HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsRedefining democracy for Zim

Redefining democracy for Zim

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LIFE throws our way very interesting realities we grapple to understand sometimes and during other times, such experiences stimulate us and inspire us.

I was thrilled to be part of a civil society track that met governments from all over the world to deliberate on democracy. It was a robust conversation and it got me reflecting on my own lived realties as an African and a Zimbabwean to be specific.

As government after government fought to showcase their democratic tenets, I struggled with the jostling to prove the point that they were doing their very best despite what their citizens’ lives told.

I questioned the relevance of democracy in this African context and at the same time appreciated the tenets of democracy. I love democracy, but still what does that mean generally?

Well, it is a brilliant ideology that I embrace with open arms and with of course my own curiosities as we further explore realities in this our context.

Experiential democracy

I remember growing up and learning about the aspects of chieftainship in Africa.

It was a model of leadership that was based on a lifetime tendency and followed a particular lineage. It was about bloodline and, more importantly, about leading people with a heart that was dedicated to making sure the people’s lives were as comfortable as possible.

Chiefs would even utilise part of their land to ensure that the more vulnerable members of the society such as widows, the poor and orphans had their various needs catered for.

The chief made sure that those he led with diligence and established his kingdom as the best in many forms.

This form of leadership had its own challenges and we can talk about these at length, but not right now.

Well let us fast-forward a few years forward to after the independence era and those who were in leadership were soon referred to as “chiefs” which is not a coincidence.

This title also came with the realities of a corrupted form of the chieftainship model of leadership that was mostly about prestige, power, status, wealth and so on. It sort of lost its main thrust of understanding that it is because of the people that one is voted into office.

It was no longer about lineage, but whom people voted into office. The right there was the birthing of the tenet of democracy that the majority rules.

Well, I do support democracy and its ideals of attempting to make this world habitable for all.

However, with how this tenet has been corrupted in our African context, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Now we have leaders, mostly male — just like was the case with chiefs, mostly males in a lineage — who have been socialised under chiefs and been introduced to this “new” form of democracy and are not sure how to bring the two worlds together so as to ensure that their leadership is robust and progressive.

Life is about unlearning some of the things our elders taught us as they safeguarded their culture.

Please do not get me wrong, I am not trashing our elders and our culture that I so much treasure. All I am saying is that there are aspects of our culture that we could unlearn in a bid to progress in this globalised world.

The one example for now is that of chieftainship and that leaders can only leave office after death. There is an urgent need to ensure that at whatever cost, we safeguard our sovereignty which means we ensure that our culture, traditions and values that link to the global progression of life are upheld.

Otherwise those that have to do with lifetime leadership we throw away as we relearn the art of leadership exchanging hands. It does not matter whether this has to do with churches, families, countries, communities and so on. Democracy is not something someone will come and hand down to you as a taught tradition — it is lived.

When there is no equality and equity, leadership changing hands and being deliberate about ensuring that those being led are living comfortable lives, then democracy is just a lost cause that we as Zimbabwe will continue to grapple with.

This means the powers-that-be like scholars maybe, should develop a form of democracy that marries the African traditional models and this “new” democracy so that the oga understands what leadership is all about.

Unless I live democracy as an experience, please stop lying that I am living under a democratic government, serving a democratic space and so on.

Democracy is lived, not taught or, worse still, spoken about which is difficult to grasp from our experiences so our leaders need a serious relearning of these new global trends.

When there is no equality and equity, leadership changing hands and being deliberate about ensuring that those being led are living comfortable lives, then democracy is just a lost cause that we as Zimbabwe will continue to grapple with. This means the powers-that-be like scholars maybe, should develop a form of democracy that marries the African traditional models and this “new” democracy so that the oga understands what leadership is all about.

Majority versus minority

In the world of democracy, it is the majority who seem to decide the fate of the whole. Indeed this is what could stand effective and efficient, but does this mean that the minorities do not matter?

This past week I learnt that indeed even though majority rule is what is regarded as democracy, the truth is that in a context like ours, it is the powerful minority who define the lived realities of the simple majority.

This is our kind of democracy. Despite what us the majority think, feel or would want to see happening, it is the very few yet powerful minority who decide our very fate as we stand there maybe too paralysed to even think of taking any action.

This here is not a matter of revolting, but a matter of engagement so that both the minority and majority make informed decisions on what would be a collective best for everyone involved.

They talk about a win-win situation being the best conflict transformation approach, but I guess that too could be a “foreign concept” regarding our lived realities and how we relate to the tenets of democracy.

It seems the very minority determine the course of life and how the majority should live. This does not make it right at all and they do say that every dog has its day and the good dog has even two days!

I am confident that one day — and not in the very distant future — the majority will live to see the fruits of their labour and desires of their hearts.

There is no day without a dawn and as we continue to explore what we want to see when looking at democracy, it is critical that what Africa deemed as democracy be part of this wave of democracy.

Unless and until we understand that this is a necessary and important strategy, we will continue to see the kind of leadership models that perpetuate the rule by the powerful minority at the expense of the majority.

As Zimbabwe, there is no mosaic figure that will come with a rod to save us but as we keep focusing on what we want to see, talking about it and charting a way forward, we will get there.

There is never a moment that is unimportant, without judgment, partisan politics and factions, we can indeed hold hands and redefine for ourselves the kind of democracy we want to live. It takes the rest of us redefining our lived realties and making democracy work for each Zimbabwean.

Let’s do this!
 Grace Chirenje writes in her personal capacity and loves stimulating conversation. She would be excited to hear from you. You can contact Grace on graceruvimbo@gmail.com, follow her on twitter @graceruvimbo or Facebook: Grace Ruvimbo Chirenje. Chat soon.

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