n Institute of African Studies Research Review - Towards an African theory of democracy

Volume 25, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0855-4412



The questions of the possibility of and the need for an African theory of democracy have been controversial in African intellectual discourse. Many African political scholars, politicians and indeed contemporary African states seem to have resolved that aping alien theoretical models and practices of democracy is the most appealing option for Africa. Others have felt the need and made claims for the adoption of Africa's democratic heritage and values, which are rooted in her traditional past, in order to resolve Africa's own kind of peculiar problems. While such approaches may be well observed, this article argues that it is important to ask whether the persistent failure of democracy in African states is also related to African political culture. The paper indicts the former approach as the residues of mental colonization and political alienation, and insists on the existence of a missing link in the latter's assumption and discourse. This missing mark is identified to be conceptual failure in exploring what an African democratic theory entails. The paper argues that the absence of democratic theory in African political scholarship can be overcome by providing the underlying principles, meaning, canons and criteria of democracy in an African culture. It exposes the conceptual errors implicit in the conflation of democracy as a concept and as practiced in different political systems. As a consequence, it establishes that an eclectic appraisal of our indigenous democratic values and practices as well as democratic ideas from other cultural traditions can provide a viable African theory of democracy.

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