The people in Tunisia and Egypt have risen up against oppressive rule. Tunisia has driven out its President, Egypt is demanding the expulsion of its President. In Lebanon, there is conflict between Hezbollah and the government; Iraq is struggling to find appropriate leaders; Hamid Kharzai does not seem to have the confidence of the Afghanistan people; Pakistan is in turmoil and some are beginning to look back to Pervez Musharaff for leadership; the people in Palestine are divided between Hamas and the Palestine Authority and everywhere there is violence and killing.
A good deal of the unrest is connected with unemployment and the struggle to survive.
The people in Tunisia and Egypt, in rising against corrupt government, have taken power into their own hands. This is a brave move and it may topple corrupt politicians but is it enough to ensure transformation to real democracy? As President Musharaff said in an interview with Riz Khan on Aljazeera, democracy is not simply having the vote and holding elections, democracy is how a government rules. It must take into consideration the welfare of the people ensuring opportunities for poverty alleviation, employment, development, economic growth, proper healthcare, and education.
Democracy means having a government that does not succumb to corruption. But that meaning does not apply in most countries. One does not have to look at acts of corruption such as the arms deal, travelgate, etc. to know that a government is corrupt. It is made clear in the fact of poverty. Poverty is the concomitant of corruption. Wherever there is poverty there is corruption in government and it means you have a government that does not understand democracy. Look at the number of African leaders who have held power for about thirty years and wish to create dynasties of rulers.
The problem with democracy is that it is vulnerable to corruption because the ubuntu factor is ignored – government is, because we, the people, are. But government forgetting that we, the people, are the ones who invested it with power, sees itself as separate from the people and therefore not accountable.
Now that the people of Tunisia have taken back their power, what will they do with it?
Will they allow it to dissipate and will they fall back into the same oppression under new leaders who fight for equality during a revolution and then, when they assume power, forget their responsibilities to the people?
Or will they build a democratic system that safeguards the people against corruption?
So far we see in most countries how the government safeguards itself against the people – through the bureaucracies that it creates that render people powerless.
It is time for people to stop believing that once they have voted, they have done their duty in a democracy. The vote at present means giving away one’s power; as citizens we need to understand that we have not given away our power; we have simply given consent to politicians to govern with honesty and integrity. But, as we can no longer trust them, we will be vigilant all the time. We will set up watchdog institutions that protect us from their greed.
Why do people wait for decades before denouncing corruption; why do we allow politicians decades to destroy our societies?
We must act against corruption right from the beginning.
Rising up in revolt is only an expression of our distress and it comes too late. We must assert our human rights from the very beginning.
We also need to examine our systems of government; are they not the product of the industrial revolution with its principle of massification? In today’s world, we apply rules to masses without having the capacity to take into account increasing diversity. Though the Tea Party in America is a conservative organisation, its demand for smaller government is not to be dismissed simply because it emanates from people who may be racist. Too much government leads to corruption and stultifies individual initiative and enterprise, the mainstays of development.
Modern schooling also clings to the principle of massification; it too needs to be re-examined and revolutionised.