By Allawi Ssemanda
US president Joe Biden is set to host a virtual democracy summit from December 9 to 10. Over 110 leaders from different parts of the world have been invited to attend the summit. In Africa, 17 countries have been invited to attend.
Uganda is not on the list of the 17 countries invited which has prompted discussion on social media with some claiming Uganda was left out because of alleged anti-democracy practices.
On April 16, 2021, U.S secretary of State Anthony Blinken issued a statement saying it was imposing visa restrictions on “those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda.”
While it’s right for governments to criticise undemocratic practices, the U.S is not a good ambassador to be lecturing the world about democracy. While they accuse some African countries of undermining democratic practices, facts on the ground show that Washington continuously practices the same.
Despite praising self as the “city upon a hill,” scenes characterizing developing countries during elections are the same we see during U.S presidential elections. For example, money is said to have played a major role during the 2020 U.S presidential elections. Congressional and presidential campaigns saw nearly 14 billion U.S dollars, more than double of what was spent in 2016! Also, undisclosed campaign contributions and dark money increased during the 2020 polls increased.
According to the Brennan Centre for Justice at New York University, dark money groups poured in 2020 U.S elections over 750 million dollars. Such practices monetize elections which has been cited as a major setback affecting democracy in Africa.
Gallup poll released on October 8, 2020, showed that Americans' trust in elections had reduced with only 19% of respondents saying were “very confident” about the accuracy of their presidential elections. Wall Street Journal of November 9, 2020 commentary noted that the 2020 U.S elections were a culmination of two decades of decline in Americans' trust in the basics of building blocks for a vibrant democracy.
Arguably, it is not a surprise that November 3, 2020 polls were disputed which culminated into an open attack on the so-called beacon of democracy (capitol building attack) on 6th January 2021. German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier responded by saying that 'The scenes (the U.S. Capitol building violence) we have seen are the result of lies and more lies, of division and contempt for democracy, of hatred and rabble-rousing -- even from the very highest levels.'
All the above shows that democracy is not a preserve of the U. S and therefore, claiming to be champions of democracy and branding those they don’t agree with as authoritarians and “rogue regimes” as they normally do is not just hypocrisy but also insulting international intelligence.
However, this should not be interpreted that I am blind to tell the difference between liberal democracy and authoritarian regimes, I of course do and if asked, yes, I have a strong preference!
On human rights which the U.S and some other countries base to attack others branding them abusers of human rights, the U.S still is not the best to lecture the world on human rights or equality.
We have all witnessed acts of racism in the West and some analysts argue it is systematic. In his statement on the death of George Floyd, who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes, President Barack Obama lamented that “Remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of the race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal.’”
In June 2020, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights twice addressed the media stressing that protests which were triggered by the death of Floyd painted not just police brutality against people of colour but also raised issues of inequality and racial discrimination in the U.S’ education, health and employment sectors.
While President Biden’s democracy summit is a good initiative, one can argue that the U.S should not segregate on who attends it. Even those who they think are not democratic “enough” should not be left out. It is such summits where people meet, listen to each other, and maybe learn from each other. Possibly, the world’s biggest population – China should have been invited to share how the world should make progress towards a “functioning real democracy.” For example, while arguing that democracy is a shared value of all human beings, China proposed developing a whole-process people’s democracy. Should the world not hear how they think this will better the world and the “real” democratisation process?
We ought to know that democracy is not an exclusive practice of one country. Rather, it should be about the people ruling and the ruled in a given country. With skyrocketing monetization of politics as a study by Brennan Centre for Justice at New York University observed, like in many undemocratic countries, the 2020 U.S polls were largely influenced by money a practice that arguably makes democracy a commodity since money can influence voter’s choice.
The writer is a Research Fellow at Development Watch Centre, a Foreign Policy Think Tank, and author of Why Africa Deserves a Permanent Seat at United Nations Security Council