For one to understand and appreciate what is happening in their country, they need to get to grips with their political system.
While many have been brainwashed into believing that multi-party democracy is every country’s ‘saving grace’ and is the conceptual strait-jacket which must fit us all irrespective of societal details, a closer scrutiny of political systems shows the contrary to be true. Would you believe that even America’s first president, the revered George Washington, despised multi-party politics and warned his nation against it? In his famous farewell speech of September 19, 1796, Washington cautioned that the existence of political parties would result in the electorate voting along party lines rather than the common interests of the people.
He feared that this would foster a ‘spirit of revenge’, and enable the rise of ‘cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men’ who would “usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion”. Look at American politics today; they are exactly what Washington warned against.
Look at President Donald Trump: how he came into power; his leadership style; his slyness; his principles; and tell me if you don’t see Washington’s warning all over the place. But still, the world is told this American-style democracy is the way to go. King Sobhuza II, his Cabinet ministers and the entire nation saw right into this political system hence decided to do away with it on April 12, 1973. It was, and still is, not suitable for the people and society that we are. I’ll get to that later.
Zhang Weiwei, a Chinese professor of international relations at Fudan University and senior research fellow at the Chunqui institute, said of his country’s political system: “China’s model of ‘selection and election’ is not perfect, but it is well-positioned to compete with the Western model of popular democracy.” While acknowledging that China has its share of problems, some of which are serious and require earnest solutions, he argued that its overall success is beyond doubt. For instance, he said comparatively, China has performed better than many Western countries in many respects. He cited, as an example, China’s developed regions, which he said have a combined population of over 300 million people – about the same as the total population in the US, but cities like Shanghai already surpass cities like New York in ‘hardware’, such as airports, subways, high speed trains, shopping facilities and city skylines. He argued that in terms of ‘software’ such as life expectancy, child mortality rate, home ownership and street safety, developed regions in China come out ahead.
Explaining the reasons for this success, Weiwei rejected the first claim that this was due to foreign direct investment, citing that Eastern Europe received far more FDI in capita terms but no alike success has been witnessed; he also counted out that China’s success was due to cheap labour, arguing that India and Africa offered much cheaper labour; he also dispelled that such success was based on China’s authoritarian government, stating that there are authoritarian governments, as defined by the West, everywhere in Asia, Latin America and the Arab world but none have accomplished what China has achieved. So what are the reasons? According to Weiwei, China’s rise can be attributed to one factor; the Chinese philosophy for political governance.
He outlined two distinctive concepts in China’s political governance: minyi and minxin; minyi being reference to ‘public opinion’, and minxin to ‘the hearts and minds of the people’.
He said over the past four decades, the Chinese state has generally practised ‘rule by minxin’, which allows China to plan for the medium to long-term and even for the next generation, rather than for the next election, as the case with many Western democracies.
He said these two concepts have led to the focus on the importance of competent leadership and the practice of meritocracy. He credited the Communist Party of China for having adapted this tradition to China’s new reality and built an impressive system of selecting its leaders based on merit and performance.
His conclusion is that China’s system of meritocracy is apparently more effective than the American model of relying simply on elections in producing competent and trust-worthy leaders.
He said ‘The China Model’ has rejected both ‘democracy fundamentalism’ and ‘market fundamentalism’ that have both been advocated by the West for so many years.
“China has thus avoided many pitfalls, such as the financial crisis of 2008 and the Soviet-style break-ups, giving way for the country to achieve the dramatic rise we see today. Given all the crises faced by the West, if some still think the Western model is the best in the world, we will only say this to him or her: Please stay with your model, we don’t envy you,” Weiwei said. China has proven that the Western type of democracy which has been sold to not only countries on the African continent but the entire globe is not the ticket to the successful development of a country after all.
Instead, a political system that is appropriate to a country’s own conditions is what guarantees success; and it’s not only China that has proved this. Russia, under Vladimir Putin, has proved that too. So has Rwanda under Paul Kagame.
