Reason Wafawarova on Monday
We are all too keen to impress the world by striving to be a thriving democracy, and there is a standardised form of democracy modelled on Western values and standards that we all seem to greatly admire.
Our political parties, our civic society, and our young people are convinced democracy is defined by elections, and that elections are defined by democracy.
From the nineties the United States started on a campaign to reorder the world, and at the turn of the millennium we saw George W. Bush embarking on war invasions targeted at the six “Axis of Evil”, namely Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and North Korea. During his tenure he invaded Iraq, and Afghanistan, and his successor Barack Obama invaded Libya, and sponsored ISIS to cause havoc in Syria; before the outfit turned itself into a murderous enemy of the West.
Iran and North Korea have nuclear deterrents and they have remained safe for now, forcing the US into negotiations and deals that do not seem to last.
The official explanation for all these wars has been democratisation, and us Zimbabweans have enthusiastically been crying out for “democratisation” to visit our nation as well.
Some among us did not sympathise with the Iraqis when their country was invaded, or with the Afghanis. We hailed the invaders of these countries as angels of democracy, and even longed for the invasion to visit our own land — hoping for the capturing and hanging of Robert Mugabe in the process.
At the time we had people who thought the United States had capacity to topple our government and install Morgan Tsvangirai as the new “democratic” leader.
Songs of joy and jubilation were composed and recorded celebrating the sham trial that traversed all basic principles of the law just to see Saddam Hussein hanged at the behest of the Americans. Of course, the blatant murder of Saddam Hussein was packaged as a legally binding death sentence.
Saddam was undoubtedly a nasty piece of work that was created by the Americans themsleves, but that did not make his murdering by his creators any act of decency, let alone a show of democracy.
The idea of spreading democracy by the West has not only been quixotic, but also very dangerous.
The political and media rhetoric surrounding this democracy crusade implies that the system is applicable in a standardised Western form, that it can succeed everywhere, that it is the panacea to today’s transnational challenges, and that it breeds peace rather than sow disorder.
We just had an election that has left us more divided in its aftermath, and certainly the election has not helped us deal with our challenges as a united nation. We are fighting and tearing each other apart because an election has left us in disagreement.
In 1647, the English Levellers rightly popularised democracy by broadcasting the powerful idea that “all government is in the free consent of the people”. This meant votes for all, and the idea was great and popular.
Universal suffrage is an applauded idea, but it does not necessarily guarantee any political result, and elections cannot even ensure their own perpetuation. Electoral democracy is also unlikely to produce outcomes convenient to Western hegemonic or imperial powers.
Our 2018 election result might have been somewhat acceptable to some sections of the West, but certainly they are an inconvenience in Washington.
Zimbabwe’s post-2000 elections (six of them), the elections that brought Hamas to power in Palestine in 2006, the Chavez win in Venezuela in 1998, and the 2009 Iran elections are just but a few examples where the expectations of hegemonic powers were not met by election results.
In fact, the expectation of the US and its allies over whether or not military action was warranted over Iraq was not met in 2003, after the UN voted against the idea of war on Iraq. If the Iraq War had depended on the freely expressed consent of “the world community”, it would not have happened. The US lost the vote, but went to war regardless.
The appeal of electoral democracy is hardly diminished by any of these uncertainties though. It is the popularity of electoral democracy, together with other related factors, that explains the dangerous and illusory belief that the propagation of democracy by foreign powers and armies may actually be feasible.
Africans migrate to or visit Western countries and they come back obsessed with Westernising the political system back home. Globalisation suggests that human affairs are evolving towards a universal pattern. If mobile phones, iPods, and computer geeks are the same the world over; why not political institutions? This question makes a lot sense to an average young African today.
But the whole question underrates the complexities of the real world. Many people are simply motivated by the need to put to an end to the relapse of the world into bloodshed and anarchy, and they naively believe liberal electoral democracy can be the stopper they so wish for.
Many writers have cited the Balkans as having proved that areas of turmoil and humanitarian catastrophe require the intervention of strong and stable states, military if need be. It is in this context that some humanitarians in the civic society have tended to support a world order imposed by US firepower.
We need to analyse the deception that says military powers can do favours for their victims, and for the world by defeating and occupying weaker states. Both Afghanistan and Iraq have not in any proven way benefited anything from the Americans since they were invaded and occupied in 2001 and 2003 respectively. Democracy by force is democracy denied. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan know this very well.
The US is always ready with the necessary combination of megalomania and messianism, derived from both its revolutionary origins and its imperial doctrine. Since 1989, the US has not been reminded by a competing power that its material power has limits, and it is this scenario that makes US presidents assume they can run the world the US way. Only China and Russia are beginning to flex their muscles in a significantly threatening way.
Like President Woodrow Wilson, himself a spectacular international failure of his time, many believers of liberal electoral democracy see a model society at work in the US. This is why the election of Barack Obama was supposed to be treated as a universal shining example of the wonders of liberal electoral democracy.
The ideologues of today see in the US a combination of law, liberal freedoms, competitive private enterprise, and regularly contested elections with universal suffrage. For the admirers of this system, all that is left is to allow the Americans to lead the world into this marvellous image of a “free society”.
This is the dangerous whistling in the dark that propounded and sustained the regime change crusade in Zimbabwe. We have gangs of youngsters that spend all their energy screaming endless about denied democracy with absolutely shut minds. Now they are preaching sabotage and playing the spoiler until Nelson Chamisa is president.
