Lawson Mabhena News & Politics Editor
The pitfalls of democracy played out last week in two different continents in one of the most interesting weeks in political history.
It was a week when United States of America (US) President Mr Donald Trump was acquitted on impeachment charges by Senate.
On the first charge of abuse of power, he was acquitted by a vote of 52-48, and 53-47 on the obstructing Congress charge.
One of Mr Trump’s most fierce critics, Mr Mitt Romney, wrote his own piece of history when he became the first senator in US history to vote to convict a president from his own party.
The CNN summed it up on Thursday using the headline: “Trump’s impeachment trial is over, but the politics are not”.
According to The Guardian, Mr Trump responded to his impeachment acquittal with a “rambling, vitriolic speech”.
“It was all b*******,” Mr Trump said.
In Africa, a landmark ruling by Malawi’s constitutional court nullified results of the May 2019 presidential elections due to “serious irregularities”.
In a 500-page judgment, which took over 10 hours to read, the panel of five judges ordered fresh elections within 150 days.
The ruling cited the widespread use of unauthorised correctional fluid, Tippex, to alter figures, the use of duplicate result sheets and unsigned results forms as cases that compromised the outcome of the elections.
The unanimous decision is only the second time in Africa’s history that a judicial intervention has overturned an incumbent’s election victory.
The first was in Kenya in 2017.
In Namibia, the Supreme Court upheld the results of last year’s presidential election, saying the challengers failed to prove ruling party manipulation of electronic voting machines.
Like in America, the courts have delivered their rulings in Malawi and Namibia, but the politics is not over.
That is the major pitfall of democracy, the politics never end.
The word democracy itself is derived from the Greek phrase “demos cratos” which literally translates into “people’s power or rule”.
The last of the US founding fathers and former president Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”.
It is a wonderful thing, democracy. But a lot of time and energy that can be channelled towards development is lost to politics.
The Trump case is probably the best example. While the charges could be based on the truth, the impeachment trial was always dead in the water.
The Republicans predictably voted “not guilty” and the Democrats “guilty”, both parties toed the party line.
To his credit, Mr Romney gave the media something to talk about, but one man can only do so much.
The Malawi example was not an open and shut case, but is it worth it?
The Kenyan experience could come in handy.
David Pilling of the Financial Times wrote after the ruling: “If the gloss on the Supreme Court ruling was mostly positive then, a month later, much of that gloss has gone. Kenya is stuck in political limbo.
“Two things have happened to undermine the hope that constitutionalism will triumph. The first is that Raila Odinga is refusing to participate in the electoral rerun, due to take place on October 26. That leaves Mr Kenyatta as the sole serious contender. If he wins, opposed by only a clutch of no-hopers, it will be a hollow finale to what was supposed to be a battle for the soul of democracy.”
The real issue in Kenya was deeper than allegations of vote-rigging.
Ethnicity has been the single most divisive element in Kenyan elections.
Pre-election interviews by reputable scholars have revealed that Kenyans from virtually all of the country’s ethnocultural groups only vote for a candidate of their own group because they “trust him.”
Within Kenya, five ethnocultural groups — the Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin, Luo and Kamba — make up nearly 70 percent of the country’s population.
President Kenyatta is Kikuyu and opposition leader Odinga is Luo.
Nation-building efforts are hindered by political fissures.
The historic court ruling divided political leaders more.
Even the dismissed election petitions in Namibia and Zimbabwe widened the political divide.
Malawi’s electoral challenge stole eight months from the development calendar and a further 150 days will be lost from last Monday.
After a winner is eventually declared, we can still expect more fissures and allegations.
The politics will be far from over.