Democracy vs Development: A puzzling paradigm?

'To fully grasp democracy, it is essential to understand it both in terms of its processes and outcomes. A correct and major presumption in that is democracy leads inevitably towards development of a society with the implication that development could be the result of democracy secured through the participation of its citizens'.

by Kwame Owino

In response to Dick McCall and Arthur Muliro on Governance Participation and New Social Contracts.

It is not possible to find a serious scholar or commentator who would hold court by arguing that development is not a necessary factor for any society. Often, there is argument about what constitutes development and what are the objective and subjective indices of development processes and outcomes. Likewise, democracy is hardly dismissed but is taken with qualifications about its content and suitability for cultural or other contexts. For instance the political governors of many societies accept democracy as desirable but argue about the cultural and situational variations of it. At this early stage, they advance their argument that both democracy and development are undeniably desirable but that every society must interpret and design its own democratic model.

Still, democracy remains by far the more difficult concept upon which to draw consensus because it involves the degree to which interest groups or individuals may cede power to the governed. One finds that it is far easier for leaders and some citizens of territories or countries to concede to the fact that they oversee or govern a less-developed territory than they are to admit to being in charge of a less democratic one. Part of the reason may be that demonstrating the absence of democracy is far more difficult than it is to demonstrate lower levels of development. This deceptive device avails itself to authoritarian governors who wish to maintain political authority based on inadequate participation by citizens of their countries.

That most nations whose citizens enjoy higher levels of material prosperity are also those with less authoritarian political systems should help in resolving the connection between democracy and development. Despite the fact that development should encompass more than material prosperity, it is clear that the connection between those is that development tends to be incompatible with authoritarianism. And thus irrespective of the cultural background of a society, it is not to be defined as democratic if it allows for the maintenance of authoritarian government. In jest, it could be stated that a society which treats the individual citizen as the monarch is on a far higher plane of democracy than another that allows for an authoritarian to rule in comfort. In a manner of speaking therefore, development in a comprehensive sense is about decided movement towards states that are not merely electoral democracies but also those that raise the voice of the citizen in the political space more broadly. And yet it is legitimate to ask why authoritarianism persists if democracy is as intimately related to development as is argued. The clear answer is that for the authoritarian, it is momentarily cheaper to delay the surrender of absolute control and allow any changes to take the direction that pleases the governor and not the governed.

Finally to fully grasp democracy, it is essential to understand it both in terms of its processes and outcomes.

A correct and major presumption in that is democracy leads inevitably towards development of a society with the implication that development could be the result of democracy secured through the participation of its citizens. Hence without overstating the immediate value of democracy it is clear that diminishing the power of governors in exchange for public voices is itself an ingredient and outcome of both democracy and development. It is neither necessary nor desirable to create a distinction between democracy and development on account of their link to strengthening the place of the citizen vi-a-vis the political governor. To seek development is a way of increasing people's ability to display choices in economic, social and political matters. This may be mediated by institutions, yes, but these institutions are themselves creations of the people's choices.

 

Kwame Owino is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Institute of Economic Affairs, a think tank based in Nairobi. He is a graduate of Egerton University (Kenya) and has professional interests in public economics, economic regulation, economic history and the intersection between sociology and economics.

 

 

 
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