Democracy and Development which comes first: Million-dollar question

Abiy, the would-be Authoritarian in Ethiopia

Development is neither tabula rasa nor magic bullet. But, development is the result of the plenty of ups and downs which ultimately leads into commendable and lucrative endings.

Additionally, development is not panacea, but is the legacy of the hardworking and resilient tended by some countries and some communities. Moreover, development needs mobilization of three vital factors, namely A- Human Capital Mobilization B- Resource Mobilization C- Time Mobilization.

Meanwhile, many people are still confusing which gets the priority, democracy or
development at the beginning. It’s not easy to say plainly that, democracy or development comes first without immersing and pondering about this controversial topic. Having said that, if we give a close looking the developed countries economically, majority of them reached this remarkable position without prior democratic system. For instance, China, the second largest economy in the world, is not yet a democratic country politically. Though, there is a conspicuous market freedom, but in the political arena, only Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is ruling the country under iron fist. Again, South Korea, which is one of the rapidly developing countries attained her economic miracle before it becomes democratic country. But, later is mentioned, Korea as a liberal democratic country in the constitution which was adopted in 1948 and revised 1987, especially Article 1, paragraph 1 says “The Republic of Korea shall be a democratic republic”.

Additionally, in 1988, Korea managed a peaceful transfer of power through democratic process after three decades of military rule. Not only Korea, but also plenty of other countries like the so-called “Four Tigers” including Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong became newly industrialized countries (NICs) without democratic system. Because, there was political repression existed during their developing period according to this book (Four Asian Tigers with a dragon head by Manuel Castells). Moreover, plenty of talking heads believe that, economic growth and political institutions can’t be dissociated. 

Because, if the political system is open, it’s easy to represent all the stakeholders including the citizens, groupthink, interest-groups, elites and the dissenting voices. And these collective ideas can lead into development according to the Stephan Haggard in his book (Politics of Growth in the newly industrializing countries). But, also the author believes that, many authoritarian systems did scintillating economic development like Four- Tigers in Asia, after they applied Export-led oriented policy led by their governments. Unlike, many Latin America countries which did apply Import-Substitution-Industrialization policy which becomes failed project and pipe dream. 

Apart from that, there are authors including Acemoglu and Robinson in their book “Why Nations Fail?!”, they unyieldingly believe that, you need a solid democracy for durable development. So, we can see how this topic has a lot of conflations.

The role of Mobilization on Development

In this world, nothing can be attained devoid of mobilization. In definition, mobilization is the actions which pioneer moving the mass into economic trajectory under the leadership of the political institutions according to this book (Fukuyama, 2013). Having said that, mobilization is prerequisite for any development.

East Asian Development State Model (EADs) and the role of the mobilization.

East-Asian Development State Model (EADs) conglomerates South-Korea,
Taiwan, Hong-Congo and Singapore. EADS model is so far lucrative and outstanding when it comes to the dramatic improvement of overall economic conditions which the Newly
Industrialized Countries (NICs) have undertaken. The unprecedented economic trajectory tended by these four countries led by their governments singularly. They applied singularly and
collectively, the Simulated Market (SM) theory, Government Market (GM) theory and Free
Market (FM) theory as indicated this book (Economic Theory and the role of government in East Asian Industrialization, by Robert Wade). I think, after I perused and immersed this exquisite book, the EADS model is applicable to today’s developing world. Because, this model is already conspicuous and outstanding when it comes to its economic development. So, its commendable, exemplary, exquisite and plausible model which its good legacy is fit and applicable in this contemporary era. And those countries which already applied this model, are economically, the leaders this present time.

On the other hand, the new developing world in this competitive era, where globalization and pluralism became inevitable, invincible, inexorable and ineluctable, there is a desperately need for applying like this model (EADs) which already receives muck kudos and public accolades from the countries which applied and the world as well. And I believe without dithering that, this model is the best one in this era which befits the developing world to be applied.

China vs India and the case of Democracy and Development!

