We as citizens of the United States observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…


Friday, July 25, 2008

NIGERIA: Participatory Democracy Key to Sustainable Development

This article from Nigeria highlights the trends that many activists have been reporting in that country. It outlines the reasons why participatory democracy is the best system for self-governance and how it can improve the way that countries develop. -Editor

Participatory democracy as tool for sustainable development

Saturday, Jul 5, 2008


The fact that democracy connotes a system where the citizens are actively involved, either directly or indirectly, in making decisions affecting their destinies has elicited a widely held belief that democracy is the best form of government.

The debate on the extent to which popular sovereignty should be guaranteed has existed over the years among political philosophers, especially among the social contract school. While scholars like Thomas Hobbes and Roseau subscribe to absolute sovereignty, John Locke emphasises limited state sovereignty in which the citizens can hold the government accountable. The Lockian idea has been the basic of the American (otherwise known as liberal or preventative) democracy which Nigeria has adopted since the second republic.

Today, representative democracy, especially in the or consciously replaced, sometimes with such ideas as politics of accommodation, elitism or godfatherism. Godfathers are those with considerable means to successfully foist their will on the public, instead of their political parties doing so. Under this circumstance, political parties lack the capacity to act contrary to the wishes and aspirations of these godfathers because they depend on them to bankroll their campaigns and deploy their influence to see candidates through elections.

When this takes place, it becomes impossible or even an offence for citizens to question the actions of the government, since in the first place, the process of election was not on the whims and caprices of the electorates.

The consequence of this scenario further reproduces itself in situations where sustainable development is defined as a development that meets the needs of the present without even compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is a development that is not only all encompassing but equally enduring.

It is no gain saying, that when the citizens are actively involved in the democratic process, inform of voting their choice candidates, involvement in the development programmes, consultations before bye laws are enacted and even criticising existing structure and making policy recommendation, it becomes easy for them to enjoy some since of belonging. It also gives them the room to take part in deciding their destinies. Most importantly, participatory democracy help, to a large extent, in the appropriate channelling of the development programmes.

Furthermore, to ensure participatory democracy, citizens should be made politically conscious by both the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the public and private print and non print media and the non-governmental organisations.

The government can also do this by encouraging and enabling laws that will properly and fundamentally integrate local agencies like the C.D.C., the community based organisations (CBOS) among others in the planning and execution of projects especially in the rural areas.

This will help not only to erace the conversion of the LGA treasury into a group and family purse, but will also expunge situations where elected political leaders become unquestionable and unaccountable to the people.

Class and ethnic marginalisation is another important antithesis to sustainable development. Political office holders and indeed our democratic system should ensure that programmes on both infrastructural and human capacity development cuts across class and ethnic boundaries. It is when these are done that we can hope to see the possibility of domesticating the aims of the New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD) as well as the United Nations Millennium and Development Goals (MDGS) to which Nigeria is a signatory and which stimulated Nigeria’s initiation of a new medium term development strategy titled the National Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) in May 2004.

Participatory democracy will also help to engage the idle youth and by so doing reduce social volatility and youth restiveliness .

With the recent conclusion of the local government elections the emerging leaders should see the entire local government as their constituencies irrespective of party and intra party affiliations. Their policies and programmes should assume a colouration of “NO VICTOR NO VANGUISH”.

It is only when these are done that we can claim to have made our democracy not only participatory and people oriented but equally an agency for sustainable development.

Uranta is a political scientist and lecturer at RSCOE, Port Harcourt.

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