Why are democracies contagious?

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‘……man is created free but everywhere he goes he lives in chains….’ Rousseau’s remark about the pitfalls of modernization also serves as an adequate basis for extolling democracy as the best system of governance known to man. The inexorable spread of democratic practice can be attributed to many things such as the economic dominance of democratic states around the world. After all the US and its political allies in Europe, Asia, Latin America and even Africa have managed to take up the reins of economic power on the planet.

Every continent is economically dominated by democracies. Western European states such as Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and many more are relatively better off than their eastern counterparts who are still recovering from the doldrums of communist rule and domination. The Bulgarias, Latvias, Moldovas are struggling to catch up and lest we forget only really started prospering after incorporating democratic practice into the political fabric of their changing societies.

Africa may be known for hardship and general social unrest but the emergence of democracies on the continent has proven to be a continental sedative. Nations such as Ghana, Cape Verde, Mali, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and the Mauritius who are beneficiaries of democratic political practice are economically better off than the non-democratic ones who continue to struggle with hybrid political systems that are mostly defined by political autocracy and military dictatorships. These methods of governance carry in their wake a massive abuse of human rights resulting in general economic despair and massive social unrest.

Everywhere in the world democracies generally flourish but does it explain the mass appeal of democratic governance around the globe? It could be argued that, China the world’s second largest economy is also not a democracy so surely alternative systems of governance can bring about national prosperity. The paroxysmal rise of democracies around the world however cannot be overlooked especially with recent events in North Africa. All across the Arab world monarchs and political leaders are beginning to worry as they marvel at extraordinary events in sister countries such as Tunisia where the erstwhile political autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was successfully overthrown by popular uprising.

The on-going effort by the people of Egypt to forcefully remove Hosni Mubarak is a continuation of what happened in Tunisia and the ripples may go even further in the Arab world. Former US President George W. Bush’s prediction that democratic forces will sweep across the Arab world with the right push is finally coming to fruition. Some have attributed this new political osmosis across the Arab world to the internet and online innovations such as twitter and facebook but the cause may go a lot further than that.

The call for political reform in Tunisia and now Egypt merely illustrates the philosophical adage that preceded this article. The intrinsic human will to be free is now being overtly expressed in nations that were hitherto immune to the spread of democratic governance. Democratic appeal lies not in its ability to generate income to its practitioners but rather in its ability to tap into the fundamental nature of man. The human desire to be free as expressed by Rousseau is instinctive so any political practice that fails to take this into consideration is bound to fail. The recent occurrences in the Northern part of Africa are a testament to this belief.

The Jasmine Revolution which started in Tunisia is expected or may inspire
similar revolutions in Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Yemen and even Saudi Arabia. The French writer Albert Camus in one of his philosophical undertakings attributed the metaphysical revolt against God to the intrinsic human desire for freedom. In ‘L’homme Revolté’ (The Rebel), the famed author identifies two types of Revolutions. The one orchestrated by man against his maker and the type organised to oust earthly rulers such as monarchs and political despots. Both the metaphysical and physical revolutions are in consonance with the human call for freedom.

It must however be noted that, the metaphysical revolt against God resulted in the physical overthrow of monarchs in Europe for instance because political rule as a divine right seized to make sense leading to the outbreak of revolutions in countries such as France where monarchs ruled as a divine right. Liberté, égalité, fraternité, these words must resonate in every political system around the world for they are part and parcel of the human character which is why the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations identified democratic governance as a fundamental human right. States which therefore fail to subscribe to the basic tenets of democratic political systems are bound to experience some form of social unrest.

The call for freedom may not be immediate in non-democratic states but it can foment with time and explode with younger generations who feel disconnected from tradition and societal norms. This is so simply because in order to govern the modern man the nature of the ancient man needs to be respected and so far democracies have proven to be the only system of governance that empowers the citizenry to have a say in how they are going to be governed restoring in the process the natural human longing for freedom.

The Other Afrik  The Other Afrik is an alternative and multi-faceted information source from Afrik-News' panel of experts. Contributions include : opinions, reviews, essays, satires, research, culture and entertainment news, interviews, news, information, info, opinion, africa, african-american, europe, united states, international, caribbean, america, middle east, black, France, U.K.
William Manful
Mr William Manful is a member of the Ghanaian Foreign Service. He has served in the United Kingdom as the Head of Protocol for the Ghana High Commission in London. Prior to his appointment as a Foreign Service Officer, Mr Manful worked with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) as a human rights advocate. He also has a degree in French and Spanish from the University of Ghana and was later awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to do an MPhil in International Relations at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. Mr Manful also writes on philosophy, cinema, sport and religion.
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