The Council on Foreign Relations enjoys a well-earned reputation as a key laboratory for the cutting edge ideas that shape the strategic policy of the United States of America. However, the CFR is not known only for its services to its home country. It is also highly regarded as a critical voice in the shaping of global policy. Without a doubt, CFR is one of the premier global think tanks that set the agenda for the global conversation, and has for many decades played a vital role in enlightening the world on the intricate dynamics of international relations.
I have been asked to speak on the subject of ‘Leadership in Developing Democracies’, with the rider “A Nigerian Perspective”. I want to believe this rider to mean that in addressing this topic, I am expected to draw illustrations from the experience of my country Nigeria, a prominent member of the developing democracies’ club. I want to emphasize that the rider does not mean my comments here today represent the official viewpoint of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
On ‘Democracy’ and Developing Democracies’: We understand developing democracies to refer to those developing nations (mostly situated in the southern hemisphere) that practice a non-monarchical system of government where the supreme powers of the state are vested in the people but exercised on their behalf by their elected representatives. This of course is the system of governance known simply as ‘democracy’, that system of government succinctly defined by America’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln as “government of the people by the people and for the people”. Developing democracies may also be referred to as “emerging democracies’.
Developing Democracies: One characteristic of developing democracies is that in these nations, the institutions of democratic governance are not yet mature, but are still evolving. Conversely, mature democracies would be those nations where the democratic governance infrastructure has evolved over a period of time. Considering that developing democracies across the globe are all part of the group of developing nations, while the developed democracies invariably belong to the group of economically advanced nations, it becomes clear that economic circumstance is a contributory factor in the maturation process of the democracy experience. Another contributory factor is of course age. Developing democracies are relatively new to the practice of democracy, compared to the developed democracies. And as toddlers, they are taking faltering steps. The United States of America represents a classical example of a matured democracy with a developed economy and over two centuries of practice, while my country Nigeria is a good example of a growing democracy with a struggling economy and less than 30 years cumulative experience in democracy practice. Because of this relative young age, and their attendant susceptibility to exigencies, the practice of democracy in developing democracies such as Nigeria may still rightly be referred to as ‘experiment’. Earlier on, I referred to this roundtable as both timely and highly topical. It is particularly timely and topical for me because at this very moment, Nigeria, like most developing democracies, is wrestling with the complex dynamics of the democratic system of governance. Nigeria, again like most developing democracies, is discovering that the road to true democracy is a thorny road indeed.
Preferred System of Government: There is no doubt that all developing democracies find the democracy experiment a huge challenge. Similarly, democracy as a system of governance finds in developing nations a highly challenging environment to thrive. But neither democracy nor any developing nation that has tasted its charms is truly inclined to call off the relationship. I do not know of any nation that, having tasted democracy voluntarily chooses to revert to dictatorship. I can hear some people murmuring about Egypt, but we consider Egypt a nation in transition. And so we choose to withhold judgment at this time.
On Leadership: Maybe we should in the spirit of fairness define the word ‘leadership’ since we have already tried to define democracy and developing democracy. The word “Leadership” is a derivative of the word “lead”. As we learn from the New Webster Dictionary of English Language lexicon, the word ‘lead’ means to show the way by going first or to direct and guide. Thus leader is someone who acts as a guide or a directing head. The word ‘leadership’ has a double meaning as both the position of a leader and the quality displayed by a leader.
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