Browsing articles from "September, 2009"
Sep 30, 2009

Another Coup Government Consolidated in Africa

The prospects for a democratic election in Guinea in January have all but disappeared after the slaughter in Conakry on Monday. While Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, the military ruler of the country, has not yet said for certain that he will run for president in January, this is a highly likely event. Camara took over the country in a coup last December after the death from illness of the country’s former president, Lansana Conté, saying that he planned on holding a democratic transition and promising that he would not himself run for president in the subsequent elections.

In August 2009, apparently in response to his followers’ demands, Camara said that he “could not rule out” the possibility of running. On September 28, 50,000 democracy activists gathered in the large public stadium in the capital to protest this apparent renege. They were met by soldiers who shot live ammunition into the crowd, bayoneted protesters, and raped women. In all, it is estimated that 157 people are dead and 1,253 wounded. The death count is hard to verify, however. Part of the reason is that Guinea is predominantly Muslim, so the deceased are buried quickly. The biggest reason, though, is that the army has kidnapped bodies out of the stadium and out of the hospital morgues to avoid a count. On the day of the violence, media were able to count 57 dead bodies in the hospital morgue; this is the only number the government will admit to (since it has already been verified). They’re also only admitting to four people having died from gunshot wounds. The rest are said to have been trampled. Eyewitness accounts seem to contradict this. In addition to stealing bodies from the morgues, army personnel have abducted women who are being treated for rape-related injuries and taken them to unknown locations. Despite multiple witnesses to some truly heinous sexual assaults, the army has stayed quiet on this issue.

Camara has banned all “subversive meetings” for an indefinite period, which will severely hamper any opposition activity. He claims that Monday’s activities were the fault of “uncontrollable” elements in the military and denies personal responsibility. He has even declared a national day of mourning and visited victims in the hospital. Yet on Tuesday the army was heavily deployed around the capital, and soldiers killed three more people for being in the streets. They also fired rounds into the air to intimidate residents.

It is certainly possible that Camara has a tenuous hold on the military. He is just a captain, and has never had real military experience beyond peacekeeping in Sierra Leone. But he has a reputation as a ringleader in the army, having led a mutiny in 2007 and a wage riot in 2008. But whatever his real position in the military apparatus, it is clear that the army does not have any immediate plans to leave power and turn control over to the opposition.

Sep 29, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Questioning US Media Development Policy

I attended a talk today by Andrew Green at the National Endowment for Democracy on US media assistance strategies.  Something about the talk bothered me, although I could not put my finger on it until the very end.  It then hit me: the talk was all about policies, but we never discussed their overall objective.  Talking about media development policies without discussing their goals strikes me as potentially dangerous for two reasons.

First, while media development is a standard part of D&G programs, it is not restricted to this sector.  For example, governments can very effectively use the media to broadcast public service programs in many sectors, such as in education and health, and US Government aid projects deliver this kind of assistance.  However, these governments can also use the same technologies for more nefarious purposes, such as broadcasting government propaganda.  To what extent should the US Government provide non-democratic governments with the means to enhance their capacity to use the media if they can use the tools to subvert democratic development?

Second, the talk took a worrying turn, at least for me, when we began to discuss dissemination of programs that could help people in authoritarian regimes get around internet censorship.  While this may seem innocuous on the surface, it troubles me slightly.  To see this, twist the question a bit.  Wouldn’t the US Government by angry if the governments China, Iran, or Russia installed software in the US that would block people in the US from accessing certain websites?  I think it would and I know I would find it a transgression of our sovereignty.  If the Government of China wants to block certain websites, should US D&G assistance attempt to subvert this?  It seems like a sound question.  I can see two objections to this argument, but neither stands as far as I am concerned.  One, the US Government employed these types of programs (although in a much more low-tech way) during the Cold War.  However, US policy, as far as I understand, does not seek to overthrow the current regimes in China, Iran, and Russia, unlike our policies towards the Soviet Union.  Two, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Voice of America (VOA) already broadcast to many of these countries (often against the wishes of their governments), so dissemination of software to circumvent internet censorship continues existing policy.  While this may be true, it doesn’t answer the question.  It seems reasonable to ask whether US Government D&G policies that explicitly advocate breaking the laws of other sovereign countries are a good idea, but perhaps I lack imagination.

Sep 25, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

A Tale of Two Pittsburghs

It was the best of times…


It was the worst of times…


Are the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies (and as their website tells us, representing 85% of global GDP), really afraid of these guys?


Sep 25, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

David Brooks has a strange view of Afghanistan

I am not sure where David Brooks gets his information.  According to his column in today’s New York Times,

Third, while many Afghan institutions are now dysfunctional, there is a base on which to build. The Afghan Army is a successful institution.

I am not an expert on Afghanistan.  What I do know is that on election day even though it was quite clear I was an international election observer, soldiers in the Afghan army extorted money from me and my security team, took our weapons, and put us and themselves in grave danger in the process.  If this is an example of a successful institution in Afghanistan, there really isn’t much hope for the country.

Michael Cohen at Democracy Arsenal has more.

Sep 23, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

COIN catch-22

Gregg Carlstrom at The Majlis points to a central contradiction in McChrystal’s counter-insurgency plan for Afghanistan:

McChrystal’s review calls for a strategy of population-centric counterinsurgency, which requires the U.S. to invest billions in Afghanistan. So Karzai knows the U.S. won’t turn off the aid spigot…It’s a catch-22. The U.S. needs a responsible Karzai government to implement a COIN strategy. But it can’t coerce Karzai to act responsibly without undermining that same strategy.

Aid can only give a government an incentive to govern well if there is credible commitment to withdraw it.  Since one of the core components of the COIN strategy McChrystal outlines is a commitment to stay in Afghanistan for the long-term (i.e., not withdraw the aid), the strategy reduces incentive to govern well.

Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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