Sunday, January 21, 2007

Nation Building v 'Democracy Promotion'

Not wanting to be seen as an imperialistic, colonial, nation-builder, the tory government has reframed our assistance to Afghanistan with the nicer-sounding phrase 'Democracy Promotion' and is calling for your feedback about how that ought to be achieved.

Here's the first question:

1. Each country develops its own model of governance to secure the democratic rights of its citizens. Most established democracies nevertheless rely on a combination of the rule of law, free and fair elections, effective legislatures, an accountable executive branch, independent courts, a transparent and efficient public sector, human rights guarantees, competitive political parties, free media, and an active civil society to secure the rights of their citizens. Should Canada provide assistance to support all of these elements of democratic governance, or should we favour some over others in our democracy assistance?

I say screw the rule of law part, but that's just me.


You'll notice that what that question fails to address are the cultural, societal, spiritual and economic differences of whichever country we may be imposing promoting our democratic ideals in. You simply cannot have a dialogue about how democracy might work without having a serious look at those extremely important issues and you cannot expect that every democracy will look the same. Consider the Palestinian and Lebanese governments which the people have decided through fair elections must include what the west commonly views as 'enemies' such as Hamas and Hezbollah - realities that western governments like the US are doing everything they can to destroy by pumping money into military might for leaders they support like Mahmoud Abbas in order to go against the expressed, democratic will of the people.

So, that very facile question posed by this Conservative government with its oh so obvious answer ('well of course everything should be promoted equally') is not exactly the most honest way to begin a dialogue about so-called democracy promotion and this comes from a government whose leader Stephen Harper concluded that Israel's disaster in Lebanon was a 'measured response'. That is a prime example of how not to promote democracy.

And, when we move onto discussing our participation in bolstering democractically-elected governments such as Karzai's in Afghanistan, the main requirement we ought to have from our leaders is that they tell us the truth about what's really happening on the ground so we can accurately gauge what that help should involve.

We have a foreign affairs minister, Peter Mackay, who is quite fond of painting a rosy picture while disregarding that truth:

For example:

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) -- The Taliban said it will open its own schools in areas of southern Afghanistan under its control, an apparent effort to win support among local residents and undermine the Western-backed government's efforts to expand education.

The announcement follows a violent campaign by the fundamentalist Islamic group against state schools in the five years since its ouster by U.S.-led forces. The Taliban destroyed 200 schools and killed 20 teachers last year, and President Hamid Karzai said Sunday that 200,000 children had been driven from the classroom.
The Taliban's attacks on state schools in the past few years have chipped away at one of the main successes of Afghanistan's democratic revival: a huge foreign-funded development drive that has seen a fivefold increase in the number of children attending school.

According to a report by the aid group Oxfam late last year, more than 5 million boys and girls attend school in Afghanistan, up from less than a million students during Taliban rule. The report said, however, that 7 million children still did not receive any formal instruction.

MacKay, January 7, 2007:

During a teleconference from Kabul, MacKay told reporters that areas such as infrastructure, micro-credit projects for small businesses, wells being dug and the construction of new schools provide tangible proof that efforts are moving ahead.

How can Canadians be expected to advance a discussion about this so-called 'democracy promotion', which is really nation building in disguise - especially when it's done at the end of the barrel of a gun with monetary threats which is the preferred methods of western conservatives - when we're not being given the full picture?

Canada is certainly in a good position to encourage new and emerging democracies, but we should be ever cautious that we are not seen as trying to impose our methods and practices without taking into consideration the will, customs and beliefs of the people we are supplying advice to. We do not want to be in the ranks of the empire-builders or colonialists. That would not serve our interests or theirs.

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