By Kate Douglas
Those of you who have spent years in South African schools post-1994 will be familiar with the fact that the education system actively promotes democracy. South African learners have it drilled into them that democracy is the best form of governance and so therefore citizens living in democratic countries are privileged. However, even if we had to call policies such as BEE or incidences of government censorship democratic, the question remains: is democracy working for us? Furthermore, is democracy as great as the publicity it gets? What is Democracy?
Two wolves and a sheep were trying to decide what to eat for dinner. The wolves voted to eat the sheep, but the sheep was keen on macaroni and cheese. The sheep was out-voted by the wolves and consequently mutton stew was served for dinner. This example shows that although the majority always wins, what is good for the wolves can really suck for the sheep.
Democracy may be defined as the “will of the people” however it would seem more accurate to define it as the “will of the majority of people”. After all, it is the voting majority who dictate the future of the individual.Is this seriously the most superior and evolved form of government? Think about it. Essentially we are promoting that individuals who are born into a minority social group should just accept that their interests, perhaps differing from that of the majority, might never be met.
Let’s look at an example. A man is born without arms and believes that the government should pay for artificial limbs for himself and others like him. However, such a proposal is expensive, and the majority of citizens with arms would rather have that money spent on improving education and developing schools. Therefore the government will spend the money on improving education, or on the interior of the president’s private jet, and the handicapped do not get their needs met. It is here that democracy seems to contradict notions of ‘equality for all’ that are said to be prerequisite for their existence. Yes, every individual can vote, but if you are in the minority, your vote usually doesn’t have a great impact.
But even if we did not see “majority rule” as being a little shady, is democracy still the best form of governance for a country? Democracy is defined as the “will of the people” not the “best for the people”. Should we really rely on mob rule as being the best rule? Can we be certain that the majority will make the choices that are best for the country? Is Africa being duped by the first world?
In some African countries the majority of citizens have had either little or no access to education. Leaders and political parties can use propaganda and blatant lies to get the majority to vote in a certain way, one that is put across as being the best for them, but actually isn’t. That is democratic after all, they are voting aren’t they? So why hasn’t democracy solved all of Africa’s problems? Some argue “but this is Africa, it is still suffering after the years under colonialism and violence”. While that may be true, why are first world countries telling developing countries that democracy is the way to solve their economic and social problems? True democracy needs to be supported by the existence of efficient institutions, an effective market and a dedicated civil society. It is expensive and can be unstable in a country suffering from poverty.
Nevertheless, the United States will go to war with Iraq in an effort to “free the people” and enforce democracy. This may be seen as hypocritical, as the USA’s foreign affairs with Iraq seems as authoritarian as Saddam Hussein’s rule. The most that war can do to promote democracy is to remove the authoritarian leaders. Becoming a democratic country requires economic and social support. This is why USA troops are still in Iraq. Without military action, the so-called Iraqi democracy would probably shatter like Britney’s mental health.
But if not democracy, then what?
Although countries now fight to bring about democracy in today’s world, there was a time when it was seen as a threat to the good of society. As time passes our idea of what is good and bad, right and wrong, change. It is most likely that in the future, society will not view democracy as the best form of governance. If the problem with democracy is that minorities are marginalized then maybe democracy should be altered so that minority groups get a larger percentage of votes to make them equal to majority groups. This, however, provides a whole new set of new moral issues.
The great thing about democracy is that you are, in theory, an individual with rights which the state must respect. To move from democracy to a form of governance where an authority promises to act in the best interest of society is risky. There is always a chance that power is abused. True democracy, if it exists, at least provides our rights a degree of protection. There is a system of separation of powers which, although may delay action when needed immediately, still prevents one authority from monopolising control over the state. Courtney Ashford, a first year BA student, says that although she thinks that democracy has some flaws she would not choose to live under any other political system. “Democracy may not be perfect but it is the best we have.”