Is democracy overrated as a system?

As the country gears up for the August 8 General Election, there is an array of political opinions as to the right candidates for the various elective positions.

Everything is up for debate; from a candidate’s age, qualifications and ethnicity to competence, integrity and experience.

It is the acceptance that we have a working vehicle and merely need a competent driver, that I would like us to question.

While in Singapore, I was engaged in an enlightening debate, where we moved from questioning leaders to the underlying system of leadership.

Democracy, has consistently been perpetuated, especially by the West, as a symbol of freedom and prosperity, while differing ideologies have been attacked by both propaganda and an army carrying a democratic flag in the name of liberation.


This reached its peak during the Cold War era and it has since spilled over into the 21st century, while democracy has been enshrined in constitutions the world over, including Kenya’s.

There is undoubted substance to the pro–democratic debate.

However, alternative views are subjected to evil glances and are not offered an effective, fair podium to present their case.

A 2016 research by the Economist Intelligence Unit found there were only 19 true democracies across the globe despite some 100 countries claiming to be democratic.


Libya was found to have made the most significant democratic leap, though social and economic stability have significantly deteriorated; a mirror of Iraq after the second Gulf War.

As citizens, we generally seek social and economic prosperity married to freedom of expression, and this is colourfully advertised on the cover of the democracy can.

Upon slight inspection though, there is an appreciation that inequality generally prevails and the economic gap widens.

Moreover, there is invariably a limit to your freedom of expression despite your constitutional right.


As such, no one can wholly debate that democracy is a full-proof ideology, but the question remains as to what would be an accepted alternative.

There are nations that have adopted a deliberately controlled democratic ideology with some desired success.

China, UAE, Bahrain, South Korea, Singapore, Qatar and Rwanda are some of the selected case studies that come to mind for the alternative pseudo–democracy.

These are all progressive being either a class leader or trending above global average in GDP per capita and quality of livelihood.

These nations’ indicators all trend positively with the aggressive adoption of progressive investments across various sectors.

These countries are run by a small circle of highly patriotic, selfless, competent and authoritative leaders – not dictators – but authoritative.


These nations ensure the national interest is placed first beyond the democratic interests, which may sound like an oxymoron at first glance.

Votes may be effectively influenced and policies successfully lobbied for by dominant puppeteers, despite an objective narrative.

Kenya has flirted with the idea of banning plastic bags for over 12 years despite the widely acknowledged impact they have on the environment, while judicial enforcement is mentioned as a bottleneck in the fight against corruption.

India, the largest democracy, sees laws go through multiple steps and years before implementation, while South Africa and the USA carry the same burden of doing what is voted for versus what is right. Effectively, majorities in Parliament, Congress or alternative, are required by the government of the day to have its way during its term – until the next government comes in and faces a similar battle.


Rwanda and Singapore, have small circles of decision makers who review a policy and if accepted, its implementation is near immediate while its enforcement is absolute.

You will find both these nations in the lower half of the democracy index.

Rwanda is dubbed Africa’s Singapore, given its no-nonsense approach to corruption, vibrant economy, investor friendly policies and the unique air of acceptance of controlled liberties.

The nations that adopt selective aspects of democracy unquestionably need competent selfless leaders.


Kenya has 45 per cent of the population living in poverty, a frustrated middle-class segment, rampant corruption and nervous foreign investors.

There perhaps are some who would be willing to listen to a hybrid form of democracy.

There, perhaps, may be an opportunity for a candidate to unapologetically present an alternative leadership concept to fellow Kenyans.

 Mr Ali is a senior partner at House of Major advertising. [email protected]

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