Democracy and Development: when freedom counts most ( Part II)

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Part II  ( Part I is at


Revolutions, though apparently bring immediate changes, do take much longer to set “roots”. Creating the conditions for a smooth transition towards an institutional framework able to deliver for the people takes a lot of time and it is  full of “ups and downs”.

No one is surprised about the level of instability faced by Egypt with a new president.  He is not only part of the old regime but he seems even more brutal than former president Hosni Mubarak.

Who really know what would have happened if President Obama had decided to push for a grand bargain between the youth of Tahir Square and President Mubarak, forcing a transition, basically an exit strategy that would have ensured a less unpredictable and more stable future.

What would have happened if the same transition had been forced in Libya when the rebels, backed by westerns powers, were gaining ground?

The old regimes and the new forces could have been forced to forge a national grand bargain, a national deal, basically negotiating a way to ensure a minimum order in tumultuous times ahead. After all unity and reconciliation are needed if you want to rewrite the “social contract” and consequentially the way the nation is run.

It is easier to approximately count the heads of people in the streets whose voices are echoed by 24 hours news channels than thinking about the others. Someone called the latter the silent majority. Probably when you reach the tipping point, nothing can slow down those who dare to claim for  change.

Mubarak, Gaddafi should have been wise enough to understand the time had come for them to back off and start act differently, more decently, preventing unstoppable movements. When they realized their mistakes, it was all too little and too late.

Now back again to the great dilemma between democracy and development. We all know that democracy does not come automatically just because you have free and fair elections. You need a set of conditions in place.

We all know the history of European nations, about the evolution of political institutions that from being undemocratic, slowly, painfully had turned democratic after the First World War but they were too weakened, too unstable to resist the forces that brought dictatorships not only in Italy and Germany but also in Spain and Portugal.

Democracy is beset by frustrations. I come from a country, Italy that for decades survived amid high political fragmentation and instability including violent years of blood and unrest in the 70s. Democracy can be frustrating also because it is a system based on compromise and negotiations. Decision making can be so disappointingly slow and inefficient. It can take literally years to start  public works and no one knows how long it will take to get the work done.

Nepal also knows about this. Democracy did not bring tangible prosperity in the lives of millions of Nepalese that still suffer in poverty or are forced to migrate. But one thing Nepal can be proud of is the generally open political space based on various freedoms. That’s what Nepali's fought for in multiple revolutions. Nepal can be underdeveloped, marred by corruption and parties’ bickering but at least is a country fully free. The Nepal political landscape can be highly ineffective but at least people have freedoms. Many say that development is like food and without food you cannot survive. This is a similar to a mantra used in China and Singapore. They are right but there is one caveat: having freedom, being able to speak your mind does not give you wealth but does provide dignity and self respect. Call it empowerment, an essential ingredient to boost people's confidence and make them more resilient. Probably all these elements put together contribute to creating happiness on the ground.

In  short the frustrations in the streets of Tunis will prevail but in the long run, as soon as political institutions become stronger and effective in delivering “tangibles” for its citizens, the same youth, will look back and see the achievements accomplished. That will be the time when their sacrifices will have finally paid off. That will be the time of “dividends”. They will live in a truly open though still developing society and their lives will be without regrets.


Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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