December 3, 2008

IT ALWAYS UNLEASHES EPIC VIOLENCE:

Democratic doubt: What happens when political freedom unleashes epic violence? (Joshua Kurlantzick, November 30, 2008, Boston Globe)

Africa's wholesale move to democracy has been remarkable. In the beginning of the 1990s, nearly the entire swath of land south of Sudan was run by autocrats. Today, according to global monitoring organization Freedom House, every nation south of Sudan ranks as either "partly free" or "free," save the two Congos, Rwanda, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Angola, and Somalia. Indeed, nearly the entire continent now lives under a form of democracy.

It was a change that was welcomed in the West; for years, Western democracy-promotion outfits, like America's National Endowment for Democracy, had invested in building freer societies across the continent. Western leaders argued that, with democracy, Africa would be able to settle old conflicts at the ballot box, and create the stronger growth rates that come with freer societies.

And in some respects, these new democracies are better than the old. Forced to at least occasionally face the voters, African leaders no longer are able to engage in the kind of extreme kleptocracy practiced by the likes of Mobutu, who made Congo (then Zaire) his personal purse, allegedly squirreling away billions in Swiss bank accounts. In some countries, like Zambia, democracy also has led to a flowering of NGOs, trade unions, press outlets, and other types of civil society.

But with a few exceptions, like Botswana and South Africa, most of these countries have failed to create truly inclusive or stable democracies. Instead, they have created systems in which leaders, representing one ethnic group or religious group, win elections and then use their time in office to enrich only their tribe or religious cohort. These divisions, exacerbated by elections, make some newer democracies more conflict-prone than old-fashioned autocracies. In Kenya, long considered one of the continent's most stable nations, elections in late 2007 became a stark referendum on ethnic ties. At least 600 people were killed and tens of thousands uprooted from their homes.


As just part of our development into democracies we had a Civil War in 1640, Revolution in 1688, Revolution (Civil War) in 1776, and Civil War in 1860, with a staggering loss of life and ideological cleansing of the population (we virtually never wish to recall that as many as 100,000 Loyalists fled America).

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 3, 2008 6:30 PM
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