Democracy is anarchy without institutions

By Opinion Time of article published Dec 13, 2020

Share this article:

By Sello Mokoena

As the world remembers the monumental political global moral compass of the late president Nelson Mandela for his values – care, service to others and the ability to forgive in the quest to build a better world – it is essential to reflect on the legacy of this great politician.

It offers timeless leadership lessons which point to the need to have positive political models to avoid the promotion of narrow individualism in lieu of the desirable collectivism, which has the potential to nourish the promotion of the rule of law and democratic practices.

Thus in order to create a better continent, we need leaders imbued with a new set of values and thinking. The work of an American professor and activist, Cornel West, in his book titled Race Matters, acknowledges that “we need serious strategic and tactical thinking about how to create new models of leadership and to forge the kind persons to actualize these models”.

Without such models, there can be no progressive leadership in most African countries. As Victor AO Adetula in his article titled “Measuring democracy and good governance in Africa: A critique of assumptions and methods” points out, it is generally acknowledged that the failure of democracy in many societies is due essentially to weak democratic structures and underdeveloped political institutions.

The weak governance environment in Africa is characterised by underdeveloped institutions of democratic accountability, and this situation presents an extraordinary high risk of democracy. Underdeveloped political parties, weak civil society, an over-concentration of power at the centre, non-separation of the branches of government, and lack of transparency and accountability characterise political life in many African countries.

Evidently, there is a dire need for an enlightened approach, such as the negotiated settlement spearheaded by Madiba within the context of collective political leadership as he sought to create a democratic political order and to heal innumerable septic divisions and conflicts with intractable and devastating effects at both individual and national level.

There is a need to strengthen democracy and to implement plans in tandem with Madiba’s values. As he put it: “Since we have achieved our freedom, there can only be one division amongst us: between those who cherish democracy and those who do not. For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Thus, the crisis in leadership in some African countries today such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and Mozambique, of which evidence exits, can be remedied only if we candidly confront existing leadership values and embrace Madiba’s visionary leadership. We should live true to the spirit of Madiba’s legacy of racial and tribal reconciliation in order to create a better continent. It is indeed essential to stop over verbalising Madiba’s values and to protect them in thought, word and action.

*Sello Mokoena (PhD) is the director for evaluation research and policy in the Gauteng Department of Social Development and an independent researcher in educational telecommunication, communication, globalisation and development.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

Share this article: