DEMOCRACY connotes different meanings today. One may talk of democracy to mean free governments, representative government, constitutional monarch, natural rights, equality before the law, equal opportunity.
Then there are also:” universal suffrage, majority rule, separation of powers and the multi-party system.
Nor should we forget another half dozen other topics that are found associated in modern times with the so-called democratic process – primary elections, referendum, proportional representation and so on.
In non-democratic countries a situation may arise in search of democracy marked by democratic protests giving rise to a need for the creation of social and political capacities to challenge state monopolization of politics and decision making.
It may be the case that it is in mainly the military states ruled countries where the question of democracy is posed generally in terms of a need for a multi-party system. Otherwise, the question of democracy in most African countries like Tanzania is posed in broader terms.
Beyond the demand for various freedoms, such as freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of thinking, freedom of the press etc, there is a challenge to create autonomous civil organizations which will enable these countries to transcend the established arrangements.
The emergence of opposition parties which aim at constitutional changes is an important turning point in the process of political change.
However, in our case in Tanzania, almost all the parties which have emerged so far are elite organizations. There are hardly any organic representatives of mass or community organizations in these parties including the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), save for gender (female) issues.
It seems there is an acceptable universal concept of democracy (liberal in the Schumpeterian sense), whereby the connotation is simply accountability of the ruler as the major issue. Democracy is seen as a form of representation, organization and expression. It is a matter of the ballot box and it does not matter what means one uses to get the votes. We have witnessed this during the CCM preliminaries and in the just concluded general election.
This type of democracy does not address itself to the issue of redressing imbalances, inequalities, exploitation etc, and all the talk is simply about setting up “democratic institutions”. This is the situation taking place in our country today, having moved out of the one – party democracy.
Rousseau in his famous book: “The Social Contract”, takes democracy literally: all the people, equal in rank, come together and decide policy and choose leaders. This is the old Athenian democracy, except there are no slaves.
Rousseau therefore falls back on representative government which he calls, correctly, “elective aristocracy”: the people elect those they think the best (aristoi), to run their affairs for them. For “lawgiver”, substitute “constitution” a set of rules for day-to-day operations.
Why should anybody think that such system must end in tyranny? One answer can be given through a quick reminder: Hitler did not seize power, he was voted in as head of a plurality party by people living under a democratic government, and with a constitution that combined the best features of all constitutions on record.
If you add to the strength of Hitler’s party that of the Germany Communists, you have a large democratic majority voting for totalitarian rule.
To generalize from this example, if the people are sovereign, they can do anything they want, including turning their constitution upside down. Is it possible in present multi-party democracy Africa?
People can lose their freedom by choosing leaders who promise more equality, more prosperity, more national power through dictatorship; democracy and popular sovereignty is honoured in the breach as those in power claim to represent the will of the people and that they know what people want.
In our case, and in many other African countries, the only “democratic” change which has taken place is in terms of moving from one state party to many state parties. The existing parties, (including CCM) and emerging parties, without exception have confined themselves to the realm of fighting to remain in or enter the State House. As far as popular politics are concerned, the broad masses are only mobilized for support.
These parties are even attempting to put a wedge between politics and economics by their inability to organize independent labour and peasant movements. In some instances, they tend to distance themselves from such organizations and other grass grassroot activities. Inevitably, such forms of politics end up by the social and political demobilization of the civil organizations.
Clearly, multi-party politics in our country are still imprisoned in the state of controlled conceptions of politics. This has reduced democracy and good governance under multi-partism into a hoax.
In fact, political liberalization, which is in place today, has taken the form of another monopolization of political participation by very narrow circles of elites.
This has also further weakened the civil society’s organizational capacities because it does not preclude the predominance of state repressive relations to the civil society.
This is inevitable, given the fact that the emerging parties are all pro-economic liberalization in one way or another.
Economic liberalization is in essence, an attempt to restructure capital and forms of accumulation; but for the working people it means further marginalization, aggravation of tensions and further hierachisation.
This cannot be sustained without repressing the producers who demand for better working/production conditions or provision of social services on community basis, rather than individual responsibilities.
Democracy as a process of transforming the state requires one to focus on the politics of social and political emancipation of the people. It is necessary to deal with issues such as: in which way is production organized? Who is producing? Who is appropriating the surplus? What forms of accumulation are taking place – in sum the relations of subordination of production and resistance at the level of production.
Questions like, who is demanding for democracy?, or what is that which makes social groups demand for democracy?, are quite legitimate.
What multi-party politics are doing is to reduce politics to the number of parties and the number of votes. It is for this reason that such politics are elitist, since their assumption is that people do not and are incapable of thinking, and therefore, they must be represented. Further that people are incapable of making their own history, it is only the parties and the state which are capable of doing so. Here, the attempt is to even deny the existence of politics outside parties.
Multipartism, the way it has been introduced in our country is just like a gift. Like what the Latin said when they were under the domination of the Greaks: “Timeo Danos et dona forentes” – I Fear the Greeks, even when bringing gifts”.