THE abuse of power by the state, the question of rebellion and the extent of the individual‘s obligation to obey the state have become central issues in Africa today given the events that are taking place north of the continent.
In order to overcome the current political strife, in my opinion, African countries must strive to set up a suitable political system which is democratic.
The concept of “democracy” should not be understood solely from a western perspective but should be viewed and understood together with African ethics of ubuntu or botho, “I am because we are, and because we are I am too”.
Ubuntu or botho is a shared reciprocal of humanness, hence an adage; “motho ke motho ka batho” translated as “I am because we are, and because we are I am too”.
In this article, I will show the importance of ubuntu or botho in African democracy as opposed to democracy from a Western perspective.
Westerners understand democracy in many ways, but I will single out one definition which is proper to this article; democracy as equality regarding political and legal rights as opposed to aristocracy or rule by the elite.
The aforementioned definition connotes that for Westerners, democracy is all about the individual person and his/her rights: be it political or legal rights.
John Stuart Mill, a contemporary philosopher, further supports Westerners’ conceptualisation of democracy by arguing for the need to respect the rights of individuals.
This is not the democracy that is needed in Africa!
Africa needs democracy which is in harmony with African ethics of ubuntu.
This does not mean that African democracy should not respect individual rights, individuality should still have a place in African democracy and be respected.
But what I am emphasising is that individuality should not be central to African democracy.
For Africans, as idealist philosophers argue, “society or community must be more real and more fundamental than the individual”.
From this statement, it is evident that in order for Africa to get out of its mess, the community has to be central in African democracy.
Democracy which will take Africa out of its mess should not be Cartesian cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”) but an existential cognatus sum, ergo sumus (“I am related, therefore we are”).
A perfect democracy is that in which humans always share life with others, this approach which explicitly emphasises the “relational dimension” between individuals and the state is the basis of democracy which will redeem Africa from its mess.
A government practicing ubuntu principles should not be egocentric like our present governments.
Governance with ubuntu must always strive for the welfare of the citizens and sharing of the country’s resources equally with its citizens.
The principle of ubuntu when applied in democracy articulates the conviction that each one becomes a human being only in fellowship with others.
If this view of democracy was applied in Africa we could not have these political crises we are experiencing in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire.
Our leaders are egocentric and have turned African politics into a mere “politics of the stomach”.
All we can see are people who are “power drunk” and this unfortunately includes opposition political leaders.
Most of our African leaders are corrupt.
This is due to the “politics of the stomach and power drunkenness” as a result these affect the welfare of citizens.
By so doing, courts of law, legislative body, civil servants and churches cannot be exceptional in such corruption.
In conclusion, let us once again emphasise the just state, in which everyone and everything fulfils its appropriate function as Plato (ancient philosopher) argues.
We can achieve all these only if we use ubuntu-democratic political system, where our present life is in harmony with rich African ideologies and African world-view.