Never in the 21st Century has there been a word or a concept accepted at a supersonic speed as the word ‘democracy’. Democracy, from since it was first used in the pre-Christian era, is widely believed to be the safest and fairest system of political and social organisation.
It is painted, in such grandly ornamented language, as the only system without which humanity has no hope to fair judgement, equality before the law, freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of conscience, and what have you. These features have enjoyed proclamation in such great historic documents as the US declaration of independence; the French declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen, which affirmed the principles equality before the law and of civil liberty; and the Atlantic charter, which formulated the four basic freedoms.
Given its spiced description, it is not surprising therefore, that, with almost maddening alacrity, by the middle of the 20th century, almost every independent country in the world had a government that, in form or in practice, embodied some of the principles of this system. Having witnessed the ideals of democracy widely professed, have the ideals of this system practiced and fulfilled?. After having tested its fruits, is democracy what is that it is or claimed to be, or a carefully-concocted tale of a concept in which demon-cracy hides?
Democracy is defined as government of people by people for the people. The phrases government of people and by people are of least importance, at least for the purposes of this article, as they arguably lack socio-political ideology investments. The final phrase for the people however, is pregnant with ideologies, and to this the article turns its attention to. The caveat in the phrase for the people is the preposition for which has 22 different meanings according to Microsoft Encarta 2007. In this phrase, however, for means intended/designed/meant to benefit people, or most precisely, the citizens.
Generally speaking, if something, or say, a house, has been bought with the sole intention or design that children benefit from it, it logically follows that the guardian should do everything he can with the proceeds from the house to promote the children’s wellbeing. In that it is meant that the guardian should do things that have good effect on all the children, without overt or covert discrimination.
It is upon this understanding that democracy is premised, and said to be a representation of the citizenry. Stated clearer, it is a right to a form of government in which power to hire and fire is invested in the citizens as a whole, with the hired representatives, it should be emphasized here, exercising the power on the citizens’ behalf. This conceptualization of democracy tarries with the major features of democracy as it is said such as individual freedom, which entitles citizens to the liberty and responsibility to shape their own opinions and to conduct their own affairs; equality before the law; and universal suffrage and education, all intended to benefit the populace.
We assume someone did not know the meaning of democracy, after this article, it may be categorically said they have known its meaning, if they were asked, ‘’given this definition of democracy, do you think we’ve democracy in the world, or in Malawi in particular?”. Your guess of their answer is as good as mine, and no mistake about that.
It is a sad fact that in the name of a supposedly emancipatory democracy, the world is, evidently, subjected to demon-cracy, that is, rule by people who are more than willing to cause harm, pain, and misery in the name of achieving their vested interests. It is a sadder fact that instead of promoting freedom of speech, freedom of association, and equality before the law, the king-making populace is taken as nothing but toothpicks with which the kings they have made use, misuse, and abuse with first grade impunity. And, to boot, saddest is the fact that the king-making populace is so politically and intellectually naive as to fail to realize the wisdom in the age old adage, “what’s beaten twice shy”.
If you were to ask me whether, in Malawi, we had, have, (or will have?) democracy or demon-cracy, I would answer you, “the latter”.