Real democracy should inculcate a culture of public participation that is vigilant to help leaders keep the eye on the ball, and is also representative of all communities. Kenyan intellectual activist and political lecturer Nanjala Nyabola who was in the country recently, said civil society should accept the fact that democracy is a way of life and does not only become relevant during elections.
She said civil societies should adopt a culture of holding their leaders accountable at any time and be informed on decisions, policies and financial management of the country. “Public accountability is a key issue…We have seen instances where certain issues are swept under the carpet and there is a smokescreen to derail civil society – that’s what gives some leaders the power to perpetuate corruption and create dictatorships” she said. Nyabola noted that corruption and a vacuum in leadership were some of the biggest challenges faced by many African countries.
Speaking ahead of the general election in Botswana, Nyabola pointed out that many Africans still think elections is democracy, a false notion perpetuated by politicians who only want community members for increasing voter numbers and are not interested in giving them real political education. Nyabola also said that it was unfortunate that in this day and age African politics were still marred by censorship, oppression and misinterpretation, which heightened around election time. She pointed out that parties with most funds could manipulate information sources to mislead and coerce the public. Nyabola, whose book, Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics explores the drastic efforts being made by elites to contain online activism, fake news and a failed digital vote-counting system, also said the Internet was playing a very critical role in formulating the modern narrative of African politics.
She said through her research in reframing digital democracy from the African perspective, she had established that digital spaces have allowed Africans to build new communities which transcend old ethnic and gender divisions among traditionally marginalised groups, particularly women and people living with disabilities.
She however pointed out that while this was a positive development, some dodgy politicians and activists manipulated these communication sources for their own benefit and that’s where traditional media still had an upper hand over civil journalists, as they have the power of authority and verification.
The political activist further said it was unfortunate that we still relied on the West to mirror what real politics is like instead of considering that our background and experiences differ. “Africa is faced with broad philosophical challenge – development challenge, violence and only social change can dismantle the archaic notions about Africa that stall development and prosperity across the continent”. Nyabola also touched on gender representation in politics and pointed out that governments in Africa should create opportunities for women. She said gender representation in governance and politics was regressive. She cited that here in Botswana, the number of female participants was now at its lowest.
She said youth and women should be at the forefront of development. During her visit, Nyabola facilitated a workshop on Gender Democracy, Governance and Politics for the Department of Sociology at the University of Botswana and also had a talk at the Gaborone Book Festival titled ‘How has the digital era affected democracy and activism in Africa?’ Nyabola who holds a Masters in African Studies has taught in both Africa and Europe, and served Amnesty International Kenya.