Defending Democracy: A Rebuttal of Dictatorial Nostalgia
There are those in Liberian society like John T. Richardson, Charles Taylor’s Former National Security Advisor, who have enriched themselves on the war-induced misery of the Liberian people. Therefore, they see chaos as an opportunity to reactivate and entrench their predatory vices.
Some have suggested that government should arrest him for his utterances aimed at undermining national security. But that might be the reaction he wants from government. It would give credence to his rage. Even this article might validate him in a certain way.
And if it does, I hope that he realizes that the goal is solely to have the opposite effect. I want to make a case for why all Liberians, in spite of their backgrounds politically, socially, and economically need to invest in sustaining the democracy that we enjoy today. I intend to emphasize that our democracy is evolving.
And the space provided for the likes of John T. Richardson to express dissent with the government is one he and his tyrannical gang denied Liberians. This government should not stoop to the level of him and his cronies, but allow him to vent so long he does not take up arms to come after the rest of us.
The Case for Our Emerging Democracy
For the last 12 years, Liberians have witnessed abundant expressions of their democratic rights than ever before. This has been manifested by dissent from individuals as well as social and political groups crossing the broad spectrum. Over the period, they have included youth groups, students, political parties, journalists, labor unions, women groups, faith-based organizations and more.
All these have happened for different reasons and being organized under different auspices. Some have even enacted sheer resentments against the government taunting it verbally or in writing. Yet still, they have not seen the authoritarian reprisals that were the reactions of past governments. Minor exceptions have existed.
Indeed, as the nation seeks to democratically transition to a new government, peace loving Liberians must dispel the persistent myth that citizens under this government are being repressed politically.
We have an emerging democracy that has given the citizens ample space to speak against what each perceives as social or political injustice without repercussions as in past regimes. We should therefore not take this change in our political culture lightly.
For those Liberians who daydream the return of past authoritarian regimes, they should realize that Liberians are not as gullible as they were during the Doe era.
Conditions under this government are not all honey and roses. But the alternative is not to return to a dejected and wretched past, which the Taylor government acted out.
Critics of this government should realize that democratic governance is a complex phenomenon. It is not as simple as many tend to make it. There are those who trivialize governance as a black and white activity. It is far from being that.
Policies, which are made that affect the lives of individuals and social groups or the whole nation, involve an array of complex underpinnings. Making sense of their complexities to produce optimal livelihood outcomes require thoughtfulness and not merely appealing to the whims of the warring elites as was the case under Charles Taylor.
One essential ingredient of democratic governance is compromise (give and take). Those in opposition to the government, ordinary citizens, and members of the ruling government must always find a healthy middle, acknowledging external and internal constraints so as to maximize the interest of the state over egocentric self-interests.
Anything that involves the interest of the state requires making concessions between the governors and the governed. It is also not a try and error thing as some who lack the basic understanding and appreciation of these challenges such as Richardson seem to think.
Every citizen within our emerging democracy has to ensure that our domestic politics is not unfriendly to the process of democratization. We cannot do or say things that will weaken the democratic hopes of those citizens that are vulnerable and likely to destabilize the society.
If we do, we strengthen the hands of those with authoritarian aspirations waiting in the wings, such as Richardson, whose desire is to prevent the democratization process from achieving its ultimate aims. If you are a keen watcher of politics, members of this latter group have the tendency to delegitimize any actions taken by our democratic leaders as if when they had the opportunity, they did any better.
Democratic governance is different from despotic governance. The dense and dynamic interactions between different elements of the governance systems require skills and knowledge to make the outcomes predictable.
Under despotic rule, because the finality of decisions hinges on one person and the other stakeholders are often discounted, it is easier for them to make self-interested decisions against the interest of the state.
Hence, the nostalgia for Charles Taylor and his likes that I hear in some political camps need to be rebutted. Under Taylor, governance was unpredictable. All variables that constituted governance were hard to control.
As such, we were handed a protracted civil conflict and associated devastation of the state. We should therefore not ever want to experience the democratic meltdown that created room for Charles Taylor and his allies such as Richardson to acquire power.
Freedom has become more pronounced in Liberia than ever before, and no one should wish for the erosion of our democracy. Yes! We need to develop a larger middle class than what exists today to enable a greater push for social, political and economic freedoms. But leaders alone do not drive democratic changes.
The citizens and even opposition political parties have major roles in this effort. If segments of this population acquiesce, the government will slide from being a free and open government and thus justify the reemergence of tyranny. If our support for democracy decline and we allow the predatory elements amongst us to agitate without negation, dictatorship will sneak up on us.
Emmanuel Dolo, Ph. D., Contributing Writer