Jan 11, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Democracy Matters..?

For those of us interested in the development of democracy, the recent struggles in Cote d’Ivoire are deserving of much attention.  Even among those versed in the nation’s history and current events the recent happenings might be something of a shock considering the country’s wealth and relative stability.  The speed at which the situation devolved, and the ferocity of the conflict, has been enough to draw pause throughout the international community, including the World Bank.

A recent Foreign Policy article by David Bosco approaches the tragedy in Cote d’Ivoire and the subject of democracy and development, with the World Bank as a reference point.  In response to the political crisis it appears that the Bank is convinced that democracy does matter, at least in terms of economic investment.  There was a time, not too long ago, when the World Bank would have taken a much different approach regarding distribution of funds to a suspect government.  Certainly there’s been little issue in the past with offering loans to authoritarian, non-representative regimes.

I agree with Bosco that in this instance the issue wasn’t one of the World Bank recognizing the innate value of democratic governance, so much as being wary of funding a ruler blatantly unsupported by popular will.  The Bank’s general stance (lending to governments regardless of their manner of attaining power) combined with their current reticence to lend gives the impression that the Bank’s message in this situation is that Gbagbo shouldn’t have been bold enough to go ahead with elections he couldn’t guarantee winning.  All the same, the decision of the Bank is a step pointedly in the right direction even if its motives are not yet exactly on target.

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5 Comments

  • Strangely for me, I am not inclined to support your cynical interpretation (Gbagbo shouldn’t have been bold enough to go ahead with elections he couldn’t guarantee winning). He was under a lot of pressure to hold them and I really commend the African leaders who have denounced the results.

    Getting the World Bank to support democracy is never going to be an easy sell. It’s a multi-lateral organization and lots of powerful members are not democracies (e.g., China). Moreover, its always going to a certain extent reflect the strategic interests of its shareholders (World Bank employees hate to be reminded that the US is the World Bank’s largest funder). That being said, the bank takes issues of internal governance much more seriously than in the past. It could do more, but at least its moving in the right direction.

  • I’m not at all surprised you disagree, I actually expected it really particularly regarding the cynicism of that particular statement. I likewise commend the leaders who have denounced the results and obviously hope the situation is resolved soon.

    I’m actually somewhat surprised you didn’t also disagree with me regarding my stance on the World Bank and democracy development. As mentioned I wholly agree that it does seem to be a step in the right direction, at least as far as not supporting a government which is in one way or another illegitimate.

  • I do think it’s a bit much to say that “the Bank’s message in this situation is that Gbagbo shouldn’t have been bold enough to go ahead with elections he couldn’t guarantee winning.” Where is your evidence of this? That they lend to non-democracies is not sufficient. Country context matters a lot and Cote d’Ivoire is not a run of the mill dictatorship; it has suffered a decade of chronic instability and civil war. The bank does lend to dictatorships, but often does not lend to unstable countries.

  • Are you of the mind then that had the elections not happened the bank still would have ceased its operations in Cote d’Ivoire? While as mentioned I think this had more to do with popular support of the government (which certainly contributes to a state’s stability) I think the elections themselves were clearly the trigger of the Bank’s ultimate decision to call it quits. At least thats what public statements from the Bank’s representatives seem to suggest.

  • I really don’t know enough about the World Bank’s operations in Cote d’Ivoire to answer that question. However, one important dimension that we have not raised is that Gbagbo’s government has no legitimacy internationally. The World Bank is not an autonomous institution; the bank’s board of directors (i.e., representatives of the governments that finance the bank’s operations) must approve every loan and there is little chance this would happen since none of these government’s support Gbagbo. The bank staff surely would understand this even if they wanted to continue to lending to Cote d’Ivoire.

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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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