News and Views on Africa from Africa
Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
Subscribe to our RSS feed
RSS logo

Latest news

Action and contacts

Book review

Title: The Liberal Model and Africa: Elites Against Democracy
, 256-pages.
Author: Professor Kenneth Good
Publishers: Palgrave Press, May 2002.

A distinguished scholar, Good who is a University of Botswana Professor of Political Studies, discusses contemporary issues in so-called democratic regimes in Southern Africa and the United States of America (US). He also highlights what he calls cases of capitalist barbarism, legitimised autocracies and severe limitations and constraints inherent in liberal democracy in Africa and the US.

In the first chapter Good highlights some soul stirring cases of terror, massacres, corruption, extortion, poverty, back stabbing, sabotage, election rigging and bigotry, which by the perpetrators’ standards, are akin to political normality. He explains how these problems have robbed the continent of values of true democracy such as the rule of law, good governance, economic management and tolerance.

“To a greater extent this gives credence to capital barbarism entrenched by democratic despots,” he writes.

Borrowing from Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka’s Old Toad Kings to describe these despots and the supposed “new leaders”, Good reveals that their ignorance, insensitivity and insecurity, has widened the gap between “the rulers and the ruled”. Though few, he says, the autocrats or empowered elites are accountable to themselves while the masses remain passive and enfeebled.

He uses case studies like Liberia’s Charles Taylor, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, Kenya’s Daniel arap Moi, Zimbabwe’s strongman Robert Mugabe, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and former Zairean dictator Mobutu sese Seko.

Most of these leaders have contributed immensely to the “warfare” of their people as opposed to their welfare. Caught in the midst of socio-economic crises and political intrigues, these leaders have overlooked pertinent issues and resorted to election rigging, rules of terror and bigotry in order to cling to power, Good writes.

The second chapter of the book deals more with one of Africa’s oldest democracies, Botswana and is less lenient in this respect as it explains the relationship between Gaborone and the Basarwa, the Bushmen. It puts the plight of the Basarwa in the spotlight, from the historical, political, economic and socio-cultural perceptive. Central in this chapter is the role played by such sectors as agriculture and tourism in relegating the Basarwa to the very bottom of the social hierarchy due to exploitation, structural long term poverty, stigmatisation, discrimination as well as hatred.

In the third chapter, Professor Good critically looks at issues of elitism and injustice in the liberal capitalist system in the US. He highlights such problems as inequality and injustice prevalent in this system, which the liberal polity, with its largely alienated and non-participatory electorate, is unable to address. Thus worsening the socio-economic conditions of lower classes-the blacks, Hispanics and poor whites.

He looks at the US legal system, which does not only contain and punish but also serves to deprive the weak and vulnerable people of their political rights and voices. The American criminal system is said to focus on unparalleled intensity on the under classes in the ghettos whose legal representation is also grossly inadequate.

Professor Good also discusses the threats of “Ruthless Capitalism” on a global scale to the institutions and the Rhine values put in place by German dictator, Adolf Hitler. Of particular interest to the reader would be how flexible capitalism produces “disposable work and workers”.

The fourth chapter looks at the post-apartheid South Africa followed by the historic 1994 multi-party elections. The chapter looks at the problems of non-accountability, secrecy and duplicity in ANC, problems that have continued since the period before the 1994 elections.

Professor Good discusses threats of the elites’ immunity and non-accountability to the South Africa’s democracy, which is still in its infancy. He discusses the role of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and his Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in the run-up to the 1994 elections and how he benefited from his territorial strength in Zululand.

However, the author fails to discuss the problem of “political mobilisation of ethnicity” brought by the IFP elite that has claimed many innocent lives in almost a decade and has sparked xenophobia in South Africa.

Chapter five reveals deepening predominance in the ANC ranks, starting from the period when former SA president Nelson Mandela was forced to scrap the posts of premiers in 1996 and to remove some party stalwarts like Winnie Mandela from government, in a move that was interpreted as trying to silence them. Professor Good says the cooptation of the opposition into the ANC dominated government was a way of silencing criticism.

“This attests to a high degree of subjectivity, incoherence and irrationality in the thoughts and actions of the government,” Professor Good writes.

The chapter ends with such issues as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, ethics in government, how HIV/AIDS is threatening Africa and how Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has sparked an agrarian revolution and racism in Africa with the unilateral invasion of white owned commercial farms.

The sixth chapter discusses the relationship between the ANC elite and big business, culminating in donations to the former. Also highlighted are corrupt practices, public sector fraud and mismanagement of the economy. The 1999 South African Arms Deal scandal that resulted in the resignation of former ANC chief whip, Tony Yengeni, in 2001 is also discussed. So are other issues such as promotion of black capitalism and entrenchment of ruling elite in business under the guise of black empowerment in what the author describes as “Goose for the few, racism for the many” .

The last chapter looks at the issue of participatory democracy: its reality and continuing aspiration in Athens, Britain and South Africa. It looks at the origins and prospects of this form of democracy.

Of great interest to the reader would be issues of equality and self-determination. This chapter is more prescriptive as it offers solutions to the issue of democratisation. The role of the labour movements in the realisation of democracy in South Africa is also discussed.

“Professor Good has come up with a comprehensive and readable masterpiece that will be read in many years to come,” says John Makumbe, the University of Zimbabwe’s political scientist. He says the book can offer some form of guidance to Africa’s political leadership, especially the likes of President Mugabe, who is woolly on policy, detail and completely detached from the needs, expectations and aspirations of the people.

Contact the editor by clicking here Editor