Why Smaller Ethnic Groups Must Not Like Democracy

October 19, 2017 By Christian Lawrence

At a first simplistic glance, the theory and practice of Democracy seem very fair, all-embracing and uncontestable. Since it stresses that power and authority are vested in People, who would not want to welcome it? But when you peel-off the first layer, you get to see that by stressing ‘People Power’, it actually onerously means ‘Majority Power’. If you emanate from a large ethnic group, you will be quite thrilled and content with the design of Democracy. It’s a shame that Democracy, by its very design, disadvantages members of smaller ethnic groups in societies. Though it’s inherent that the rights/voices of the minority too must be respected and taken onboard, but the ‘Tyranny of the Majority’, as Political Scientists call it, is commonplace in most parts of the world. The winner virtually greedily takes all upon assuming office, and the loser is not only shelved aside, but is deliberately weakened by those in power to prevent their near comeback.

In no place is the ‘Tyranny of the Majority’ more prevalent than in multi-ethnic Africa. Sometimes I argue that though ethnic groups offer blizzard of opportunities to its members, but they can inadvertently be a curse to a nation-state since they tend to undermine nationalism. Not to be conservative with the truth, members of ethnic groups mostly prefer putting the interests of their groups/clans before the national interest. Democratic elections are purely about numbers; and for right or wrong reasons, citizens of all shapes and sizes largely vote along ethnic lines. The normal preaching is done mostly by civil society and members of the fourth estate to ‘put the country first’ and refrain from voting along ethnic and nepotic lines; but elections results almost always show this divisive ethnic orientation. Take Sierra Leone as a case in point; is it any wonder that some of our previously proud, independent and culturally-rich smaller ethnic groups are rapidly going into extinction? A good proportion of citizens from smaller ethnic groups, for want of better economic and political opportunities are compelled to speak the dialects of the major ethnic groups and even pretent to be one of them. It’s a desperate survival strategy members of these smaller ethnic groups are forced to employ, and no one has the moral uprightness to question it.

With the rampant ethnic-oriented voting, the die is almost cast that members of smaller ethnic groups may hardly ever dominate the political milieu, even if they can bring forward the most competent human resource to run the state. Once an election is won in a multi-ethnic society, most of the top political and administrative positions are predominantly populated by members of the winning majority ethnic group(s). What we normally see is ‘tokenism’ – whereby very few members of some other ethnic groups are ‘invited’ to fill moderately higher political and administrative positions.

With a majority in Government (especially in the Executive and Legislative arms), larger ethnic groups are being given the legal greenlight to biasly do things that favours members of their clans. State resources and other kinds of largesse have been known to funnel-down disproportionately to the winning ethnic group(s) stronghold areas. In a country like Sierra Leone, even basic things like educational scholarships, employment, to name but a few, are nefariously shared along ethnic and regional lines. As if it cannot get any worse, in Parliament, decision-making is mostly done along political party lines; and these parties are in the first place composed mainly with ethnic considerations.

So what hope is there for members of smaller ethnic groups who despite the fact that they may have abundant highly skilled, educated and competent members, are bereft of the huge numbers required to win an election and be at the help of power? How I wish national constitutions in multi-ethnic societies can be deliberately tailored in such a way that political power and other national opportunities are legally evenly shared to all citizens, devoid of ethnic and regional yardstick.