The gruesome killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi comes at a time when people are stopping to believe in democracy. The idea that democracy isn’t necessary for Human Development has been reinforced the past couple years as countries like China have shown outstanding growth debunking several economic theories of democracy.
Beyond, the failure of Western Nations that have presented themselves as champions and anchors of democracy to hold onto their democratic principles when their interests are challenged have come to undermine the credibility of democracy in Global Politics.
The killing of Jamal Khashoggi is a clear illustration of how some of the most authoritarian regimes in the world such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are “best friends” with the United States while same Great America lectures countries like Venezuela and Iran on Human Rights and democracy. That double standard which makes Americans and their allies close their eyes on tyrannical regimes when it suits their interests have tremendously contributed to the devaluation of democracy.
I am deeply hurt and saddened by the death of Jamal Khashoggi. I am hurt by the cruelty of his killing in itself but am even more hurt by the fact that countries like the United States of America have failed democracy to the extent of becoming even a threat to democracy. When I first heard of the ongoing investigation by the Turkish government at the Saudi Consulate, I was filled with anxiety and kept telling myself: if the Saudi killed this guy and get away with it, we are screwed. Who are we?
We are activists, freedom fighters, movement, and opinion leaders who like Jamal have been fighting for freedom of speech, freedom of expression and the liberty to choose our leaders and hold them accountable. Even though my country Togo isn’t a monarchy per say, we too have been led by a family dynasty for over 51 years. I and several generations before me grew up under a tyrannical regime and I tear at this moment as I am having flashbacks of what it was like to live in fear growing up in Togo.
Just two days ago, a community leader in my country was beaten savagely and left in a coma just because he held a meeting at his house to discuss upcoming elections with opposition activists. Last week, the military did a raid and arrested several citizens who were severely beaten for not having a voters’ ID because the opposition has called for the boycott of the voters’ registration and the government want to intimidate people into registering for the elections.
While people born in most Western Nations only get to taste dictatorship once in a blue moon when a high profile crime like that of the killing of Jamal occurs, some of us cope with such news on almost a weekly basis. From children as young as 9 getting shot by our soldiers to babies as young as 3 weeks old suffocating of tear gas, to pregnant women beaten to the point they lose their babies, to journalists that disappear and their bodies are later found washed up at the beach, to activists dying of torture in prison, we receive such news so frequently that we have become accustomed to it.
I grew up hearing the stories of Togolese activists who died after militaries inserted shards of broken bottles in their anus, of men who like my father have had electric cord wrapped on their genitalia and were tortured with the intent of rending them sexually impotent, of children of activists beheaded in front of their parents just to name a few of the despicable crimes committed by the military regime in Togo. I grew up with the stories of so much horror and unfortunately, I happened to have met and known some of the victims. I happened to have been the relative of some of these victims and today, and I am a potential victim myself.
Have you ever feared for your life? Standing against dictatorship have cost me my youth as I am always on alert. I am constantly careful about where I go, who I meet with, what I eat, where I eat, how long I stay in a place, what I discuss on the phone, via email, who I speak with. I had to deny being me sometimes when I get recognized in public and had to change my location and fly out sometimes when I am publicly spotted in certain areas. As I got used to that new life, I do at times when am alone wonder how will people react if my enemies, the regime I denounce succeeds at carrying one of their multiple threats which are to kill me. I was told last year when things got sour in Togo, and we believed in the possibility of change after hundreds of thousands of people protested against the dictatorship, that if they were to fall, they would make sure I do not make it alive.
I rarely talk about the backlashes of my activism because I never want the struggle to be about me as an individual and beyond, I do not wish to give the regime an opportunity to intimidate others through me and I quite feel like sharing details of their threats would only discourage some people from joining their struggle. However, the news of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi gives me a taste of what could be my story or that of many other activists that are demanding justice, freedom, and equality in authoritarian countries.
I wouldn’t have had a chance to found the Faure Must Go movement which later grew to become a revolution slogan in Togo if I hadn’t left my country at age 18 to relocate in the United States where I found haven. Never in my life had I felt that kind of freedom. In the United States, I could dare think differently and not fear death as a consequence. I could dare speak up. My favorite weekend activities were protesting in Washington D.C or New York. I spent my nights doing research, writing, meeting in conference calls with passionate countrymen who just like me wanted Togo to be free.
But when I went back to Togo some years later, on the day of my arrival, my friends who I was discussing politics at a restaurant were murmuring. When it became clear that my presence was a threat to only me but also my family and I had to relocate to a neighboring country, the regime still managed to have the government of that neighboring country threatens me with deportation because I wanted the hold a public event to brief on the states of Human Rights in Togo.
There are a few countries that despite their domestic issues, have reached a level of political tolerance where citizens can express themselves freely, and even the weakest of society can dare seek justice; the United States happens to be one of them. Unfortunately, the weakness the U.S has been showing by cuddling authoritarian regimes to preserve its geostrategic interests can only encourage other dictators around the world.
When Donald Trump’s MAGA buddy Kanye West chooses an African dictator to hang out with right after his one-man show at the White House, and the United States’ president chooses to discuss the possibility of the innocence of the Saudi Kingdom in the killing of one of their citizens rather than denouncing the horrendous execution of the victim, WE ARE FU***NG SCREWED! This, because dictators are the best plagiarists in the world. They copy from one another and learn from one another. If Saudi Arabia can get away with this, all dictators will assume they too can get away with it and the Activists Hunt is just about to get worse.
It is a mistake for the West and the United States, in particular, to put interests before humanity. As Henry Wallace, former Vice President of the United States under Franklin Delano Roosevelt said: “democracy must put people first and dollars second.” America has lost so much respect from the world as it mocks its democratic principles by failing to hold its authoritarian allies accountable. Making America Great Again starts with making America keep the promises of its founding fathers as stated in the Declaration of Independence to:
“hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
May The Soul of Jamal Khashoggi rest in peace!
Farida Bemba Nabourema