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Democratic Choice or Political Power?

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on December 17, 2021 14:43

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As the USA and various African countries struggle with allegations of plots to take power by force there is need to contemplate the past and the future. The concept of democracy is a delicate flower that needs nurturing. Power is a heady temptation, and can easily become a self-perpetuating thing, with dire long term effects.

Permanent Revolution was a concept proposed by people like Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky to explain esoteric elements of their theories. But in a basic sense, that is what democracy should be: a permanent mechanism of change, developing new ideas, and building new social structures when the old ones become ossified and self-serving. 

The Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies recently published an article on the precarious political situation in West Africa, where several countries are recovering from or still in the grips of coups that took place in 2021. In Mali, the military took power from a democratic leadership that seemed unable to tame a political and criminal insurrection with Islamist overtones. In Chad, the death of President Idriss Déby in a rebel ambush saw his son and a military junta take the reins in contravention of the constitution. In Guinea, President Alpha Condé was deposed by his Presidential Guard shortly after being re-elected for a third term. Sudan is in the grips of widespread popular resistance to a military ouster of the civilian-military transition authority that followed a coup in 2019 deposing President Omar al-Bashir. 

Characteristic of all these coups is the parlous state of governance in these countries, and the concentration of power in the hands of a small elite. In Sudan in the time someone remarked that all the Ministers and opposition members meet at weddings and funerals, being part of the same family.

Popular participation in politics and in the economy remains a dream in most of these countries, which is why it is interesting to note several court cases where members of ruling elites appear before the tribunal. In Seychelles, several people close to the previous governmental structures appeared in the Supreme Court on charges of conspiracy to corrupt, of money laundering and of terrorism. In Madagascar, an alleged plot to assassinate the President resulted in the arrest of a number of active Generals and other military officers, and two were sentenced this week.  

The long-drawn-out saga of ex-President Zuma of South Africa using the courts to avoid facing the courts on corruption and contempt of court charges is entering its eighteenth year - better than many soap operas, an epic struggle to prove that he, as President and before, was above the law. 

History is replete with examples of self-serving socio-political structures crumbling under their own weight - the French Revolution being only the most vivid. Images of Benito Mussolini strung up, Moammar Ghadaffi being killed, and numerous others seem unable to hammer home the lesson: Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Leadership based on blind loyalty, unchecked respect for the powerful distorts reason, which is why politicians so love military adventures, where loyalty can be taken for granted, which is why military adventures should be subject to democratic checks.

Mark Twain had choice words for blind obedience to the powerful. I wish more people would read him. 

 

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on December 17, 2021 14:43

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Source: BBC

The two men are accused of planning to assassinate President Andry Rajoelina.

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