Democracy, development: The missing link

Reason Wafawarova on Monday
We have seen a lot of hope and enthusiasm about this idea of democracy in Africa since about 1990.

This form of governance has been supported and advocated for by people styling themselves as pro-democracy movements in the West; and in Africa there has been active support for democracy from labour, students, market women, rural dwellers, youths, and the lumped elements.

We all do in principle.

In democracy we see the prospect of reversing the trend of political despair and disillusionment that hitherto, has characterised political life in Africa.

People in Africa are just sick and tired of being sick and tired of corruption, tyranny, dictatorship, patronage and pseudo-democracy.

While patronage political systems or client politics have a clientele and beneficiaries that will always protect retention of power by incumbent politicians, there is always this negative and suffocating effect on the majority of the people that are often sidelined by the patronage system.

We have seen evidence of contrived political space, stifling of entrepreneurial creativity and ingenuity, and the suppressing of the logic of differences, of social pluralism, cultural divergences and identities.

In 2018 we saw the opening of political space in Zimbabwe more than we have ever seen before, and we do hope that both sides of the political divide will cooperate to avoid a degeneration of this important gain back into the dark past days of intolerance and polarity.

Needless to say, the opening up of political space constitutes an uncompromisable part of the democratic agenda, not only in Zimbabwe, but across the world.

Our democratic aspiration as a people is not only confined to the arena of political democracy of elections and granting of civil and political rights.

While important, these are virtually of no value to anyone if the demand for economic empowerment, better living standards, and adequate social welfare is not met.

For the majority of our people, democracy is meaningful only when it delivers socio-economic goods, not exactly when a country carries out the most praised elections, or when people are allowed to enjoy endless civil rights, like freely marching on the CBD streets to express all manner of opinion and demands — not on hungry stomachs.

The deteriorating social welfare and living standards of the people in Africa in spite of the vote for democracy is gradually undermining the confidence of the people in the new democratic order.

So many Zimbabweans thought there would be a direct link between the election victory for whichever party would win and a sudden positive change in our economic fortunes.

When the West introduced the new world order branded as democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in 1990, many Africans across the continent thought that the democracy wave was going to come with a sudden transformation to Western civilisation and development.

We had ESAP in 1991-94 in Zimbabwe where we were told all we needed to do is tighten our belts as we got retrenched from our various jobs “to cut unnecessary expenditure”.

We were told “in four years” there would be so many jobs around that we would be employing foreigners, and that there would be so much transformation as investors would be pouring in investment money all over the place developing the country into a “middle class economy.”

These expectations never saw the light. We were retrenched, told to indigenise and start our own companies, we were told to privatise our education system, our parastatals, our essential services, and we religiously complied.

We all know that reality dawned when our downsized enterprises continued to dwindle and shrink into oblivion since ESAP was introduced, probably never to recover again for most of them.

This piece will seek to establish the missing links between democracy and development in Africa today.

What is the relationship between democracy and socio-economic development?

What are the missing links between democracy and development? How do we simultaneously promote the triple elements of economic growth, equity and social welfare in a democratic order?

The missing links between democracy and development are the ones that have made democracy a hopeless political process in Africa.

Our policymakers need to be aware of these missing links before they plan, design or implement any public                          policy.

In the 1960s and 1970s before the current democratic upsurge, the focus of the debate on the connection between democracy and development was on how the latter constitutes a prerequisite for and enhances the former.

That is under what mode of economic system and stage of economic development and democracy consummated?

These are the years where the debate on Communism, Socialism and Capitalism were topical across the world.

Conversely, there was debate over under what form of economic system is democracy not likely to take root and grow. Then, the economy was treated as an independent variable and the polity, dependent. The attempt was to explain why democracy exists in some countries and not in others.

Today we Africans have been told that the polity is the independent variable, and that socio-economic development is the dependent.

This is why we are told that political reforms will parent economic development in Zimbabwe without us having to carry out any meaningful economic activities to that effect.

Our opposition preaches to us that if we only vote them into power, money enough to develop village airports and bullet train transport networks alongside top class multiple lane freeways and other similar luxuries will just fall upon us from the benevolent Americans. We do not get the polity right by voting correctly, we will continue to suffer in abject poverty; so we are told.

The two dominant intellectual paradigms in the social sciences in the 60s and 70s, the modernisation and the Marxist theories, share a common ground on the interface between democracy and development, albeit from different standpoints.

The modernization theory contends that democracy corresponds with the industrial phase of capitalist development.

Capitalist development promotes features like structural differentiation, secularism, bureaucratization, urbanization and individualism, all of which engenders a new logic of power and ‘ethics of governance’, of liberal democratic politics.

The social structure which industrial capitalism foists reinforces democratic values.

Liberal democracy is viewed as an outcome, and not a cause of economic development.

In the Marxist and Neo-Marxist conception, the centrality of the economy to the mode of politics was also emphasized.

The economy was considered as the sub-structure of society, which determines the superstructure that includes the polity.

This is the model we adopted at independence as a country, before we switched to the Capitalist model at the point we embraced ESAP, after the fall of the Soviet Union.

As such, liberal democracy was conceived as the limited form of democracy possible under industrial capitalism.

“Backward” and agrarian societies do not have the prerequisites for democratic practices. This is why liberal democracy remains meaningless for ordinary Africans in rural Africa today. It’s a priority issue.

The neo-Marxist paradigm prioritizes the issues of economic underdevelopment and dependency as the prime political agenda for developing countries to resolve. We are underdeveloped and dependent, yet we are fighting for an outcome of a successful capitalist system that is only achievable in industrialised societies.

Essentially, the effect of the intellectual currents of the 1960s and 1970s was a de-prioritization of democracy on the agenda of the developing countries. Democracy was considered a secondary priority for countries such as ours, since in any case it could hardly evolve in those contexts.

