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A Frenchie travelling the world...

07 February 2008

Kenya and democracy

Dear readers,

I would like to apply what I discussed last time about Europe and democracy to what is happening in Africa in general and in Kenya or Chad in particular. There is a general feeling in Europe that African countries should be democratic and that Europe should help this to happen. The reasoning behind this is simple: Africa was nearly totally colonized by European countries in the past (and until the 70's) so they now have some responsibility in helping African countries to get better. I am not going to delve into the debate about whether state aid should be given only in exchange of democratic progress. This is not the point. I would just like to discuss the idea: getting better = democracy. It is indeed a point which is strongly challenged by modern powers such as China, Russia, Iran or Saudi Arabia. They point out that exporting democracy is an ethnocentric European (or American) bias and that each culture should have its own regime.

A simple and way too basic answer to these countries criticism would be to point that it is probably no accident that all these countries don't show much about democracy themselves and are simply using this as a way of deflecting criticisms from their own shortcomings. It is a fair enough point, and sufficient to discredit the "messengers", but certainly does not address the message. By pointing out China or Iran gross violations of Human Rights, we are not answering the question. Which is in fact the eternal question about universals, civilization and culture. Nothing less.

But then, what did we learn from our latest reading? We learned that the ultimate universal (incidentally, the one which we believe is fundamental to modern democracy) is that everything should be put into discussion in a regulated but free manner. Regulation should be in the modalities of the discussion, not the topics or the expression itself. Freedom should be as defined by the old rule: "my freedom stops where begins the one of others". Civilization, as defined in Morin's book is in fact the way various cultures can dialog within this framework.

On this basis, we can revisit the criticism above. Is exporting democracy in Africa (for instance) a European ethnocentric biased idea, a politicized form of neo-colonialism, born in our sense of historical guilt? Well, I suspect that it all depends on two other questions: what do we mean by the word "democracy" and how do we actually implement the export?

Democracy is not the regime where the majority of the people rules over a minority through a voting system. This is called a Republic and, it has been proved many times in History, does not allow the respect of multiple cultures by itself. If we keep within Morin's thought framework, a Republic can function relatively well within a single autarcic culture but can not bring civilization (in the meaning we defined previously). Worse, it will not function properly in a globalized world, neither with multicultural groups. And I believe that any reader that has followed until now can see where I am going in regards to Africa: none of the current African states is a mono-cultural entity.

But again, this is not the main issue. Democracy might have very different meanings, modern political science scholars (as well as Morin himself) usually agree on one definition: it is a representative regime where the sovereignty comes from the people and where the government is responsible to the people; it is a regime where decisions are taken according to the rule of the majority but where at the same time the rights and basic freedom of the minority are respected; it is a regime which respects the integrity of each individual while the better good of the whole society is researched; last but not least, it is a regime where no citizen or category of citizens is entitled to more permanent rights or duties than any other. I know that many will dispute this definition, but it is the one this post is about, so it does not matter in principle.

The forms such a regime can take locally or according to a specific culture, the specific laws implemented to reach this state may vary immensely from one place to another and from one time to another. But these principles are the ones which correspond to the idea Morin has of Europe: a constant dialogic between principles which may seem contradictory but are in fact in permanent feedback cycles. Such a regime respects any specific cultural background while at the same time allowing the respect of any other one. Not because it ignores such backgrounds, but because it can integrate them in the daily functioning of the state.

Now we can see why places such as Kenya or Chad are suffering from such massive troubles, despite the fact that they were considered are countries with "democratic credentials". Europe exported there (from the UK and France respectively), a political model of institutions. This model was accepted (not imposed), by a local elite. But they are totally unadapted to areas where different ethnic, religious and language groups are prevalent. We exported the institutions but not the principles. We exported the democratic nation state institutions to these countries which are not based on such entities. We did not export the democratic principles there, because nobody was interested in understanding the local culture(s).

Now, if we really want to help Africa, we can send troupes, restore order or deliver aid. We may temporarily succeed. But what African countries really need is a complete institutional re-engineering. Only this will allow African people to integrate their identities as tribal groups, sub-cultures, etc. into a workable system that respects individuals but still support the society as a whole.

1 comment:

skip said...

Everything went wrong the day someone decided to create nation-state (états-nations, for those french speakers here - I don't knwo if it's correctly translated in English) in Africa.

African people need democracy as much as the next guy, but not necessarly the same democracy we are used to in Europa/USA.

Of course, this democracy needs to be invented - but it needs to be invented from scratch. That's the main problem - and unfortunately, I don't have a single clue as to how doing it :)

The same can be said anywhere : democracy as you've just defined here is a good start, but that's still just an ideal.
unfortunately, I don't see many case on multicultural democracy running well.

Exemples of such democracy are found in South America and India - none of them are doing things pretty well in term of multiculturalism.