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The limitations of liberal democracy do not necessarily imply that more viable forms of democracy presently exist. The search for alternative forms of democracy is, therefore, unlikely to die. One possible alternative to liberal democracy is consensus democracy. Among the general characteristics of this type of democracy are that decisions are reached through compromises and concessions rather than through a majoritarian "winner-takes- all' election formula. This implies that power is shared among different social groups, as was the case in originally constituted Africa, albeit on a more localized scale. Some argue that this form of democracy is indispensable in developing societies that suffer from serious internal cleavages.

Some of the nationalist leaders of the era of decolonization, such as Nyerere and Senghor (6), argued that a consensus-based single party political system was appropriate for Africa, since African societies were not polarized along class lines. Far from promoting a consensual system though, single parties have degenerated into a suppression of alternative views, ethnic dominance and authoritarian dictatorships. A multi-party system is more compatible with consensual democracy since it allows ethnic groups to choose their party affiliation and induces political parties to accommodate a diversity of groups.

In fact during the period of "decolonization" in Africa, the colonial state created democratic institutions in many countries in an effort to leave behind liberal democracies. However these institutions, created hurriedly at the eleventh hour, had little chance of survival since there were no foundations to sustain them. In the absence of a civil society to keep it accountable. The elite by and large used the state to advance its own interests. Under these conditions, these institutions crumbled like a house of cards. Given the autonomy of the self-serving elite, a genuine pursuit of development became largely impossible.

The conditions for democracy have now improved notably from what they were in the 1960s: awareness of the relevance of democracy is greater, and the pro-democracy social classes are stronger. The post-Cold War global climate is also in some regards more conducive to democracy than it was throughout the Cold War. The elite that had little organized opposition at the time of decolonization is now facing greater demands for rights, social justice and multi-party democratic political systems. One critical external obstacle to the success of democracy, though, is the marketization drive, which is largely imposed on African states by the IMF and World Bank.

Given the magnitude of the deprivation of the peasantry and the consequently internal fragmentation of African societies, for Mengisteab, a democratic state that is active in the redistribution of resources is likely to have more significant impact in advancing human resource development and state-building than a liberal and majoritarian democratic system.

For in the latter case market coercion if left unchecked leaves resource allocation to the market mechanism. It is also more likely to promote auto-centric development by transforming the peasantry and thereby expanding internal dynamics for growth. For the same reasons, consociational social democracy is also more likely to be stable than liberal democracy.

As long as large segments of the population are marginalized, allocation of resources by private economic units (via the market) remains essentially elitist, drawing resources towards those with purchasing power. It relegates the transformation of the subsistence sector to the ineffective trickle-down process. Thus, contrary to the expectation of the liberalization school, the market mechanism cannot be a panacea for Africa's economic crisis, at least until its preconditions are established. Instead we have a vicious circle in which the deprived peasantry, due to its lack of purchasing power, fails to influence market decisions. As a result, producers bypass the needs of the peasantry and this, in turn, perpetuates their deprivation.

The post-independence African state, for Mengisteab then, was simply too weak to fundamentally change the colonial economic structures. Where attempts to bring structural changes and to control the national process of accumulation were manifested, the leaders were either overthrown and/or murdered – as in the cased of Lumumba in the Congo and Cabral in Guinea-Bissau – by the combined forces of imperialism and the domestic elite who benefited from the system and naturally wanted to maintain it. Others, realizing their inabilities to challenge the power of imperialism, chose not to endanger their survival and abandoned the goals of social change.

In most other cases, the leaders of the post-independence state have shown neither the commitment nor the competence to bring about such changes. As Claude Ake notes (7), they saw the advantages the inherited social order provides for self-enrichment and chose to embrace it. Accordingly, the elite has intervened in the economy, to a large extent, in order to advance its own economic interests and to create patronage with certain politically influential social groups or segments of the population.

The lack of success, then, in restructuring the economy, in controlling the process of accumulation, and in creating conditions for socio-economic development also undermined national independence from foreign domination. With deepening economic crisis in the 1980s, the African state has increasingly surrendered economic policymaking to the IMF, World Bank and the bilateral lenders. In terms of economic policymaking the African state seems much less independent in the 1990s than it was at the time of formal independence.

The solution to the dilemma, according to Mengisteab, lies in reforming the African state and in expanding its capability in order to promote a society-serving developmentalist intervention in place of the self-serving intervention that largely characterizes it at the present time. Promoting a developmentalist intervention does not imply weakening the market. On the contrary, it involves coordinating the role of the state and the market in such a way that the benefits from the strengths of each are maximized.


As a principal actor in a mixed economy, the state can formulate economic policies that improve the peasantry's access to resources. Only the state can provide peasants with access to productivity-raising resources such as fertilizers, appropriate tools, better quality seeds, research services and marketing facilities. Additionally, the state can play

a major role in creating an atmosphere conducive for mobilizing peasants to assume responsibility for their own transformation. The experience of the post-reform Chinese village complex is extremely valuable, Mengisteab claims, in this regard. The village complex in many parts of China is engaged not only in agricultural production but also in industrial and commercial activities, as the Italian-American sociologist, and one time mentor of one of us, Ronnie Lessem, in Zimbabwe, the late Giovanni Arrighi (8) has documented in his Adam Smith in Beijing. Land, property and enterprises are owned by the village collectively but they are also run along the lines of a price system by a unified management of the village committee. Empowerment of the peasantry, utilizing the price system and collective enrichment, are the lessons that can be learned from the Chinese village complex.

It goes without saying that state activity is clearly required in providing infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, roads, railways, power stations and telecommunications facilities. Thus the criteria for economic reforms in Africa should be how to use the state and the market effectively to solve problems and not simply to reduce the role of the state at any cost as the current counterrevolution attempts to do.

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