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The method of rule of the tyrant and the oligarch is quite simply to clobber, coerce, or overawe all or most other groups in the interest of their own” - Bernard Rowland Crick; was a British political theorist and democratic socialist. Are we (Eswatini ) a country that truly, and honestly practices upright, and core principles of democracy, exactly as some people in our midst, claim we do? There are numerous definitions. of the noun ‘democracy’, but, do all global countries, including our very, own Eswatini , that claim to be ‘democratic’, really adhere to true, and core principles of democracy? For starters, what really is democracy?
I am no expect in the various, and different systems of governance - they are many, and all claim to be democratic - but, as Bernard Rowland Crick once observed, “democracy is perhaps the most promiscuous word in the world of public affairs.”. Without any shadow of doubt, as we shall see, no political concept is more used, abused, or misused, than that of democracy. Nearly every regime nowadays lay claim to the fact that they are democratic, but not all democracies allow absolutely free politics. It is surprising that even well-known totalitarian, autocratic, or despotic regimes also claim that they, too, are democratic!

Widely used definition

The most widely used definition of democracy is, taken from the words of the late, Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the  United States of America, who said these words to honour soldiers that sacrificed their lives in order that, the: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. It is said that these words were spoken by the late President at Gettysburg, but, that, ‘these words apply as well to the countless soldiers that died for the cause of democracy in the following 150 years...’ As I mentioned earlier on, there are many definitions of democracy, including, in part: (Source: “Concepts and principles of democratic governance and accountability. A guide for peer educators, published under the project: ‘Action for Strengthening Good Governance and Accountability in Uganda’ by the Uganda Office of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung):

  • A society based on equal opportunity and individual merit, rather than hierarchy or privilege;
  • A system of welfare and redistribution aimed at narrowing social inequalities;
  • A system of decision-making based on the principle of majority rule;
  • A system of rule that protects the rights and interests of minorities by placing checks upon the power of the majority

Personally, I like the first definition because it directly impacts on what we are not practicing in this country, in spite of claims that we are by those benefitting from the current, system of governance we are ruled under,
What then should true democracy entail? Or, rather, what are (or should be) the main characteristics of democracy?
These are (Sourced from the same source as quoted above):

  • Democracy is government in which power and civic responsibility are exercised by all adult citizens directly or indirectly through their freely elected representatives.
  • Democracy rests upon the principle of majority rule, which means that decisions are made by majority and have to be accepted by all, but minority viewpoints are respected and protected.
  • Democracies guard against all-powerful central governments and decentralise government to regional and local levels, understanding that all levels of government must be as accessible and responsive to the people as possible.

Equal protection

  • Democracies understand that one of their prime functions is to protect such basic human rights as freedom of speech and religion; the right to equal protection under the law; and the opportunity to organise and participate fully in the political, economic, and cultural life of society.
  • Democracies conduct regular free and fair elections open to all citizens of voting age.
  • Citizens in a democracy have not only rights, but also the responsibility to participate in political systems that, in turn, protect their rights and freedoms.
  • Democratic societies are committed to the values of tolerance, cooperation, and compromise.

We are a country that is currently at the crossroads of our political, and socioeconomic future. So many things had happened since we attained self-rule in 1968. These things are happening at a very frenetic pace, as I write. Everything turned awry, as we all know,  last year, June 2021. It is a period where we all, unfortunately, got to witness the so-called, ‘unique democracy’ in action. Most of these negative things are taking place as a result of our misplaced and controversial adherence to true, democratic principles. Coming from the conservative camp, our type of democracy had been dubbed ‘a unique democracy’. As far as some of us are concerned, there is little or no resemblance at all to true, democratic principles in the manner we are governed. The respect for fundamental human rights of the citizens, as enshrined in the country’s Constitution are hardly respected.

Rights like freedom of expression, assembly, association, freedom of conscience, and the right to call to account government’s unconstitutional violation of the rights of citizens, are severely restricted. As I write, two Members of Parliament who exercised their right to freedom of expression, are wallowing in prison, incarcerated due to what many view as politically motivated, and trumped charges. Many decades ago, growing up as a fresh-faced and sprightly youngster in the early 70s, life was blissful, peaceful, and progressive. Everybody minded his or her own business. There was hardly any fear of thugs, the police or soldiers, like it is today. Politicians (government, especially) were more or less, mindful about catering for the welfare of the people.

