On Democracy and Revolutions
If you follow me on Facebook no doubt you have seen or read the stream of news clippings regarding last weeks events in Niger. If you haven’t heard there was a coup. On Thursday February 18th Nigerien military commandos stormed the presidential palace and captured President Mamdou Tandja and his cabinet. Since then most of those captured have been released unharmed. Most reports cite 3 deaths all of whom were noted to be members of the President’s security force. The country has since remained calm and peaceful and the coup leaders have identified themselves as members of the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD). On queue Western leaders have quickly condemned the coup and called for a return to civilian democracy. The most interesting quote from the military commanders is this attributed to
I surprise myself sometimes how quickly history is forgotten. For most citizens in the US news of another coup in West Africa is purely back page material if interesting at all. We tend to look down our noses at these poor undeveloped countries thinking that democracy really has no chance. We get really cynical hearing about military leaders forming groups like the CSRD and justifying their actions in the name of democracy. But we forsake our own heritage and traditions. It wasn’t by peaceful elections that the US became a democracy. Certainly the events of the American Revolution placed in today’s context would garner much the same in negative international support (just as it did then). I am not niave enough to think that no man should be trusted, but is there any reason we cannot trust the CSRD? They proved themselves faithful in 1999 when they also took power by force, dissolved the government and scratched out a new democracy.
We also prove our short memories in our logic when we conclude that countries like Niger should have well developed democracies in such short amounts of time. Our own American experiment in democracy almost came to a screeching halt in less than 100 years as the Civil War threatened to tear our country apart. Granted the issue at the forefront was slavery but the deeper issue was the relationship between the federal and state governments (a core component of American democracy or aka Federalism).
So what? I think it behooves us to come alongside Niger and work with the CSRD. We have a wealth of experience and knowledge when it comes to democracy. We should be working with those who show any kind of interest at all. Rather than condemning and cynically waiting for what we “all know is inevitable” why not be proactive and influential. I’m not saying that Niger needs us to be involved in their democratic experiment. I have full faith in the people of that country. To me some of the most resilient and determined people I have ever met. (You try living on less than a dollar a day in one of the hottest, driest countries in the world.)
There is hope for Niger. We of all people should know.