Sunday

Stumbling blocks to multiparty democracy

Like any young country, especially on the African continent, one of the toughest fights toward "democracy" is effectively dealing with traditional lore and established ways. I'm not about to suggest that we chuck our customs onto the rubbish heap and hug someone else's. No, siree! But in my view the fact of the matter is, either we agree to run our system along the lines of a proven one, the English one, say, with its constitutional monarchy, or we run our system the way we had been running it before we were so rudely interrupted by colonisation. Full stop.

The word democracy above is in inverted commas because many African societies were democratic, however different that may have been in comparison with democracy as we know it today. In Lesotho, for instance, Ntate Moshoeshoe I, the founder of our nation, always made his decisions after consulting his advisers, and sometimes the whole village. During these gatherings, called pitsos (summons or calls), everybody was free to voice their opinion. Today Basotho like to say Mo oa khotla ha a tsekisoe, or An opinion at a decision-making gathering is sacred.

It comes as no surprise that there's a lack of intraparty competition, which the above-mentioned article rightly points out as one of the reasons party members today have "little or no control over their leadership." Although most leaders were democratic in the manner mentioned above, the permanence and "unquestionability" of their status could not be denied. We still tend to consider people in higher positions unmovable and unquestionable, just like our kings were. And that's an example of what I think we shouldn't be doing. If we want political parties and a prime-minister and a parliament and elections, then we must accept many of the novel behaviours that go with such a system. If we want an African system, on the other hand, then let's go all out for one, and just add those extra features that bring a novel improvement without changing the heart of the system.

I will soon be posting about discrepancies between our traditional system of governance and modern democracy in Lesotho. I consider such discrepancies part of the problem and one of the major perpetrators of poverty in Lesotho and possibly in Africa as a whole.