GCSU’s 2023 Coverdell Visiting Scholar holds symposium on democracy 

Dr. George Kieh.

GCSU’s 2023 Coverdell Visiting Scholar holds symposium on democracy 

War continues in the Ukraine. Widespread conflict threatens the Middle East. Around the world—according to a study released this month by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA)—democracy is on the decline.

Amid this turmoil, a voice from Georgia College & State University cries out this warning: “Don’t go down that path.” 

“In an autocracy, you got to go with the program. There’s no room for independent views,” said Dr. George Kieh, Georgia College’s 2023 Coverdell Visiting Scholar

“Eventually, authoritarian regimes consume their own supporters. If you challenge them, you do that at your own peril,” Kieh said. “You don’t have the right to think freely anymore. You don’t have the right to express alternative views. That’s only in a democratic system.” 

As Georgia College’s visiting scholar in the department of Government & Sociology, Kieh teaches a class and holds public events. This week, he invited a dozen professors from Georgia College and other universities for a two-day symposium on “Democracy in the World,” Nov. 10-11.

Friday’s symposium will be 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Pat Peterson Museum Education room in Ina Dillard Russell Library. Saturday’s breakfast event will be 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Topics include explanations of governance, the struggles of democratic systems and authoritarian regimes. 

The symposium couldn’t be more timely.

IDEA’s study points to democracy faltering in almost half of the 173 countries it surveyed. This is due to weakening government checks and balances, restriction of freedom, corruption, rigged elections and a general lack of accountability from elected leaders, according to a report by United Press International (UPI).

Kieh knows firsthand about this kind of injustice. 

He was born and raised on a rubber plantation in Liberia. His father worked at the plantation 35 years, and treatment for laborers could be harsh. By middle school, Kieh had organized his first social-justice movement. He later became president of the University of Liberia’s Student Government Association. 

In 1979, while in college, he was arrested, charged with treason and tortured.

He was imprisoned three months.

Twice, in 1989 and 1999, Kieh witnessed the oppression that disintegrates countries into civil war. He knows how hard it is for freedom to come back once a nation embraces the absolute power of dictatorship.

These life lessons pushed him to become an educator, and it’s what continues to energize him—prompting him to warn all who will listen.

“The best authoritarian system,” Kieh said, “is worse than the most flawed democratic system.” 

Kieh is on sabbatical from Texas Southern University in Houston, where he was dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs. He is an expert on foreign policy, conflicts, civil wars, global terrorism and genocide.

Joining him for the symposium are three professors from the University of West Georgia: Dr. Elaine Mackinnon, Dr. Neema Noori and Dr. J. Sal Peralta; three professors from North Carolina Central University: Dr. Allan Cooper, Dr. Tennyson Joseph and Dr. Emmanuel Oritsejafor; Dr. Kelechi Kalu from the University of California at Riverside; and four professors from Georgia College: Dr. Scott Buchanan, Dr. Aran Mackinnon, Dr. Harold Mock and Dr. William Risch. 

Opening addresses will be given at a 6 p.m. dinner Thursday, Nov. 9, by Dr. Costa Spirou, vice president for Academic Affairs, and Dr. Eric Tenbus, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Georgia College.

Updated: 2023-11-30
Cindy O'Donnell
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