Blog post

It was Monday, the first day of class, when after spending some minutes introducing ourselves we briefly brainstormed what democracy is! It was on that that I was intrigued by the people’s ability to conceptualize and speak their thoughts with all clarity. Though I didn’t say it, but one student made a clear distinction between ideal and substantive democracy in that preliminary discussion in our first class meeting. This was amazing, and throughout the semester the class remained active with people participating and professor Kendhammer explaining things whenever we stumbled upon something.

Of the assignments, the peer review exercise was very helpful. The comments we received from the instructor and fellow students really helped me get going with the paper I was writing. The democratic index exercise was also another avenue to put theory into practice – it helped explain democracy in concrete terms.

In all, I learned so much from this class. First, although it is difficult to define democracy, it is still an achievable thing. Secondly, democracy depends upon the elite’s willingness and ability to compromise and share power with the masses. Thus reducing the incentives and privileges one would get for being a leader will always help reach that stage.

I think the class was well organized and Dr. Kendhammer gave class members equal opportunity and enough time to discuss the various phenomena we were looking at. The Professor gave enough guidance to make us think, and was also accepting of people’s differing opinion, and I think that was great.

Journal

Well, to begin with, I had to rework some areas of the paper so that it could be coherent to make it readable to the reader. I did this by providing a little bit more context to the some of the existing parts, and I hope that the additions will help to make it easily readable.

Secondly I had to cite the paper to evidence some of the huge claims I was making in it. this was the most demanding task as it kept me awake for a considerable period of time.

Coupled with some other assignments for other classes, it was a little bit challenging to meet the deadline. I submitted my paper three days late, and I thank Professor Kendhammer for his indulgence to let me keep working on the paper beyond the deadline.

On sequencing democracy

Do we need economic development first before the introducing democracy? If YES, how about the danger of a dictator accumulating resources to make her/his authoritarian regime continue being in power? If NOT how would a starving population enjoy the fruits of democracy? And if democracy should occur amidst extreme economic need, how would a society sustain it in the long run?

While I agree that democracy is not entirely dependent upon what are called preconditions, I also believe that there must be some sort of a culture of tolerance and compromise for it to fair [Dr. Kendhammer has been emphasizing on this point a lot – if I’m not mistaken]. A gradual path to democracy is advised: there needs to be introduced institutions and a mechanism to guarantee effective political competition (Mansfield & Snyder, 6), though we need not wait for the institutions to be as strong as it was the case in the British experience.

Though it is not mentioned that much in political literature, I was imagining a situation where institutions which were meant to be democratic and to support democracy turn into supporting authoritarianism. This was [and remains] very true of the revolutionary democratic trajectory. In the French Revolution for example, we had a series of wars until an effective republic came into existence; the English Revolution also went through so much trouble before constitutional monarchy was effectively introduced. The Egyptians are yet to experience democracy and they are on the streets everyday demanding for a more responsible government. This paragraph could be a side-note, not a necessary part of this blog!

It seems also that there is no smooth path to democratization – democratizing without violence! History suggests that the fiercer a country’s democratic path is the robust the democratic outcomes will be. The English Revolution, the French Revolution and the American Civil War do all point to this fact. More recently, the Rwandan experience serves as a good example. There are countries like Bosnia Herzegovina whose horrible experience didn’t make them democratic though; and there are countries like Uruguay whose smooth transitions made them enjoy democracy today despite some economic difficulties they have been facing.

 

Journal post

In any nation the link between democratization (in its numerous meanings) and resources is found, in many respects, and in fact attaches itself to issues related to nationalism, identity and the quest for self-determination. For nationalism has always been a political claim (Brubaker 2004), and considering the fact that these claims are not sober or value-neutral but determined by a people’s desire to control territory and the wealth found in it, then the Tanganyika-Zanzibar question and the dangers it poses to the country’s democracy -and more importantly its Union – could be surmised as part of peripheral nationalism in which the likelihood of secession is greater.

Borrowing from Barber (1995), the Jihad (in his created meaning referring to ethnicity and ethnic tendencies) and the McWorld (market and technological forces) would not avail any territory or its people to any of their desired form(s) of democracy – the best possible form of government. And once secession happens it might entice other resource-abundant regions within the country to follow the same path. The problem then is whether or not the seceded states will be able to sustain themselves!  Now the market and the nationalistic sentiments have converged, and in all, would overwhelm the nation. How would Tanganyika look like after the demise of the Union? How would Zanzibar look like, as well? These ethnic and market forces that have increased with free market ideas will lead to a more chaotic route than what the people and world would prefer.

