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Globalization and Ethiopia

Part 6: Democracy

Addis Tribune ( 04/07/00) By Dr. Andargachew Tiruneh




Democracy is a form of government which purports to abide in accordance with the wishes and interests of citizens. It is

characterized by the existence of political parties competing for power as well as by the rights of citizens to form and join

political groups, to vote regularly and to express their opinion freely.


Democracy emerged first among the ancient city states of Greece, particularly Athens. In modern times, it was rediscovered by

the American and French revolutions of the late 18th century. Until the 1970s its expansion was limited to Western Europe and, even there, it had relapses in Germany, Italy, Austria, Spain and Portugal in the course of the 20th century.


Its spectacular expansion came only after the mid-1970s. First, the military regimes of Greece, Spain and Portugal were

overthrown. Then some 12 Latin American states, including Brazil, Peru and Argentina, established democracy mainly in the

1980s.This was followed after 1989 by the democratization of the ex-socialist stated of Eastern Europe. Despite some

reversals, democratization has also been going on during the same period in the Asian countries of South Korea, Taiwan

Philippines, Bangladesh, Thailand, Mongolia and India. In fact, practically all the countries of the world today claim to be



Some have suggested that this rapid expansion of democracy in the last 30 years is a result of the Westís effective pursuit of the twin ideals of democracy and a successful economy, a suggestion which implies that the new democracies embraced that

system voluntarily. Others have argued that it is a result of globalization, an argument which implies that the cause is structural.

The latter explains that authoritarian governments have been declining because of their lack of flexibility to compete in the

marketplace. Also, they point out that the global media deprived dictatorships of their monopoly of information on which they

thrived. Thus, Soviet Union and South African authoritarianism fell without being pushed or overthrown.


Thus, globalization can be said to have strengthened democracy by introducing it even into regions where it was never known.

On the other hand, it has caused disillusionment among the peoples of the older democracies. More and more especially of the

young do not have trust in politicians: They feel that politicians serve their own interests and the interests of big business rather

than those of the people; they do not trust them to deliver on ecological questions, human rights, family policy and sexual

freedom; and they do not believe that they can deal with the forces underlying the world economy. In consequence, they have

lost their confidence in parliamentary politics and do not vote at elections.


However, the Westís disillusionment with democracy should not be exaggerated. It is still supported by a sufficient number of

people to be in operation. Perhaps , the disillusionment is a reflection of more open government, more intrusive press and the

resulting accessibility of information by the people about the operation of government, the corruption of politicians and the

collusion between government and business.


Nor must the universalization of democracy be exaggerated. There is a difference between claiming to have democracy and

actually having it; the case of most third world states appears to fall within the former category.


Yet, one point that puzzles third world minds is the effect of the proliferation of democracy on north-south relations. In other

words, if democracy was to take root in the third world, would that lead to greater capital flows and transfer of technology

from the north to the south? The historical record of democracy does not encouraged us to answer this question in the

affirmative since democracy can, and has been, as discriminatory and cruel as the other systems of government.


Athens came nearest to achieving what is called absolute democracy (a system by which all the people, and not only the elected representatives, participate in the decision-making process of the government ). Nevreless , women and slaves were excluded from such participation. Despite the fact that US and France championed democracy at the end of the 18th century and introduced it all over Europe soon after, women were excluded from voting in many countries of that region until well into the 20th century. Further, slavery was not abolished in the US until the 1860s, until, in other words, a century after the declaration of independence, human rights and democracy in that country. In the last few centuries, ethnic cleansing was perpetrated by the western democracies and their colonial settlers against the Red Indians, the Eskimos of North America and Scandinavia as well as the aborigines of Australia. To this can be added the atrocities of Hitlerís government in that it was democratically elected in 1933 and in that its subsequent acts of death and destruction were accessed with by the majority of the German population.


A telling blemish of contemporary democracy is the neglect of minorities and the poor in the old democracies themselves. If the

voting right of these deprived social elements does not give them the power to influence government to act in their favour, it is

unlikely that the embrace of democracy by the peoples of the south would empower them over the resources of the north nor

render the West any more benevolent towards them than it has been in the growing gap income between the north and south is

likely to continue increasing unabated.


Despite all this, third world countries would do better to embrace democracy, if they can, not least because the alternatives are

not as attractive. I think it is Winston Churchill who is reputed to have said that democracy is the worst form of government

except for all the others. What is more, it is the western countries which followed the path of democracy in their history that

have championed industrialization and economic growth. Also, it is pointed out that the third world countries that achieved

economic development in the post-war years are those which embraced democracy. The so-called tiger economies of Asia are a case in point.


Arguably, the universalization of democracy has embraced Ethiopia to a degree. Her historical-political culture has been one of

authoritarianism. However, her last three governments have progressively claimed to have adopted democracy. Hailesellassieís

government issued legislations which created parliament with elected representatives but not a party system nor an effectively

independent media. Mengistuís government issued legislations which introduced a single-party system and a system of electing

representatives to parliament and to a variety of regional and local councils but not a guarantee for freedom of expression. The

present government has issued legislation providing for the establishment of parliament and regional as well as local councils; for the election of representative to these bodies; for a multi-party system; and for freedom of expression. These developments are quite consistant with the proliferation of democracy as implied by globalization.


We are here talking about the entrenchment of democracy in legislations which can in itself be viewed as a step forward. For

democracy to be a reality, however, the legislation must be enforced without state interference in their operation. The state must not use its security forces, its cadres and the courts to control and rig elections, nor to stifle freedom of expression and nor to detain individuals with different views. For this to happen, a court system which is truly independent from the state is a



No less important for democracy to thrive is a responsible elite and population who use their rights to express their opinion and

their right to vote for the good of themselves and of society at large. Freedom of expression can be abused and used to defame others, to obfuscate and mislead the population. Freedom of election can be abused and used to elect those who are corrupt, who pay bribes or those who have the wrong programs but are from the right family or ethnic group. The existence of a standard of behavior and trust within society is a pre-requisite for democracy. This I fear is lost to Ethiopia because of the

revolutionary upheaval which led to the butchery among the contenders of power and upper classes. This was because of the

wars between the center and regional insurgents; because of ethnic conflicts because of drought and famine and because of the

general impoverishment of the people to whom food must come before rights.


Despite what globalization suggests the question, of whether democracy is a reality in Ethiopia or whether it is possible at all, is

a debatable question.