Journal Article: Democracy Came From Africa


Democracy (rule of the people) originates from Africa: is a statement of fact that many western scholars and general public predicated on racist and exploitative foundations seek to refute daily. It is conveniently forgotten that Solon the fore-father of Athenian democracy visited Egypt to learn about the tenets of the system there which he subsequently introduced to Greece; that the Mande people under Mansa (Emperor) Sundiata Keita created the 44 article Kurufan Fuga Charter in 1236 (15 years after the Magna Carta in England). Education; freedom of movement; justice, life; participation in decision making and community wellbeing; and work, as rights, existed in Africa from time immemorial. – Matlotleng Matlou, PhD

Africa must claim its rightful place and establish that indeed all other civilisations stand on its shoulders. Democracy and governance commenced in Africa and she shared these with other nations. However, they took and did not acknowledge their debt. Africa was re –paid with exploitation, humiliation and being written out of human history. Violence was utilised to subdue African resistance; her resources illegally acquired and Africans taken off their development trajectories. Division was sworn amongst families, communities, nation and regions as a tactic to control them. Africans were then enslaved and taken to foreign lands where they developed other countries whilst their own became under-developed through loss human capital, conflicts, their natural resources illegally harvested or they received low prices for them, whilst paying exorbitantly for manufactured and other imports. This violent interjection taking Africa off its autonomous development trajectory has set the continent back centuries.


In view of the persistence by the media both domestic and particularly the international one in spreading mainly bad news about Africa efforts must be redoubled to collate the good news about Africa and disseminating this, first across Africa and then the globe. Of course as Franz Fanon states we must ‘tell no lies and claim no easy victories’; we will tell the truth about what wrongs continue to plague Africa, both the internal and external causes.

Articles 3 and 4 of AU Constitutive Act appreciate that sustainable democratic governance in Africa requires political and socioeconomic stability, peace and security. AU upholds principle that elections are a legitimate method of transfer of power and the only manner of expressing popular sovereignty is representative democracy.


Precolonial Africa consisted of over 10,000 polities with different political and socioeconomic organisation. These ranged from small hunter gather groups of the KhoiSan, clans and villages spread across central, east, Horn and southern Africa to the city states and larger empires of Angola, Congo, Dahomey, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gao, Ghana, Mali, Nubia, Oyo, Songhai, Zimbabwe and Zulu etc.

Unfortunately in Africa elections are held as the one and be all determinant of democracy with insufficient consideration given to other factors thus leading to the continued underdevelopment, high levels of conflict, poor governance, corruption and dis-satisfied citizenry even in those countries, like Botswana, Namibia and South Africa scoring commendable marks on various international indexes.

