“Majority Rule” and “Minority Rights”

I have great respect for Semere Tesfai for boldly articulating his views. There are crucial points that he and I are in complete concurrence, in particular his analysis of not resorting to group rights to solve Eritrea’s problems; that is the main crux of his analysis. I believe the solution still remains a state that is governed by a constitutional liberalism.

One major quarrel I have with Semere and I believe his Achilles’ heel on his otherwise excellent analysis is his understanding of “Majority Rule” and “Minority Rights.”


He comes across to me, maybe inadvertently, as advocating for the majorities to do whatever they desire since they have the numbers. Democracy may allow this, but the rule of law does not. Democracy without the rule of law is unworkable; in fact it becomes a “tyranny of the majority.”


Today, in the USA democracy and the rule of law go hand and hand. For example, the white Americans just because they have the numbers do not mean they can lord over the black Americans, which they “legally,” institutionally and openly did at one time. That was a violation of the rule of law. Actually, the rule of law is a break on democracy.


In a multi ethnic and multi religious and as of yet culturally and economically undeveloped Eritrea, we need more the rule of law than democracy. If we can achieve both – the rule of law and democracy – at the same time, it is prefect, but that is living in a pipedream. The opposition is infatuated with “democracy,” a concept that is wrecking havoc in Africa, since most African nations just like Eritrea do not have a basic prerequisite for democracy – the rule of law.


The rule of law protects the rights of individuals as well the rights of minorities of all kinds, and it constrains the state and the majorities from abusing their power. If we can achieve the rule of law, it will eventually enable us to have a democratic and prosperous society. England the mother of all civil liberties for centuries was ruled by monarchs and yet that power emanated and was constrained by the rule of law; the same in the USA — the rule of law preceded democracy. (Singapore is a typical example where the state is governed by a very adequate rule of law; yet there is no democracy that is comparable to the USA. Can we, Eritreans, learn something valuable from this?)  


To elaborate more, here is a succinct explanation of the balance between “Majority Rule” and “Minority Rights” as explained by a state department site.


The text is as follows:


“On the surface, the principles of majority rule and the protection of individual and minority rights would seem contradictory. In fact, however, these principles are twin pillars holding up the very foundation of what we mean by democratic government.


·         Majority rule is a means for organizing government and deciding public issues; it is not another road to oppression. Just as no self-appointed group has the right to oppress others, so no majority, even in a democracy, should take away the basic rights and freedoms of a minority group or individual. 


·         Minorities — whether as a result of ethnic background, religious belief, geographic location, income level, or simply as the losers in elections or political debate — enjoy guaranteed basic human rights that no government, and no majority, elected or not, should remove.


·         Minorities need to trust that the government will protect their rights and self-identity. Once this is accomplished, such groups can participate in, and contribute to their country’s democratic institutions.


·         Among the basic human rights that any democratic government must protect are freedom of speech and expression; freedom of religion and belief; due process and equal protection under the law; and freedom to organize, speak out, dissent, and participate fully in the public life of their society.


·         Democracies understand that protecting the rights of minorities to uphold cultural identity, social practices, individual consciences, and religious activities is one of their primary tasks.


·         Acceptance of ethnic and cultural groups that seem strange if not alien to the majority can represent one of the greatest challenges that any democratic government can face. But democracies recognize that diversity can be an enormous asset. They treat these differences in identity, culture, and values as a challenge that can strengthen and enrich them, not as a threat.


·         There can be no single answer to how minority-group differences in views and values are resolved — only the sure knowledge that only through the democratic process of tolerance, debate, and willingness to compromise can free societies reach agreements that embrace the twin pillars of majority rule and minority rights.” Source: Principles of Democracy 


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