Systems of Consensus Beyond Conflict

A conversation with visiting professor Nene-Lomo Kuditchar on a qualitative approach to Ghanaian democracy
Independence Arch in Accra, Ghana

Nene-Lomo Kuditchar is rewriting the story of African politics.

A visiting professor to the Fletcher School last semester, Kuditchar scrutinizes the way narratives are spun when interpreting African policy and current events. As a teacher and scholar, he bases his work on the need to revisit, reevaluate, and realign the realities of the continent with the frontline political perspectives.

“There are concepts that we have inherited from the past, based on a number of assumptions about the political tendencies within the African continent,” Kuditchar said. “Most of these concepts are still in place but have lost accuracy and relevance, given the radical changes taking place in international politics and how African states have substantially transformed after independence in 1960s.”

When news emerges of corruption or political parties being unresponsive to the needs of the public, Kuditchar observes that many people assume this is because Africans do not value the rule of law or human rights. However, such claims do not hold under rigorous analysis. Observations like these reside at the core of Kuditchar’s work as a scholar. His ongoing research led him to contribute the chapter, Decoding the Paradox of Decentralization with Centralized Characteristics in Democratic Ghana” in the book Democratic Decentralization, Local Governance and Sustainable Development, published by Springer in November. In this work, Kuditchar made a case study of Ghana’s democracy.

“It is almost forgotten that all African states started their journey as states by being democratic. At independence, every African state had a democratic constitution. This statehood and the quest to be democratic as defined by their constitutions were taking place within a certain context: the Cold War,” said Kuditchar. “Small and newly independent states had no choice but to take sides in conflict between east and west. This presupposed that Africans were at a loss to define democracy on their own terms.”

Democracies across the continent rolled back into authoritarian rule, yet Kuditchar takes care in his work to puzzle why that came to be. His findings with Ghana’s successful democratization in 1992, its fourth attempt to form a democratic government, were illuminating. 

“What Ghana did to get it right was to reconfigure the political aspirations of their ethnic groups, which were initially anti-state at independence, and align it with what the state would aspire to be,” said Kuditchar. Some autonomy was given to ethnic groups, and the state thus configured an effective government. Kuditchar’s scrutiny of historical context is critical both in his research and his teaching.  

“Inasmuch as a quantitative approach may be useful in terms of analytical rigor and precision, it tends to wash away important historical and contextual conditions,” he said. “It is not enough for political transactions to be reduced to numbers. My approach uses qualitative methodology, which privileges the lessons that history has taught, given the events that attend the evolution of African states.”

Revisiting this history is crucial to interpreting current events. The book is an attempt by scholars to revisit a tendency that seemed to have repeated itself: the colonial era saw a “scramble for Africa,” and in the wake of the Cold War, rising powers like China, Russia, and India have begun replicating some of this history.

“More often than not, this quest by global powers to intervene on the continent is crafted with a sense of victimhood: Africans are always victims, always there to be exploited, and passive actors who have no agency whatsoever when they interact with these global powers. That may have been true in the past but is not so now. Africans have a certain agency to navigate and use the presence of these powers that have emerged after the Cold War to their own political advantages.”

During his appointment as visiting professor of African politics, Professor Kuditchar opened these conversations on Fletcher’s campus. In his “African Politics & Development” course, he asked his students to confront the lenses they use to examine events throughout the continent.

“The continent is much more diverse than conflict,” he said. “I always make the point that there are systems of consensus on the continent, not systems of conflict. There are more homegrown important natural experiments going on beyond conflict on the continent as we speak. Given that Fletcher seeks to train people who will be practitioners in global policymaking, it is important that they understand the dimensions on the continent that cannot be reduced to conflict issues.”

Africa is increasingly becoming a global player of significance, and Kuditchar emphasizes that this is because it has something to offer both to itself and the world at large. Policymakers will be empowered if this realization is considered.

Kuditchar enjoyed fostering such dialogue at Fletcher. During his tenure on campus, he particularly appreciated sitting in on classes with Alex de Waal and speaking with students after class to continue discussions, something hardly possible at his home institution given the large class sizes.

“I really commend Fletcher for this move, and I hope that there’s continuation on this path to highlight realities on the continent beyond what we would normally expect,” said Kuditchar. “I’m happy that Fletcher has taken this bold step to lead the way in changing the understanding of the global community.”

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