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The Dark Side of Majority Rule in Africa

From the common or popular definition of democracy that asserts that power is vested in the people and exercised by them either directly or through their elected agents, one can judiciously conclude that such practice doubtlessly serves the common good of that society. One of the fundamental tenets of democracy that promote the common good of any society is “Majority Rule”that is also widely practice in post-independence Africa. 


While it is true that this canon of democracy has positively influence Africa transition to democratic values arguably seen as the bright side, on the contrary, it is also true that it has a dark side in Africa that worth serious interrogation.To begin the interrogation, it would be appropriate to review the canon for the sake of our audience who may not be familiar with the connotation or meaning.

With specific reference to parliamentary /legislative politics, Anthony J. McGann (2002) conceptualized majority rule as a binary decision rule that has become the dominant factor in many modern western democracies, with most elections and referendums being decided by majority rule. It is frequently used in legislatures in which alternatives can be considered and amended in a process of deliberation until the final version of a proposal is adopted or rejected by majority rule. 

Alexis de Tocqueville has simplified the concept to mean the side with the most votes wins, whether it is an election or a legislative bill. Although the two authors saying the same thing did not quantify or tell us the numerical value that constitutes more votes or majority rule. However, it is generally understood to mean two-thirds of the members in each chamber of Parliament, Congress, National Assembly or Legislature etc. as widely practiced in the West and Africa. 

In principles or theory, majority rule presumed that through directly or elected members of Parliament or Legislaturesthe people have spoken. In other words, legislators or parliaments are accountable to their individual constituents. It arguably implies that when decisions after deliberation are adopted by way of majority rule, it is the voice of the people that serves the common good of the society which is consider as the bright side of majority rule.  How can one determine the common good to be the bright side of majority rule?  Let’s consider the recent situation in Liberia as a contemporary example to answer this question.


On 10 October 2014, the Liberian House and Senate in a joint resolution voted unanimously to reject Ellen JohnsonSirleaf’srequest forextraconstitutional powers to fight eradicate the deadly Ebola virus was widely welcomed and praised by the Liberia society. This is one of the common good of democracy seen as the bright side of majority rule.

As a Western concept, it would be acceptable to argue that the emergence of democracy in Africa came at the same time the continent was robustly stemming the tides of Military coups or takeovers as one of the major challenges post-independence Africa inherited.  Today, the concept in both theory and practice has taken root in Africa. Take for example, Ghana once victimized of military rule has now become model for democracy in Africa. In practical terms, no one will want to counter-argue the impact of majority rule on the democratic values of Ghana. South Africa, Botswana, Liberia, Nigeria etc. are arguably examples.

On the contrary, majority rule has a dark side in Africa that has never served the common good as one will suppose. The dark side of majority rule is the cancer called Prolonged Regime that is certainly inimical to democracy.  Let me vividly explain how prolonged regimes have become the dark side of majority rule in Africa.

In one of our articles published in the local daily newspapers and in the internet dealing with prolonged regimes in Africa, we conceptualized it as any incumbent regime nearing its completion of constitutional term limits in office that successfully rely on its influence either in parliament or some kind of political structures to amend the same legal framework or constitutional provision scarping the term limits.  In Africa, most if not all of the prolonged regimes are justified by majority rule argued as one of the basic tenets of democracy. From all indications, it has been ironically disapproved by the very constituents or people that should be happy.

Let’s look at few examples captured from research. On 28 October 2014, Burkina Faso’s longtime leader, Blaise Compaore, was toppled from power by demonstrators angry that he was trying to change the country’s constitution to allow him to extend his 27-year rule.

In 2005, Parliament in Uganda voted to scrap presidential term limits from the Constitution just one year before President Museveni was to serve out what was his second and last elective term in office. Since then, there have robust and serious move by members of Parliament across the political divide, civil society and the masses to restore presidential term limits into the national constitution.

In Angola, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has ruled since 1979 and ensured the issue of term limits never would bother him by having legislators approve a new constitution in 2010 under which the leader of the party that wins most parliament seats automatically becomes president.


In Equatorial Guinea, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, also in power since 1979, pushed through a referendum to change the constitution in 2011, so that he is able to run for re-election after age 75. The changes also allow Obiang to handpick his successor.

In Cameroon, President Paul Biya, in power since 1982, was barred by a two-term limit from running again in 2011 but he got legislators to remove all term limits from the constitution in 2008 despite violent protests.

In DRC, President Joseph Kabila should step down ahead of 2016 elections but there’s a campaign to change the constitution that limits presidents to two five-year terms.

In Chad, President IdrissDeby, who has ruled since 1990, engineered a referendum to eliminate constitutional term limits in 2005.

All of these examples literally and arguably reflect the basic tenet of democracy on grounds that it is majority rule. It now provokes the question if these majority rules that presumably represents the voices of the people through their elected leaders in Parliament/Legislature, on what grounds  the same people are disenchanted as in the case of Burkina Faso? In other words, it can be argued that decisions taken by parliament must be proportional to the aspirations of the people so as to serve the common good as far as democracy is concerned.

In all of these examples, it is safe to argue that the dark side of majority rule have politically fragile these Countries now at the brims of conflicts. It is also safe to argue that given the fragilities of the dark side of majority rule in Africa resulting from prolonged regime, the African Union consciously endorsed the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance that caution and prohibit any amendment or revision of constitution intended to prolong the tenure of office for the incumbent. Similarly, John Mukum Mbaku (2014) argument that “perpetual rule also increase the likelihood of violence, war and the main cause of rebel movements due to the use of underhand tactics such as violence, murder and the abuse of law to exclude competitors, which dilutes healthy political competition” worth equated to the dark side of majority rule (prolonged regime). 

In Conclusion, it is better to still practice authoritarian form of government that implies prolonged regime as an obvious feature than to pretend to practice majority rule as one of the basic tenets of democracy frowns upon by Western democracies.

Judging from the many political turmoil in Africa ironically caused by the dark side of majority rule,  this article now ends with an another emerged premise for further argument that the concept of majority rule to a large extend has been abused, caused more harm than good for Africa.  Until the African Union can rethink about how to stem the tides of prolonged regime justified by the so called majority rule that have always contradicted the voices of the people, too much resources that could have helped to fight abject poverty will continued to be diverted to peacekeeping operations caused by the dark side of majority rule. 

About the Author

Mr. Ambrues M. Nebo holds MSc in the top 5 % of the graduating Class in Peace and Conflict studies with specialty in Humanitarian and Refugee Studies form University of Ibadan, Nigeria, Post Graduate Certificate with distinction in Public Administration from Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration Ghana, BA Hon (Magna Cum Laude) in Sociology from African Methodist Episcopal Zion University College  in Liberia and various International Certificates in various courses in peacekeeping operation-Kofi Anna International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana.

neboambrues@gmail.com/nebo1975@yahoo.com 0777531129/0888093805


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