When there are cases of social problems in the country such as galloping inflation, grave unemployment and shortage of all sorts such as food, sugar, petroleum, people blame government; sometimes they are more specific by attributing these problems to the alleged failure on the part of the President.
When things are going satisfactorily, praise singers will praise government or the President to the sky.
In both cases, there is a good deal of masking the reality of government and who is actually politically influential in society.
Before we come to unravelling the essence of political power, we must admit that whoever wields political power determines many things within the state or society. It is him or her who determines what is a crime or not; they ennoble or disfranchise some of the people; they determine whether there will be peace between the country and other countries; they determine how the various institutions operate. If they do the right things, most people are happy but if he does the wrong, most people become unhappy.
In modern times, we see government as divided into the political and the bureaucratic. The political side is largely elected, its tenure of office is brief, though in some cases by rather unconstitutional and unconventional means, the term is extended.
The other part of government consists of the bureaucracy whose membership is much larger. The world of higher learning owes its understanding of bureaucracy to the German sociologist Max Weber. In his writings, he hated that bureaucratic organisations have five defining characteristics. These are:
- A clear-cut division of labour. Each office has its own task to perform and workers are specialists.
- A hierarchy of authority. Each worker is part of a scalar chain where some officers are senior, others juniors.
- A set of rules that guide the workers and supervisors in performing their duties.
- Impersonal enforcement of rules. Officials treat all citizens impersonally. Not personal opinion or favouritism but the rules determine how official x will treat citizens abc.
- Job security. Employment in a bureaucracy is based on technical qualification. You are performing the duties of medical officer because you have a degree in medicine, you are a state advocate because you have been through a law school.
The relationship between the political and bureaucratic wings is that of supervisor and the supervised. Masters of both the political and bureaucratic wings are supposed to be the people in the democratic societies.
An American sociologist called C. Wright Mills in the 1950s wrote a book titled The Power Elite. He noted that there is a coalition of people in the highest rank of the economy, the government and the military who together form a united and self-conscious social class. This is the group that determines what the government does and puts its interests before the interests of the great masses at the bottom of the society.
Even here in Africa, we can note active interest groups that seek to extract from the government more benefits than other groups especially, especially more than the unorganised masses. Professionals form associations which influence government to make laws restricting entry into their professions to pass stiff exams or to undergo long apprenticeship.
There are organised workers who force employers to pay them higher wage at the very time unemployment worsens in the country. All these are members of the power elite.
Though a government is said to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people, it is the elite that really controls government and gets the lion’s share. Instead of civil servants working strictly according to the ethics of their profession, they work so as to please the politicians in order to avoid losing their jobs or being denied promotions.
Democracy is still a road under construction. No country has attained perfect democracy. Freedoms that exist are perpertually under threat. The existence of voter apathy means that matters are determined by the active few who regularly turn up to vote.
The word bureaucracy has so far been used in the strictly sociological or Max Weberian sense to mean a system of organizing things according to fixed rules and regulations, But the layman sometimes uses the word bureaucracy in a derogatory sense to imply inefficiency and delays; yet when alternative systems are tried they are found to be more corrupt and unfair.
What we do to make sure that both the political and bureaucraticaspects of government are servants not masters of the people. There should be relentless vigilance by pressure groups and independent press.
While it is true that one gets out of society what one contributes politics affects everybody’s life, the active and the non-active.