democratic theory

The reality of modern day democratic theory.

Democracy’s distinctive agendas

Broadly, we can take democracy to entail self-rule; we can take it to entail certain individual freedoms; we can take it to mean constitutionalism creating constitutional democracy or the rule of law; we can use democracy as a normative appeal for equality; we can accept the definition that it is a government attending to the interest of many rather than the few. All these meanings and many, many more come to play in their particular ways to satisfy the distinctive agendas of those who employ them.

Is democracy overhyped?

Today, democratic theory wanders across a broad range of issues from participation to deliberation to rights to majority rule to civic equality and so on. Furthermore, democracy, while enjoying the status of almost universal praise and appropriation, nevertheless boasts a multitude of meanings with little agreement or precision about what the preconditions of democratic systems are.

Is democracy the best way to choose our leaders?

One of the core values of contemporary democracy is the creation of constitutionalism, and, thus, constitutional democracy. Kenya, like most countries world over, is one of these kinds of democracies. As such, no institution, including parliament, is supreme. It is, instead, subject to the constitution. Case law has illustrated the same, when, in Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD) & anor, v Republic of Kenya & anor [2015], it was held as such, and added that “under Articles 93, 94 and 95 of the constitution, Parliament must enact laws in accordance with the constitution.”

What the constitution does is, amongst others, encourage and/or promote unity – in one of the many meanings of democracy. The constitution creates officers and personnel to manage them. These include the Parliament and the Presidency. Imperatively, it was held in the aforementioned case that “in pursuance of the objectives of the constitution and in consideration of underlying constitutional values and principles including national unity, rule of law, democracy, participation of the people, good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability, state organs and officers including Parliament and the Presidency must always seek to promote and enhance the unity of the nation. As the Head of State and Government and as a symbol of National Unity, the presidency must promote and enhance the unity of the nation. As the Head of State and Government and as symbol of National Unity the presidency must promote and enhance the unity of the nation by respecting, upholding and safeguarding the constitution and in the exercise of the authority and functions of his office demonstrate fidelity to the constitution and seek to establish harmony, understanding and tolerance and strive to seek consensus in the management of public affairs.

Self-rule: one-man-one-vote

The aforementioned leaders and institutions are, respectively, chosen and made through a general, engaging process of electioneering. For electioneering to be successful anywhere, there needs to be a sufficient reflection of the involvement of any and all eligible voters who have sacrificed some or most of their rights, to create a social contract, with the intent of choosing the best among them to lead them – just like democracy’s element of self rule requires.

Self-rule is based on the people’s own freedom of speech. Self-rule imposes duties upon citizens; duties such as to deliberate together in the active life of the polity, and to attend the Assembly and engage with others.

The relevance of self-rule might or might not be subject to criticism but what is democracy without the liberty to determine a government by its own people.

Overtime, the involvement of people has adopted more diverse and equally more flexible methods designed to make elections much more meaningful and convenient.

The adoption of technology

On March 03, 2015, Standard Media reported that Kenya’s IEBC was to enlist four (4) million new voters ahead of the 2017 general elections, with the total target being of eighteen (18) million biometric registrations. That is, without a doubt, an effort worth note.

However, as we seen in the most recent election, in the US of A’s November 2016 election, new technology is prone to the effects of hackers. The FBI and CIA have both agreed that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump, the successful winner, win the White House.

It is no wonder; therefore, that Kenya’s use of the biometric system in preparation for, and during next year’s question has caused rifts between parliamentarians, who, in a constitutional democracy, should be adhering to their duty of encouraging unity amongst their self-ruling constituents.

The challenges

 In a paper titled Democracy And Consensus In African Traditional Politics: A Plea For A Non-Party Polity, Kwasi Wiredu argued that “one of the most pertinent causes of political instability in Africa derives from the fact that, in ever so many contemporary African states, certain ethnic groups have found themselves in the minority both numerically and politically. Under a system of majoritarian democracy this means that, even with all the safeguards, they will consistently find themselves outside the corridors of power. The frustrations and disaffections, with their disruptive consequences for the polity, should not have caught anybody by surprise.”

As we have witnessed in Kenya, where the selection of public leaders and/or all of its general elections have, since colonial times, always been characterised by tribal sentiments, those who have not been successful have always opined that those who are in positions of power are manipulating them for the benefit of their tribes mates.

It is Wiredu’s assertion, highlighted above, that prompted Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze’s response when he wrote, in Democracy or Consensus, that “it seems obvious to me that a ‘democracy’ is one of the several sorts of social framework that a people adopt in order to mediate the struggles and conflicts that necessarily arise from the necessarily competitive nature of individuated identities and desires. A democracy’s raison d’etre is the legitimating – and ‘management’ – of this always already competitive (i.e. inherently political) condition of relativized desires. In this sense, ‘consensus’ or ‘unaninmity’ of substantive decisions cannot be the ultimate goal of democracy, but only one of its moments.”

One of the goals of what we know as ‘democracy’ is, evidently, self enrichment. This has been illustrated by many a leaders across Africa, from notable ones like H.E Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, to former comedians and current jokers like Hon. Kato Lubwama, who has publicly declared that the only reason he is in parliament is to not suffer anymore, which he has demonstrated by advocating for more than UGX 200 Million worth vehicles for all his fellow members of parliament.

In summation

In traditional societies like ours, which have always had traditional, communally accepted ways of resolving disputes and promoting unity, even without the major tenets of democracy, like constitutionalism and rule of law, it begs the question whether we should have to sacrifice our rights in the requisite that is a social pact in order to apply our self-rule for the benefit of the process of electioneering.

Our leaders have, without a doubt, not been helpful enough in the advancement of pour societies that it leaves us wondering whether democracy is necessary, or whether it is the best option available to us to choose them.


This article appears in our weekly digital law magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 9, Issue 5 of December 31st 2016

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