A cross-cultural view of democracy

(By Uche Nwachukwu)

Birds did not learn aeronautics technology. But they fly all the same often with greater astounding maneuverability than man’s technologies can ever imagine. Cultures like civilisations are products of complicated socio-evolving mechanisms and make their imprints in the prototypes of democracy as a continuously evolving historical process, a continuum. A good work of art is never perfected. It is continuously perfecting and a “perfected” one becomes a pontificating Frankenstein menace to freedom and creativity. There is no reason why democratic values cannot be cross-culturally conceptualised, synthesised and synergised. It could be made as synthetically, smooth and functionally pragmatic as the English language, which can ‘begin’ in German, ‘commence’ in French, take its “fiestas” and “siestas” in Spanish and do other things ‘et cetera’ in Latin and still remains English, a unique German-oriented dialect. Unilateral conceptualisation arguments cannot hold water and leak like baskets.

THERE have been glib mentions of democratic dispensations in Africa. But although democracy is a highly commendable concept that is practically needed in socio-political dispensations, one may asked: What are real democracies like? Democracy seems to have been uni-laterally and rigidly defined in a stereotyped way of late, oblivious of the different cross-cultural shades of rich, multi-millennial experiences that can add diversity colour and contour to the democratic conception context.

The Greeks invented and philosophised it, the Romans sanitised and tried to crudely globalise it militarily, the French tried to develop it into a political masterpiece from the grassroots, the English dexterously consummated it in a splendid marriage with monarchy and the Americans like modern-day Romans are trying to globalise their unique brand militarily, oblivious of their unique winner takes all spoils system. But each might perhaps say: mine brand is the best, or this is how it should be defined or conceptualises it this way, so so, this and that. Yet the facts remain that democratic values can still be seen as essentially democratic even if they entail a confabulating Babel of discordant defining terminologies.

They still possess the lowest common denominators of democratism in unique ways even though some concepts can be as impalpable as defining the elves. These unique inter-cultural attributes complement and sometimes compensate each other and compensatory mechanisms underlay the fundamental design of many systems, from the heart beat to self-reciprocating engines or the stability of a geodesic design.

It would have been naive to define it from unilateral narrow cultural perspectives. There are non-democracies alright but we need intense cross-cultural research to give the last word. Neither do we expect that everything about seemingly culture bound concepts like democracy must be learnt. Where then will the millennia of sophisticated, heterogeneous cultural developments and adaptations find relevant applications here? The unilateral terminologists would have written them off as non-democratic. Yet cultures where some elements of democracy find some sustainable bearings are already open or semi-open universities of democracy. There has to be local contextual inputs synonymous with homespun, time-tested, culture-bound worldviews and Weltanschauungs, to make it tick. We don’t expect everything to be learnt about western democratic value systems.

Birds did not learn aeronautics technology. But they fly all the same often with greater astounding maneuverability than man’s technologies can ever imagine. Cultures like civilisations are products of complicated socio-evolving mechanisms and make their imprints in the prototypes of democracy as a continuously evolving historical process, a continuum. A good work of art is never perfected. It is continuously perfecting and a “perfected” one becomes a pontificating Frankenstein menace to freedom and creativity. There is no reason why democratic values cannot be cross-culturally conceptualised, synthesised and synergised. It could be made as synthetically, smooth and functionally pragmatic as the English language, which can ‘begin’ in German, ‘commence’ in French, take its “fiestas” and “siestas” in Spanish and do other things ‘et cetera’ in Latin and still remains English, a unique German-oriented dialect. Unilateral conceptualisation arguments cannot hold water and leak like baskets.

Some aspects of western democratic values may not be well understood by an African or a Saudi Arabian, for instance, some places in the West where children cannot be disciplined by parents or teachers or else they face the courts can be seen by Africans to be as weird as futuristic surrealistic art. It is like where the child’s rights have gone haywire to overwhelm and over-run even the most optimistic idealist argument with this implicit “maximalism of democratism”. To them, a parent that cannot discipline his child onto responsibility looks for trouble and damns the future. Neither can some Westerners understand the African extended family systems nexus either etc.  These to mention but a few. There is need for greater synergy, greater cultural integration and understanding and that is an important aspect of life, to ultimately integrate and empathise and democratism can help achieve these when really conceptualised and taken for what it is presenting not what should be. Some of those countries some Africans may term democratic may seem quite non-democratic to Westerners and vice versa.

    I dwelt at length on this issue because of apparent riot of misconceptions and socio-economic palaver this issue may bring about if recklessly used. It should be carefully viewed from a cross-cultural context and experts would be needed. Functionality, communicability, communication networks and popular satisfaction could have been among the hypothetical research variables to be studied here by the egg-head consultants.

 • Uche Nwachukwu is a public affairs commentator based in Lagos.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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