A fortnight ago while at Yale University in the U.S. President Paul Kagame made the distinction between democratic processes and democratic outcomes. His pragmatic articulation of democracy was likely to rattle feathers in a place where democracy has been romanticised as a cure-all.
He could have chosen to play to the tune of the audience; instead, he warned against the urge to seek global conformity of processes because doing so would result in “slash and burn democratisation” that ultimately undermines efforts to achieve critical outcomes of a genuine democracy.
And so, on the one hand is a pragmatism; on the other a romanticism. Both hands agree that democracy is good for a political society. However, that’s about all. The rest is either the expression of wilful conformity or an entrenched resistance about what ought to be paramount in the practice of democracy.
At the core the disagreements are about the principles and assumptions that underlie democracy. For instance, implicit in the discourse on democracy is the assumption that there exists a standard against which all societies are measured; moreover, anything that does not resemble that standard is considered something other than a democracy.
Further, the tenets of that standard have been made universal with the expectation that every society must become imbued with them because they constitute the “bedrock” of democracy – it’sessential and sufficient prerequisites.
As such, every society is presumed to have an independent media whose agenda is grounded in the public interest; access to a free-flow of information where an educated citizenry is able to rely on freedom of speech and express to scrutinise such information as part of their civic duty in order to make an informed choice; a conscientious civil society that is the custodian of the national conscience, etc.
A society that has all that is mythical. In other words, there’s no standard against which to measure democracy. But that doesn’t stop a discourse that views the world in the a Manichean lens in which societies are reduced to us against the rest –good versus evil – and the tendency to self-ascribe a moral responsibility to rescue those in the bondage of darkness.
This frustration with those who refuse to be saved ultimately descends into innuendo. It becomes an evangelism of name-calling where the world is placed on a self-righteous continuum of democracy-dictatorship, open-closed, free and oppressive, etc., based on the degree of conformity to these tenets.
Its follows a pattern: evangelism-innuendo-threats. However, there shouldn’t be any need to resort to such. That’s because most reasonable people love democracy; it’s the dishonesty and hypocrisy that comes with it that sensible people abhor. For instance, I’d rather this evangelising project admit that its objective is to convert societies into the image of where the mission originates – the mother country.
Second, I’d rather there’s an admission that there’s no such thing as a gold standard for democracy that everyone must conform to, and that this desire to corral societies around a certain set of values has more to do with ambitions for cultural, military, and economic domination than a quest for democracy per se.
Third, that there is nothing universal about the decision of a society to place a premium on political rights above other competing rights and their privileging only reflects a set of values or ideals that are near and dear to that society.
Forth, the acknowledgement that implicit in these “universal” tenets is that only the empowered can meaningfully exercise these freedoms. This would require an admission that there’s a prerequisite to the prerequisites: that those who have had access to basic material needs are most empowered to interest themselves to pursue their non-material needs through the exercise of political rights.
This binary view of the world has given rise to unnecessary polarisation along conformity and resistance. It has also greatly influenced the brand and practice of democracy in Africa to detrimental proportions.
For instance, it is rather ironic that in countries where ‘universal’ democratic processes have been mimicked the best, there’s been dismal performance on democratic outcomes of effective service delivery in particular and in efforts geared towards improving the lives of the citizens in general.
In West Africa, Ghana and Nigeria have of recent excelled at the cosmetic kind of democracy due to a perfected gymnastics like routine and have, along with a few others, been baptised Africa’s models of Africa’s democratic progress – the substandard kind, the best of the worst.
Much closer to home, Uganda, Kenya, and Burundi were also once hailed for similar progress. Indeed, it was customary for Rwanda to get mentioned alongside Burundi where the latter was praised for its freedoms that allow for the exercise of political rights – as evidence for political development. The rest is slash and burn history.
Even scrutiny of the gold standard itself reveals epic contradictions. In the United States the democratic process remains intact; however, the democratic outcomes have been overranby special interest lobbies that have all but usurped the power of the ordinary American voter. Indeed, the influence of the moneyed interests has reduced the people’s expression of political rights to window-dressing – democracy hijacked.
Consequently, America’s democracy has morphed into a plutocracy –rule by the wealthy – where citizens are bamboozled with open debates between candidates; however, when meaningful decisions continue to take place in secluded alleys and in backdoors away from the view of the voting public.
No society wants an imposedleadership. However, the discourse on how to pursue the desired kind ought to take place in an environment of utter honesty without pretence to custody of any moral superiority over “them.”
Its persistent duplicity that has killed democracy.Follow https://twitter.com/LonzenRugira