Posts Tagged ‘authoritarianism’

In case you missed them – the CdI edition

A few more things that caught my eye during my post-festive season catch-up on happenings in the blogosphere.

  1. Jina Moore gets out the dictionary on the current turmoil in Côte d’Ivoire – a must read.
  2. Charles Onyango-Obbo wonders whether we might be heading towards the inevitable in Côte d’Ivoire, and whether, in that respect, that electoral strife might be a good thing. (H/T Jina Moore in an earlier post.)
  3. Chris Blattman features various others’ suggestions that put that idea to shame.

Overall, despite there being reasons for optimism about the way the rest of the world has got its act together over Côte d’Ivoire (in contrast to the dithering over similar electoral shenanigans in Kenya a couple of years ago), it does rather seem as if there is no easy option. Even if one accepts the rather one-sided view of things which predominates in the Western media – Outtara is surely no saint – the more satisfying, morally-robust route to military intervention seems to threaten catastrophe on the ground. (Anyone remember Iraq?) And promising Gbagbo an amnesty won’t do much to soothe the worries of his various lieutenants and lesser supporters who are likely equally guilty of various human rights variations.

I’m not sure I hold out too much hope for Côte d’Ivoire; from my remote (and uninformed) vantage point it seems likely to be rather messy for some time to come. But an international community that stays firm may deter the next African leader who thinks they can steal an election. Popular tyrants like Kagame and Zenawi will stay in power because, well, they’re still pretty popular amongst wide swathes of their respective countrymen, but more contested strong man polities (Madagascar? H/T to Chris Blattman and various others who have already made this point) may give more consideration to stepping back from the brink before it is too late. Ultimately, to me, that is the appeal of the ICC. There may not be much we can do about the present generation of oppressors come mass murderers, but we can put off the next generation, and that is a worthy goal.

As for redrawing Africa’s borders, we should not forget what a complex place it is. We should remember the chaos of Europe’s religious wars following the Reformation, as well as more recent tragedies over the partition of India and the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Determined leaders may attempt to create facts on the ground, but things are going to have to get very messy indeed before splitting most countries will make sense – so messy that we should be intervening long before it gets that bad. From a perspective of complete ignorance I would suggest one possible exception: DR Congo just seems too vast and unmanageable a place that division might just be the only feasible option.

Of course, on most if not all of the above I have little actual experience, so please feel free to put me to rights in the comments section below. Alternatively just go and read people like Jina Moore and Laura Seay who do know what they’re talking about.


What is democracy good for?

(A coda to my earlier post on Democracy, Authoritarianism and Development. Naïveté warning for political scientists: you may wish to skip this post.)

At the most immediate level it occurred to me that democracy confers the following advantages (I won’t go into the disadvantages here):

  1. A free contest of political ideas and approaches to government.
  2. A safety valve to eject unpopular or corrupt governments from power.
  3. A mechanism for delivering a smooth succession of power.

However, in many developing countries none of these work very well. Since the end of the cold war (during which time developing country political leaders had to adopt the language of their respective superpower sponsors’) it has become difficult to spot much in the way of policy differences between rival political parties (although the same could also be said for the UK), with all espousing economic development along the standard donor-supported model. Most politicians principle policy differences seems to be that they (and/or their tribe/religion etc.) should be in power, and not the other guys. Even in Zimbabwe, where ostensibly there are big political differences over land, many commentators have suggested this is just a cover for Mugabe to stay in power.

A safety valve against poor governance and corruption is very useful, but, similarly to the non-policy differences, too often it seems that when it comes to governance in developing countries the more things change, the more they stay the same. Typically a newly elected government  (e.g. Malawi and Zambia in recent years) spends several years pursuing corruption cases against those voted out of office, before dramatically losing their enthusiasm for the fight when the next set of targets are their own officials.

The lack of a clear separation between party and state in many cases also hampers the operation of the safety valve, which, moreover, relies, to a certain extent, on the third advantage; a smooth succession. However, election results in developing countries are so often contested that it has got difficult for those at a distance to ascertain who is crying wolf and who has a genuine grievance. (The recent election in Somaliland appears to be a welcome exception.)

I am not sure that any of the above necessarily constitute a solid argument against democracy given the clear perils of authoritarianism. I have probably also missed some important advantages of democracy; please post any suggestions in the comments.

Democracy, Authoritarianism and Development

So the surprise winner of the Rwandan presidential election is … Paul Kagame! Who would have thought it? The Economist epitomises the dominant view in the Western media as Paul Kagame has gone from aid darling to the flawed leader we’re stuck with. Texas in Africa has a much more nuanced discussion. I note striking parallels with how everyone viewed Museveni ten years ago. The sad thing is that these are often popular leaders who could win a fair election by a country mile, so resorting to the strong-arm tactics seems awfully short-sighted.

The interesting comparisons are with the more contested polities in neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania. Some Tanzanians (admittedly a rather small sample size) would seem to prefer a strong man who would stamp out corruption and bring much faster economic development.

“Is Africa ready for democracy?” is one of those horrendously patronising debates which comes around every now and then. My response is usually to suggest that I am not about to tell any disenfranchised African keen for their voice to be heard that their society is just too immature for democracy. However, there are some interesting observations that can be made in relation to this.

Firstly, strong men such as Museveni and Kagame have become popular precisely by maintaining a strong hand on the tiller, part of which involves taking a hard line against official corruption. News stories of coups often report initially a high level of public support for the intervention because ordinary citizens are fed up with corruption and hope this new broom will be different. (Such support, e.g. in Guinea, often fades pretty quickly.) Reducing corruption and increasing efficiency of government (as Museveni, Kagame and Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia have done to different degrees) also greatly increases the efficacy of development aid, and is one of the oft quoted reasons why the donors continue to hold their noses and deal with such leaders.*

Secondly, many outcomes of economic development are viewed as important to a well functioning democracy, e.g. a large middle class, an educated population, and a strong civil society including diverse independent media. The Chinese government have long argued that their citizens are far more interested in economic development than airy-fairy human rights. Indeed I have noticed international commentary gradually becoming more intrigued as to when the tipping point in favour of democracy in China will come – the implication being that the pressure which is building up cannot be held off forever. Is there a greater good to be found in that argument? Development first, then (properly functioning) democracy later?

Apart from the obvious moral issues, there are two big flaws that I can see in this argument. Firstly that as a big man stays in power for longer and longer, they have to subvert the system more and more, and patronage politics returns in force. Thus initial gains in eliminating corruption are in time reversed, albeit with possibly a different crowd whose “turn it is to eat”. The second argument surrounds long term stability and the succession, e.g. as recently elucidated by Chris Blattman with respect to Ethiopia.

If civil society etc are strong enough, and the strong man himself can perhaps be persuaded of the error of his ways, then it might in the long run be worth suffering the authoritarianism. But the example of Zimbabwe also shows us what can happen when a strong man (and the patronage system which supports him) is determined to hold on to power whatever the costs.

In conclusion, I am not sure what is the optimal approach. Since my opinion doesn’t matter much that seems just fine. Most bilateral aid agencies also seem caught between two stools, berating sham democracy when they see it, but making minimal adjustments to the flow of  funds. As a British citizen I do have a right to an opinion as to whether this is the right way for DFID to act, but as for the governments in Africa … (alert! platitude ahead) … well that surely has to be for their own citizens to decide.

* In the various indicators does this come out as good or bad governance? Single index measures always cover up more than they reveal.

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