Panafrican Bilingual Corporates Magazine + English section

107

INTERVIEW OF PROF. ADEBAYO OLUKOSHI

Sept, 2020

 Panafrican Bilingual Corporates Magazine (PBCM):

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

PROF. ADEBAYO OLUKOSHI:

My name is Adebayo Olukoshi. I am a Research Professor of International Economic Relations. Currently, I serve as the Director for Africa and West Asia at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Prior to this, I served as the Director of Research at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in Lagos, Senior Fellow/Research Programme Coordinator at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, a senior programme staff at the South Centre in Geneva, Executive Secretary of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) in Dakar, Interim Director of the South Centre in Geneva, and Director of the UN African Institute for Economic Development and Planning (IDEP). I am a Nigerian.

PBCM:

What motivated you to go into International Relations, Governance, and Human Rights?

PROF. ADEBAYO OLUKOSHI:

It is a bit difficult to say with complete precision. I grew up in an environment in which social and economic issues commanded a lot of attention whether it be in terms of poverty and inequality, struggles for better wages by workers and their unions, student activism for justice, human rights, and democracy, etc. Moreover, from the time of my entry into secondary school at Federal Government College Sokoto to my undergraduate years at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, I drew considerable inspiration from the contributions and life struggles of many role models such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Martin Luther King Jr, Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, etc. Those were also years of vibrant student activism across Nigeria in support of the liberation anti-Apartheid struggles in Southern Africa and awareness about the multiplicity of rights and justice issues involved was very strong. At a more personal level, my oldest brother who was also a mentor and role model was extensively invested in the Humanities which he had studied at the university. I had the privilege of reading many of the books he had read and discuss them with him. By the time I went into university myself, I was pretty clear that I wanted to be in the social sciences and humanities and my journey into studies in advanced research and studies in the social sciences began in earnest.

PBCM:

What is International IDEA about?

PROF. ADEBAYO OLUKOSHI:

International IDEA is an inter-governmental organization established in 1995 with the sole mandate of promoting democracy worldwide. It is the only inter-governmental body with such a mandate. It has members and offices in all of the five continents and prides itself with being a think and do tank that produces useable comparative knowledge and tools on democratic processes and systems and provides technical support for democratic reforms and advancement. Its work is carried out on a non-prescriptive basis.

PBCM:

How far is International IDEA achieving its objectives?

PROF. ADEBAYO OLUKOSHI:

In good measure. The Institute is recognized globally as a leading and high regarded source of quality comparative knowledge and practical tools for democracy actors to use in their work. Practically, it contributes, in varying degrees of intensity, to democratic governance reform around the world, including in constitutional and electoral reforms. It is respected for its non-prescriptive, independent, and impartial ways of engaging.

PBCM:

How is democracy doing in Africa considering the conflicts taking place in different parts of the continent?
PROF. ADEBAYO OLUKOSHI:

Compared to where it was at the end of the 1980s when military rule and single party systems were still dominant on the continent, Africa has clearly taken giant steps in the march towards democratization. Most governments in place today are products of elections conducted on the basis of a multiparty competition. There have been several successful cases of alternation of power between ruling and opposition parties through the ballot box. Overall, election management bodies have improved considerably in capacity and performance since the 1990s. By and large, basic human rights are respected by most governments. Media pluralism and civil society activism are now mainstream feature of everyday life in most countries. The examples of progress made are many. However, there is still much unfinished business on the ground and this should not perhaps be surprising given that the democratic project is itself a permanent work in progress. More still needs to be done to improve the integrity of elections in many countries, curb corruption in governance and the corrosive influence of unregulated money in politics, level the playing field between ruling and opposition parties, achieve a much better system of internal checks and balances and separation of powers, promote internal democracy in political parties, improve electoral justice, etc. Also, elected governments in Africa must still organize themselves better to deliver dividends of democracy to the citizenry through development policies that create jobs for the teeming population of young people, improve living standards, generate opportunities for advancement, etc.

