Democracy as a concept of political system, rooted in its supposed Greek origin – literally “people power” – is an interesting concept. What’s even more interesting is that, it seems to have an almost romantic universal appeal. It sounds sexier than Dictatorship.
However, democratic practice appears to be undeniably open to interpretation. Going by democratic trends across the [political] world, no doubt, it means different things to different people in different polities, depending on many things such as [their] objectives.
But what is also undeniable about democracy, is that beyond being a [universally preferred] political system of governance (mistaken and therefore associated with good governance); is that it’s a political instrument of acquiring political power not by force (violence), but by ‘civilised‘ persuasion of the people through orderly (organised) campaigns and making appealing promises to get people to agree to enter into a political contract and thus lend power, through the ballot, in return for whatever was pledged.
Ideally, the ballot should be a promissory note issued by the one who seeks the vote, to the voter – if the voter uses it. The vote should represent credit due. But this is unnecessary bureaucracy in societies that are civically and politically literate and educated to make rational political decisions. Where citizens understand, beyond their immediate basic needs, what politics is[about], how influential politics is and how it inevitably affects their lives.
Such societies tend to have better economic means that facilitate their education and therefore are better educated. They understand their political as well as other rights; they understand the functions of the economy and how all that is intertwined with politics. Consequently, they demand or assert their rights and other needs through political participation in a democratic process.
Put simply, their political participation is based on their deep awareness of the importance or influence of politics in their lives as well as their own influence in[to] politics. They participate with a strong belief that they have real political influence in the political process.
Contrast the scenario described above with a society like Malawi’s, caught in a bitterly disputed re-election of President Peter Mutharika, which was annulled for irregularities; as such, underwent another presidential election in which Lazarus Chakwera was elected the new President of Malawi.
According to the World Bank, “Malawi remains one of the poorest countries in the world despite making significant economic and structural reforms to sustain economic growth.”
In a country as poor as Malawi, civic and political literacy and education are closely linked to [individual] economic means. An estimated 85% of the population live in rural areas, in economically poor conditions, which is likely to affect the level of their political education.
In a political system that is supposedly democratic, in which citizens are assumed to have equal opportunity for political influence; but under such poor socioeconomic circumstances, it raises suspicion on the credibility of the democratic process, much less the outcome of such process; and begs to ask whether or not citizens are politically educated and therefore are capable or not, of making rational political judgement and decisions.
If they are not, which is highly possible, on what basis are the majority citizens who live under, largely, extreme poor socioeconomic circumstances and are poorly educated civically, politically and otherwise, are they participating in a democratic process such as presidential election?
What are they voting for? What is the level of their political influence in the democratic process?
Did the Malawian elite – a small percentage of the Malawian population who are relatively better educated and with economic means – and the majority population, who are economically poor and poorly educated; participate in the democratic process with the same political education, understanding of politics and the political process?
Did these two distinct groups but of the same Malawian population have and share the same socioeconomic and political aspirations and expectations?
This is where democracy, especially in poor countries such as Malawi, becomes a mere political power tool that benefits the political and economic elite; and barely, if at all, is of any significant consequence and service to the majority of the population afflicted with extreme poverty.
There’s need to reappraise the purpose of democracy and the democratic process especially in economically poor countries (societies), as a consequence, are poorly educated civically, politically and otherwise.
The level of civic and political education and awareness should be an integral part in any democracy and should, therefore, not only determine but also be critically assessed before engagement in political participation. This will help not only in building confidence and credibility in the process but also in the subsequent outcome of such process.