Together with Joshua Foust, her colleague at the American Security Project, Melinda Haring, a graduate of our very own Democracy and Governance Program, published this past week at Foreign Policy’s website a controversial piece challenging the notion that female representation in politics is an important indicator of democracy in a country.
Haring and Foust focused mostly in Central Asia, where both have extensive professional experience, to show how the mere fact that a country’s parliament has a large female presence points to nothing in regards to how good its democracy really is. Many repressive states, they argue, “have plenty of women in power but lag far behind on every meaningful index of democracy”. To demonstrate their point, they compare the percentage of female representatives in Uzbekistan (22%), Kyrgystan (23.3%), Kazakhstan (24.3%) and Belarus (31.8%), amongst others, with their respective rankings on Freedom House’s Freedom in the World index. Not surprisingly, each one of these countries scores very low in terms of democratic freedoms.
While the authors don’t deny that improving gender relations and female participation in politics are valid goals, they state that to focus on doing so as a path to improve democracy is a misguided effort. Much more important, they say, is to improve the balance of power between governments and opposition in the parliaments of these countries. In a significant number of them, all of the women representatives belong to the dominant party and bring nothing new to the table, simply conforming to the directions received from above. So, what difference do they make?
The same sort of comparison could be made in other regions of the world. Here in Mozambique, for example, women comprise 38% of parliament, and yet I can comfortably say that democratic rights are far from exemplary. There is a huge dominance by the party in power, which has been there since 1975, and a smaller and smaller place for opposition. More women in politics have not changed that reality by one bit.
“There isn’t necessarily a relationship between a country’s political freedom and the number of women in parliament. Gender equality in government is important, but it’s not the primary variable in ensuring true representation. Political freedom and good governance are basic rights that shouldn’t be confused with gender issues”, they say. According to Foust and Haring, the dollars donor agencies reserve for such programs would be put to much better use if they were funding party representation programs.
As much as I tend to agree that supporters of increasing the number of women in politics are too quick to relate this indicator to far broader democracy issues, I think Haring and Foust overlooked some other good results of female participation. Foreign Policy published a counter-argument by Susan A. Markham, director of Women Participation in Politics at NDI, to explore those in a little more depth. Markham says that “Research shows women are more likely to work across party lines even in highly partisan environments. Their leadership and conflict resolution styles embody democratic ideals, and women tend to work in a less hierarchical and more collaborative way than their male colleagues.”
Moreover, to Markham, “there are many indications that as more women are elected to office, policy-making increasingly emphasizes quality of life and reflects the priorities of families, women, and ethnic and racial minorities”.
As with many other efforts and indicators, it seems that the problem is not the legitimacy of the goal itself, but the expected results of it. I would never argue that the importance of female participation in politics is negligible, in particular because, as Markham says, one cannot simply exclude 50% of the population and expect the political discourse to be inclusive. However, expectations and results attached to this goal many times go way beyond what is realistic. Having more women in politics is not necessarily going to bring democracy to any place, and the connection may even be much more indirect than supporters usually claim.
If you haven’t yet, make sure to read Haring’s piece here.
In yesterday’s New York Times, Tom Friedman features the analysis of Georgetown’s very own Daniel Brumberg, whose piece about Egyptian unity in Foreign Policy earlier in the week tracks the mixed record of coordination and dysfunction among Islamists, secularists, and liberals as they push forward on a negotiated transition back to civilian rule.
Friedman agrees with Brumberg’s fundamental claim — that the Arab Spring began because Arab populations stopped fearing their leaders, but has since stalled because those same populations still fear each other. Both men point to decades of a particularly cynical and perverse brand of governance, in which Arab leaders pitted tribe against tribe, sect against sect, and profited from the internal fear that each community felt toward the others. Patronage and promises kept most groups in line. In Egypt, this manifested most notably in emergency laws that assuaged secularists’ fears of the Islamists by marginalizing their political voice and monitoring their activities. Of course, those same laws had the effect of subjugating any form of political dissent, preventing progressives and secularists from making headway as well. Distrust ran so deep between Islamists and non-Islamists that coordinating any sort of strong and coherent opposition to Hosni Mubarak’s regime was simply impossible. Dividing Egyptian society along fundamental lines of identity drained all communities of power. But more importantly, it drained society of trust.
