The African Origins of the Athenian Democracy
Posted: 31 Oct 2011
Date Written: October 31, 2011
Most, if not all research that discusses the origins of democracy invariably look at the city-state of Athens in ancient Greece as the birth place of democracy. During the 6th century BC in Athens, there was a great deal of concentration of political and economic powers in the hands of the aristocracy. Indeed, the Athenian society was administered by nine magistrates, the archons, appointed or elected for a one-year term by the Areopagus (which was the council of elders) on the basis of wealth and noble birth. Besides the power of appointment, the Areopagus, which was comprised of former Archons, functioned as a consultative institution. The other important state institution was the assembly of citizens, the Ekklesia, a deliberative forum where participants debated and adopted public policies. The Ekklesia, however, was not open to the Thetes, the lowest class, and the slaves, which constituted the majority of the population. As it is often the case in situation of concentration of powers, the aristocracy violently abused its position of privilege at the expense of the masses. A situation that overtime, led predictably to social unrest. The people of Athens made a stand against the nobles to demand equal access to public policy decision-making centers. After both parties acknowledged that neither could subdue the other, they requested the mediation of Solon, a former chief magistrate, who was known for ruling with great wisdom during his time of service. The constitutional reforms proposed by Solon constituted the building blocks upon which the Athenian democracy flourished.
What students of democracy who are interested in discussing its origins always fail to do is to ask the question: where did Solon got his ideas for the political reforms that became the building blocks for the Athenian democracy? This paper traces the inspiration of Solonian constitutional reform in black Egypt and contends that Athenians learned from Africans how to rule with the consent of the people. The paper shows empirical evidence of the practice of democracy in pre-colonial Africa and argues that centuries-old African democracies died only as a consequence of the grafting of foreign political cultures in the continent.
Keywords: Democracy, Africa, Athens
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