Stability or Democracy?

There was a debate on WHYS on September 12th, 2007 about benign dictatorship or bad democracy – what’s better? Today the same theme returns with a different nuance: When is stability more important than democracy? It seems that dictatorship can be equated for some with stability while democracy serves only to stir what should be at rest for “the general interest” or “common good”

The question which to prefer, stability or democracy is that both are complimentary. Being convinced in democratic rule conducted by rulers with competence and full integrity is what helps political stability in any country. Social unrest culminating in violence is the result of the regimes that can’t have a clear vision of what their people need. People in nature are sociable. They resort to violence only when there is a feeling of injustice.

In many countries, there are minorities that are oppressed waiting just for moments to vent their anger and to claim their rights. An iron fist can outwardly make society look stable but beneath there is discontent. The former Soviet Union was one of the most secure societies in the world. Crime and violence were rare but the Soviet regime wasn’t up to the expectations of people. It had to go. Current Russian President Vladimir Putin is enjoying popularity in Russia because his era is a contrast with the overwhelmingly repressive Soviet regime.

Today, there are the cases of two countries in Africa. There is Zimbabwe whose president Mugabe is exercising utmost dictatorship to defend his principles rather than the welfare of the Zimbabweans. There is Kenya which has looked stable until the recent bloodshed due to disputes over presidential election results. In Zimbabwe, people can’t openly and violently protest because of Mugabe’s ruthless armed forces that can use any repressive measures to quell unrest. In Kenya, there were fatal casualties because of uncontrollable anger.

The seeds of instability are in mismanagements. People can be poor and yet peaceful. There are the cases of many poor countries like Mali that are rarely in the news; other countries have never been heard of in the news and consequently barely known to the international audience like Seychelles except in travel agencies. It is when there is great disparity and the loss of trust of the rulers and their laws that violence spark with intensity.

There were cases of countries that were violently unstable for years like Liberia. Thanks to the settlement of differences between the warring factions and the accepted election of its president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the country is breathing an air of peace despite the scars from the past.

Prioritising stability over democracy is an insult to the intelligence of the people, that some see as a herd that should be led without caring to ask what they want. It’s true that democracy is a gradual phase for countries that have never witnessed it because of the dominance of a ruler or an oligarchy, but step by step, people can learn how to manage their affairs locally to have the power and the wisdom of who they should put at the top. The political elites should also learn to rotate power. Each should be given a chance to rule through the ballots. They should work together to correct each other’s mistakes and not to take advantages of their weaknesses to eliminate one another altogether by imprisonment or killing.

Using stability as a pretext to erode democratic principles serves just a minority which has no alternative but to keep to power through whatever means. People in their countries strive to keep their dignity. Being kept in the cage of their rulers who cites security concerns as a pretext for their repressive measure just kills democracy.

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  1. Hisham said,

    January 2, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Great post as usual. Keep it up!

  2. Looney said,

    January 2, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    Yes, I enjoy this post too. One thing that comes to mind on this is that the quasi-Democratic experiments of ancient Greece didn’t last long. A few generations later, the caricature of Democracy was “mob rule”. Democracy can be fragile and needs something to insure that each generation values and understands how to make it work.

  3. Abdelilah Boukili said,

    January 2, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    Thanks Hisham. It’s always a pleasure to read your blog, too

  4. Abdelilah Boukili said,

    January 2, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    I agree with what you said Looney. There is no perfect government. But democracy, despite the negative way it can be practised is far better than dictatorship in which individual liberty is drastically reduced.

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