Brumberg builds on this theme to state that, “Morsi’s greatest challenge is to unite a political opposition that has suffered from fundamental divisions between Islamists and non-Islamists, and within each of these camps as well.” Such unity requires compromise, and as I wrote yesterday, it remains to be seen whether Mr. Morsi possesses the strength, ability, or will to do so. Will he choose further confrontation with the SCAF, uniting the opposition behind him but placing his presidency and the parliament at further risk of marginalization? Or will he strike a more conciliatory tone, working with the military to expedite the transition to civilian rule, but perhaps alienating much of the opposition who may then accuse him of betraying the principles of the revolution? In a setting where emotions runs high, and trust runs low, it is unlikely that opposition groups would give Morsi the benefit of the doubt should he choose an unpopular path in his dealings with the SCAF.
Everyone will watch closely over the coming weeks to see how Mr. Morsi responds to his new, and quite unexpected, position of power.
The litany of commentary and analysis surrounding the recent, and remarkable, events in Egypt has produced a consensus of sorts, if one might call it that. Though hardly a revolutionary conclusion, many believe the election of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi carries with it a mixed bag of consequences for the region, and the West. That Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) allowed Mr. Morsi to win despite his deep Islamist roots is certainly a positive sign for electoral integrity and the ability to translate popular will into political reality. Alternatively, the Brotherhood now controls the highest elected office in the country, and it remains to be seen whether the Islamist group will seek to use this platform to compensate — in the form of state policy, diplomatic relations, or constitutional reform — for decades of political marginalization amid the rather secular and repressive tenure of President Hosni Mubarak.
For its part, the White House appears to be cautiously optimistic following the results of the first free and fair presidential election in Egyptian history — relieved that the SCAF did not attempt naked electoral theft, but still quite wary of ongoing challenges and concerns. This seems a reasonable stance considering the list of unanswered questions. Will the SCAF reinstate the popularly elected parliament that it suddenly dissolved earlier this month? If not, when will new elections be held, and will all parties, including those of Islamist persuasions, once again be allowed to freely contest the poll? Now that a president has been elected, will he have commander-in-chief authority over the armed forces? If not, how much latitude will Mr. Morsi be granted by the military to enact his, and the Brotherhood’s, political agenda?
These will not be answered to anyone’s satisfaction for quite some time, I imagine. But as in any transition, Egypt’s uncertainty has created new and exciting windows of opportunity. Just today, Mr. Morsi announced his intention to use the vacant vice president positions to appoint two members of marginalized communities: a woman and a Coptic Christian. This will likely be interpreted as an olive branch to the nearly 50 percent of Egyptian voters that did not want a Muslim Brotherhood presidency, many of whom were heavily involved in the initial demonstrations that sought to topple Mubarak in favor of a more open, just, and progressive form of government. Symbolically, and assuming Mr. Morsi follows through on his promise, this was a necessary demonstration of inclusivity and Egyptian unity. But perhaps more significantly, it signals to the SCAF that Mr. Morsi is not the hard-line Islamist some have made him out to be, and in fact is willing to assemble a balanced government that receives input from a variety of groups. The hope is clearly to mollify fears among the military brass that Mr. Morsi’s election was a harbinger of the inevitable and destructive clash between an ideologically driven Islamist government and the old guard that wants to maintain stability, as well as the corresponding power that comes with it.
For years, many have wondered how the Brotherhood would actually behave should it find itself with political influence, much less outright power. While some fear for the freedom and civil liberties within Egyptian society, I’m inclined to believe that governing and its responsibilities will be a moderating force on the Brotherhood, compelling it to chart a more pragmatic course in order to negotiate constructive agreements with the many powerful, non-Islamist actors that have a stake in Egypt’s future. After all, Egyptian voters will be carefully observing the conduct and success of this new government in addressing Egypt’s most pressing challenges. A stalemated government, ineffectual leadership, and divisive agendas during a time of crisis will all be judged harshly at the ballot box — perhaps incentivizing productive, expedited action at the expense of pure ideology. On the international front, the annual U.S. military and economic aid package to Egypt remains one of the largest such bilateral agreements in the world. The Brotherhood would risk this relationship at its own peril, since the Egyptian military relies upon this aid for a considerable chunk of its own budget and operations.
With all that in mind, Mr. Morsi’s intention to appoint a woman and a Christian vice president is a positive, if incomplete, sign that perhaps he understands the factors above and will govern with sober moderation. Whether or not the SCAF believes this, or is willing to loosen its tight hold on power, of course remains to be seen. As does the Islamists’ actual legislative agenda should it once again find itself with a majority in parliament, if and when it’s reconvened.
