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close this bookThe Courier N 128 July - August 1991 - Dossier : Human Rights- Democracy-Development Country Reports: Benin, Western Samoa (EC Courier, 1991, 96 p.)
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View the documentHuman rights, democracy and development
View the document‘Democracy cannot be imposed from the outside’
View the documentInterview with Dr. Erskine Simmonds, Vice-President of the ACP-EEC Joint Assembly
View the documentInterview with Henry Saby, Chairman of the Development Committee of the European Parliament
View the documentAmnesty International - The international conscience for 30 years
View the documentThe African Charter on Human and People’s Rights
View the documentBuilding democracy with tribalism
View the documentDemocracy in the English speaking Caribbean
View the documentDemocracy and development
View the documentDevelopment and the African political heritage
View the documentSome thoughts on governance and democratisation
View the documentTransition to democracy is there a model?

Democracy and development

by Yres GAZZO

Is democracy the culmination of the development process? If so, is it earned? Does it hold back development? If so, is it a luxury? Is it mixed with a particular cultural heritage? If so, is it racialist?

A start is made on answering these questions below. It emerges that, if no analyses are run or conditions laid down prior to democracy, then the appearance of a democratic environment generally, but not always, makes economic development easier. However, different sorts of state systems (constitutional monarchies, parliamentary systems etc) have usually achieved this sort of development and dirigism (not to be confused with authoritarianism) has helped speed up economic progress And the later the economic take-off, the stronger the degree of state intervention (as in Germany, the Latin countries of Europe and South America, in contrast with Northern Europe, Britain etc. where the state hand was much lighter).

Lastly, and especially, there is no need to be rich to be democratic. An aptitude for democracy is not a cultural privilege.

Democratic but not necessarily rich

The emergence of a democratic system is not the ultimate prize of societies whose development has flourished. Although extremely poor societies have priorities and preferences other than democracy or the defence of the right to live, the formal and quantified systematisation of democratic conditionality is contestable, as is the democratic income threshold put at $1000 per capita just recently. The finding that there are more democracies amongst the rich is simply an image of the existing situation and an analysis of the dynamics, and causes of it in no way includes any economic considerations.

Democracy in Europe also emerged at a time of under development.

Britain was under-developed in this sense then, because people were hungry, child mortality was high, farm workers were virtual slaves to the big landowners, corruption was rife and so on.

Prosperous Argentina, on the other hand, failed to ensure democracy until very recently, while Colombia is sticking to constitutional civil arrangements in spite of outbreaks of violence. Lastly, India’s democracy seems to be the fruit of a happy marriage of complex tradition and relatively successful decolonisation.

Democracy and cultural privilege

Democracy is born of an awareness of the limits of dictatorship. Authoritarianism (in South America, for example) indeed now seems to mean inevitable uncertainty and democracy moderate certainty.

Such awareness always occurs in periods of sudden change, when social balance ceases to appear as the zero-sum game which gets the despots accepted.

And the discovery is, in fact, that of the idea of development and the ‘citizen’ is born with it.

However, although people are not fated to authoritarianism, they are not fated to democracy either.

Democracy does not have to be a carbon copy of the European model, furthermore, and not because the Third World is more community-spirited than the First, or that it is totalitarian either. In African societies, be they Moslem or oriental, the concept of the individual is different, usually involving greater religious subjugation and powerful community constraints whereby the individual only exists as one of the group of very similar members to which he or she happens to belong. In Europe, 1 6th century Protestantism produced Calvin’s stiflingly totalitarian Geneva, yet 1 7th and 18th century Calvinism became one of the main springboards for our modern western society.


Is democracy earned?

Authoritarianism may well look like an extremely good way of getting through the brutal stage of economic take-off and there are many examples which seem to back up the idea, including:

· the Second Empire in 19th century France;

· the Franco regime in Spain, which changed into a speedy development promoter in its last stages, but still contained negation in the shape of the unsuitable dictatorship it had created;

· the Brazilian military and its galloping inflation.

However, there are just as many examples of the opposite, including:

· the decline of democracy in Japan, South America, Germany etc in the 1930s;

· the development hold-up (in Salazar’s Portugal and Vargas’ Brazil in 1932-54 and in Ethiopia, Cuba, Tanzania, Madagascar etc today).

Is democracy a luxury?

It may certainly seem so, since the world map is still dominated by authoritarian regimes of many kinds, ranging from the wretchedly poor Bangladesh and Somalia to the industrialised nations of South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore etc.

It is also true that authoritarianism is sometimes seen as an accessory to development.

Some people say that the societies of the South need a sound dose of authoritarianism to overcome their inertia and bad habits - and to withstand perverse seduction from us.

Although political stability is vital, it would be wrong to confuse authoritarianism and political dirigism.

