The rise of racist, nationalistic and isolationist governments in the West could spell the end of the age of liberal democracy. Are we in Africa prepared for what this would mean for us? By Kwame Muzawazi
My English teacher in high school loved to say “failing to plan is planning to fail”.
Whether Brexit happens or not, the European Union and Britain itself will never be the same. Whether Trump wins in 2020 or not the USA will not be the same. The electoral victory of white supremacist political parties in the Western world points to the fact that we have reached the end of the post-World War II liberal order and are now in a new era.
Africa must smell the coffee because it’s increasingly becoming fashionable in former liberal Europe and America to run and win elections on an anti-migrant crusade.
In 2015, a Polish ultra-conservative political party called Law and Justice (PIS) won the biggest landslide in post-Soviet Eastern Europe to the extent that they govern alone. This was a feat in a country were the political settings as per the constitution make it almost impossible to run a government without coalitions.
But PIS won as a reward for taking the most assertive stand against immigration from Africa and the Middle East. It’s strongman leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski – who is famous for wearing the same colours of suits every day, has never married, lives with his mother and a dog, has never opened a bank account and boasts of not having a driver’s licence – declared just before the 2015 election that Africans “bring diseases and viruses”. His party went on to win massively.
Just a decade ago, an election in the West could never be won by racist crusaders like Trump and Kaczynski and isolationist movements like Brexit would be have been unthinkable. Alas, here they are, dominating the news cycles in the world ad nauseum.
Today, the President of the United States can declare 55 African countries as “s**thole countries” and not only get away it, but see his approval ratings among his supporters increase.
We have reached an era which was first predicted by Indian-American journalist, author and broadcaster, Fareed Zakariya in a paper written in 1997 – an age of illiberal democracy. This title was adopted by the Hungarian autocrat, Victor Orban in 2014.
He said his form of illiberal democracy disdained toleration of minorities, believed in strong forms of majoritarianism, rejected checks and balances, and believed in nationalism and separatism. Indeed, he rewrote the Hungarian Constitution to reflect these views.
This is the point in history where the whole concept of Western liberal democracy seems to have reached its limitations and is now threatening to unravel the tense and fragile peace that the world has generally enjoyed since 1945.
Now that time and history have had their say, Prophet Samuel Huntington has been proved right: we are now in the era of the “clash of civilisations”.
History however has not been kind to Prophet Fukuyama who had the audacity to proclaim that the end of the Soviet Union was the “end of history” and beginning of eternal supremacy of Western-style liberal democracy. For the West, things are falling apart and “the centre cannot hold”.
Sun set for Western democracy?
America, which used to lead the Western Orchestra Band, is going solo. The UK is struggling to disentangle itself from Europe and also go solo. Russia is ever more resurgent and confident the good old times are back. And within the next 10 years, we will witness China’s coronation as the most powerful nation on Earth in many respects.
Meanwhile, right now the Minister of Finance for Malawi, like the overwhelming majority of his portfolio colleagues across Africa, is preparing the 2020 national budget which will depend for 90% of its funding from Western countries.
The late writer Charles Mungoshi OBM asked “Who will stop the dark?” The answer is no one, because when it is time for the sun to set, no one can stop the dark.
The African ancestors have a proverb – a bird that flies will have to land. For Western liberalism and electoral democracy, it’s sunset. The bird is landing after a great show.
Africa, therefore, must find ways and means of generating heat and electricity to keep lights on and homes warm in the impending times of civilizational cold and darkness.
To do that, there is a menu: For starters we serve the bitter but medicinal soup of self-help projects that obliterate international aid and treacherous loans.
If Singapore did it without loans and aid, then – as they say in Zimbabwe – why can’t we did it! The main meal has to be the meaty stuff. One foreign policy chief for Africa. One minerals chief for Africa.
Yes, a One Africa Policy that precipitates the reform of the African Union to give the administrators powers and teeth to bite hard. These strongmen are a necessity when nations are weak. Julius Nyerere said it “without unity there is no future for Africa”. Why can’t we did it? NA