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A true democracy enables innovation

In this globalized world, the need for economic growth and development seems to be the common goal and, indeed, an insatiable need of nations. Economic growth and societal development(s) are also significantly linked with the capacity to innovate. In this sense, innovation is a precursor of development. Simultaneously, democracy is one of the decisive enablers of innovation.

In different ages, democracy has been discussed in line with issues such as human rights, economic development, human development, and other related concepts. In the 21st century, democracy is also coupled with concepts such as knowledge and innovation. This, in turn, leads us to talk about knowledge democracy and knowledge society as derivatives to innovation capabilities and enabling contexts. Founded on that, it is critical to ask if democracy can be innovation enabler. This is a well-timed and extraordinary idea raised by Professor David F.J. Campbell in his book entitled ‘Global Quality of Democracy as Innovation Enabler: Measuring Democracy for Success”. Accordingly, as the writer states, knowledge democracy “emphasizes the importance of knowledge and innovation for the quality of democracy and the sustainable development of democracy, society and economy.”

He aptly describes that freedom and equality are the “two already conventionally and traditionally established dimensions in our thinking about democracy.” Nevertheless, in the modern world, according to Campbell, democracy can be attached to new dimensions of sustainable development and self-organization, such as the co-evolution of innovation, economic freedom and political freedom in a given nation. Hence, the book innovatively comes up with a new idea of scrutinising democracy as innovation enabler.

In this world of unprecedented speed of change, the changes in economic actions, knowledge production, and technologies led to the conception of knowledge economy and knowledge society. Parallel to the necessity of creating knowledge society that can along with the knowledge economy of the advanced world is the necessity of knowledge democracy. In a knowledge democracy, as profoundly discussed by Campbell, there is a particular emphasis on knowledge and innovation. The development of knowledge and innovation also lead any nation towards development and progress. Therefore, democracy is a decisive enabler of innovation – the ultimate driver of progress that helps to along with the modern world. The writer argues that a high-level of economic development most likely requires the development of democracy.

In this sense, as described in the book, one can strongly argue that there is co-evolution between “quality of democracy, knowledge democracy and knowledge economy.” This is because “political pluralism and a heterogeneity and diversity of different knowledge and innovation modes should mutually support and reinforce each other.” In other words, unduly centralized government or high power distance is equated with a poor level of innovativeness.

According to the writer, democracy evolves. It evolves to a higher stage and so to the culture of creativity and innovation. In this regard, it is inspiring to have the synthesis of innovative culture of a nation, quality of democracy and type of democracy. This indicates that, in the coming ages, democracy might face challenges that facilitate its sophistication along with the changing nature of the technology and globalization. Therefore, this dimension of analysing societal contexts is probably the most innovative way of understanding and predicting the future of nations in this superbly advancing world.  

Accordingly, the grandness of the writer’s arguments is enthralling to ask the future of semi-democracies and non-democracies, such as Ethiopia, regarding innovation and the creation of knowledge society. Embracing liberal democracy is the most obvious and immediate answer. Nevertheless, it is equally important to mention that embracing liberal democracy cannot and should not simply be equated with having elections. It demands efforts to enliven real political rights and civil liberties. Without warranting civil liberty, it is unlikely to emancipate individuals from their real or perceived political and psychological shackles. A fettered mind, therefore, cannot innovate.

For the past close to three decades, led by a revolutionary democracy political and economic ideology, Ethiopia has emerged as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Nevertheless, despite its impressive economic growth, the country is in social and political chaos, especially in the past decade. To this end, we will be supposed to ask the quality or form of democracy and governance that can bring sustainable development, innovation and peace. Based on his analysis of democracies in all parts of the world, David Campbell stated that liberal democracy sufficiently, probably in advanced mode, fulfils the criteria of democracy that can create enabling contexts for sustainable growth and innovativeness.

Indeed, as a follow-up to this argument, many people might mention the case of China. China is a typical example among the few countries that manage economic development with less (or no) political development. This, however, cannot make it a good example to be emulated, especially by nations that need comprehensive sustainable development(s). Fast economic development while suffering from political freedom might be a symptom for the illness of democracy on a global scale and thus the need to reinvigorate it to fit the global dynamism.

Democracy and liberal views can face challenges (for instance, populism and fast economic growth while suffering from a lack of political freedom). However, this is an insufficient condition to argue that democracy is superannuated. It is rather an indication of the need for continuous improvement and enlargement of democracy on a global scale. Likewise, Campbell states that new problems and challenges that “test the problem-solving capacity and capability of democracy” always arise. Yet, augmenting its capacity and further freedom is among the indispensable solutions. In this sense, democracy can be an innovation enabler because, as the writer investigates, “the achievement of advanced levels of sustainable development (beyond a certain threshold) is not possible without achieving progress in the dimension of freedom.”

In sum, we might discuss and make alignments between the level of innovation and democracies in different contexts. Nevertheless, measuring it in empirical terms appears to be extremely challenging unless a critical, thoughtful, and persistent and a professional in political sciences as well as research and innovation takes the role; which is fabulously done by David Campbell. Accordingly, it is worthwhile to (re)state one of the arguments of the work: although economic freedom (or development) doesn’t necessarily require political freedom, high level of sustainable development and innovativeness substantially demand the co-evolution of political and economic freedoms.

Ed.’s Note: Kibrom Berhane is studying for his Master’s Degree in Research and Innovation in Higher Education in Finland. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

Contributed by Kibrom Berhane