In search of political ideology
There are game-changing influences from the world’s new economic powers on one hand, and growing fundamentalism and terrorism on the other. New NAI researcher Sirkku Hellsten is seeking to identify the ideologies in play in a changing Africa.
The immense economic power of China and other rising economic powers has changed Africa in more than one way. While it has certainly resulted in new roads and factories, it has also shaped political life in many states.
“On one hand, Africa is rising economically thanks to increasing foreign investment and new business opportunities. As affluence increases, so the middle class expands and consumes more. On the other hand, Africa still faces serious conflicts, threats of terrorism, environmental degradation, poor governance and rampant corruption. The number of billionaires is multiplying, but poverty has not been reduced to the extent it could be. Instead, inequality is increasing in many places,” Hellsten notes.
Other political principles
“Western powers are losing influence as African leaders lean more and more on the new BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and other Southern partners, whose political principles differ markedly from those of traditional Western donors. Many African governments find it easier to work with these new economic powers who do not call for respect for human rights, democratic development and inclusive participation. Instead, they allow African leaders to pursue whatever governance path they want, whether democratic or authoritarian,” she continues.
Her research project is “Poverty, conflict, governance, and the security nexus: Africa at a crossroads.” is analysing African transitional situation. “One of the problems is that traditional Western donors offer political and economic liberalism in the same ‘development package.’ This also leads them to engage in inconsistent policies. On one hand, they call for democratic development and human rights protection. On the other, they continue ‘business as usual’ with governments who clearly disregard or suppress both.” According to Hellsten, it is difficult to gauge where Africa is heading in terms of political ideology, as different value systems are being integrated in sometimes incoherent ways.
Materialistic values of capitalism
“Is democratic development going forward? Or are African leaders setting these values aside in favour of other models of governance. Will the focus be on business only? At the moment, liberal democracy does not appear to feature on the agendas of many African leaders. At the same time, despite political rhetoric that calls for a return to traditional African values such as solidarity and egalitarianism, liberation-era ideology which originally combined African humanism with socialism has faded away and is rapidly being replaced by the materialistic values of capitalism.”
The ideological vacuum in contemporary Africa has direct links to issues of security, according to Hellsten.
“If you look at political parties in Africa today, you find that virtually none has a clear political ideology.”
In many African countries there is much discontent with governance practices and corruption, but the people find it difficult to find well-defined political directions through elections.
“If voters feel that politicians are uncommitted to democratic values, that they misuse national resources and are corrupt, the people will look for alternatives outside the official political system. Such alternatives are often provided by religious or political extremists, who exploit the general discontent with the exclusion from decision-making. This situation feeds terrorism and conflict.”