5 ways that #DemocracyMatters for development

A voter at a polling station during the Malian presidential election in 2013. Is democracy good for development? Photo by: Marco Dormino / United Nations

Debates about the concept and relative importance of democracy in development have been ongoing for decades.

Should development be independent of democracy? Is democracy really good for development? Can development thrive in the absence of democracy? Those who advocate for democracy argue the system is more than just the casting of votes and promotion of sustainable, inclusive economic growth.

During the Annual Democracy Forum 2014, co-organized by the government of Botswana and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, a Stockholm-based intergovernmental organization, Devex caught up with several representatives from government, civil society, academia, the private sector and multilateral institutions from across the globe, and they suggested five reasons why democracy matters for development.

1. Collective action.

Democracy provides the people with elected officials to represent them and take actions on issues that individuals cannot address on their own but need collective action, according to Huguette Labelle, former chair of Transparency International. That’s essential, she explained, for the proper management of natural resources, but also to develop the kind of social, economic and physical governance infrastructure that all countries need to thrive.

2. Natural resources management.

Democracy is the best possible guarantee against the abuse of power, said Jürgen Reitmaier, senior adviser at the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Subjecting nonrenewable natural resources and national wealth to democratic decision-making is a must, he added, because once those resources are exhausted, there is no second chance.

3. Instrument for change.

Democracy matters because it is not only an end in and of itself, but also instrumental for change and in development processes, noted International IDEA Secretary-General Yves Leterme. Democracy and development, in his opinion, are interdependent: the outcome of a democratic system is linked to development, equitable economic growth and the observance of the rule of law.

4. Driver of economic growth.

Dr. Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Botswana’s minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, believes a stable democratic environment promotes mineral wealth, which in turn ensures economic growth. Economic growth translates, she explained, to job creation, improvements in health provisions and spurs poverty eradication.

5. Brings peace.

After the Organization of African Unity was turned into the African Union Commission, many African leaders realized the the need to really build a foundation for democracy and good governance across the continent, according to Salah Hammad, senior human rights expert within the AU Commission’s Department of Political Affairs. Democracy, he said, will allow Africa to foment sustainable development, bring peace and ultimately lead to broader and deeper continental integration.

#DemocracyMatters is a three-week series exploring the intersection of democracy, development and natural resources management in partnership with International IDEA, the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

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About the author

  • Sharon Tshipa

    Sharon Tshipa is a media practitioner, writer and social entrepreneur based in Gaborone, Botswana. She currently works for Chinese news agency Xinhua and as a freelance video journalist for French newswire service AFP. Tshipa is also co-founder and chairperson of the Botswana Society for Human Development, a local NGO.