Democ­racy: Some small prints

The best ar­gu­ment against democ­racy is a five-minute con­ver­sa­tion with the av­er­age voter –

Daily Trust - - SPORT - with Dr. Ha­keem Baba-Ahmed ha­keem@dai­ Win­ston Churchill

As it has the power to do, the dom­i­nant west­ern me­dia has grabbed and fo­cussed re­cent global at­ten­tion on the soft un­der­bel­lies of ad­vanced and ad­vanc­ing democ­ra­cies. Twice now within the last few weeks, Bri­tain cap­tured world at­ten­tion in the man­ner its cit­i­zens and demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions dra­mat­i­cally al­tered ma­jor set­tings in a world with very lit­tle room for na­tions seek­ing longer leg rooms for au­ton­omy. First, its cit­i­zens voted to leave the Euro­pean Union, tak­ing a ma­jor de­ci­sion that will im­pact on their na­tion's econ­omy and so­ci­ety in forms and shapes that are still largely hazy. Im­me­di­ate fall­outs of that de­ci­sion in­cluded the emer­gence of a new Prime Min­is­ter, sig­nif­i­cantly only the sec­ond fe­male in that po­si­tion, but one that is not likely to not veer away from the con­ser­va­tive path of her fa­mous trail blazer; as well as the ap­point­ment of a For­eign Sec­re­tary with all the wrong cre­den­tials for the po­si­tion. For the next one year or more, Bri­tain, EU and the world will at­tempt to nav­i­gate around un­fa­mil­iar con­se­quences of a democ­racy that placed the wheels in the hands of sim­ple folk for whom only the colours black and white are real.

Then, two weeks ago, the lon­gawaited Sir John Chilcot re­port of the en­quiry into Bri­tain's in­fa­mous role in the regime change mis­ad­ven­ture in Iraq was pub­lished. Con­sis­tent with sus­pi­cion that it will re­veal one of the worst kept se­crets, the re­port also lived up to its ex­pected sta­tus as an au­thor­i­ta­tive study in the abuse and ma­nip­u­la­tion of power by Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair. It painstak­ingly chron­i­cled a cyn­i­cal and cal­cu­lated de­scent into fraud­u­lent sub­servience by the Bri­tish lead­er­ship in sup­port of a US gov­ern­ment that had ar­ro­gated to it­self the power to de­fine en­e­mies and change regimes. It re­vealed how two of the most ma­ture democ­ra­cies in the world were hi­jacked by their lead­ers and, fu­eled by egos and ma­nip­u­lated fears of cit­i­zens, driven to achieve short-term goals, leav­ing the world at the mercy of long-term ef­fects. To­day, cit­i­zens of th­ese two coun­tries and the en­tire world rue the con­se­quences of de­ci­sions of lead­ers who thought power charts its own course and de­ter­mines out­comes. ISIS, the col­lapse of the Iraqi and Libyan states, the war in Syria and tur­bu­lence in much of the Mid­dle East and the Mus­lim World are prod­ucts of lead­ers of demo­cratic na­tions be­hav­ing in man­ners that trans­form prob­lems into global dis­as­ters. Tony Blair and Ge­orge Bush will avoid pros­e­cu­tion for crimes against hu­man­ity for which other lead­ers, par­tic­u­larly from as­pir­ing democ­ra­cies will be dragged be­fore the in­ter­na­tional jus­tice sys­tem. Lead­ers from ad­vanced democ­ra­cies and others who lead mil­i­tar­ily-pow­er­ful na­tions can dis­re­gard the rule of in­ter­na­tional moral­ity, ba­sic le­gal stan­dards, con­ven­tions and in­sti­tu­tions meant to make the world a safer place for hu­man­ity. Demo­cratic sys­tems and mil­i­tary might do not nec­es­sar­ily guar­an­tee that lead­ers will have higher lev­els of wis­dom, dis­ci­pline and com­mit­ment to se­cu­rity of cit­i­zens and the global com­mu­nity than lead­ers from weaker and as­pir­ing democ­ra­cies.

