BOOK>> DEMOCRACY KILLS • by Humphrey Hawksley • Macmillan UK • Indian price Rs 40
Anastasio Somoza, the Nicaraguan dictator deposed in 1979, once told a journalist: “I would like nothing better than to give Nicaraguans the same kind of freedom as the US. But it is like what you do with a baby.
First you give it milk by drops, then more and more, then a little piece of pig, and finally it can eat everything ... You have to teach them to use freedom.” Somoza was a brutal despot, rightly condemned.
But if British journalist Humphrey Hawksley is to be believed, the zeal to foster democracy could also be a fraught agenda. Hawksley is a known hand at political reporting. As BBC’s foreign correspondent, he covered civil wars in Africa and the US invasion of Afghanistan. Much of the bitter taste left of that experience shows in Democracy Kills. His accounts are dotted with questions that almost every observer of politics must have asked.
What value does a vote have to someone with no access to clean water, education or a job? If democracy is a precondition for development, how has communist- run China been able to raise its people’s standard of living more effectively than democratic India?
The vote might be a good thing in the UK, US, even India, but in many places democracy is hardly the holy grail of governance. In the Ivory Coast, for instance, democracy and its sidekick— free market economics— have brought political instability and economic ruin. Cocoa producers are paid the same for a kilo of beans as 30 years ago, even though the price of a chocolate bar has risen four-fold.
The type of democracy Hawksley surveys surely kills. But the poor success record of democracy does not prove that democracy is suited only to a few lucky peoples, as Hawksley implies, and comes close to saying when admiring the stable prosperity of autocratic Singapore.
The mixed success of democratisation efforts—success in India, South Africa and Poland; failure in many African countries—highlights the point that democracy flourishes when the most stringent conditions are met.
Ketaki Nandy is a sociologist in Kolkata