By Abel Merawi
February 16, 2021 (Ezega.com) -- Democracy is an elusive concept as its preceding and competing notions such as authoritarianism or socialism. This is because the elements that encompass democracy place requirements on not just the government but also on the people and the institutions serving as outlets. Even in the case of authoritarian governments, dictators attempt to persuade the people because if they don’t accept the propaganda of living under dictatorship and institutions of force, it could not survive with sheer force.
The same applies to socialism, which can only survive with the direct or indirect acceptance of the people and centralized institutions that further its dominance. In the same manner, democracy does not spring into life even if the government declares to rule democratically. It can only function by setting democratic institutions and people who are willing to use such outlets to democratically make their demands. For a change, we will not direct our criticism on the government but on the citizenry that constitutes a democratic state, assuming the existence of democratic institutions.
Democracy is brought about by the various historical forces that create resistance of generations against forms of tribulations. Contrary to elitist assumptions, democracy is not the offspring of intellectual discussions or laboratory experiments. The peasants who rebelled against feudal lords knew the injustice of feudalism, which doesn’t necessarily mean they fought for democracy. For instance, the Civil Law resulted in the aftermath of the French Revolution, thanks to Napoleon’s willful act of ridding feudalism and giving equal status to every citizen.
As for the people, they always knew injustice and fought tirelessly against it. It is like our notion of truth – we often know falsehood and its rejection brings us closer to the truth. Through this process, people began to conceive concepts such as equality, which entails human rights, justice, and so forth. Democracy is, therefore, the child of a continuous struggle against falsehood and injustice. I think this explains why democracy functions well in some countries but not in others.
Democracy fails when it is not demanded by the people, and when it is imposed on a nation because governments want to satisfy Westerners or trick their people. Even in my limited experience and understanding, I have seen how democracy is used as a magical word to cover and justify our truly unjust desires – be it a foreign invasion, tyranny, or dissidence. We have seen how western nations monopolize the moral supremacy in the world and invade foreign nations in the name of democracy - terrorizing nations they label terrorist. Furthermore, most African governments disguise their tyranny in democracy and feed make-believe justice and equality to their people. Their true nature is only exposed when the people demand genuine power and economic shift. Sadly, even dissidents or revolutionaries have often appeared to defend democracy while they were truly desirous of grabbing political and economic power. All these trickeries have left the people confused, especially in an age of indifference and blind adherence.
When democracy was primarily defined by the Athenian intellectual giants such as Plato, the foundation had been laid on the rational nature of humans - rational beings who examine their lives and make informed decisions. I think the mistake of these intellectual Titans was that they made every human being in their own image; they assumed everyone was just as thirsty for wisdom as they were. It cannot be denied that we can all potentially search for wisdom through a rigorous reevaluation of life, but it is no guarantee that we will live up to our potential.
As the voluminous struggles of oppressed minorities prove, the majority and the powerful are not willing to be rational unless it serves their interest. The struggle of black Americans is more than enough proof. In other times, people just don’t fully comprehend democracy and abandon their role as citizens. This occurs when people cast their vote and live in negligence to the workings of the elected. This is why we constantly need to be reminded of our significance. Since it is the people who make and safeguard democracy, it is essential to identify the essentials of democratic people.
The first question we need to ask is this: What do democratic people want? The definition of democracy makes is synonymous with majority rule, which supposes that the numerical majority decides for the whole group. If this is all there is to democracy, it implies that people just want their opinion to be shared by the majority. Such a simplistic definition brings dire consequences in the aftermath of the election.
The democratic election of Donald Trump, who represents white supremacy and patriarchy ought to make the world cautious. When the majority is capable of robbing fundamental rights, nations become prey to the tyranny of the mob. However, a deeper insight shows us that democracy must adhere to fundamental human and democratic rights. Consequently, the majority cannot infringe humans of these rights by declaring injustice becomes just if we won the election and make it a law. It is from this perspective that we must fully grasp the notions of justice and equality as privileges of all.
