IntegrationOpinion

East African Community: It is time to adopt a parliamentary government/republic

Part 1. Democracy is a legitimate form of government, well suited to a particular culture in particular circumstances. However, direct democracy is dangerous. The history of ancient world showed that people as a mass tend toward impulsive and passionate behavior when selecting a leader.  For example, bribes were a common currency among office seekers, and votes were sold to the highest bidder. said, Montesquieu, a French philosopher

April 23, 2023

Extra ordinary meeting of East African Community Heads of state held in Bujumbura, Burundi

By Adam Musa, Tranquility News correspondent, North America

The East African Community (EAC) is craving for an economically viable union and a political federation with one president. However, the precarious nature of democratic practices amongst each member state, makes the whole process complicated and unpredictable.

Article 6 of the EAC treaty, section d, stipulates: good governance including adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, accountability, transparency, social justice, equal opportunities, gender equality, as well as the recognition, promotion and protection of human and people’s rights in accordance with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The EAC is made up of: Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan and now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Although disparately, these member nations are in the long struggle of connecting the dots that could formulate a true picture of a functional democracy that could enable a stable union.

It is time to experiment how a parliamentary government/republic could be an alternative to presidency as leader of the executive branch in each member state. Or else, the region will remain stuck in a cobweb of civil unrest, unfair elections, corruption, inflation, and greedy leaders determined to overpower state institutions with the aim of controlling the distribution of national resources while maintaining power among other things.

Yes, there is no doubt, the seven member states are practically taking baby steps towards political and economic stability. But for how long will the suffering citizens of each EAC member state wait before reaping into the anticpated benefits of a prosperous economic and political federation?

Different school of thoughts have explained how a parliamentary government/republic works in comparison to presidential democracy. However, the easier description mentions that parliamentary governments have a prime minister in lieu of a president, but while comparable – their roles are not the same.

By contrast, the president of a democracy is not part of a legislature but rather elected separately by the people to work with legislature.

Unfortunately, rigged elections and gross violation of human rights in each of the member states of EAC are so interconnected though the magnitude varies. There is no reliable data to indicate the actual extend of these abuses. What is crystal clear is that this mayhem is stimulated by those who hold  power or their improperly supervised subordinates, especially in the season of presidential or national elections.  

Meanwhile, a French philosopher of the 18th century, Montesquieu, divided governments into three types – republican, monarchical, and despotic with three animating principles: virtue, honor and fear. He emphasized the separation of powers among legislature, judicial and the executive branches. He praised mixed and balanced governments. 

The danger of popular will as a method of voting a head of state within each member states of EAC

The Economist, 2019 explained that democracies are generally thought to die at the barrel of the gun; in coups; and revolutions. These days, however, they are more likely to be strangled slowly in the name of the people on one hand.

Montesquieu on the other hand, expressed his anxieties concerning electorates who are governed by their passion when voting; electorates whose poverty induces them to sell their votes; and those whose lack of education made them unable to follow political debates. It led him to conclude that a republic is more secure when it rests a balance between popular will and the judgement of an aristocracy.

He further explained how democracy is a legitimate form of government, well suited to a particular culture in particular circumstances. However, direct democracy he considered dangerous. The history of ancient world showed that people as a mass tend toward impulsive and passionate behavior when selecting a leader.  For example, bribes were a common currency among office seekers, and votes were sold to the highest bidder.

Even though, Montesquieu’s argument nailed the point, in the context of this article – I beg to differ by replacing aristocracy with parliamentary republic or a system of universal adult suffrage as a practice of selecting a head of the executive arm of government.

Table showing Freedom House rankings of East African countries 2022

COUNTRY TOTAL SCORE & STATUS POLITICAL RIGHTS CIVIL LIBERTIES
Kenya 52 Partly Free  22 30
Tanzania 36 Partly Free  12 24 
Uganda 35 Not Free  11 24 
Rwanda 23 Not Free  8 15 
Democratic Republic of Congo 19 Not Free   4 15
Burundi 14 Not Free 10
South Sudan 1 Not Free  -3 

Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. 

Why EAC should adopt a parliamentary government/republic 

Apparently, it is fair to acknowledge within each member state: the judiciary is led by a Chief Justice, legislature is led by a Speaker, and the executive is led by a President. The three arms of governments do enjoy some form of independence. But a critical mindset may argue that it is done for purposes of optics, diplomacy or international relations. Because, in practice, the presidents in each of the member states, exercises power that supersedes all the other arms of government.

Common-sense dictates that when a lot of power is vested officially or unofficially to an individual, with no effective oversight, the consequence is going to be malfeasance or misfeasance; moreover, with impunity.

If each member states of the  EAC could adopt a parliamentary form of government/republic, then the prime minister’s role would be elevated to being the leader of the executive branch of the government. As a pre-requisite, he/she would first be elected by the people of the designated constituency as a member of parliament, and then be selected by fellow parliamentarians to take on the role of prime minister as a member of the legislature.  

Therefore, it is imperative for think tanks, pan Africanist, international community, and policy makers to simulate how a parliamentary government/republic as a democratic experiment could ease the role of oversight; and process of locus standi using the legislature as the appointing authority of the prime minister heading an executive branch.

EAC member states should adopt this approach while maintaining the role of a president to that of a ceremonious leader. In perspective, this approach would offer a speedy and sustainable economic and political stability that could realistically yield to Article 6, section d, of the EAC treaty.

To be continued.

 

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