Brexit exposed the problem with democracy

With a narrow margin, proponents of Brexit, the campaign for Britain to exit the European Union, have declared victory in a hard fought referendum.

This has split Britain right in the middle. Few people expected such a drastic decision, which is expected to have far reaching economic implications across the world.

In this connected world, democracy failed. Globally, there is a growing abuse of democracy where a few organised groups exploit issues such as race, religion and ethnicity to drive fear into a majority of citizens to vote irrationally.

From Britain to greater Europe, the Americas and the Arab world, the trend is similar.

The leaders of Brexit, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage are certified racists. In a twitter post, Connor Beaton @zcbeaton to @Nigel_Farage summed up who real Farage is, ‘Your new poster resembles outright Nazi propaganda.’


Although Johnson distanced himself from Farage’s racist remarks, he too is said to have called Africans “piccaninnies” and referred to people from Papua New Guinea as cannibals.

The anti-immigration campaign laced with racist undertones and the sustained media coverage of immigrants dying in the Mediterranean Sea may have heightened fear that led to Britain exiting European Union.

In general, Britons are great people. They ruled the world without computers and indeed understand the connectedness of the world to make informed choices.

But what I fail to understand is how a few rabble-rousers could take advantage of democracy and drive a great nation into an isolated island.

Is democracy being hijacked? Increasing dysfunction of democracy is emerging in the US where the Republicans have just elected their presumptive candidate, Donald Trump, who, according to majority of Americans, is not fit to lead.

He too, like Johnson, exploited the delicate issue of religion to instill fear among the voters, in effect intimidating them to elect him. By all standards Trump is doing well in the polls and is likely to become the next US President.

The implication of this democratic dichotomy from countries perceived to be the guardians of the system is far reaching, especially for the emerging democracies in Africa. It points to a failing system that requires a new thinking.

It was Greek pholosopher Plato who once said that, ‘A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers.’

He may have been right considering the fact that some democratic decisions sometimes have to be overturned to bring stability in a country. In Kenya, we had to make constitutional changes to create the coalition government after the 2007/08 post-election violence.

The removal of a democratically elected president in Egypt in 2013 may have averted a possible all out religious war in the North African country.

The irony of democracy is such that some of the gainers of democratic outcomes have no real agenda.

For example, in Ukraine where the popular Orange revolution toppled President Viktor Yanukovych, it turned out that they did not have any real agenda for change. Yanukovych was later on re-elected.

When the pain of exiting European Union begins to bite the Britons, perhaps Johnson and Farage will be nowhere to be seen.

Britain will struggle to abide by the EU regulations to be relevant in greater Europe with virtually no say on how the regulations are made.

The huge research grants from the EU that British universities enjoyed from the EU will cease and the country’s competitiveness will be undermined.

The British pound may tumble even further. It is perhaps going to be the most expensive democratic experiment.

After the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, many celebrated the triumph of democracy. It may have been too early to celebrate.

The world today is more fragile than it was towards the end of the last century. More countries, especially in Africa, were beginning to embrace democracy.

The 21st century has come with difficulties in understanding the direction of democracy. The EU itself is reeling from the financial crisis.
In terms of productivity the Eurozone has to contend with its unequal south that still remains fragile to the extent that Britain may have the last laugh.

Continued dysfunction of democracy is bound to bring unprecedented change in the world in the days to come.

It is perhaps time the World started to think about democracy and its defining economic system, capitalism, considering the fact that some mixed economic systems are excelling as the capitalist world is piling up debts. Let’s think about democracy 2.0.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.