By Sebhat Ayele MCCJ
The word “Democracy” have being used, misused, abused for centuries. Each political ruler uses it in a way to fit his realm. Even outspoken dictators like, Hitler and Mao used it time and again. Democracy is not a toddler born yesterday. Like all other realities it has its own history which is still unfolding globally. Because politician silenced democracy, people are dying under oppression and transgression of human rights. Millions are fleeing their beloved habitat to save their lives. Classical examples are Venezuela of Latin America, Syria of Asia and South Sudan of Africa. Uganda and the other neighboring countries can no more contain the influx of refugees from South Sudan. Italy and Southern Europe are overwhelmed by refugees coming from dictatorships like, Syria, Somalia, Eritrea, etc. When democracy and rule of law are compromised those who pay for it are the “defenseless” citizens. When Democracy is flawed like in the case of Uganda, DRC and Burundi oppositions groups suffer.
The Overall Concept of Democracy
Democracy originated more than 2,400 years ago in ancient Greece. The word “democracy” comes from two Greek words (“Demos”= people and “Kratia”: rule); meaning “RULE BY THE PEOPLE.” It is not a recent invention; the wisdom goes 2400 years behind. While this definition tells us that the citizens of a democracy govern their nation, it omits essential parts of the idea of democracy as practiced in countries around the world. The principal purposes for which the People establish democratic government are the protection and promotion of their rights, interests, and welfare. Democracy requires that each individual be free to participate in the political community’s self-government. Thus political freedom lies at the heart of the concept of democracy. The overall concept of modern democracy has three principal parts: “democracy,” “constitutionalism,” and “liberalism.” Each must exist in a political system for it to be a genuine democracy.
Free and fair elections guarantee Rule by the People
The idea that the People are the ultimate authority and the source of the authority of government is a fundamental principle of democracy. This is what many politicians fail to understand or don’t want to understand. We have some politician in East Africa who claim that they are in power because people want them when it is pure fabrication. Kagame of Rwanda always said that and he won the “phony” elections by 98%. According to many international observers, nobody believes on those figures. If the wishes of the people are not fully expressed through free and fare elections and multiple forms of participation, democracy is blemished. As Charles Onyango Obbo confirms in Eastern African elections the incumbents always win and the Opposition is considered just bad losers. “So, let us say more gently then, that there is no consensus on the outcome of the majority of EAC elections” he says. In other words there is no Popular sovereignty. According to the Greek philosophy if the will of the citizens is not fully practiced there is no popular rule or power. In other words, in an authentic democracy, the just powers of government are based upon the consent of the governed.
Free and fair elections imply political equality of all citizens from all ethnic or tribal groups. This is one of the essential principles of democracy. Unfortunately in many African countries elections are heavily swayed by tribal groups. In one way or another, the ethnic group belonging to the Head of State benefit massively from elections results. Often political parties are allied according to ethnic groups. This does not reflect the principles of genuine democracy. Free and fair elections, therefore, imply no political interference from the ruling party or any other organization. The electoral body should be free to conduct the elections and announce results according to ballots casted by citizens. If the People are to rule, they must have practical means of determining who shall exercise political power on their behalf. Secondly, if they are to rule, the People must also monitor and influence officials’ behavior while in office. As it has been underlined several times, Elections are at the heart of the practical means for the People to assert their sovereignty.
In conclusion, Elections in themselves do not fulfill the requirement of modern democracies; they must be free, fair, and sufficiently frequent if the People’s will is to have effect. Secondly, Free elections means all adult citizens can vote in elections and stand for office. Candidates for office are not in any way blocked from addressing the electorate. Third, “Fair elections” means elections that are fundamentally honest. Voters must not be stopped from voting and all votes must be accurately counted. Last but not least, “frequent elections” mean that elections must be held often enough to enable the People to exercise their control of government. In other words, as overseers of government, the People must have alternative sources of information. No single source, especially an official government source, is sufficient. Freedom of the press is therefore an essential aspect of a democratic government.
The legality of any government is given by the citizens as inscribed in the constitution. No political leadership pretend legality when the constitution is marred or manipulated. It is the constitution that safeguards the basic right of the citizens and not the political leadership. It is obvious that people do not give power to government to oppress or abuse, but rather to protect their fundamental rights, interests, and welfare. Therefore the power of the government is limited by authoritative fundamental laws called “constitutions.”
Constitutions state the powers that the government should have or should not have. Outside this written constitution any activity by a ruling party is illegal or as it is often called “unconstitutional”. In defining these powers, constitutions limit them. This is so because governments may exercise only the powers defined in the constitution. Government is limited to acting within the law and cannot make up rules to suit its convenience. The law applies to everyone, including those who govern.
No one is above the law. The judiciary in political systems such as Germany and the United States has the power of judicial review in order to enforce constitutionalism. “Judicial review” refers to the power of the courts to declare laws passed by legislatures to be null and void if they contradict the nation’s constitution. In these judicial systems, the rule of law begins with the rule of the most fundamental law, the constitution.
Democracy vs. African Traditional Leadership
The Kenyan proverb goes “He who refuses to obey cannot command”. It reflects the African wisdom that those who are in power have the obligation to obey the people and the traditional law. As stated above this is one of the fundamental principles of democracy. The leader has to obey the constitution and the wish of the people. Many uninformed foreigners dispute about the degree of public participation in the African traditional style of governance. But many of them exhibit dialogue and important decisions are taken by the council of chiefs. If otherwise, it means it is corrupted and not truly traditional. In Sidamo, from the southern region ethnic group, there is a strong culture of “amalama” (consultation). Important decisions are taken often after hours of dialogue and the Chief has to respect the opinion of others.
The Nigerian proverb goes “In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams”. This yet is another African wisdom which indicates ways of resolving crisis between ethnic groups. In the same line a Somali proverb states: “If you can’t resolve your problems in peace, you can’t solve war”. This should not be taken as sanctifying the traditional African style of governance. Like in many issues of life there are also abuses and cases of small pariahs in African traditional leadership who ignored their ancestral wisdom. In the wake of independence in the 60ties many African countries copied western democracy without the minimum effort of adapting it to their cultural setup. In the wake of globalization many African youngsters tend to despise their traditional values of governance as “backward” or “obsolete”. They were not taught to love and admire their traditional values in all aspects of life. As the Ivorian proverb goes, “The death of an elderly man is like a burning library”. Whatever comes from the west is swallowed uncritically, even in the case of governance
Leadership is a gift from God. No one can force himself or herself to rule if not gifted. The criteria of choosing political leaders need to rime with their ability to lead the citizens. This is what everyone is witnessing in the USA with Trump putting the whole world in jeopardy. He who is destined for power does not have to fight for it. ~ Ugandan proverb
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