Democracy or Peace?

Democracy should lead to peace, security and development - and not the other way round, as we have seen in many new democracies in Africa where things are moving in the opposite direction. Elections in Africa - rather than producing a better life for the people, in terms of goods and services – have actually produced more violence. Nigeria is one example of where elections have not led to democratic governance. Why is this so? Victor Adetula, current holder of the Claude Ake Visiting Chair, believes that the conditions necessary for liberal democracy are still lacking in many African states.

– For instance, conflicts are part of the democratic process and the state should be able to effectively mediate in such conflicts rather than allow conflicts to escalate. Unfortunately, the state in many African countries is not only embedded in these conflicts, it lacks the capacity to resolve them, says Victor Adetula.

Also, many governments in Africa are not meeting the expectations of the people. Political reforms in many countries created some opportunities for the people to engage with the state and its agencies, in order to demand good governance.   With democratisation of the public space, the people now have the opportunity to express their frustrations in the form of mass protests and other civil actions which, unfortunately, the state is resisting with increased intimidation. This is the trend from Egypt to Zimbabwe and on to Uganda.
The most important requirement for liberal democracy to thrive is the conduct of periodic free and fair elections. However, the experience since the “wave of democratisation” in Africa during the 1990s has shown elections to be linked to fraud, greed, corruption and violence.

– Perhaps the present concern should be how to help build effective structures and institutions that will promote good governance and not necessarily “traps of electoral democracy”, says Victor Adetula.
To him, good governance is characterised by positive peace rather than by the holding of elections. Positive peace is more than just the absence of war, it's about decent living conditions for the citizens. This is something that is presently scarce in many African countries and an underlying root cause of many violent conflicts in Africa. Victor Adetula therefore believes that conflict research and conflict management strategies require a development approach which goes in-depth in order to understand the people's needs, as well as all the dimensions of conflicts in the society.   This approach transcends a mere focus on military and diplomatic engagements to take in political and social considerations.

– Military support as a form of international response may be able to calm tensions, but on its own is not able to create and sustain peace. That is why no sooner are the soldiers withdrawn than the warring sides go back to their trenches, because the root causes of the conflicts are not satisfactorily dealt with, says Victor Adetula.

The concerns and anxieties by some members of the international community about the wave of armed conflicts in Africa is noted. However, merely handling in template for how to address conflicts in Africa does not help matters.    There is a need to involve Africans in their own issues.

– This is the logic behind the call for “African solutions for African problems”.   While it is recognised that this can be abused by some African leaders it does make sense to give the people adequate voice in the discussion of their problems. African societies will develop, but not with templates designed for other societies, says Victor Adetula.

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