Browsing articles in "Africa"
Nov 4, 2014
Erika Hernandez

The Beauty of Hybrid Regimes – Burkina Faso

Opposition supporters as they protest at the Place de la Nation in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou calling for the departure of the military. Source: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

October 29 marked the demise of Burkina Faso’s competitive authoritarian regime, a subtype of hybrid regime. In a failed attempt to extend his term limits, President Blaise Campaore saw himself forced to leave the country and seek refuge in Cote d’Ivoire. Thousands of people poured to the streets to protest his desperate tactic to hold on to power. As a result, the military seized power albeit “temporarily.” After the African Union threatened with sanctions, the military declared that it will allow a civilian-led government to take place. But the fact that the military has close ties with the former power structure does not necessarily imply a democratic transition. Instead, this signals a necessary power shift at the upper echelons as its internal political structure was no longer able to confront the emerging opposition and civil society organizations. Neither was it able to deliver democratic expectations from the international community.

Burkina Faso’s state of affairs is as follows. President Campaore was able to rule through coercion and a series of political compromises to appease the opposition. When coercion became futile and power transfer was due, the President attempted to amend article 37 of the Constitution that limited his term until 2015. This amendment could have effortlessly passed at the National Assembly given that his party dominated this body over other political parties (48% of the seats). After assuming power, General Honore Nabere Traore, Chief of Staff of the armed forces, announced that the military would allow the establishment of a civilian-led transitional government. Meanwhile, opposition parties and civil society complained about the takeover as they do not envision that the military can help broker an agreement leading to democratic elections. As of 2012, the assembly was mostly composed by the ruling party and by a few, uncoalesced rival parties. Out of the 127 seats, Campaore’s party (Congress for Democracy and Progress) secured 70 seats, its allies 28, while leaving 27 seats for the opposition parties to share. If the successful protests cannot be explained by an uncoordinated and fragmented political opposition, then what can explain them? Burkina Faso has become increasingly urbanized to the extent that political parties have been unable to change their platform to attract their vote. In this regard, Huntington’s modernization theory on the “green uprising” clearly predicts instability in this country. This theory hypothesizes that increased opportunities in urban areas cause rural people to seek work in large cities and that, in view of economic crisis, this produces political instability. Thus, political instability in Burkina Faso may be more related to rapid economic growth than to a genuine change towards democracy.

As a subcategory of hybrid regimes, Burkina Faso managed to intelligently maintain power through competitive authoritarianism as of last October. It respected basic democratic institutions such as allowing free and fair elections, the presence of political parties, the establishment of civil society organizations as well as an independent press. Campoare’s regime even issued reforms that signalized the possible liberalization of the presidency, allowing him to maintain legitimacy. For instance, the municipal elections of September 2000 granted opposition parties to win municipalities for the first time (6 out of 49). Even the government had agreed to share power in the parliament in 2002. Thus, it was constituted by 54 members coming from the rival parties and 57 from Campaore’s party. The authoritarian attributes can be traced back to the death of the journalist, Norbert Zongo, who strongly criticized Campoare’s politics while denouncing crimes and arrests to opposition leaders by the government. It is now clear that the regime’s cooptation tactics had a determined lifespan and charm. Perhaps, the economic crisis prompted a budgetary cutback that sustained patronage networks. This, in turn, probably affected political stability to the extent that former allies are now joining or heading protests.

Some might think that this signalizes democratic transition. Indeed, hundreds of protestors were capable of ousting President Campoare. However, the fact that great numbers engaged in protest may simply be an indication of a political and economic discontent, which does not automatically translate into an articulated political opposition composed by different organizations. What this event may truly signify is, most likely, that the current hybrid regime will transition into another hybrid regime, perhaps of a different subtype. Without an organized opposition, capable of connecting citizens’ interests via a political party or through a civil society organization, the prospects of democratization are doomed to failure – or at least to the continuation of different authoritarian features through a different leadership. Theory tells us that two basic democratic foundations – a competitive and inclusive political system – must be present for democracy to unravel, as per Robert Dahl. Burkina Faso’s Constitution assimilates both of these elements. The question lies on whether the future government will fully make them operational.

Oct 24, 2014
Erika Hernandez

Institutionalizing Ebola

Health workers in Kenema screen people for the Ebola virus on August 9 before entering a hospital in Sierra Leone.

Nearly 4,877 people have been killed by Ebola; 9,936 are thought to have been probably infected; a total of 443 health workers carry the disease; all while the international community has been unable to harness an emergency fund (UN Ebola Fund), having only gathered 10% of the money immediately needed. Is the health development sector broken? Yes and no. While there have been impressive achievements in dealing with the spread of HIV/AIDS in light of the Millennium Development Goals, health programs have been organized so as to directly deal with specific diseases. However, the health sector has developed straightforward albeit rigid mechanisms that has prevented it focus on the big picture: creating long-term institutions encompassed by a system of governance, able to respond vertically to epidemiological emergencies like Ebola.

