Mass media are commonly referred to as the Fourth Estate in the same way that civil society has come to be characterized as the Fifth Column. This logically follows the doctrine of separation of powers in democratic societies whereby the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary are known to be the first three estates, or columns.
The essence of this arrangement is that the different ‘estates of power’ exercise checks and balances which enable a country to be democratically governed.
Democratic governance in this case means no single authority in a country is bestowed with unlimited powers to make arbitrary decisions that are likely to affect the welfare of citizens or the development of a country.
No wonder most dictatorial governments of the world have tended to wind up in chaos and retrogression after single-minded, strong-handed dictators armed with absolute powers became the legislature, the judiciary, the media and the voice of the people all rolled into one.
The natural consequence of such arrangement has been wanton abuse of office, abuse of human rights and freedoms, pillaging of a country’s resources as well as impoverishment of more and more citizens.
While democratic governance appears to offer concrete solution to badly governed societies this does not happen automatically, particularly in young democracies in Africa which were forced by Big Brother to adopt liberal democracy.
What has been occurring in toddler democracies is a vicious process of negotiations among ‘estates of power’ in sharing the ‘spoils’ of power – as opposed to improving governance.
It does appear evident that even ‘good intentions’ of imported concepts such as PPP (Public-Private Partnership) may not necessarily yield the intended results because the vicious negotiations alluded to above tend to get in the way of serving individuals’ interests.
It is therefore not unlikely that even pluralistic, multiparty democracies that are anchored on the doctrine of separation of powers can turn out to be as dictatorial as the old regimes because the vicious negotiations in the process of democratization have the potential to produce democratic dictatorship.
What happens in this case is that the elite get together and conspire to capture state power. Once they have captured state power they enter into the process of ‘vicious negotiations’ with those who can serve their interests better in the legislature, in the judiciary, in the media and even in the civil society.
While from the surface a country would appear to be democratic because of the presence of the five estates of power, which are apparently separate, in essence they tend to be one and in tune with their personal interests.
And while institutions set up to assess the progress of democratization may be concerned with generic criteria – i.e. separate estates of power which happen to be in place anyway - the truth of the matter is that a dictatorial democracy would be viciously operating.
It is indeed in this way that the aspirations and dreams of the vast majority of citizens would continue to be raped by the new form of elite dictatorship in toddler democracies until such a time when genuine conditions emerge to necessitate a revolution by the marginalized.
Once the vast majority begin to realise that there is a conspiracy of the elite against their interests; when their land is grabbed away from them by force; when they are robbed of their cash crop incomes in dubious arrangements; when they are shot dead by the police because they are demanding for change; when they are used in elections as voters and then neglected for five years; when their voices are being ignored by those who are supposed to listen; when they begin to see with their naked eyes that what their new democracy has created is nothing but a gang of the elite who are seeking to permanently rob them and keep them in check - when finally that happens then the last wave of true democracy shall have arrived.
There is nothing in this column to suggest that this is a new theory about the true essence of democracy. This is rather a sober reflection of historical circumstances that gave birth to all democracies that respect, listen and attend to the wishes and aspirations of all the citizens.