By Daniel Benson Kaaya & Kevin Motaroki
“A constitutional democracy is in serious trouble if its citizenry does not have a certain degree of education and civic virtue” – Phillip E. Johnson, Law Professor
In social contract, rights and liberties are surrendered to the state in the belief that authority will protect the society. For example, I give up my natural right to steal your food because you give up your natural right to steal mine. The rationale is to bring order and mutual coexistence in a society.
In contemporary societies, people surrender their natural rights by way of voting. The leaders elected from the process become custodians of the surrendered rights. The State, through its various apparatus, has the noble obligation of ensuring equality, fair distribution of resources and optimal utilisation of taxes, among other sacrosanct obligations.
However, politics in most African countries is stagnantly immature and stunted. The publics’ choice of leaders is always informed by ethic affiliation and what the candidate is offering for him to vote among other dangled carrots. But political immaturity is always a precursor to the institutional failures we evidence today. This is the reason, as corruption is proliferated, the economy dwindles. Alas it is true, justice does have a price tag! The worst thing about this state of affairs is that our leaders are so casual about it that even they lament about it as the citizen does, shifting blames and even ignoring realities!
If there is dissatisfaction from the society that the State can no longer effectuate their desires, the public has the option of not reinstating those responsible for that state of affairs. However, this is not the case; the filthiest and most scandalous and disreputable are the ones constantly getting elected and re-elected, and entrusted to safeguard the surrendered rights. What irony! Sadly, we continue to believe that social contract makes the peoples’ choice the best choice.
My measured opinion about this state of affairs is that the public is to blame for installing unscrupulous and morally deviant human beings as leaders. The public is not allowed to complain—choices have consequences, and the public has to live with them for five years. Surprisingly, the same lot of kleptomaniacs, looters and justice-benders are often re-elected, and the cycle of complaints continues. From this, it is evident that the maladies and failures the State faces are a product of citizens and voters’ ignorance plus the inherent opportunism of those elected.
The solution to this is not to limit the publics’ right to vote through elite voting or any other related approach. This is purely wishful and utopian thinking. Pray tell, what criterion is going to be employed to determine intelligence or elitism? Those considered intelligent in the society parade shocking levels of incompetence and devilish degrees of kleptocracy as the Kenyan case has often demonstrated. The solution to this is effective civic education on political concepts and other issues.
It is imperative that citizens, and most importantly voters, be knowledgeable. It is universally accepted that a knowledgeable electorate is indispensable to effective democratic governance. Michael Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter put it, in perhaps the most authoritative study of the subject where they study voter ignorance and misinformation, thus:
“Factual knowledge about politics is a critical component of citizenship, one that is essential if citizens are to discern their real interests and take effective advantage of their civic opportunities… Knowledge is a keystone to other civic requisites. In the absence of adequate information neither passion nor reason is likely to lead to decisions that reflect the real interests of the public. And democratic principles must be understood to be accepted and acted on in any meaningful way” (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996): 3, 5).
Appreciating that the source of this political disorder is civic illiteracy, it is important to carve ways of detaching from it. The solution I recommend is, a change or rather inclusion of governance and elections subjects in the education ranks. Leaders in history have also embraced the idea of empowering the citizenry with education. Benjamin Franklin agreed:
“Nothing can more effectually contribute to the cultivation and improvement of a country, the wisdom, riches, and strength, virtue and piety, the welfare and happiness of a people, than a proper education of youth” (Franklin 1962 : 152-153). This education of the people should aim at empowering every man to judge for himself what will secure or imperil his freedom. An educated electorate is essential to good democratic practice.
According to John J. Patrick, “Teaching Democracy Globally, Internationally, and comparatively: The 21st Century Civic Mission of Schools” in Civic Learning in Teacher Education: International Perspectives on Education for Democracy in the Preparation of Teachers, Vol. 2, he moots that civic education programmes contain four key elements.
First, programmes seek to develop civic knowledge, which itself requires understanding of the principles and practice of democracy. As such, representative democracy, rule of law, human rights, citizenship, civil society and the market economy are important subject areas. Second, programmes focus on building cognitive civic skills to enable participants to synthesise information on political and civic life and public issues. Third, civic education attempts to engender participatory civic skills such as working with others, collaborative deliberation and decision-making, and how to peacefully influence debate. Finally, these programmes work to instil civic dispositions such as support for human rights, equality, the importance of active political participation, and working to promote common good.