Editor’s Note

The Holy Grail


Democracy is a word derived from the Greek language and literally means ‘rule by the people’. Unlike politics, democracy is essentially a system of government where the citizens exercise their right to power through voting.

Democracy has been practised in various ways, for instance, in a direct democracy, the members/citizens in the direct democracy as a whole form a governing body and vote directly on each issue. Whilst in a representative democracy, the citizens elect representatives from among themselves. These representatives meet to form a governing body, such as a legislature, and in a constitutional democracy, the powers of the majority are exercised within the ambit of a representative democracy. The constitution is the holy grail of democracy and ensures individual rights, beliefs, values and codes of conduct are upheld and maintained.

As a system, democracy provides a set structure of processing conflicts in which outcomes depend on what participants do, but no single force controls what occurs and its outcomes. The uncertainty of outcomes is inherent in democracy because it ensures all forces struggle repeatedly to realise their interests and devolves power from groups of people to sets of rules. Essentially, Western democracy has been modelled on the old Roman Republic with tenets of Classical Athens democracy. The model, however, has evolved from just enfranchising the male population to being more inclusive and affording equal decision and voting rights to both the male and female population.

Unfortunately, African democracy has not been smooth sailing, mainly because democracy on the continent has been shaped by the colonial powers that held political power in Africa until the period of decolonisation that began in the 1960s. Thereafter, African states attempted to follow the European model of democratic governance. However, whilst African democracy has shown some improvement, it is still having legitimacy problems and African states are characterised by corruption and autocracy.

More importantly, social problems such as refugee migration, debt, poverty, illiteracy, crime, unemployment, diseases, inflation and missing infrastructure seem to be more pressing than the transformation to full democracy.

The Ibrahim Index of African Governance, spearheaded by Mo Ibrahim, businessman and the founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, argues that certain states have developed a functional model of African democracy. South Africa headed to the polls on 8 May, and the outcome reminds us of the importance of democracy and its tenets, and, above all, that the holy grail of our behaviour and interaction is the constitution.

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Issue 414


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