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Africans need to review the electoral democracy system

13 Dec 2021 at 07:08hrs | Views
ZIMBABWE will go to the polls in 2023 to choose its leadership. It is a regular ritual the country adopted at independence in 1980 when it declared itself a democracy.

That meant every five or six years citizens are supposedly given, via the Constitution, a chance to choose who must lead them. It has become a political belief that cannot be challenged.

As we near 2023, there is no question that the regular election project, as part of the wider democracy programme will be futile even though each season ahead of the polls generates unimaginable excitement and misplaced hope.

Elections are a huge cost whose benefits are yet to be established.

If it is the argument that we need elections to improve or remove bad leadership, what then should happen if elections fail to achieve that goal in four decades?

There are several reasons why elections are futile, mainly in Africa and other developing countries.

There is limited evidence of electoral democracy having ushered poor countries out of poverty into First World economic growth.

Full-time politicians are not known to establish sound and long-term economies but business does.

In addition, the practice of elections has been heavily manipulated by money and political interests.

Perhaps, let us start from the basic and yet pertinent question.

Why do societies need leadership? Societies or nations need leadership to guide its people and their behaviour towards certain social, economic and political outcomes.

In addition to having a moral responsibility and accountability towards the people, leadership must act as focal points - helping or guiding citizens gravitate their actions towards a set of social and economic outcomes that affect their welfare.

Leadership and citizens are bound by that social contract.

The bottom line is, it is not about the leadership but the people.

However, the burden to identify leadership that bear these qualities is sadly placed on electoral processes where people have limited role in identify potential candidates.

They are forced to choose from those willing to throw their names in the electoral hat even when society is aware of capable people who can lead them better than those willing to contest.

That is not the only flaw. Winning elections in poor societies is no longer based on the merit of the candidates but largely what the contesting candidate can offer during the campaign period.

This is because most voters have been deprived of opportunities to experience how merit contributes to better leadership and the society at large.

In the case of Zimbabwe, land and security have been used to keep some people trapped in the confines of the ruling party to the extent that its inability to run the country is of less significance than the fear of losing free benefits and the ensuant punishment. Merit no longer matters.

Presenting excellent ideas is of no value to poor voters who value those who dish out gifts and short-term benefits ahead of elections.

Polls are won by the highest bidder and this is why when politicians win elections, they focus on three things.

First, looting national coffers to enrich themselves via corrupt behaviour, fund the next election and to keep the levers of power such as the security sector happy.

Second, implement few short-terms projects to use as examples of achievements in the next elections.

And third, to maintain poverty levels so that the citizens remain vulnerable to force them to trade their votes again for short-term benefits in the next election.

Even with this glaring evidence suggesting that electoral democracy is not yet fit for our purpose, we still do it anyway.

The people surrender their dreams and desires to grow and develop in order to live a successful life in the hands politicians whose desire is to keep people poor and vulnerable so they can retain power.

This is one of the origins of the saying: "African leaders behave as if they came from the same family."

They know that political leadership in a normal democracy is high risk and the safer way is to abuse power, national resources and the people while democracy tells the people that they will be emancipated from poverty via elections.

Politicians also know that when people are enlightened and if their individual economic, political and philosophical ideologies are undermined, things can get complex.

It is a pseudo-democracy trap from which people must unshackle themselves.

While it is admittedly quite a colossal task, African societies need to reflect, refine or define their form of government system.

They need one which does not threaten their leadership and ensures that the interests and desires of citizens are met through collaborative efforts.

They need one that instil confidence that the more successful a leader is in delivering on people's desires, the more secure both the people and their leaders.

Electoral democracy will be an evolutionary outcome of this growth.

There are several models that can be modified and adapted for this purpose. In the Gulf region, Oman is an absolute monarchy with members of the legislature running as independents because parties are outlawed.

Political parties are one of the reasons corruption is rife. Unlike Oman, the United Arab Emirates is an elective monarchy formed from a federation of seven emirates and elections take place every four years to choose members of the legislature.

There are several examples but the point in giving these two examples is that their recent economic growth derived from stability in leadership alongside checks and balances from the legislature.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa. He writes here in his personal capacity.

Source - NewsDay Zimbabwe
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