The rule of law and the underpinning political and economic morality

OPINION – The Africa we want to see must and should necessarily be underpinned by key foundational and fundamental values, beliefs and principles.

What makes humanity unique in the animal kingdom is that human beings have intellect that allows them to make choices and one such choice must relate to the kind of social contract that they feel comfortable with.

The notion that no one is above the law inspired Americans, for example, to frame their constitution and must have been popular during the founding of the Republic.

What must have occupied the founding fathers of this Republic must have been the principle that was enshrined in the Massachusetts Constitution by John Adams that sought to establish "a government of laws and not of men".

Indeed, by acknowledging that human beings are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights i.e. life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the founding fathers knew that they had set a firm foundation for nation building.

Any nation that aspires to be sustainable and enduring must be founded on the notion that each and every individual has a right to live life to the fullest.

The right to life is so fundamental in the human kingdom. For non-vegetarians, this right that should also apply to animals that are slaughtered daily, is often taken for granted. Although all animals know from birth that they will die someday, no one must have the right to terminate another life with impunity.

What must, therefore, inform any durable nation building project must be the notion that human beings must fill the gap between birth and death with the belief that only God must be responsible for terminating life.

In free countries, the relationship between human beings must have a legal framework that guides it otherwise the law applicable in the animal world will take root.

In absolute governments, the king or dictator is law but in free countries the law ought to be king.

Citizens must decide what kind of country they want to see and it is vital that choices are made for any failure to make choices has consequences.

We all know that even the most powerful and wealthy have to succumb to death and have no capacity to extend life or even to increase the number of hours in a day. Even a billionaire must accept that life has its own possibilities and limitations.

In a democratic constitutional order, a rich person is entitled to a single vote in as much as the poorest. Even dictators cannot do two things at the same time. They are after all human.

At the very minimum, we must accept that equality before the law or equality under the law being the principle under which each individual is subject to the same laws, with no individual or class of people having special legal privileges or disabilities; is a fundamental foundational principle. Any social contract that departs from this principle will result in good minds migrating to environments that guarantee liberty and equality.

The focus on the need for the rule of law, also called the supremacy of law, by developed countries in the relationship with former colonies must be understood in the context of nation building.

Africa’s heritage was not only disturbed by colonial intervention but must also have been enriched by the political morality that made Europeans feel confident to subjugate other people in the name of civilization.

The manner in which we treat other beings of the animal kingdom must be instructive of how we view life. The life of a pig, for instance, has to be seen in the pork that we consume. We rarely pause to reflect on our impact on what God intended for us as a collective.

Like the colonialists, actions of human beings are primarily informed by self interest and less by the desire to create a world that works for all.

The values that informed post-colonial Africa largely reflect the values that informed the colonial order. During the colonial order the law was not above everyone and it was applied selectively.

Nothing much has changed even after 53 years of uhuru. Africa’s governors and rulers often behave as if they came from heaven and the application of the laws that are enacted is also often arbitrary, discretionary and selective.

Accepting that human beings are the most complicated assets, any nation that seeks to inspire allegiance from its citizens must enact laws that are very transparent and clearly worded so that the intended targets would clearly understand what the costs and benefits of compliance are. Laws and prohibitions must necessarily be few so that both citizens and law enforcers can easily remember them and people can live in freedom and security.

Ordinarily African conversations have less to do with the kind of issues that should advance the continent’s interests but to do with the personal interests and yet nation building compels all to pause to think about issues like rule of law and property rights. Without the rule of law, the right to property is rendered meaningless.

What has often clouded our conversations is that the colonial order was also inspired by the same principles that we now seek to enshrine in the post-colonial dispensation. The colonial settlers saw no reason to be inclusive and for the rule of law to apply also to natives.

To the extent that natives were considered to be uncivilized, the founding principles, values and beliefs of the colonial system had nothing to do with promoting human civilization but the preservation and sustenance of an unjust political dominant culture.

We all know that one day we are going to die but what gives us the energy to continue leaving and attaching ourselves to material things is the notion that even in death no one is allowed to negotiate away one’s assets in a manner that is contrary to one’s wishes.

If rules are predictable and consistent and more importantly if the values that inform such rules are anchored on sound principles, human creativity and imagination is easily inspired and cultivated.

A chaotic political order is unlikely to inspire confidence. Any leader must know as any follower should that the more power one accumulates the less effective one becomes. Nations that are governed by despots are unlikely to inspire confidence. Even despots know that there are limits to what they can do on their own but the nation’s progress is nothing other than the aggregate of citizens’ progress.

Any nation that anchors its future on the choices of a leader is doomed to fail. However, nations that are founded on key foundational principles like the rule of law are likely to prosper as it is only systems that provide humanity with the kind of confidence to invest in today so that tomorrow can be a brighter day.

We often expect our interests to be subservient to the interests of those who are privileged to govern us forgetting that we are the change that we want to see. Our individual experiences shape our worldview.

The future of Africa must, therefore, be located in the actions of those who believe in the continent.

What makes the African experience less challenging is that we can reflect on other people’s experiences to know what works and what does not.

Economic and social change is inextricably linked to some key foundational and fundamental principles, values and beliefs.