Legitimacy, an essential condition for governing a state? (1)

In a world of amplified dissimilarities and differences, the mind of a nation can only be made strong and operative by the acceptable actions of those that dominate power within the state. It is for this reason that within the context of legitimacy, there is political legitimacy which plays a fundamental role in understanding governance. Political legaliity introduces the aspect of power whereby legitimacy is made strong and effective if there is the use of political power. A famous American historian, Barbara Tuchman, once said, “To put on the garment of legitimacy is the first aim of every coup.” The existence of citizens accepting the idea of authority vested upon the state is a critical facet as legitimacy brings about, political solidity, easy execution of power to willing citizens, encourages the concept of a democratic nation. It silhouettes the national schema essential for the persistence and development of the government and it reduces the rate and level of resources being used to force power.

The main purpose of this critique is to explicitly highlight, prove and argue in favour of legitimacy as an essential tool to oversee and govern a country.  This shall be done by using the above points and relevant examples to support the motion of argument.

Legitimacy has been defined as, “the normative belief by an act or that a rule or institution ought to be obeyed,” (Hurd; 1999:381). Thus, it deals with citizens having to accept the idea that a state has authority to decree and govern them with the codes and conduct. Hence, if citizens follow this ‘belief’ then the power of legitimacy is being exercised, not by coercion but by the willingness of citizens. Govern as a term has also been defined as, “the formulation and execution of collective action at the local level,” Bradway and Shah (2009, p. 242).  In simpler terms, to govern refers to following some kind of an implemented hierarchy that is made effective both at a public sector and private sector levels by somehow instigating roles and duties that are to be undertaken by the subordinates. On the other hand, the term country simply refers to a nation which comprises of people. All in all, these are some of the terms that are essential in understanding our topic.

Political stability

A nation’s stability is essential to the lives of the citizens and to the country as a whole – be it economic, financial and social; all these aspects are to be kept stable at all costs. The case of legitimacy is, therefore, important in keeping all these aspects a reality. It is then up to the citizens themselves if at all they are working towards a common goal of peace-keeping so as to keep the steadiness that is needed in the country. A society that willingly accepts the idea of obeying rules brought up by the state or any institution is a definite society that is well- organised. This is because a certain type of authority is being taken into consideration and it is respected enthusiastically, not by force or any form of coercion, but by the spirit and morale of wanting and equipped to.

A specialist in politics, Aoife McCullough, emphasises this stressing that, “The logic used in the state-building agenda is that an authority which lacks legitimacy will be challenged, resulting in increased instability.” (McCullough 2015:7). This form of behaviour develops a well-maintained society and environment where common goals and aims are shared. If all these take place, then a nation is sure of political stability. Where there is obedience, observing and respecting those in authority, there are reduced disagreements and fewer conflicts. If those prevail in all honesty, then stability is highly guaranteed.

On the other hand, those that are not in favour of legitimacy bringing about governance may highlight that, it is not everyone who will follow all these implemented rules and those in power may abuse their positions and begin to suppress their minions. To critique this, all citizens should be taught the importance and value of legitimacy. If that happens, then the people will know why it is important for them as a nation to work towards a common goal. If they want good governance and peace, it is up to them to play their part first. Those in supremacy should take into consideration that a form of hypocrisy playing will not help at all in sustaining a party-political stability and the stability lies upon them. They should be aware that the interests and well-being of citizens is entrusted upon them. What they have promised them, they must deliver accordingly. In the end, legitimacy is sure a fundamental tool for a country that needs good governance as it yields political firmness.

In Africa, countries like Morocco, Ghana and Botswana have been cited as the most political stable countries. This is simply brought up by the fact that these countries believe and practise the idea of legitimacy. Botswana is a widely known as a democratic country and for this fact, its political level is stable as the citizens work hand-in-hand towards a common mandate. Thus, it has led for this incredible achievement. Botswana is also famous for being one of the most peaceful countries in the world. The question is how is this possible? That is where legitimacy comes in and proves that nonetheless that it is an important for how a country can be best governed. If a country is well governed, then traits and characteristics that can be linked to stability are established with no doubt.

Power to the citizens

In most cases, it is very difficult and complex to execute power to citizens for the simple reason that citizens do not have the willingness to do so. They fail to comply, observe and respect those that are in authority. If this happens, it becomes a problematic situation as conflicts, disagreements and wars between the two start to rise. Each and every one would want to rule and be in power, yet power and authority may only be designated to a small number of people in an institution. It is not everyone who can be in power; therefore, there has to be hierarchy culture that needs to be followed for good flow of governance in a country. Now, if legitimacy is practised in a country then citizens will begin to understand another reason of allowing legitimacy to take place.

Legitimacy becomes a necessary condition for the purpose of governing a nation because it becomes easier for people in the country to accept the body of power that is upon them provided that type of power is not a coercive one. It will not yield any good results if citizens in the country are threatened to do something against their will. The aim is not to impose fear and abuse upon them, but it is to make them achieve a certain goal and aim of which at the end the day, it will benefit the whole country.

Motsu, a  University of Botswana student, writes from Gaborone

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