O Level Revision : History - Democracy

Democracy  has  its  origins  from  Greek  political thought around the 5th   Century BC. Democracy  was  derived  from  2  Greek  words: ‘Demos’which means people and ‘Kratos’(Kratein) which means rule. So democracy is a government by the people for the people and of the people. It is a government in which the majority of the people are involved in decision making and governance of their villages, towns, cities or countries.

Definition of Democracy

  • Democracy  has  its  origins  from  Greek  political thought around the 5th   Century BC.
  • Democracy  was  derived  from  2  Greek  words: ‘Demos’which means people and ‘Kratos’(Kratein) which means rule. So democracy is a government by the people for the people and of the people. It is a government in which the majority of the people are involved in decision making and governance of their villages, towns, cities or countries.
  • In Greece governments were classified according to the number of citizens involved in the process of governance.
  • Participation in government of one’s country is a right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
  • In large and complex societies it is difficult, if not impossible, for every citizen to participate directly.
  • In  Zimbabwe  people  participate  through  their elected representatives to parliament.
  • But all citizens sometimes can participate directly during the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections.


Evolution of the concept of democracy

Development of democracy in Greece


  • In the 5th Century BC Greece was made up of independent city states, e.g. Athens and Sparta.
  • They were ruled by Kings.
  • Athens  gave  up  her  Monarchy  and  became  a democratic nation.
  • Every Athenian was expected to participate in the law making assembly.
  • Both the poor and the rich had the right to be heard but women, foreigners, slaves and children were not allowed to vote.
  • The laws of Athens were written down in 625 BC bringing forth the rule of law.

Development of democracy in Europe

  • During the Medieval era (1000-1500AD) monarchs/ kings/queens ruled most of Europe.
  • People were not happy with the monarchs because the monarchs:

-     Had absolute rule.

-     Ruled without consultation.

-     Ruled by decree.

-     Considered themselves to be above the law.

-     Held the office of the monarchy as hereditary rulers.

-     Some of the kings and queens were cruel to their people.

-     Some lied that they were appointed by God (divine right of kings /queens).

-     The   people   demanded   for   representative parliaments and universal suffrage.

These problems led to democratic governments.

Development of democracy in England

  • In 1215 King John was forced to sign the Great Charter called the Magna Carta.
  • It marked the beginning of democratic practices in England.
  • Respectable people like barons and bishops forced him to sign it.
  • The Magna Carta became the basis of the English democratic institutions.
  • The English people enshrined the values of freedom of speech, representative government, freedom of association and freedom to publish one’s ideas in their constitution.
  • The  development   of   the   English   constitution resulted in diminishing the kings’ abuses against individual rights.
  • The constitution  guaranteed  the  separation  of powers of government so that each of the three branches of government, namely the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislative were independent of each other.

Development of democracy in France


  • The kings of France claimed to rule by divine right of kings saying they were appointed by God.
  • Between   1750   and   1850   many   philosophers advocated for reform in Government.
  • Their writings changed people’s attitudes.
  • Some of the philosophers contributed greatly to the development of democracy. Some of these were: (a)  Montesquieu

-     He criticised the principle of divine right.

-     He  advocated  for  the  idea  of  checks  and balances.


(b)  Voltaire

-     He   advocated   for   religious   tolerance   by European governments.

-     He  attacked  the  despotism  of  the  French Government and      praised      England’s constitutional monarchy and civil liberties.


(c)  Rousseau

-     He spread the ideas of equality and of the rights to life, liberty and property.

-     His ideas of the enlightenment together with several grievances led to the French Revolution of 1789.

-     A     revolutionary     constituent     assembly announced a Declaration of Rights of men and citizens from Rousseau’s ideas.

-     It proclaimed that all men were born free and remained equal and free in rights.

Development of democracy in Africa


  • Africa  suffered  in  its  struggles  for  democracy which are still on today.
  • It was ironic that after fighting for democracy, the European nations  met  at  the  Berlin  Conference in 1884-85 to agree to partition Africa and deny Africa the same natural rights they had fought for.
  • The position of Africa was a complete negation of all democratic principles and ideas because (of):

-     The partition of Africa was done without the consent of Africans.

-     The establishment of colonial rule in Africa.

-     The  institution  of  racial  discrimination  by colonial regimes.

-     The establishment of the executive, judiciary and legislative branches of government that excluded Africans.

-     The   brutal   suppression   of   struggles   for democratic and natural rights by Africans.

  • Despite the above, Africans waged armed struggles to bring about democracy.
  • Africans were inspired by the same writings that had inspired  their  colonial  masters  to  fight for democracy in their own countries.
  • Angola, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa launched bitter struggles for democracy.
  • After colonial rule, attempts were made to introduce democracy.
  • Some African countries have not yet fully enjoyed the fruits of their sacrifices due to a number of political developments which include:

-     Neo-colonialism,  corruption  and  greed  of some of the new African leaders.

-      A civil war in Angola from 1975 to 2001.

