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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.