How much participation is just the right amount in the right quantities from the right people?
This occasional voting representative democracy that most countries have in modern times has its fair share of detractors. Looking forward to Tanzania elections, I could not help but think of the democracy critics. In a large part because I learned very recently that in ancient Greece — credited with coming up with the prototype version of the democracy we have now — the philosopher Socrates was of the opinion that voting should be the purview of those who were educated. His argument was that they would make the best decisions, I assume he was talking of those educated in matters of government and other social sciences, maybe?
I am always suspicious of people who are trying to exclude other people from decision-making. Nonetheless, he makes a good point. Decisions should be informed, maybe even well-informed where possible.
Socrates couldn’t have predicted the 21st Century. Never in human history have we had as much access to information as we do now. So much so that it is overwhelming. At the click of a button or an icon, world news and local news leap out at us.
Has this improved the access to democracy? I think so. Has it helped us make more informed decisions? That’s debatable since the rise of information has also come with a few friends — disinformation, propaganda, and polarisation.
Looking at Tanzanian government, I know that technically the frequent voting does happen in the more lively local settings when residents participate and it is a thing of beauty…which demands resources such as time, local officials’ interest and resident engagement and you know what? A good amount of autonomy from central government set-ups as well as money of course. And here is where Socrates has a point, I think — the willingness to sift through all the available data to make informed decisions where possible.
Add all that together and the more direct democratic dream seems to be a bit much for the current circumstances. With this in mind, somehow justifying the laziness of only going to the polls once every five years seems fine — another 21st century feature. Less is more.
Life has enough moving bits as it is, right? And, besides we’re not likely to affect much in the way of policies until we’re free-free enough to devote much more time and energy to governing ourselves.
I think we will get to a new and improved democracy, just not until a new constitution, which remains a hope to hold forth. We will Socrates the heck out of mass and local voting one day.
In the meantime, when you do go to the polls, and everyone who can really should, enjoy your franchise and let’s keep pushing this project forward. Best of luck to Tanzania on her General Election.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. Email: [email protected]