Americans have just elected their president after weeks of hype which culminated last Tuesday into epic electoral battle between the Democrat incumbent President Barack Obama and the Republican Mitt Romney. At last, Obama was able to make a “mince-Mitt” of his adversary and gained another four years in office.
Be that as it may, it needs to be stated though, that this article is not about Obama’s victory per se, but about what we can learn from the American democratic tradition.
The modern democracy, anchored on the principle of elective representation via multiparty political dynamism resulting in periodic election by universal adult suffrage is one of the best aspects of human civilisation. The practice which started in ancient Greece had undergone evolutionary changes, having substantively attained its modern character as far back a 1755 with the short-lived Corsican Republic.
The modern leader in this human convention come is no other country than United States, which today is a paragon of democratic excellence.
Granted that democracy is foreign to Africa as our traditional political administration reflected principles of theocracy, gerontocracy, oligarchy and aristocracy more than those of liberal democracy, but since we inherited the democratic tradition as a legacy of colonialism and having realised that it has proved to be the durable, time-tested and the best form of government ever invented by human, nothing stops us from making same an abiding culture, progressively improved upon through collective experience.
Unfortunately, we have not been able, through our national character, to uphold the acceptable, not to talk of the best, tenets of democratic civilisation. Ironically we paid lip service to the concept while basest, unwitting and primordial propensities drive our putative democratic processes.
We started active democracy through the internal self-government in 1962 using the parliamentary system of government. In 1967, we adopted the American presidential system and have operated same, (or what we pretend to be the same) till today. Yet our so-called home- grown democracy is a far cry from what is obtainable from the global leaders of democracy we claim to pattern our system after.
Using United States which has just concluded a presidential election as an example, how do we measure up? Election here is like a war, not an ideological war but a physical one.
When I first saw the pictures of soldiers, policemen and other security personnel like officials of the Uganda Security and UPDF beating up voters and roughing up Colonel Kiiza Besigye before and after the elections in the so called ‘walk to work, I exclaimed “Ah! Has Museveni finally decided to go to war with Ugandans over their votes?” it was not until I read messages from Kayihura on UAH and some other usual NRM sympathisers, I then realised they were meant to force Ugandans accept the government they have got in power whether they like it or not. Can’t our elections ever be organised peacefully without the open use of force?
In America, moneybags don’t install candidates in offices in defiance of the powers of the electorate. You can be sure that the results of American elections are the actual reflections of the wishes of the electorate. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of many, (some people would say most) of our elections here.
Over there, power of incumbency counts but little, here it may make all the difference. The IGP can do anything he wants to the opposition; Ugandans opposing the government through social media are afraid of going back home for fear of being arrested or possibly killed; the voters are beaten up or tear gassed; e.t.c
The laws are in the US to check arbitrary and unconscionable use of state resources to promote selfish political agenda by the incumbent; here it is considered a weakness not to employ the state apparatus, including the radio and television stations, both to sing the praises of the incumbent to the highest heavens and to run down the opponents.
What about widespread use of money in politicking. In Uganda if you are not very rich or sponsored by the super rich, you would find it difficult to be nominated for, let alone winning election. The followers themselves have their own blame, there are many who would not show the slightest interest in electoral process unless they collect money from candidates. As a result, we end up with ‘small brains’ in parliament because they had some money to spend during campaigns.
Politics in America is seen as a civic duty, so people themselves are not waiting to be “mobilised” with pecuniary handouts before they could go and exercise their civic responsibility. As Americans went to the poll, we are yet to hear of distribution of rice, kawunga, soap, airtime or recharge cards. An average voter over there would feel insulted if you seek to buy his or her votes with a bushel or two of rice.
Their democratic institutions over there are well-strengthened and vibrant. The court of law for instance is not encumbered with obsolete electoral laws that would still be interpreted by partisan judges.The judicial officers are free and impartial and could be relied upon to intervene fairly if ever the need arises.
In the United States, 85 per cent of all election results are not contested in courts like in our land. There is nothing wrong in going to court, but where preponderant majority of elections end up before election petitions tribunals, it speaks volume of the electoral system itself. Who said we don’t have much to learn from America?