Former President Jerry Rawlings has said that a nation is better protected when genuine democracy guarantees its people freedom and justice.

Describing security as the ability of a people to feel safe and comfortable within a certain socio-cultural framework, he said there can be no security where freedom and justice are lacking since they anchor democracy.

“How can we have security without genuine democracy? Since freedom and justice anchor democracy, how can you have the security of peace and stability when there is no freedom and justice?” he said in an address to participants at a lecture he delivered on ‘Democracy and Security in Africa’ at the Oxford University, UK, on Monday.

Rawlings said democracy is about what the people want and need, not about what the rulers think the people want or need, explaining that it is most unethical and politically unwise to attempt to govern a people by resorting to the use of force in the name of protecting the state as opposed to meeting the needs of the people.

“Are we not violating people’s human rights, sensibilities and sensitivities with the use of the coercive machinery of the state by terrorising people into a state of subjugation?” he queried.

The former president noted that “democracy works only when it has evolved within a specific socio-cultural environment and fused into the traditional political systems such that it is seen as an indigenous product,” however, “Africa has not been given the opportunity to develop this.”

“The multiparty system of governance prescribed and inflicted on us by some Western powers did not factor the social cultural fabric of our traditional political system that existed before Western multiparty democracy. We can sit on our high horses and send observers to cover elections across the continent and they will return with lovely stories of free expression of the people’s will. What they fail to realise is the fact that many voters are influenced into voting in a certain pattern and are threatened with violence should they vote otherwise.

“Unfortunately that situation persists on our continent and we cannot play the ostrich, adopt democracy in the form that the West has handed down to us and expect that our security will be guaranteed. Democracy could be described as existing in name and form but without substance in some parts of the continent.”

Rawlings called for a critical analysis of the impact such wholesale adoption has had on African societies instead of keeping so much to “text book definitions” of democracy.

See Rawlings’ full address.

Story by Isaac Yeboah/