Pitfalls of democracy

It’s funny how old ideas and viewpoints, which were all the rage not so long ago, rapidly die out over the generations and become rather unsavoury.

One such as these lies tucked away at the back of my great-grandfather’s autobiography, which I had a quick skim through over the weekend. George Heaton Nicholls (link only available in Afrikaans, I’m afraid) was a South African diplomat who was somewhat attached to imperialism (an evil word these days).

He wrote his autobiography when he was in his eighties. I don’t have the book in front of me – since it was the only copy, I left it where it was – but the general thrust of what he was saying was that democracy should be applied very cautiously in Africa. It is dangerous to give the vote to idiots, I think was one of the sentences, implying that Africans basically couldn’t be trusted to act responsibly.

Obviously, looking at the context of things (in the 1960s), he was writing this from a rather self-centred way. He knew that the whiteman’s world was likely to blow apart in the country if the majority blacks wielded the same one-person one-vote as the white’s did, and of course this is exactly what happened. He argued that the one-person one-vote idea was ridiculous, and should have a more appropriate weighting, where the intelligence of the votee was also considered.

All pretty outrageous remarks in today’s perpetually politically correct world. But, if one looks harder, one can find the threads of a sensible argument. He was suggesting that, in cases where full-blown democracy would result in the larger group having an undue sway over the minorities and lead to an abuse of power, then it should not be deployed – or at least it should be taylored to fit.

It’s funny how these words are so grating to the ears (surely, democracy is a fine thing and we should all be proud that we live in such a democratic society), but actually, when one looks at the sorry state that Africa has got itself into, such sentiments don’t appear quite so ridiculous. Most countries in Africa are run so clearly along tribal lines, with the strongest and usually most populace tribe weilding the lion’s share of power, that one can’t help wondering if he might not have been on to something.

Democracy in Africa is a charade: it always seems to lead to the bullying of the minority by the majority.

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2 Responses to “Pitfalls of democracy”

  1. Rob Crilly Says:

    Yes indeed. Things were much better under apartheid, but if you try to say that today you’d be accused of racism. That’s political correctness gone mad if you ask me

  2. Rob Crilly Says:

    Yes indeed. Things were much better under apartheid. But if you try to say that today you’d be accused of racism. Political correctness gone mad, I say

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