Home OPINIONS Claw back on Western democracy demands new paradigms

Claw back on Western democracy demands new paradigms

Depending on which side one is standing on the geopolitical divide between the East and the West, democracy has become one of the most abused concepts of governance in the world today. According to the originators and coiners of this term, who are predominantly Western, democracy denotes a free-for-all society where people have the right to do as they please. It is about unbridled individualism, going by the mantra “everyone for him or herself, and God for us all”.

The current licentiousness is not what the forefathers of democratic practice envisaged. The leaders ruled by the vision pronounced by United States (U.S.) President Abraham Lincoln, during his Gettysburg Address in November 19, 1863 symbolized by a government “…of the people, by the people, for the people”. But as the Western world has evolved in the last several decades, so has the concept undergone transformation to reflect the West’s hegemonic and unilateral tendencies.

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Indeed, as we have long known it, Western democracy is under siege. Even Western opinion writers agree as much. For instance, in an opinion published in The Atlantic titled, “TOO MUCH DEMOCRACY IS BAD FOR DEMOCRACY”, writers Jonathan Rauch and Ray La Raja state that the major American parties have ceded unprecedented power to primary voters. “It’s a radical experiment—and it’s failing.”

In another opinion published in The Guardian by Dean Barnett on April 2, 2015 titled, “Democracy v Psychology: why people keep electing idiots”, the writer contends that it is clear doing or saying unintelligent things is no barrier to political success. He states that, sadly, there are several psychological mechanisms that lead to apparent idiots being elected into powerful positions.

Western democracy has gone full circle. With the current socioeconomic upheavals going on in the West, the Global North is grappling with really tough questions about current and future governance. Moreover, countries that have been forced to swallow the Western democratic narrative are totally disenchanted with it after suffering its deception for long.

The West has stark examples of leaders with questionable characters and intentions who should not have been elected to high office. Some experts say that it is not understandable how someone like former U.S. President Donald Trump, with all his past scandals, pronouncements in office, court cases et all is still a darling of the U.S. citizenry. In a recent article, the Washington Post states that “Donald Trump is the consistent, growing, going-away favorite, despite (or perhaps because of) his criminal indictments.”

November 15 marked the United Nations International Day of Democracy. The theme for this year’s occasion is, “Empowering the next generation”. It aims to empower the next generation by focusing on the crucial role of children and young people in democracy today and in the future.

True, the youth need to see democracy differently. The emerging scenario is one that sees democracy as a process encompassing the whole person, rather than as a five-year cycle event that distributes power to contestants of various electoral offices. While elections distribute positions of power and state largesse to many representatives, the electorate, who comprise the proletariat, are left holding the short end of the stick.

It took the COVID-19 pandemic that broke out in 2020 to expose the underbelly of the West’s democracy. The U.S., which is wont to chest thumping as the most democratic nation on earth, bore the brunt of the pandemic due to a cacophony of voices on how best to deal with the scourge. During this confused search for consensus on the best management responses, thousands of lives were lost.

The real threat to democracy today is bigotry more than what the UN attributes to unresolved conflicts, climate change and financial turmoil. The holier than thou attitude, particularly by the so called Western democracies, has created two dichotomies that are diametrically opposed. The Western world portrays countries that do not follow its mode of democracy with a few choice words like authoritarian, dictatorial, despotic or totalitarian.

Now, whole-process people’s democracy is one of the emerging practices that many countries are paying attention to. This inclusive democracy gives all citizens an opportunity to participate in a country’s governance in their bid to satisfy their demands. China is a successful case study and originator of this kind of democracy as espoused by President Xi Jinping in 2012 during the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

Throughout the process of people’s democracy, the people participate in the management of state, social, economic and cultural affairs. They provide opinions and suggestions for the design of national development plans at the highest level, and contribute to the management of local public affairs. Here people participate in democratic elections, deliberations, decisions, administration and supervision. They express their wishes and demands through established channels and platforms such as social organizations and the Internet.

There are no one-size-fits-all political model. Countries with different histories, cultures and national circumstances may choose different forms of democracy. Countries can build on the successful experiences of others and develop forms of democracy that suit their own modernization processes, but not simply duplicate other systems or models. Only democracy rooted in a country’s unique social environment has proven reliable and effective and can thrive and progress.

Stephen Ndegwa
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