Liberal Democracy vs. Autocracy
Though the pervasiveness of liberalism and democracy is readily apparent throughout those states that recognize the socioeconomic benefits stimulated by these ideals, there remains still a myriad of complex governing systems that seem to shirk the possibilities of this apotheosized ideology in favor of highly variable authoritarian manifestations.
Yet this is not simply a case where one ideology may be chosen based on the particular needs and relative cultural norms of one society versus another with the two forms existing in global harmony; rather it is the case that liberal democracy generally remains significantly more stable, incites less violence, and promotes economic progress in far greater frequencies than the various blends of autocracy.
It would seem then, that liberal democracy is the superior ideological foundation for successful, prosperous, and stable governance—an argument asserted quite controversially by Francis Fukuyama, qualified and advocated by Fareed Zakaria, and rooted as a central concern of this paper. However, this paper is not to be cast upon the painfully mounting stack of virtually inapplicable and redundant analyses of democratic versus authoritarian institutions by withered, aloof academics far removed from current developments in international affairs.
Rather, it endeavors to proffer a unique perspective demonstrating liberal autocracy as a possible deviation from Fukuyama’s conception of the “end of history,” through the use of concrete and theoretical observations of recent political instability and military coups in Guinea with particular attention to its ideological limbo resultant from its suspension between the desire for liberalism and its susceptibility to autocratic command. On the “End of History”
Before embarking upon the daunting task of systematically dissecting Guinean politics, it is necessary first to briefly discuss the arguments set forth by Fukuyama and Zakaria in order to later respond to them. Most scrutinizing readers of Fukuyama’s article “The End of History” recognized that the certainty that liberal democracy is to be the inevitable omnipresent ideology in the future of world governance depends on whether there are “viable alternatives to liberal democracy visible in the world today” (Fukuyama 1993; xxi).
But Fukuyama delves deeper than this singular question in the book spurned by his article, affirming the above question but also emphasizing the “goodness of liberal democracy” being that it is the best ideal beyond which government cannot progress any further (1993; 287). This is because the values inherent in liberal democracy—specifically liberty and equality—satisfy the innate human desire for “recognition,” a philosophical term referring to man’s need to retain dignity and seek equality and self-worth (1993; xvi-xvii).
This logic plainly begs the question: Is liberal democracy truly the only form of governance that has the capability to satisfy man’s need for so-called “recognition? ” Zakaria goes on to proclaim that democracy “represents the “last best hope” for people around the world,” a clear parallel to Fukuyama, but quantifies the spread of democracy through noting the potentiality for illiberal democracy which is, in essence, pseudo-democracy in that it masks an authoritarian regime with usually rigged elections and opposition repression and fails to establish legitimate political institutions (Zakaria 2007; 89-118).
He propones the institution of “rule-of-law” and capitalism before worrying about elections by reason that they are troublesome and misleading especially in the absence of constitutional liberalism (2007; 55). Through this, Zakaria establishes that liberal autocracy might be the necessary sojourn on the way to liberal democracy through gradualism. A Short History of Military Coups in Guinea
Upon gaining independence from France in 1958, Guinea installed the idealistic leader whom had spearheaded the anti-Franco movement, Sekou Toure, who established the only party in Guinea, The Party of Democratic Guinea (PDG) and ironically ruled as anything but democratically (Mwakikagile 2001; 59). He pursued isolationist policies, instituted rigged elections, violently repressed his opponents, and failed to institute effective economic progress, all factors stimulating internal threats against him, which he quelled time and again through the loyalty of his military (2001; 60).
He promised numerous reforms, many of them democratic, to “achieve complete decolonization and de-occidentalization” which would be actualized through socialism but went largely ignored (2001; 60). Eventually he was forced to seek aid from the United States and France due to terrible economic performance despite incredibly rich mineral resources (2001; 61). After an abundance of coup attempts, Toure strengthened his iron grip on Guinea and maintained it due to the enormous power he wielded as head of both the government and the ruling party (2001; 63).
After 26 years of rule, Toure died suddenly in 1984 (2001; 64). Strangely enough, Toure had appointed no clear successor to his regime and this coupled with the lack of popular support for his civilian government gave ample opportunity for Colonel Lansana Conte’s military coup to smoothly seize power (Arieff and Cook 2009; 35). He “promised to restore free enterprise and democracy” just as Toure had promised democracy (Mwakikagile 2001; 64). But, as history does repeat itself, Conte worked quickly to consolidate his power and suppress his opponents, often through violent means (2001; 64).
He did however manage to pass some beneficial reforms and make concessions to lower-ranking soldiers and civilians in order to preserve his legitimacy during the decades of his tenure, unlike his predecessor (Arieff and Cook 2009; 35-36). Unfortunately, during the 1990s, Conte continuously promised and delayed democratic and electoral reforms, stimulating great frustration and discontent within the populace and inciting yet another coup attempt against him, which he did not suppress but instead luckily appeased through complying with the demands of the coup leaders (2009; 38-39).
