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Do We Need Dictatorship?


How many times have you heard a friend or a colleague or a relative say “we need a dictatorship in this country” for things to move.  For me, the frame that democracy and freedom can hinder progress is very interesting. And, this idea is even more interesting here because it is not subscribed just by the political elite who would thrive under any form of government. Regular people call for dictatorship!  Perhaps people in Bongo do not care so much that they are able to read 13 daily newspapers. (Yes, we have 13 dailies!) 

But, what is behind this yearning for a dictatorship?  Perhaps there is some validity in the idea that the whole apparatus of democratic accountability is cumbersome, and that it requires the maturity of institutions (which comes with time, expense, and a proper political culture) for democracy to deliver a better life.  And, since democracy inherently breeds contentious relationships, you probably need some “sociological capacity” to consume democratic freedoms (and to handle contentious politics arising out of stronger labor unions, nasty editors, shouting opposition leaders, etc).   

No doubt, democracy is of intrinsic value but should it be an end in itself? In Western democracies, freedom is only useful to an extent that it enhances a good life.   America is always cited as the land of opportunity because of its system of democracy. But Singapore has achieved the American dream, but not in the American way. Singaporeans' average life expectancy is now 71 years. No one is homeless. Virtually everyone has a job. To produce his economic miracle, Lee Kuan Yew interfered with every aspect of Singaporean life. And try to find an unhappy Singaporean. You will be hard pressed. 

The key thing is that Singapore is a dictatorship with no corruption. It's an economy that uses capitalist means to attain socialist ends. Something to learn there. 

January Makamba.

November, 2008.


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