What can American multi-racial democracy learn from Africa?

Alhaji U. N’jai: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 January 2021:

On January 6, 2021, the entire world watched in shocked and awe as rioters mostly white supporters of President Trump stormed the US Capitol in Washington DC to intimidate and force Congress to stop the transition of power.

This was by all measures an insurrection, a failed coup, and a glaring attack on exceptionalism of American democracy. After all, democracy has been America’s biggest global export, yet January 6th deeply exposed in an opaque way its superficiality, flaws, and the lie unfamiliar to the rest of the world.

Violence and suppression of votes in American politics directed at Blacks and minorities by white politicians is not new, and January 6th was simply the case of the same white politicians been targeted by an angry white mob.

The less heavy-handed and even accommodating nature of the Capitol Police with these angry mob merely speak to the white privilege and the racial dichotomy upon which American exceptional democracy had thrived on.

The US Capitol incident represented an attack on multi-racial democracy by a mob of mainly white rioters bent on maintaining the status quo in American politics. Often, the descendants of the oppressor (whites) are trapped as James Baldwin (Letter to My Nephew, Progressive Magazine, 1962) noted in a history they do not understand. They simply do not understand the historical basis of their privilege in society and how that connects to the marginalized condition of the oppressed.

Multi-racial democracy is essentially new to America, few generations old, fragile, and fraught with challenges that are all too familiar with Africans. In fact, America may as well now need to learn as much from Africa’ s rich imperfect experience with multi-ethnic and pluralistic democracy.

Contrary to popular opinion, American democracy has never worked well in so far as being socially just and inclusive of its oppressed racial minorities. It has seemingly worked in the past through a deliberate and intentional effort at maintaining white dominance, slavery, and the violent suppression of black and minority participation in the electoral process.

The process of suppression of multi-racial democracy in America has continued in recent times with a system that favors the rich and wealthy, consumed in corruption, capitalist greed, racism, and marginalization of ethnic minorities through a calculated process of structural violence.

In the wake of Trump, Covid-19 Pandemic, George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, and police brutality directed disproportionately on its black population, the US must now deal with an increasingly complex multi-racial, conscious, and pluralistic political economy for which it lacks the requisite experience to handle.

Four years of Trump, its handling of Covid-19 pandemic, race relations, and post-US 2020 elections have all severely damaged US global standing. It is time for America to deconstruct and decolonize its existing democratic model locally and in relation to the rest of the world.

On multi-racial democracy, America must now learn from the rest of the world rather than focus on being conveyors of a process that is deeply flawed at home. Africa’s rich pluralistic democratic experience structured on multiple layers of ethnicities, class, religions, western education and traditionalist, urban and rural dichotomies, and colonial experience offers a good starting point.

I say Africa, and it may sound ridiculous to many as to what almighty America can learn from Africa, whose democratic process often brings the butt of jokes from analysts and international observers.

Africa, nonetheless, represents the most dense and complex political economies in the world with over 2,000 ethnicities, and a mosaic of three to four ethnicities within a square mile radius in some locations. The diversity of groups, dialects, norms, values, and systems even within the same ethnicities is remarkable.

The existence of such mosaic cultures and diversity points to a precolonial Africa environment of democracy, consultative engagement, and peaceful systems of political, social, and economic organization that were significantly and often violently disrupted by slavery, colonialism, and current neo-colonial influence.

This does not vindicate the Africans from any form of violence against one another; Kingdoms or empires have been formed across the African continent, but these have largely resulted in co-existence as against the complete annihilation of native Americans in the United States.

Fundamental to cohesion and resilience within the political and economic democratic organization of traditional African systems has been its emphasis on the collective (Ubuntu), consultative dialogue or approach, communal values, social justice, empathy, and tolerance.

The biggest challenge in Africa has not been the lack of effective systems of political and economic organization but self-doubt in those systems now further deepened by neoliberal influence, western glorification, and a brainwashed curriculum that fuels miseducation and self-hate.

