Two interesting things happened last week. In the East London suburb of Cape Town in South Africa, a man settled a domestic dispute by killing his wife and then going on a spree and shooting 9 more people. In Germany, the unemployment rate went well over what they regard as their danger level of 4 million people.

How, you may wonder, are these things connected and what's their relevance to what's going on in the world now?

The answer is simple really. They are both prime examples of countries who had freedom and democracy restored to themselves in recent years and yet, despite this, who have still gone on to suffer major social and economic miseries nevertheless.

The significance of this is clearly to be seen in the context of the level of problems that lie ahead for a new and relatively liberated Afghanistan as a breeding ground for global terrorism - something that effects all of us now.

Directly connected to this issue lie the growing concerns that many people have about what appears to be an over-simplistic foreign policy on the part of the current US Bush administration in the context of it's black and white, over reliance on the defense of democracy and freedom in the world seemingly in the context that this will solve all of the world's ills.

Inevitably, as history has shown, it won't. Life is just a bit more complex than that and to address it's problems meaningfully will require a great deal more realistic and sophisticated thought that merely than hollow rhetoric about defeating the evil ones and preserving freedom.

It may have seemed like a popular and simple solution at the time, but when Ronald Reagan made his famous tear down this wall speech in Berlin in 1987, did he or anyone else propagating the same sort of naivety stop to consider what price would have to be paid for such a fundamentally juvenile approach to reality?

After all, it's a lot easier to order the biggest round at the bar when you know that you aren't paying for it.

Ignored at the time were those who questioned with concern how a unified Germany would cope economically with the sudden inclusion of many millions of more people and, whilst I am by no means going to adopt the right wing fascist doctrine that they are all to blame for everything, it is a reasonable comment to make that removing the wall has put an enormous financial strain on the German economy and one which to this day may ultimately end up being a major contributory factor to destabilising Europe's biggest single economy.

History has shown too clearly, what the effects of such a thing have been previously in this country. Germany has already experienced a significant upsurge in the growth of extremist right wing fascist groups in recent years and one their main incitements has been the alleged influx of a poorly skilled East German workforce depriving them of jobs and driven wages down.

Of course that isn't the full picture at all but it still doesn't get away from the fact that when people started talking about evil empires and tearing things down so that we could all have freedom, it doesn't seem that clear if they actually thought this all through in the real world.

Similarly so, South Africa gained freedom by breaking away from apartheid some 8 years ago now and yet it's economy still lies in ruins with a badly devalued Rand and huge degrees of poverty amongst most Blacks living there. Law and order is close to breakdown with an estimated 23,000 murders per year - a figure similar to that of the US but in a country only 1/6 the size of America.

This is not to imply by any means that South Africa would have been better off under apartheid but it is to say that in solving the problem it's commonly more important what happens afterwards than anything else.

Adopting the Bush administration doctrine of aggressively pursuing those who they feel are threatening freedom and democracy is all fine and well. You can provide military support to the opposition, destabilise the regime in power and help bring about local elections for once.

However, all of this makes no real difference ultimately if the ordinary people who live there end up seeing no real improvements in their lives subsequently.

The British Commonwealth has rounded sharply on Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe for attempting a policy of forced land redistribution. Yet at the same time, irrespective of whether he has politically hijacked this issue for his own means or not, it remains the case that one of the country's core problems is that in a post apartheid system, agricultural land representing the main means of production of a livelihood was simply not being re-dispersed amongst the majority of the population.

Indeed, those cynics amongst us who are not such great believers in the free market economics of capitalism might well point out that often freedom means little more than just opening up a new class of consumers for multi-national corporations to feed off and profiteer from.

If, as an international community, our only success in introducing democracy into Afghanistan is that the kids can now more freely go out and buy Michael Jackson CDs then one has to wonder if what this was all really about in the first place.

Of course conservatives will tell us that that's the beauty of the capitalist system - the ability to choose the right thing or the wrong thing for ourselves. What they, of course, won't also tell you is that no one has yet ever spotted a horse that didn't eat sugar lumps when put in front of it either.

In the final analysis then, it isn't just the getting or preserving of democracy that is important as what you do with it afterwards once you have it.

When countries like Afghanistan have had their taste of freedom we had all better hope that it does ultimately end up in improving their lives in real terms. If it doesn't then don't be surprised at what they may then choose as an alternative.


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