Ever since democracy became the most acceptable method of governance in human history, different societies have tried to localize it by making applicable and operational definitions.
So, when you hear the Ugandan Constitution stating that “all power belongs to the people”, it is attempting to ensure that all tenets of democracy are captured and practiced within that general principle.
Evolution teaches us that today’s human beings are successors of beasts that sojourned and traversed this planet millions of years ago. Hence, in spite of the civilization that has had a transformative effect on us, there are still some traces of primitive beastly behavior and conduct. These are manifested in selfishness and other inhumane conduct such as greed, theft, war, corruption, witchcraft, etc.
On the other side of the human coin, religion teaches us that man was created by God, and in the very image of the creator, who is presumed pure and inviolable. So, human beings have presumably inherited such virtues as kindness, love, patience, hope and faith in life after death from their creator.
So, countrymen and women, why does anybody find it strange that some people are democratic, and others are not? Or even that someone behaves in a certain way at some point and behaves differently at another?
This can best be understood from the tripartite intervention of evolution, creation, and the factors of civilization on that individual, and subsequently on the general society and their level of socioeconomic development in time and space.
In other words, the contradictions we find in an individual self – struggling within oneself to take a decision in one’s best interest, and balance that with the best interests of others – are the same contradictions reflected at the higher plane of the socioeconomic and political engagement.
In theory, this is workable; but in practice, it is often much more difficult if one is in charge of millions of people, which means managing millions of contradictions. This is exactly where decrees, laws, rules and regulations help – in managing all these contradictions.
As if managing contradictions in societal transactions were not tough enough, then enters democracy; instead of minimizing socioeconomic and political contradictions, democracy is often a contradiction in itself against cohesion. It tends to emphasize individual rights, liberties, freedoms…. and all that affects an individual.
Surely, democracy would certainly be good, only if human beings had the humility to accept their own limitations, especially what we inherited from our ancestor beasts – which Christians would say is the original sin inherited from Adam and Eve.
But, rather, we all have the temerity to overate ourselves against anybody else, at least in our unseen minds and hearts! That is why some societies, in their priorities, go slow on democracy and prioritize such other human common goods as economics.
These argue that freedom without welfare is an illusion which blurs the human journey to self-fulfillment, but is accomplishable within societal scope! Examples here are the “Asian Tigers” of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
These went slowly on the dose of democracy and moved faster on the economic development and social transformation path first. They are now trying to catch up on other demands of democracy they had put in the ‘pending’ file.
Indeed, it is the contradiction between the ideal democracy and the stubborn realities whereby even those who claim to be the mothers of democracy and human rights still face serious contradictions between their professed motives and their actual practice.
For example, in the United States of America, who liberated themselves in 1789, women and blacks were not allowed to vote until the 1960s! And up to date, the black people are still looked at by their white compatriots with disdain! And this trickles down to socioeconomic and political rights as well.
In South Africa, where apartheid rule was broken down in early 1990s, economic muscle is still in the hands of the white- dominated economic enterprises!
Can the black-dominated South African government nationalize these industries and redistribute wealth? Not only is it a bad economic idea, but such an attempt would cause the ‘democratic’ and capitalistic West to slam sanctions on President Jacob Zuma, like they did to Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe!
Problem? Contradictions between practical reality demands and ideals of democracy!
So, whether it is socialist Cuba or Russia, communist China, capitalist Europe or North America, we all pursue our human, and socioeconomic interests; and the political mandate and/or power to materialize, protect and defend them, and how democratic we are along this road, one can safely say that the difference is the same.
The author is the deputy executive director of the Uganda Media Centre.