September 15, 2017

Democracy: a Key Ingredient for Development

By Megan Rabbitt

Democracy is hard work.

Whether it’s Venezuela’s descent toward authoritarianism, Kenya’s dismissal of widely-accepted election results, or growing fears of ethnic cleansing just years into Myanmar’s first-ever civilian-led government – “hard work” can seem like an understatement.

But despite its trials and tribulations, democracy is worth the effort. As a key ingredient for sustainable development and lasting peace, democratic governance can be catalyst for progress in developing countries. USAID Administrator Mark Green certainly agrees, maintaining that “democracy and citizen-responsive government” are “a key part of long-term development.”

Coming just weeks after he officially took the reins of our country’s lead international development agency, the Administrator’s words are welcome news. USAID has long worked to build resilient democracies – strengthening democratic institutions – like legislatures and political parties – ensuring free and fair elections, supporting civil societies, and establishing justice and the rule of law in emerging democracies across the globe.

In our own hemisphere, U.S. support enabled Colombia’s transition from a fragile state on the brink of collapse – consumed by the violent, decades-long FARC insurgency – into a strong democratic state ushering in a new era of peace following an historic agreement with the FARC rebel group. And with continued U.S. investment, more stories like Colombia’s are possible.

In honor of all those committed to the hard work of democracy on this International Day of Democracy, check out the list below to brush up on some of the lesser known facts about that “worst form of government, except for all those others forms.”

1. “Democracy” means “rule by the people” and was first used by the ancient Greeks to describe Athens’ system of self-rule some 400 years before Christ.

2. There are four times as many democracies today as there were just four decades ago: in 1974 there were only 30 democratic countries in the entire world, whereas today, there are 117.

3. Countries that have weak democratic institutions and rule of law, with high rates of corruption, are 30 to 45 percent more likely to experience civil war.

4. By 2005, the number of African leaders violently removed from power had dropped to 19 percent, from a high of 75 percent in the 1960s and 1970s.

5. Today, 15 world leaders are women and the number of women in parliaments has doubled over the last 20 years – jumping from 11 percent to 22 percent.

6. That’s welcome news, because when women participate in peace negotiations, it is 35 percent more likely that the peace will least for at least 15 years.

7. But despite these gains, women still represent fewer than 10 percent of the United Nations 193 member states.

8. Democracy and human rights go hand-in-hand – in fact, democratic governance is a core tenant of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

9. It’s not surprising then, that democracy is included among the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals – number 16 to be exact – which is dedicated to promoting peace, justice, and strong institutions.

10. USAID Administrator Mark Green has a long track record of supporting democratic governance. His previous role was President of the International Republican Institute, a non-profit dedicated to advancing democracy and freedom in every corner of the globe.

photo description: Two Women in Ghana casting ballots.
photo credit: YOOKU ATA-BEDU / USAID