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Democracy - truth will win over falsehood Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Matongo Maumbi, Zambia Aug 25, 2005
Human Rights , Culture   Opinions
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Democracy is a word familiar to most, but it is a concept that is still misunderstood and misused in a time when totalitarian regimes and military dictatorships have attempted to claim popular support by pinning democratic labels upon themselves.

Democracy in Zambia has hardly ever existed from the time the incumbent president took over power in the elections that saw a lot of people vote a change to “democracy”.

Did, or do, the people of Zambia understand the democracy they fought for in 1991? In the dictionary democracy is defined as a “government by the people in that the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral process.”

Democracy in Zambia is represented by way of the citizens electing officials to make political decisions, formulate laws and administer programmes for the public good. These elected officials in a representative democracy hold office in the name of the people and are to remain accountable to the electorate for their actions.

All democracies are systems in which citizens are able to freely make political decisions by majority rule. It is important to understand that rule by the majority is not necessarily democratic. It would not be a democracy for the majority 51 per cent to oppress the minority 49 per cent. Though this would be a majority rule in order for it to be democratically legit the minority also needs to have an equal say in the process. In a democracy the rights of the minorities are protected because the democratic laws and institutions protect the rights of all citizens.

Unfortunately, in Zambia the “majority” rule undermines the rights of the minority. The Non-Governmental Organizations, for example, are somehow controlled by the government and are accountable to it for actions that seem to be favouring the opposition. Powers of the government are, by law, clearly defined and limited. Private organizations must be free of governmental control. Private organizations are free of government control: on the contrary, many of them lobby the government and seek to hold it accountable for its actions.

Governments are created to protect those freedoms that every individual possesses by virtue of his existence. These include freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion and conscience, freedom of assembly and the right to equal protection before the law. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Zambia is a signatory, says that ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’

People who hold opinions or expressions are labeled anti-government and are in many instances victimized, especially those from the opposition. Freedom of speech and expression is the lifeblood of any democracy. To debate and to vote, to assemble and protest, to ensure justice for all- these all rely upon the unrestricted flow of speech and information. Citizens of a democratic society know that through the unrestricted exchange of ideas and information, truth will win over falsehood, areas of compromise will be clearly defined and the road to progress opened.

Democracy depends upon a literate knowledgeable citizenry whose access to the broadest possible range of information enables them to participate as fully as possible in the public life of their society. Ignorance, as witnessed in the last voters’ registration exercise, breeds nothing but apathy. The lingering danger of voter apathy is not that public offices will go unfilled, but that officeholders will be elected by smaller and smaller percentages of eligible voters.

Should the government remain silent when the news media or other organizations abuse freedom of speech with information that, in the opinion of the majority, is false, repugnant, and irresponsible or simply in bad taste? The answer, by large, is NOTHING. It is not a government’s business to judge such matters. Actually the cure for free speech is more free speech. It may sound like a paradox but in the name of free speech a democracy must sometimes defend the rights of individuals and groups who themselves advocate such non-democratic policies as repressing free speech.

Without the freedom of speech the right to gather and be heard would be devalued. Democratic governments can legitimately regulate the time and place of political rallies and marches to maintain peace, but they cannot use that authority to suppress protest or to prevent dissident groups from making their voices heard.

In Zambia the opposition political parties are mostly denied the right to assemble during rallies or marches. When they assemble, the police are there with a watchful eye. When violence erupts the police are very quick to beat, throw and tear gas cans and sometimes shoot, with live ammunition, at the people in the gathering. It seems that the so-called police service is taught more of violence than the respect for the rule of law and human rights. To suppress peaceful protest in the name of order is to invite repressions; to promote uncontrolled violent protest is to invite anarchy.

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Writer Profile
Matongo Maumbi

Matongo Maumbi aka Afromatrix, is a producer at Radio Chikuni in southern rural Zambia on 91.8fm. I have been a practicing journalist since 2000 and ICTs for development in rural areas and youth related issues have been of particular interest. I have an interest in writing, and when I do it's a good piece. I believe that sharing such information with a wider group can enhance good growth on my part in Chikuni and the other parts of the world.
I am male and 24 years old, single and hope to marry the girl I have intimate emotions with.
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