Democracy, Decentralization, and Rural Development in Africa: Learning From Within

Democracy, Decentralization, and Rural Development in Africa: Learning From Within

Oluwakemi Damola Adejumo-Ayibiowu (Caleb University, Lagos, Nigeria)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 28
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2306-3.ch002

Abstract

Following the disappointing outcomes of the implementation of Western liberal democracy and decentralization, some observers have argued that the reason for these failures was because African countries have not yet developed the necessary culture for a successful democracy and democratic institutions. But are democracy and decentralization strange to Africa? The purpose of this chapter is to show that democracy and decentralization are not alien to Africa. Using the Yoruba culture of West Africa as a case study, and Afrocentricity as the theoretical framework, the chapter brings to the fore the principles of African cultural democracy that guarantee responsiveness and representativeness as well as ensure welfare improvement among these indigenous people. Suggestions are made on how these cultural democratic principles can be incorporated into formal governance to achieve more responsive governments in Africa.
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Introduction And Background To The Study

Democracy is generally accepted as the best system of government conducive for achieving social and economic progress, including rural development in Africa. The rural communities have often been neglected in development policies and rural people are not adequately involved in public decisions that affect their lives (Chambers, 1983; Oruonye, 2013). Lack of participation contributes to isolation, marginalization, and powerlessness which are some of the multidimensional aspects of poverty faced by the rural poor. Theoretically, democracy and decentralization are institutional arrangements that allow rural people's participation when finding ways to improve the quality of lives in rural areas. The African Charter for Popular Participation in Development and Transformation (Declaration, 1990) particularly holds that the lack of democracy is a major reason for poverty and other development challenges facing Africa. The charter presumes that implementing democracy and decentralization policies will surely solve Africa’s development problems including the challenges faced by African rural dwellers.

In the 1990s, the wave of democratization swept across Africa, paving way for political parties and elections. But the implementation of Western liberal democracy in Africa has been characterized by violence, stealing of ballot boxes, election rigging while political parties are dominated by godfathers and patrons (Adejumo-Ayibiowu, 2015, 2018; Idada & Uhunmwuangho, 2012). The high and increasing number of poor people in Africa is evidence that neither multiparty elections nor balloting have led to remarkable improvement in the welfare of African poor masses who queue for hours to cast their votes. The implementation of decentralization in African countries also reveals challenges. Drawing on cases from Ethiopia, Guinea, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, Bossuyt and Jeremy, (2002) as well as Matovu (2004) found that decentralization was highly political, top-down, implemented by ruling elites, alienating citizens and financially constrained.

Following the disappointing outcomes of the implementation of Western liberal democracy and decentralization, some observers have argued that the reason for these failures is because African institutions are weak and nascent (Harwood, 2011). Put differently, African countries have not yet developed the necessary culture for a successful democracy and democratic institutions. But is democracy and decentralization strange to Africa? Even though Western liberal democracy has not been able to adequately improve welfare in many Africa countries, authors such as Ajei (2001), Olowu and Erero (1995), and Fayemi (2009) have shown that many African indigenous governance systems are democratic and have been able to support the welfare of the rural poor. Similarly, Mengisteab (2009) shows that African indigenous institutions are comparatively more transparent, equitable, responsive and accountable.

Consequently, the purpose of this paper is to show that democracy and decentralization are not alien to Africa, and the study shall be using the Yoruba culture of South West Nigeria as a case study. The second objective of this paper is to understand the principles of African cultural democracy that guarantee responsiveness, accountability, participation, as well as ensure welfare improvement among the Yoruba people of West Africa. The last objective of this paper is to recommend how these cultural democratic principles can be incorporated into formal governance to achieve a more responsive government and rural development. The insights from this study are important because they bring to fore democratic features of African culture that can function as a source from which to draw elements to achieve good governance and rural development in Africa.

The paper is divided into seven sections. The first section is the introduction, the second discusses the key concepts. The third section critically looks at the question “Are Democracy and Decentralization Alien to Africa? The fourth section presents the theoretical framework. The fifth section analyses the strategies for good performance in African indigenous democracy using the Yoruba culture as a Case study. In the sixth section, we recommend how these strategies can be incorporated into formal governance. The seventh section is the conclusion.

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