First, the governance system of health is the by-product of a patchwork of many working non-profits, foreign governments and multilateral organizations. So far, the white man’s burden has not led us to succeeding in Africa. The Ebola crisis reveals that the variegated array of organizations that remain uncoordinated and overwhelmed by bureaucratic procedures. One example is the delayed support for the UN Ebola Fund. While UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon asked its members to contribute financially to a $1 billion fund, only $365 million have been committed, with Colombia being the only member that has paid $100,000. Second, there also exists competition between organizations in the delivery of services. Most of them – particularly government agencies – have the incentive of disbursing large amounts of money for specific causes, with some efforts to evaluate its effectiveness but without requiring them to be creative in case of contingencies. However, squandering money implies losing opportunities to invest in long-term solutions. The governments of these countries should be responsible for coordinating health efforts. Yet, governments are so weak that they unable to do so. Agencies have worked to implement the Millenium Development Goals towards reducing HIV, infant mortality, maternal health and malaria. Despite these achievements, long-term solutions must take place too. This implies thinking out of the box and calling democracy and governance (DG) practitioners to jump in the boat – this is what we do best: give advice to create institutions with a strong civil society component.

DG specialists can make substantial contributions by creating a health coalition in order to deal with health emergencies, which can be done so in numerous ways. First, DG practitioners can provide support in establishing a coordination unit to head all health efforts – from USAID and WHO to Médecins Sans Frontiers. This coordination unit would need to be based in the health ministries of Ebola-affected countries – mainly Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Doing this would help develop ministries’ capacities in the long run. It would also involve getting to agree on who provides what and when. Certainly, arriving to such agreement may sound unrealistic, but without admitting that efforts and money have been squandered this situation will continue to ensue. This would further prevent future media. Second, our civil society outreach programs can ensure that the participation of local governments and civil society in detecting Ebola cases is permanent. Given that state strengthening is a task that will require time, civil society and local governments should be the first in leading emergency efforts, after having acquired solid response training. There are many other areas where DG specialists can help, such as coordination with local businesses and strengthening budgetary capacity so as to have a financial cushion.

Today, we are facing a world where our interconnectedness has eased the travel of epidemics. Certainly, a global response is necessary. However, if an affected country lacks the local mechanisms that can ensure an organized response between ministries and organizations, and at least some facilities able to be adapted for health purposes, then health efforts will have a limited impact. The solution to this dilemma is firm political will. Although it is true many organizations pursue recognition simply because this keeps them operating, it is also true that many have invested themselves in truly assisting Ebola victims like Médecins Sans Frontiers. According to a World Bank study, the cost of Ebola could reach US $33 billion over a two-year period, which is equivalent to coffee sales by Starbucks for the last two years. Perhaps we could contribute to the cause if we give up our cups of coffee and instead donate that money to these efforts.

Mar 6, 2014
Erika Hernandez

Mozambique On The Edge

Renamo fighters in Mozambique / Source: TandemPost

Renamo fighters in Mozambique / Source: TandemPost

After 20 years of peace, possibilities of civil strife in Mozambique are emerging once more. Mozambique held municipal elections back in November. The two main contending political parties were the long-time ruling party Frelimo and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM). The Renamo (the Mozambican National Resistance) movement decided to boycott elections by not participating. Since early last year, Renamo has announced a cease to peace, which were reached between them and the ruling party in 1992. The underlying reason for this behavior is that Renamo’s leader, Afonso Dhlakama, has suffered life-threatening attempts allegedly by the party-in-government. To this, several commentators have called for international intermediation in order to prevent another civil conflict that could spread to Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia. Interestingly, Mozambique is one of the most gifted countries I nAfrica with natural resources and foreign aid. If the country receives so much aid and has the economic means to rise above poverty conditions, would additional support for peace help? Or is it that too much resources are causing the national to divert back to civil war?

Today, Mozambique is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with last year’s figure reaching 7% of GDP growth (est. CIA) but years like 2011 were estimated at 12.6% (World Bank). In 2012, UK’s Global Peace Index ranked Mozambique within the 50 most peaceful countries in the world. However, peace agreements between Renamo and Frelimo were formally broken last October due to threats to Dhlakama. Attempts to disappear Renamo by the government have worked in that the force of the movement has diminished. This scenario has favored the rise of the MDM party, which has successfully performed during the last municipal elections. The power in Renamo lies in that they have 1,000 armed fighters and 51 parliament members. Needless to say, the government has stronger means of coercion. The situation started to deteriorate since last year and worsened in January 1 when people began to flee towns of Pembe and Fanha-fanha, where Renamo militias reactivated. The fear of strife is so high that even several policemen have also fled. The memory of human slaughter is fresh. Back in 1985, the town of Homoine experienced the worst massacre of 400 people, including civilians’ deaths. In addition, the country is rich in coal, titanium, natural gas and petroleum and just recently discovered more reserves. Moreover, Mozambique’s heavily relies on development aid – 40% of its state budget comes from developmental sources. Some aid providers are the Southern African Development Community (SADC), African Union, European Union and United Nations.

