In my opinion, Democracy is the worst form of government; Winston Churchill agrees with my assessment but said that the problem is that the alternatives to it are worse!
Every five years, or so elections are held and the people’s votes are tabulated. Assuming that the elections were held in a free and fair manner the candidates that scored the highest votes are declared winners and handed government to rule.
Here is an empirical fact: the majority of the people voting for politicians probably do not understand a thing about the issues in the public domain (re: public opinion, public agenda and public policy issues). If the idea is to have citizens who are well informed on public policy matters, the majority of the people’s votes, for all intents and purposes, are wasted.
In democratic countries, such as the USA ignorant people elect clever politicians who managed to market their selves as what is needed to govern the human polity. American politicians bamboozle and hoodwink Americans to supporting policies that do not serve their self-interests. For example, one would think that it is in the best interest of poor white folks to support publicly paid health insurance for all Americans but instead these were gotten by the conservative propaganda machine to vote against what they derisively call Obamacare!
In fact, if you put the issue of the public paying for free public education, K-12 conservatives would get the masses of America to vote against it (so that they remain ignorant and work for the rich, as their ignorant fathers used to work for Aristocrats in Europe until they came to America and were washed and given opportunity created by liberals to go to school and then they turn around and oppose that schooling if it is publicly paid for!) Conservatives have managed to convince the masses of America that anything done by the government is bad; indeed, Ronald Reagan said that the idea of having a government itself is bad; his mantra was that he was going to Washington to reduce if not eliminate the federal government (and return to the people to chaos and anarchy).
Conservatives convinced the unwashed masses of white America that paying taxes to support the federal government is evil even though government has to be funded; if you have no government people revert to living in the wild and kill each other and, as Hobbes said, life becomes nasty, brutish and short.
Perform this experiment: stop a typical white American on the streets and ask him about the current issues that constitute the public agenda on American politics and he would not know a damn thing about any of them and if he does his opinion on them would be as informed as you would expect from a mentally challenged person! As for minorities, such as black folks and Latinos they are practically living in different countries and seldom know what is going on in mainstream American politics! What is going on in the hood, yes; what is going in Washington DC they have no clue!
Democracy is over hyped for upon examination there is very little evidence that democratically elected governments do better job in governing the people or delivering the goodies to the people than other forms of government, such as aristocracy, oligarchy, plutocracy, monarchy etc.
It would seem that the best form of governments in developing African countries are governments that are goal oriented and are totally focused on achieving those goals and using every means necessary in doing so. This type of government can be called benevolent dictatorship.
In benevolent dictatorships, the person or persons with the best interests of the people in mind, persons who truly understand what the country needs rule the people for a specified period of time, say, for ten years and thereafter are not reelected for the chief executive officer position of the national government (President, Prime minister ).
It seems to me that benevolent dictators who use every means necessary to get the job done are what are needed in Africa.
Poor African countries cannot afford the luxury of American type democracy where the rich or those who can raise money to campaign for political offices are elected to offices and use the so-called democratic institutions of the land to make policies that serve the interests of the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor.
As we speak, in poor Nigeria the ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP essentially has redirected much of the federal treasury to their election finance funds; they use the people’s money to get reelected. That money could have been used to provide the much needed infrastructural development the country is crying out for. Can Nigeria afford to spend billions of dollars every four years to elect do nothing presidents?
Plato in his seminal book, the Republic made a similar suggestion although he called his benevolent dictators philosopher kings. He posited a regime of education whereby all boys are provided with elementary and secondary school education (Plato had an academy, sort of like a modern University and he did not require his leaders to have such education for he knew that college education is not relevant to governing the human polity) and thereafter those who show leadership skills are selected and given further training in leadership science and arts. They are then assigned as apprentice leaders to understudy actual leaders. When they attain age thirty five and are done with the required rigorous education they are then deemed able to lead their human polities.
To prevent the leaders from corruption, Plato required them to live in barracks (or dormitories); they are to shorn the things that ordinarily motivate men, such as drive for power, prestige, wealth and fame; they are to devote their selves to doing what serves the interests of their country.
Plato’s politics is idealistic; it is not realistic for in the real world it is doubtful that people can be trained as soldiers who completely live to serve their people; as Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations told us) people seem to have inherent self-interests that motivate their social behaviors.
