Democracy as a concept of political system

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.

The essence of court life for the courtiers, in the cattle keeping traditions of most African Kingdoms

In the cattle keeping traditions of most African Kingdoms, the essence of court life for the courtiers, was usually for the King, who was almost the only one who owned large herds of cattle- the most valued asset and symbol of Kingdom wealth at the time- to allot some to his courtiers for their keeping while they and their families got really portly on the milk.

They were, however, not permitted to kill the King’s cows for beef; that was the King’s prerogative- and only the King would extend that privilege. They could, however, and were permitted, to draw blood by a slight incision of the jugular of the cow, and drink it raw or cooked. That compensated for the deficiency of other vital nutrients in cow milk.

The King’s courtiers (entourage) lived better and were relatively wealthier than the average King’s subjects (citizens) – the majority hoi polloi.

Overtime, some of the roly-poly overfed courtiers would not only grow so arrogant and so out of touch with the common person’s daily reality of the scarcity of milk, but also grew a blinkered attitude so much so that they forgot that the cows belong to the King; not them. They were merely the King’s cattle herders.

Because the King knew that the essence of his own Kingship, life and survival, depended so much on his courtiers and their loyalty; allotting them cattle (letting them in on Kingdom wealth) was his way of buying their loyalty. Call it corruption, if it resonates!

But I will say that, the King was incentivising his courtiers to commit loyalty to him; to protect his Kingship. Court loyalty from the courtiers was an important element of King life to the King. It was a vital lease on His Royal Highness’ own survival and security at the court.

Every King dreads discontent in the court among the courtiers because it can, and quite easily and fast, lead to discord in the court which can break into scuffles to settle scores and release some pent-up frustrations. And nothing can disintegrate a Kingdom as fast as a sudden flare-up in the King’s court among the King’s courtiers. In the event that happens, the Kingship is effectively rendered untenable and the King is like a rabbit paralysed in the middle of the road by the headlights of an oncoming car.

The majority hoi polloi have a predictable tendency, almost conditioned by the environment, to look up to and therefore behave and act according to the behaviour and actions of the King’s courtiers. Nowhere is the phrase “monkeys see, monkeys do” is more apropos than in the relationship between the King’s courtiers and the King’s subjects – the majority hoi polloi.

It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is! Clap, clap!

With that on the King’s mind, the King was always observant of the behaviour and attitude of his courtiers. The King also employed some clever and effective tactics (tricks), setting up and playing each courtier against the other; to create and foster mistrust among the courtiers. Because of this consciously created mistrust among the courtiers by the King, as a control mechanism, courtiers informed on each other, to the great benefit and protection of the King and his Kingship. This was the King’s way of controlling the individual behaviour and actions of his courtiers; by seeding suspicion among the courtiers

They each, individually, worked to endear themselves to the King, to prove their total loyalty and therefore win the King’s trust. It worked for a few courtiers, but it also exposed their vulnerability and lack of integrity to the King. The King would know their perfidious character. It didn’t work for many courtiers, the King, feeling peeved, would let loose- like attack dogs- the few whose own demonstrated and proven vulnerability and lack of integrity, upon those who failed to win the King’s trust and expose their own vulnerability and lack of integrity.

Those who had the King’s trust, although not guaranteed, played small gods, worked to unleash pain and suffering upon those courtiers who had failed to kiss the King’s feet the right way and possibly the right side, at the right time because the King’s mood was capricious. The King’s own impulsive nature (and mood), and the perfidious character of his few temporarily trusted courtiers made a potent combination for causing pain and suffering in the Kingdom.

But the King, always aware of his own dependence on his courtiers, also applied the carrot and stick approach, using the allotted herd. If the courtiers’ behaviour and actions were tolerable to the King, the courtiers would keep the herd until they transgressed the King – did something intolerable to the King, and the herd would, with immediate effect, be removed, the courtier banished from the court.

The King, through (using) other courtiers, would go after the banished courtier and his entire relations, and made sure he condemned the courtier and his family [in]to crippling poverty; to serve a lesson and send a strong message to the court.