If we juxtapose in terms of democracy and development these two most populated countries in the world. As many people consider India, as the largest democratic system in the world. Because, over 800 million people go to election voting every term. In terms of the world economic ranking, China is the second largest economy in the world after USA. While, India is the sixth largest economic in the world after USA, CHINA, JAPAN, GERMANY, UK and INDIA. Politically, China applies single party (Communist Party), while India applies Multi-party systems. In this regard, why India is lagging far behind China in terms of economic development? Number of talking heads believe that, democracy hinders economic growth, and there is notoriously need for benevolent dictator in order to prosper the economy. 

That is why, India is far behind China when it comes to the economic development, while India leads the democracy wise on the other side. So, we can extract from this comparison that, democracy and development are not compatible each other sometimes. Apart from that, plenty of authors believe that, India’s democracy fails on almost every count. And one of the prominent authors is, Patrick French who is award-wining and historian. He stresses that, while he was participating IQ2 Debate in Doha-Qatar, “India’s democracy preserves only the middle-class and the rich people. And mostly politicians are the product of nepotism”. Also, he elaborates that, there is a hefty corruption in the government. So, we can say safely that, democracy stifles development like the case of India. Because, there is an egregious disparity within the society like the case of India where democracy is giving competitive advantages to the politicians and haves, while the rest is despised and disregarded.

South Korea and the issue of democracy and development
Korea is one of the fast-growing economy in the world. Korea takes her independence from
Japan in 1945 when Japan was vanquished in the second world war. Korea’s economic
development started in 1960s after the military coup led by Park-Jun hee in 1961. Apart from the coup d’état, he pioneers the current development which Korea is sustaining and improving. Before he takes the office, Korea’s economy was Agricultural sector, and few landlords were bestriding the sector as a Limited Access Orders (LAO). Then, his government reshuffles the system, and started fair distribution of the land. And this commendable step led into economic flourishing. Additionally, he pioneers Open Access Order (OAO) as mentioned in this book (Transition from a Limited Access Order to an Open Access Order: The Case of South Korea by Jong-Sung You, 2012). Park’s Government focuses on Economic Planning & Export by his 5-year Economic Plan, Light Manufacturing and Export Promotion. Unlike, African and Arab World, when their leaders oust a government, they water down the development. 

As a result, Land Reform played a pivotal role for Korea’s peerless and exquisite development which is conspicuous for the last four decades. Because, land elites as a (LAO) used to predominate the land, and there was inequality when it comes to the wealthy and income among the society. Because, Limited access orders is a society that powerful groups and individuals refrain from using violence for their rents and interests through the manipulation of economic interests by the political system according to this book (In the Shadow of Violence). So, when the landlords been dissolved, several agricultural sectors got an opportunity to utilize the fair distribution. And this commendable step led to widen the economic openness. Furthermore, Student’s democratic development revolution in 1960, also was enabled to shift Korea from military rule to free and square elections and became democratic country. Additionally, Korea’s top-notch education system also partook to undermine the LOA and foster OAO (The Boom in Education by Amsden). Because, expanded access to education made people more aware of themselves and the political world around them according to this book (Fukuyama, 2011).

The other side of the table, there is a drastic need also for good governance when it comes to the development discourse according to this book (Good Enough Governance Revisited by Marilee S. Grindle). Because, development is multi-dimensional and multifaceted. It entails improving all aspects of the public sector including the institutions, human capital, interaction among the leaders and their citizens. Also, citizen’s inclusiveness in the political arena is good for the participatory governance. And as already said by De Gaulle from France “Leaders who think of themselves as being above politics and regard politicians with disdain are bad for democracy” And this time democracy means (OAO). Because, the responsibility of the government is to respect individual’s rights according to this book (Dictatorship, Democracy and Development, Mancur Olson, 1993). 

So, OAO gives all the people to contribute the decision-making process, unlike LAO which a few individuals exploit the resources. And this temerity and single-minded actions dilute and dwindle the development. In this regard, there is an immense demand for LAO-OAO transformation so as to embolden the people to participate the development which is good for each and every one of the society and the country as whole.

