Recent events in Zimbabwe have underscored the fragility, failings and dangers of unrepresentative government and the absence of the rule of law exercised by an independent judiciary.
Note the use of the term “representative government” and “rule of law”.
Democracy is a much overworked term which is mainly used to describe the American and British political models. The existence of hundreds of different nationalities dictates that each nationality must find a form of representative government that suits its particular needs, history and culture.
But it must be representative, because as Zimbabwe has so accurately demonstrated, the problem with dictatorships is that they attract corruption, repression and failure.
Such governments succeed for a limited time as the governed compare the rulers to the incompetence of their predecessors. But gradually the misdeeds of the new dictator mount and are added to an increasingly explosive recipe. The dictator attempts to stay in power by repressing dissent and screwing down the lid on the simmering discontent.
But the issues feeding the discontent refuse to go away. Because of the repression they simmer all the more violently in a pressure cooker political environment without the escape valve of a representative system through which legitimate discontent can be expressed.
Eventually the pressure becomes overwhelming. The political pot bursts with a violent overthrow of the dictator which damages the dictator, the governed, their country and usually leads to a sad cycle of dictator-repression-overthrow-dictator…
So where does the rule of law enter the recipe? Representative government—especially one based on the rule of a simple majority—is not enough. It can sometimes be as destabilising as a dictatorship. It leads to a dictatorship of the mathematical majority over the legitimate rights and concerns of the minority.
The world stage is littered with such examples: The Shias in Iran, the Sunnis in Saudi Arabia, Muslims in India, Hindus in Pakistan, the Rohingyas in Myanmar, Christians and Muslims in Lebanon, Muslim Chechens in Russia, refugees in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, African-Americans and Hispanics in America, Asians and Afro-Caribbeans in Britain…
Some countries attempt to resolve the minorities problem by reserving a set number of seats for minority groups in the legislature. Not enough. The right of all the citizens must be protected by the rule of law exercised by a judiciary independent of the political winds of change and based on the acceptance of common law and human rights.
Without the rule of law to protect minority rights, the government of the day can shout night and day to the rooftops about the powers bestowed on them by the democratic majority. But they are creating a pressure cooker which can be just as dangerous as any constructed by despots such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
I like to think Mugabe started off with reasonable, if not good intentions. I do not believe he set out to create a corrupt system which allowed his second wife to be nicknamed GucciGrace or DisGrace.
We met during the Lancaster House constitutional talks. Of all the delegates, Mugabe was clearly the most clearly focused, least corrupt, intelligent, charming and charismatic. He also had a visceral hatred of the white race and of Britain. He tried hard to supress his dislikes in the pursuit of the goal of Zimbabwean independence.
For a while he succeeded. He even formed a friendship with Rhodesia/Zimbabwe’s last governor, Lord Soames. It didn’t last. Partly because the guerrillas who fought for independence with Mugabe in ZANU-PF believed that they were fighting for economic as well as political control. And to them economic control meant land ownership.
Ten years after independence 70 percent of Zimbabwean land remained in the hands of white farmers, even though so many had immigrated to South Africa that those were remained were reduced to just one percent of the population. This only intensified the anger of the war veterans with hefty war pensions the state couldn’t afford. This was the beginning of the trip down the economic slide.
The pensions were not enough. The war veterans wanted more. They wanted the land. So they took it. White farmers were forcibly dispossessed – and too often murdered—by marauding war veterans.
The veterans ended up in courts facing a judicial system that the former colony had inherited from Britain. They were told to hand back the land. Then Mugabe stepped in and declared “We will respect judges where judgements are true judgements.” And who determines what is a true judgement— Robert Mugabe of course. He later went even further and said in 2002 that Zanu-PF would defy any court judgement it did not like.
The power of the courts to protect minority rights – black or white– plummeted. The legislature became a joke. Zimbabwe was transformed from the breadbasket of Africa to a near-famine state. The economy collapsed. Hyper-inflation took over. Corruption became rife and the pressure cooker simmered, simmered and finally, exploded.
Tom Arms is the editor of LookAheadnews.com and covered both the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia civil war and the Lancaster House constitutional talks in London. Sign up now for the weekly diary of world news events.
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I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, www.fensinformation.com) which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.