They have all refused to be dictated to by mostly the Americans who like to portray their system of government as perfect and the only way countries should be governed. There is this tendency that if you reject the American-style democracy you are labelled a dictatorship and accused of all sorts of human rights abuses.
China, Russia and Rwanda are cited among the worst such countries but little attention is given to human rights issues in the USA, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and a host of other western states.
Gatete Nyiringabo Ruhumuliza – an attorney, lobbyist and an independent political analyst based in Kigali, Rwanda – writing for Aljazeera about Kagame, said international analysts and champions of democracy have not embraced his atypical approach, often assessing Rwandan politics through a Western lens and thus missing the complexities of governing post-genocide.
Ruhumuliza described Kagame as tough in his style of governance; intransigent on corruption, populism and divisive speech. He said Kagame has trimmed democracy and tailored it to the peculiar predicament facing the Rwandan people: politicians with hate-charged rhetoric have consistently faced harsh sentences and lengthy prison terms; and speech is regulated to prohibit ethnic prejudice. This, according to Ruhumuliza, was necessary to install a new ‘governmentality’.
But look at how Rwanda has exceptionally progressed under Kagame’s leadership. Yet, at every opportunity, the world is told that that he has a darker side and his country’s development has come at a cost of repression and human rights abuses. The west will just always throw shade at countries who have not adopted the American-style democracy.
For 47 years now (since 1973), the Kingdom of Eswatini has had to suffer the consequences of rejecting the western-style (American) democracy. We need to confront the fact that there are agents, both within and outside the country, who are used by the West to either make the system look unworkable and unsuitable or one that should be done away with.
The kingdom has been in a war; not an armed struggle but one of ideology and economics.
No matter what His Majesty says or does, the agents of the West will always throw mud at him. Remember how they called for free education and once it was introduced they said it would not be sustainable and that it has lowered the standard of education? Remember how support for the elderly was canvassed and once grants were introduced they were said to be ‘meagre’ and that the kingdom had been turned into a welfare state? Remember how we were told to reduce the wage bill and when government introduced the early retirement scheme the king was accused of wanting to cause massive unemployment? Remember how the Matsapha airport was always said to be too small, but when the KMIII International Airport was constructed His Majesty was accused of wasting public funds and building a white elephant ‘in the middle of a jungle’? These are just a few examples that should tell you that no matter what the kingdom’s government does, it will always be bombarded with negative rhetoric – all because we rejected the western-style democracy.
This is why it is important for the nation to be conscious of their political system and what it attracts. Yes, just like what Weiwei said of China’s model, our own Tinkhundla System of Government has many challenges, but we need to focus our energies on fixing them rather than looking to collapse the whole political system. Collapsing it would be disastrous! Look at Libya and Iraq.
They listened to and gave in to western pressure to collapse their political systems. Today, they curse the day they agreed to listen to these western voices.
In fixing our political system, we need to start by ensuring that the people we select and elect into political power have the capacity to lead this country in the right direction. Our ‘selection and election’ process should be based on merit and ability.
Political meritocracy, as defined by the China model, is evidence that that western style democracy is not the universal good many assume it to be.
Canadian scholar Daniel Bell, who has lived and taught political theory in China for years, says while many may still see China as an ‘authoritarian’ country, its ‘selection and election’ assure citizens only the Communist Party’s best and brightest will lead.
This is what the Tinkhundla System of Government should strive for.
We cannot continue to have politicians ascending into office just because they have money to either sponsor a soccer tournament, buy a soccer kit for soccer teams, purchase cow hooves for a hungry community or buy alcohol for voters. We need to ‘select and elect’ people who possess above-average aptitude – intellectually, socially and morally.
As with China’s political meritocracy, our political system should aim to select and promote leaders with superior qualities. Of course, we should not ignore that loyalty to a political system should also be a determining factor to the selection and election. Otherwise, how can one be expected to work for a system they do not believe in or are not loyal to? There is just no way.
To be continued…