Ballot-box China 2

Despite competition manifested in the Chinese elections as seen in the Fuping example, the villagers are yet to realize the fruits of holding elections every three years. They demand better social services, and generally for their leaders to attend to people’s needs; not the colorful discourse that political parties and the media usually propagate.

We read from the text that decollectivisation could have been amongst ways to redefine people-state relations in rural China (63). In itself this would the first step in discouraging group welfare and would translate into a more individualistic approach where private property would, sooner than later, triumph. But at least a few dangers exist: can the Chinese government contain the potential social chaos coming out of such disorganized tendencies? As well, will this approach better the lives of the rural Chinese masses?

I believe that if this is to happen, it would lead to mass chaos historic in the modern world and that due to population density, China will consequently become a failed state. While I am a big fan of grassroots democracy, I would favor a smooth step-by-step transition to democracy without forcing in such ideas as privatization etc. for doing so would result in massive unemployment and the general collapse of social order.

the “Arab Uprising” -2

While the public managed to get Mubarak and Ben Ali out of power, the same peoples’ power has, for numerous reasons, failed to achieve the same objective in other countries – Syria included (p. 132). Conceptualized as ‘counterrevolution’, some Arab countries financed programs to sustain embattled regimes in some of these countries. While the pro-Arab mainstream media like Al-Jazeera was used to promote change in Tunisia and Egypt, some Arab countries used the same to support the maintenance of status-quo in Syria and other countries. The support that Arab countries offered to their fellow Arab and North African countries aimed at different ends; why that is so and what could have been done differently are yet a few questions we need to speculate upon.

But the story doesn’t stop there: Lynch relates the differing West-Arab intentions to cold war. Unfortunately, the author leans towards one side only by accusing the Arabs of hampering the revolutionary efforts which were to sweep across a majority of authoritarian regimes. Of course, the Arabs did although their invisible support for change in Egypt and Tunisia should not be overlooked. Lynch however doesn’t explain the American shielding of Hosni Mubarak in the early days of the uprisings in Egypt. On several occasions the US top officials – including the US President, his Vice-president and Secretary of State issued statements to let Mubarak stay until September 2011 when Egyptian elections were to be held. As it also unsuccessfully attempted to subdue peoples’ power in countries where the regimes honored its dictates, the US involvement was not necessarily aimed at democracy, but was interest-oriented.

I would conclude that, both the Western and Arab support for change was not value-neutral; they all had reasons why they supported democracy in one country and status-quo in another. And in fact I’d have included the role of Russia in the conflict as well, for its ties with some of the regimes and its anti-Western discourse [and actions] have a lot to do with the on-going situation despite not being much spoken about.

Journal – Zanzibar and the 1992 OIC question

Defending oneself can sometimes take a toll on you, but all of a sudden a novel idea could come from nowhere to help out in such situations. That being said, I have been struggling to find an event that would link the idea of identity to resources. The geographical connection between the two can always be easily defended, but the religious and ethnic ones prove a little harder to tackle.

Yet I remembered an event that I could use for my paper. The 1992 Zanzibar’s attempt to Unilaterally join the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). This action was even blessed by the then Union President Ali Hassan Mwinyi. A Zanzibari himself, Mwinyi and other Zanzibaris defended the move as saying that OIC is not a religious organization; they wanted Zanzibar to join it in order to tap economic benefits that the organization offers. Most importantly, the OIC clearly stipulated in its mission that Islam is its main focus – thus Zanzibar’s desire to join OIC was both religious and a matter of (Islamic) identity.

Until today the Zanzibar-OIC issue is regularly invoked as to whether or not Zanzibar reserves a diplomatic autonomy to act on matters beyond national borders. The matter was shut down by the Union parliament when it declared the move unconstitutional as Zanzibar’s autonomy does not transcend Union boarders.

Journal – Our Leaders and the Destiny of Tanzania (Nyerere 1995)

I was reading this book by Julius Nyerere titled Our Leaders and the Destiny of Tanzania and I was intrigued by his ambivalence about the fate of the country’s Union. He warned that personal greed and ignorance concerning the Union and its numerous issues drive people to arrive at wild conclusions. The primary architect of the Union himself who favored Unity and ‘sacrificed’ Tanganyika’s autonomy for reasons not well known, this opinion of his was a surprise to me.

But what he was essentially arguing is the fact that after his leadership, the next presidents had put less emphasis on unity – or superficially emphasize on it for their own benefits and that of their cleavages. To some extent, the book was a response to the attempted re-formation of Tanganyika in 1993 when a group of 55 members of parliament (G55) proposed a private motion to reclaim Tanganyika back.

