Why democracy has failed in Africa – Michelle Ndiaye

Michelle Ndiaye
Michelle Ndiaye

Michelle Ndiaye, directorAfrica Peace and Security Programme, APSP, at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies, IPSS, a joint programme with the African Union Commission, AUC, and the German Cooperation, GIZ, is also the head of the Tana Forum Secretariat, Ethiopia.

Listed in the New African Magazine as one of the top 100 Most Influential Africans in 2018, the tall ebony complexioned oblong-faced lady has an unassuming aura which belies her great intellect. Ndiaye has expertise in defense and security, peace and security, democratic and local governance, post-conflict and community recovery, sustainable development, environmental issues, transitional justice, communication for development, corporate responsibility and global reporting, institution building, and large-scale multi-donor programme management.

An external reviewer for the African Affairs Journal, Africa Insight Journal, and the South African Journal of International Affairs, she sits on the Programme Committee of Security and the Rule of Law in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Settings at the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research. A board member of the Atlantic Dialogues Advisory Board, AD-AB, at the Policy Center for the New South, Morocco, and the African Center for Economic Transformation, ACET, based in Accra, Ghana, Ndiaye, a Senegalese, is an adjunct faculty member at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, working on issues surrounding African security sector leadership, security cooperation and national security strategies.

Before joining IPSS, she was the managing director of the Mandela Institute for Development Studies and headed several African and international organizations as executive director of Greenpeace Africa, chief executive officer of the African Institute for Corporate Citizenship, and founder and manager of Africa Projects for Akena Research and Consulting.

She started her career as a programme officer at the African Institute for Democracy, a UNDP project based in Dakar, Senegal.

A BA in Political Science holder from Quebec University in Montreal, Canada, Ndiaye also has MA in Public Law and a post-graduate degree (DEA) from University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal. She is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Leipzig, Germany. She speaks with candour about topical issues concerning Africa and the South, especially in an era of global turmoil. This is evident in the exclusive interview she granted Maureen Chigbo, editor of Realnews magazine on the margins of the Atlantic Dialogues in Marrakesh, Morocco in December, during which she emphatically aired her views on why democracy has failed in Africa, China phobia and what Africa should do in the emerging new world order as well as progress gender made since Beijing in 1995 and whey women have to fight more. Excerpts

Realnews: What do you mean by democracy is in crisis; there is threat to democracy?

Ndiaye: Well, I think democracy is in crisis because we have seen a couple of phenomena. It is not only about the rise in populism that put democracy in crisis. I think democracy has been in crisis for a very long time when the liberal model and neo-liberal model have been rejected because it has created horizontal inequalities in our societies, particularly in the South. And today with the rise of populism people realise that it is just another manifestation of how the fundamentals of democracy, which are the ideals, the universal principles that govern democracy have been rejected. And when it touched freedom of expression, freedom of movement, freedom of speech – it is when people realised very deeply that democracy is in crisis. But it has been in crisis since the fall of neo-liberal model. So, what is important is the way we actually look at democracy. And that is what I called the democracies. In the South and the Global south, democracy means delivery, regular renewal of political personnel. It means institutions that people have trust in and it means taking care of the citizenry. That’s the new social contract. It is no longer just about freedom of expression. It is not about freedom and rights. It is about economic rights that have come to reinforce the social and political rights. And for me, that is the fundamental shift when you talk about democracy being in crisis. Unless today, we come back to the pragmatism that allows us to say delivery is the main issue today. If we don’t take care of the citizens’ demand, democracy will continue to be in peril.

Realnews: Is democracy working in Africa?

Ndiaye: No. It is not.

Realnews: Why?

Ndiaye: It is not because for a very long time we have actually copied models that actually are not fit for our settings and our context and our social fabric. And today, we are realising what we do is to pick and choose part of the ingredients of democracy that we want to apply.  Elections, for instance, is one of them. What we do is we electorise democracy. We think by having elections, whether it is fair or transparent or not, this country has just organised election. And it’s fine. So this is democracy? No. Democracy is different ingredients that we put together and the most important one is the citizen being happy at the delivery of its government and what they get from the social contract. That’s the new social contract.  It is about giving the citizens what they demand. It’s about health, education and mainly social economic rights.

Realnews: If democracy has failed in Africa, what is the alternative?

Ndiaye: The alternative is the one we are going to create which is managing the tension between the ideals which we define ourselves and I am not rejecting the universal principle of democracy. But I said those principles are important for all of us. We need to uphold them, but at the same time we make sure we elect the right people, there is regular renewal of personnel to be able to deliver to the citizens’ demand and lastly we make sure that we have governance at the fore of everything we do. That’s the model of democracy that I see today.

Realnews: You provoked some thoughts when you talked about the Chinese model.

Ndiaye: Yaa.

Realnews: Why are you so enthused about the Chinese model?

Ndiaye: I was not defending the Chinese model. I was just responding to a question about are the elites the problem and how do we make sure we choose the right people. So I said, we need to go back to political parties and the education that we should establish. And the rules that we should establish for leaders within the political parties. Because if you are to become a governor, you need to be able to forget about your individual interests and focus on the public interest. The China model is not the party. It is about making sure that when you get to the top that you are there for the delivery. And we have seen it today in the way they have delivered for their country. Moving 800 million out of poverty is about delivery. That was what I was referring to. I am not saying that the China model is the best. I am saying that the model of rising within the political party; the political education that they have to actually be a leader at the top is about ideology, about education; it is about training and more importantly it is about the value of public service. You are there to actually service the people; service the citizenry. That’s what I want to see in Africa. So we need to go back to the drawing board and make sure that within the political party, we work towards creating the best of the best.

Realnews: How do you see Chinese engagement in Africa?

Ndiaye: Well, I see it with a big question mark because I see China as a new coloniser. On one hand, I can see they have a good political machinery for leaders to rise and to govern. But at the same time, I see their engagement in Africa with a big question mark because I believe that if we don’t pay attention, they are the new colonisers because why they are following their interest to the core. They know exactly why they are in Africa and for the next 25 years, they have a plan to conquer the continent. It is about our lands. It is about resources and that’s what they need. It’s about the population of 1.2 billion people and what do you do? You need land. You need water; you need everything. And they have come to get it from Africa. What we need do in Africa is to take the best out of their partnership. It is a win-win partnership. And that’s what China is offering for some countries who found China as the best partner and are diversifying by having China as part of the pool.

Realnews: Do you share the fear that China is going to conquer some countries in Africa and takeover?

Ndiaye: I share that fear because those countries have not done their homework. For countries that have done their homework they are able actually to negotiate with China on equal levels. The fear comes from those countries which just opened their doors to China to build their infrastructure, take loans not realising what they are getting into.

Realnews: Like the case in Zambia

Ndiaye: Like the case in Zambia and many other countries that are currently under threat because their relation with China is about taking the best offering leveraging partnership. For me, it is about leveraging partnership and African countries have to do their homework like China is doing its homework. It’s about interest.

Realnews: It appears China is recolonizing Africa through economic means and not necessarily through military power.

Ndiaye: I totally agree with that. But this can only happen if Africans again do not do their homework. There are countries that China is in but it is not the same dynamics. In some countries that allow themselves to be recolonized by China, it is because they didn’t do their homework. It is about leveraging partnership. For that to happen, you need to make sure that you put your interest first.

Realnews: From what you are saying, it means China poses a threat to the old order and that is the new order we are talking about.

Ndiaye: Of course

Realnews: And that’s the new order we are talking about?

Ndiaye: That’s the new order we are talking about. Today, you have these powers that are economic power, but you have also political power. Because with economy you get political power. They are pushing old world to create a space for them to survive.  And for them that’s going to be the next new world other and President Obasanjo talked about the new world order he talked about yesterday which will be like an omelet in which Africans will have to choose the ingredients that go into the omelet. I like the metaphor because that is what we have to do today. It is an opportunity. The current world order is being contested by new powers rising and it is going to be more and more.

Realnews: A school of thought believes that this talk about China taking over is exaggerated because the old order, the old colonisers of Africa in particular – Britain and France etc – will not let them set a foothold in Africa.

Ndiaye: When you see how people reacted when I made the representation, people thought I was routing for China, that’s the fear. That’s the China phobia. That has to stop. If someone is your enemy, you need to study that enemy. By ignoring that enemy, you will continue to make him thrive.

Realnews: Do have any advice to give African countries in the way they manage their affairs with China?

Ndiaye: Well, I think again, it is about leveraging partnership. About making sure that you put your interest first.

Realnews: What do you think of Chinese military presence in Djibouti?

Ndiaye: Why should we single out China. We have many other bases in Djibouti. It is not only about China in Africa. It’s also about other presences in the continent.

Realnews: Let’s talk about women. How has democracy affected women in Africa?

Ndiaye: I would like to say something that might offend a number of my sisters because I am from a school of thought that is actually saying that since Beijing conference in 1995, today there is no development project, no discuss; there has been no policies that have been crafted, written without gender equality being part of it. If there is anything that we have achieved as women of the 21st century, we have achieved that. Today, we are part of discuss whether people like it or not, for me that’s a big step. Now, the next one is being at the table and we are making strive to be at the table. And the last step is being at the boardroom and taking the decision. We need to fight more.

Realnews: How does it feel to be one of the most 100 influential women?

Ndiaye: It’s a great recognition. And I am humbled about it because there are many other women that are doing great things. I think working in a political space has given me the ability to actually defend Africa and I believe in pan-Africanism. That’s my source of inspiration and I believe that having created spaces where we can discuss issues of what is not right in Africa is perhaps what people have recognised as where the influence lies. But for me I was just doing what I think Africa should be doing. Meeting, talking and finding solutions to its problems.

Realnews: Were you surprised when you were nominated as one of the most influential women?

Ndiaye: Well I was surprised because I was not expecting it. I was doing my job because that’s what it is (Laughs).

Realnews: Have you ever used your position to uplift women?

Ndiaye: Well, I have. If you look at my team, you will see most of them are women. I am grooming women today to be able to take over. And I believe my time is up and to hand over to another woman. And I think, there are about three or four that have been identified that I am going to hand over to.

Realnews: What do you mean your time is up?

Ndiaye: My time is up to hand over to other women to continue with the great things we have been doing.

Realnews: Now you said your time is up? What is your next move? Are you going into politics?

Ndiaye: No. Definitely not. I will continue to work in the peace and security field. Not sure yet what I will be doing.  But it’s going to come through.

Realnews: And you have handled Tana Forum very well. Are you going to hand over that one too?

Ndiaye: Yes. I am going to hand it over to young people to continue with what we are doing.

Realnews:  I hope you have groomed young people who can handle the job?

Ndiaye: I did.

Realnews: It will still be at that top level.

Ndiaye: I did and I hope they have the capacity to do that.

Realnews: What message do you have for young women aspiring to reach the height you have attained?

Ndiaye: To be principled; be hardworking; make sure you plan and make sure you have a mentor, whether it’s a man or woman.

Realnews: Does education have a role to play

Ndiaye: Education has to do with it and experience too.

Realnews: Experience, How?

Ndiaye: If you are a hardworking person you learn along the line. … I have been working in this field for 25 years and I have learnt a lot. And what I use to tell them is do not think you can get there without learning. Learning is part of it.

– Jan. 27, 2020 @ 18:59 GMT |