macalester College was curious about how African governments would make progress. “People tend to put too much faith in government. How does Africa see that they build a positive civil society?”
Gitaa recognized the growth of civil societies in many parts of Africa including Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya, these organizations he says, have been instrumental in highlighting ills of government. Gitaa urged Africans in the Diaspora to identify and finance constructive civil societies in their countries of birth.
“It [the growth of civil society] has to be forced, because members of the civil society become the face of change, and are many times terrorized by their current governments.”
A Liberian man in the audience was concerned that “there is a conflict between Western and indigenous communities.” He complained that while Liberia was on a path to democratic and economic growth, many of the indigenous communities are still struggling to enjoy this growth.
“The second scramble for Africa is in Liberia as it is rich in resources. Liberians living in the Diaspora are one of the most educated groups of people in America, so their initiatives to invest in the local economies of their countries will direct money towards development of the country,” said Gitaa.
A member of the audience was skeptical about using European/Western democracies as models of working democracies. He warned, “Neo-colonialists are much more insidious; foreign think-tanks and non-government organizations in many African countries have little input from indigenous communities.”
This conference, Western or Indigenous Democracy: What is the Choice for Africa? was hosted by Africa Today, an organization that describes itself as a “a financial relief organization with the purpose of assisting African communities with diminishing health, education, and economic development.”
The conference highlighted the need for African governments to begin work towards finding a working governing solution.
About Julia N. Opoti
A former Mshale editor, Julia Nekessa Opoti is now the producer and host of the radio show: Reflections of New Minnesotans on AM950 . She also edits/publishes Kenya Imagine.