Mmegi Blogs :: Democracy growing in starts and fits
Last Updated
Wednesday 17 January 2018, 23:00 pm.
Democracy growing in starts and fits

Botswana hit the ground running in 1966 by adopting multi-party democracy as her government system when she was granted her independence by Great Britain.
By Michael Dingake Tue 19 Dec 2017, 17:24 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Democracy growing in starts and fits

African countries , an overwhelming majority had opted for one-party democracy.

The new African independent states believed they had always practiced democracy without parties. The kgotla/nkundla system practised widely by Africans was democratic since decisions were adopted after matters were thoroughly canvassed and discussed by the men who claimed to represent their womenfolk, who were per custom bracketed with the children.

The men certainly had all the time to consider pertinent matters impinging on the lives of the community. Except when there were hostilities, between groups competing for land and ownership of all the wealth:  animals, wild and domesticated, that roamed the plains and guaranteed survival of the community; men had time to spare, and exploited the time to consider how best to survive in the environment, often hostile and unpredictable.

The newly independent African rulers argued that the one-party democracy, they practised according to tradition was ideal, conducive to unity, since it was based on consensus, whereas multiparty democracy was inherently divisive; multiparty democracy encouraged dissension by creating a platform for it. Life was relatively uncomplicated prior to colonialism and the independence that came after colonial domination, except for occasional wars that broke out now and then . Free speech was of the essence, though dikgosi (chiefs),  recognised leaders  had the final word on grave matters, under the rubric: lehoko la kgosi le agelwa mosako (chief’s word was sacrosanct). An unpopular kgosi, a rare phenomenon popping up occasionally, was given short shrift, driven away, killed or ostracised and life went on under a new kgosi.

What also encouraged leaders of the newly independent states to stick to the one-party democracy, to some extent was, the antagonism existing  between the colonial/capitalist West and the revolutionary socialist East: the West claimed to be democratic and model for development on which the new independent states could benchmark. The socialist countries countered that the so-called Western democracy was democracy for a few, whereas their democracy, ironically called the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was a democracy for the majority, since the working class was in the majority and had the right to ‘dictate’ to a few capitalists who exploited their labour. The argument was, democracy of the western type was in fact deceitful, because it was nothing but a dictatorship of the few (capitalists) over the majority (workers).

 With the passage of time, multiparty democracy seems to have gained traction. Former one-party states have become multiparty democracies albeit in theory.  More independent African countries have discarded one-partism for  multipartism and few revolutionary socialists who previously denounced multipartism have in theory embraced multiparty democracy.  A number of developments may have influenced the trend towards multiparty democracy: military coups and the political instability that seemed to result from one-partism; affiliation of all


the newly independent states into regional, continental and international organisations like SADC, AU and the United Nations; the cold war between the West and the East played a tremendous role in forging the tolerance, if not complete acceptance of democracy as taught by political scientists and defined  by Abe Lincoln, American president as: government OF the people BY the people FOR the people. It is easy to define and analyse democracy, but very difficult to practise or live it. Look at our own Botswana which enthusiastically and promptly jumped into the bandwagon of multiparty democracy the moment she was granted independence. Botswana has up to now, 50+ years after independence, no Freedom of Information Act,  viewed as essential for the practice of democracy; she has no public funding for political parties; she has dismally failed to legislate, let alone practise equality of ethnic groups; she doesn’t appear ready to introduce free and compulsory education designed to wipe out illiteracy that continues to impoverish the nation; the checks and balances necessary in the  harmonisation of the three arms of government continue to elude our democracy!

Botswana has of course adopted general elections as the modus operandi of an important assessment to determine the majority in the democratic process. In determining the quality of election candidates the ruling BDP has gone further and introduced Bulela Ditswe (primaries) to help sift chaff from grain. Primaries, analysts regard as crucial for quality party candidates to compete with rival political party candidates; secondly, candidates so determined obviously should make good representatives for their constituents!  That should make sense, doesn’t it? Now here’s the catch: While all Batswana, 18 years-old upward have the franchise to elect representatives, recently the ruling BDP fought a case in court to disqualify civil servants from voting to elect candidates of their choice! In other words civil servants, who are BDP members are virtually disenfranchised from selecting candidates of their choice!

Primaries elections are an American invention; they were adopted by some political parties in the First-Past-The-Post electoral system around the world. Initially Americans had two kinds of primaries: open and closed. Under open, any voter irrespective of party affiliation could vote; under closed, only party members voted. Taking advantage under ‘open’ primaries was that non-party members voted strategically for weaker candidates likely to be defeated by the non-member’s party. This critical observation implies that a party denying voters to vote in primaries, risked inviting non-members into its primaries. We’ve heard of bo-ntlodise molatswana (help me cross the rivulet)! By cheating the voters, one invites cheating in retaliation! Disenfranchisement of members is undemocratic. It’s tantamount to denying members freedom of choice. It’s disastrous, that the judiciary supported the BDP on the issue!


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