When I first started this blog in 2014, there was a part of me which thought that its title (Democracy in a hostile world) was somewhat hyperbolic.
As I return to writing on it on 9th November 2016, a lot of water has passed under the bridge. In this brief two-year period, we have witnessed a torrent of unsettling events:
-Troubling democratic declines within the EU, most notably in Poland and Hungary.
-The rise of populist leader Rodrigo Duterte in Phillipines
-Russia’s entry into an ever-deepening conflict in Syria
-Brutal crackdowns on dissent in Turkey, Ethiopia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Thailand, India, Russia…
-South Africa’s withdrawal from the ICC
…and now the election of Donald Trump as 45th president of the United States.
While Trump’s victory was no doubt the true reflection of the democratic will of the US electorate, the election of a man with no overt commitment to democracy, the rule of law or human rights to arguably the world’s most powerful office is a deeply troubling moment.
So worrying in fact that it must now force us to change our narrative about the state of the world from ‘worrying trend of democratic decline’ to ‘period of dominant illiberalism and divisiveness’.
We are now swimming against a strong tide which, if left unchecked, could overrun the remaining democratic dry land.
Amidst continued global economic uncertainty and the inability of the capitalist system to address the legitimate concerns of forgotten millions, populism and its ghoulish protagonists are finding fertile ground. There is now a real risk that the Trumps, Farages, Dutertes, Orbans and Erdogans of this world become the driving force of an unstoppable deluge which could easily sweep away the bulwarks of tolerance, peace-building and democracy that have been the centrepiece of international cohesion since the Second World War.
But this trend can be resisted, and reversed.
In this new game, driven by the rules of dominant illiberalism and divisiveness, social and protest movements must move from bit player to central protagonist. A cursory glance at twentieth century history teaches us that groups of people like this, acting non-violently but proactively, and in a strategic manner, can achieve profound and lasting change.
Such movements can be fostered by the thousands of civil society organisations aimed at promoting democracy and human rights, which are already active on the ground in almost all countries. These organisations’ time has now come. They must step up to become the labourers in building local and national movements asserting the people’s commitment to peace, tolerance, inclusiveness and rights-based societies.
If the regressive tide is to be stemmed, these movements must become the vanguard of a global movement to push back against the poisonous rhetoric of the populists and autocrats who are today gaining ground.
Such movements are already active or being built in many countries, including the USA, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Poland and Ethiopia. They are challenging the overbearing power of the state, collusion between political and economic elites and the inability of our current capitalist system to deliver equitable societies for all.
We now need more of them and we need them to become interconnected. We also need those in a position to do so – the UN and ‘friendly’ states for instance – to support their efforts, overtly an unequivocally.
Ideally, more of these movements should have been built long ago. But if it takes Trump’s election to spark their birth around the world, so be it.
For now, I will be keeping the title of the blog as it is.