When democratic reforms were introduced, they were nothing more than the same pseudo-democratic elections and opposition suppression to which the people had already been exposed (2009; 36-37). It was not until his death in 2008 that a coup, led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, was able to successfully seize power just as Conte had done to embark upon his own regime (2009; 1). Guinean Military Coups Explained
Concisely as can be stated, Toure’s rather abrupt seizure of political control was a case of one-party regime establishment brought on by undercurrents of ideology and bloodless revolution that degenerated into personalist rule according to the outline of one-party regimes set forth by Paul Brooker (Brooker 2009; 125). But it is the decay and breakdown of his regime and how this led to the 1984 Conte coup that is particularly relevant to the fate of Guinean politics. In the case of Toure’s regime, it can be aid that the stimuli for breakdown and overthrow were already in place, with only the opportunity missing and for which Toure’s rather convenient death provided. These stimuli were economic decay and inefficiency resultant from poor governance and failed economic reforms, which alongside the repression of the masses, dwindling public support, and lack of fulfillment of promises made to the public regarding democratic reforms spurred the development of delegitimation in the government, which then provoked the various coup attempts suppressed by Toure (Kalyvas 1999; 329-332).
In analyzing military intervention, Brooker utilizes three conditions that must be satisfied before Finer’s calculus of intervention can be invoked and military takeover inevitable: motives, means, and opportunity (Brooker 2009; 86).
The motives encompass various forms of interest, but in Guinea’s case national interest (instituting democracy) compounded with corporate self-interest—that is, military aspirations for further societal influence and the personal ambitions of its leaders often motivated by greed—and sprinkled with the individual self-interest of Conte as made clear by his conduct in office—that is enforcing his individual dominion and repressing opposition—after seizing power is the most probable mixture (2009; 86).
Obviously the means aspect was satisfied, for there was a well-equipped military loyal to the usurping leader, Conte, and would take power through a corporate coup, where mainly Conte and the highest ranking officials seized power by way of entering the capital and detaining and disposing of the civilian government’s officials while stationing the lower ranks in various strategic points in the surrounding area (2009; 93).
Finally, the opportunity was clear: the former personalist authoritarian dictator whom was central to state authority and cohesion was dead, thereby providing a window of weak government allowing for easy takeover (2009; 96). Smith affirms the relevance of this opportunity, stating that “regimes might well be most likely to break down during the process of succession” (Smith 2005; 428).
Once these preconditions are established to provoke the possibility of a coup, Finer’s calculus of intervention may be applied to determine the actualization of coup interference: military disposition instigated through Brooker’s motives and a reasonable opportunity for success combine, and in this case there is clear disposition resultant from the aforementioned issues to intervene and easy opportunity for such intervention due to the delegitimation of the government and the death of its leader (2009; 85).
Decalo inserts the ‘personal’ element into this diagnosis, for it is clear that the decades of rule after Conte were strongly and directly influenced by his will: “whenever an elite (civil or military) captures power, its own corporate interests are among the first to be promoted” (Arieff and Cook 2009; 8; Decalo 1973; 115). After seizing power, Conte did indeed strengthen the military through a hefty increase in salaries and privileges; however this was more deterrence of coups against his government than in actual military self-interest (Mwakikagile 2001; 66).
Conte’s one party regime also degenerated into one of personalist rule as coup attempts and loss of legitimacy forced him to grapple for more power in order to maintain his hold on Guinea (Arieff and Cook 2009; 37-39). Brownlee would regard Conte’s actions in retaining control over the military through nepotism as a successful deterrence of internal threats that ultimately contributed to the decades of longevity experienced by the Conte regime (Brownlee 2002; 38-39).
Further contributing to this longevity was the correlation between the capacity for repression and regime durability, and because Guinea was able to function relatively independently of superpowers despite utilizing their aid, Conte could repress to utmost extremes without hindrance, thereby staving off potential overthrows due to the threat of persecution and thus remaining in power longer than he would otherwise probably have been able (2002; 49).
Decalo also notes that a military coup is more successful when it diverges from its military governance and becomes a civilian government, with a military leader transforming into a political leader rather quickly, which is precisely what Conte accomplished (Decalo 1973; 117). Hence, Conte was able to preserve his hold on the Guinean government and extend his tenure through pseudo-democracy and extra-constitutional means.
This longevity was to be interrupted by the sudden death of Conte in 2008, which stimulated the most recent coup, but this time there was a successor who was simply barred from assuming power once Captain Camara utilized his troops to usurp the capital and detain officials much as Conte had done before him. This military junta established an assembly called the National Council for Democracy and Development which dissolved the superficial constitution and promised to hold elections in two years (Arieff and Cook 2009; 9).