Impetuous acts

There hardly existed any vices like the impetuous acts of corruption which we relentlessly witness today. It is impulsively practiced by mostly those in the high echelons of power. If there existed such acts those days, they were conducted ‘decently’, and in secret, not as brazenly, and unashamedly as it is done nowadays. I stand to be corrected, though, but, to the best of my recollection, I would even put my hand on the chopping block, and dare say that the basic, principles of democracy were, more or less, practiced or adhered to during those days. Then, things took a turn for the worst.
The year 1973, was a turning point, in the eyes of some, especially politically, for the country. As the late, Nigerian author Chinua Achebeb titled his debut novel, ‘Things Fall Apart’, first published in 1958, things began to fall apart in this formerly, tranquil kingdom from that momentous year.
The long and short of it is that, that on 12 April 1973, the late King Sobhuza II (may his soul rest in eternal peace) is alleged to have issued the King’s Proclamation to the Nation No. 12 of 1973, whereby he declared that he had assumed supreme power in the Kingdom of Swaziland (Eswatini) and that all legislative, executive and judicial power vested in him. In addition, he repealed the democratic Constitution of Swaziland (Eswatini) that was enacted in 1968.
The burning question in the minds of all politically savvy citizens, including progressives and political formations, as well as timfucuta like yours truly, is: Was that a truly and ethical act; one that subscribed to the true dictates, principles, and tenets of democracy? Some even question if this wasn’t an act of absolutism?
Just so that we move together, it is important that we define ‘absolutism’ According to www.thefreedictionary.com, absolutism is: ‘a government in which one person has unlimited authority..’
Now, it is important that we examine nowadays’ principles of democracy. The world would be a better place, including our own country, Eswatini if it were to practice some of these principles. These principles are sourced from the same source as above. Read on...:
Citizen participation: This means that citizens are part and parcel of what happens in their society or country. The citizens are part of the decision-making process on matters that affect them. Communication is a two-way consultative process, i.e. bottom-up as well as top-bottom before any decision is reached.
Equality: This means equality before the law, equality of opportunity in the realisation of individual capacities without regard to one’s race, gender, ethnic background, religion or whatsoever.

Mindful and respectful

Political tolerance: This means the ruling masses are mindful and respectful of the interests of the minority. While there may be differences between the people by way of race, religion, descent and culture they rise above such differences and give room for discussion, debate and accommodation of different viewpoints.

Accountability: This is when elected leaders or public officials have to answer to the common citizens regarding their actions, decisions or indecisions during the time they are or were occupants of the public offices. Those found to be performing to the required standards are rewarded by their continued stay in office while those found to be lacking in one way or another are punished.
Transparency: To be transparent means that leaders allow for public scrutiny of what they do while in public office. The citizens are allowed to attend public meetings and are free to obtain information on what happens in public offices, who makes what decisions and why. Transparency is a step towards accountability.
Regular, free  and fair elections: Regular elections ensure that the citizens are not stuck with bad leadership but that they have the opportunity to throw out incompetent leaders through free and fair elections.
Free and fair elections give the citizens a chance to elect a leader of their choice as opposed to rigging elections that return often unwanted leaders to power. Elections are the main avenue for all citizens to exercise power by choosing their leaders and giving their vote to the candidate whom they think will represent them best.
Economic freedom: Economically handicapped citizens are the ones prone to all types of abuses as they lack the economic base to meet the basic necessities of life. As a result they are the ones often bribed with the smallest of gifts during elections, the consequences of which are often adverse, such as returning corrupt and morally bankrupt leaders to power ... Control of the abuse of power: Any government without checks and balances on its powers is likely to abuse those powers. The most common form of abuse of power is corruption by government officials. Control of abuse of power can be achieved through a number of ways, i.e. by way of separation of powers of the three arms of government – the legislature, executive and the Judiciary – and by ensuring the independence of the three.

Rights and freedoms

Human rights: Unlike dictatorships, democracies strive to protect the rights and freedoms of their citizens from abuse. These rights include the right to life, the right to own property, the freedom of expression, the freedom to associate, and the freedom to assemble, among others. Multi-party system: A multiparty system is a set-up where there are more than two political parties contesting for power. The reasons for having multiple parties in a democracy are: to widen the pool for choice of the best candidate for political office; to offer alternative views to the government of the day as a result of the existence of an opposition; and to enable the opposition to act as a check on those in political office. One-party systems lead to a lack of alternatives for the citizens and concentration of powers and have often led to dictatorships. Neutrality of state institutions: State institutions such as the police and the army should be neutral and not take sides or be politically partisan.
Rule of law: This implies that no one is above the law and requires that all citizens observe the law and are held accountable if they break it. The due process of law requires that the law should be equally, fairly and consistently enforced. The rule of law ensures law and order and the protection of citizens as they enjoy their right. Well, there you have it. Let us all pray for our government to adhere to true, democratic principles..Peace! Shalom! A blessed day to you, all.

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