It may be attractive or even strategic for a political party like the MDC-A to align itself with a great power like the US, and it may be politically desirable to do so, but clearly identifying with such an imperial force like the US is perilous, if only for the fact that the logic and methods of state action are not those of universal rights.
Did Matthew Harrington just call for the dropping of criminal charges against Tendai Biti? Why would a White House staffer interfere with the judicial work of a small African country? Tendai Biti is well connected to the Republicans, and he has obviously sought assistance for political bail.
All established states, the US included, put their own selfish interests first. States are not human beings and they do not understand morality and humanity. States only understand their own survival.
It is therefore absolutely misplaced and stupid for anyone to believe for a minute that the US or the UK are worried an inch about universal rights in Zimbabwe — that they have a moral burden to better the life of the common man in Zimbabwe.
States use the power they have to justify the means of achieving any end that they consider vital, especially when they think they are the “civilised” ones, or that God is on their side.
Empires have always barbarised humanity, and today’s “war on terror” is largely contributing to this tradition.
The campaign to spread electoral democracy has threatened the integrity of universal values, but there is no chance that this campaign will ever succeed.
Attempts by hegemonic powers to remake the world in the 20th century all went futile because it is simply not possible to abbreviate historical transformations, or to effect social change by transferring institutions across borders.
The conditions for effective democratic governance largely exist outside the ranks of territorial nation states — perhaps they do in lecture rooms, civic society workshops and in textbooks.
It is not easy to find a nation state enjoying legitimacy, total consent, and the ability to mediate conflicts between domestic groups.
Without such consent there is really no single “sovereign” people, in the strict sense of the word. This really means there is neither legitimacy nor justification for arithmetical majorities. Democracy achieved by arithmetical exercises does not produce the consent required to create a sovereign people.
It is the absence of this consensus that suspends democracy today in the institutions of Northern Ireland — the purported “democratic institutions”. It is the absence of this consensus that split the state of Czechoslovakia into two, and it is the absence of this consensus that created a society of permanent civil war in Sri Lanka.
It is the spreading of liberal electoral democracy that aggravated ethnic conflicts and produced the disintegration of states in multinational and multi-communal regions after 1918 and 1989. Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, Indonesia, Nigeria and China all have had longstanding problems with separatists and secessionists. We have had faint voices of that too here.
The futile effort to spread standardised Western democracy suffers from a fundamental paradox. In no small part, the crusade is conceived of as a solution to the dangerous transnational problems of our day — the purported panacea to the menace of dictatorships and tyranny.
A growing part of human life now occurs beyond the influence of voters, in transnational public and private entities that have no electorates — organs such as the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme that for a while was used by the US, Canada and Australia to stand against the interest of the entire Zimbabwean electorate when the three Western states vainly attempted to abuse the KPCS to block the sale of Zimbabwean diamonds, for their own ends and interests.
Outside political units such as nation states, electoral democracy hardly works anyway, and Western countries are more than aware that they are spreading a system that does not work, and largely the effort to spread liberal electoral democracy (Western style) is motivated by the popularity of the idea more than its effectiveness.
The recent inconclusive elections sanitised as hung parliaments in Canada, Germany, the UK and Australia showed the ineffectiveness and shortcomings of liberal electoral democracy.
The West is not even using electoral democracy to sustain the EU. The EU is a powerful and effective structure precisely because it has no electorate other than a small symbolic number of governments.
It is the EU’s democratic deficit that is its greatest strength, and the EU Parliament’s future is secure because there are no European people to elect it — only a few individuals calling themselves “member peoples”, less than half of whom bothered to vote in the 2004 EU parliamentary elections. Europe is now considered a functional entity but it enjoys no popular legitimacy or electoral authority, unlike its member states.
Well, Britain got fed up, and it dramatically exists the Union.
Once member states decided to take some EU matters as subjects of democratic campaigning within their own territories there were serious problems in the smooth running of the EU, including Brexit.
This is because democracy, however popular or desirable, is not an effective device for solving global or transnational problems.
The effort to democratise other states is quite deceptive in many ways — not least in that it conveys to those who do not believe in this form of governance the illusion that it actually governs those who do. Of course, this is not true.
If we look at how the decision to invade Iraq was made for example, we will see that two states of unquestionable democratic bona fides, the US and the UK, were made to go to war on the basis of the decision of a handful of people.
Other than creating complex problems for deceit and concealment, electoral democracy and representative assemblies had practically nothing to do with the decision to invade Iraq — decisions taken by George W. Bush and Tony Blair, surrounded by a tiny gang of handlers — not in any way different from the way the decision would have been taken in a non-democratic country, except the later would be more open and honest.
When our young people are crazed about electoral democracy and the so-called “free and fair elections”, what they admire is nothing more than a system that does not even work for the model states that today fund the indoctrination that preaches an abstract doctrine of the so-called “change”.
Electoral democracy often produces rags to riches politicians across Africa, and the electorate has for decades hopelessly watched in anger as this betrayal of the vote has patently become part of the African political culture.
In fact, the most positive achievement provided by electoral democracy for the electorate is the opportunity it gives for the ousting of unpopular governments and politicians, not much for the betterment of the people’s welfare.
Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!
Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in Sydney, Australia