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Legitimacy: Is it an essential condition in governing a state?

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 21 May 2019   |   By Lisa Bokani Motsu
Legitimacy: Is it an essential condition in governing a state?

In a world of amplified dissimilarities and differences, the well-being and mind of a nation can only be made strong and operative by the rightful and acceptable actions by those in domination of power within the state. It is for this reason that within the context of legitimacy, there is political legitimacy of which it plays a fundamental tool in understanding legitimacy. Political lawfulness introduces the aspect of power of whereby legitimacy is made strong and effective if there is the use of political power. An American famous 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 last but not least, it reduces the rate and level of resources being used to force power. The main purpose of this dissertation 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 several mentioned points and relevant examples to support the motion of argument in this paper.

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 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 by 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 less conflicts. If those prevail in all honesty, then stability is highly guaranteed.

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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 about 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 for peace to triumph, then 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 the African continent, countries like Morocco, Ghana and Botswana have been cited as the most political stable countries out of all the existing countries in Africa. 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 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 practiced in a country then citizens will begin to understand another reason of allowing legitimacy to take place.

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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. “Power can be exerted through voluntary or quasi-voluntary,” (Levi & Sacks, 2009). This simply implies that, if citizens were to accept and conform to the rules and laws set up by a body of authority, then acceptance and reception of power becomes voluntarily by the citizens themselves, failure to do so, those in power have the option to force them. Although the other side may critique to as highlight that, legitimacy cannot help in executing power because those in authority execute power whenever they feel or want and sometimes without consulting its citizens. To disagree with the above critique, if legitimacy is set up in a country and if followed, citizens will know their rights and if they are violated, they are mandated and expected to act upon on those who disregard their rights. Afterall, legitimacy is a ‘right’ of having to accept the rules and laws. Henceforth, the real issue stills prevails of emphasising that indeed legitimacy can and is an ultimate tool in building and developing good governance in the country.

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A DEMOCRATIC NATION

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The other ultimate aspect so as to why legitimacy is to be seen as a need to govern a nation is for the fact that legitimacy is crucial in developing a democratic nation. The term democracy has been given its definition as, “Democracy is, and can only be, the political system in which the power resides in the active demos”, (Sartori, 1965: 562). Sartori’s definition of democracy can be further simplified as a political system in which majority of citizens in a country fully execute and exercise their right and power by voting for what they want. Hence the common phrase of, ‘majority rules’. Now, back to our main course, in a society where citizens also have a say in the dealings of a country of which is normally referred to as, ‘participatory culture’, this practice encourages the idea and aspect of democracy. It is the democracy that is brought up in the first place a country being legitimate and realizing its value. Those that do not believe in the idea of legitimacy may argue that, whether democracy is there or not, it does not guarantee, peace and the voting elections that are normally held in countries that claim to preach this so-called ‘democracy’ do nothing but to temper with the voting process where corruption is involved hence destroying the art of fairness. Does this favour the citizens that believe in democracy and how will this promote legitimacy? To give attention to this critique, regardless of whether those in authority temper with the voting elections or not, it is still cannot be proved that they are indeed doing so because in order to be able to deal with an issue at hand then facts and proof are needed, not misconceptions and misjudgements simply because such people fail to understand the importance of legitimacy. They are the very same people that deter democracy to fully take place in the nation by always being negative unnecessarily. As it stands, to govern a country, legitimacy has to be in fore front and be the core issue to implement the good governance that the nation needs.

The fact that Botswana was and is still cited as the one of the peaceful countries in the world is because, Botswana is for a fact that it is a democratic country. For this reason, it highly believes in being legitimate. That is why, cases of wars, civil disobedience, conflicts and disputes are not really common. The country itself is democratic, the voting elections normally go smoothly with no wars between parties, less conflicts and disagreements. It is because of this legitimacy that Botswana has gained worldwide acknowledgement so easily. The international recognition that brings about global investments and quite a range of opportunities. Can this typical example not give testimony that legitimacy is indeed important for such reasons? It surely does. 

THE NATIONAL SCHEMA

It is for a fact that every country in the world sets their goals, aims and agenda just from day one. Therefore, this motion does not happen haphazardly or out of the blue. That is why legitimacy has to be cited as the most leading tool in contributing to this matter. Legitimacy makes it possible for the country or nation to expressively set out their mandates of which they will be obliged to achieved within a stipulated time. The nation is compelled to follow, implement and act on what is on the country’s agenda. The other side of those who are in the motion of critiquing the value of legitimacy will then point out that, most countries across the globe have not achieved their agendas yet they always go on about legitimacy. How is this chaotic ordeal addressed or who is to answer for causing such havoc? In addressing to this form criticism, setting a goal or state agenda does not necessarily mean that within that stated time, the nation aims and hopes to have achieved their goals by that time. They will strive to work hard day in and day out for the purpose of achieving the state purpose. The least that people can do is do less of criticising and at least appreciate the efforts of the government.

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Just right after Botswana gained its independence in 1966, it came up and drew an oath that by the year 2016, they should have achieved their Vison 2016 pillars and to just name a few, that they would have an educated, informed nation, a prosperous, productive and innovative nation, and a compassionate, just and caring nation.            The fact that comes up is that, some of these pillars were partially achieved whilst some were completely not. Hence, Botswana as a country which does not lose hope, moved its vison pillars to the year 2036 which basically proves that, one does not have to give up if they haven’t achieved their goals or aims.  It is this legitimacy that helps the country to even have such state goals, aims and agendas in the first place.

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SURVIVAL OF THE GOVERNMENT

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For a country to be able to go on and proceed well on normal circumstances it is pretty much determined by the government. This mean that, the government has to be on good standstill level, for the country to be able to function well. One may ask on how is that possible? This is where the core issue of legitimacy comes in whether invited or uninvited. For the government to be able to survive then legitimacy is needed. A society that conforms to the laws that regulate them are also helping the government in a positive way because there will be reduced crime rates and for this matter, it will lead for the government not to excessively spend much unnecessarily in trying to curb crime related activities hence the money that could have been used to do such is diverted to other activities that will benefit the country as a whole. Again, those good at appraising will point out that, the fact that the citizens obey the laws and rules set before them does not mean that the survival of the government is guaranteed. Most governments have fallen out due to those in power failing the system because of their hypocrisy acts just in the name of bringing about legitimacy. To give a relevant answer to this above barbarism, the good thing about legitimacy is that, it does not consider the fact that an individual is foul playing or hiding behind a face mask. Legitimacy is done for a common purpose, a common mandate and a common directive. As long as legitimacy prevails, then the survival of the government is guaranteed. Can that still be questioned still? No, it cannot.

This paper has eloquently expressed itself so as to why legitimacy is indeed a needed tool in order to govern a country because it is legitimacy that results in party-political stability, easy execution of power to citizens, it proves the concept of a democratic nation, it silhouettes the national schema and last but not least, it is essential in the survival of the government.  Regardless of the negatives and critiques that have been outlined, it can be highlighted that everything has its own advantages and disadvantages. In the end, it should be known to all that, legitimacy is done for a common purpose. Where there is legitimacy, good governance will prevail and that it is for a sure certainty. If one may ask, is legitimacy a necessary condition to govern a country? With all the above well-written and explained points, this essay gladly answers that, yes, it is no doubt that legitimacy is a necessary condition to govern a country.

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*University of Botswana (student)



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