Aristotle, in his politics provided what folks generally regard as more realistic politics than Plato’s idealism. Aristotle reasons that people have different talents; some are good traders, others good soldiers and the many artisans and peasants. Only a few persons, as Aristotle sees it are capable of dedicating their lives to serving their polities. Therefore, let these aristocratic men, the freemen of wealth compete for political leadership of their countries. Aristotle excluded women and slaves from participating in the running of the human polity.
Nicolo Machiavelli (The Prince) is the ultimate political realist; he suggested that the end justifies the means, that political leaders with good intentions for their countries could do whatever is necessary to accomplish their goals and if needs be tell the people lies. For example, people seem to like their leaders to be religious folks, but there is no evidence that one needs to be religious to be a good leader. Therefore, if you are a good leader tell the people that you are religious even if you are an atheist, Machiavelli recommends. Say whatever you can to be elected and once elected quickly do away with your opponents and implement your pro-social agenda. Killing a few and jailing many of your enemies, Machiavelli suggests would make the people respect you; a leader, he says should strive to be respected, even feared rather than loved.
People do not necessarily do what those they love ask them to do but do what those they fear would imprison them ask them to do. What the draconian Buhari asks people to do would be done but what the clown Jonathan asks the people to do no one would do.
Did you see Jonathan, yesterday in military fatigue uniform? He reminds one of Michael Dukakis in a tank; a mouse in military a tank; if the impression that he wants to convey is that he is a strong leader fighting Boko Haram he is laughable! Where has he been in the past six years when Boko Haram ran amok making life insecure for Northern Nigerians; where was he as kidnappers transformed Southeastern Nigeria to kidnappers’ haven where folks now seldom want to go lest they are kidnapped and held hostage for monetary ransom. Under Jonathan’s watch not only has corruption gone over the roof, people’s lives are now insecure.
Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan) provided the rationale for strong leadership. In the state of nature people are self-centered and do only what serves their personal interests and if left alone, to get what they want would step on other people’s feet. Therefore, society needs a strong leader to make sure that people did not hurt each other.
John Locke (Second Treaty on Government) while agreeing with Aristotle, Machiavelli and Hobbes pointed out that in as much as the leaders are motivated to serving the people’s public good that they ought to limit their selves to doing only what the people ask them to do.
The Framers of the American polity borrowed heavily from John Locke in framing their concept of limited government; they also borrowed from the French man, Charles Montesquieu (The Spirit of Laws) who recommended the division of government into its three natural branches and bid the three to compete so as to prevent tyranny. America’s founding fathers, of course, borrowed from Jean Jacquie Rousseau (Social Contract) who pointed out that the people voting for their leaders is the only legitimizing force the leaders need, that leaders do not need to root their rule on so-called divine rights of kings and claim to rule on behalf of God.
As far as Rousseau, Voltaire and Denis Diderot (leaders of the French enlightenment, reason governing human affairs not religion and its hypothetical god) were concerned there is no God so we do not need to say that we are doing anything on behalf of God; we do something on behalf of the people, and do only those things that pure reason tell us serves our good. (On the issue of the role of God in human affairs it is instructive reading what the atheist David Hume and the theist George Berkeley had to say on that subject.)
John Stuart Mill (On Liberty) the quintessential British scholar and his fellow utilitarian thinkers, such as Jeremy Bentham reminded us that only the people know what gives them pain or pleasure and make choices based on that reality; if rational, they select governments that they expect to optimize their pleasure, do what is good for them. Moreover he expatiated on the arguments that Hamilton, Madison and Jay made in the Federalist Papers; the federalist papers, among other things, pointed out why the framers of the American constitution in 1787 chose representative democracy rather than the participative democracy practiced by the ancient Greeks. For one thing, America is too large and all the people cannot gather in one place to make policy decisions; they, therefore, ought to regularly select representatives to gather and make decisions for them.
The representatives must represent the people’s political aspirations (or what Rousseau called the people’s general will) and if not they are not reelected during the next election cycle. Interestingly, it is the darling of conservatives, Edmund Burke (Reflections on the French Revolution), who urged the elected representatives to actually vote their minds, what they believe is right and if the people vote them out of office so be it.