There are a few golden rules for foreigners when walking in the streets of Maputo. Never stroll alone after dark. Don’t wear jewelry or bring large bags. And, most importantly, beware of the police. I have been warned ten times more about the police than about potential muggers in Mozambique, and in about two weeks I have been stopped twice (luckily, never alone).
Underpaid and badly trained, police officers in Mozambique are believed to complement their income with extortions and bribes. I took a ride with South Africans from Inhambane to Maputo (a six hour drive), and the only concern we had was whether or not we would pay bribes if/when we got stopped. The word in the streets is that they will certainly find a problem with your car, and if not, that they will charge you for speeding, regardless of the truth of the accusation.
Every single expat I spoke with had a similar experience. Some decided early on that they will not pay off; others just have the money ready to avoid the hassle. For the ones who refuse to pay bribes, the rule is to demand to be taken to the police station. There, they say, the bribe or fine will not go directly to the police officer’s pocket; therefore, with luck, they will not want to waste time with you.
In Maputo, I have been stopped twice at the same spot – Avenida Marginal, a long stretch of badly maintained road that leads to affluent neighborhoods to the north of the city, and to poor suburbs if you keep going. The first time it happened, I was in a taxi at night; a heavily armed officer told my driver to stop, but apparently changed his mind once we pulled over. We continued without having to open our mouths. The second time I was in a car with white Mozambicans (a tiny minority), and there was some discussion about documentation. My Mozambican driver argued for a while with the officer, who insisted that he needed proof of an annual mechanical review. The officer gave up when confronted with the receipt for the vehicle, which stated that it was less than a year old, and let us go.
I also went through Avenida Marginal in a “chapa”, a local form of public transportation consisting of a semi-destroyed van completely packed with mozambicans (including some souls hanging on the outside of the vehicle by their fingers). If you can endure the squeeze, it is very practical and very cheap – only 5 meticais (US$ 0.18). Every time I use a “chapa”, I am the only non-African there. Some expats are not even allowed to take one, such as the ones working for USAID. My “chapa” was not bothered by the police, although I saw them standing at the usual spot.
I have also heard about both locals and expats being stopped when simply walking around. By law, the police can require documentation from anyone at any time, and one may be brought in for questioning if failing to provide it. My tourist guide to Mozambique suggests we carry a notarized copy of our passports and avoid giving original documents to the police, but according to people living here, the police most of the time does not accept anything but the original. The rule is the same – ask to be taken to a station. I hope to avoid the “pleasure” of finding out what happens next.
There is a plethora of reports about problems with the police and the security system in Mozambique. According to Amnesty International, bribes are the least of their abuses: the organization claims there is widespread abuse of force and extrajudicial killings. They also point out to the lack of accountability of the system, with reported abuses very rarely being investigated.
The Institute for Security Studies, an African think tank that examines this field in the continent, states that the Mozambican “Judicial System is increasingly dysfunctional, corruption is rife, and the police have found it difficult to move from a political to an anti-crime role. Some senior officials and business leaders are believed to have links to criminal gangs, many of them internationalised.”
In “Policing and Rule of Law in Mozambique”, Bruce Baker, Professor at the Applied Research Centre for Human Security at Coventry University, states that “popular confidence in the police is low due to their inefficiency, bribe seeking, corruption, lawless conduct, human rights abuses and complicity with criminals. Police composition also reflects significant gender and regional biases.”
The list of deficiencies is endless. Apart from widespread corruption, there is the mere fact that there is not enough capacity to serve the country. There are very few police stations and due to AIDSs and expulsions the force has been shrinking considerably over the years. In addition, there is great political bias. Some of the most serious incidents of police abuse and brutality are related to the treatment given to members of the main opposition party, Renamo, many of which have been arrested, beaten and even killed during rallies in the past.
At least part of the problem is related to the history of the police in the country. During the civil war (1975-1992), the police was under-resourced in comparison with the military and acted with brutality against “enemies of the state”. The current police force was created at the end of the war and modeled as a paramilitary force with of 20,000 ex-military personnel. The military itself was hardly a model for respect for human rights, as they are charged with numerous atrocities committed against civilians during the war. To reform a body that worked under conditions of weak accountability and a near blank check for the use of force would be difficult under any circumstance, but even more so for the military officers who migrated into the new police force, about which they knew nothing. Both police and military were used to being accountable only to the State (i.e., the party in power, Frelimo), and not to the public.
