Participatory Democracy and Deliberative Democracy. – By Teodros Kiros (Ph.D)

May 12th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

Contemporary Ethiopia, embodied in the spirit of Birtukan Midekssa, whom I have previously called, the “queen of Justice,” requires both participatory democracy and deliberative democracy.

Participation and deliberation are the features of a democratic personality.

Participation is the capacity to effect change by bringing it about through social-political action. Deliberation is the ability to reason from premises to appropriate conclusions, through dialogue, discussion and debate. The democratic personality participates by deliberating, and the needed change is effected both by reasoning and acting. The parity of participation is propelled by reason, and participation itself is further developed by mature deliberation, a modality of reasoning.

The mature citizen deliberator is motivated to participate precisely because she is endowed with the willingness to (a) remove injustices and (b) articulate a vision of a plan of life.

When citizens participate they do so because they want to change their lives, by enhancing their life chance significantly, from the undesired situation to a desired one. They do so because they have a better vision for themselves and their nation. When citizens take on the heroic stance of resisting oppression, as contemporary Ethiopians are, they are exercising their democratic features, which grow out of their participatory spirit and their deliberative make up, most particularly their willingness to remove existing injustices guided by their vision of particular goods, and the Good of the nation.

Mature democratic personalities are sufficiently sophisticated to identify what Dr. Ghelawdewos, in a brilliant piece called, the “ Dark Horses of Ethiopian Politics” and avoid them so as not to be contaminated by political dirt, and carefully deliberate about the good of the nation.

Sometimes. Participatory democracy might not sit easily with deliberative democracy, because it is very likely that the visions of participating citizens might come into conflict, as for example between citizen A who wants expensive cars and citizen B who simply wants to secure the right to eat three times a day, and have reasonable income.

A and B meet at the public space as they are fighting for their rights, guided by conflicting visions of the good. They do so by conversing, discussing and debating to formulate various visions of life and removals of existing injustices.

What must they do? How can they negotiate their life chances? What are the roles of participation and deliberation in these defining moments of everyday life?

Mature democratic citizens must develop the capacity to resolve such differences peacefully. Resolving such differences require the virtues of participation and deliberation, a further function of participatory and deliberative democracy.

Mature democracies must train their citizens to effect change by participating and to deliberate about differences, when life threatening visions of the good life characterizes some social/ political situations.

On the surface participation and deliberation may appear irreconcilable, and indeed sometimes they are, but the differences can be accommodated by deliberating well.

Consider the following example.

At this momentous time of Ethiopian history, Ethiopians from all walks of life are desperate for change. The ruling regime, with its so called “ revolutionary democracy’, an abuse of terms, is forcing the inhabitants to vote for its policies, even when they wish not to, but cannot dare to say so, because the consequences are so grave. On the other hand, the opposition too wants the citizens to vote for its policies, fully aware that it cannot enact any change, because the outcome of the election is already decided.

Note how in this example, the citizen is not participating in determining her life chances, because they are already determined by the policies of the ruling regime. In this situation the citizen participates by not participating, but by merely voting, even that remote possibility is for those who vote, namely the privileged few and the many passive voters, who vote anyway.

Neither participatory democracy nor deliberative democracies is present in the so-called “ revolutionary democracy” of the ruling regime.

An opposition party of the future can radically change this situation by introducing the Ethiopian people to participatory and deliberative democracy, by drawing the people out to be active participants at the work place, at schools, neighnorborhoods, clubs, coffeshops, the internet, the radio, public television, and use the media of deliberation, that is dialogue, discussion and debates as ways of life.

These ways of life are living democratic practices, which can become the blood life of democratic citizens of participatory and deliberative polities that we Ethiopians can choose and institutionalize for Birtukan’s generation, a work that must begin now.

The dust settles, and the post-election mood of existential seriousness takes over. Let us say the ruling regime wins, and the masses return to their everyday lives. The rich and famous are content. The Ethiopian poors are not. The ruling regime rejoices from dusk to dawn. The poors glare at the rude buildings; the ill managed highways. Nothing in their lives has changed and is likely to change.

They sit at filthy alleys nursing sickly tomatoes and rotten onions, all day long. At the end of a miserable day they walk home past dead dogs and cats to their tin houses, which they share with five people or more. Upon entering a baby is crying her lungs out, a frustrated mother is shouting, teenagers are trying to sleep with empty stomachs, and miserably failing.

They wake up and stare at the stars outside, listening to the bitter cries of a prostitute, and a thief, who had just run with all the money, she earned for the day.

Time passes by and the poor are frustrated, so they begin to organize themselves. Participatory democracy begins exactly here. Soon deliberative democracy guides the paths of participation.

This time the masses are determined to change their life chances by any means necessary, and that participation and deliberation are now more than ever necessary. Political action invades the public sphere of Ethiopian life. Neighborhoods congregate every single day and night and publicly voice their concerns, that they are permanently unemployed, those who are employed are underpaid, food and clothing are unaffordable, and yet the ruling regime boasts two digit growth, but there is no connection between the figures and their life chance, that injustices and corruption are rampant.

The masses listen and they deliberate about what they must do. Some propose uprisings. Others propose massive hunger strike. A few want to march to the palace and storm in, if they must. Individuals are upset and are willing to die for regime change. The citizens are now fully exercising their deliberative power via participation. They say to one another that that they should patiently fight for their rights to the bitter end, and that this time they are not going to take no for an answer. They are going to stay on the participatory path and pass it on to schools, hospitals, clinics, work places, and to wherever space there are people.

It is in this way that participatory democracy in concert with deliberative democracy serves the interests of the people. It is they who must change their life chance, it is they who must tell, those whom they elect to organize their interests, what they must do, and how they should do it.

The contemporary Ethiopia of Birtukan’s generation must use participation and deliberation to change the Ethiopian condition, and ones the condition is changed, Ethiopia then can become a participatory and deliberative democracy, simultaneously and set an example for the African condition.

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