What has democracy brought us?

The once politically incorrect question is now worth posing, for we are living the proverbial ‘interesting times’; a Chinese curse to predict, among other things, the downfall of liberal democracy.

The once politically incorrect question is now worth posing, for we are living the proverbial ‘interesting times’; a Chinese curse to predict, among other things, the downfall of liberal democracy.

How interesting? On the 11th of February 2018, Ambassadors from European countries and the United States signed a missive in the Standard, a Kenyan daily newspaper, titled ‘Kenya’s democracy is at a crossroads’, in which they delivered an unsolicited democracy lesson to both the incumbent government and the opposition.

‘For friends of Kenya, alarm bells are ringing!’ using a halfhearted disclaimer now familiar to us in Rwanda: ‘We are not dictating how Kenyans should regulate their affairs…’ However: ‘For democracy to work, leaders must govern justly on behalf of all citizens.

When citizens disagree with the decisions leaders make, they dissent peacefully. Opposition provides a check on governmental power. A free media and civil society keep the public informed and facilitate dialogue…’

One day earlier, on Monday 10th, the United States, France, Britain, and four non-permanent members of the Security Council, among whom two African countries, ‘urged DR Congo’s President Joseph Kabila to publicly declare that: ‘he will not run for election this year and announce the date of the said elections.’

Kabila will not do such thing; nor will Mr. Kenyatta respond. They know it, he knows it, and we all know it.

Before I proceed on the reasons, it is important to note that emissaries of African, South-American and Asian countries refrained from signing on the publication in the Kenyan paper. That said; now let’s look at the seven countries giving electoral ultimatums to Joseph Kabila.

The two European monarchies, namely the Netherlands and Sweden, are ruled by unelected families for centuries, with no term limits nor knowledge of the intricacies of presidential elections.

The remainder, namely: USA, UK, France, Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea’s governments, have just had highly contested elections and their governments are facing, to put it mildly, ‘legitimacy challenges’ at present…

Now, I am not indifferent to the suffering of Congolese people, but I find it dangerously simplistic to narrow Congo’s problems onto one man, its President Joseph Kabila, and treat elections as a magic wand that will solve all problems. Elections in Congo, just like in Kenya, in Burundi, in Uganda, in Central African Republic have come and gone. As a matter of fact, elections in Rwanda, have come and gone.

Rwandan political scientist and author, Jean Paul Kimonyo explains that in an ethnically divided society, confrontational politics is a recipe for catastrophe. People reap what they saw: The current state of each of our counties isn’t a consequence of the elections we just held, but of the situation preceding the said elections.

It is easy to predict the aftermath of an election, by simply observing the period preceding it.

One needs not be a big fan of Kabila’s to see that as far as this particular issue of elections is concerned, he is the only cerebral person at play. The same goes for President Kenyatta, both exercising refrain. But how can’t they?

All said and done, the burden of stability in their respective nations lies on their shoulders. Apart from zero-sum politics, no one else is presenting a tangible alternative. The opposition in both countries is divided; all contemplating ‘their time to eat’ and striking deals with bankrollers to be serviced ‘when they get in power’.

In times political turmoil in Kenya and in D.R. Congo, the so-called ‘international community’s emphasis is not on appeasement, unity, peace, stability and prosperity, but on protecting the right to vote, strike, dissent, disagree and oppose; Pestering Kabila to announce the date for organizing elections in which he won’t be partaking, instead of supporting a national dialogue.

Diplomacy used to be a noble profession; an art of shaping the world, through which nations were brought together, wars averted, transnational bridges and transcontinental pipelines constructed. Today, diplomacy is increasingly becoming a primitive pissing contest, held hostage by radical, unelected factions, those whom Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani used to call ‘human rights fundamentalists’.

Allow me to introduce a new major phenomenon in African politics before I conclude: Coup-but-not-coup! We have all witnessed with hope, as power was transferred peacefully, first in Ethiopia to Hailemariam Desalegn, current Prime Minister of Ethiopia, upon the passing of his predecessor, late Meles Zenawi; then in Angola from Eduardo Dos Santos to João Lourenço; in Zimbabwe from Senior Comrade Robert Mugabe to Emerson Mnangagwa and now, in all likelihood from Comrades Jacob Zuma to Ciril Ramaphoza.

What does that teach us? It teaches us that established revolutionary movements; the ANC, the EPRDF, the MPLA and the ZANU-PF are, after all, stabilizing forces which are able to reform peacefully, and two: that more united and stable a country’s politics is, the least permeable it is to western influence; and three: the more western influence there is to an African transition the more violent it is likely to be.

A similar letter was once sent to President Kagame, by Francois Hollande, then French president, as Rwanda celebrated, of all events; it’s liberation; he never bothered reading it; ‘I have no time for that’, he told journalists…

In the abovementioned Chinese curse ‘May you live interesting times’, the Chinese caution that ‘uninteresting times’ are better because they imply normalcy: peace and tranquility and are more life-enhancing than ‘interesting ones’, which ‘from historical perspective include disorder and conflict’;

In the zeitgeist theory of leadership by Hegel, also in the quote at top: Zeist means ‘spirit of the time’, ‘the spirit of the nation’. Observing ideas and beliefs that motivate the actions of members of society and their leaders, Hegel insists that none of the two must occur by accident. He recognizes that the attaining a nation’s Soul means negating opposition; Zeist may just be the philosophical antithesis of liberal democracy.

The writer is a Senior Research Fellow, Governance, at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR).

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