Democracy on Trial

The events of 6th January 2021 in the United States of America, provided the
a world with images of a marauding horde of nativists, white supremacists, and a rabble of the American society’s irreconcilables in full flow; fueled by a series of carefully constructed conspiracy theories nurtured over years by a combination of the avirulent partisan press, skilfully woven alternative realities and egged on by a President hell-bent on holding on to power by any means necessary, they stormed the United States Capitol. These activities, conducted in an insurrectionary attempt to overthrow the lawful government of that country, presents the entire world with a
salutary moment in which to contemplate the concept of democracy itself.

It would be useful to note here, that the American general election of 3rd
November 2020, the event that appears to have triggered the ire of the
insurrectionists, was described by the government’s own head of the
homeland security organisation responsible for election security as the safest
and most secure in the country’s history. Following the vote, numerous
recounts were requested in swing states and every query imaginable dealt
with expeditiously, with full transparency. All legal challenges to the results
were disposed of from the local, state, and federal jurisdictions promptly.

The President’s legal team brought 62 claims in state and federal courts and
ultimately, to the Supreme Court, all of which failed for lack of credible
evidence. In spite of all that, the momentum of the President’s incendiary
rhetoric propelled the mob inexorably towards an attack on the seat of
government.

The desecration of the citadel of the American government is of momentous
import not only to the people of that country itself but also to the rest of the
world, whether you aspire to liberal democratic principles and count the US as
a model to be emulated, or are opposed to the same because you are wedded
to an authoritarian or even totalitarian governing ideal. To those of the former
persuasion, it represents a diminution in the stature of America as the
undisputed “leader of the free world”; to the latter opposing camp, it will no
doubt serve as a fillip to their convictions against the utility of democracy as a
governing ideology.


For decades since the end of the 2nd World War, America has championed
the ideals of liberal democracy both at home and abroad. Even on occasion,
when it has not practiced abroad what it preached at home, there has been
a little question as to the ideals that underpin and inform its actions as a country.
To many, the Americans uniquely had distilled the contradiction posed by
setting side by side, the Hobbesian question of how the sovereign power of
the state as justified by the need to protect the rights of individuals can be
constrained so as to prevent its misuse; and the Lockean solution that posited
the conferment of that sovereign authority on the government by the
governed, only in so far as the resultant limitation of their own liberties would
be done with the consent of the governed.

As a result of the protracted deliberations of their Founding Fathers who
placed much reliance on the Enlightenment ideas of the 17th and 18th
centuries, the Americans came up with the system of democratic government
characterised by three co-equal branches of government formed of the
Executive, the Congress (Legislature), and the Judiciary that, in theory, serve
as a check and balance one over the other. Many a student of law and
constitutional government has marveled at the ideals contained in this
a relatively novel form of government, a welcome departure from the hitherto
prevalent forms of absolutist government of monarchs and unaccountable
dictatorships. Arguably, the rapid adoption of democratic government that
followed the post-war era (1945 onwards) and continues apace, is in large part
attributable to the American example.
It is therefore difficult to underplay the significance of the terrible images that
played on screens across the globe, depicting the playing out in real-time, the
upending of all that is idealistic about America as a world leader. The sight of
the President of the United States, head of the Executive branch,
orchestrating in full view of the world, a coup against representatives of the
people who had assembled to complete the formality of affirming the people’s
will as to who their new leader should be following a free and fair election, was
a truly world-shattering event.

The year 2020 will be remembered as an irredeemably awful year with the
COVID-19 pandemic sucking out the oxygen of attention from governments
and people worldwide. The accompanying economic hardship that has
seemed only muted by massive government intervention in nearly every
economy on the planet, will only manifest its extent when the world gains
some relief from the vaccines that have appeared on the horizon, begin to
take effect to return us all to a semblance of normality. The tragedy of the
Lekki massacre in Lagos, Nigeria, also occurred in 2020, although it seems to
have been longer than that. No discussion on democracy can ignore an event
of such significance to the notion of peaceful protest of citizens wishing to
bring pressure to bear on the governments that they elect. The sight of young
Nigerians being mowed down by gunfire from police and other security operatives, followed by government ministers and officials seeking to pretend
that the world did not see what was in plain sight on their screens was truly
shocking to observe. It is easy to persuade ourselves that what happens in
politics faraway in America has no bearing on Nigeria, for instance. Yet it was
clear when officials in Nigeria initially started rejecting the atrocities of the
ENDSARS protests and ensuing tragedy as “fake news”, that the terrible
example of the current American President in branding all unfavourable news
as fake news, has gathered willing acolytes across the world. It is a mark of
the resilience of Nigerian youth and their sympathisers, that neither the
the overwhelming use of brute force against their numbers by agents of their
the elected government, nor the death and injury inflicted, has deterred them from
seeking by peaceful means, improvements in accountability and performance
in their government. That ENDSARS movement to protest police brutality and
impunity in government has now morphed into Soro Soke (Speak up)
movement can only be a good thing.

By some irony of happenstance, at the same time as the American tragedy
was unfolding across the world’s television screens, thousands of miles away
on the other side of the world in Ghana, an equally disturbing event was in
process. A country hitherto regarded as an oasis of relative stability and
democracy in a troubled enclave in Africa it exists in an area characterised by
interminable wars, military coups, and incompetent governments with
disregard and contempt for the rights of hapless citizens. Yet on this occasion,
images were being beamed across the globe of their parliamentarians blithely
engaged in mob action within their own parliament house, in pursuit of power.
What is troubling about these events is that they both occurred at a historical
the moment when China, the emerging global economic hegemon, suffused with
well-deserved confidence from its economic success unparalleled in human
history, for dragging at least half a billion people out of poverty, has doubled
down on its authoritarian impulses, inflicting harsh restraints on the rights of
millions of its own people; Russia continues to languish under the reign of a
leviathan who thinks nothing of eliminating dissent using some of the most
brutal means, Poland and Hungary are experimenting with incremental dilution
of democratic principles, while the digital phenomenon of social media is
playing havoc with objective truth and facts. Social media now creates silos for people of any manner of outlandish belief, to exist in bubbles of self-reinforcing delusion. Clearly, where people believe they are entitled to alternative facts, it is almost impossible to reach a consensus on which is the way forward.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, all is not lost. One has merely to look to the
territories across the world from Africa, through Burma to Yemen, Syria and
others to recognise the value of living in a jurisdiction that is democratic and
abides by the rule of law. For all the horror of what occurred in America on
that fateful day, the guard rails of democracy held; the putsch failed, despite
the loss of life and damage to property, the institutions of accountability have
creaked into action, and the results of a free and fair election have been
upheld. The same constitution that set out the ground rules for governmental
activity is being used to provide the wherewithal to bring the culprits to book
and exact accountability from the leadership of this travesty.


The words of the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 continue to
have a resonance with all people of goodwill and merit a mention here, albeit
modified somewhat. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are indeed the
inalienable rights endowed upon all of us equally, as human beings.
Notwithstanding the events of 6th January 2021, a democratic system of
the government remains the most equitable and efficient way of achieving that
laudable end we must all continue to aspire to, in perfecting our rules of
governance, so as to achieve our better selves. While at it, it would be useful
to consider, especially in respect of those who are new to democratic
government, that it is a living ideal that thrives in accordance with the care and
the attention that citizens devote to it. It is never enough to vote and leave
everything to the politicians; it calls for eternal vigilance in activism and
ensuring that the power of the vote is wielded as frequently as possible to
effect the change we seek.

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