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Friday, December 8, 2023

A Citizen Diary – Protecting democracy under assault

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By Lamino Lang Comma

Political development and governance underwent an ideological evolution culminating into two major forms of governance system – Western democracy and communism of the East (by a generalized nomenclature).

Subsequently, there has been an increasing global acceptance of Western democracy as the best alternative, though not perfect, system of governance over the past forty years.  Prior to this period nearly fifty percent of the countries in Africa were under some form of undemocratic dispensation – autocratic or military.

The West has been committed to the development and protection of democratic values that are similar to those prevalent in their countries.  They played a key role in encouraging the building of the foundations of democracy globally, particularly in Africa. Support has mainly been in the form of aids, grants and soft loans for economic and institutional development.

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As the economies of the West grew rapidly, so was their influence over the world.  The relatively slow economic development of communist countries has been a major catalyst for the rapid spread of western democracy globally. 

Democracy goes beyond the right to vote.  In fact, in Africa, such a right can be seriously diluted with voter registers being filled with non-citizens and thus eroding the value of this right.  It includes the very important aspect of holding governments accountable and requiring their transactions to be transparent and requires the rejection of impunity.  Ideally, democracy offers some guarantees for the periodic choice of leaders, the creation of strong institutions and the hope for the judicious use of national resources. 

However, the system is not as watertight as may be desired.  As a result, it is prone to abuse and thus can be subjected to backsliding through the deliberate incremental efforts of leaders with a high propensity for a dictatorial disposition, who attempt to reintroduce autocratic rule and a police state.  The common forms of such abuse have similar objectives – to amass more power in order to ensure perpetuation of rule and to maintain a status quo of corruption, state capture and injustice. 

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Dictators are not born; they are nurtured through the inducement of sycophants and an acquiescent political society. The methods of creating autocracy are also similar – systematic intolerance of opposition and criticism.  It is always the same old story. The old wine of autocracy is simply placed in a different bottle of leadership. Once dictators are entrenched, they become difficult to dislodge.

The inertia and inactivity of society – civil society, professional bodies and opposition parties – create a fertile ground for the growth of a dictator. Their silence on abuses and injustice is consent and a sign of encouragement for such leaders to triumph on the road to autocracy. 

The West generally abhors and desists any backsliding from the past efforts on and investment in building a democratic dispensation in developing countries.  In cases where democracy is being nurtured and overtly supported by the West, it is more difficult for unscrupulous leaders to retract from such a system of governance and take the path to being a dictator, especially when the national economy is grossly tax based and is virtually dependent on the benevolence of western governments and development partners for survival and for the implementation of their annual recurrent and development budgets.

One does not bite the hand that feeds it. Leaders who abuse democratic values under the benevolence of support from the West are simply foolhardy and ill-advised.  Support can simply be withheld which can lead to economic chaos and hardships that can create and arouse an intolerant population.

Apart from the covert but avid support from the West and development partners, the citizens of such countries have an opportunity to formulate deterrent activities to stop such leaders and their weaponized institutions in their tracks. 

Human rights issues and corruption are crimes that can be prosecuted internationally. All forms of abuse can be recorded in as much detail as possible. The growth of social media provides the vehicle for protecting democracy.  It can be used as a protective measure by citizens against dictatorships – against the backsliding of democracy.

It is possible to keep a chronicle of events, speeches and activities of abuses. Diary keeping by citizens in a failing democratic state would be for the protection of the guardrails of democracy.

Generally, in a failing democracy, the public attention has been directed towards institutions and their overall heads at the top, rather than individuals down the ladder who practically carry out the illegal orders of an oppressive system. 

Professionalism should permeate all levels of a security apparatus of enforcement.  Responsibility should not be viewed only from a top-down perspective. Officers at the middle and junior levels who blindly and viciously follow and execute illegal orders should be challenged in the law courts and their names recorded for international publicity and records.

It is mostly at the lower and middle ranks of the ladder of authority that brutality and sadistic behavior is seriously manifested – insults, abuses, beatings, aggression and harassment of various sorts. This level of the system against democracy and human rights is the hardware and direct painful manifestations of autocracy. The top echelon of authority could be treated separately – mainly institutionally and/or individually.

Diary records, under such circumstances, should include, wherever and as much as possible, notes on the junior and middle level security officers who directly enforce undemocratic orders, are in charge of such detention facilities and are on duty at the time for accepting or illegally detaining a person. The records could include video recordings of events, in situ audios and commentaries and written notes.

Such record keeping by citizens in such countries will be, as they say in law, a way of laying the foundation for presenting cases of violations of human rights and democratic values for prosecution.      

Where democracy is relapsing in a country, protecting its guardrails requires a concerted effort from the citizenry (local and abroad), opposition parties, civil society, professional associations and the development partners.  Abuses must be challenged, beyond rhetoric and the collation of data.  It should be extended into the law courts – nationally and internationally.

Under such circumstances, a Citizen Diary can be a deterrent and strengthens the foundation of justice and the sustenance of freedom from autocracy.

Just Thinking Aloud

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