Gambia: On Democracy And Development

The ideas of democracy and development belong together. Both have evolved over a very long period, through peaceful and violent means, into the idea of democratic development. To Pa Amilcar Cabral, one of the most inspiring minds that set out to end brutal, colonial misrule by the Portuguese state, both concepts converge to serve the cause of the people. Ultimately, that is.

In Unity and Struggle, he reminds us that the people do not struggle just for the ideas in any one’s head, but for material benefits. Education and food security, for shelter and good health, especially for the children, that make us toil every day. This drive of the people for human dignity, through democratic and other means, is the essence of development. It proved a winning recipe in defeating Portuguese colonialism in Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau, under the leadership of the Party for the Independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC). He and Sister Titina Silla, for example, were assassinated before independence, which was still achieved in 1974. They, and countless others, did not die in vain.

The liberation struggle against the Portuguese state’s dictatorship also succeeded elsewhere, in Mozambique, Angola and even Portugal. And about two decades later, the brutal, apartheid regime was also defeated. Ultimately, the democratic will of the people and the leadership prevailed, in Africa and elsewhere.

Democracy and Development Disharmony

So, can democracy be in the way of development? It depends on the form and content of democracy. Clearly, history teaches that colonial or racial democracy, for example, obstructs development, because it is exclusive and brutal. It serves racist minority and class interests, with brutal force. Development, on the other hand, is the inclusive well-being of the people, in a largely peaceful environment. The victorious struggles against enslavement and colonial brutality, in law and justice over the centuries, are proof enough. And so are the continuing global struggles for gender equality, inclusive wealth distribution and health for all. For those who care to see, and be inspired to act for improvement, there is centuries-old evidence of disharmony between democracy and development. We have another reminder of this genesis of the democratic idea towards inclusive development, the on-going democratic struggle against Greek austerity measures in the Euro zone. With about a fourth of national output lost, a fourth of the labour force out of work, and the living conditions worsening for many, including pensioners, the Greek people are resisting. And so are the Portuguese people, for example. Both have put anti-austerity parties in government, even if this empowerment is much constrained by the rich creditors and top bureaucrats.

From the time of Greek city-state democracy some 2500 years ago, we learnt that slaves and women, the majority, were excluded. It was thus a democracy for the minority property or slave owners, the anti-thesis of inclusive development. Today, under exclusive, global capitalist democracy, the real Greek majority have voted against their socio-economic suffering, including against onerous debt and mass unemployment. But as we have observed, an oppressive austerity program is still being imposed, instead of adequate debt re-structuring and solidarity taxation of the rich. Greek democracy is now majority-based, but inclusive development remains constrained by the material interests and “free-market” ideology of the nouveau riche minority.

Democracy, therefore, is a form of state that cannot be an end in itself. That end is the well-being of the people; development that is inclusive. And where achieving development through the democratic vote is blocked, by brutal or other means, violence is certain to erupt. It is a bitter lesson of history.

Guinea Bissau, among others, fought for democracy, and won for development. However, the country is still struggling to form a democratic state, given the military interventions and civil strife that followed independence. As with its former colonizer, Portugal, and Greece of today, the democratic state under capitalism is no guarantor of development. In that specific context, the disharmony between democracy and development is persistent. Exploitative, capitalist democracy, in peace or war times, stands in the way of development.

Why, not even the so-called multi-racial, capitalist democracy of South Africa or the United States is a guarantor of development. The deadly attacks in the town-ships, and protests of mine-workers and students in South Africa remind us of this fact. Protests against police brutality and socio-economic injustice by the #Black-lives-matter and 99-percent movements in the United States echo the same.

Democratic Development

As the wheel of history turns, persistent disharmony begets permanent struggle. For centuries, therefore, the many have struggled to share the privileges created by all, but enjoyed by the few. Nowhere is this human effort for dignity more evident spatially than in the cities. They represent a mass concentration of people, and thus a great pool of creativity for development. A lot of wealth is created in this urban area, accounting for a greater share of output than the sparsely populated rural area. But the task remains as to how society achieves well-being for all who toil for the wealth, in both urban and rural areas? And how the working people, particularly the women, youth and elderly, are affected?

To-date, tremendous wealth has been created, in trillions of US Dollars, Euro, Chinese Yuan, or the futuristic Afro. The greatest obstacle to development, however, is still the inequality of wealth and income from exploitation. How can 1 percent of the population control about 50 percent of the wealth that generates income? That is, the land, stocks, bonds and other securities. As a derivative of the legacy of enslavement and colonial misrule, such a concentration of wealth is immoral stealing and bad economics. Besides, it is a historic recipe for political and civil strife, and eventually for violent, economic disaster.

How can the system create adequate jobs, when about 90 percent of the population own only about 10 percent of the wealth? How could the exclusion of the ingenuity of about 50 percent or two-thirds of the people, females or the youth, be justified? Clearly, the well-being of the people will always require the removal of this great barrier of inequality, by any progressive means necessary.

Democracy, the state form still evolving towards inclusive content, is ever more expected to foster development. It is, however, not a guarantor of development, nor a perfect check-and-balance mechanism. Its related boom-and-bust, or cycles of creation and destruction of the past, teaches us that fact.

In that regard, democratic development means merit and transparency; it requires a data base for fairer wealth and income distribution. Equity also means regulation, taxation, and even some measure of expropriation, to achieve a fair distribution of the resources. The costs of wealth creation are socialized, and so must the benefits be fairly inclusive. As for more empowerment, a voice for the marginalized must be secured, particularly for the working poor, women and the youth. As democracy further evolves, it must not to obstruct, but pave the way for development. Two ideas that belong together, ultimately, find more harmony in democratic development.

As guarantors of inclusive development, the people themselves serve as a democratic baro-meter for their own well-being. They make use of the peaceful, democratic vote. But when they are obstructed beyond reasonable doubt, the legitimate use of force becomes inevitable. That is, they have proven to be, and remain, their own liberators. The leadership they embraced must have been convinced of the same, Pa Cabral, Madiba Mandela and the rest.

Africa rising

In Things Fall Apart, novelist Chinua Achebe reveals the brutal, but sometimes subtle, penetration of colonial misrule in Africa. How the supposedly civilizing role of a peaceful religion, supported by an imperial, monarchical state, put a knife to the things that held the community together, to tear it apart. The main fictional character, Okonkwo, made this observation, and likewise met a brutal end.

Tearing-apart, this was a signature mark on family and community life. The twin traumas of enslavement and colonial misrule devastated African families and their communities, and scarred forever the countries carved out of the 1884 Berlin conference. But Africa is rising above such devastation, the heroic task of every generation of Africans, with the solidarity of others. Divided Africa and its diaspora have united, inspired by freedom fighters L’Ouverture and Nkrumah, by men and women, to keep rising against all the odds. Pan-African struggles which defeated enslavement and colonial misrule have inspired democratic development. Not for a “free-market” dogma or its “night-watchman” state, but for the well-being of the people. It is a model by Africans, indeed.

Written By M. Sajo Jallow

Forwarded by a Correspondent in Banjul

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