The Vulnerability of Democracy


Provided by Billy Osogo

I became politically-aware when I was around 11 years old. We had a disputed election in 2007 that resulted in the most destructive wave of electoral violence in all of Kenya’s history. The country was burning, literally. There were places you couldn’t access if you weren’t from particular ethnic backgrounds. Ethnic militias operated with impunity. Years of oppression and subjugation bubbled over. The center could no longer hold.

There’s one picture I have remembered vividly throughout the years. A lady in a sharp, neatly-pressed, pin-striped, grey suit and black heels. A gentleman sporting a generous dose of white hair, clad in a dark grey suit. They were fielding questions from journalists on the progress of the peace talks. The lady was Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the then US Secretary of State. The gentleman was Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General and lead mediator of the peace talks.

I remember asking my mother, “Why is she here and not in the US?” My mother calmly replied, “She’s been sent by President Bush to ask our politicians to make peace.”

That was the first time the influence of the US in Kenyan affairs struck me. The second and most definitive encounter happened a year later in 2008. America made history by electing its first African-American Head of State. President Barrack Obama.

The excitement in school was palpable. I remember seeing so many Obama 2008 t-shirts that I thought they were the new school uniform. Everybody was speaking about “our victory” and “our son”. It was as much America’s win as it was Kenya’s and indeed, the rest of the world. On his inauguration we were exempted from school. All screens showed live pictures from Washington. President-elect Obama stood immaculate in a black trench coat and red tie. He oozed class and dignity. His wife Michelle stood by his side, looking as elegant on that day, as she did every other day thereafter. As soon as he uttered those words, “So help me God”, ululations broke out. Singing and dance could be heard far and wide. Our son had made us proud.

Years later, I have enjoyed reading the autobiographies of all these individuals. Decision Points by President Bush, Democracy by Dr. Rice, Becoming by Mrs Obama, Interventions by Kofi Annan, The Audacity of Hope and Dreams From My Father, by President Obama. I continue to be in awe of the power of the written word. Its inimitable ability to freeze time and to teleport the reader into the epochs of history remains its greatest gift for me.

Thirteen years later, I had graduated with my first degree in Political Studies. I was more politically aware. I read more. I no longer asked childish questions like why was person X here and not in America. The indispensability of America in world affairs was lucid. I, like millions of people across the globe, followed with keen interest, America’s 2020 Presidential elections. I had long gotten over Hillary’s defeat when I saw her attend the incumbent’s inauguration. Wounded yet stoic. Exhausted yet present. Shocked but undeniably patriotic.

It’s been 2 months since Americans cast their ballots. I have followed the elections every day, often oscillating from one news channel to another. In Kenya, all our elections are determined by popular vote. I therefore had to keep explaining why the media was so focused on that magic number, 270. After a few days, it was announced that Joe Biden had garnered the required 270 votes, and was therefore the President-elect. Once again, I felt that wave of optimism and hope that I felt 12 years ago, when Barrack Obama was elected President. It was even more historic because America had elected its first female and person of color, as Vice President.

I watched with glee as Kamala Harris made her first speech since the elections;

“I may be the first but I won’t be the last.”

In his memoirs, Decision Points, President Bush wrote;

I believe the human desire for freedom is universal. History shows that, when given the chance, people of every race and religion take extraordinary risks for liberty.”

We have seen Americans from all walks of life embody these words. We’ve seen it in the peaceful, organized protests all across America. The Black Lives Matter movement protesting against the killing of George Floyd is just one example. George’s death represented the lives of many other victims of police brutality. #ICANTBREATHE trended both online and on the streets. Their fortitude and consistency even in the face of the State’s monopoly of violence, was inspiring.  We have also witnessed how those protests translated into meaningful change. Joe Biden continues to command a lead in both the popular and Electoral College votes. He has flipped traditionally red states into blue states. Something that hasn’t been done since President Clinton ran for office.

