8 September 2010

Gambia: Empty Democracy v Democratic Dictatorship


We have been focusing on politics in this column with the objective to document the contemporary history of the Gambia and to help our readers appraise themselves with the happenings of the past. We are now covering issues that culminated during the coup period of 1994. This we hope will go a long way in helping us have a better understanding of the evolution of politics in the Gambia as well as help forge a future genuine democratic dispensation for our homeland.

In the last edition, we have focused on a letter from one Mr. Katim Toure to the Foroyaa under the column FORUM FOR ENLIGHTENMENT on whether it was Empty Democracy or Democratic Dictatorship that is feasible for our homeland. In this edition we shall follow the rest of the response made by Foroyaa on the topic. Let us continue from where we stopped.

During the two year transition period from military rule to civilian democratic rule in 1995, Foroyaa created a column FORUM FOR ENLIGHTENMENT to help readers to have a better understanding of the political situation and allow readers to raise issues for clarification and further reading. Let us follow the letter from the last issue which has generated an interesting debate at the time.

The people can rule directly or indirectly through representatives determined by them. This calls for institutions to ensure that representatives serve the interest of the people, are accountable to them and are removable by them for misrepresentation. This is democracy in its most basic form.

We believe what Katim is really saying is that civilian rule is not necessarily synonymous with democratic governance. There has been civilian tyranny. No one can of course argue that it is not futile to struggle to institute a civilian tyranny to replace a military regime. This is the second point.

The fourth point made by Katim is that "The world is at the mercy of a handful of Western nations who are global bullies". He indicated that "visionaries and intellectual statesmen who had the ability to hasten their nations' development, if not eliminated or overthrown, are made to lead poverty stricken nations"; that such countries have their revolutions but do not want other countries to do the same because they want to be up front that "Western dictates must be accepted until we can better fend for ourselves"

The concerns expressed by Katim are shared by many who feel that the so- called division of the world among two super powers gave room for developing countries to maneuver. This feeling is even expressed by President Rawlings when he gave a speech at the Independence Stadium on 22 July, 1995.

FOROYAA'S position is, however, different. The reason for this is simple.

The fundamental point at issue is whether countries which were former colonies develop according to the dictates of other countries or in accordance with the dictates of their prevailing material conditions.

Historical evidence exists to prove that no power on earth can stop a people from developing if they have the will and awareness to do so.

Take the colonial period. Which colonial power had the will to free their colonies from domination? They kept the people in the colonies poor and uneducated. The colonial powers had all the sophisticated weapons, generals trained in the most prestigious military institutions, well trained and well fed armies, yet when the poorly equipped national liberation armies of the colonies decided to confront the colonial armies, nothing could save such powerful armies from defeat.

Hence, national liberation was achieved independent of the will of the colonial powers. The right to self determination is therefore not just a legal right; it has become a right because it has been asserted by peoples who were determined to be free, independent of the will of their colonial masters.

To buttress our point, allow us to recall two recent struggles; that is, the US/ Vietnam struggle and the USSR / Afghanistan struggle.

In Vietnam, the US utilised its most sophisticated military hardware and employed its best generals against a third world country but was terribly defeated.

Similarly, the USSR utilised its most sophisticated military tactics and hardware but could not win a war in Afghanistan.

The recent Gulf war has shown that sophisticated weapons can only empower a country to cause immense destruction in war but do not necessarily lead to the defeat and disarming of an adversary and the payment of reparation to offset the cost of war.

In short, war is a very expensive enterprise. The quickest way to ruin an economy is to put it on a war footing without defeating one's enemies and forcing them to pay for expenditure on the war. 'This is the lesson that the colonialists learnt when they started fighting wars to suppress the liberation movements. They gathered that they were spending money without any hope that they would retain stable colonies to recover their expenditure. This was why they decided to pave the way for colonies to become politically independent once pressure was put on them.

Hence, we do not agree with Katim that big powers have the absolute authority to determine the fate of the world. The question now arises: How is the fate of each country determined?

Before going on to answer this question, which will explain the predicament of Ghana under Nkrumah, Libya, Cuba, and North Korea under Kim II Sung, allow us to expose some of the myths which had been inculcated in the minds of the people for decades.


There was a time when people in our countries were made to believe that we either had to be a satellite of the Soviet Union or the United States to develop. Some countries became pro-Soviet while others became pro-US. The fact was that neither the USSR nor the US had the capacity to make those countries to develop.

In short, the US government relies on taxation to get the resources it needs to run the country. The USSR relied on the wealth generated by the state enterprises to meet the needs of its population.

Hence, the only way each of these countries could provide assistance to countries like The Gambia is to divert the tax money of the US citizens or the wealth produced by the people of the USSR towards such ventures.

Since the two countries were engaged in an arms and space race, it was impossible for them to have resources to finance all the economic projects of their satellites. This was why in most cases they gave loans and financed only projects on the basis of grants.

In fact many countries became disappointed with the type of aid they received from the two super powers since they could never be enough to satisfy their development needs.

Similarly, the USSR and the US could not stop governments which were loyal to them from being overthrown. The world has witnessed how the Shah of Iran was bundled up to the US only for the US government to look for a third country to host him.

Abundant and irrefutable facts exist to confirm that the existence of two so-called super powers had neither led to political stability nor economic development in countries which functioned as their satellites. The concept of a bipolar world has therefore been a myth which survived only because most of us believed in the myth.

Suffice it to say, the fact that Soviet Union has collapsed, while governments like that of Libya, Cuba, North Korea are still existing, even though the Soviet Union was more developed, had greater resources and a mightier army should convince anyone that external factors can influence change but the real basis of change are the internal factors.

In short, if the conditions in Iraq, Cuba, Libya and any other country are not conducive to any given form of change, no external influence can bring it about. In some cases, pressure from outside may even give a leash of life to a government as has happened in Iraq and Yugoslavia.

See next edition as we follow this most important discussion on democracy.

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