Democracy in WAFRA
Friday, May 18, 2012
I have really enjoyed my stay in The Gambia, but it is time to move on. I am traveling through Africa, visiting various countries on the way. Reflecting on some of the things I have come to learn about Africa in my travels so far, there are many ups and downs.
Some of the countries in West Africa have many problems. Rather than focus on one, I would rather be more general in my reflections and create a place which reflects comments that may be applicable to countries here. Let’s call it aibmag/maugamalib/wafra. Much of what I say will no doubt be relevant somewhere.
What I find particularly distressing is the total lack of power experienced by the population while HRH (His Royal Highness – the demagogue), keeps taking more.
There may be elections, but they are a farce and cannot be said to contribute to democracy when there are no resources available to mount a serious opposition, while HRH, the incumbent, has unlimited state resources to promote his cause.
Imagine, if you will, a country where HRH threatens a community with no development if they do not vote for him. Come election time, such an incumbent can hand out rewards, like confetti, to the people.
They are then eternally grateful for scraps thrown from his table. He is busy telling them what they want to hear, but, when he is back in power, does nothing, or even worse, may do the opposite of what he said.
In aibmag/maugamalib/wafra, when the voting is done, counting completed and all the Members of the House have taken their seats, we realise that the vast majority come from the party of HRH.
Now for the clever bit. HRH has the power to sack anybody in his party, including the Members. If a Member is sacked from his party, he/she is no longer allowed to sit in the House and must be replaced, presumably by someone more amenable to the wishes of HRH.
What happened to the will of the people? Surely if they put that person in power, they should be the ones with the power to get rid of him/her.
There is now a House where the Members sit, but they cannot vote against the wishes of HRH (even though he rarely attends, they know what he wants), if they do, they lose their job.
Then there is the issue of the separation of powers of the executive, the legislative and the judiciary, in a well functioning democracy, they will be independent institutions.
In aibmag/maugamalib/wafra this is not the case. As already noted, HRH has complete control over the legislative body. The House of Members, who were elected to represent the people (well, that is the theory).
Thus the country ends up with the kind of laws that give HRH more and more power. Any democratic laws are whittled away; there is no length of office, such a person can continue indefinitely, so long as they keep winning elections, which, as we have seen, is more than likely, given the control over the system.
Such a leader could control the appointment of all the top positions, Ministers, obviously, but what about local or regional top officials, police or army top officials, this can end up the gift of HRH, they are then beholden to him.
He could ensure, in so many ways, control over election results. Let’s not even go down the road of questioning which ethnic group tends to get the top positions, it is, of course, members of the group that HRH belongs to.
The executive, or Ministers, as noted, are all appointed by HRH, so no independence there. They want to keep their jobs and do well out of the system, and are, more than likely, members of his own ethnic group so will be able to get their own family good jobs or lucrative contracts.
Finally, what about the judiciary you ask, they must be independent? Sadly no, remember who has the power to appoint, this goes for the judges too. They are no doubt mindful of his pronouncements on subjects, like for example, homosexuality.
They will be sure to provide a satisfactory verdict; otherwise they will be out of a job. The Director of Public Prosecution is appointed by the Minister of Justice, so again no independence.
I recently visited the court in one of these types of countries where there wasn’t even a jury system for violent crimes or murder, and the death penalty is still in use. You can imagine the kind of evidence such a place might provide.
It is well known that the judge tends to take a fairly strict view and be a little impatient of too much evidence. Let’s just stick with what people say and convict on testimony alone, after all, they must be telling the truth.
There have been many death penalties inflicted, though not so many have been actually carried out. This is a place where leadership and commitment to work is so slack that even the judge turned up over two hours late, so everyone had to hang around waiting for him. Now I understand why it is witnesses and lawyers do not even turn up sometimes. Judgments can take years. There was one case for treason, where it took eight years!
Given the lack of real plurality in the media, the main TV and radio stations are owned by the state, which means the TV provides a constant supply of news about the views and activities of HRH. No bias here then!
Newspapers tend to be read by the few, educated people who are probably not natural supporters of HRH. For a true democracy there also needs to be a good level of education among the population, an open and transparent government, good human rights, freedom of speech and a strong opposition. Unfortunately, these are often missing. Without all these things in place, is it any wonder the country ends up being run by a demagogue?
Author: Jayne Forbes