When I was young, the phrase “one man, one vote” was sweet music to the ear and it was central to the black man and black woman’s fight for freedom and justice. Ian Smith, the then Rhodesia Prime Minister, had made sure blacks were denied the right to vote through racist laws. Although we did not really understand what was actually meant by this poetic phrase except to have some vague idea that the words irritated white people including Smith, we caught on to it and the concomitant spirit of liberation it espoused for the black man and woman. “One man, one vote”, it sounded like an elixir to the problems we faced under the yoke of colonialism especially when it was explained by those who seemed to be in the know, for it promised to usher in a black government of our choice that would take us to the Promised Land.
Thirty-two years after the “one man, one vote” concept became a reality, and after reading some literature on the matter, I now doubt if this practice yields the intended results for the benefit of the majority. I remember clearly one afternoon when I was a teacher somewhere and I was at a rally and to my horror, I discovered that almost the whole village believed one of the presidential candidates was a white man. The villagers had no access to information except propaganda served by the ruling party of the day. And most of these adult villagers were eligible voters. If these villagers were ignorant of the skin colour of aspiring presidential candidates in their country, what more of the serious issues to do with public policy?
And the irony is that such people constitute the majority of voters. African countries have suffered a lot because the majority of those who vote usher into office people whose parties propagate poor policies that hurt their nations including the voters themselves who, by virtue of their ignorance, fail to link their vote to their deplorable conditions.
While it might sound discriminatory, I think it makes sense that those who are ignorant of fundamental policy issues should not vote either through the honourable action of abstaining or through legislation that should simply force them not to. Ignorance here does not mean stupidity, it simply means lack of knowledge about a certain discipline.
Voters with no notion of what they are voting for are driven by emotion and demagogic speeches from politicians and the result is easy manipulation by the oligarchy as in our case. Such voters usually support policies that are harmful to their interests.
Isn’t it obvious that a government voted in by ignorant voters does not reflect the will of the people but the will of the manipulators? Should we only rely on numbers to usher in new governments — or to maintain the status quo — with utter disregard for quality? It is obvious that a mass of ignorant voters will provide us with quantity and not quality.
In Africa, many of the voters, especially those in remote areas and poor suburbs, know next to nothing about both the candidates and public policy and this renders them uninformed voters. Admittedly, it is everyone’s right to participate in all political activities in the country, including the voting process, but we must tarry a little and analyse the danger inherent in such “democratic” principles.
Ignorant voters will vote for a candidate because he or she has given them, say, a bag of maize meal, which is a recipe for disaster in the long term.
Ignorant voters do not analyse candidates and neither do they compare notes about candidates. They simply do what they can do best—vote blindly. It is not enough to remove President X and replace him with President Y and neither is it best to keep President X in power for decades, basing on votes cast by a large number of ignoramuses. It is suicidal for development.
We have seen ignorant voters propelling equally ignorant and immoral politicians into office and the result is a battered economy on our shoulders.
When politicians argue that everyone has a duty to vote, they know what they would be talking about and what their intention is — to get the largest number of ignoramuses to vote for them. It is fact that voters ignorant of public policy outnumber those in the know. That is why political violence is concentrated in rural areas and high-density suburbs where politicians find it expedient to garner as many voters as possible who are ignorant of fact.
And what compounds this problem is the deliberate move by powerful politicians to deny people access to a wide range of information so that they are not informed enough to know what they would be voting for. Voter education is anathema to these politicians who thrive on people’s ignorance.
We need to soberly revisit this “one man, one vote” concept.