The courtiers’ own children would grow into court life and experience, they would be prepared for the next generation of court life – at the expense of the majority hoi polloi. The majority hoi polloi would be guaranteed (to remain in) their hoi polloi status, as their natural designation. There was very little, if any at all, social mobility in the King’s Kingdom. This was by intention and social design to control admission and access to the King’s court and protect its ‘sacredness’.

However, no King’s courtier would be allowed to leave the court because (on the basis that) they knew a lot about the King and the court, that would compromise the King and his Kingship. Even the courtiers banished from the court would be sent to a specially designated place and kept under the court’s and King’s close surveillance. In essence, life in the King’s court was prison life; based on the principle: once in, in forever, in for life!

Modern African courts have not changed much in their fundamental purpose and functions except, of course, wealth symbols and value have changed profoundly. But the behaviour is pretty much the same with minor modifications here and there.

Modern African courts have courtiers, although they may not necessarily have Kings, they have a figure comparable- in function and behaviour- to Kings, to whom courtier loyalty and commitment is due and who has the powers to make or break courtiers and the majority hoi polio with impunity as past traditional Kings did.

Bartering weakness for strength and negotiation.

You’ve five cattle, one of them is a bull. The bull serves its bull purpose well and it’s no bully at all. The cows are safe in its company. Its presence is integral; and its ‘no bully’ character crystalises its value and importance. For that reason, its place is guaranteed.

There are three adult female cattle, the three of them produce milk but at different production capacities. The remaining one is a healthy-looking heifer, fathered by the only bull present. So, it’s the daughter to the ‘no bully’ bull.

The cows produce enough milk for your consumption needs, enough for your favourite milk products such as cow milk cheese et cetera. But you like goat milk and its products like cheese, too. However, you do not own goats, and do not have the money to buy goat milk and its products. Your burly neighbour Billy with a long goatee owns a herd of goats and no cattle although he dons his signature Texan cowboy hat, probably for emotional compensation.

Burly Billy with a long goatee drinks cow milk, he likes his morning coffee with cream, and likes cream on his homemade cakes, and delights himself as a bon vivant when it comes to cow milk cheese. Burly Billy with a long goatee talks glowingly and endlessly about different types of cow milk cheese; the cambozola triple cream, Danish blue cheese, Swiss emmental, Comte, Gouda, Brie Mon Sire; on and on. Until real billy from his goat herd trots, rather charges towards him, cutting his cow milk cheese names rap short, to give real billy goat attention.

But Burly Billy with a long goatee does not hide his desperate wish to own cattle so he could enjoy cow milk and its products. You notice Burly Billy with a long goatee has unmet needs, and you realise you can meet his needs. You are also fully aware of your own unmet needs, that of goat milk and its products. Burly Billy with a long goatee has what you need.

Cognisant of your lack of money, you approach Burly Billy with a long goatee with a barter proposal. Burly Billy with a goatee receives the proposal with great excitement. You remember you’ve heard, with some but not sufficient evidence, that Burly Billy with a long goatee, has a reputation of not bartering fair. Mainly because Burly Billy with a long goatee is a tough and clever negotiator; and as such, he often barters his worst for others’ best.

If others entering into a barter deal with Burly Billy with a long goatee, have little to no knowledge at all about goats, Burly Billy with a long goatee will, without shame, hand them the “lemon” equivalent of his goats. You don’t want to be yet his such next victim.

So, you do your due diligence on Burly Billy with a long goatee and the goats. You try to find out how much Burly Billy with a long goatee knows about cows, you discover, to your delight, the burly goatherder with a long goatee is a goat when it comes to knowledge about cattle.

Burly Billy with a long goatee will enter into a barter negotiation on a ‘product’ he knows nothing about but desperately wishes to barter for and have. This is a vital piece of information on Burly Billy with a long goatee.

It’s potential power in your hands, not yet power. Power is and will be in how you use (apply) this vital piece of information, not to gain an advantage because by virtue of having such vital information upfront, you already have advantage, but to ensure you barter your worst to get the best of/from Burly Billy with a long goatee.

You have the power and an advantage of information over the burly goatherder with a long goatee on his utter ignorance on things about cattle despite the goatherder’s love for cow milk and its varied products.

So, it’s you the cattle herder in a barter negotiation with a burly goatherder with a long goatee, Billy, who is utterly ignorant about cattle but desperately wants cattle to enjoy the privilege of drinking cow milk and the taste of varied cow milk products.

