It is hard to give a clear answer to whether democracy and economic growth are related to each other. Before analyzing this question, it is important to define the terms involved in this issue. Democracy is a system of government in which the people of the country choose the members of the government through majority elections. Political stability is the measure by which the likelihood of decentralization of the government is measured. A politically unstable government is likely to be overthrown through civil unrest or military coup. Economic growth is the measure of the increase in the market value of goods and services over time. It is often indicated by the gross domestic product also known as GDP. Corruption is dishonest conduct by people holding power over various governmental organizations. A coup d’etat is an illegal seizure of the government by the military or other members of the government supported by the military. A coup can be both violent and bloodless. Civil unrest is a term that describes all forms of civil disturbance such as protests, riots, looting, etc.
To showcase how democracy and economic performance can relate to each other, the case of Nigeria could serve as an example. Since gaining its independence in 1960, the country has experienced a variety of governmental systems and coups. It could be seen that most of this time was spent under the military rule of different fractions, with different goals and aspirations (O’Neil et al. 746). However, despite the previous failure of democracy, the populace of the country persists on creating a democratically run government, and in recent years it seems like they are on the right track. The economic situation in the country is dire, with a large portion of the population living on under 2$ a day. However, this situation is not caused by a lack of resources or funds, but by the systemic corruption that the citizens have experienced since the country has become independent. Nigeria is an oil-rich country, and unfortunately, it is the leading cause of corruption throughout its history. This corruption was present in both democratically elected governments and authoritarian ones. The oil exports of the country have allowed the governments to be less reliant on taxes provided by the people and focused most of the money-making ventures of Nigeria to be reliant on siphoning money from the oil industry in both legal and illegal ways (O’Neil et al. 760). Early on this brought the country to making poor investments inspired by bribes, rather than research such as the early attempt of the country to start producing steel, which only resulted in major losses (O’Neil et al. 768).
However, since the 1990s the democratically elected leaders of Nigeria started to focus on the fight against corruption, and have attempted various tactics to improve the economic condition of the people. This has not been a smooth transition from the corrupt authoritarian government to a democratic one. Despite the first steps in the fight against corruption, the leaders have participated in massive bribery to rig the elections, with 2007 elections being the most corrupt in the history of Nigeria (O’Neil et al. 760). The members of the Nigerian government are some of the highest-paid in the world, and it is estimated that since 1960 more than 400 billion dollars have been stolen through corruption by the members of the government (O’Neil et al. 767). These funds have rarely been invested back into the country, and even still it is common for the government to buy extraordinary expensive vehicles, products, and real estate with the money that would otherwise go toward the development of the country. However, efforts against corruption have not been fruitless. After a relatively long time under a democratic government, the government has established an impressive system designed to prevent election rigging. Also, a separate independent agency was established to control and invest the excess money from oil trade (O’Neil et al. 769).
Looking at the GDP of the country since 1990 it could be seen that it has become much more stable in comparison to the turbulent years of coups and authoritarian governments. Could this be the indication that democracy facilitates successful national economic performance? The answer is slightly more complex than the question. On the one hand, in early stages democracy has only facilitated corruption which became the main issue of the country, and gave 80% of all money to 1% of the population. On the other hand, the recent string of democratic rulers has shown interest in controlling corruption due to the will of the citizens. While GDP does not provide a completely accurate impression of the economic situation within the country, it can show its stability, and besides a high spike in 2004, it was relatively stable. The path to democracy is different in each country due to the differences between them, and in the case of Nigeria, I believe that the history of civil unrest and military coups, coupled with the undying desire for democracy has created accountability where it was previously absent. Before recent years, both elected and not elected rulers of the country were reliant on the money from the oil trade. This removed the democratic power of the people, which resulted in a long line of governments toppled by military coups, or resigned in fear of assassination. The GDP of the country shows that during those times it has fallen dramatically, with a few spikes during more peaceful moments. The reality of the unsustainability of corrupt governments has forced the new Democratic leaders to reconsider the previous approach of stealing money without developing the country. While corruption is still a major issue in the country, its GDP has not yet fallen under the 0 line how it was in the previous decades. It is clear that political stability has played a big part in this development, and it may improve in the coming years if these efforts are continued. These signs show that stable democracy has a positive effect on national economic performance. The causes might differ between the countries, but political stability can be seen as a cause of the increase in national economic performance. The example of Nigeria is a unique one, a country is rarely able to sustain the desire for democracy after decades of failed attempts and false promises, but the numbers show that it was not a lost cause. With the coming years, it is possible that democracy would play an even larger role in the country due to the advances in alternative fuels. The government would have to change its strategy to continue operating, making taxation a more important part of the economy, which would, in turn, strengthen accountability and democracy in the country.
O’Neil, Patrick H et al. Cases in Comparative Politics. 5th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.