Freedoms without a sense of responsibility can be dangerous to development

March 27, 2012 at 8:50 am Leave a comment

A The freedom agenda has been for many years used to inspire revolution. Revolutions are usually a mode of changing regime to a more people-driven way of doing things.
In many cases it is assumed with freedom comes change and development. In fact, most people equate freedom to development.

When we attained independence, we thought we had achieved freedom to transform our lives and shape the future of our country in our own Zimbabwean way.

But we only realised later it was just freedom to learn and live the lives of the oppressor — we were still servants of their system. That is another meaning of freedom.

Freedom is a central philosophy in Western history and political thought, and one of the most important (real or ideal) features of democratic societies.

It has been described as a relationship free of oppression or coercion; the absence of disabling conditions for an individual and the fulfilment of enabling conditions; or the absence of lived conditions of compulsion such as economic compulsion in a society.

The concept of freedom was historically inseparable from political action where it was believed politics could only be practiced by those who had freed themselves from the necessities of life, so they could attend to the realm of political affairs.

It became associated with the Christian notion of freedom of the will, or inner freedom, around the fifth century and since then, freedom as a form of political action has been growing stronger neglecting other freedoms that are vital national and human development.

Last week, South Africa celebrated its Human Rights Day which was characterised by demonstrations across the country.

As usual the people were demanding everything from improved service delivery from the government to better education and jobs as part of their human rights and freedoms. In some cases the protests turned destructive.

Of course, South Africa is known to be a free society where in 2010 alone approximately 800 industrial actions were recorded.

And students also took to the streets demanding 25% compensatory marks before sitting for exams. This was meant to compensate for the time lost when teachers were on strike.

One wonders if examinations are meant to earn marks or to test knowledge of a subject and obviously this would impact on the quality of labour supply in the economy.

One thing is always glaringly missing in this egalitarian narrative. You rarely hear anyone talking about what the people will do to also improve their standards of living.

These are ideals planted within our societies by Western participatory democracy which does not emphasise the responsibilities associated with freedoms and rights.

Rights and freedoms without a strong sense of responsibility are not good for developing countries which are still struggling just to put basic systems in place. It perpetuates dependency, high expectations and frustrations. Frustration is a mother of dissent and dissent can be very retrogressive and destructive.

Western democracy is built on fully functioning service delivery systems capable of catering for the welfare and interests of people. This is still a far cry for most African countries.

Participatory democracy places more emphasis on a two-way communication which is believed to use communication as an amplifier of voice, facilitator of participation and means of fostering social change.

The Western ideals of democracy are not suited for developing countries as they do not promote productivity among citizens; in fact they promote dependency.

It gives people more space and power to demand even when it is evidently clear the government itself can not afford to do so. Where there is lack of good leadership, abuse of power, misappropriation and mismanagement of resources surely people have a right to raise their voices and change things.

But we must not forget that at independence most African governments took over systems that were meant to service a very small population.

Having said that, freedom should not be limited to demanding, but also freedom to initiative productive ideas and a sense of responsibility.

Freedom should not only be limited to political choice and association, but greater economic freedom coming from a larger set of possible choices.

There is greater potential for development if developing countries also embrace other freedoms such as economic, which advocate for the freedom to produce, trade and consume any goods and services acquired without the use of force, fraud or theft.

It must also be the freedom to take individual responsibility to change things and develop ourselves with the government playing a facilitating role.

Perhaps, it is high time developing countries redefined certain concepts and ideals, wean themselves from swallowing the skewed, prescriptive and counter-development Western values of democracy.

For developing countries to rise they must place more emphasis on freedom being the enabling of people to determine their own life or realise their own potential.

And freedom, in this sense, must include freedom from poverty, starvation, treatable disease and of course oppression, as well as freedom from force and coercion, from whomever they may issue.

Africa can only develop when its people are productive, starting from individual, community and national level.

Very few African governments, if any, can afford to provide everything for their citizens if industrialised countries, the ones we follow, can not afford to do so.

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