THE LAST WORD: By Andrew M. Mwenda
The likely dangers of the Western African states’ attempts to impose a solution on The Gambia
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has resolved to send a military force (ECOMOG) into The Gambia apparently to achieve three interrelated objectives: first to “protect” the president-elect, Adama Barrow; second to uphold the presidential elections results that President Yahya Jammeh has cancelled; third to ensure that Barrow is sworn in as president. This is a big gamble that is likely to cause more problems than it seeks to solve.
A fundamentalist movement initiated by Western nations and supported by many elites elsewhere and in Africa has swept the world. This movement wants democracy along Western liberal lines to prevail everywhere. It supports the use of supra national institutions to enforce democracy where it is faltering. There are many people in the Western world who believe genuinely that liberal democracy should be spread across the world, even by force, as a one-size-fits-all solution irrespective of context.
This combination of intense religiousity with a militant faith in the application of democracy in every situation has a large cadre of priests. This secular priesthood has come to dominate the mass media, the academia, diplomatic corps, civil society organisations, etc. Today they monopolise public discourse and have successfully channeled the debate to one direction. They have drowned out alternative voices while giving the appearance of free debate.
However, Western powers also have ulterior motives for promoting democracy in poor countries even when they know that such efforts often lead to disaster. . One of them is to please their domestic constituencies. The other is that democracy offers Western powers opportunities to infiltrate and control poor nations. It allows them to hijack the policy-making process in poor countries so that it serves Western rather than domestic interests.
Democracy is much more susceptible to infiltration compared to authoritarianism. Western nations can fund opposition political parties, mass media and NGOs (which they miscall “civil society”) to undermine poor governments that develop nationalistic policies, which may threaten Western interests. Therefore, the promotion of “democracy” in poor countries by Western nations is often driven by a desire to control. Unable to see these machinations, supra national bodies on our continent and many of our elites buy the claims of the big powers on face value.
I believe in liberal democratic ideals. In a perfect world I would love to see them applied everywhere. However, I am also conscious that democracy is not an ideal that can be exported and imposed on a country or society by force. Rather it is a practice that grows within a country or society under very specific circumstances. Indeed the lesson we learn from history is that democratic development grows through feats and starts. It endures when driven by the persons directly affected by it. Democracy fails when it is imposed from outside. Recent experiments to export democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria have produced disasters whose consequences are still fresh in our minds.