Upon Joe Biden’s victory, I watched as CNN’s Van Jones, broke down in studio. His feelings were palpable. I saw many people shed tears of joy in 2008 when Barrack Obama won the elections. As President Obama’s victory carried so much hope for millions of people, especially African-Americans, so does Kamala Harris’ victory.

In her book, Democracy, Dr. Rice writes;

“Democracy’s development is never a straight line. Rather, it is a step wise process that will often include steps backward along the way.”

The incoming administration faces a behemoth task both internally and internationally. America continues to record some of the highest COVID-19 cases, the economy has taken beating and divisions run deep. On the other hand, America remains indispensable in world affairs. I imagine that Joe Biden would want America to regain the international standing it enjoyed when he served as President Obama’s, Vice President.

I wish President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and their entire administration, the very best in their well-deserved but challenging duties.

Billy’s personal blog can be found here.

22 thoughts on “The Vulnerability of Democracy

  1. I love this post Billy. The last quote about Democracy’s development not being a straight line resonates. I remember Obama saying something similar about progress when he left office. He wasn’t wrong! Freedom – millions have died for it. I believe when people are given true freedom, the whole world stands to benefit. You’re a talented writer Billy – I look forward to reading more of your work. Wishing you well 🙏

  2. My favorite pilot 😃

    Yes. #44 said:

    “History doesn’t always move in a straight line. Sometimes it zigs and zags.”

    I couldn’t agree more with you on the benefits of true freedom. Sound leadership in Washington is sound leadership for the world.

    Thank you for your warm words😊

    You are too kind🙈

  3. The Neronian Trump, Putin and god knows how many petty dictators around the world ~ and now they have auch tools! What would the fascists have been able to achieve with our track and trace world!

  4. These are interesting times to be alive, Anthony. What we are learning is that the work of democracy is never done. It’s a continuous, life-long process that requires intractable fortitude and unity of purpose.

  5. Love this post. I truly grasped the vulnerability of democracy while watching the 2020 US election. The sweet taste of democracy. Even as I watching the election, I had to shake my head multiple times —this is America, they will respect the democracy despite what the sitting president says because where I come from, before a single ballot is cast we already know who will be the next prime minister.

  6. Shahrin, I totally understand what you are saying. For a lot of people, Stalin’s insensitive words still hold true to date:
    “It’s not enough that people know there was an election. The people who cast the vote decide nothing. The people who count the vote decide everything.”

    In most African countries, for the longest time, there has been a belief that incumbents can never lose an election. That the process itself is merely formality.

    We see it Uganda and before the coup, we saw it in Zimbabwe.

    We must never take for granted the power we have via the ballot. Not many people have that.

  7. One thing is for sure about our recent experience. The US is going to viewed far less seriously if it takes a lecturing tone when it comes to talking to and about other countries and their practicing of democracy. The US looks a lot less like the “shining city upon a hill” than it used to. I hope the country and its people become far humbler going forward. Thanks, Billy, for an interesting perspective. I truly enjoyed reading this piece.

  8. Thank you, Troy 😊

    You make a valid point. America’s credibility has taken a beating around the world.

    I however, have hope that the Biden-Harris leadership will restore its standing.

    At times the way to succeed is not to show that you can’t fail. At times, the way to succeed is to show that you can fail, learn and do better.

  9. You are a gifted writer, with interesting choice of words and undeniably excellent narration skills. I specially like how you capture the tiny details in your literary works!

    In his 2008 election night victory speech, Barry said, “If my two daughters will be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? ” I look forward to the day our own leaders back at home will embrace such a mindset. That it is not just about today, but also about the posterity. That is the day democracy in African countries will have been set on the trail of growth.

  10. Great post. I too became enamored with history and politics starting at 8yrs old.
    I think I was the only kid I knew who hung pictures on his wall of nuclear missiles and Ronald Reagan with Soviet leader Gorbachev along side my Kiss, Van Halen and Def Leppard posters.

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