Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Dysfunctional democracy

Kenya, once a model for Africa, is burning. A seemingly stable democratic nation all of a sudden is now at the brink of a potential civil war. Anger rages across the nation setting tribes into fighting, neighbours attacking neighbours. Around quarter of a million people are made homeless and nearly a thousand made to loose their lives. The whole nation is in fear of being embroiled into the kind of conflicts which is keeping most of the continent of Africa from ushering a progressive error. The question one would naturally ask is ‘what made a reasonably coherent country dive into so much turmoil?’
At the outset of my article here, let us remind ourselves that this nightmare scenario resulting into the worst civil strife in recent history of Kenya started from the highly disputed result of the Presidential election. This round of violence is the latest embodiment of immaturity on the part of the political establishment to whom personal interest gains priority over nations peace, stability and progress. But why is our leaders seemingly so selfish and irresponsible in their acts and deeds?
In 2000, a highly contested presidential election took place in the USA with Al Gore from the Democratic Party loosing narrowly to George Bush of the Republicans. In fact, the popular vote gained by Al Gore was more than President Bush and the key state that decided the election had a lot of controversy over the process of vote counting. There were strong reasons for Al Gore to make a stand. But in the end Al Gore decided to accept the result in favour of Bush saving the Nation from a potential Constitutional crisis. Why could this not set a precedent for others especially in the third world?
The answer to the questions I posed in earlier paragraphs, in my view, are simple: in the US, like most other European nations, democracy has developed to the extent that it is not the person, nor even the process itself, but the national interest that gets priority over all other considerations. America’s is one of a many such incidents often seen in the developed nations of our world. Democracy there has taken root and is supported, guided and protected by a mature population and numerous civil, political and intellectual institutions.
Countries like Kenya are of a growing list where democracy is increasingly proving to have failed. In these nations, primarily in Africa and Asia, democracy has given the tribal chiefs, political dynasties and financial elites powerful means to influence the condition of the country in their favour with much of the population deprived of any meaningful share in the affairs of their country. This is increasing civil strife, poverty and social imbalance in areas such as economy, education and health care. The issue of poverty and inequality in societies across nations in the developing world creating conditions in which extremism and violence find roots. The dominant political forces are using the ‘cause of democracy’ to suppress political opposition. Using the issue of terrorism and ‘safeguarding’ democracy, these forces selfishly marginalising their own people while also keeping the global community in darkness of their evil motives.
So what should happen? Should the idea of democracy cease to exist as the superior mechanism of governing nations rightfully? Most certainly not. For so long as the core concept of democracy means equality, justice, fairness and freedom, democracy should and must be seen as the right method of choosing government, ensuring rights and discharging political responsibilities. However, the words and a few elections alone should not symbolise the democratisation of nations. Democracy with simply elections neither creates equity nor social stability. It requires certain mindset on the part of the politicians and the people. This mindset is not God ordained natural characteristics of people and nations but an outcome of a long term activism by serious institutions led by patriots in each nation.
The reasons why people in the developing nations, like in Kenya, respond to the calls by selfish, misguided and ill motivated politicians is because they see no mean to hold their governments accountable, nor any medium to channel their grievance to the keepers of powers. The masses, almost feeling helpless, resorts to violence as they see it to be the only mean to bring the government down to account for miss-governance. The leading nations claiming to be the guardians of democracy, peace and stability of our world needs to support the developing nations in building institutions which empowers ordinary masses. Such institutions should make people feel capable of holding their governments accountable. Developing an infrastructure which will embed such institutions will offer a platform for aggrieved people to debate and express their dissatisfactions. However, efforts to build such infrastructure with these civil institutions must be allowed to operate freely without dictation by specific governments/quarters to only nurture a specific kind of ideology. The people must truly be allowed to decide for themselves what course they wish to take.