Democracy ‘don’t mean a thing if…’


HARARE – The above is a line from the jazz classic which actually says “if it ain’t got that swing”.

Democracy doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t include all the people ….every Tom, Dick or Harry.

Or Tichaona, Sibongile and Dingiswayo.

In other words, in a democracy, there is a sort of equality. All voters —presidents, prime ministers, archbishops, chief executives of multinationals and peanut butter vendors — all enter the same ballot box to cast their vote.

Nothing is coloured differently to denote seniority.

In truth, democracy suggests that all citizens have the inalienable right to choose who is going to run their country — or even how.

Both the millionaire and the peasant have this enormous right — to decide their rulers.

I mulled over these weighty matters after listening to a BBC African Service programme whose subject, in so many words, posed the weighty question: Is democracy right for Africa?

There were many proposals. One I shall always remember proposed that the primary functions of a government ought to be to keep the people well-fed, employed, provided with all the services necessary for a normal life — providing  jobs, schools, hospitals and so on.

In other words, a Parliament would probably be an unnecessary expenditure and expensive, anyway. According to some of the panellists, democracy as defined in the West was entirely unnecessary for Africa.

The debate was held in Lusaka and a popular BBC announcer, Alex Jakana, was in charge.

Members of the opposition in Zambia complained bitterly that they were being constantly harassed by the government of President Michael Sata — and wondered why, I supposed.

Opposition members in other African countries have been killed, but that is another matter altogether.

I knew Sata during his days as a unionist. He, like all other unionists and politicians in the then northern Rhodesia, called for independence for their country. They called for a government of their own — of the Africans.

There was no democracy in colonialism. So, the African people fought the British government to grant them independence, in which they would determine their own future, entirely on their own.

They demanded democracy for their countries. It was said Britain had democracy. Why didn’t they wish for the Africans to have this same democracy too?

My suspicion, during a period covering the independence of Ghana in 1957 and the civil wars in so many African countries since then, is that many African leaders are not psychologically comfortable with the raw concept of democracy — government of the people, for the people and by the people.

The naked truth is that many African leaders would prefer to run things in their own way — and to hell with democracy.

The question I pose is: why the hell did they sacrifice so many valuable African lives to get rid of colonialism, when, in truth, they had not decided how they would run their independent countries?

A cynic might conclude that this is why Africa has been unable, so far, to make a dent on the desperate poverty on the continent:  most leaders are, instead, preoccupied with how to run their countries, years and years after they led the fight for independence.

Without being malicious, I would say South Africa is a prime example: the richest African country still has people in the urban areas without decent lavatories.

What kind of intense debate do you need to decide that a certain urban housing area, long neglected by the much-hated and despised apartheid regimes, needs new decent lavatories?

How do you explain the recent strikes in the motor industry? Why can’t a democratic government settle such an apparent soluble problem?

A wild suggestion is that both workers and employers have no idea of the first requirement of democracy: compromise.

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