April 18, 2011

Democracy is the goal, whether by revolution or evolution

A few years ago, when the United States signed a bilateral cooperation agreement with an "emerging democracy", it included language committing both sides to human rights and democracy -- and one could assume that was Washington's way of promoting some American values. But it turns out, it was the other country's own foreign minister who insisted on the language. As he explained, he needed it to convince his government that Washington takes progress and transparency on these issues seriously.

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi is rumored to be searching again for safe haven somewhere in Africa, while also insisting he'll never give up. Laurent Gbagbo, the former President of Cote d'Ivoire, is locked up tight. Egypt's Hosni Mubarak has been questioned in an investigation into corruption during the three decades he served as President (while his military comrades continue to call the shots). And so on. This is all truly inspiring, and no doubt more longtime despots will follow suit.

Africa and the Middle East will never be in the same, and mostly in a good way. But just mostly.

Gbagbo's democratically elected -- and Great Power-delivered -- successor, Alassane Ouattara, is no champion of democracy. For the most part, the heroic opponents of Qaddafi's rule are more rival tribes than a movement for pluralistic respect for human dignity. 

Not every freedom fighter ends up governing like a Nelson Mandela, and not every opposition leader is an Aung San Suu Kyi. In too many cases, Europe included, "democratic" activists only want a free election in order to get into power. They make long lists of promises to sincere Westerners. If human rights advocates openly assist the opposition in its bid to unseat an autocrat, why should the regime cooperate? Much of our work is convincing the autocrats that they can open up and respect fundamental rights (if not yet the one about popular rule) without losing their hold on power. 

The latest revolutions and uprisings are a positive trend, but it is too early to know the outcome in any affected country. And the threat of ignoble ejection definitely weighs more on the minds of the remaining dictators. But it's still worth facilitating interim progress, WHERE POSSIBLE, especially if it can mitigate death and destruction while paving the road to eventual peaceful -- and sustainable -- transition.

No comments:

Post a Comment