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Anyaoku: Africa’s Democracy “Still a Plant of Tender Growth”
Former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, has said “democracy in Africa is still a plant of tender growth and so needs care and strengthening, and needs strengthening urgently.”
Anyaoku said this on Saturday while delivering the opening address at the Chinua Achebe Colloquium on Africa held at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, United States.
Speaking on the “general issue of strengthening democracy in Africa”, Anyaoku said, the issues connected with the building and consolidation of democracy in Africa today stem from two related sources – “the legacy of the old politics and the needs of the new.”
Under the old style of politics, he said while opposition parties were not banned outrightly, the citizenry were made to perceive them as illegitimate organisations operating against the national will and interest.
This, he said, was made easy by the fact that the notion of political opposition did not exist in any indigenous African lexicon.
Anyaoku added that the campaign against opposition parties was usually coupled with various forms of oppression, which made opposition figures to defect to the ruling party.
He said while the old style politics which dominated the continent for three decades was now over, its legacy would take sometime to undo.
He added that this had cast a long shadow over the present efforts to build democracy in Africa.
According to him, in some African countries, including those which had made transition from one party system to multi-party politics, opposition parties were still made to feel that they exist more on the surface.
The former diplomat further noted that the consultations that ought to proceed between government and opposition which would have helped, immensely, “to facilitate consensual goverment do not take place.”
He also noted that chief among the challenges of consolidating democracy in Africa was the issue of governance, adding that it was the absence of good governance and visionary leadership that was responsible for the political instability, ethno-religious conflicts, corruption and economic underdevelopment that had become widespread on the continent.
At the colloquium, which was an assemblage of reputed international scholars and distinguished diplomats, including former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Walter Carrington and his wife, Dr. Arese, the former scribe of the Commonwealth also paid tribute to Professor Achebe describing him as ” a special African whom I am proud and honoured to call a compatriot and a fellow Igbo”.
Noting that Achebe needed no praise from him, Anyaoku added that there could be “no running away from the fact that Chinua Achebe occupies a special place in the world of letters.”
He said that even though Achebe had been projected as an icon of letters, ” but there is the other Chinua Achebe, the tenacious defender of human rights, justice and fair play. A man who speaks truth to power at a drop of a hat. It is all these qualities coming together which have made him such an enduring hero and prophet to generations of Africans.”
The colloquium continues on Sunday with a focus on the growing influence of China in Africa. Achebe is billed to present the opening address at that session.