  • Until proved otherwise it is widely accepted that humanity originates from Africa, so also the foundation of civilisation; then migrating to other continents over the centuries leaving no part of the globe uninhabited.
  • Elections are a necessary ingredient for democracy, they are the means through which the demos (people) are supposed to exercise their cratos (power or rule – of choice) of who will represent and govern them. However, in real life once politicians have been elected they often veer of the path of promises made to the people. Certainly in Africa they often disappear, do not practice the rule of law and only return when the next elections are imminent, to fool the people again. So elections become the main issue and are utilised as a beacon for democracy, whilst reality is different.
  • Colonialism laid the foundation for the Kongo (Berlin) Conference of 15 November 1884 to 26 February 1885, 129 years ago, where 13 European countries and the United States met and partitioned Africa. Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Turkey ended up with colonies. By 1914 when Britain annexed Egypt only vastly reduced Ethiopia and Liberia maintained a measure of independence. African subjugation and humiliation continued for 60 odd years when the winds of decolonisation blew thunderously through the continent eventually reaching South Africa in 1994.
  • Over 70% of the African Union (AU) budget relies substantially on foreign donors, giving them undue leverage to meddle in African affairs. The saying do not look a Greek horse in the fate, became for the AU do not look a Chinese horse in the face, following the Chinese “gift” of an over $200million new headquarters inaugurated in January 2012.
  • The industrial revolution financed by exorbitant profits made from exploitative extraction of labour provided more productive machinery and technology therefore undermining its own success and rationale for slavery . Unsurprisingly, the British the biggest enslavers who were also the most advanced industrially led the charge to abolish slavery. Slavery was abolished in 1807 in Britain, but continued in other countries formally ending in Brazil (having received over 4 million enslaved people) in 1888.
  • Huge efforts were invested in denying Africa’s contribution to the world as the cradle of civilisation, including the principles of good governance and democracy, this being ascribed to Greece and later built upon by Europe and the United States.
  • The ruling classes across Africa have largely failed their people and when the pressure for change ensued they have reluctantly introduced facades of democracy and utilised elections which are often not free and fair, as the yardstick in holding to power.
  • Many countries have elections without sufficiently constructed voters registers, sufficiently independent electoral commissions, biased judiciaries, stifling of the media, increasing electoral violence, weak parliaments, leaders staying on power for decades or same parties winning the elections continuously, innovative rigging, marginalisation of some groups and communities and other attributes that are creating democracy and governance deficits. International indexes measuring these issues often have Africa at the bottom.
  • Three major human physical variants, exist. In Africa they are represented by the – Bantu-Benue-Congo Negroids mainly south of the Sahara; Hamatic Semitic Afro-Mediterranean caucasoids found in North Africa and Sudanic Mongoloids ; representing over 2,000 distant and close-related languages and cultures.
  • Africa; espoused through Ubuntu, that a person is a person because of others, communality especially in land ownership, , rights to life, education, freedom of movement, justice, participation in and benefit from community affairs, and work etc as outlined by Williams (1974) amongst others.
  • Thirty-four of the world’s 49 least developed countries (racked by instability and low human development) are African (many landlocked and resource rich).
  • Africa’s resources – intellectual, human, financial and material – became fair game for all and sundry; culminating in enslavement and ultimately in being colonised. In this process African culture, history were corrupted and falsified; being replaced by that of the exploiters and conquerors. The divineness, solidarity, unity, justice, consensus driven, communalism, democratic and human rights bases of African society, were eroded and soon replaced by Arab and European systems of greed, individualism, exploitation and undemocratic rule.
  • People captured during conflict, were often integrated into society on the basis that all humans are inter-dependant. Power was diffused in the various monarchies across Africa; rulers or leaders were rarely absolute; accession to various state offices was based on elections, and succession was not always automatic with the people having a say in choosing rulers.


