Tomorrow’s adults want democracy ‘but not the western kind’

Sep 8, 2022
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The people of Africa are joining folk around the world to speak out against the policy of insisting that western liberal democracy is the only acceptable form of government.

Democracy is vital – but we specifically don’t want the western kind, said more than half the people interviewed in a major survey of 15 countries in Africa.

“Fifty-three per cent of respondents said that western style democracy is not suitable for the African context,” researchers of the Africa Youth 2022 survey said. “African countries will need to find their own democratic systems and structures to be successful.”

This echoes the line of Chinese leader Xi Jinping that there are no “one-size-fits-all modernisation standards in the world”. Analysts say eight out of ten of the world’s young people in 2050 will be African, so their attitudes are clearly an important pointer to tomorrow’s world.

Africans are actively looking to escape the simplistic dichotomy.

Global movement

There’s a global movement to shift away from U.S. policy of dividing the world into western liberal democracies (“the free world”) on one side, and “autocracies” on the other, with the second group demonised endlessly by the western media for making different choices.

This artificial division is extremely harmful, academics say. It enables the U.S. to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to anti-government activists (some of whom are violent) to interfere with politics overseas.

It also pits western leaders and media against their own academics, who have long insisted that there are multiple legitimate forms of governance which involve public participation in different ways.

Think tank strain

This anomaly is creating an interesting strain among the “think tank” communities. For example, Freedom House presents itself as an independent organisation monitoring governance issues around the world. In truth, it is a tool financed largely by the U.S. Government, and run by Michael J. Abramowitz, a board member of the US National Security Archive.

All countries which dare to move away from the U.S. model are presented by Freedom House as having “declined” while the relatively few who move towards it are presented as having “improved”. Unfortunately for Freedom House, this artificial system is backfiring on them, putting them into the awkward position of filing a report every year which can be summed up as “every year, more of humanity is choosing The Wrong Answer instead of Our Answer, the One True Way”.

Every year, more countries move away from the western model, their legitimate choices presented in a harshly negative way by Freedom House.

Asia turns around

In Asia, there’s been a dramatic swing against western liberal democracy, where it has become impossible to ignore the fact that strong, executive-led governments are clearly better at providing services for their people. Liberal democracies in South Asia have been languishing with large pockets of poverty and dire need, with Asia’s oldest liberal democracy, Sri Lanka, performing worst.

In contrast, executive-led governments of East Asia have thrived. These include China, Singapore, British Hong Kong and Chinese Hong Kong, Vietnam, and until relatively recently South Korea and Taiwan.

Africans see this

What’s fascinating is that the young people of Africa have been able to see this, despite the U.S. dominating all the channels through which information passes.

A.B. Abrams, a London University academic wrote recently that the United States “has the advantage of a much greater global influence established primarily through soft power and the export of its media and ideology, the global reach of its military and intelligence agencies, its large network of treaty alliances, and its position at the center of the global financial system.”

But while the west has the power, Africa and Asia have the people and the engines of growth.

Outcome is key

Things are changing. Many people around the world, including in the west, have made the point that societies should not be classified by the mechanics of the electoral processes, but by the outcomes – do their forms of governance create happy, healthy societies?

The prime example is Hong Kong, which is LITERALLY the world’s healthiest society, but is painted as a grim, oppressed dystopia by western foreign correspondents.

To say these things in some places can invite condemnation. Two years ago, a U.S. Senator named Mike Lee was much criticised when he departed from the normal script to make the same point: “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prosperity are.”

First published in Fridayeveryday August 24, 2022

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