PBCM:

What would you prescribe as a suitable form of governance in Africa? Some experts suggest a mix of democracy and dictatorship.

PROF. ADEBAYO OLUKOSHI:

My take on this is very simple: After decades of authoritarian/dictatorial governmental systems, complete with personal rule, many life presidencies, massive human rights abuses, significant blood-letting, chronic instability, etc., Africa is, in my view, condemned to democracy despite its imperfections. It is true that the last 30 years of efforts at democratization have been a mixed bag but it is also clear that the answer to the shortcomings experienced and challenges encountered is not a resort to dictatorship but, as elsewhere in the world, an investment of efforts to do better. Across the continent, there is ample evidence, including survey results that show that the democratic ideal remains a key part of the broad consciousness of the people. Citizens are, in the face of myriad problems, demanding more and better democracy, and not less democracy. Now, we are faced with a certain perversion of the overarching will of the people in which many governments embrace a ritual of regular elections as a facade for the highly authoritarian systems they run. Africa has many of such hybrid regimes and International IDEA has documented them in its Global State of Democracy Report which I commend to your readers to study for the key findings it reports. I think it is interesting to note here that hybrid regimes in Africa, as elsewhere, do not provide any better results for society than democratic ones. Quite on the contrary.

PBCM:

Digitization is seen as a way forward for efficiency and effectiveness in solving Africa’s problems. Is Africa catching up in the application of digitization to governance?

PROF. ADEBAYO OLUKOSHI:

Africa is clearly experiencing a massive and rapid penetration of digital technologies and solutions in virtually all spheres of life, including governance. In Cabo Verde, e-governance has been in place for several years now. In most other countries, to one degree or another, there are some elements of e-governance that have been introduced. The domain of electoral administration is also witnessing the application of various digital solutions, from the registration of voters, the voting process itself, and the tabulation and transmission of results. Africa is clearly a growth pole for digital applications. It is not a risk-free development and we hope governments and other actors will ensure to invest as much in managing the risks as they do on acquiring the technologies.

PBCM:

What are the prospects for African youth on the continent in view of the constant exodus to the West through the perilous Mediterranean route?

PROF. ADEBAYO OLUKOSHI:

The mass migration of young Africans through the Sahara and the Mediterranean is one of the tragedies of our time. It speaks to the inability so far of most of our countries to take full advantage of the youthfulness of our populations to transform the continent. Massive and prolonged youth unemployment, diminishing hope, and pervasive corruption contribute to the feeling of abandonment by government and societies that some of the youth feel. Migration is one of the options being exercised by the youth. Gangsterism and radical extremism are the other options that we have also seen unfolding. The consequence is that we are in danger of losing what should have been a dividend for our socio-economic transformation. It is not too late to prevent a youth bomb from exploding.

PBCM:

Why does Africa come across as being weak when it comes to international negotiations?

PROF. ADEBAYO OLUKOSHI:

Modern international trade negotiations are very complex and time-consuming. They require an array of specialists and involve a combination of disciplines. Too many African countries, given their sizes, are simply lacking in the capacity to enable them cope. That is why recent efforts to define a broad continental strategy for negotiations under the auspices of the AU (African Union) merits to be closely considered.

PBCM:

Are there lessons Africa should learn from the Asian Tigers?

PROF. ADEBAYO OLUKOSHI:

Africa certainly has a lot to learn from the comparative experiences of others. From the Asian Tigers, I would suggest that honing of the developmental capacity of the state is one such area from which Africa can learn. Effective trade and industrial policies aimed at generating jobs, expanding domestic productive capacity, improving domestic value addition, increasing exports, etc. are examples of domains in which the experience of Asian Tigers can be very useful to us.

PBCM:

What message would you like to leave for African leaders with regard to international relations in the world today?

PROF. ADEBAYO OLUKOSHI:

Very simple: Be clear what it is you want from the world, have a clear strategy for getting it, and go for it. There is clearly no altruism in world affairs and every country will have to decide how best to secure the dignity of its people.