Many argue that reforming and training police forces in post-conflict societies is much more difficult than military forces. That is due to a number of reasons, including closer and more frequent interaction with civilians, weaker enforcement of hierarchy, less supervision, and the very nature of the forces they fight against (common crimes versus external threats). According to Mark Shaw, author of “Crime and Policing in Post-Apartheid South Africa”, “there is as yet no clear case of any society in transition being able to build a legitimate police agency in the post-conflict phase”.
In Mozambique, the conduct of the new police force seems to reinforce this argument. There is certainly well-intentioned groups trying to improve conditions from within, but they fight against a very dire institutional context. And although there have been many international attempts to train the police, they have had only modest achievements so far. The UNPD, for example, has a technical cooperation program to improve the quality of policing in Mozambique since mid-1990s. The program started as part of the UN stabilization mission and at first was focused on training and reorientation of members of the police force, curriculum development, functional re-engineering and rehabilitation of training facilities. After 2001, it changed to emphasize community policing, stronger management at the central command, and technical support to the police academy. It seems fine on paper, but the reality on the streets proves that there is a long road ahead.
The consequences of the situation go far beyond the police force or the security system themseves. As Baker says, “there is no doubt that the quality of policing does affect other levels of the democratic system”: “(…) Democracy cannot offer a political system of equality without including equal standing before the law in respect of civic obligations and of individual and communal protection.” And, at least for now, there are few reasons to hope that the status quo will change in a foreseeable future.
In this week’s East African, a weekly with comprehensive news coverage of East African Community countries (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda), columnist Tee Ngugi poses a provocative question: Are highly educated individuals with demonstrated brilliance in academia, the arts, or a socially constructive trade, the proper choice to lead African countries into a brighter future? Or put another way, do so-called enlightened leaders, Plato’s “philosopher kings,” propel African countries to a higher order of existence than their less-enlightened political peers?
Ngugi’s answer is an unequivocal, “no.” He points to the career of the late Kenyan MP George Saitoti, recently killed in a helicopter crash. A brilliant academic with a PhD in mathematics, Saitoti was expected to wield his considerable intellect for the public good and rise above the typical politics of tribalism, parochial interests, and toothless sycophant officials. Instead, Ngugi argues that Saitoti was quickly consumed by Kenyan political forces, unable or unwilling to challenge the status quo. The infamous Goldenberg Scandal may have been the most shocking example of corruption during Saitoti’s stint in power, taking place while he was Finance Minister — a position most believed was tailor-made for Saitoti’s skill-set, and one they hoped he would use to set the Kenyan economy on a positive course. The author cites other examples of intellectually brilliant leaders with even worse records than Saitoti – Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe — to underscore his point.
And the point is well-taken, to the extent that there is a demonstrated history of brilliance failing to translate into political enlightenment. But Ngugi may go too far attributing this political stagnation to the ethical weakness of individuals, rather than the dysfunctional incentives provided by thus far intractable arrangements of institutions as well as political and economic power. Individual agency is important, but — with the rare exception — cannot by itself overcome a long history of tribal conflict and the expectation of community kick-backs that comes along with elected office. In Kenya, these expectations have been exacerbated a political system that for decades gave opposition parties negligible influence on the direction or character of state policy. In practice this meant that once the opposition finally achieved success at the ballot box, they used state power to compensate for the previous period of economic and political marginalization, directing benefits toward their own communities. These came in the form of land ownership and rights, government positions, state contracts, and at times, naked graft manifested in money fleeced from government coffers.
Kenya’s new constitution, passed in 2010, was designed to address some of these issues. It devolved significant power to districts, gave parliament a stronger oversight role, and created new bodies to fight corruption with corresponding rules that are quite severe for those found guilty. However, many political parties still break down along ethnic lines, or reflect negotiated pacts among two or more tribes, so the politics of identity still runs deep, and has not yet been surpassed by political ideology as the raison d’etre for most pursuing public office. While in Lamu last weekend, I personally witnessed a member of parliament, and current minister within the cabinet, visit the town and distribute money to local citizens. I was told he makes a similar trip regularly throughout the year.
Despite new rules or pronouncements of change, a country with lax enforcement will do little to alter incentives and can tilt the playing field against those who cling to enlightened politics. Philosopher or not, and regardless of ethical fortitude, individuals working within this system inevitably run up against these forces.
Ironically, this debate comes amid a battle in Kenya’s parliament over the introduction of a higher degree requirement for all MPs, which, if passed, would disqualify around 80 current elected officials. President Kibaki is receiving heavy pressure to not sign the law. Stay tuned.
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