Origins of ordinary things: Democracy

The word “democracy” is derived from the 5th century Greek word “dēmokratiā” which means “rule of the people.” It was a depiction of the political experiment that existed at the time in Greek cities such as Athens. This is according to Britannica, an encyclopaedia.

The Athenian democratic system had three branches which were; the Assembly of the Demos, the Council of 500 and the People’s Court. The three branches played complementary roles. This is according to ‘Live Science’ – a knowledge dissemination platform.

In the modern world, the term “democracy” generally means that consensus by the majority is required before a decision is made in a given association. This is reflected in the way countries, organisations or even smaller groups such as schools elect their leaders. 

Although Greece is credited with being the birthplace of democracy, the system was flawed because slaves and women were not allowed to participate in politics. Furthermore, according to ‘Wikipedia’, leadership largely constituted wealthy people.

According to web-based ‘History World’, Athenian democracy was meant to serve small communities where people would be able to attend debates and vote on issues. It was also meant for a society where people had enough time to engage in leisure since they had slaves to do work on their behalf.

In 322 BC, Greece made an unsuccessful revolt against Macedonia and as a result, an oligarchy was imposed. This is a political system where only the elite have a voice. After that, the idea of democracy was non-existent for almost two thousand years.

The first document to challenge monarchical rule was the Magna Carta or the “Great Charter” made in England in 1215. According to ‘Live Science’, the purpose of the document was to reign in the sovereignty of the King so that he would be subject to the rule of law. That way, he wouldn’t abuse his authority.

In the 18th Century when larger societies than the Athenian democracy was intended for began to form, there was need for representation. For this reason, political institutions were installed. The 18th Century democracy was still limited to a minority group of male adults. Changes for a more inclusive democracy where women and other groups had a voice were made in the 20th Century. This is according to Britannica.

In Africa, the concept of democracy was largely spread during the colonial period which is when the continent was split into many states. Before that, most African societies were monarchs. After independence, most African states became Republics with three arms of government and they developed constitutions which govern the way citizens and leaders ought to conduct themselves. 

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