Are Global Politics Gravitating Towards Better Governance Or Simply An Outcome Of Mass Dissatisfaction?

By Felix Dodds and Thomas Jenkins

Democratic elections have been a long-cherished practice in much of the western hemisphere. Aided partly by informed citizenry, the tradition is firmly entrenched in the electoral processes because of active participation of the middle class in campaigns and policy making. Elections and their outcomes are taken very seriously in that part of the world to the extent that if a sitting President or Prime Minister loses even a referendum, he has to exit office to protect his own integrity, and the wishes of the citizens.

Are we beginning to see that trend shaping other parts of the world? Or are recent political events across the globe merely a product of political dissatisfaction? Well, since 2010, Africa and the Arab World have been seeing some revolution.  Strong political currents are sweeping there, and a new dawn of leadership is being ushered. Côte d’Ivoire went to polls in 2010 and elected then opposition leader, Dr. Alassane Ouattara, the President. The result was rejected by the incumbent, President Laurent Gbagbo, and after protracted civil struggle, the masses installed Ouattara their president. Gbagbo ended up in jail, somewhere in Europe and the rest is history.

2011 witnessed the unprecedented revolution in North Africa. The world called it the Arab Spring. So massive in scale and resolute in outcome that it deposed former dictators in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. People in North Africa somehow felt relieved of the heavy political burden they had painfully shouldered and accustomed to for decades. Free at last, one may say. But despite that relief the current the events there now including; difficult economic times, intermittent conflicts and migration challenges, leave a lot to be desired. Some of the gains have been swept away and the recent passing by the Egyptian parliament of a very restrict law on NGOs in Egypt is a worrying development. Six of the political parties and 22 civil society organizations rejected the bill in a joint statement:

“The bill drafted by the “people’s representatives,” however, is even more repressive and hostile to civic associations and the very idea of volunteerism and collective initiatives. If approved, the law could destroy legally established civic associations working in social development and services. Such organizations will be required under the law to reconcile their legal status with the new statute, which sets overly broad conditions for registration, such as that the organization in question not engage in activity that conflicts with national security and the public order. In fact, the law will give the competent administrative body (as yet undefined) the power to determine whether an association’s activities correspond with the needs of society and development plans. This condition heralds an explicit return to Law 32/1964 on associations, known as the law that ‘nationalized’ civil society.”

It goes on to say: “The law drafted by the people’s representatives provides for custodial sentences of up to five years’ imprisonment and fines of up to LE1 million for associations that conduct opinion polls or field research, engage in civic association (NGO) work without registration, or cooperate in any way with any international body—including the UN—without the necessary approval.

This year delivered yet other political shock waves. Starting with Brexit, and the elections in the US. Few expected the endings. The decision by Britain (52% to 48%) to exit the European Union stunned the world. And because he failed to convince Britons to remain within the European Union, Prime Minister David Cameron had only one option; to resign.   Astounded by the decision and its likely aftermath, many leaders within the European Union called on Britain to take immediate steps to actualize the outcome of the referendum. Some would say the decision of the UK referendum (which is only a recommendation and has no legal requirement to be fulfilled) is akin to political and economic suicide.

Then came November and Donald J. Trump won enough electoral college votes to defeat Hillary Clinton, the front runner. It is increasing looking like Clinton will have won the popular vote by over 3 million – the US system it should be remember as President Nixon reminded people, the USA is not a democracy but a republic. The founders in fact equated democracy with tyranny and to avoid mob rule created “a constitutional republic”. 
It was the biggest world nightmare and lots of conspiracy theories were peddled. Leaders that had never imagined a Trump Presidency and even denounced him immediately began to court friendship. In return, the President- elect has started to show that he is not the firebrand and reclusive leader he pretended he was. He has now toned down his usual rhetoric, perhaps knowing only too well that election campaigns are different from running office, that the world is much bigger than America.

Shortly after the American dumbfounding results, Africa and the world woke up to two other major bombshells. Voters in the Gambia ousted Jammeh Yahya, the self-declared ruler for a billion years. President Yahya defied general expectations in two ways. First, instead of rejecting the outcome and clinging to power outright, he swiftly conceded defeat and promised to work towards a smooth transfer of power to the president-elect, Mr. Adama Barrow. Then, a week later, he reneged on his promise to transfer power and blamed his loss on electoral malpractices. West African leaders are now persuading him to honor his earlier word.
In neighboring Ghana, President John Mahama also lost the elections last week but conceded defeat to Nana Akufo-Addo, his main challenger. Mahama is now part of the team trying to persuade the Gambian strong man to step down. As many know, Ghana has had a history of closely contested presidential elections yet has emerged as a model democracy in a continent where political leadership is in many cases, seen as a matter of life and death for those in power and those seeking to oust them. In 2000, Ghana was the first country in Africa was there the opposition won the election and there was a transfer of power without violence.

The one thing that should be carefully examined is what these political surprises portend for the world. Are they normal political changes that come after voters feel cheated for so long or is it simply a symptom of hard economic times?  The results of the 2008 financial crisis have a long shadow. In the UK and the US mostly none of the people who caused the financial crisis went to jail – except in Iceland. There was clearly a different rule for the political and financial elites than the rest of us. Couple this with eight years later countries inflicting austerity budgets across Europe. The people paid for the mistakes of the elites. After the 2010 UK election in a note left by the outgoing UK Treasury Secretary Liam Byrne in 2010 to the incoming government put iconically “there's no money left.”

The increase in unemployment and an increase in migration in Europe played into a far right narrative which played on people’s fears for the future. In the USA Donald Trump spoke to this same agenda particularly with his tough proclamations on immigration and trade issues- an economic problem that many Americans closely associate their dwindling economic fortunes with. Akufu Addo won the Ghanaian elections because the country is hurtling towards economic crisis that needs urgent rescue. 

And this is where politics and economics come in. The 17 SDGs were carefully designed to solve economic, social, environmental and political challenges in a balanced and integrated manner. That is because development does not take place in a vacuum; it is realized by people within a territory based on policies pursued domestically and globally. And so, to create a world of prosperity for all, while reducing environmental footprints, a strong political vision informed by economic realities beyond the borders is needed.

We are now living in dangerous and an even more insecure world. State centric policies calculated to promote internal advantages at the expense of the One Planet, One People will only promote dissatisfaction, and eventually, high turnovers for leaders and less peace for the world. Policies that promote increased inequality will only increase poverty and divisions. Therefore, it is important for those charged with policy making at international levels to be alive to these facts, and to act in solidarity especially with the poor, for economically and politically stable developing world is good for the entire world. It is only then that the SDGs will be achieved. The SDGs will only be delivered in governments and stakeholders work together in a partnership of hope not despair, of action not reaction of solidarity not selfishness. After all this is Only One Earth


  1. This is a great piece Felix! I think everyone in the world wants change, but sadly, the political landscape does not offer a lot of alternatives. That's why democracies are changing governments hoping that things will change, only to be disappointed and hope that changing the administration again will result to better lives.

    However, this is not sustainable especially since politics are shaped by individuals whose only focus is limited to election cycles. My thinking is that, the civil society, working with communities, can effect positive change by developing solutions at the local level. If such solutions are viable, take them to the government and lobby for their adoption at the policy level. More of a bottom-up approach to development as opposed to the top-down paradigm we have lived with.


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