In many parts of Europe, panic lev­els and bar­ri­cades are go­ing up as cit­i­zens and res­i­dents who have been in­doc­tri­nated and trained by ISIS, or have sym­pa­thies for its ide­ol­ogy at­tack other cit­i­zens, mak­ing state­ments that con­firm that many coun­tries now have home­grown ter­ror­ists. A com­bi­na­tion of his­tor­i­cal lega­cies and con­tem­po­rary ten­den­cies have com­bined to cre­ate a pool of mas­sively-alien­ated Euro­peans who will chal­lenge Euro­pean democ­ra­cies to find some ground around pro­tect­ing all cit­i­zens and pre­serv­ing ba­sic free­doms and lib­er­ties with­out which democ­ra­cies are no bet­ter than benev­o­lent fas­cism. Pop­u­la­tions are de­mand­ing for firm ac­tion to stop fur­ther mi­gra­tions, and look­ing sus­pi­ciously at stereo-typed en­e­mies within. Far-right ide­olo­gies and par­ties are en­croach­ing onto main­stream po­lit­i­cal space. Bri­tain's de­ci­sion to leave the EU is be­ing sold as a con­trol mea­sure to be ex­er­cised by states that want to limit racial, cul­tural and re­li­gious mixes in coun­tries that are al­ready deeply mixed. Cit­i­zens be­lieve that some­how, or by any means nec­es­sary, their lead­ers must find a way to in­su­late and pro­tect them from fires lit by democ­ra­cies whose lead­ers thought force could solve the world's prob­lems by re­mov­ing other lead­ers and top­pling regimes.

The US feels the heat of this fire, and now has to deal with an en­tirely home­grown prod­uct of its his­tory in ad­di­tion. Con­sti­tu­tion­al­lyguar­an­teed rights to bear arms is com­bin­ing dan­ger­ously with resid­ual re­sent­ments around in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized and deep-rooted racism to cre­ate an armed na­tion with many griev­ances. Amer­i­can democ­racy has al­ways been bullet-tipped, and it is un­likely ever to be with­out this char­ac­ter­is­tic. As its lead­ers quar­rel over a firearm­bear­ing cit­i­zenry among the defin­ing el­e­ments of Amer­i­can democ­racy, black com­mu­ni­ties are ris­ing in anger at po­lice killings, and some black peo­ple ap­pear to have de­cided to fight back by killing po­lice. Racial ten­sions will rise and feed a demo­cratic process that is about to sub­mit the pres­i­dency to ei­ther of two can­di­dates. One is likely to pre­serve the in­creas­ingly sus­pect nar­ra­tive of a com­mon and united US cit­i­zenry. The other is likely to feed hate and more vi­o­lence. Those who thought a Trump pres­i­dency was un­think­able a few weeks ago are now a lot less sure.

Na­tions look­ing up to ma­ture democ­ra­cies for guid­ance and as mod­els will be stressed and chal­lenged by their mixed records and con­tem­po­rary chal­lenges. De­vel­op­ing your own demo­cratic sys­tem on the ba­sis of pe­cu­liar­i­ties and needs will sound good in class­rooms. In a world where a hand­ful of dom­i­nant na­tions set the rules, is­sue la­bels and de­cide who stays and who goes, it is a lot more com­pli­cated. The peo­ple of South Su­dan, hun­dreds of whom have fallen to bul­lets and bombs in the last few weeks will be hard-pressed to link their fate to­day with the ef­forts to cre­ate for them a demo­cratic sys­tem by na­tions that barely un­der­stood the na­ture of their pro­longed con­flicts and so­ci­ety. Cit­i­zens of Turkey whose na­tion was, only a few days ago, in what ap­peared to be in the im­mi­nent grasp of mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship will take a while to un­ravel the mean­ing and im­port of what just tran­spired.

The world over, ev­i­dence lit­ters streets, pris­ons and li­braries, of cor­rupt and despotic elected lead­ers, and lead­ers in democ­ra­cies who dragged their na­tions to ru­ins. Mil­lions of cit­i­zens bled or died in pur­suit of the free­doms and de­vel­op­ment which demo­cratic sys­tems prom­ise. Many of the same peo­ple also bleed un­der the very demo­cratic sys­tems they strug­gled to es­tab­lish. Th­ese are dif­fi­cult days for a global com­mu­nity that will have to come to terms with the re­al­ity that democ­racy as a form of gov­ern­ment into which ev­ery­one is be­ing shep­herded is a lot more com­pli­cated and chal­leng­ing sys­tem to run than the text­books sug­gest. The peren­nial con­test be­tween a global com­mu­nity of na­tions on the one hand, and na­tions which of­fend the com­mu­nity of mankind on the other will con­tinue to de­tract from the ben­e­fits of demo­cratic sys­tems. The small prints on demo­cratic sys­tems will warn that they have many vari­a­tions and re­quire time, pa­tience and com­mit­ment to de­velop into im­per­fect ar­range­ments that are sus­cep­ti­ble to set­backs and emer­gence of se­verely-lim­it­ing con­tra­dic­tions. Man­agers of our na­tion's re­la­tions with Africa in par­tic­u­lar will ben­e­fit from a sober re­flec­tion on our com­pla­cency and poor read­ing of the dy­nam­ics of power. Nige­ria's rather em­bar­rass­ing out­ing at the re­cent African Union (AU) Sum­mit should teach us that not all power flows from size, and strength has to be cul­ti­vated with vig­i­lance, in­tel­li­gence and re­sources.

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