Elections don’t make a country democratic…
What is DEMOCRACY?
Elections alone don’t make a country democratic. Folks, please take time to read this and check and see if your country is democratic.
In addition to periodic elections, you need ONLY 3 key things: A freely-negotiated constitution; Separation of powers; and Checks and Balances.
A freely-negotiated constitution means one that is NOT written to satisfy the dictates or whims of one person, group or party. A panel of constitutional experts or a consultative assembly that is not packed by the president is engaged to write the constitution. It is then subject to a referendum. But such were not the cases in Africa where constitutions were written according to instructions by:
a. Military dictators — Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Gambia, Ghana (under Rawlings), Libya (under Khaddafi), Nigeria, Sudan, etc,)
b. Rebel leaders – Congo DR, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, etc.
c. Liberation heroes – Nkrumah of Ghana, Nyerere of Tanzania, Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Kaunda of Zambia, Kenyatta of Kenya, Houphouet-Boigny of Ivory Coast, etc
d. Dominant parties in erstwhile one-party states – Angola, Guniea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique,
Such flawed constitutions only entrench/entrenched the political hegemony or concentration of power in the hands of one person, group or party. Note: One cannot copy another country’s constitution. Each constitution has a cultural and historical imprint, reflecting the culture and historical experiences of its respective country.
Separation of powers. The main centers of power in a society are the Executive, the Legislature (Parliament), Law Enforcement, the Judiciary, the Electoral Commission, the Media, the Central Bank and the Military. Separation of powers means that these 8 critical institutions are INDEPENDENT of each other and free from Executive control. Each has a specific role to play.
• The Executive or the President and his administration run the country setting development goals, etc.,
• The Legislature: Its role is to pass laws that make the society function better and to provide oversight over Executive actions,
• Law Enforcement simply enforces the laws passed by Parliament,
• The Judiciary upholds the “rule of law,” ensuring that all, including the Executive, obey the law. Those who break the law are punished by the court system with fines or jail terms,
• The Electoral Commission’s role is to organize free, fair and transparent elections,
• The Media’s role is to ensure free flow of information, exposing wrong-doing (corruption, human rights violations, etc.) or other societal problems (pollution, famine, diseases, etc.) in order for these problems to be solved.
• Central Bank. Its role is to manage the money supply, ensuring that there is just enough money to facilitate trade, exchange and economic activity. Too much money in circulation causes inflation. Zimbabwe’s currency collapsed in 2009 because too much of it was over-printed.
• The Military. Its role is to defend the territorial integrity of the country and defend the Constitution – by force, if necessary.
I have left out the Civil Service because it is too often identified with the Administration or the Executive. Nonetheless, each institution has a “CODE.” There is the “Bar Code,” “Civil Service Code,””Police Code,” “Military Code,” etc. The purpose of these codes is to ensure that these institutions operate PROFESSIONALLY and EFFICIENTLY. For example, if a policeman takes a bribe, he breaks the police code and can be disciplines by demotion, sacking and or prosecution by the Police Commission. Similarly, if a judge is corrupt, s/he can be disciplined by the Judiciary Commission. In this way, each institution cleanses itself.
AN ANALOGY: Institutions are to society what systems are to a vehicle. An automobile has an electrical system, brake system, cooling system, suspension system, transmission system, etc. Each system is INDEPENDENT of the others and has a SPECIFIC function to play. You cannot mismatch them by asking, for example, the brake system to serve as steering. When all systems are operating normally, the vehicle is said to be in GOOD WORKING CONDITION. Similarly, when ALL the institutions of society are doing what they are supposed to do PROFESSIONALLY and EFFICIENTLY, then GOOD GOVERNANCE is said to prevail.
When an institution is dysfunctional, you do NOT ask the president to fix it because that violates the separation of powers. A “conflict of interest” is involved since you cannot ask the president to reform an institution that is supposed to check his arbitrary use of power. Besides, each institution is supposed to cleanse itself. So if a judge is corrupt, do NOT look up to the president to sack him. Go to the Judiciary Commission. For the Government of Tanzania to set up a Ministry of Good Governance reflects total and complete lack of understanding of the concept.
Checks and balances. The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that one center of power does not careen recklessly out of control. If the Executive acts recklessly, Parliament can impeach the president or remove him with a “no confidence” vote. Or if Parliament acts irresponsibly, the president can dissolve it and call for fresh elections. And if Parliament passes a law that is outrageous, the Supreme Court can throw out that law as “unconstitutional.” This is what is meant by checks and balances.
NOTE: Separation of powers and checks and balances require INDEPENDENT institutions. All three go together. If your institutions are subject to control by the Executive or political interference, then they are weak and not independent. If your institutions are not independent, then you do NOT have separation of powers and checks and balances in your political system.
Recall the statement by President Barak Obama in Accra in July 2009: “Africa doesn’t need strong men; it needs strong institutions.” Strong men do NOT build strong institutions. The strength of an institution is determined by how PROFESSIONAL and EFFICIENT that institution is, which depend upon how it enforces its own CODE.
Most countries in Africa flunk the three key tests for democracy – a freely-negotiated constitution, separation of powers and checks and balances. Even some of the 15 democratic countries do NOT pass these tests. In Ghana, for example, the president appoints the Speaker of Parliament, all the Supreme Court Judges, the Governor of the Central Bank, the Electoral Commissioner, the Inspector General of Police, among others. It is absurd; that not only violates the principle of separation of powers but also obliterates any checks and balances in the system. Cameroon, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and host of other countries do not meet these tests.
It is absolutely important to stress that these concepts – a freely negotiated constitution, separation of powers and checks and balances – are not new or alien to Africa. They are all embedded in our traditional political system.
The three units of government at the village level are: The Chief, the Council of Elders and the Village Assembly. The three centers of power are all independent and separate from each other. There are checks and balances in that system. The Chief can be removed from office by the Council of Elders and Councilors themselves can be removed by the people.
In the larger polities, confederation was the common form of political organization. Confederation entails DECENTRALIZATION of power and devolution of authority, which means multiple centers of power that are separate and independent. There are checks and balances in that system too. The most elaborate can be found in the Oyo Empire, which was in existence even before the US gained its independence in 1776. For more on the Oyo Empire, see this link: http://bit.ly/IDkJBh
It should be obvious by now that bad vehicles produce bad drivers. Similarly, bad constitutions produce bad leaders. Any constitution that concentrates enormous unchecked power in the hands of one person will produce a tyrant.
George Ayittey is a Ghanaian economist, author and president of the Free Africa Foundation in Washington DC.He is the author of best selling book “Africa Unchained : Defeating Dictators”.
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