Democracy and decision making process

Almost all peers of this writer that went to Ethiopian Schools know democracy is a Greek word. They were told it means people’s government. Initially it used to be practiced by Greek free men of ancient times who were polytheist.  Today it has become the envy of masses of peoples irrespective of what religion they prophesy, monotheist or polytheist. The opposite of democracy is autocracy or oligarchy. In the first an individual ruler is at the center while in the second a group is the major actor. In both power is vested in the few and decision flows downwards. Equality is the basic element of democracy. Democracy is reflected in its decision making process that so far may not be perfect.  One is decision by consensus. It is an inclusive system that gives all participants in group activities equal say in decision makings of common concern. The other form is voting or majority rule. Both consensus and voting methods are used by democracies.

Theoretically democracy is based on equality and justice between participants in group activities whether political, social or economic. But due to human imperfection there are defects in the process from decision making to implementation. But societies are trying their best to make it as perfect as it is humanly possible. One historic system that tried to perfect it was the Gadaa system. When we talk of the Gadaa system some may think of it in terms of its rituals which may not fit into their faith model. But Gadaa system was not more ritualistic than any modern government except probably for lacking cover-up decorations. It was a system based on elections, on exhaustive dialogue for decision making or “Ilaa fi Ilaamee”. That process attaches great value to opinion of each participant in deliberations. Democracy sprouted in a polytheist religious environment while Gadaa’s origin was in a monotheist one, but was secular with clear separation of politics and faith. Then there was only one traditional religion; now there are many justifying the separation even as more logical. 

“Ilaa fi ilaamee” is the basic ingredient of Gadaa democratic system. Decisions were not given until the deliberation is exhaustively dealt with. If need be the Oromo discuss for days on. “Haa bultu dubbiin” (Let the matter stay overnight) is preferred than rushing to decide before each participant’s concerns are addressed. Thus discussion is pushed until consensus is reached. If a person or persons disagree on an issue, wise men may try to reason out with them outside the meeting shade during recess. 

Consensus decision-making for the Gadaa system is about turning individuals’ thinking into advantage for the whole group. Members that take part in the deliberation were expected to express their perspectives not with their individual selfish interest in mind but for the successful conclusion of the common proposal. It is natural for each participant to have own interest in the matter under discussion. But finally all sacrifice something for good of the whole and usually unanimous decision was reached. Then Oromiyaa was a tribal society and in most cases tribal interests had to be stressed to advance national cause. Today the world is on its unprecedented highest level of human development and deals with ideas; people debate on ideas that they believe will advance the common good. But there are still times when tribal and clan feeling leftovers are introduced into Oromo national discourses for advantage of greedy and reactionary political groups irrespective of the possible dragging effect on the nation’s global standing. 
It is unfortunate that the Oromo have to deal with such issue to avoid further descent and jeopardizing the common cause until time changes its course. A national group comes together to discuss and decide on issues of concerning the nation.  All participants are given equal chance to express their views so that all feel as part of the end product and full heartedly cooperate for their implementation. That is Gadaa heritage which should be a pride for all those that give more value for Oromummaa over all minor groups they belong to. 

Consensus model decision making is not monopoly of Gadaa system. Many other modern establishments use them for the advantage it gives by involving all participants for better result. It improves human relations and creates high degree of cooperation, trust and cohesion among members. But the consensus model may cost time, energy and resources more than other models. The other model used in democratic practice is the voting system. Issues are discussed usually for predetermined time span and decisions mostly reached by raising hands or casting ballots.  The side that gets simple majority or a predetermined ratio wins. The disadvantage of this model when compared to the consensus model is that it may by overlooking minority opinion encourage grumbling and sprouting of factions.  However it is less time consuming and more efficient than the other model. Most modern activities use this method. This may also give rise of groups and jealousy between them which are inevitable in a community. But what is wanted is accountability for results not satisfying sectarian ego. 

Whichever model one uses is assumed to have provision in bylaws. Members are obliged to read and accept those documents before they join the organizations if they did not already participate in their makings. Once they accept them they are duty bound to abide by decisions made accordingly even if the decisions reached may not be to their liking. If there are grievances they should be addressed according to the rules. But to start negative agitation from outside is undemocratic and unlawful. In Gadaa system that is “safuu” punishable by society and Waaq.  The method of “ilaa fi ilaamee” is applicable in both models. The only situation it becomes irrelevant is with the narrow minded and under dictators. The narrow minded views all issues through narrow sectarian prism and loses the big picture of national interest, in dictatorships decisions are passed from above and no inputs are required from blow. 

Therefore democracy being a system where all participants are considered as equals every ones voice is heard and highly valued. People are gathered to deliberate on issues of common concern. For that reason each participant is required to make positive contribution towards the proposal. Because of narrow mindedness some fail to see the wider picture of larger group concern except petty selfish parochial interest. Because of that they create cliques and factions detrimental to well-functioning of the whole group. Such reactionary practices need to be isolated and quarantined as soon as they happen before they spread and contaminate the field. 

To conclude, democracy, be it Gadaa or Greek type is a system that encourages participation by all concerned and value equally each participant contribution. A group may use any of the above mentioned models of decision making fitting to its taste. In all cases it must be understood that interest of the whole is greater and more inclusive than the part. Any member of the whole is assumed not to have ulterior motives to sabotage the decision making process on hand. Grievances have to be addressed according to organizational laws. Democratic principle requires abiding by decisions passed after thorough deliberation, as it requires equal chance for participants to contribute to their making. No segment of the whole should purposely be left out or no segment of the whole however especial it thinks, should expect to be treated differently from established norms.

Honor and glory for the fallen heroines and heroes; liberty, equality and freedom for the living and nagaa and araaraa for the Ayyaanaa of our forefathers!

Ibsaa Guutama
July 2015

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