Somalia and the case of Democracy and Development!
Somalia as a country locates in the Horn of Africa, and one of the Africa’s conflict-ridden countries, it applied democracy at the early stage after her independence in 1960. From 1960-1969, Somalia applied snippet democracy with Multi-party system. Apart from that democracy, nothing tangible has been accomplished under that democracy system. 

Because, there was extreme corruption, hefty bribes, disorder and many bout situations. As several times reiterated my professor in Public Organization Management (POM), and Public Management for International Development (PMID) Prof Choi, Changyong, Democracy means “Noisy”. Which means, it’s very challenging to take decisions. In Somalia’s last free and fair election with multi-party system was in 1967. More than 80 political parties participated. But, the ridiculous and the ludicrous thing was, majority of those parties were organized as clan- based political parties, and after the result of the election was announced, they vanished. 

After that democracy, in 1969 a military coup led by Mohamed Siyad Barre who was the military in chief took over the power. Apart from his government’s iron fist system against the dissenting voices, he delivered good services including the Infrastructure, Education, Military capabilities and etc. After 21 years of that authoritarianism, in 1991 the military government was ousted by plenty of armed to the teeth. Since then, the country erupts civil war and conflict. All the previous government’s legacies were demolished and obliterated. 

As a result, Somalia lost also its relevant member of the international community for several of years, and Somalia became lost and waste country, and her name has become synonymous with a disaster, death and destitution. After one decade of haphazard, dismay and anguish situations, Somalia had different governments starting from Arta government in 2000 under the name of Transitional National Government (TNG). Then, in 2004 Embagathi government under the name of Transitional Federal Government (TFG). In 2009 Djibouti government under the name of Transitional Federal Government. In 2012, Somalia gets its first permanent government since 1991 under the name of Federal Government of Somalia (FGS). And finally, the incumbent government which was elected in 2017.

In 2004, the international community and some of the Somali politicians pioneered that, the best system which fits Somalia’s current situation is Federal Democratic government. Since this temerity was taken, the country is divided into five regional states with their presidents, cabinet ministries and parliaments, and the federal government which conglomerates them. So, instead of focusing the recovery of the country from the damages of the civil war and the conflicts, the regional states started challenging the federal government in terms of natural resources and power sharing. And this unnecessary conflicts and dichotomy among them procrastinated to pass plenty of bills which are necessary the rebuilding of the nation’s economy including The Foreign Investment Law, and the Company Law. 


All these governments were/are named democratic governments, but didn’t deliver tangible services. For instance, Somalia ranked as number 188 in the world’s poorest countries (World Population Review, 2020). Also, Somalia also ranked number one, the 25 lowest economic growth countries in the world compare to their economic growth in 50 years back (World bank, 2018). And if you ask the layman in Somalia (What type of government do you prefer democracy or dictatorship?), I hope notoriously that he/she will say simply dictatorship. Because, they are aware of or witnessed the former central government which delivered some tangible and plausible developments, and they also aware of these governments which mostly tended hollow rhetoric, lip service and vulgar remarks. 


Furthermore, the majority of the Somali people are struggling with the basic needs. So, what is the essence of the democracy if there are no basic services?! Not only Somalia bedevils democracy and development, but also majority of the third world, especially Africa is confusing this tricky subject. Because, Westerns are deluding and bewildering the rest under the guise of Democracy. They want to extol their culture, and brush aside others’ cultures, they want keep others busy on fake democracy instead of focusing their developmental agenda. In Africa, many countries regrettably apply “Kleptocracy” instead of “Democracy” which means, a few greedy politicians are exploiting the resources of the countries, and the rest is suffocating. 

In a nutshell, there is a desperately demand for “Development” at the early stage. And after the country becomes developed economically, there is a drastic need for “Democracy” in order to maintain and sustain the development that has been achieved.

Anwar Abdifatah Bashir (Freelance Journalist/Horn of Africa Geopolitics Analyst, and
Independent Researcher)

The Author is currently undertaking his Fourth Post-Graduate Study in Korea, at Korean
Development Institute (KDI) for Master of Global Governance and Political Economy.

The writer is the Author of Four Books, and more than 150 Articles


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect’s editorial stance.