The concern was to be with the issue of economic development, after which democracy may logically follow. This is how colonial empires justified the denial of the vote to the majority of indigenes. The intellectual crest was hijacked by post-independence African political dictatorships and military rule, especially in West Africa. The military rulers and the tyrants justified their rule saying what was important for Africa was development first, nor democracy.

But these rulers were largely virtual failures in development, except for a few shining examples like Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, who only emerged in 1984 before he was assassinated in 1987.

Puppet military rulers were eulogised by the West as “modernising soldiers”. We had dictators like Idi Amin propped up by the British as “dictatorships of development,” of course before the fallout.

But Africa needs democratisation of development, not dictatorship of development.

Development is not a political cliché over and above which no other thing suffices. We cannot develop Zimbabwe through political correctness in the eyes of Americans or other Westerners. We need to develop a socio-economic system upon which our model of democracy will depend, not the other way round.

So what is the object and purpose of democracy today? Is democracy to be constructed as a means to an end or as an end itself?

This debate centres on what Adrian Leftwich calls the development efficacy of democracy (Leftwich, 1996:4). The new discourse privileges democracy and politics as the primary factor in economic development.

It turns the old argument on its head, by repudiating the theory that democracy is an outcome of a particular economic system and stage of development, which can be found in some societies and not in others.

Democracy now assumes a universal political product. The new debate centres on whether democracy is the cause and major facilitator of economic development. Democracy has become the independent variable, and economic development, the dependent.

The political import is that democracy can now be accepted, tolerated and promoted for all societies.

And how is it measured? Free, fair and credible election outcomes, and this is based on the assumption that the majority will always vote right, and their vote, if accepted as is, will usher in leaders who will without failure bring development to a country. The tribal divisions, the cultural differences, the level of awareness of the voter, the competence of contesting politicians, and all such other factors are all deemed benign and irrelevant for as long as the arbiter of a free, fair and credible election is met.

But the nexus between democracy and development remains even more contestable in the present conjuncture.

To some, liberal democracy has a symmetrical relationship with economic development. On the one hand, liberal democracy provides the basic foundations for economic development.

It is argued that libertarian values of freedom of speech and association, the rule of law, multi-partyism and elections, the protection of human rights and separation of powers create the institutional context and processes for economic development to take place.

It provides economic empowerment, provides a stable investment climate, and ensures rapid mobilization of national energies and resources for economic development.

For Africa it has been pointed out that countries like Botswana and Mauritius with fast and stable economic growth rates have stable liberal democratic polity. Between 1965 and 1990, the rate of growth of the Gross National Product (GNP) per capita for Botswana and Mauritius was 8.4% and 3.2% respectively.

At the time, these figures were contrasted with those of “non-democratic polities” like the DR Congo and Nigeria (then under military rule), which had growth rates of -2.2% and 0.1% respectively for the same period.

On the other hand, economic growth is seen as a sin qua non for democratic stability and consolidation (but not necessarily its evolution). However countries like Rwanda have reportedly failed the democracy test, yet they are shining examples of economic growth.

Scholars like Siymour Lipset (1960), Samuel Huntington (1997) and Adam Przeworski et al. (1997) contend that economic parameters like per capita income, rate of inflation, and level for income inequality are key elements in the sustainability of democracy.

Their findings revealed that countries with less than $1,000 per capita income often have very fragile democracies, while those above $6,000 often have democratic resilience.

In their conclusion, they hypothesized that democracy can be expected to last an average of about 8.5 years in a country with per capita income under $1,000 per annum, 16 years in one with between $1,000 and $2,000, 33 years between $2,000 and $4,000 and 100 years between $4,000 to $6,000 (Adam Przeworski et al. 1997: 297).

In a statistical study of about 130 countries on the linkage between democracy and economic development, Svante Ersson and Jan-Erik Lane (1996: 45-73) concluded that there is need for caution in linking democracy with economic development.

They assert that the correlation between democracy and economic growth is very weak, so also is the correlation between democracy and income redistribution.

Marx Gasiorowski argues that political democracy may have a negative impact on macro-economic performance especially in developing countries.

He suggests that democracy engender high inflation rate and slower economic growth in underdeveloped countries as a result of unrestrained competition for resources and pressures for fiscal deficits (Gasiorowski, 2000: 319-349).

As such, the nature of a political regime may not necessarily determine the rate of economic growth and development in a country. Authoritarian regimes in some countries have shown remarkable resilience for economic discipline and structural reforms, and thereby engineered tremendous economic growth in their countries.

The bureaucratic authoritarian model in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s and the development authoritarian regimes in East Asia in the 1980s and early 1990s are instructive in this regard.

What makes a difference in economic development therefore is not the regime type or mode of political governance, but the nature of the state.

The type of the state, whether developmental or not, is quite crucial to the object of economic development. For economic development to take place in a country, the state must be a developmental state.

In order to marry the twin goals of democracy and development for developing countries, what these countries need is a developmental democracy, a democratic state that is also developmental.

A developmental state is determined by the vision and aspiration of the ruling regime, and that vision is contextual from state to state.

Evidently, the relationship between democracy and development is at best a very complex one.

Also, there are inherent tensions and contradictions between the two lofty goals of democracy and development.

The truth is that there are missing links or gaps between democracy and development; which have to be addressed before the former, can achieve the latter.

My view is that while we cherish and pursue democratic values as a nation, we cannot be as stupid as to think that this country will develop materially because we have excelled democratically.

We need to pursue economic growth separately as we also pursue democratisation. Patronage does not work an industrialised and wealthy democracy, but it works wonders in a poverty stricken democracy.

Voters become the clientele for the ruling patrons, and that way democracy is bastardised.

Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!

Source : The Herald

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