In May 2000, the Economist magazine published a provocative front page cover titled ‘Hopeless Africa'.
In response, the African intelligentsia, rose in an orchestra of
vitriolic criticisms alleging racism, Afro-pessimism and
neo-colonialism as the only reasons why a major international magazine
would label an entire continent of over 700 million people as
Many on the African side of the debate argued that Africa, if
anything at all, should be dubbed the ‘resilient continent,' citing its
lack of implosion in the face of the multifarious historical and
contemporary challenges that have besieged it.
However, reflecting on political events in Sudan, Guinea, Guinea
Bissau, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria today, there is cause to ponder if
we are not witnessing a creeping reversal of Africa's journey towards
Over the last two decades in particular, my generation has had front row seats at Africa's political theatre.
We have sat at the edge of our seats, watching the twists and turns
in the plots of this African tragic-drama, which could be called
‘Slumdog Politics', as described below.
Plot One: ‘Choreographed Elections'. Slumdog politicians have
mastered the art of choreographing elections to the point of making a
sham appear credible.
This plot, complete with stage props and ‘Ghana-must-go-bag'
wielding stunt men, enables them steal power as opposed to delivering
the democratic rights of the electorate.
They prey on the poverty, religious and the social differences among
their citizens to create divisions, which are used to manipulate actors
in the political sphere to their own ends.
They have also mastered how to manipulate the idealistic
international community by creating illusions of authentic electoral
The trend is now a tried and tested formula used by slumdog politicians in many parts of Africa.
Plot Two: Winner Gets the Second Medal. In Africa's political
theatre, these days it is not unusual that the winner gets the second
medal as a peace offering, while the powerful cheats steal the gold.
In the past year alone, we have seen elections in Kenya and in
Zimbabwe, where the winners are forced to settle for second place,
while the first place goes to the political incumbent ‘in the interest
of peace and national reconciliation'.
How can we continue to participate in the electoral process if we
are constantly reminded that our votes mean nothing, insofar as getting
the leader of our choice is concerned? This is democracy distorted.
Plot Three: The ‘Noble' Coup Plotter and the Political Assassin.
Since the beginning of this year, we have witnessed the return of what
we thought was a vestige of Africa's political past in Guinea and in
The coup d'état in Guinea ended the life of the incumbent president, and in Madagascar toppled him.
The bullet once again is replacing the ballot box, though the
African Union's member states have all agreed that only leaders who
come into office through constitutional means will be recognised.
Madagascar has just been suspended, so has Guinea. Has that changed
anything? No. Can the bullet and the ballot co-exist in the democratic
process? I think not.
Plot Four: ‘Monarchical Democracy'. This is the scene where when the
father dies and the son automatically assumes the political throne.
In Nigeria's neighbouring country Togo, the long-time President Gnassingbé Eyadema passed away in 2005.
His son Faure Gnassingbé was automatically ‘pronounced' President by the Chief of the Togolese army.
ECOWAS suspended Togo and sent a delegation to pass on the message
that he would have to hold an election before he was accepted into the
community of states.
And then ensued another exercise in electoral choreography and the
son was eventually enthroned, or shall I say ‘voted' President a few
We saw a similar trend in Congo after the death of Lauren Kabila in
2001. Is this electoral democracy or monarchical democracy? Shall we
soon call our Presidents, "Kings"?
These four unravelling plots in Africa's political theatre give us
in the Nigerian and in the African polity cause for grave concern.
Are these the last stirrings of a dying horse or the beginning of a
new scourge? Or is this a wake-up call, reminding us that the progress
that we have made in our journey towards democracy should not be taken
for granted and can be easily reversed if we are not assiduous enough
in defining and creating the kind of democracy we want, as opposed to
that which is being imposed on us.
Complacency will only bequeath our hard earned democracy to slumdog politicians.
By Dapo Oyewole