Monday, September 21, 2020

Democracy is not about elections!

The question has been asked why I deal with political matters on a linguistic column. Actually, I never deal with politics. I only deal with language. I follow it wherever it goes. Fortunately it knows no subject boundaries. Like water it goes into unexpected crevices ÔÇô some of these fissures just happen to be political. At other times my column has an Education slant, sometimes a national one, at others a computational one. It is important to deal with words and attempt to clarify their meanings to eschew obfuscation, much preferred by some to hoodwink ÔÇô could there be any greater national service?

Once more I return to the word democracy and its etymology. Its etymology is the Greek word demokratia constituted by demos meaning the people and kratia meaning power or rule. Democracy is purely about the people’s power or rule. Power lies in demos ÔÇô the people. They, the people have the power to rule or govern. Demos shall govern. The people make decisions about what they want to do with power. Democracy is not about elections. Elections are only one way which facilitates democracy. Democracy is about demos-power and not leaders-power. It is not about elections. But lately elections have taken central stage on democracy discourse. This is wrong since democracy is not about elections. Elections come only once every 5 years. Democracy is alive every day since democracy is about the people and power. To measure democracy, our responsibility is not to ask if there are elections, since democracy is not about elections. The question to pose is whether the people as a collective have power or whether power lies in the hands of a small cluster of individuals. If power is not in the hands of the people, then there is no democracy. This power is not about choosing leaders. Democracy is not about leaders. It is about the people themselves. It is people’s absolute power to decide their entire lives, the best way they know how. In a democracy, the people are supreme. Therefore for social scientists to look for elections as key indicators of democracy it is to look for the wrong thing. Elections can actually be the enemy.

If elections are in effect a legitimizing system of taking power from the people, then elections are undemocratic. Democracy is about people and power, anything else that attempts to destroy or distort that duality, becomes counter-democratic. Democracy is not a system that transfers power from the people to the leaders. Leaders are only relevant if they express ideas and wishes of the people. Leaders do not think for the people; their principal role is to implement what people want. To think for the people is paternalistic. The people can think for themselves. What the leader needs to do is to keep his ear to the ground and listen to the rhythm of the people’s wishes. He is not the people’s father; he is the people’s servant ÔÇô ke morongwa. His principal role is to echo the people’s voice. The youthful politician was therefore right when he said roma nna! Demos must stay supreme if we are to build a perfect republic.

No, no, no and a thousand times no, democracy is not about discipline. At the heart of democracy is sweet indiscipline. Democracy is about demos ÔÇô the people themselves ÔÇô all the people: rich, poor, young, old, educated, crude, men and women. It is about civilians crafting their own future ÔÇô the best way they know how. It is not about anyone instilling discipline on the people since there is no one above the people themselves. In a democracy the people are above the leader, invidious as they may sound to some. The people are the ones to discipline the wayward leader. And waywardness is easy to define, for it is any deviation from the expectations and demands of the people themselves. The people have no father figure empowered to rap their knuckles when they get off line. The people are the father; the leaders are the children. It should be expected that the people’s views will not be homogenous. And for democracy to flourish, the views should not be homogenous. Democracy is a tapestry of multiple opinions; a cacophony of undisciplined voices harmonised into a beautiful symphony by the people themselves. The threats of discipline are not part of democracy; they are part of its ugly embellishments which the people must reject. No, in a democracy the leaders are not above the people. In a democracy the people are supreme. The leaders hold power, information and control resources in trust of the people. A public servant cannot and shouldn’t refuse the people information that is legitimately theirs. Ministers don’t have ministries. They only lead ministries on behalf of the people. It is therefore absurd for a minister to claim that he should be left to run his ministry.

The ministry is not his ÔÇô he found the ministry there, and the ministry will be there long after he is gone. It is the people’s ministry. The minister is therefore principally accountable to the people and not so much to his party. The party’s mandate to rule only makes sense when seen against the people’s wishes. British governments largely get this right. In Botswana, the party caucus is an ass for it puts itself ahead of the people. It has illegitimate power. In a democracy power lies with the people, not with a caucus. Elections are not democracy; democracy is power in the hands of the people and nowhere else.

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