Why elections alone cannot constitute democracy


Did this week’s presidential election in Tanzania spring from any acceptable threshold of “democracy”?

I cannot answer that question satisfactorily because I was never anywhere – mashinani– to observe the election process closely enough.

Moreover, it depends on what you mean by “democracy”. From our Western liberal gurus, we never cease to hear that democracy consists in majority will.

That is the problem. How can a society find out what its majority is willing? To this question, the liberal has long ago imposed on mankind the solution that periodic elections are what define democracy.

But to talk like that is simply to tautologise in order to avoid the question.

For, if democracy is nothing but polling, then democracy occurs only between sunrise and sunset on the polling day.

By: that very definition, whatever happens after the polling stations have been closed is not a question for democracy.

If democracy begins and ends with the ballot, then what right does anybody have to complain that the in-group – the elected government – is not behaving according to some other (non-electoral) social yardstick?

What do you care if the in-people are not behaving according to their own election promises and according to the world’s general ethico-intellectual premises?


If democracy is nothing but elections, then why criticise the conduct of any MP?

On what basis and to what avail do you judge the policies and implementation methods of a Cabinet secretary (even though, nowadays, the latter is neither named from Parliament nor, through it, answerable to the electorate)?

For the Western liberal, election is – in William Shakespeare’s celebrated phrase – “the be-all and the end-all here”.

The fact that you elected your MP is a hundred times more important to the liberal intelligentsia than the social promises he or she made during the campaigns, indeed, than the social purposes for which you voted for him or her.

In short, if democracy is essential to social life, then the practice of it must be ensured 24 hours every day of the year in order for democracy to deliver the social goods for which the Egyptians, Phoenicians and Pelasgic Greeks conceived it in classical antiquity.

To my mind, elections alone just cannot constitute democracy.

At best, elections can serve only as a vehicle towards that ideal.

Democracy can happen only after you have disembarked from that vehicle into the real world of human beings to implement your socio-material campaign promises.

Is President Magufuli still a ndugu? Will he try to deliver such goods to his people?


Will he follow in the footsteps of the founder of Chama Cha Mapinduzi, the morally and intellectually inimitable Julius Kambarage Nyerere?

I don’t know the younger man. He was but a stripling when I worked for Mwalimu Nyerere in the 1970s.

But youth should work in the young man’s favour.

For, as Mwalimu would have said, kung’atuka – a word he borrowed from his own Bantu mother-tongue Kizanaki – is to retire in favour of a younger, more vigorous and more ideal-minded person, a kind of Magufuli.

This was what, in Kenya, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki seemed to do for UhuRuto.

The only question is: Have the younger pair done their maximum best to implement the ideals for which so many Kenyans sacrificed their lives during the fight to defeat colonial European tyranny and achieve our welfare through our own operation bootstraps nationwide?

That is the ideal of all political elections.

Yet precisely this ideal is what we officially frustrate through corruption, tribalism, sexism and power arrogance during the four-year period between any two general elections.

That is why, standing alone, elections cannot constitute democracy.

Are you a democrat? Please stand up to be counted if, as an MP, Cabinet secretary or member of a county assembly (MCA), you have genuinely spearheaded Kenya’s struggle for political, economic, intellectual and moral plenty and justice.