By this time, Conte had run the regime into the ground in a strikingly parallel fashion to how Toure had managed it: through delegitimation, economic decay, corruption, excessive repression, and overall bad governance (2009; 9-10). Ironically, the conditions and exacerbations for Camara’s coup on Conte’s regime are exactly parallel to those of Conte’s coup on Toure’s regime; therefore there is no need to reiterate the theoretical explanation for its occurrence.
Upon ascendency to power, Camara immediately asserted the junta’s authority by replacing civilian officials with military ones and sought to neutralize opposition. This is concurrent with Brooker’s argument regarding the aftermath of usurpation, in that the new government and leader must consolidate power or risk being unable to withstand another budding coup (Brooker 2007; 132-133).
Consolidation of control leads to legitimacy of governance and Finer argues the necessity of this to successful military coups by recognizing the necessity of establishing protection against mutinies in this period of turbulence, and especially for garnering civilian obedience in order to surpass the need to use brute force constantly, which can severely undermine the morale of the populace and therefore the support for and legitimacy of the embryonic state (2007; 133-134). In the resounding words of Zakaria, “legitimacy is the elixir of political power” (Zakaria 2007; 255).
Similarly to Conte and Toure, Camara has yet to institute significant democratic reforms as promised which have resulted in election delay and an expected Camara candidacy once elections are in place, and it is not unreasonable to conclude that Camara may rig those elections in his favor as well with the current authoritarian trends of the military junta, for Camara rejected criticism of his potential bid for candidacy based on the grounds that it threatened the transparency and purpose of the military junta (Arieff and Cook 2009; 17).
The sole difference currently between Camara, Conte, and Toure seems to be that Camara has managed to earn a considerable degree of popular support, though this may be explained more by his nascent government which has yet to do significant socioeconomic damage than with genuine favor (2009; 18). Why Liberal Autocracy may be a Viable Option for Guinea It is clear that Guinea is struggling between the pull of democracy and autocratic seizures inhibiting democratic development.
In its case however, the pursuance of democratic ideology seems to be motivated by the desire to achieve economic development for in every breakdown discussed economic decay was a consistently prevailing factor. Without democratic institutions, Guinea will remain without the aid it once garnered from superpowers (Arieff and Cook 2009; 24-27). In the absence of such understandable motives for democratic transition, there is no evidence that democratic ideals would still be pursued, for Guinea is not a culture with ingrained traditions of constitutional liberalism, to borrow Zakaria’s term, which would promote democracy from within.
It is also interesting to note that Guinea is 85% Islamic, where liberty and equality are not exactly fundamental values (Mwakikagile 2001; 61). How then, could the Guinean people obtain a measure of social liberties in spheres unrelated to the political realms when the constant invasion by authoritarian coups seems to imply those liberties as being unattainable, but that which would stimulate capitalistic behaviors and therefore economic growth, curtail violence against the populace and armed conflict, while still allowing for the tendency towards authoritarianism in the political sector?
The answer seems to be liberal autocracy as promulgated by Zakaria but manifested in a more prominent form than simply as a transitional entity. In reference to Fukuyama’s argument for the need to satisfy man’s need for “recognition,” in a well established liberal autocracy citizens would retain their dignity and opportunities for improvement outside of the political realm, which naturally encompasses a broad range of possibilities in the business, educational, and service sectors.
However, the degree of such fulfillment may not necessarily be as extensive as that was envisioned by Fukuyama in a country where liberty and equality are not ubiquitous social ideals, so liberal autocracy may succeed by allowing economic development and personal freedoms solely relative to individual progress without the need for full-blown liberalism due to variances in culture—in Guinea’s case, its Islamic background and persistent tribalism.
In a liberal autocracy, there would be some input in governmental affairs such as infrastructure or education, but none that would threaten the stability of the regime itself such as powers of impeachment by representatives of the people or the ability for state challengers to gain support and make demand hence opposition would still be subdued.
But it certainly is possible, especially with the elusiveness of definitive and successful democratic political institutions in the case of Guinea. Liberal autocracy seems a viable and even probable alternative for it essentially embodies a “win-win” situation as a compromise between the interests of the people and of the type of government that is most able to gain political clout in their nation. As Daniel Brumberg contends: It is now clear, both within and far beyond the Middle East, that liberalized autocracy has proven far more durable than once imagined The trademark mixture of guided pluralism, controlled elections, and selective repression…is not just a “survival strategy” adopted by authoritarian regimes, but rather a type of political system whose institutions, rules, and logic defy any linear model of democratization. (Brumberg 2002; 56). But there is still the looming question of how liberal autocracy would not need to eventually develop into liberal democracy. The answer lies in the fact that liberal democracy itself was a tremendously lengthy process that hadn’t fully asserted itself until the latter half of the twentieth-century. So how is liberal autocracy expected to develop overnight into what it is capable of being decades from now?