Proper Governance In Africa, The Middle East, And Beyond Through Equal Representation And National Identities
Governments that fail to maintain the support of the populations they govern face destabilizing civil unrest that only intensifies over the course of time. Their failure to represent the Peoples of the territories they preside over and their refusal to respond to the interests of their Peoples also leaves governments without the pro-social imperatives they need. Instead of managing communities in ways that cultivate healthy civil societies, which provide for the needs of the Peoples, dysfunctional governments cater to special interest groups and their own interests. In neglecting the needs of their Peoples, and therefore the needs of their societies, dysfunctional governments transform themselves into burdens and ensure their inevitable devise. Governments must, therefore, equally serve all the Peoples they govern, i.e. government must provide for equal representation and protection. Although most modern people can agree to this simple principle, those in government tend to favor groups they prefer. It is a failure of political leaders around the world to transcend their geographic, ethnic, cultural, religious, and political affiliations to serve their national communities. This is a consequence of political leaders lacking a true national identity.
The groups people belong to help define their identity. Their membership to the community they live in defines their geographic and communal identity. Their ethnicity and cultural background help define their cultural identity. Their religious and political views help define their ideological identity. All of these and others make up a person’s social identity. Depending upon where people live and their circumstances in life, individuals tend to belong to various overlapping social circles due to their complex social identities. Those with more transient social and cultural identities tend to belong to more, larger social circles; whereas, the social and cultural identities of others rarely overlap, which means they tend to belong to smaller social circles. Because differences between social circles often translate into conflicts, populations with less transient identities tend to conflict more often and more intensely with those who do not belong in their social circles. In terms of governance, it is necessary to forge national identities that overlap with all social circles . Only by forging such a national identity will political leaders feel obliged to serve the interests of all individual and all individuals feel secure in supporting national governments.
To understand the importance of national identity, what is needed to forge one, and how one can be bolstered, it is helpful to look at places were national identities are abstain or weak. The Middle East and Africa have extremely complicated social orders that require first-hand knowledge of their various subcultures and robust microscopic analysis, but a macroscopic analysis of the power dynamics in these regions reveals a great deal about their struggle to form unifying national identities as well as the tendency of established and rising leaders to cater to the interest of their own factions instead of the common good. To contrast the two regions, African nations have been struggling with ill-democratic governance and a failure to build mutually beneficial, unifying national identities far longer than Middle Eastern nations. The ability of authoritarian governments in the Middle East to suppress weaker factions and force disenfranchised factions to abide by the national rule of the ruling factions afforded the region years of stability. Since the Arab Spring Revolutions began, however, Middle Eastern powers have increasingly lost their ability to oppress disenfranchised fractions and force unified rule.
From Africa, where there has long been, at least, a superficial attempt to embrace democratic rule, the inability to form national identities stems from a lack of trust in their political systems and those empowered by those systems. Democracy has too often been abused by those who seek power for their own factions as simply a means to legitimately seize power then consolidate and solidify control over the power of the state for a single faction. For those who cannot abide by the results of elections, due to this inherent distrust, power-sharing arrangements have become a means to defuse civil unrest, but they also tend to tenuously secure power for two or more major factions while preventing the culturally evolution needed to create truly democratic nations with unifying national identities. From the Middle East, it should be obvious that people cannot be coerced to embrace national identities. National identities are the product of citizens feeling as though they are members and beneficiaries of national communities. People need to have an strong enough interest in supporting their nations to transcend their ethnic, cultural, religious, and political identities in order to embrace their national identities, e.g. an American becomes an American when he or she feels empowered by the aspirations of traditional American ideals.
Unfortunately, Africa has received very little attention from Western world powers since the 1990s. Nongovernmental organizations, aid programs, and regional governing bodies allowed Western powers, especially the United States, to place their Africa foreign policies on the back-burner. Since the 1980s and early 1990s, Latin America has experienced this same kind of passive engagement thanks to free trade agreements and a slew of hands-off programs. It is a product of the limited successes and failures of past foreign policy engagement as well as an attempt to limit the commitment of world powers to foreign policy endeavour beyond those that serve their preferred causes. Instead of addressing foreign issues world powers have struggled to resolve, they have launched initiatives that attempt to build on past areas of success. In the case of the Middle East, world power have failed to stem issues like armed conflict and transition authoritarian governments into democracies. Where the Obama Administration embraced hands-off policies like drone strikes and continually attempted to pivot to Asia, the Trump Administration is steadily withdrawing from the Middle East. Thanks to events like the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia and Turkey’s attempt to bend US military objectives to its interests, the US is increasingly unable to find common ground with its regional partners, which means the US is likely to further disengage from the Middle East.
If America’s pattern of passive engagement, partial-disengagement holds true and other world powers more or less follow the lead of the United States, world leaders will be attempting to launch hands-off initiatives to passively address the underlying issues in the Middle East. In doing so, they would be wise to examine the role of national identity. They would also be wise to reexamine their initiates in regions like Africa and South America. Although authoritarian governments of the Middle East and their grip on power are major hurdles, the advantage of the Middle East is that the Muslim world is globalizing like the rest of the world, which means Muslims of all factions and nationalities are embracing a global Muslim identity. This unity identity actually sets the stage for democratic, albeit illiberal, governance as it can unite people in the pursuit of their common interests. With that in mind, the same lessons should be applied to world powers. The Peoples of the United States, Europe, and elsewhere are losing their unifying national identities to political division and the egocentric tendencies cultivated by modern culture. Instead of considering themselves Republicans or Democrats, for example, Americans on the Right and Left need to see themselves and those who hold opposing views as Americans. White Americans, Black Americans, and Hispanic Americans need to see the benefit in recognizing each other as just Americans. Christian and non-Christian Americans must also learn how to see each other as simply Americans.
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