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Millennial Democracy and Spectral Reality in Post-colonial Africa

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One could not pertinently speak about the recent experience of multi-partyism in Africa without acknowledging the ‘teleological meta-narratives’ of democracy. That is, a system of knowledge and a series of discourses, theories and ideologies that were constructed around the very idea of political liberalization, and that helped to frame its principles, as well as to orientate its form, expression, mode of functioning and representation. But whatever their orientations, assumptions or theoretical oppositions, all these savoirs shared the same messianic approach to democracy and the same uni-linear evolutionist vision about the social and political adjustment which many African countries were going through in the early 1990s. Indeed, political liberalization, as envisaged by both developmentalist and modernist philosophies, assumed not only the universal principle of elective representation, good governance, freedom, fair competition and alternation, but also embraced the enlightenment ideals of emancipation, progress, change and betterment. In this contribution, which does not claim to assess the experience of democracy in sub-Saharan Africa, we want to examine how these grand narratives have affected Africans’ imaginations and the way they represent multi-party politics, and how, as a result of these millenarian ideologies, many of them have transformed the political adjustment into a sort of mythology of redemption. However, what is much more important to us is to demonstrate that modernist (developmentalist and evolutionist) formulations of the democratization process of the early 1990s, as a simple replication of western modernity, have failed to take up the conceptual and methodological challenges which these theories encountered when they travelled from the West to sub-Saharan Africa.


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