Democracy: Redefining a failing power of the Majority.
The morning of Wednesday, the 9th day of November will remain one of the memorable moments of my year. Deep in sleep, I got awakened by my phone that had refused to stop vibrating. Reluctantly, I stretched towards my phone, picked it up and immediately complained ‘Oga Charles, how far? It’s past 4 in the morning’. He immediately cut me out and yelled, ‘Shut up! Your man dey win this thing o. Donald Trump has taken Florida and Iowa’ at this point, I jumped up immediately, forgetting how irritated I was few seconds ago about my interrupted sleep and reached for the television remote. Oh wow! This is actually happening. How did he get swing states like Florida? I stood at the same spot for almost an hour in bewilderment watching projections, analysis and it finally dawned on me; Donald Trump is actually going to be the 45th president of the United States and leader of the free world.
A full scale demagogue has found himself raised to the highest office of the Land. Thanks to democracy. Yes, it is true I was an ardent supporter for a Donald Trump presidency; I did that for a whole lot of reasons other than his personality. I had come to like the man Donald Trump about 7years ago when I began watching the TV business series ‘The Apprentice’. I thought to myself, what an amazing winning attitude and strategic mindset he has. I realized he loved playing with the mind and he’s quite good at it. Hillary Clinton was an equally formidable and strong candidate. Her level of experience and resume gave credence to the fact that she would have made a good president as well.
However, the system of democracy promotes a plan that there is always going to be someone who did not vote for the winner of an election; and that someone is often a substantial number of people. In the just concluded American presidential elections, almost 60million Americans and millions globally did not vote or support the now president-elect, Donald Trump respectively. In Nigeria, about 12million did not vote and more did not support the now President, Muhammadu Buhari. Interestingly, democracy has no sympathy for these “losers”, there is no alternative provision that gives these people what they would prefer. Nothing but a heavy heart, tears, protest on the streets, anger and when they are tired, life will eventually continue.
The democratic election process relies on the assumption that a majority of citizens recognize the best political candidate or a good policy when they see, or hear one. The system is built around the principle that despite all of our irrational fears and hatred, when we really have to make a decision, then we are capable of putting aside our emotions and think rationally. What a lie!
Studies have shown numerous times that the part of our brain that analyzes cold, hard facts for productive results and the one that empathizes with others are in direct opposition with each other. It is impossible for them to function simultaneously and that is why when an executive governor, makes a decision of rescinding employment of teachers because of a faulty recruitment process or when a bank executive earns his company millions of naira while brokering a deal, but leaves hundreds of employees on the street, people troop out protesting, “The man must be the devil!”. Truth is, a part of the brain was fully functional on that day to achieve a certain result.
The sad reality is that, most of us switch on the emotional side of our brains when trying to make tough decisions to achieve a productive result. As humans, when faced with a moral dilemma, the emotional part of the brain tends to light up and that is exactly where Democracy cashes right in on us. An election for example avails voters the opportunity to choose amongst candidates, a representative with a better and workable policy, a better strategy for collective development and sheer hunger for improving the well-being of the people. The liberty enshrined in democracy has injured the part of our brain needed to make such decisions. Decisions are now influenced by a candidates looks, smile, swagger, gender and the biggest of them all - events!
Talking of events, Jose Maria Aznar, former Prime Minister of Spain was a very effervescent figure in the political firmament of his country, and indeed Europe. When he took over political leadership of his country in 1996, Spain was ranked among the poorest countries in Europe. Reined in by internal separatist, a dwindling Economy and poverty. In fact, the nation had slipped into near irrelevance within Europe. But with verve, charisma and pragmatic vision, Aznar made the difference within a span of just five years. The Spanish economy grew faster than most others in the European Union. He was able to contain to an appreciable level the terrorist activities in the Basque region of Spain. Suddenly Spain’s GDP was ranked 8th in the world. It was almost an Eldorado for Spaniards, creating a refreshing new lease of life. Aznar was just 40years of age. With all that goodwill, everything seemingly was going well for him.
Amazingly, three days before the elections, terrorists had struck in Spain and wreaked havoc. The unfortunate incident saw the death of over 200persons and 1500 injured. Spaniards mourned indeed, but they had all decided on who to blame; Aznar! They trooped out in thousands, voted out Aznar and to crown it up, stoned him out of Spain and called him an outcast!
A democratic election indeed is a game of numbers. The majority always will impose their ways on the minority who also have a right to be heard. The dilemma is, the majority sometimes are wrong and do not represent the collective destiny of a state or community. In the bible,12 folks where sent to go spy a city for an intelligence report to fulfill a divine destiny.10 out of 12(which is a clear majority) returned and gave negative reports and the remaining two voices with positive recommendations were drowned by agitations that majority will have their way, while the rest should have just a say. The consequence of that democratic action was that it took the children of Israel, 40 years to complete a 40 day journey. As a matter of fact, only two of that generation got into the Promised Land.
An election in a Democracy, after all is said, goes down to a popularity contest. Unfortunately polls do not decide who is right. Victory is simply decided by whoever is most willing to say what people like to hear. As a result, many candidates to political offices resort to populism, pursuing policies that focus on the immediate satisfaction of whims instead of long-term improvements, just to get the votes. Populist leaders focus on emotions before reason, common sense over academic wisdom, which often produces bad ideas which will be defended, regardless of how terrible those ideas are.
In theory, democracy is definitely one of the strongest systems we have today. Equal representation for each and every citizen sure sounds good and to be honest, democracies aims also at protecting us against oppressive authoritarian governments. In practice however, democracy is very easy to take advantage of over and over again, we have seen many examples in Africa where democracy is used as a tool for future authoritarian governments to come to power and then abandon same democratic values once they have enough power.
Over the past three decades, Africa has not used the benefit of democracy to better the collective lot of her people. It now becomes pertinent that in Africa, we must begin to think of developing, promoting and sustaining a more indigenous theoretical political system that will address our peculiar nature and will facilitate the process to make sure that the best leaders amongst us will emerge and vigorously pursue the speedy development and prosperity of our people.
Countries are in many ways guided by their histories; Greece evolved their democratic system because their geographical area prevented a centralized single monarchy, china has been ruled by a meritocratic autocracy for centuries and has emerged a major global power. Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew, would not have succeeded as much as he did, if he had to perpetually deal with the bureaucratic bottlenecks tailored into democracy. He moved at a pace that dignified every facet of leadership because he did not have to think of the next election from his first day at the office. The time has come, for us to have these discussions so we can protect ourselves against a future where a complete and glaring psychopath could emerge from nowhere and snatch the baton of leadership just because we underestimated the power of ignorant people in a large group.
*Ubong Linus, a Public affairs commentator and professional strategist, wrote in from Uyo.