Traditional Democracy in Africa.
Africa continues to be a victim of the depictions provided by historians, anthropologists and philosophers such as Hegel, saying the continent can never achieve democracy because it has no history. It has no history because it has no written tradition by which to prove its past before the arrival of the western conquerors. On the other hand, Hegel continues, Africa has not developed its own philosophy. Since democracy is borne out of a free, independent, creative, educational and structured philosophical thought, it is natural to understand why Africa has not adopted this specific form of politics. The philosopher insists and articulates his thoughts, stressing that slavery, practiced since ancient times in Africa, is incompatible with democracy. He concludes with the following statements: what we can learn from the Negro is that the state of nature is a state of injustice and that every step between the natural and the rational carries injustices, but at the same time there is a gradual distancing from the natural dimension. The trafficking of slaves across the Atlantic Ocean was willed by Africans themselves because African leaders wanted to sell all their blacks subjects to Westerners, taking away from them every possible freedom of thought and of expression.
Hegel’s allegations are intended to support the argument that the inability to access and to practice democracy is in the nature of the African. The same beliefs were shared by almost all the conquerors of Africa. These beliefs were adopted as the theoretical foundation to justify the colonization of the continent, the cancellation of knowledge and the destruction of the social, political and economic structures that Africans had put in place before the arrival of the colonizers.
From this scenario emerges the linear theory of history: that the beginning of African history corresponds to the time of the arrival of the European powers, and that the subsequent developments of the continent are attributable to the civilised west and the western civiliser of the peoples without history. Not surprisingly, the so-called explorers (such as the Portuguese, Diego Cao) gave new names to everything they saw in Africa. New names were given to rivers, mountains and lakes such as Lake Victoria and the Angolan city of New Lisbon. These names replaced the original traditional names that often represented traditional African values. This, with the passage of time, led to the disappearance of the local culture. In Africa, the history of a person, the history of a king, the history of an important person in society and even the history of a place and a nation is closely linked to the name attached to it. He who knows the meaning of the name, for example, automatically knows the history of the person or at least some element of his history.
Africa is not only the cradle of humanity; the continent has also been a place where changes of governments and administrations have taken place. This confirms the existence of an ancient and long practice of politics and local democracy, conceived as the exercise of power by the plebiscite of the people. As suggested by the traditional adage, known throughout the continent, the turtle does not speak from the pulpit, unless someone puts it there. It means it is the people who make the laws and who appoint who will have the task of enforcing them.
In the history of West, Central and Southern Africa there are numerous examples of highly sophisticated systems of government: the ancient kingdoms of Ghana, the Yoruba kingdom of Oyo and Benin, the various kingdoms of Nigeria, Mali, the two Congos north of Angola and the twenty-two kingdoms of the Ovimbundu which represent a federation organised under the command of one capital, Bilundo. These are some of the examples that call to mind the immense organization and long experience in the field of political practice on the continent. Thanks to this organisation, many traditional societies were able to organize armed resistance against western colonialism.
To give one last anecdote, in the ancient Kingdom of Congo, there is an extraordinary history of the so-called African Catholic King (Mwemba Nzinga) who was baptised with the name, Don Afonso I. During one of his trips to Africa in 1992, Pope John Paul II referred to this king, saying in 1513 he sent a delegation to Pope Leo X. His eighteen year-old son, Henrique, was a member of the delegation. The king’s plan was to make the Church in his Kingdom directly dependent on Rome. Five years later, Prince Henrique was appointed titular bishop of Utica, thereby becoming the first black African bishop, after just thirty years of evangelization, and the last for the next four centuries. Sadly, Congo was at that time a European colony and the island of São Tomé had been transformed into the capital of slave trade. The colonial powers did not accept this privileged relationship between the Church in the Kingdom and the Holy See. As a result the big idea of Mwemba Nzinga (Don Afonso I) to establish a Christian state in the centre of Africa was blocked.
By Moises Malumbu of the Portuguese Africa Service.
Text from page http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2011/10/28/africa:_from_traditional_democracy_to_modern_democracy/en3-532923
of the Vatican Radio website