Saturday, December 5, 2009

democracy and developing countries

this is from national geographic
4. Is the American model of democracy either achievable or desirable for developing nations that lack a democratic tradition?

I think this question should be divided into two separate sections. In terms of whether or not the American tradition is desirable, I think that in most cases the answer is ‘yes.’ I see the American model of democracy as being an example of effective representation and governance, of civil liberty and protected rights. If a developing nation could establish an American model of democracy, they will have developed a sound and effective government. However, in terms of the American model of democracy being achievable in many developing nations, I think the current answer in most cases is ‘no.’

There are numerous developing nations that are currently lacking a stable form of government. This list includes countries such as Ethiopia, Nepal, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Senegal. However, I feel that history has proven that if the US were to try to establish a democracy in a country lacking a democratic tradition, it will often be met with resistance and hostility. Even if the US is successful in maintaining democratic processes while it is present in the country, such as elections and representation of citizenry, I feel that the democracy will collapse as soon as United States forces are removed from the area. Why is this?

In order for a democracy to work, the citizens and current governing body have to want to implement it. A democracy cannot function without the cooperation of the citizenry. I feel that if a country contains a large majority of citizens that are in favor of implementing democratic practices, the democracy has a chance of developing, and ultimately thriving. However, the process of keeping up an effective democracy in a country lacking a history of this kind of government will be an uphill battle. In addition, there are numerous factors that will affect a country’s willingness and ability to establish a democracy.

I feel that the establishment of a functioning democracy involves much more than simply implementing democratic processes. The potential for a democracy to be developed in a developing country must be viewed through the lens of the country as a whole- economically, socially, culturally, historically. It is impossible to think of a uniform strategy that can be applied to all developing countries. However, I think that there are factors that need to be considered in the development of any democracy, anywhere.

In order for many developing countries to establish a democracy, I feel that they must first develop a sound economy. Obviously, this is much easier said than done. I do not feel that an overwhelmingly poor, economically destitute country will be able to either establish or maintain a democracy. Because of this, the US model of democracy is extremely hard to replicate in many developing nations.

In this way, the question of developing a democracy becomes much more complicated. I feel that for a developing country to begin to improve its economy, it should establish trade with industrialized nations. I also feel that democratic, economically stable countries making investments in the economy of developing countries will help these countries to develop a stable economy. However, this kind of process takes years. That being said, it will also be difficult for a country with vast inequities in the distribution of wealth to begin to implement democratic principles and expect them to be heeded. There are countries that claim to have a ‘democratic’ government but are actually hybrids of democracy and other governmental systems, like Sri Lanka.

I do not mean to suggest that a country has to have a flourishing economy and an ideal distribution of wealth in order to establish a functioning democracy. I am saying that a country already steeped in economic hardship and struggle between classes will not be capable of instituting a democratic system to solve these problems.

I feel that this question including the term ‘American’ model of democracy makes this even more difficult to see working in developing countries. The American model of democracy includes a system of government as well as civil liberty and protection of human rights. In this way, American citizens have the assurance of receiving certain benefits from supporting the democratic tradition. American citizens get civil liberty, the assurance of due process of law, freedom of speech…the benefits that Americans get from being part of a successful democracy are endless. However, how would the citizens of a developing country that decide to support a fledgling democracy benefit? They would not receive the invaluable benefits that Americans receive. In many countries, many citizens would fear the result of supporting a new and potentially controversial form of government.

Simply implementing democratic processes will not automatically give rights to citizens, nor will it solve long-standing conflicts due to distribution of wealth, class, religion, or ethnicity. In order for a democracy to be established, a society has to establish a precedent of peacefulness and human security. Once this is established, a developing country can use democracy as a tool to better its economy and to further protect the rights of its citizens. However, implementing democratic processes will not solve the long-standing problems of a country.

The United States is truly a unique country. While the American democracy is not a perfect entity, it has improved and developed over the past 200 years. Over these years the US has been able to develop and utilize relations with other countries, both for economic reasons and for support during times of conflict. The US has been blessed with the revolutionary insight of its Founding Fathers, a brilliantly crafted Constitution with room to change to accommodate a developing society, and a Bill of Rights. The US is composed of incredibly diverse climates and resources as well as a long-standing devotion to freedom of speech, religion, and the press. In order for a developing country to establish an American model of democracy, they would have to be in a position at least remotely similar to that of the US at the onset of its democracy.

That being said, I think that it is possible for developing countries to work toward a democratic government that will ultimately be unique to its country and be beneficial to the country’s society. At this point, I am differentiating between the American model of democracy, and a basic definition of democracy in general. Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines ‘democracy’ as “1 a : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”

Looking back in history, there are numerous factors that have contributed to the establishment of a democracy. These include such factors as increased literacy and distribution of news, the fall of a controlling power, mimicking the processes of the country that colonized them, development of political parties, religious movements and civil wars. Countries including South Korea, India, Israel, Iceland, and Zambia are counted among the world’s democracies. These democracies did not all come about from the same background. There is no single way to establish a democracy, and no one model of democracy that can be applied across the board. I feel that if a country can establish a democracy, the democracy will encourage development, and vice versa.

I also feel that the assistance of other countries to developing countries can be extremely useful. Organizations such as USAID have made huge strides in assisting developing countries, both politically and economically. However, this aid is not given on the condition of the country using it in a way that will promote development of the exact type of democracy that the organization sees as exemplary. The organization works with the communities of the nation to help develop the country and discourage extremism. It is unrealistic, (and inadvisable) however, to expect developed countries to support developing countries blindly. I think it is important and advisable for assisting countries to consider the state of basic human rights in the country that they are looking to assist and consider the ways in which their donation or assistance will be utilized. In organizations like USAID, the organization takes a very active role in the distribution of their help. I think that it in this case, it is much more effective for donating countries to lead my example and assistance rather than applied force.

Overall, I do not think that the American model of democracy is achievable in developing nations. The assistance of other countries is integral to the promotion of democracy in these countries, however the form of democracy that emerges from individual countries will be one specific to the country as a whole, considering every aspect of the country’s composition. The most effective form of democracy for a country will be the form that is specific to that country’s level of development, history, economy, and human composition.

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