The institutional nature of regimes seems to have had little influence over development in the past.

However (as already mentioned), the later the economic take-off, the greater the state intervention. The early industrial revolutions of northern Europe took place outside the state, while those (re)launched later on in Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Spain and Brazil took place with it. In cases of this kind, the state is still very much in evidence as overseer, regardless of how far the countries may be from the democratic ideal, as in the Third World, for example, Cote d’lvoire and Mali show

The form a government takes is no indication of its ability to succeed economically. Brazil planned its development without regard for the country’s (more authoritarian or more democratic) political phases and democratic India has ensured the progress of its farming and industry with far more determination than the military governments of Pakistan and Indonesia.

In Europe and other places, democracy has often, but by no means exclusively, been a forerunner of development. Although Britain’s economic upheaval happened in the prodemocratic framework of a stable parliamentary system in the 1 8th century, Germany’s industrialisation occurred mainly under the authoritarian hand of the Bismarck regime.

Trends in Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland (and the USA and Canada) were along the same lines as those in Britain, although somewhat later.

After the revolution, economic expansion in France took off again with the same elan under the monarchical, property-dominated, authoritarian Second Empire and the parliamentary Third Republic and the same went for Italy, with a corrupt parliamentary system, the Mussolini dictatorship and the Republic after 1946. Japan modernised during the first 30 years of the century under the aegis of a regime that was parliamentary in appearance and then under successive authoritarian governments until 1945.

Is democracy racialist?

When the Peruvian novelist Maria Vargas Llosa says ‘we should stop despising ourselves’, he is referring to our lamentations about the purported democratic inability of the countries of the South. Our political modernisation has often been the outcome of some fairly unlovely comings and goings sandwiched between both more democratic and more dictatorial episodes.

If we accept the idea of non-democracy in the developing world easily, it is by legitimating it in the name of tolerance.

What we used to call primitive (different traditions and cultures and poor material conditions) is now respect for other people’s identity. The process of democratisation which recently got under way in various countries in fact calls for all our care and understanding.

There are fairly few possibilities for an African State. As G. Hyden put it, it is ‘hanging in the air’ and for several reasons:

· the relatively new concept of the nation-state in Africa;
· the limitations of the unanimist idea;
· the fact that the real economy develops independently of the state.

The nation-state - a new concept

African states are very heterogeneous and the frontiers fail to follow either major geographical features or rivers. Contrary to what is usually thought, the African borders were not drawn at the Berlin Conference in 1886. They are the result of a series of negotiations in the field, as exploration happened, military expeditions went out and commercial interests were secured.

However, states organised in the precolonial era were genuine multi-ethnic federations.

Yet when they left, the colonial powers declined to play the federation card to the benefit of these territories, aided by one or two countries such as Cote d’Ivoire and Gabon. This militated in favour of the dismantling of FWA and FEA, the collapse of the East African Federation and so on.

What changed in comparison with the pre-colonial period was the way the states were administered. The functions of multi-ethnic states were limited to the central power, ensuring security and collecting taxes, without interfering in the social relations of the groups, which kept their own languages, laws and customs.

The modern states, on the other hand, were designed along European lines and tried to define and impose legislation that was supposed to represent what the whole community wanted.

The limitations of the unanimist approach

The drive to build national unity where none existed and develop the countries contrived to avoid the scattered effects of western-style democracy, so efforts could be focused better - hence the unanimist approach in most countries, with single parties etc. And when the military replaced politicians who were deemed to be unacceptable, they kept the same language in the interests of ‘national salvation’.

With embryonic trade unionism and the traditional aristocrats in many cases broken by colonization, most African governments applied policies that tended to favour people in the towns.

The modern African states are the fruit of a foreign tradition, not the interplay of the various social groups, and they are to a very large extent foreign bodies in their societies.

Despite this, some countries have made real progress with national unity (although other countries, Chad and Sudan for example, are still on the brink of explosion) and with building a modern economy (exports), although, with famine and unsuitable policies, things are less encouraging on the food production front.

Lastly, an increasingly large section of the African economies is developing free of state action, which illustrates the way African societies are responding to changing values and economic conditions. So the nation-state should Africanise and be less ‘hanging in the air’.

Although it is difficult to draw conclusions on a subject which has been under discussion for two thousand years, the ideas outlined above should add to our thinking and the way we react to the questions we get from, inter alia, the ACPs.

There is no doubt that their development drive will not succeed without an improvement in their mastery of the art of governance - which does not necessarily mean western-style democracy.

Responsible leaders, transparent use of public funds, the involvement of the people at every stage of economic, social and political activity and the possibility of them organising their own mutual assistance and voicing their opinions on development decisions which concern them are among the principles of the development charter which has still to be established.