By Ladi Fagbola
Would you trust a bank with your account for 4 years, when the only agreement is that they promise to act in your best interest? And should they fail, as they frequently do, would you wait for 4 years before switching banks? Most people would not agree to this. Ironically, bad bankers generally cause less damage to people’s lives than elected officials do.
Nigeria is a great example. The current Head of State, President Muhammadu Buhari, was elected in 2015 to resounding celebration across the country. 6 months into his presidency, the Naira dropped, and the Dollar became very hard to get. In a country that imports everything, including petrol, rice and fabrics, access to foreign currencies is vital for survival. Within 2 years, Nigeria was in recession.
Worst still, Buhari was nowhere to be found. He was spending 30 to 100 days at a time in the UK receiving treatment for an unknown illness. Every single person in the country knew he was a walking disaster, but due to how representative democracies work, all we could do was wait until the next election to vote him out. Typical of people who are both power-hungry and incompetent, the 2019 Nigerian presidential election was marred by violence, rape, intimidation and all forms of malpractice. These crimes were perpetrated by political thugs, the Nigerian army and the Nigerian police.
It’s easy to say: “Well, that would never happen in the UK.” But, it’s already here. The corruption behind the Brexit vote is slowly unravelling. In hindsight, Arron Banks seems to be in the centre of the dark money and disinformation that was at the heart of Brexit. There are already attempts at voter suppression via ID checks at polling stations. A cursory look at the Trump-era electoral gerrymandering and voter suppression in the US gives a hint at where this is going. An unmitigated disaster and yet, the whole country must endure the lunacy of his regime until the next election.
We as Black people on the continent and in the diaspora have to look beyond representative democracy. Even if the politician is Black, the fact that they can create laws with little-to-no oversight from their constituents creates the perfect circumstances for corruption and elitism. Within our own communities, we need to further develop the structures of direct and participatory democracy we already have. All the little votes we’re given, and, the consensus-building we pursue are the epitome of equality and justice. All we need is to develop them into permanent structures, resistant to external pressures of vote-buying and false promises. I’m interested in exploring ideas and experiences of contemporary participatory and direct democratic processes within Black communities.