Wednesday, September 15, 2010

International Day of Democracy

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Although not widely know, today is the International Day of Democracy. From the African perspective, there are good reasons as to why the day goes unnoticed. Most African countries continue to lag behind on the major indicators prerequisite for democracy. In East and Central Africa for instance, only Kenya and Tanzania have resisted the curse of civil war, that has incapacitated their neighbors. The rest of the countries, from Djibouti to DRC have had their share of nasty civil wars if not Genocide.Since totalitarianism has not offered any gains, it is time for Africa to try democracy.

Very few can deny the role that conflict plays in circumventing democratic progress. In fact, as is often the case, the many wars have not ushered democratic reforms. In stead, the wars have exacerbated the suffering of Africans at the hands of the so called "strong men", military steel leaders with natural contempt for human rights.

If the promise for democratic rule is to be realized, more support is needed for the weakened and almost non-existent civil society. Even supporting institutions, championed by President Barack Obama during his maiden trip to Ghana, would hardly be enough, since the untamed dictators always find ways to compromise the very institutions. Direct support to the villages and the hills would be a more effective approach.

But there is another threat that MUST be kept at bay and counteracted with all force.

Since the fall of Communism as an alternative to democracy, we are increasingly seeing the development of relatively wealthy illiberal countries devoted to "State Capitalism". This in itself is neither threatening nor acrimonious. Rather the alarm is a reaction to the comfortable support and legitimacy that some of these dictators are getting. It is a shame that today's dictators seem to enjoy cosy relationships with democratic leaders in western governments.

There are too many examples of this unholy alliances. Let me mention the clearest ones: President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, a power hungry despot with an ambition to break the record as East Africa's longest serving president, still maintains cordial relations with Washington where he is often called "a voice for stability". His neighbor to the West, Rwanda's strong man, Paul Kagme, who is antidemocratic by all measures is marketed by Britain as a model for African democracy.

The west needs to reclaim its voice as a champion for human rights, liberty and freedom. If it does not, it risks losing both influence and relevance in Africa and around the world. After all, most countries in the world are now capitalists. Western exceptionalism still lies in the noble practice of democracy.

The Secretary General of the UN, Ban Moon, recognizes this when he says, "Let us recognize that democratic governance is a yearning shared and voiced by people the world over. Democracy is a goal in its own right, and an indispensable means for achieving development for all humankind."
It is not too late to support the aspiration of discriminated, oppressed and marginalized people around the world for a free and fair society.


Anonymous said...

I am afraid the content of the text above is tinged with either ignorance or omission: Kenya did not experience a civil war, Kagame is [faulsely] presented as a model of African democrat. Further, why did the author chose to point to Museveni and Kagame as this was constantly done by the hatred-oriented Radio Milles Collines in 1994? Truth or grudge?

Anonymous said...

For far too long Rwandan tyrant has had a blind eye turned to him in the West because of his usefulness. It's one of the reasons for cynicism about the Wests selective human rights standards.

ColoredOpinions said...

Recently I noticed several development bloggers and journalists shifting their attention from succesfull projects by people from the west to human rights and development projects initiated by africans. Christian and Social democratic parties in the Netherlands were not just "perfect" ideological unities but in reality also patchworks of a variety of local activists and organisations. Political parties in Africa should learn from best practices abroad.

Democracy was promoted in eastern europe the last two decades through the carrot and stick of the possibility of European Union membership. Spain can maybe also be seen as a succesfull EU project towards democracy. So yes, diplomacy has an important role to play in encouraging dictators to put their countries on the road towards democracy.