US, French independence days should rekindle values of freedom

05Jul 2019
The Guardian
US, French independence days should rekindle values of freedom

EACH country has its own national day, known by different names for instance in the United States as in Tanzania Mainland it is Independence Day, while in France as in China or Zanzibar it is Revolution Day.

To be sure, most people take these events for granted, that at a certain point a country became independent or attained democracy via a revolution, despite that there is plenty in day to day events to show how difficult it is for a country to attain democracy. Revolutions don’t always have happy endings.

The United States of America, by far the most powerful country in the world, whose social and political agenda lays the framework for activism both civic and political across the globe, marked its Independence Day on July 4, and France on July 14.

The French have such a role in a large part of sub-Saharan Africa, where the cultural and political mix of French society and state fashion outlooks in Francophone Africa, since 1960. It was the year in which Gen.

Charles de Gaulle, the liberation leader during Nazi occupation in World War II who returned to power in 1958 in the thick of army revolt against plans for Algerian independence, decided that Africa should be granted independence, and remain tied to France for the rest.

Those who are familiar with histories of independence of not just these countries but others realize that national days are events marked with solemnity often because of the tears and blood which flowed until fundamental change was attained.

This was not our case and we have been largely at peace with ourselves for the entire post-independence period, but we did not create the values upon which we have lived and thrived, or some would say, survived. We are an echo of the values of liberty; they were their founders.

The United States started off as a migrants’ colony with European powers carving out spheres of influence, but economic dynamics set the disparate colonies on the way to spatial fusion as an integral entity. Its rise to nationhood was marked by the most profound and emphatic expression of democratic commitment that has not been equaled elsewhere, as for instance the French Revolution was less about liberty than it was a rejection of control by the church and feudal lords. It took a century to democratize.

In their paths to independence and democratic institutions and in their massive influence around the world along with the United Kingdom for the most part – apart from Russia, China and partially Japan, India and others over the past few decades – the world has learnt its liturgy of democracy and human rights. We in Africa are learning gradually, and often the hard way, what the cherished values of liberty are all about, as after independence we tended to think in nationalistic terms. We rejected multiparty democracy on an ethno-cultural basis, that these are institutions imposed by Europeans, and foreign to African culture, etc.

Few people would make that argument today, after 55 years of experience on what being African, especially being non-democratic, implies. The other side of the equation is responsible governance, where things are done genuinely for the public interest, though in Africa we tend to skip public interest in favor of things done in the interests of the poor, or the majority. Being free and competing is key to democracy.