  • Even though there were castes, there was a limitation to exploitation, less fortunate persons were to be assisted and land could not be alienated since it belonged to all. Leaders were required to consult widely in taking decisions, certainly with the public representatives. Individual freedoms were assured to large extent. Democracy has its roots in Africa and from here some foreigners learnt the tenets and adapted it in their countries.
  • Electoral systems like first past the post means parties need not win majority votes to assume power; smaller parties are disadvantaged without the benefit of proportional representation where votes beyond a threshold can be transferred to other candidates. The size of wards and constituencies, voting age, utilisation of secret ballots or not, whether voting is compulsory or not, provisions meant to improve gender or minority representation, number of voting stations, time provided for voting all impact on the outcomes of elections.
  • Arabs commenced their enslaving activities from their arrival until the C20th, taking more than 18 million Africans mainly to the eastern world. Barbary pirates or corsairs also called Ottoman corsairs were North African Arabs also enslaved southern European; transporting to the Americas more than one million commencing in the C13th until 1830 , until France conquered Algiers. The US navy formed in March 1794 was actually a protection against the Barbary. Arabs colonised all of North Africa, Arabising the local cultures and converting the people to Islam.
  • Today almost one third of the African land mass is under Arabs. They also sought to spread their religion and culture to other parts of like east and west Africa, usually through holy wars (jihads).
  • Chancellor Williams (1974) outlines the origins of African democracy and inter-linked principles of some political theories ancient constitutional law and fundamental rights of the African People found across the continent.
  • Apollos Nwauwa (2005) argues that restricting the birth or practice of democracy to one location, Athens is unjustifiable, indicating that during that era societies were developing independently across the globe and had their own variants of democracy.
  • Cheikh Anta Diop (1987) indicates the influence of Africa, especially Egypt on the birth of democracy in Greece and later the Roman empire. Narcisse Tiky (2012) postulates “that it is from Africa that the fire of Athenian democracy was stolen”. Both authors outline the political and socioeconomic organisation of C6th Athens, where power resided in autocrats supported by the aristocracy: administered by nine magistrates (Archons) appointed by a Council of Elders (Areopagus) for annual terms.
  • Solon proposed the division of society into four political classes based on wealth: At the pinnacle were the Pentacosiomedimnoi who could become Archons and then join the Areopagus. The second and third classes qualified for lower public service, whilst the masses were still locked out.
  • Narcisse Tiky states that Cleisthenes (508-7 BC) known as the father of Athenian democracy was tasked with building on the efforts of Solon learnt from the source – Africa through Egypt. He recommended a system based on isonomia (iso – equality; nomos – law); expansion of the male citizens council (Boule) which ran city affairs from 400 to 500 members who now served for one year and for only two terms.
  • It would take centuries for democracy, building on foundations in Africa then to resurface and flourish in England commencing in 1215 with proclamation of the Magna Carta; strengthening of parliament, especially establishment and expansion of the house of commons through the 1832 Reform Act.
  • Other parts of the world were also developing seeds of democracy at different rates and variants. The United States won independence in 1776 on the premise that all men (women not included) are born equal, but still continued to enslave Africans for almost another century and only signed a Civil Rights Act after much blood, sweat and tears had been shed in 1963.
  • The democratic rights that were budding in the colonial centres were denied Africans. Few elections ensued across Africa: the French who incorporated their territories being the exception. Consequently in countries like Ivory Coast and Senegal from the C19th French communes voted for deputies to represent them in the French legislature. Only after 1945 as Africans fought for independence did the British and French belatedly scheme to introduce elections and manipulate these to usher in their chosen and obedient compradors in most countries; the Belgians and Portuguese virtually made no progress in this area. There were 189 country-years of democracy compared to 1823 country-years of dictatorship, showing that Africa in general spent more time under dictatorships. The balance has shifted considerably since the democratic winds of change of the 1990s.
  • More needs to be done, especially as China and other emerging economies move aggressively into Africa, to ensure a reduction in this vicious cycle and to concentrate on sustainable development.

There were NATO meetings in 2011 in Europe and other parts of the world discuss Libya, with virtually no African representation; after all they had disregarded Africa when they instigated the murder and overthrow of the Gaddafi regime. Today Libya has still not recovered from the conflict fuelled 3 years ago, whilst the west enjoys its oil supplies, so called reconstruction of the economy through its corporates etc.


Africa was for decades since the 1960s plagued by poor governance, weak economic policies, misrule, inadequate progress and limited human development. Oxfam estimates that conflicts retard development by 10-15 years and cost Africa $300bn between 1960s-1990s; millions maimed, killed or displaced; and huge infrastructure and institutional damage. Conflicts fuel the arms race; make Africa a humanitarian disaster zone, donor dependent and encourage foreign interference.

Voter turnout is falling in many countries especially if people believe the process will be rigged. Elections in many African countries are seen as life and death contests, winner takes all and avenues to jobs, power and privilege so candidates and their supporters spare no effort legal and illegal to win. Once in power those who funded candidates require returns on their investments, fuelling further corruption, violence and other negatives.


Africans must assert themselves in writing their own history in order to correct the numerous long standing fallacies about the continent. They must understand that this is a war of ideas but very much driven by material issues.  Ideas; innovation; drive etc. are the foundations of this era. 

A people who do not know their history will be deceived and led to the altar of self-hate and inferiority complex, which pervades the Global African Nation, presently. – Matlotleng Matlou, PhD


Elections in Africa: Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread, and All Our Problems Are Solved
by Matlotleng Matlou, Ph.D. Director, Excelsior Afrika Consulting, Tshwane; Research Fellow, Centre for Africa Studies, University of Free State, Bloemfontain, South Africa, Volume 8, Number 4, September 2015

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