Post-independence, most African nations sought to continue with the disruptive harsh colonial systems of administration or adopt American democratic models and abandoning precolonial systems that worked effectively for societal organization in its pluralistic traditional environment.

The overlay of these colonial and American modules on the African traditional systems brought on democratic dispensation processes that were inimical to the body politic of the people, resulting in coup d’états, systemic corruption, ethnic polarization, wherein political parties based on ethnicities and regions emerged and linked to resource allocation by the states.

Mediocrity on the part of the African elites or leaderships is yet to allow total liberation and the development of sound ideologies for political, social, and economic organization of its people. Western colonial and neoliberal powers enjoy the mediocrity, short sightedness, and lack of transformational leadership as it maintains their unfettered access to our resources.

Unlike Africa, America multi-racial democracy has the luxury of ownership of its own destiny and devoid of the external colonial or neo-colonial forces found in Africa. No external leader asked President Trump to step down neither was labeled a dictator, international election observers are not on the ground, and control of American resources by external forces is not on the line.

Nevertheless, American multi-racial democracy is young, fragile, and has potential to implode under racial hate, class struggles, marginalization, and capitalist greed that put resources in the hands of the rich one percent and 99 percent without.

The American state is far more militarized, gun ownership is high with several paramilitary groups in existence, hence the potential for domestic terrorism or insurgency due to failures in democratic process maybe high.

As in Africa, the challenge for multi-racial democracy in America will largely hinge on building national cohesion along a strong positive sense of identity, that leads to unity and transformation. This would depend on how white people accepts the new diverse status quo in politics and how readily they are willing to give up on some privileges.

Four years of Trump and emergence of multi-racial democracy is pushing America to the brink of chaos. Essentially, America is now where Africa was post-independence, when it comes to its young and fragile multi-racial democracy.

African multi-ethnic democracies built on the African cultural foundations of communalism and ubuntu have displayed remarkable resilience despite years of slavery, colonialism, bad governance, wars, turmoil, disease epidemics, and environmental strife.

Africa has struggled with finding a sweet balance between its communal cultures and the high individual western democratic processes it has adopted.

America must grapple with its highly individualism values and capitalism in an increasingly multi-racial and plural political economy.

About the author

Alhaji Umar N’jai aka #Jata #Meejoh #ThePeoplesScientist is a Senior Scientist, Associate Professor, Panafrican Scholar, Founder & Chief Strategist of Project 1808, Inc., and Freelance writer ‘Roaming in the Mountains of Kabala Republic’.

1 Comment

  1. At the end of the day , vote suppression of African Americans since the end of the Slave trade at the declaration of the 1863 emancipation Act by the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, with the aim of putting an end to that barbaric trade in the Southern confederate states, has always and remains the unresolved burning issue that is tearing America apart today. Trump might have lighted the fuse, but whats happening in America is bigger than Trump or Trumpism. There is an unresolved issues of what is meant to be Black in America. And what is meant to be White. And who is American? They fought a civil war over it. So what we saw last week is a reminder that for some, that war of the 1860s never ended. One of the most disturbing aspects of the riots is to see a white guy in the Capitol building flying the confederate flag. To African Americans that gesture alone speaks volumes. It speaks to certain type of audience in American society.

    African Americans more than most, understood the message. And the demographic changes taken place in southern states, is the ultimate nightmare for right-wing white nationalism that wants to maintain the status quo. Majority of Trump’s voter fraud conspiracy theories are aimed at States with large African Americans population in the South And Southern States that have always actively promoted voter suppression of African Americans. So that was no accident. The Jim Crow laws that were enacted by Southern States was purposely brought about and made to laws on state levels to by-pass the 14th Amendment of the United States that literary say all Americans should be treated equal. This Amendment was specifically tailored to help newly liberated African American salves to be given the right to citizenship, the right to vote for their elected officials, and all other rights denied them on Federal level.

    Now what the GOP leadership has to contend with, is the eclipse of the new rainbow nation that has been slowly and steadily growing in size and number across States, given more power or a voting block to African Americans, and other minorities like Latinos.

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