The Student News Site of Chatham University


The Student News Site of Chatham University


The Student News Site of Chatham University


Diplomat Dennis Jett visits Chatham to discuss “The Downside of Democracy”

Photo Credit: Ivy Kuhrman

Students, faculty, and community members gathered in Welker Room on Thursday evening, October 30, for a presentation by diplomat Dennis Jett. As part of this years Global Focus on Southern Africa, the former United States ambassador to Mozambique discussed “The Downside of Democracy: Examples from Southern Africa.”

Jett received a warm welcome from Dr. Jean-Jacques Sène, the coordinator of the Global Focus Program and a history professor at Chatham.

According to Sène, Jett’s career with the US State Department began in 1973, and he has served in Argentina, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, and Peru, among other countries.

Jett has written the book, “Why American Foreign Policy Fails: Unsafe at Home and Despised Abroad,” and has been interviewed on CNN, the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and National Public Radio (NPR).

As an aside, Sène discouraged students from consuming CNN’s news media because of its bias and said, “If I could interrupt the show for just a minute: the greatest recommendation I could give you students is to become NPR junkies ASAP, if you are not already.”

According to Sène, Jett is now a professor at Pennsylvania State University, where he teaches in the School of International Affairs.

To conclude his introduction, Sène left the audience with a quote from Nelson Mandela, the late President of South Africa—“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”—because of its relevance to Jett’s dynamic career arch in diplomacy and his current professorship at Penn State.

Jett and his dry wit soon captivated the crowd as he supplemented Sène’s introduction.

He highlighted his experience in Africa—and therefore his relevance as a Global Focus speaker—by telling the audience of his jobs as US ambassador to Mozambique, Senior Director for African Affairs on the National Security Council, and Deputy Chief of Mission in Malawi.

Jett also served as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Liberia during a time of civil war, about which he said, “I’m happy to answer questions, but you may not like the answers.  It was an unhappy time.”

“You’re changing jobs every few years; you’re always learning,” said Jett on being a diplomat.

The topic soon moved to democracy—or a lack thereof—in Sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the NGO Freedom House’s annual report regarding the degree of freedom present in regions all over the world—a source that Jett believes to be very trustworthy—Sub-Saharan Africa is considered about 12 percent free and their press is considered about three percent free.

Democracy, according to Jett, requires democratic elections, majority rule with a respect for minority rights, checks and balances, and rights and freedoms—“in other words, stuff that poor countries rarely have in a meaningful way.”

In addition, Jett believes that democracy, “is like a muscle—use it or lose it.”

Sub-Saharan Africa’s lack of democracy, according to Jett, is the fault of economics and of the aid that foreign powers prioritize.

Referencing his dissertation, “Why Peacekeeping Fails”—“You can tell that failure is a recurring theme in my career, or at least in my academic endeavors,” he said—Jett discussed the corruption that occurs when money is on the line.

For example, Western powers that donated funds pressured Malawi to oust its dictator; however, each of his democratically elected successors were just as corrupt as the dictator.

“Is that better than a dictator?” Jett said. “I suppose, but it still doesn’t solve the problems of a poor country like Malawi.”

Jett believes Western nations are at fault for the lack of democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa because their focus is on failed states, and in failed states, the emphasis is on developing security forces instead of democracy.

“We have a capacity of spending on the military, but an incapacity for spending on development,” said Jett.

Jett expanded upon the problems surrounding this attitude when asked a question about ISIS and what can be done about it.

According to Jett, ISIS was founded because Iraq lacked a key ingredient for democracy: respect for minority rights.

The insurgents who make up ISIS, who were at one point in time on Iraq’s payroll, were fired and reverted to insurgency.

“There will be people to destroy the country because they see no future [for their minority group] and no reason not to do it,” said Jett.

In response to another question, Jett emphasized that the development of democracy is an involved process.

Economic conditions must be just right, and political and diplomatic leaders must be committed to change.

“You can’t train a judge to provide justice in a few weeks,” he said.

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