You also know that milk production capacity of one of your milk producing cows, the youngest, is much lower compared to others and unlikely to improve. Because of this, you’re happy to barter it for healthy and milk producing goats, to meet your need for goat milk and cheese.

Because of your prior interest in finding out about the goatherder’s herd, you know all the six milk producing goats are healthy and have a high milk production capacity. So, you’re happy with whichever Burly Billy with a long goatee offers for barter.

You take your chosen cow for barter to the burly goatherder with a long goatee, Billy, who, upon looking at the cow, struggles to hide his excitement, although Burly Billy with a long goatee, being a hard nose and experienced negotiator, knows showing excitement in negotiation, unless it’s done to beguile, can be potentially damaging.

Noticing the burly goatherder’s struggle to hide excitement, you demand three goats for your cow but will settle for two. Burly Billy the goatherder with a long goatee, strokes his long goatee whilst digesting and contemplating the demand.

After a moment of contemplation, Burly Billy the goatherder with a long goatee, counters the demand with what he thinks, based on his needs (what he stands to gain) and negotiation experience, is the best deal offer.

Adjusting his signature Texan cowboy hat, although without cattle but sensing this is the moment he could have cattle, he roared: two healthy, high milk producing goats, for your cow.

This is the story of not just (about)barter; but bartering good for better, bartering less (weakness) for more (strength). The power and value of the advantage of information in negotiation. How information is only power by how and what you apply it on to gain power, whatever that’s!

The little knowledge, big responsibility-elevated ego dilemma (syndrome).

The best tool (and/or advanced technology) in the hands of an amateur (inadequate knowledge) or the wrong expert (professional) is not only rendered ineffective (useless) but also potentially dangerous.

The little knowledge, big responsibility-elevated ego dilemma (syndrome).

The misuse (misapplication) of the right tool, out of ignorance (inadequate knowledge) – wrong expert (professional)- is (potentially) far more destructive than the use (application) of the wrong tool by the right expert (professional). The level of awareness is different. Even improvisation by the right expertise with the wrong tool will be more effective and produce better outcomes than the right tool in the wrong hands.

The following short story of an amateur builder, demonstrates that having the right tool, in and of itself alone, is not enough.

The right tool, requires the right knowledge (expertise), for it to serve its intended purpose well. The right tool, in the wrong hands (wrong or inadequate knowledge/expertise), can be catastrophic with costly consequences.

An amateur builder, realising the only tool he has in his toolbox is a sledgehammer, and acting out of hubris of feeling sledgehammered up, that is, reinforced by the possession of a sledgehammer, he thinks his only job is demolition.

So, powered by and fully equipped with his sledgehammer, he embarks on a wild demolition spree, while threatening to turn the sledgehammer onto the crazy heads of those crying out loud in supplication, for him to stop. But only, while elated by and totally immersed in the destruction, to have concrete debris ricochet off the sledgehammer onto his head, sending him into a comma.

Out of the “Ubuntu” spirit, the victims quickly tend to him, giving him the best (first aid) care possible. After a while, the amateur builder whose sledgehammer power gave him the illusion of incorrigibility and inviolability, coming out of a long comma, is asked by someone whose inherited cross-generation family vase was demolished by the sledgehammer wielding amateur builder: why did you destroy my family vase?

The amateur builder, still dazed by the impact on his head, wearily but in a tone of arrogance and the illusion of someone powered by the sledgehammer, asked in response: what is the use of a sledgehammer?

Oh! The use of a sledgehammer is to (help) build not to cause pain and destruction. Came out the response in a measured but clearly emotional and hurt voice. To which the amateur builder, again, asked, in a weary tone: are you happy I got hurt? No. Just telling you that you misused the sledgehammer.

It’s clear you don’t know what a sledgehammer is used for; therefore, you should have had the humility to ask for help, on how to use it appropriately without causing unnecessary destruction which, in the end, hurt you.

It should also serve to remind you that the illusion of empowerment coming from being in possession of what is the right tool; but in the powerful hands of a mind with a little knowledge and hubris, are potent recipes for self-destruction. Every action, has a potential reaction.

