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Democracy on Trial | Blog

Current Affairs

 Part 1

This isn’t a continuation of Raila Odinga’s infamous speech after the announcement that President Uhuru Kenyatta won the March 4th election, but a reflection of a model of governance that is widely considered the best form of governance, Democracy. However, recent examples in Kenya, Ukraine, Thailand and Egypt raise credible questions as to the way forward for democracy.

After the collapse of the Berlin wall in the early 90s which signalled the end of the cold war. American historian Francis Fukuyama in his book, “The End of History and The Last Man”, famously quipped that Western liberal democracy has finally triumphed over all forms of governments. The democratic wave that swept across Eastern Europe was a testament of Fukuyama’s theory. Fukuyama was right that many in the world share democratic aspirations, whether a generic form of democracy or a democracy that is susceptible to the cultures of different people in the world, is a different subject all together.

Democracy was certainly enhanced after the collapse of the Berlin wall. Most countries in Eastern Europe are a lot more democratic and open, but the same problems of corruption and impunity still plague much of the region. The Arab spring was an opportune moment for democracy where the Arab world rejected tyranny and oppression and aspired for change. Three years on, the Arab spring has spectacularly failed the dreams of many of the population, except Tunisia.

Libya's revolution turned bloody and NATO led airstrikes successfully ousted Muamar Gadaffi but the country is still in a precarious state today. The country that has suffered the most is Syria, an initially peaceful revolution was brutally crushed with the opposition taking up arms. The International Community has been bitterly divided, with the West siding with the opposition while Russia is firmly backing Bashar Al Assad's regime. This impasse has further exasperated the conflict with the death toll standing at just over 140,000 according to rights groups.

The country that has been at the prism of the democratic paradigm is Egypt. The overthrow of Hosni Mubarak fostered the dream of great change in the Middle East given the unique position Egypt has in the Arab world. What happens in Egypt affects the entire Middle East. Free and fair elections pitted Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, against Ahmed Shafik, largely seen as the pro-establishment candidate and popular with the military and secularists. Morsi emerged victorious and this was widely seen as milestone for the region. A year on, the military overthrew the democratically elected President. The West did not condemn this act in totality but rather supported the military backed regime by giving it credibility. The West has generally been uncomfortable with the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule. The coup, which the West has been reluctant to define as one, has unpleasant historic parallels.

In 1973, the Chilean military led by General Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected leftist leader, Salvador Allende. The West backed Pinochet and his rule was marked with brutality and dictatorship. Likewise, in 1991, the Islamic Salvation Front (ISF) of Algeria won the parliamentary election but the military backed by France cancelled the election and banned the ISF. This led to a brutal civil war that left hundreds of thousands of people dead.

All this begs another question for the “democratic” west; is democracy only favourable when the outcome favours their interests?

photo credit: BBC


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