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The rise and fall of democracy

By Kole Omotoso
13 September 2020   |   3:55 am
Touted as the best form of government until the next one is invented, Democracy as the government of the people by the people for the people was safe for centuries, and even unto those to come.

Touted as the best form of government until the next one is invented, Democracy as the government of the people by the people for the people was safe for centuries, and even unto those to come. There were times that tested the strength of the people and a strong leader assumes supreme power. Yet Democracy persisted.

But unfortunately, all it takes for democracy to falter is one person who does not believe in it. Such a person is Donald J. Trump.

When you look at the mouth of such old Democracies as the one in the United Kingdom and the one in the United States of America, you would think they never took the milk of chaos at their mother’s historic breasts.

Ownership of the Democratic Government: Abraham Lincoln honoured the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in order “that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” That the people own the government is important for democracy to flourish. How do you get the people to own the democratic government? Unity is central to that ownership. But it is not Unity in everything but Unity in the essential shared democratic citizenship. This Unity must be preached and maintained and believed. Once a leader refuses to preach Unity, Democracy is at risk.

There are a variety of ways of expressing this craving for Unity. “Out of many One” is perhaps the best. “E pluribus unum”. It was approved to be included on the seal by an Act of Congress in 1782. Guyana spells it out “One people, one nation, one Destiny”. And the country is called Co-operative Republic of Guyana.

By the People: Of the three conditions of the democratic government of the people that of being by the people is the most difficult to achieve by the people. Those who subvert democracy ensure that it is not the people who choose their government. It is here also that those who would insist that the people accept whatever government emerges are wrong because the people do not deserve whatever government except the one by them.

Through the ages, we have examples of others bent on preventing the people from choosing their government. In the United Kingdom, there were the rotten Boroughs or pocket Boroughs. These were parliamentary constituencies whose representatives could be determined and chosen by individuals who carried the constituency in their pockets. The people could not vote because there was no secret ballot. This was stopped by the reform act of 1832 which is usually referred to as the Great Reform Act.

The history of the United States of America is also full of attempts to prevent the people from voting by all sorts of criminalistics. Inventing instruments of prevention of voting has been the pastime of federal, state and local governments. The declining white population fear becoming a minority seeing how they have treated minority populations in history.

Recently, President Trump appointed as the head of the post office who began to systematically destroy the post office. Machines for sorting letters were turned off and made ineffectual. Postal boxes were taken off the streets. All this to make postal voting impossible. Such activity on the part of the head of the post office would be considered acts of undermining the country and destroying the country’s infrastructure. Yet nothing is done to stop this appointee of the president from destroying the patrimony of the country.

Myriad examples of preventing people from voting exist in new democracies in Africa, in the Americas and in Asia. As one communication billionaire asked a group of octogenarian politicians still insisting on leading their people “Are you leading them to the grave?” Emmanuel Macron was five or so years old when Paul Biya became president of Cameroon. He is still president.

For the People: This is where democracy takes an added meaning or even a differing meaning. First the Soviet Union, then the People’s Republic of China and then smaller yanna democratic republics of say North Korea all claiming to be democratic. It is here we get western democracy and eastern democracy.

Western democracy is bourgeois democracy guaranteeing freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of association. Eastern democracy on the other hand guarantees freedom from hunger, freedom from unemployment and freedom from homelessness. But then as the young boy asked his father what happens after we have turned all stone to bread? What happens when all the material needs of a person has been satisfied how do you satisfy the needs of the soul?

By the time the Soviet Union self-dissolved in 1989/90, the governments had not been able to satisfy the needs of the body, never mind those of the soul. And China had turned West looking for market solutions to its massive poverty challenges. Remember Deng Xiaping after Mao. And just as the Eastern dictatorships we are turning westwards, western leaders are openly admiring eastern potentates for their power and the lack of elections in their countries.

What then is the future of democracy? Or, more important, what is the importance of governance of the world?

The present situation of the world is that world population is increasing, sea level is rising and world food sources are being depleted. Mainly in European countries, the population is decreasing but affected countries do not want refugees around them.

India, with a population of 1,353 billion as at 2018, is the biggest democracy in the world. Along with this mammoth democracy whose details do not smell nice, smaller countries such as Barbados or Singapore carry on the democracy flag. Germany is a democracy. The Chancellor has been in power since 2005. Netanyahu has been prime minister of Israel since 2009. These are democracies with no limits on their leaders’ term in office. Perhaps such will be the nature of democracy in the 21st century. Or perhaps something yet to emerge would take its place, who knows.

The world needs the United Kingdom united and bourgeois democratic. At the same time and in spite of the efforts of Donald J. Trump, the world needs the United States of America united and bourgeois democratic. The rest of the world must learn to be democratic pursuing a government of the people by the people for the people.