After a month of hard work and preparation, the day was finally here. It was the 14th of November and the Battle of Ideas (BOI) Satellite event, organised by the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholars, was taking place. The Investcorp Lecture Theatre at St. Anthony’s College had been chosen as the ideal venue for the event. Democracy was the topic for the evening’s discussion; is democracy in the Global South under siege, and does it require a shift towards liberalisation or should alternative models be sought out?
The idea of addressing such an issue came from one of the sessions of the BOI held at the Barbican, in London. The topic, both controversial and interesting, was focused on the Economist’s manifesto for renewing liberalism. The discussion generated a lot of interest from the audience, and many interesting questions raised, however, it focused mainly on the United Kingdom, specifically Brexit, and the United States under Trump. For this reason, we decided to explore this topic in the context of the Global South.
Being a part of the organising team gave me a better understanding of how the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust Leadership Programme not only trains us to be critical thinkers but also allows us to develop organisational and planning skills which are relevant for any sector. In this regard, the experience of organising a satellite event was really enriching for me, from participating in the internal discussions to decide on the topic and panellists, to coordinating the particulars of the event with the BOI team.
Furthermore, this satellite gave me the opportunity to present and defend my ideas to the other panellist and an audience. The main point I raised was that although democracy has some serious flaws intrinsically, as a political system, it embraces liberal values and respects civil liberties, making it a superior political system to its autocratic counterparts. That said, the Global South should take advantage of the international protectionist ambience to foster their technological investment and develop more aggregated-value industries.
Fellow WHT Scholar, Grace Mzumara, participated as a panellist as well, and introduced an African perspective into our discussion. Her presentation was outstanding and generated a lot of curiosity from the audience regarding her vision on the African Union and her long-term perspectives for enhancing democracy in Africa. She presented thought-provoking ideas even though her professional background is not closely related to the study of political regimes.
With the invaluable help of Geoff Kidder, from BOI, our panel was complemented with the presence of three academics whose ideas were controversial and challenging. One of these panellists was Dr Tom Young from the School of Oriental and African Studies, at the University of London, who argued for considering the benefits of the Chinese model for Africa and highlighted the flaws of the Washington Consensus as a plausible model. Our other panellist was Dr Vanessa Pupavac, co-director of the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice at the University of Nottingham, who constructed a case against supranational governance institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations. Finally, Dr Andreza De Souza, Director of the Brazilian Studies Programme at the University of Oxford, spoke about some perils to democracy such as populism or allegedly ‘democratic’ consultation methods such as referendums, which can easily lead to a tyranny of the majority.
The event began with initial statements from each of the panellists, summarising their ideas. The discussion that followed was ably chaired by Dr James Panton. Among the issues raised, was a concern over a lack of passion in defending democracy, the role of the nation-state in our proposed models and the relationship between democracy in theory and in practice.
Talk of the discussions that were had that evening made its way to various lectures, including the Masters of Public Policy lecture.
Besides the participation of two of the Scholars as speakers, the event could not have been the success that it was without a joint effort from all of the WHT Scholars. Different teams collaborated in designing the poster for the event, defining the public relations strategies and promoting the event within Oxford. Working collaboratively is something that we as WHT Scholars have done throughout the Leadership Programme, and value greatly.
Finally, I would like to say a special thanks to Jane Baldwin who has always been our guide, main driver and support in all of the scholarship activities. Always caring and warm, she is one of the main reasons for which we feel that the Leadership Programme is not only about learning and collaborating with fellow Scholars, but also building meaningful relationships.