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Published On: Thu, May 31st, 2018

Much ado about ‘democracy’

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NASSTHURSDAY Column WITH Mohammed Adamu

(08035892325 sms only) |

What’s In A Name?

The term ‘democracy’ was originally ‘demos’ and ‘krasi’; Greek for ‘people’ and ‘rule’ -or ‘rule of the people’. But over time, it has etymologically evolved to mean different things to different people. In our own part of the world, the transformation is breathtaking. From the Maghreb down to the Zambezi, from the westerly coast up to the horns of Africa, and particularly in my dear country, Nigeria, democracy has moved from the ‘rule of the people’ to the ‘lull of the pupil’. It is the new universal religion that brings caviar to the dinner tables of the few and virtually nothing to those of the many. The West has added a beautiful interpretative feather to this democratic peacock of Greece’s conception: They say that democracy is: “government of the people, by the people and for the people”, a definition which admits of neither primacy of ‘name’ nor certainty of ‘destination’! As Shakespeare would ask, “what’s in a name? That which we call a rose will smell as good if we call it by another name”. Whatever the system is called and no matter where it ends, or leads to, it is just as well, theoretically, that ‘democracy’ is ‘of the people’, run ‘for the people’ and ‘by the people’ –even if in practice it is not.
Democracy, like ‘virtue’, is its own reward. Thus, to the West, concerning ‘democracy’, ‘all is well’ not necessarily that ‘ends well’, but ‘all is well that manages to stay on track. It matters only that a nation stays faithfully ‘democratic’, and not necessarily that democracy posts any dividends to the people. said Al Smith, an American politician: “All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy” Not so to the Chinese. To the Chinese, unlike the West, although efficiency may be defined as ‘the train leaving station on time’ yet ‘the train not knowing where it is going’, is just as ‘inefficient’ –if not more! The Chinese, more practically, believe that whatever the system is called and ‘however’ or by who it is run, any system of government must be provident. In reply to the criticism of China’s controlled system of political economy, Denxioping once said to the Americans: “it does not matter whether the cat is black or white as long as it catches the mouse.” But here in Africa, and elsewhere –the back-countries of the world- we are sold a practically indigestible ‘system of government’ and which we are required to gobble raw and undiluted. We are not even entitled to a glass of water by the table! We must be slaves of the due democratic process whether the ‘process’ duly serves our good end or it does not. And we must be hostages to the restrictions and prescriptions of the ‘rule of law’ whether or not the principle itself is consistent with the law of rule! Rogues in our midst who constitute a drag on society have constitutional rights that supremely take precedence over the survival of the state. They must not be touched except via the tedium of the ‘due democratic process’ and the ‘rule of law’.

A Journey, Not A Destination
Democracy is a journey, and not a destination. It is neither ‘an end in itself’ nor even, –as some claim- ‘a means to an end’. In truth democracy is an endless journey. It is just as the proverbial ‘mad man’ would say, about madness: that it is not the ‘getting mad’ that is the problem; rather it is ‘hitting the road’, on a journey that has no end. Democracy is a paradox, which is never to be fully understood, but simply appreciated –both for the few things it guarantee, and for the many it only pledges. The march of democracy reminds of the coming into the world of the proverbial baby millipede. Seeing it has one too many limbs, the innocent one has asked ‘which leg to move first’ –“Move baby, just move” the impatient Mother said. Such is the democratic journey. Moving with the multitude! Moving speedily and efficiently, like the train that leaves station on time, but does not know where it is going. Nations and peoples have been on this ‘journey’ from George Washington to Donald Trump. The intelligent ones circumvent ‘due process’ and ‘rule of law’ to achieve their goals; the diligent ones become slaves of ‘due process’ and ‘rule of law’ in adulation of the system. And the warped morale is simple: although you’ll ‘never get there, never stop aiming to get there. Which is not the same as saying that great nations are made out of the great determination to ‘journey’ to ‘nowhere’. But fact is, in the pursuit of the Eldorado called democracy, you do not ‘seek first the kingdom’ and hope that ‘everything shall be added onto it’. You ‘seek first’ the ‘mirage’ and hope that ‘the fiefdom’ is right there in it!
Too many people, Walter Winchel said “expect wonders from democracy, when the most wonderful thing of all is just having it” The greatest undoing of democracy is not so much the absence from it of ‘true and sincere’ politicians; but rather the false state of mind that it encourages, which regards the system as a cure and not itself an affliction. Truth is the delusion that ‘democracy’ is an elixir for the many sicknesses of society, de-campaigns rather than promote the ‘madness’. Nor is ‘democracy’ ever unfair. At least it gives you two options: a Hobson’s choice or a fait accompli. This is the very heart of the democratic enterprise. Its apparent ‘choice-driven-ness’. That it gives you always not the right of ‘first refusal’, but the room for choice between a ‘scum’ and a ‘scumbucketl’!. Said H. L. Mencken, “Democracy is…a form of religion; it is the worship of jackals by jackasses”. And aren’t we all democracy’s ‘jackasses’. Or is it not on our bare backs that this journey to ‘nowhere’ is assured a reliable carriage?

Free And Fair Elections
Simply voting ‘freely’ and ‘fairly’ is merely a non tangible dividend of democracy. It confirms the democratic credentials of a polity. Not its justness. Nor does it alone put food on the table. Voting ‘freely’ and ‘fairly’ can lead to that desirable tangible good, of putting food on the table. It is in fact the surest way of getting to that tangible good. But voting freely, fairly but ‘foolishly’ can also take food away from the table. The people having as much right to elect good candidates as they have to elect bad ones, is one of the undoings of democracy. Thus the voice of the majority, as someone rightly said is not necessarily a proof of justice. Nor is the “Peoples Judgment”, said the English poet, John Dryden, “always true”. The “Most” he said “may err as grossly as the Few”. What keeps our non-provident kind of democracy going is the collective poverty of our desires. Our willingness to allow the ‘few’ ride roughshod over the ‘many’. What keeps our kind of democracy going is the weakness of our determination, to be our own masters. In truth it is not democracy that makes things work. Rather it is the will to make things work that makes democracy work. And where there is the will to make things happen, it will not matter what system is in place –whether a democracy or a dictatorship.
Yes, you may keep believing in the healing power of democracy, but remember there may not be an end to your affliction. Because truth is that the system will always take care of itself. Even if it does not take care of you!

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