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To Vote or Not to Vote - There's the Question.
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Coen van Wyk

Dec 21, 2023

With apologies to the Bard, who would have understood that the ghost at the feast is at the heart of democracy. How is the will of the people to be determined? Does it even matter? And, if so, why?

Recent news reports of gerrymandering, redistricting and similar vote-limiting issues suggest that this is not only a matter for Africa. Indeed, persistent comments that the USA is not a Democracy, but a Republic, would sit very well with some African leaders, as well as the Ayatollahs of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) held elections on 20 December, amidst criticism from opposition leaders at a close confidante of incumbent President Félix Tshisekedi being appointed head of the National Electoral Commission.

Add to that the cancellation of elections in large swathes of the east of the DRC due to ongoing war, insurrection financed by neighboring countries, ethnic clashes, and it is understandable that opposition leaders are already calling for the elections to be re-run. They had degenerated into total chaos.

Congolese voters at their Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa. Author's photo

South Africa is gearing up to national elections, some time in early 2024, amidst collapse of economic and judicial infrastructure. A recently retired senior official now called for the 2024 elections to be postponed because, he said, politicians are more interested in dividing up positions, perks and the spoils of office, instead of serving their communities and the public as a whole. 

Dr Pali Lehohla proposed, instead, that talks should be held. South Africans should, he believes, have frank conversations about the country they want to build and live in. He referred to the so-called CODESA talks that were held between 1990 and 1993 to find the consensus points that would, later, lead to the South African Constitution of 1994. 

Which reminds me of an interview by a very brave, but naive Australian TV reporter some time in the 1960's with a famous African 'freedom fighter' who was engaged in overthrowing a corrupt government. The interview, held at midnight in a remote forest hide-out, culminated in the freedom fighter pronouncing that the will of the people should be respected.

But then he paused, stared into the reporter's eyes, and asked: "But how can the will of the people be determined?"

Two hundred years after the French Revolution it should be common cause, at least in the Western hemisphere, that governments that do not have means of articulating the will of the people living in these countries, and of turning the will into effective policies and government programmes, do not do so well. 

Command economies and political systems may work after a fashion in some countries, which I could name but will prefer not to. However, I think the readers of OurNationalConversation would agree with my preference for a government that listens, rather than commands. 

Let us hope that the fervent participation of the Congolese electorate in their elections, imperfect as they may be, will serve to remind voters elsewhere to fight for the right to express their will at the ballot box. Because free elections are the only guarantee for economic stability, wealth generation and prosperity. The alternative is dictatorship and anarchy. 

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