“What really is democracy and how does it relate to development politics?” While there is no single answer or consensus in definition and measure of democracy, it remains an important discussion in development politics. As evidenced by Dahl (1989), democracy has to do with elections and this may be further qualified as elected officials, free and fair elections, inclusive suffrage, right to run for office, freedom of expression, alternative information and associational autonomy. These definitions form a basis for the qualification of democracies into procedural where it is all about elections and also looking at the nature of democracy where it is focused on performance hence the expectations of citizens on the outcomes of democracy. The latter focus on outcomes of democracy helps to better understand political participation, protection of rights and personal freedoms through access to quality judicial services (Menocal, 2007).
Democracy is a concept that has been in discussion for years on end. Huntington (1991) has represented democratisation in the world using three waves implying seasons or timings when a group of countries became democratic around the same time. While Huntington (1991) highlights three waves (first wave in 1828-1926, second wave in 1943-1962, third wave in 1974 to mid 1990’s) he also appreciates that there were reversals, the first from 1922-1942 and the second from 1958-1975). Important to note is that these waves have been defined using the procedural attribute of elections.
Specifically, looking at the democracy wave in Africa brings forth an interesting twist to democracy. This democracy has been associated with increased 1990s multi-party elections, fair elections, as well as the handing over of power from one regime to another peacefully. The Economist in an article entitled Democracy in sub-Saharan Africa: It’s progress, even if it’s patchy; available on http://www.economist.com/node/21531010, outlines these examples from South Africa and Zambia. However, the article also outlines some challenges with African democracy especially pertaining to the huge expenditure in elections which is rocking the continent yet such expenditure does not necessarily indicate free and fair elections. In addition, some African Presidents (Rwanda and Malawi) have not been able to handle critics of their legacies and this has resulted to harassment, torture and killings of their critics or even expulsion of critics. Other challenges noted with democracy in Africa include the striking the balance between presidentialism and paliamentarism. Simply put, presidentialism has leadership focusing on personal rule, personalised networks and lack of formal legislation or endorsement through parliamentary systems while paliamentarism helps leadership focus greater accountability systems especially to minorities. A quick overview of these concepts is summarised by Chris Blattman’s (2009) in his article, “The rise of presidentialism” available on http://chrisblattman.com/2009/01/08/the-rise-of-presidentialism/. Clientelism also possesses a challenge in African democracy given that it encourages the ‘dangling of carrots to citizens’ and linking political support to goods and services for citizens which are more often than not basic rights for the citizens. Clientelism has continued to negatively affect the culture of transparency and accountability by promoting corruption and looting of natural resources (Erdmann and Engel, 2006 and Lockwood, 2006). Some of the roots to clientelism in Africa are associated with colonialism and indirect rule which made a clear distinction between leaders and subjects with systems marred by authoritarian coercion and patronage (Lockwood, 2006).
While the challenges mentioned in the paragraph above appear more evident in Africa, it is worth noting that they are also applicable to other contexts such as Latin America and Asia. According to Stokes et.al (2012) in “Brokers, Voters and Clientelism” available on http://sitemaker.umich.edu/comparative.speaker.series/files/stokes_dunning_nazareno_and_brusco_um.pdf, clientelism may be seen as political distribution of goods which can be done through a combination of formal and informal systems. Cited in this document is the distribution of emergency food aid which was significantly tampered with by Argentine local authorities so as to ensure linkages of the food aid to political votes as well as the housing improvement program in Singapore which was linked to voting and would only benefit those who voted in favour of the regime and punish those who did not.
Measuring democracy poses a challenge in terms of standardization. This is because several measures exist each with its own criteria and scoring system as evidenced by the Freedom House and The Economist Intelligence Unit measure (Democracy Index, 2011). While this essentially discuss the maximalist and minimalist approaches in measuring democracy, for me the simple question is whether perceived democracy in this measures really relates to the increases access to personal freedoms and protection of basic human rights among citizens.
In conclusion, it’s no doubt that People and Politics are central to the democracy debate. True democracy for me means that citizens are able to access personal freedoms and protection of basic human rights as well as quality judicial systems which are not provided on the basis of alliances to political leadership and ethnicity. While I appreciate that Africa is still has a long way to go, I am now feel better placed as a change agent. To start with, for negative clientelism to stop, this has to be discussed more explicitly as part of civic education and leaders and citizens engaging in this behaviour brought to book.
-Blattman, C. (2009). Blog available on http://chrisblattman.com/2009/01/08/the-rise-of-presidentialism/ 8th January 2009. Accessed on 7th June 2013.
-Dahl, R. (1989). Democracy and its critics. New Haven: Yale University Press.
-Erdmann, G. And Engel, U. (2006). “Neopartrimonialism Revisited – Beyond a Catch-All Concept” GIGA Working Papers. No. 16, February, German Institute for Global and Area Studies, Research Program: Legitimacy and Efficiency of Political Systems.
-Huntington, S.P. (1991). The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. United States: University of Oklahoma Press.
-Menocal, A.R. (2007). “Analysing the relationship between democracy and development: Defining basic concepts and assessing key linkages”, Wilton Park Conference on Democracy and Development, Wilton Park.
-Stokes, S., Dunning, T., Nazareno, M. and Brusco, V. (2012). Brokers, Voters and Clientelism. Yale University and Universidad Nacional de Córdoba. Available on http://sitemaker.umich.edu/comparative.speaker.series/files/stokes_dunning_nazareno_and_brusco_um.pdf. [Accessed on 7th June 2013].
-The Economist. Democracy Index 20111.
-The Economist. “Democracy in sub-Saharan Africa: It’s progress, even if it’s patchy”. (Oct 1st 2011). Available on http://www.economist.com/node/21531010. Accessed on 7th June 2013.