Assuming the above argument proves the all-embracing nature of democracy, the next question becomes: On what basis should democratic people elect their leaders? Let us first settle one misconception about political parties and leaders. As democracy is indispensable and inseparable from human and democratic rights, we can logically conclude that every party represents the same idea or notion of democracy. Interpretation – opposition parties only compete on differences of priorities and methods of implementation. They can compete and oppose one another regarding the national economic and social agendas, for instance, whether housing or unemployment should be prioritized. However, when they compete for the advantage and priority of ethnic or any group, they are no longer democratic and should not even deserve the name ‘democratic parties’.
It is chiefly the electorate who must be able to discern the genuine from false political prophets. For this great task are needed democratic people who will throw away the primitive group attachment and convert into protectors of universal principles. Moreover, they should not be swayed by sentiments of uniqueness as they are expected to practice a Socratic level of rationality. This is simply an ability to critically examine everything because as democratic people they want to live in a democratic nation that serves all its members. As Francis Fukuyama in ‘Political Order and Political Decay’ argues, “Accountability means that the government is responsive to the interests of the whole society—what Aristotle called the common good—rather than to just its own narrow self-interest.” This is what is expected of government and this is the expectation democratic people take when casting their vote and in their political life after the election.
I want to end with some remarks regarding the life of democratic people after the hype of the election dies, making way to real political life. The power of office may undesirably transform even good leaders. Therefore, it is the task of the people to constantly remind leaders that the real power of democracy is with the people. Democratic people remain vigilant of their government. Democracy cannot serve indifferent people who blindly entrust their rights to representatives after the election. When they witness forms of injustice, the people must speak out and protest until justice is served. This is not to be confused with undemocratic ways of resistance. While democratic institutions exist, democratic people peacefully protest and sign petitions, but they never kill, burn and loot. The vital role of democratic people manifests in numerous layers, and I only managed to scratch the surface. I only hope to show the spirit of democracy from the standpoint of the people and wish Ethiopia’s democratic experiment becomes fruitful.
Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for Ezega.com. He can be reached through this form.
Other articles by Abel Merawi:
Paideia or Deep Education
Educational Purpose: Good Citizenry Vs Rational Autonomy
Crowd Leaders as National Enemies of Ethiopia
Ethiopia Under the Threat of Crowd Mentality
Conformist Realism in Ethnic Federalism
Alternatives to National Identity
Ethiopia in Conflict - Part II: A National Stand for Unity
Ethiopia in Conflict - Part I: EPRDF and the Creation of Ethnic Division
Forms of Human Violence (Part II)
Forms of Human Violence (Part I)
The ‘Having’ Mentality
Free but in Chain, Part IV: Personal Bondage
Free but in Chain. Part III: Economic Bondage
Free but in Chain. Part II: Social Bondage
Free but in Chain. Part I: Bondage of Worldview
Unemployment and Economic Growth in Ethiopia
The Underestimated Human Ignorance
Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part II)
Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part I)
Capitalism Becoming an Impediment to Morality
Ketman: Living in Disguise to Gain Acceptance
The System and the 'Criminal'
Trust as an Economic Force
Do You Trust the Government?
Our Online World
Fame Mistaken for Expertise
The Heavy Burden of Healthcare Workers
A Time to Reflect
The Plague by Albert Camus: Fiction Becomes Reality!
History of Pandemics in Ethiopia
Human Struggle Against Pandemics: Historical Perspective
You Can Make a Difference
Rule of Law for a Free Society
The Origins of Law
Determinants of Market Value: Part II
Determinants of Market Value: Part I
Your life Matters Too
Manifestations of Artistic Expression
Achievements vs Natural Accidents
The Grip of Sacrifice
Injustice is Never Justifiable
Education Demands of the Future
Job Security, Life and the Unpredictable Future
The Shift From Racism to Culturism
Sacrificing Meaning for Power?
Culture and Market Forces
Seeking Cosmic Justice
National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations
Are We Truly Free?
Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy
Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group
The Value of Work
The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System
Intellectuals and the People
Where Are Our Pathfinders?
The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders
The Truth Behind Humanity
The Seven Virtues
The Seven Deadly Sins
What is the right thing to do?
Building National Identity
Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change
Living the Truth as a Human Being
Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others
The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them
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