Democracy preaches freedom which makes me ask freedom of who, from what? Democracy holds equality in high esteem especially through the institution of the rule of law. Wait a minute, whose rule? Whose laws? The state of ‘Nigerian’ democracy is a sad one. So depressing that at several times, I almost gave up writing this topic for another. I refused. That’s exactly what our inefficient leaders want from us: get tired of asking for better governance and adopt a sit-and-look posture.
These words come from Temitayo Olofinlua’s first place winning essay for the category “Democracy that Delivers,” in CIPE’s 2010 International Youth Essay Contest. As Temitayo is writing, there is no electricity on her university campus and she had to type her essay from a cybercafé near her college. For Temitayo, electricity is just another one of the countless basic amenities that citizens have to provide for themselves when the government does not provide for its people.
Temitayo’s call to fellow Nigerians to build a democracy that delivers is not alone. Second place winner Shofwan Al Banna Choiruzzad from Indonesia warns of the similar perils of a democracy experiment whose rhetoric fails to meet the substantive needs of the people:
In the end, we have to understand that democracy is not a genie’s lamp in the Arabian Nights tales. Democracy is not something that gives what people want just by declaring that “we are democratic” and “Abrakadabra!” –everything is fixed, no more corruption or poverty. Whether democracy can deliver or not depends on how the game named democracy is played by the people. It won’t work when most people are becoming bystanders and leave it to politicians nurtured by an authoritarian regime in the past. Participation is one of the most important keys.
As the more than 600 overall entries from 81 countries have shown, democracy is not just about holding elections or the passing of an ailing dictator marking the end of authoritarian rule. The third place winner, Kseniya Oksamytina, from Ukraine laments that just five years after the Orange Revolution voters decided to return the ousted former president back to power. Kseniya presents a detailed blue print for how to make youth more active participants in civic life to ensure that the next generation holds their leaders to a higher standard.
Next week CIPE will reveal the winners in the “Entrepreneurship and Leadership” category, and essays in the “Women and Participation” category the week after. Visit www.cipe.org/essay to view all winners, and download their winning essays as originally submitted.