African countries striving to improve their systems of government should lean heavily on traditional chiefdoms when running institutions, says Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi.
Traditional systems of governance in Africa, including Consultation and respect for different views could help the continent improve its balance sheet and avoid harmful external influences, he added on Wednesday in Gaborone during a conference on “Constitutionalism and Democratic Consolidation in Africa” co-sponsored by the University of Botswana and the National Democratic Institute, an American mind-tank.
President Masisi leads a country that has had a stable democracy in which since 1966, when it gained independence from the British Presidents routinely end their terms and resign from office. The country is currently changing its constitution.
But far from seeing democracy as a modern system of government here, President Masisi says that Botswana’s stability is due to the traditional cultural structures of the Batswana people.< /p>
“We firmly believe that Botswana’s democracy is unique,” he told an audience on Wednesday. “Its architects based it on principles already practiced in our Setswana culture, such as dialogue, gaining respect by giving it first, and free speech,” he added.
These practices are known locally as “Kgotla”. System, the traditional system that functioned like a congress to exchange ideas and hear suggestions on issues such as finding water, treating the sick, or whether to move. In all these cases, the villages had leaders, but they did not dictate decisions. Stray people were also punished, but there was never collective punishment, such as families for an individual’s mistake. And before one was convicted, he had a day to save his skin in an open court.
Botswana is often celebrated for taking its economy from being the least developed in 1966 to being the most developed, according to the World Bank upper middle class today, who cite their political stability as one of the reasons for their rise. The President is elected indirectly by the party with the majority in the National Assembly.
This conference took place against the background of recent coups in Africa and various countries trying to change their constitutions to remove term limits.
But the debate here was also about whether Africa should embrace a democracy with term limits or opt to have strong men or strong women to speed up decision-making.
” The assumption that a more authoritarian leader is likely to deliver more development is wrong. It is not supported by any evidence,” said Sipho Malunga, director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.
“There may be a facade of efficiency, determination and ruthlessness in decision-making, but there is no evidence sure that he will deliver more than one democratic. So, from where I’m sitting, even if democracy doesn’t work, I want it for heaven’s sake. I want to be able to breathe I want to be able to say what I want,” he said at a meeting on Wednesday.
Africa’s strongmen have often argued against certain values of democracy, such as civil liberties, calling them foreign and imposed. However, some experts say democracy has always been present in Africa, just not seen as such.
“The notion that certain issues, such as women’s participation, are Western-leaning does not come from a real case. Democratic principles are the same no matter where you apply them,” Yvonne Anyango Oyieke, Deputy Secretary General of the African Network of Constitutional Lawyers, told The EastAfrican.
“Historically, we had women in Africa who were very powerful leaders and societies that were very egalitarian in their own way. So the best way to implement democracy is through structures that we really understand,” she argued.
In her opinion, some societies like the Giriama and Agikuyu in Kenya had women who wielded more power and yet more power Societies remained well governed. Other societies had handshakes, others had an unwritten code against bad behavior, including corrupt deals.
“African governments are, for the most part, resilient to foreign and imported ideas. We should find solutions that are African and work for Africans,” said Dr. Elvis Fokala, President of the African Network of Constitutional Lawyers.
“If you look at cultural frameworks, how they’re structured in a way, they’re all positive. Even if they didn’t import any ideas from the West, you will see that some of these attitudes are very democratic.”
Nevertheless, these societies had no leaders who transcended their welcome.
“The idea of change is very important. We need new thinking and dealing with the bankruptcy of ideas,” said Dr. Fokala on the sidelines of the summit opposite The EastAfrican.
“The presence of strong political parties, institutions and the judiciary can help improve governance.”
Restrictions tenure or handshakes can only be part of a long list of things to do in institution building. However, in some African countries like Mali and Guinea, where elected leaders have been overthrown by the military and the public has cheered the coup plotters, experts believe civilian politicians have abused popularity.
“In Mali… what we are up to is a process that I would describe as intellectual stagnation,” said Dr. Fokala.
“What our leaders lack in this country is innovation…those who have come through coups have identified gaps in leadership. But they also come in with false promises and can’t work.”