Democracy: Some small prints
The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter –
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.