Unwilling to let go of an international system

The third instalment of the US-sponsored so-called Summit for Democracy is taking place in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, from 18-20 March.

The third instalment of the US-sponsored so-called Summit for Democracy is taking place in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, from 18-20 March.

Published Mar 22, 2024


David Monyae

It increasingly looks like the world will never see the end of the self-serving American proselytizing. The third instalment of the US-sponsored so-called Summit for Democracy is taking place in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, from 18-20 March. The 3-day gathering is being held under the theme: ‘Democracy for Future Generations’.

The Summit, whose first gathering was in 2021, is apparently aimed at spreading democratic values around the world as way of promoting peace, stability, and development around the world. Speaking at the Summit, the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, emphasized the need for countries to use technology to promote, and not undermine, democracy. While the value of democracy is not in question, Washington’s appropriation of the role of the global spokesperson for democracy is indeed questionable if not deplorable.

The framing of the Summit itself reveals that the event is little more than Washington’s attempt to mobilize support from other countries to advance its foreign policy goals. It is a continuation of crude and narrow geopolitics by other means and any one paying attention can see right through it.

The discourse used at the Summit divides the world, in a rather simplistic manner, into democracies and authoritarian regimes. It portrays the US as the leader of the democratic camp with lots of wisdom to share with the world on how to create democracy while branding countries standing up to Washington and its bully tactics as authoritarians.

Emerging from the Cold War, the US arrogantly positioned itself as the paragon of democracy and good governance. Its intellectuals triumphantly, but erroneously, claimed that the American political system represented the point history could not transcend. Believing in their won delusions, they proclaimed the end of the Cold War as the end of history.

Having appointed themselves as the prefects of the world, they set about imposing their own political and economic systems on smaller and poor countries around the world in the name of democracy promising them development and prosperity. Africa was one of the experimental fields.

Poor countries’ access to the financial help they desperately needed was conditional on their adopting and implementing onerous and strange political and economic systems that did not fit their national circumstances. New constitutions that looked much like copies of the American constitution were hastily adopted by one African country after another, new political formations mushroomed in the developing countries to compete for political power, and elections monitored by self-appointed western prefects ready to denounce outcomes thought not to be in line with Washington’s policy agenda.

After almost three decades of experimenting with American ‘democracy’ in Africa, countries have almost nothing to show for it but perennial strife, endemic instability, widespread poverty, and wars. The experiment could not be more catastrophic. Africa learnt a hard lesson that democracy cannot be transplanted or imported from elsewhere. Instead, democracy has to emerge from organic national conditions to be an effective guideline for good governance.

The same Washington and its agents are coming back through the ‘Summit for Democracy’ – a representation of a new bottle holding old wine – preaching the same gospel that left most of its converts paralysed by incessant economic and political paralysis. But this time around many countries are wiser and don’t seem to have an appetite for the US preaching.

The low subscription to the Summit in Korea and the previous one hosted by multiple countries attest to the Washington’s rapidly declining standing on the global stage. This is because the US itself does not have the moral high ground to claim to be the paragon and gold standard of democratic governance. Just a few years ago in 2021 the seat of the US legislature was invaded by thousands of protesters disputing the legitimacy of election outcome that put Joe Biden in power.

Until today, his main opponent, Donald Trump, has not accepted the outcome of the 2020 elections. Moreover, the US democracy is one that has dismally failed to deliver social justice. The inequality gap between white and non-white populations in the US keeps getting wider and wider. Black people in particular who make up over 12 percent of the population remain disproportionately impoverished and vulnerable to death at the hands of a racially biased police. As such, the US’s very own experiment with its democracy has fallen short of its promises of equality.

If the democracy that Washington sells to the world has failed in the land of its birth – there is no hope that it can succeed anywhere. At the global level, the US-sponsored liberal international order remains undemocratic, unrepresentative, and anachronistic. The US and its allies have obstinately resisted any attempts to reform an international order that is clearly no longer fit for purpose.

It is not surprising that Washington is not willing to let go of an international system from which it derives considerable power at the expense of the rest of the world. More often than not, the US has opted to pursue the unilateral route if its preferences are not supported by the majority of the member states in multilateral platforms.

As such, the Summit for Democracy was born discredited by the woeful democratic record of its principal sponsor. The rhetoric of the Summit preaches a Manichean world divided into self-defined democratic and authoritarian camps. This is in contrast with the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s concept of a community with a share future for mankind which seeks to unify the world to confront common challenges.

It is ironic as it comes at a time when the US has staunchly supported the butchering of the Palestinian people at the hands of Israel. Palestinians have for a long time been denied their democratic right to self-determination.

David Monyae is the Director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg