The Public Intelligence Project: Creating A Culture Of Democracy

Michael J. Oghia | Ushahidi | October 15, 2013

(Guest post by Michael J. Oghia, Project Manager, Public Intelligence Project. His team is leading efforts to create transparency in censorship and freedom of speech violation issues throughout the world using Ushahidi)

Freedom of expression is a fundamental civil liberty imperative to democracy. However, in societies throughout the world, it is at risk, and George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty Four is increasingly becoming more of a prediction of the future instead of far–fetched, fictional hyperbole. Indeed, democracy has been weakened by journalists being killed; public bans on books, speech and dissent; and governments cracking down on peaceful protests. Increasing censorship, surveillance, Internet monitoring, and citizens being disengaged or refusing to listen to different viewpoints threatens to make democracy a shallow exercise in electing rulers. Eroding freedom of expression is but one part of the problem facing contemporary democracy though. Others include the lack of a citizenry educated in of critical thinking or in the skills required to engage in open and constructive dialogue to manage differences and conflict.

What these issues shed light on is that most so called “democracies” do not exist with a corresponding ethos or “culture” of democracy. When we refer to a culture of democracy, we are talking about much more than just mechanisms like voting and elections or institutions like parliament or the judiciary. While mechanisms and institutions are vital for creating democracy, these are merely the scaffolding that surrounds the system. An effective and mature democracy is more than the sum of its institutional mechanisms. A mature democracy is characterized by the values, dispositions, and capabilities of its citizenry, which are the underpinning of the culture of democracy.