-     Mozambique:   RENAMO   led   by   Alfonso Dhlakama fought the FRELIMO Government led by Samora Machel.

-     Military coups in Uganda, Nigeria and Ghana.

-     Dictatorships in Malawi under President Dr Hastings Banda, Democratic Republic of Congo under Mobutu Sese Seko, Uganda under Idi Amin, and Kenya under Daniel Arap Moi.

  • These denied people their natural and democratic rights.
  • After  gaining  independence,  African  countries established democratic structures, e.g.:

-     Regular elections.

-     Enfranchising (right to vote) all citizens.

-     Limiting the term of office for the presidency in some countries.

-     Removing      racial      discrimination      and segregation.

-     Giving all citizens the freedom of worship, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of speech and freedom of movement.

-     Representative governments.

  • The  main  flaws  in  African  democracy  are  the tendencies by some African leaders to:

-     Replace colonial rule by dictatorship.

-     Opt for life presidency.

-     Adopt a one-party system and impose it on citizens.

-     Revise the two-term office of the president to stay longer in power.

-     Rig elections results or engage in vote buying.

-     Deal unfairly with the opposition parties.

-     Have  the  executive  that  controls  both  the judiciary and the legislature.

-     Engage in slave trade: slavery and slave trade were condemned as crimes against humanity.

The  practice of democracy

  • Can be practised directly or indirectly.
  • Direct democracy  refers  to  the  participation  in decision making by the individual members of the community.
  • Indirect  democracy:    citizens    participate    in government by   electing   representatives   who make decisions for them, e.g. electing Members of Parliament (MPs). This is called representative government.
  • The elected officials represent the voters’ views and interests in parliament.
  • They are agents of the citizens who do what the people want.

Types of democracy

Multiparty democracy

  • It is also called democratic pluralism.
  • Several political parties are allowed to exist.
  • They are allowed to hold rallies and campaign for votes.
  • Citizens are allowed to join any political party of their choice.
  • During parliamentary elections the party that wins the majority votes forms a government.
  • Citizens are free to elect representatives.
  • Both women and men have the right to vote.
  • Men and women’s votes count the same. This is called universal adult suffrage.
  • Universal adult  suffrage  is  practised  in  many countries, e.g. Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, USA, Britain, Zambia, India and Kenya.
  • In Zimbabwe all persons from the age of 18 years have the right to vote.
  • Some of the political parties that participated in the 1980 General Election in Zimbabwe were: ZANU (PF) led by Robert Gabriel Mugabe; ZANU (Mwenje) led by Rev Ndabaningi Sithole; (PF) ZAPU led by Joshua Nkomo; UANC led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa; UNFP led by Ndiweni; ZUPO led by Chief Jeremiah Chirau; NFZ led by Mandaza; NDU led by Chiota; ZDP led by James Chikerema.
  • Zimbabwe is  a  good  example  of  a  multiparty democracy. As of 2013, the following were some of the main political parties in Zimbabwe: ZANU (PF) led by Robert Mugabe; MDC-T led by Morgan Tsvangirai; MDC-M led by Welshman Ncube; MDC 99 led by Job Sikhala; Mavambo/Kusile/ Dawn led by Simba Makoni.

One party  democracy


  • Only one political party is allowed in the country in the constitution.
  • Citizens  are  forced  to  accept  that  party  and  its ideology.
  • The state controls the media.
  • The media is not free to criticise the government.
  • The   state   does   not   tolerate   criticism   of   the government.
  • Hero worshipping of the leaders.
  • Dictatorship of the minority over the majority.
  • Having strong youth wings that force the citizens to tow party lines.
  • Approval or     appointment     of     presidential, parliamentary and local government candidates by the leadership.
  • The majority do not choose their leaders.
  • The party  is  supreme  to  the  government.  The distinction between the government and the party is very thin.
  • The principle  of  separation  of  powers  is  not observed, i.e. between the executive, judiciary and legislature.

The  characteristics or principles of a democracy

  • Universal participation – all adults participate in the electoral process.
  • Equality – all citizens are equal before the law.
  • Multi-partyism – the constitution allows more than one political party to operate.
  • Leaders are chosen in elections.
  • Regular, free and fair elections – the elections must be held regularly as set in the constitution. They must be free and fair.
  • Principle of  separation  of  powers  of  the  three branches of government (executive, judiciary and legislative) is observed.
  • The separation  of  powers  works  as  checks  and balances so that not one branch will dominate the other.
  • Responsiveness  –   The   government   bases   its legitimacy on representing the desires of its people.
  • Respect for minority groups and the disadvantaged.
  • Accountability – Public officials, i.e. those elected to public office must do their duties properly and they must be responsible for their actions.
  • Transparency – This means that the electorate must know what is happening.
  • Rule of law – It means that no one is above the law.
  • The law must be applied the same to all citizens. Equality before the law.
  • Basic freedoms of the citizens and political leaders

– The citizens, leaders of political parties, party officials  and  candidates  must  enjoy  the  basic freedoms of speech, press, assembly, movement and worship.

  • Respect for, and protection of human rights.