Why authoritarians love weaklings

6 novembre 2023, 09:57


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The Forum 2000 was recently held in the capital city Prague – an event that celebrates and protects freedom and democracy. Launched in the mid 1990’s by Vaclav Havel, Forum 2000 more than ever is important in the light of the sustained attack on democracy and the unbridled rise of authoritarianism. As a democracy scholar, I had the privilege of participating and being a panelist at the closing panel that reflected on the “Future of Democracy”. Forum 2000 also saw the setting up of the Democracy Solidarity Africa (DSA) of which I am one of the four members of the Steering Committee. What is interesting to note globally and continentally is that there is a clear motivation and action to work collectively to protect democracy as a common good as reflected by the call from reputed democracy scholar Larry Diamond “to rally forces as democracy cannot and should not be divided”.

In fact, for some time now, there has been an amplified narrative that democracy is a Western construct dumped on the Global South. One has to move away from such an easy dichotomy and focus on the universalism of the principles of democracy such as freedom, rights, rule of law, pluralism and functioning institutions. In certain countries where democracy has failed to deliver, there has been the return of coups d’États, compromised (or stolen) elections, entrenched systems of kleptocracy and unprecedented levels of impunity. Despite this, the demand for democracy remains strong as evidenced by the Afrobarometer Round 9 where across 34 African countries, 68% of respondents expressed their commitment to democracy with peaks recorded in countries such as Ethiopia (90%), Liberia (80%) and Mauritius (75%).

Mauritius’s drastic and dramatic drop

Post-independence Mauritius carved a reputation of one of the soundest democracies in Africa and was classified among the very few liberal democracies in Africa. However, it has lost the status of a liberal democracy and is now classified as an electoral democracy. Today, when global institutions such a Varieties in Democracy (V-Dem), Afrobarometer, Reporters without Borders and International IDEA speak of Mauritius, it is to highlight its drastic drop. This is what was highlighted in International IDEA’s latest ‘Global State of Democracy 2023’ report that was launched on the 2nd November. Mauritius found itself in the company of countries such as Afghanistan, Myanmar, Belarus, El Salvador and Chad amongst others “as the countries that have experienced the greatest number of declines over the last five years”. In fact, what is most worrying is the accelerated decline witnessed by the island in some of the key features related to democracy, namely representation (which is is an aggregate measure of the credibility of electoral processes, the effectiveness of legislatures and the quality of local democratic representation) where the island has witnessed a 43 ranking drop from 29 (in 2017) to 72 (in 2022), rule of law (that includes assessments of the independence of the judiciary, the extent to which the public administrators use their offices for personal gain, how predictable enforcement of the law is, and the degree to which people are free from political violence) where the ranking drop has been 37 from 51 (in 2017) to 88 (in 2022). Last but not least concerns rights (aggregate measure of a fair legal system, respect for civil liberties, the extent to which the material and social supports of democracy are available, and the degree to which political and social equality between social groups and genders is realized) where a ranking drop of 22 from 44 (in 2017) to 66 (in 2022) has been recorded. What needs to be understood is that these drastic drops that have been recorded over a relatively short period of time (five years) can set the country on a course of no return, and all the hard work in constructing and consolidating the Mauritian democratic model would have gone to waste.

Institutions and those that lead them

Checks and balances are considered as one of the key guardrails that protect democracy and by extension, the institutions that represent it. Unfortunately, most of our key institutions have been literally disemboweled and are mere shadows of their past selves. We witness on a weekly basis how parliament (when it is sitting) is a raucous circus of partiality where accountability is constantly sacrificed and the ineffectual role of the legislature to rein in the excesses/abuses of the executive. Institutions, like the police and the anti-corruption body (ICAC), have been weaponised and both rank rock bottom in public trust. Certain sections of the media have already been captured and here, I am not referring to the toxic propaganda box – the MBC – but to media who came to life through the partial liberalisation of the airwaves. It is true that a number of harsh and punitive measures have been introduced to break the spirit of what is referred to as independent media and some have bent to the authoritarian gusts that are sweeping the country. Even public universities are falling prey as we note these campuses devoid of public deliberation, silent to the multitude of pressing socioeconomic issues faced by our country or even important geopolitical big issues facing the region. So, the key question – why are these institutions so weak? Part of the answer lies in the people that have been chosen to head them. In fact, over the last 15 years, a culture of nepotism and political patronage has settled in where jobs, favours and nominations were dished out. It is not surprising that Mauritius is one of the top countries that is experiencing a high level of brain drain.

Therefore, it is imperative that there is a collective push back to save our democracy from what I had referred earlier to as the point of no return. Here, I am reminded of the words of the President of Moldova – Maia Sandu (Moldova: in International IDEA’s Global State of Democracy 2023 was classified as one of the countries that has experienced the greatest number of democratic advances) – who spoke at the opening of Forum 2000: “Democracy for us is a choice – both civilizational and existential – to break free, to preserve ourselves and our way of life.” Let us make that choice and fight for it.