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Marching citizens: when elections do not produce accountability

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In several rich, post-industrial constitutional democracies, angry citizens are marching once again. And can you blame them? They watched as out-of-control banks took outrageous risks and brought hitherto sound economies to their knees. They watched as these banks were rescued with tax-payer resources. They watched as the same bankers and banks returned to their buccaneering  ways, while escaping any accountability. Now, everywhere austerity measures are crushing the underclass and shrinking the middle class. The culture of impunity at the top of society is driving ordinary citizens into paroxysms of rage.  Now, they are beginning to march, and march. Nobody knows where it is all going to lead.

Two quick points on all this.

First, what we are witnessing is the slow-burn nature of public opinion. Most citizens are not politics junkies. They don't immediately register transgressions at the top. When these occur, the spread of the news, analysis, debate and discussion ---both in the media and via everyday talk amongst citizens-- takes a while.  It also  takes a while for outrage to build, and for enough citizens to decide to do something about it. Moreover, it is not easy for ordinary citizens to act collectively, although new tools (ICTs and social media) and old organizational structures (like labor movements) do help.

Second, what is going on should remind us, once again, that democratic elections while vital do not fully solve the problem of making governments accountable to their citizens, especially  in the long periods between elections. As John Dunn teaches us, elections are a fuzzy, unreliable accountability mechanism.* Elite coalitions work everyday to secure their own interests, avoid accountability, and direct all the consequences of their own misdeeds onto the weak shoulders of the poor...including the middle classes. As I like to say: Counter-reform never sleeps. Elite coalitions persist, stay in the game, fund lobbyists, subvert the political process, blunt attacks...all with relentless focus. And all this is why the work on strengthening the capacity of citizens to hold their own governments -- and bad elite coalitions --- accountable is urgent work. And one that must persist, insist, march if need be; but, by all means, never let up.

*John Dunn. 'Situating Political Accountability' in Prezeworski, Stokes and Manin (eds.), Democracy, Accountability and Representation (1999).

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Comments

Submitted by Lynn Miller on
When is the IMF, World Bank, USAID etc. going to wake up an realize the money they "throw" at Kenya never reaches the intended recipients. It is coming up on an election year in Kenya and the ones who control the country and the ones who want to control the country need lots of money for their campaigns-LOTS OF MONEY!! So they steal it by any means available to them without anyone doing anything about it, so please IMF, World Bank, USAID stop giving them MONEY! I have been working in Kenya since 2011 trying to help the "real" poor start small businesses which will give a hope and a future to look forward to and all the government and other leaders do is make the process for doing business in Kenya even harder for people like me and the NGOs with run. When millions of people are starving in Kenya the government spends millions and millions of shillings on a castle for its VP. Then they cry to donors to give them money to feed their people. Does this not send up a red flag to you donors? The money you send does little to feed people but it does a lot to line the pockets of the politians, but you all know this already right? Then please tell me why do you continue to do the sames things over and over the same way and expect a different result. That is the definition of insanity by the way.

Submitted by Suleyman on
Wonderful that Lynn Miller's blisteringly true message has been posted on this site, despite it quite clearly highlighting the nonsense of much of what the WB does. Does the WB (or IMF, or any such) have a reply to this? Okay... yes ... a formulaic platitudinous one from some PR person will be forthcoming, but I don't mean that reply, I mean the REAL REPLY.

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