Pre-Colonial African Societies that Practiced Democracy: A Look at the Igbo and Ashanti

21 Feb 2023

When people think of African societies before colonialism, they may envision them as primitive, chaotic, or disorganized. However, many pre-colonial African societies were highly structured and had well-developed political systems. In fact, some African societies had forms of democracy long before the arrival of European colonizers.

One example of a pre-colonial African society that practiced a form of democracy is the Igbo people of Nigeria. The Igbo had a complex system of government that was based on a system of village councils. Each village was led by a council of elders, who were elected by the community. These councils were responsible for making decisions about the village's social, economic, and political affairs.

The Igbo also had a system of checks and balances that ensured that no one person or group held too much power. For example, the council of elders was balanced by a council of women, who had their own set of responsibilities and powers. In addition, the village assembly, made up of all the adult members of the community, had the power to remove any council member who was not fulfilling their duties.

Another example of a pre-colonial African society that practiced democracy is the Ashanti people of Ghana. The Ashanti had a highly structured political system that was based on a complex hierarchy of chiefs and sub-chiefs. Each community had its own chief, who was responsible for the day-to-day running of the community. However, the Ashanti also had a system of regional chiefs, who were responsible for overseeing a group of communities.

The Ashanti had a system of government that was based on consensus and consultation. The regional chiefs would meet regularly to discuss important issues and make decisions that affected the whole region. These decisions were made through a process of consensus-building, with each chief having an equal say in the final decision. The Ashanti also had a system of checks and balances, with a powerful council of elders who had the power to remove any chief who was not fulfilling their duties.

It's worth noting that these pre-colonial African societies were not without their flaws or challenges. For example, the Igbo and Ashanti were both patriarchal societies, with men holding most of the positions of power. However, these societies had their own unique ways of addressing these issues and balancing power.
Unfortunately, the arrival of European colonizers disrupted many pre-colonial African societies and imposed a foreign system of government that often disregarded the existing political structures. This legacy of colonialism is still felt in many African countries today, with many struggling to build stable and democratic political systems that reflect their unique histories and cultures.

In conclusion, the Igbo and Ashanti societies are just two examples of pre-colonial African societies that practiced democracy in their own way. These societies had well-developed political systems that were based on consultation, consensus-building, and checks and balances. While these societies were not perfect, they offer a glimpse into the rich and diverse history of African politics, and a reminder that democracy is not a Western invention, but a universal human aspiration.

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