Lavina Joseph

George Washington University

Graduate Student



Democracy is a system of governance where a respected rule of law exists which explicitly defines the role of not only the citizens in which it governs, but the role of civil servants such the president, senators, etc. Democracy encourages individuals' rights and citizen engagement (i.e., voting, opinions). A democracy has a functioning bureaucracy and views no one as above the law no matter what status they hold. It places limits on a government regarding what it can and cannot particularly to its citizens. Additionally, it sets term limits on civil servants and allows for new individuals to become leaders. Democracy matures – meaning that some laws that were passed 100 years ago may no longer work or need to be modified to properly govern citizens, thus, the system allows for the change. Last but not least, when democracy is respected, that is, everyone from the citizens to the elected leaders plays their role well, it allows for the other sectors in a society such as the social, political and economical to flourish, thus leading to an overall progressive nation.

I have known two types of governments my whole life: a dictatorial one under Omar al-Bashir in Sudan and a democratic one in the United States. While I was just a child when my family fled Sudan to settle in a Ugandan refugee camp, as I grew up in the refugee camp, I noticed my surrounding, that is one in which everybody lived in poverty and was unable to meet their basic daily necessities. Like many children living at the refugee camp, I recall asking my mother “when will we go home?” and my mother’s reply, “when the war is over.”  

We never did go back home, but instead immigrated to the United States. A month after settling into our new home, our life began to change dramatically. My siblings and I were enrolled in school, my mother found a job, and we became contributing members of society. Sixteen years after living in the United States, I would have never imagined that I would be studying for my master’s. When I compare my life of when my family lived in a refugee camp to now, I could only sum it to, “it was quite a journey.”

Under Omar al-Bashir’s dictatorship, there was a war against people like my family whose religion wasn’t Islam. There was a power imbalance that left my people marginalized and eventually forced us to flee our homes and settle in refugee camps. Under al-Bashir’s government, we were robbed of vital opportunities such as education and resources that an individual needs to succeed. Under al-Bashir’s government, we never quite knew what it meant to live in peace, nor did we know what an adequate and a functioning government was. We never knew any other president but al-Bashir. We never knew what it meant to practice one of our most essential civic duties, which is to vote. When we immigrated to the United States, all that changed. 

Yes, democracy has been declining in recent years with only half the world’s nations being categorized as truly democratic presently. This is because established democracies have been performing poorly. The people whom the system was designed to serve, support and protect have lost faith and grew discontent due to rising economic inequality that has placed many of them in positions where they can no longer afford basic needs. Countries that once advocated for democracy are no longer promoting for it assertively as other matters such as terrorism became prioritized. Consequently, this has forced emerging democracies to fall back into authoritarianism, where the quality of life is unlivable, dictators are tightening their grip on power by manipulating constitutions, demonstrators are jailed or silenced or worst, killed, and there is media censorship.

Democracy is not a perfect system, but it’s the one that has worked well so far. When people experience war, marginalization or any event that forces them to leave their country, it’s the democratic nations where they hope to settle as their final destination, not another country ruled by a dictator. I can imagine no better system of governance than it. Democracy is known by many as a system where its citizens live in peace not war, where their basic needs are met and their voices heard, and where justice prevails, and the chance to succeed is higher than had they lived under an authoritarian type of system. I cannot in good faith say that under al-Bashir’s government that I would have been a functioning member of society, that I would be able to vote as I have in the United States, and that I would be pursuing higher education, if at all education.

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