The relationship between Africa and the West remains controversial when it comes to democracy. In international relations, developed countries seem to prefer Realpolitik and manipulate human rights and democracy to pursue their imperialist interests. Bernard Kouchner, French Minister for Foreign Relations, said on 10 December 2008 in an interview with the daily Le Parisien-Aujourd’hui that there was “a permanent contradiction between human rights and the foreign policy a State, even in France.” Our concern is to know the gaps observed in Africa’s democratisation and what needs to be done to fill them.
Participation and Representation
Democracy presupposes representation in institutional bodies and participation in decision-making. By making decisions about Africa in the absence of Africans, the international community violates this democratic principle and raises ethical issues. For example, explain that military interventions on African soil are against the African Union’s advice, as was Libya’s case in 2011? How can you explain that security in Nigeria was discussed in France on 17 May 2014 instead of being mentioned in Africa and, better still, in the African Union within the framework of an inter-African dialogue? As it stands, democracy is delegitimised on the continent, which sees it as a Western World domination tool. Therefore, it is necessary to open up international bodies such as the United Nations Security Council to African States. It is also essential to develop their mechanisms for transmitting popular will per Article 21, Paragraph 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1945, which states that “the will of the people is the basis of the authority of the public powers.”
Transparency, Free Competition, and Sovereignty
Democracy also presupposes transparency in managing public affairs, free competition, and the people’s sovereignty. How can we understand that some former colonisers like France still intervene in African presidents’ choice to violate the free competition principle? How to understand that the wealth of the African subsoil is still exploited in violation of African right to information? How can we understand that some African States are even ignorant of the exact quantities of oil and other natural resources drawn from their subsoil, as was Congo and Gabon with Elf? Also, how can we understand that “development aid” is presented as a “bonus to democracy” when the pretext of human rights is often used to destabilise “free” regimes which threaten imperialist interests?
With regard to France, for example, everything starts from La Baule, where, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, President François Mitterrand decreed the democratisation of Africa on 20 June 1990 during the 16th Conference of Heads of State of Africa and France. The French President had said that the wind of freedom that blew in the East must also blow in Africa. Indeed, the 37 countries were invited to accelerate their democratisation process to perpetuate their exchanges with the North. It was a discourse of “democracy for trade” which unfortunately marked the turning point in the transfer of African countries’ priorities from internal to external affairs. The political objective was, therefore, to please France. Foreign forces hold the cursor of democracy according to their interests. They are the ones who declare a free and transparent election questionably, and they are the ones who declare a regime to be frequentable, legitimate or not. For example, the coup is sometimes condemned like Captain Sanogo in Mali in 2012 and sometimes accepted like that of Michel Djotodia in CAR in 2013. Also, the constitution’s modification is often condemned or tolerated according to international interests, as in Côte d’Ivoire, where Laurent Gbagbo’s actions to remain in power had been condemned in 2010 – Alassane Ouattara in 2020 or Alpha Condé in Guinea are tolerated. This poses a problem of equal treatment central to democracy. The international community, therefore, intervenes promptly only in countries where global interests are essential and in danger.
Fundamental Rights and Tolerance
Finally, democracy presupposes respect for fundamental rights such as choosing and even more the right to be different or to self-determination. It is based on the principle of tolerance. Yet, the Universalist thesis – rejection of differences – turns out to be the bearer of intolerance, bypassing its ideas off as dogmas that cannot be criticised or questioned without placing oneself outside of humanity. Imported democratisation is assimilated to Africa’s westernisation – civilising mission – which provokes rejection through the rise of micro-nationalisms. Thus, anyone who “challenges” this “civilisation” is considered an enemy of the West. In this regard, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Koffi Anan, declared at the Davos summit on 23 January 2004: “The war against terrorism can sometimes exacerbate these tensions and give rise to concerns regarding the protection of human rights and civil liberties.”
In the end, we realise that it is not democracy – liberal or participatory in the African debate – that is to blame, but the imperial methods of democratisation adopted. Even though it is vital to lead by example in democratising international intervention in Africa, African citizens have to fight for their liberty.
Louis-Marie KAKDEU is Director of Nkafu Fellows and a Policy Fellow in Economics affairs at the Nkafu Policy Institute of the Denis and Lenora Foretia Foundation.