Building democracies from the ground up and not top down

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Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri (Left), Permanent Representative of India to the UN, recently handed over a check for US $4.7 million to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as a further contribution from India to the UN Democracy Fund (UNDF), at the UN Secretariat in New York. Since it’s inception in 2005, India has become the fund’s second largest contributor at US $29.71 million so far. (Photo: Jay Mandal/ On Assignment)

After pouring in hundreds of billions of dollars in treasure, not to mention tens of thousands of lives, the United States has discovered that bringing democracy to any part of the world is a harrowingly expensive affair.

What is worse is that even after investing so much blood and treasure, there is no guarantee that democracy will hold. Both Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate that so unnervingly. Perhaps a smarter way out is to do what the U.S. is doing along with India and the United Nations under the aegis of the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF). The fund was set up in 2005 by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, then President George W. Bush and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

According to the Indian Permanent Mission at the U.N., “UNDEF supports projects that strengthen the voice of civil society, promote human rights, and encourage the participation of all groups in democratic processes. Since its inception UNDEF has funded about 400 projects in over 100 countries, bringing total disbursement to some 110 million dollars. The large majority of funds go to local civil society groups- both in the transition and consolidation phases of democratization. UNDEF plays a unique role complementing the UN’s traditional work with Governments to strengthen democratic governance around the world.”

Some 39 countries donate to the UNDEF which helps in six specific areas including community development, rule of law and human rights,tools for democratization, women, youth and media. The choice of the six areas appear to have been carefully thought through to ensure that democracy grows from the ground up and is not transplanted top down. The UNDEF approach, where the US obviously plays an important role, likely creates among the nations being helped a genuine sense of participation.

Perhaps after the initial military action in Iraq and Afghanistan the international community should have handed over the long and arduous task of building democratic institutions to an institution like the UNDEF. It would not surprise me if eventually the relatively miniscule budget of the UNDEF accomplishes much more in terms of encouraging democracy than hundreds of billions would have done in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Democracy works only if the people for whom it is meant genuinely believe they have not only created it but have a direct stake in continuing it.

India has so far donated $29.7 million to the UNDEF or less than $5 million a year since the fund’s inception. But what is important is that it has remain steadfastly committed to the idea which is bound to show results that benefit the whole world.

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About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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