This narrative should feature in my paper, now that I am still revising it.

Arab Uprings 1

Of the events cumulatively called “Arab Spring”, the fall of Mubarak stands out. And despite my issues with the label “Arab Spring” as applied to events that happened and are still happening in the Africa’s north plus other middle eastern countries, I agree with Lynch in many respects.

The author is reminding us about the fact that there are countries and leaders that could fake democracy. For example, Mubarak pretended to listen to his country’s ‘youth’ without meeting their demands. Lynch further alludes to the fact that some [if not most] Islamist groups were disappointed with the behavior of their country leaders, and they accordingly initiated change in public culture in their efforts to ‘restore’ Arab order (p.2).  In my views this teaches us that: 1) It is misleading to associate the despots with Islam – for what they did was out of their own greed; 2) Islam is not necessarily incompatible with democracy; it could just be restricting democracy in some ways.

But in all, it seems to me that reluctance to reform during the democratization’s third wave, crumbling economies and arrogance of the leaders before their citizens – all put together made the people feel that their governments had abandoned them. And despite the humility that Islamic culture insists on, confronting wrong doers and discouraging misdeeds is equally encouraged as well. With this deeply-ingrained revolutionary spirit coupled with the role of information and the revolutions’ spill-over effects, Egypt followed Tunisia and other countries added to the list. The impact and magnitude differs from one place to another, but major restructurings have occurred. Just like in any revolutions, the journey is far from over: meaningful changes are not guaranteed unless the contending factions agree to compromise.

While the events in the Arab Spring were more populous – or involved a huge portion of the population, the Eastern European ones were mostly a product of electoral discontents. This is not to discredit the deep-seated issues which could cut across these two worlds, but at least to focus on proximate issues which triggered the uprisings.

On transitions to democracy

It is rightly put that authoritarianism is not universal across countries, nor it is monolithic. It takes different shapes and forms. And although international course could help in transitioning to democracy, much of the pressure to democratize needs to come from within and focus on empowering the majority of a country’s populace. Moreover, the transitions are conditioned and shaped by historical circumstances unique in each country (p. ix). We need to be wary though that even the desire to democratize is in itself an uncertainty and could lead to a more severe and sophisticated authoritarianism (p. 3), and the main difficulty is that despite the fact that rules and procedures are usually present during transitions, the same do usually rest in the hands of authoritarian rulers (p. 6).

I like their many treatments and conceptualizations of the various terms associated with transitions [strictly in the context they are discussing]. For example that democracy heavily relies on deliberations, and that liberalization is mostly about rights (pp. 7-10). But again, all these are relative concepts whose application usually varies from one place to another – just like the way the universality of human rights is contested even within different territories of the same country. Should we then say that democracy also varies across countries, which I think the answer is YES it does – then upon which standards shall we point fingers at a country accusing it of being a dictatorship? For example, if we have to condemn monarchies, and this is a very mild example, why are we quiet about England and Norway but we are so mad at Swaziland? Are we driven by the technical know[s] who? Why would we praise Vatican’s conclave but have our eyes open and hands on when it comes to Ayatollah, or discredit the Shura? And by the way, Shura is far better in regard to democracy than the Vatican machine!

Thinking about this and many more questions, we could surmise (and in fact we have seen this already) that democracy is hard to define and so is authoritarianism. This difficulty then makes it even harder to understand transitions. While I totally agree with the authors in many instances, and especially that of letting democratic transitions develop organically with less international involvement [and if international actors are to be involved they need to mainly take the role of a facilitator], on the ground things are quite different: we spread democracy using the barrel of the gun; we transact peace by using swords and machetes! And evidence exists that these too are called transitions. Something must be wrong in human civilization; there must be more to democracy apart from what we usually tell our people through books – this ‘something’ could be our economic interests and our deeply-ingrained tendencies of imposing our values onto other societies and cultures!

Whichever position I would take in the Syrian crisis would require me to have a more people-focused approach. This can be a little challenging as moving towards democracy requires more efforts and tranquility, at least amongst citizens, who are expected to vote for their leaders after Assad is ousted. Immediately after take-over I will get people from different sects of the Syrian population represented in the government – some sort of a coalition. This will allay any fears of the new regime turning into a dictatorship. At first I’ll have no much to offer to the public considering the fact that much of social programs have already are on the merge of collapse. After stabilizing however, I will put more effort into rebuilding the destroyed infrastructure and regain lost trust through creation of a people-elected government after a period of between two and four years.