In DepthColumnsDemocracy's tarnished model


Posted on Friday, 25 July 2014 16:41

Democracy's tarnished model

Patrick Smith

Developing economies are bounding ahead amid mounting social discontent. Istanbul, as it turns out, is a good place to discuss politics in Africa.

The Turkish city straddling the fault lines of Europe and Asia demonstrates just what effective policies and institutions can achieve: rapid modernisation, better public services, more jobs, credible elections and the end of military rule.

Africa's economic acceleration presents exciting commercial and strategic opportunities

So is it a promising example for those searching for ways to marry economic growth with democracy?

Not exactly. Rather, it points to the continuing difficulties of mediating between the two.

Important as the gains have been, the Turkish model – at home and in North Africa – is tarnished.

It has been a little more than a year since millions of activists joined demonstrations across the country sparked by government efforts to tear up Istanbul's Taksim Gezi Park.

Quickly, the protestors' tar- gets widened to include creeping authoritarianism and the undermining of secularism.

Despite Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's dismissal of the protestors as "just a few looters", they swept across the country.

In clashes with the security forces, 11 people were killed and more than 8,000 injured.

Here in Istanbul, we are a group of foreign correspondents taking stock with officials and businesspeople from Africa and Turkey at a conference on energy.

What went wrong last year? How resilient is the democratic system? How serious is the corruption and environmental degradation? How widely shared are the fruits of this impressive growth?

For the African attendees, such issues are at the top of the agenda at a time when economies are bounding ahead amid mounting social discontent.

Equally, for Turkey, Africa's economic acceleration presents exciting commercial and strategic opportunities.

A Kenyan official described his country's new constitution, with its provisions for devolution and requirements for local consultation, as "too democratic".

A case of "directed democracy", that would have been music to Premier Erdoğan's ears.

The official recalled a recent bout of protests: "We're trying to build a pipeline, a road, a railway [...] but people are using the constitution – their rights – to take us to court. That may sound good, but we're stopping the economy, holding up development."

Providing better public services is non- negotiable, they said, as is a free press and the rule of law.

But the members of the group also saw a wind of authoritarianism blowing through Africa, even gusting across Ethiopia and Rwanda, and predicted that it can only blow harder with instability and insurgencies fanning out from the Horn and the Sahel.

And Turkey, which has been a leading supporter of the opposition in Syria and whose second-largest trading partner is Iraq, is well acquainted with regional political risk.

Walking across Istanbul's cross-cultural cityscape – from the Blue Mosque to a forest of gleaming metallic skyscrapers – it's clear that Turkey's struggle for democracy is far from over and that there are important lessons to be drawn from its journey so far. ●

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report. He has edited the political and economic insider newsletter Africa Confidential since 1992 and was associate producer on a documentary about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television.


Subscriptions Digital EditionSubscriptions PrintEdition










Music & Film



Keep up to date with the latest from our network :


Connect with us