The Price of Democracy

nairobi 2

I was invited  to attend a celebration of a partnering organization which took place in Nairobi over the weekend. I, of course had to take the golden opportunity to move around Nairobi to see the beauty of the city and feel the breath of the economic giant of the East African Community.

First, let me state the obvious; noisy city, garbage and trash on the road side, span boys  hitting metals and of course the traffic Jam (allow me to emphasize on THAT!). Later in the evening, a friend took me out for coffee. On the way we got into the omnipresent traffic jam, other drivers who were impatient decided to take the opposite direction throwing the basic traffic rules and regulations out the window. This friend of mine who is from Europe also did a turn over just opposite the state house. Funny enough the presidential guards were just standing with their guns at the back (they did NOT move an inch). To say that I was shocked would be an understatement! After the incidence, I asked my friend if she could do this in Europe.  She answered, “Joseph, when am back home there are some things that I do here that I cannot even dream of doing due to heavy punishments and culture.” “So, why did you do it here?” I asked trying to contain my shock! She told me that human beings behave according to how the society is shaped. Her response caught my attention and started asking myself the reason why this way of behaving does not happen in Kigali-Rwanda. I told that this was definitely unacceptable in Rwanda. Her response was leadership changes everything. Basically, this means that if the head is sick the body will not function properly.


During our conversation, she asked me if at all any change of power in Rwanda came to pass will that type of organization (cleans roads and street, traffic rules, etc)  continue? I responded by reminding her the story of how Japan became a developed country in the world. After the Second World War, the citizens decided that they wanted peace, stability and development. They had to change their culture and mind set. This shaped the way the society behaved. And this has seen Japan becoming one of the richest country in the world.

The lack of organization in Nairobi is a clear indication that democracy built on no moral and cultural discipline has a price to pay. May I also submit to you that Democracy is not letting the citizens do whatever they feel like doing in the country? Democracy is not the absence of rule and regulations.  Democracy is the ability to hear and address the issues of the people for the betterment of the society and their welfare. A free country is not, as many may think, the perpetual teenage party; there are some strict boundaries that should be put in place. Or the consequences will be dire.

For the case of Rwanda, the population is getting used to hard work, cleanliness of their city, respect of the rule of law and community service. Soon, this will be indoctrinated in the minds of the citizens and will eventually become part and parcel of the society. Hence, embracing the principles of democracy. Let me illustrate this with a personal story.  One morning, while I was getting ready to drive my  kids to school, I started the car engine without putting on my seat belt. My six year old son started a ruckus; he told me “daddy, the police will lock you up”, I asked why Josh? He politely said reminded me that I wasn’t putting on my seat belt. Needless to say that I was proud of my son! Imagine a six year old child knows that it is unacceptable to drive without tightening your seat belts. By the time he will be 15, putting on a seat belt will be part of him whenever he is in a car.

The responsibility we have is; FIRST, to have admirable and commendable values and then, to pass over those values that embrace democracy to the younger generations. Secondly we can embrace the principles of democracy at our lowest levels of society, in our homes, at school, classes and in NGOs.

If we want to build strong democracy in Africa we need to instill values in our people. Democracy is not changing leaders, presidents and parliamentarians. People think their society will only be changed if the top people were removed. This is why coup d’états are almost a normal thing in Africa. Rebels, opposition parties, you name it! I would like for us to consider some small things. First, Democracy has to come from and with a change of mindset and also getting out of mediocrity. What are we teaching our kids? What values do we express in our workplace? What beliefs do we encourage in our communities? Our leaders are as human as we are. If we deal with the small pieces of our communities, those leaders will not have to worry about the nation as a whole. If you have no positive values, NO leader in the whole world will instill them in you. Africa need to harmonize and innovate home grown democracy that is community based. This will bring about a generation that appreciate and respect their fellow human beings , a generation that can seat and dialogue about the problems in their surrounding communities.


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