Egoless Leadership

The Ego, is the enemy within; but the kind of invincible enemy. Egoless leadership, as troubling as the concept of [human] leadership is, were it possible, would be the best form of leadership. But leadership is not without the Ego.

Egoless leadership would not be driven internally by the “Me”, the “I” or the “self”, which is the Ego that comes, not from a place of internal harmony, but insecurity. We’re naturally and largely driven (and motivated) more by fear than by solely the desire to achieve something. It’s the fear of failure, that’s naturally driving our motivation to accomplish tasks, to pursue our goals and objectives.

It’s the fear of what might or might not happen (will go wrong) if; (a) we fail to do something that we think or have been conditioned to think must be done; b) the fear of failure even if we do what we necessarily think must be done; that pushes or [sometimes] motivates us into action. But too often, we measure the outcome of the action without asking the internal influence, the internal push [in]to action.

We measure and judge failure or success, according to [based on] action, and sometimes goals/objectives and intent; but hardly based on the internal push- fear or the desire for achievement. The reality is that it’s the Ego that’s behind everything, outward.

Leadership is believed, and therefore widely trumpeted as a human practical skill; which means, like all skills, it’s a learnable skill and not, contrary to some fallacious claims, a natural ability. Except for the ability to learn, process information fast and apply it appropriately; there’s arguably nothing ‘natural’ about leadership but everything about nurture.

No one is born to lead, with leadership ability and skills, unless one has been leading in the womb. But since leadership requires the interaction with, the willing cooperation (without willingness, it’s coercion) of others, then leadership in the womb is practically impossible.

Since it’s practically impossible to practise and therefore acquire leadership ability and skills while in the womb; it reasons and further proves the thesis that leadership is a learnable skill.

We all inevitably learn leadership skills as we learn to live in society because society, like a jungle, must be navigated, and one must emphasise; with caution. Caution, in this case, is determined by the individual, according to the situation; it’s not universally determined.

Since society must be navigated, we must acquire essential social navigation skills. We’re essentially, in our individual capacities, all leaders.

The challenge of leadership, is always about area or field, if you will, of leadership. But every individual in society, is a leader in their own individual capacity; unless their individual leadership capacity has been impaired by society. The ability to lead oneself is as essential as the ability to lead others.

Learnable [social and practical] skills are not without objectives- an agenda- whether it’s consciously acknowledged or not. There’s always a reason we learn something, why we’re motivated and what pushes us to learn something. It’s not always without a reason, although, and admittedly, it’s sometimes, in fact, most times, not easy to explain the reason or reasons. This is partly because it’s equally not easy to qualitatively quantify reasons as to why we learn and acquire a skill; and party because the quality of any skill is usually proven in the outcome of that which we set and demonstrate our skill on. The quality of a carpenter’s carpentry skills, is manifested in the quality or lack thereof, of the carpenter’s final products.

Behind all the skills acquisition process, whether it’s society- our environment- that urges us to acquire this skill or that skill; there’s, ultimately, the Ego. Leadership, as any learnable skill, therefore, is not without Ego.

It’s the Ego that’s the source of social conflicts; wars and such. Social victory- victory out of a social conflict- or war victory, means the defeat and thus victory over the Ego of the defeated side. A defeated Ego is not usually a crushed (completely destroyed) Ego; which means, it can re-organise itself and comeback to fight. This explains why social conflicts have a tendency to recur, even after one side suffering a massive defeat (loss).

It’s only Egoless leadership that can bring about true peace and harmony.

Organisations, social and business alike, are led by the Ego; that means, they are led by and from a place of insecurity.

Most of us are inwardly poverty-stricken, which is a source of and therefore what drives our fear; as such, we strive to prove ourselves, to prove a point but often to others – outward show. We want to show our positions, prove our power and authority; and too often, it’s this insecurity that leads to authoritarian behaviour in organisations and from either an individual or group in positions of power and authority.

Authoritarianism provokes resistance; and authoritarianism responds and treats resistance with brutality; resistance responds accordingly, destruction is inevitable. Animosity is sown and animosity breeds conflicts; this creates a vicious cycle of vicious conflicts.

Organisations are led by the Ego; the Ego is the invincible enemy within, therefore, equally, the enemy of the organisation.