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Africa needs survival, not democracy summit

GREGORY BUTENGWA, Lusaka
RECENTLY, United States (US) President Joe Biden announced that the White House had decided to host the world democracy video summit on December 9 and 10, 2021, to which 110 countries worldwide have been invited to participate.Biden says this summit aims to defend democracy, fight dictatorship and corruption and protect human rights and freedoms around the world.The US has also initially scheduled a physical conference next year, during which it will call on all democracies to uphold democratic values.Over the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ravaged the world and killed millions of people,almost everything was getting worse in Africa as prices of essential commodities have been spiralling out of control. It is therefore widely felt that the US, as one of the superpowers, should have mainly focused on controlling epidemic prevention and helping improve growth, and not to defend freedom and democratic values.Of course the call for a democracy summit in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic leaves much to be desired and has surprised, if not disappointed, many stakeholders across the globe.African people have faced many problems in their lives over the two years of the dreadful disease. They have bought food and medicine with their limited living expenses,struggling to survive.They seek jobs regardless of dignity. However, this is a time when America, the largest democracy in the world, is talking about ideologies, instead of helping out the people in underprivileged countries.What do people need those ideologies for, if they find difficulty in living? This really confuses them.Of course democracy and freedom is good, but it cannot bring people any substantial benefits now. It is ridiculous to talk about these ideologies now when African people’s survival is in question, when survival is the first priority in Africa today.Among the countries President Biden has invited for the virtual democracy summit are Israel and Taiwan, which Beijing claims to be part of its territory, the move which is likely to further tension between the US and China.“I agree Taiwan more than qualifies – but it does seem to [the] democratic government that the US government does not officially recognise. So its inclusion is a big deal,” tweeted
Julian Ku, a Hofstra University law professor whose specialities include China. India, often called “the world’s biggest democracy”,will be present at the summit despite increasing criticism from human rights defenders over democratic backsliding under Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In the Middle East, only Israel and Iraq have been invited. The traditional Arab allies of the US – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan,Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – are all absent. Unsurprisingly, according to the guest list published on the US State Department’s website, America’s main rivals China and Russia are not on it.In Europe, Poland is represented despite recurring tensions with Brussels over respect for the rule of law,but Hungary far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban is not. On the African side,Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Niger are invited.“For this kick-off summit,there is a case for getting a broad set of actors into the room: it provides for a better exchange of ideas than setting a perfect bar for qualification,” Laleh Ispahani of the Open Society Foundation told AFP. Other than using the democracy summit as antiChina meeting, Ispahani urged Biden to address “the serious decline of democracy around the world – including relatively robust models like the US”.The summit is being organised as democracy has suffered setbacks in countries where the US had placed great hopes.Sudan and Myanmar have experienced military coups,Ethiopia is in the midst of a conflict that could lead to its “implosion”,according to US diplomats, and the Taliban took power in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of SU troops after two decades.Many stakeholders have questioned if the summit is just a talk show or it can effect change.But according to the Biden administration, the two-day virtual meeting is designed to help renew democracy around the world.The summit, the administration claims,will “focus on challenges
and opportunities facing democracies and will provide a platform for leaders to announce both individual and collective commitments, reforms and initiatives to defend democracy and human rights at home and abroad.” It will presumably end with bold pronouncements by leaders about reforms they intend to make both internationally and at home.Certainly, the summit comes at a challenging time for democracy. The global monitoring organisation Freedom House called this year’s report on the state of global freedom “Democracy Under Siege”.It noted that the global balance had shifted in favour of authoritarianism, and that the organisation also has recorded 15 straight years of declines in global freedom.Even military coups, once thought near-extinct relics of Among the countries the Cold War, are making a comeback, with coups this year
in Myanmar, Sudan and Guinea,among other places.But the Summit for Democracy is unlikely to have much of a lasting impact. To be sure, it is unreasonable to expect a two-day virtual summit to make major inroads into a phenomenon — global democratic regression — 15 years in the making and due to numerous causes, ranging from public dissatisfaction with democratic leaders’ handling of major issues to the growing strength of countries like China and Russia.A study by University of Cambridge researchers found that international dissatisfaction with democracy as a form of government has reached its highest level in more than two decades, with a vast range of factors underpinning this shift.A two-day summit is not going to just turn those attitudes around. And in some countries where it once seemed like democracy was making real headway, like Turkey
and Russia, the slide toward autocracy has been so great, it is hard to imagine a turnaround anytime in the near future — if at all.As Steven Feldstein of the Carnegie Endowment notes,more than 30 percent of the invitees are countries that are either not free or are only partly free, according to rankings by Freedom House in its 2021 Freedom in the World report.Inviting such a broad swath of countries dilutes the summit’s focus and clarity,costing the meeting, in some ways, the moral high ground. AFP. CLICK TO READ MORE



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