Churchill famously remarked, ‘It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all’. And with that, we remained handcuffed to democracy with little or no discourse on alternative governance systems. Of course this was a global agenda and drawing attention to potential pitfalls of the system was anathema for those that shape the zeitgeist.
Just as monopolies can emerge from capitalism, countering the free trade elements of capitalism, so can autocracies arise from democracy, negating from the notion of leadership for the people by the people. This seems to be the running evolution within democracies during the 21st century. Democracies are losing their foundations and evolving towards an aristocratic regime as a small elite dominate decision making.
One reason for this crisis in democracy is globalisation. Supranational obligations and international trade agreements take priority over domestic sentiments when government is formulating policy. A case in point being the Human Rights Act in the UK which was enacted to give effect to the European Convention on Human Rights ( a legal obligation for all EU member states). The Act has since exhibited absurdities as citizens use it to mitigate unfavourable circumstances. A notable example being the burglar given taxpayers’ money to sue the man whose house he broke into, relying on rights conferred to him by The Human Rights Act. Needless to state, no member of the electorate would vote for a parliamentarian who would advocate for this. A clear case of foreign governments influencing the internal politics of a sovereign country.
Furthermore, the immense power that corporates wield has an enormous impact on the lives of citizens. With globalisation, these corporates can hold governments to ransom with threats of moving plants, factories etc to more industry friendly countries. With the potential result of mass job and tax losses within the state, a democratically elected government is pressurised to regulate industry with clemency towards corporates with regards to matters such as air pollution, minimum wage requirements and the general working conditions of the employee. Power ultimately shifts from government to corporations negating any gains from democracy as a system.
One cannot overstate the potential benefits of Public-private partnerships (PPPs), especially in a developing country where governments face constraints on public resources and fiscal space, and need the investment, technology and innovation availed by the private sector. But these PPPs have proved to antagonise the very ideals democracy is built upon. Part privatisation of services makes it almost impossible to assert democratic control (transparency and accountability) over the actors.
Media has also played a role in the crisis that democracy is facing. The fourth estate, which should serve to inform the public and in essence hold power accountable and put to task the government of the day, is essential to a healthy democracy. The media, with its tremendous power to shape a nation’s political discourse, has in the 21st century become a monopoly, narrowing the range of voices and opinions being expressed in the mass media. In doing so, critical factors affecting society are ignored as the few media owning corporations and conglomerates shape the agenda. Voters are left uninformed as to what the major issues are when making their choices at the ballot box.
This lack of information on the part of the electorate, is further exacerbated by the increased media preference to broadcast infotainment and celebrity news over informative discourse as they prioritise advertising revenue. Issues on which voters base their choices on, are convoluted essentialising the media as a distorting factor in democracy. This in turn culminates in the electing of leaders who don’t address matters that affect the livelihoods of the electorate.
The above discussed lists only but a few factors that distort democracy. The result; fewer people participate in politics, apathy prevails, xenophobic parties (eg UKIP) rise on the back of the growing discontent. People expect less from their vote. And politicians give people less for their votes. The outcome, a disenfranchised, disenchanted and despondent citizenry that is not represented by the current political system. In effect democracy stops working.
As Kenya develops, the base ingredients for the crisis democracy is facing in mature democracies, will inevitably surface. We are on a trajectory that will give rise to even more trade agreements as a region, corperates will transnationalise, public-private partnerships will increase (and need to), media houses will expand and conglomerates will emerge. We are in effect, headed for the same crisis, except unlike the mature democracies, we are equipped with the knowledge of the life-cycle of a democracy.