Safeguarding democracy can mitigate escalating refugee crisis

Safeguarding democracy can mitigate escalating refugee crisis
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By Robert Kigongo

Africa is mourning the passing of Hage Geingob, who was seating President of Namibia. Geingob died aged 82 and was immediately replaced with his deputy Nangolo Mbumba.

According the Namibian constitution, the former vice-president  Mbumba will run the country through a transition until elections for a new democratically elected president is held later this year.

That, there, is the beauty of democracy. It makes leadership change so smooth, so sweet and so flexible.

Certainly, no Namibian is worried of a potential instability during leadership change and certainly, there will be no Namibian carrying ducks and dragging behind a tethered starved goat as part of hurriedly packed household property en route to exile as political refugee.

The unfortunate news of the demise of Geingob do not have to worry his government officials and political supporters  unlike other African countries like Uganda, Cameroon, Somalia, South Sudan, Rwanda, among others.

It’s sad to see indigenous citizens swallowed up by fear of change because of their political ideologies and affiliations to those currently in power and public service. What should worry us all as humans with  conscience is that such people end up as regime apologists and henchmen defending even the most obvious  social injustices, gross human rights abuses, corruption and  inequalities at the detriment of larger society.

In Uganda, for example, when a casual stroll in Mengo Kisenyi in Rubaga Division and Makindye Division along Ggaba Road from Kabalagala, Kansanga, Muyenga, Bunga to Munyonyo will leave you shocked by how refugees from Eritrea, Somalia, and Somalia have taken over the streets.

The refugees here run these streets and slums. They engage in brisk businesses that leave the bona fide citizens themselves envious.

Of course, we can’t blame the refugees - they are simply victims of abused democracy back home. No one chooses to be a refugee. But undermining democracy is worsening the influx of refugees to seemingly peaceful parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, the US, and Canada, among others.

West African countries such as Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, and some in the central like Gabon are experiencing militia coups - the unconstitutional change of governments.

It's now crystal clear than never before that the root cause of undemocratic change of government is abuse of democratic processes and constitutionalism, leading to refugee crisis else where.

Announcing election losers as winners, election manipulation, unlawful changing of constitutional term and age limits that favour dictators to use elections to legitimize unlawful coups and refusal to leave power add to the burden.

Every action has a reaction, the consequences of undermining democracy has caused refugee crisis from the affected countries to other parts of the world. There are many Nigeriens, Burkinabe and Gabonese citizens fleeing their own countries to seek new peaceful homes away from home.

As President Museveni stated in 1986 that, “The problem of Africa are the leaders who overstay in power”. There are many African Leaders who have since overstayed their welcome. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasongo of Equatorial Guinea has been in power for 43 years, President Museveni 38 years, President Biya of Cameroon 40 years, and Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea has been in power for 29 years.

As a result of their grip on power, sadly many of economically deprived, Opposition supporters and Opposition leaders have fled the home countries in search of hope away from home.

An Eritrean refugee who is a professional accountant and investment banker has spoken of how he used to work in a prominent bank in Eritrea but the tank terminated his employment after his phone was tapped because his brother had links to Opposition. His children were expelled from school denying them a right to education;

In Uganda, Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, a novelist and top organ youth member of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) who currently resides in Germany, exercised his freedom of expression - one of the [principles of democracy. This led to his abduction and torture leading to his flight to exile.

It’s difficult to settle into a new environment as homeless and jobless person basically your human dignity is wiped away with challenges include language barrier, food and culture, survival is very difficult in the host communities, the Eritrean refugee said.

The United Nations, civil society organisations and host governments have done a tremendously well towards supporting refugees but the fact remains that host local communities run into insufficient resources, land wrangles, water scarcity, food insecurity and unnecessary competition for basic services that usually not sufficient due to budgetary constraints, planning never the less risks of pollinating diseases, epidemics and new vices in among host communities are high.

Abuse of democracy affects children, girls and women, and the marginalised groups. Majority of refugees face food insecurity, malnutrition, sexual harassment, racial abuse, discrimination, child Labor, inequities, inequalities, poor education which hinders their full potential to achieve long life dreams.

Abuse of democracy and undermining democratic institutions hinders economic development and international cooperation that’s to say democracy is one of the values that qualifies African countries to be part of the African Union and United Nations.

Many kleptocratic and dictatorial governments allover the world have failed to protect the rights and safety of all its citizens instead resort to persecution. Authoritarianism have conditioned dissenting and minority people to flee their homes in search of safety in other African countries, European Union, Canada, America and Arab World.

Addressing the root causes resulting from undemocratic tendencies like election malpractices among other problem is essential to mitigate the refugee crisis. Restoring democratic principles in African countries can have a positive impact on curbing refugee influx;

This can be achieved through political stability. Democracy provides a framework for peaceful transitions of power and political stability.

When people have confidence in their government and its ability to address their concerns, it reduces the likelihood of political unrest and conflict, which are common drivers of refugee crises.

Authorities must respect human rights for all. Democracies tend to have stronger institutions and a greater commitment to human rights for all. This means that citizens are less likely to face persecution or violence based on their political beliefs, ethnicity, religion, or other factors.

When human rights are upheld, fewer people are forced to seek refuge elsewhere.

We must prevent conflicts. Democracies often rely on diplomacy and peaceful means of conflict resolution. This can help prevent the outbreak of wars or civil conflicts that can displace large populations.

Democracy can also be nourished through economic development. Democracies tend to be more economically stable and open to international trade and investment. This can lead to improved economic opportunities within the country, reducing the incentive for people to leave in search of better economic prospects.

As well as these factors is international cooperation. Democracies are often more willing to engage in international cooperation and adhere to international agreements and treaties. This can lead to better handling of migration issues and cooperation with other countries to manage refugee flows.

However, it's important to note that the process of restoring democracy can be complex and challenging, and its success may not always lead to an immediate reduction in refugee numbers.

African Countries must work towards strengthening democracies by retracting on undemocratic practices particularly election malpractices, practice constitutionalism this will curb down the refugee influx which requires a multi-pronged approach that involves not only political reforms but also economic development, conflict resolution, and meaningful international cooperation.

Democracy is the building of peace and sustainable development, wherefore strengthening and safe guarding democracy has huge potential without doubts of mitigating the refugee crisis.

Robert Kigongo is a peace justice and conflict negotiator.

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