If you have lived in America for more than a year you probably have noticed that the democracy is not what it is cranked up to be for the rulers actually rule on behalf of the rich and powerful. Try to get a Bill through Congress that the rich oppose and good luck. Thus populists such as Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels (The Communist Manifesto, Das Capital) and V.I. Lenin (Political Party) argued that what America has is not democracy but plutocracy and oligarchy. They visualize a situation where all people collectively own property and therefore their leaders can represent their collective interests not just the interests of the few wealthy bourgeoisies.
If we agree that what is called democracy is a sham and think that we ought to have benevolent dictators to serve the people we are immediately confronted by some problems, such as how do we select these benevolent dictators since by implication of the term dictator they are not selected by the people and imposed their selves on the people (The Gracchi brothers of ancient Rome, dictators imposed their will and claimed to rule on behalf of the people. See the writings of Cicero, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius’.)
And how do we know that having imposed their selves on the people they would always do the right thing for the people?
Adolf Hitler (Mein Kampf) although initially elected by the people in 1932 imposed his self on the people and managed to kill fifty million human beings.
Joseph Stalin although he rose to power through the ranks of the Soviet communist party imposed his self on the people and managed to kill over thirty five million human beings.
So, how do we prevent benevolent dictators from doing more harm than good?
Be that as it may, all things considered, it seems to me that what Nigeria and most African countries need now is benevolent dictators; Nigeria cannot afford the luxury of American styled bourgeois democracy that hands power to the rich and those manage to fool the people into thinking that they are working for them when in fact they are serving the wealthy and powerful. The American illusion of democracy, not real democracy is not what Nigeria needs, for in America, Congress, the president and the judicial system are hirelings serving the interests of the rich and powerful.
Just look at Barack Obama. What has he accomplished? He has minted more millionaires than his predecessors while the poor black folks in the ghettoes who were brainwashed to believe that he is working for them are still as poor as ever!
Only a fool would believe that what we have in the USA, Britain, France and Germany, the so-called Western democracies are serving the poor; they serve the rich and powerful.
Of course we can rationalize the need for the many to be poor and for the few to be rich; that is what some philosophers do. What did Kant do but rationalize Christianity, Hegel but rationalize a strong German state, Schopenhauer but rationalize human suffering and Nietzsche but encourage the strong to go for unbridled rule over the weak.
Do we need governments in Africa that serve only the rich and powerful? Could benevolent dictators serve the poor masses better than the plutocrats that govern the West while presenting themselves as democrats?
I do not know the answer to my question but we ought to, at least, think about it.
We know how to elect leaders in a democratic dispensation or monarchies (here, the elder son takes over from his father) so how do we select the dictator?
And assuming that we select one how do we get him to relinquish power when the allotted ten years is over? Suppose he opts to be in power forever, such as the senile Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe?
Monarchy has certain problems including replacement sons of kings who are imbecilic (Prince Charles of Britain is probably an imbecilic for every time he opens his mouth he says something that his handlers have to quickly retract) or even mentally ill (as was King George the 111 of Britain)?
There are too many problems with dictatorship but given that democracy has failed Africa one wonders whether Africa could not find a way to place caring but draconian dictators in leadership positions to help develop Africa in a hurry (as Joseph Stalin industrialized the USSR) in a hurry and caught up with the West.
Just imagine what a strong fist could do to make Nigerians obey the law. Imagine a Stalin who is not afraid to line thousands of corrupt Nigerians up against a wall and shoot them to death and how that would get the rest of Nigerians to shape up quickly. Nothing concentrates the human mind as threat of death. I say kill a couple million Nigerian thieves if that is what it takes to transform the people from thieving to public interest serving people.
Finally, none of the two candidates vying for the Nigerian presidency in the March 28, 2015 election is remotely qualified to develop Nigeria. But given Jonathan’s demonstrated imbecility we ought to settle for the honest and decisive Buhari. We take our chance on Buhari even though his antecedent behavior does not tell us that he has the bona fide to engage in economic development of the country.
Igbos have a pithy aphorism that reads thus:
�Achocha ebe aga edota aka edotaya na ikpere.”
Literally, if you cannot find any other part of your body to place your hand for support you place it on your knees. Figuratively, where there are no good options you go with the less bad option!
Ozodi Osuji Ph.D
Dr. Osuji specializes on management and leadership.
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