To what extent does the country need further aid? Mozambique is trapped in its own resource and aid curse. The issue here is not about criticizing acts of charity, whose intention for help is commendable. I contest that the problematic lies, rather, in how well do these additional resources trickle down to a regular Mozambican, as well as to their contribution to promoting political inclusiveness. Accordingly, 54.7% of the population live below the poverty line (World Bank est. 2009). Despite pouring all this money into the country, the poverty line has had almost no substantial change. Moreover, if money is not going to ameliorate public services then corruption can explain money dispersal, among other reasons.

It is quite possible that several aid programs have only slowed economic empowerment and that they have increase the prowess of the powerful. Importantly, I see this as a problem that can be best addressed through democracy and governance programs rather than prioritizing development aid. One of the main problems is that the current government is unwilling to share power with Renamo. If the MDM party has already attained a certain degree of representation as an opposition party, there could be possibilities. Yes, it could be that the MDM negotiated its entrance to the government against Renamo. Yet, this same mechanism can best serve Renamo to reenter politics, on the condition of peaceful engagement. A DG program is necessary since exclusive politics in this country are potentially explosive. Third party intervention would be effective if it sought power-sharing mechanisms, conditioned on aid disbursements. Yes, it may seem a bit of draconian to impose such requirements. However, do we want to see Rwanda II happening? I doubt so. A thorough DG analysis of the current situation would help to estimate its probabilities of success, hand-in-hand with the apportioning of development aid.

Feb 19, 2014


A vendor of Libyan flags in Benghazi before a protest against the interim General National Congress' mandate extension (from Reuters).

A vendor of Libyan flags in Benghazi before a protest against the interim General National Congress’ mandate extension (from Reuters).

On February 20, Libya will hold elections for the Constituent Assembly for the Drafting of the Constitution. Members of the General National Congress agreed this Monday on the day for the ballot under pressure from protestors complaining about the extension of this body’s authority until the end of the year. Expectedly, three years after the initial protests against Muammar Gaddafi, the Constitution produced by the Assembly to be elected will produce the framework to rebuild the Libyan state anew.

This week’s election has some characteristics that make it noticeable within the broader context of electoral exercises in societies undergoing a major political transition. First, Libya is not undergoing a “mere” political transition from an authoritarian to a democratic regime, but is rebuilding the state. A state can be understood as a set of legal, economic, administrative, organizational, and human resources to structure power relations in a community. For a state to be properly called so, its operations must be guaranteed beyond the ups and downs of politics. Under Gaddafi this was not the case; as he could dispose at his will of “state” resources, it was instead a patrimonial system. After his fall, a series of laws beginning with the Constitutional Declaration have been published in an attempt to put order in the territory. A Constitution is expected to be permanent, but the Constitutional Declaration and the laws that have been produced under its authority are explicitly temporary, for a transitional period. Hence, Libya is not striving only to build an open and inclusive system, but to establish the foundations under such a system will work.

The second characteristic of Libya’s elections is that despite that lack of basic political framework, relevant political actors seem to be committed to building the state. Without a Constitution there is always the risk that any agreement reached is broken because there are no long-term behavior rules. In the extreme, an actor could make the best of such absence and try to take over power, while other actor deters him by violent means. Without rules nothing prevents the Leviathan from appearing. Yet actors have respected their agreements and seem to be working together for the common goal of building the state.

In third place, this commitment with rules is taking place for a second time. Libya’s first post-Gaddafi elections took place in the summer of 2012, for its General National Congress (GNC), a parliament that holds interim legislative and executive power (the latter exercised by its leader, Mahmoud Jibril, serving as interim Prime Minister). Those elections were deemed as reasonably free and fair. On the eve of a new electoral process a year and a half later, the Carter Center assesses that overall there are positive conditions for the conduction of the election. There are some observations it makes, though. These include a relatively limited time for campaigning and the need to extend the scope of voter information campaigns in order for all the people with the right to vote know there is an election, what its stakes are, or how they can participate in it. Yet, although the country cannot yet be called a democracy (without a constitution there is no full guarantee for the respect of basic liberties, for instance), it is quite notable that it has made its two most important post-Gaddafi political decisions, the election of a transitional authority and the election of a constitutional assembly, under democratic procedures.

And in fourth place, there appears to be some feedback between the GNC and citizens, an additional feature of democratic regimes. The GNC was elected in 2012 for eighteen months with the mandate to conduct the country throughout the transitional process, laying out the basic legal framework for the construction of the state. However, gridlocks between nationalists and Islamists have prevented it from meeting its goal. To repair this, the GNC decided to extend its authority until December this year. One of the objectives it met was writing an electoral law for the Constituent Assembly. Under its regulations, candidate registration began in October last year. Election Day was set for the summer of 2014. But the extension of the GNC’s mandate, coupled with frustration over a slow progress in producing the legal framework for the country, sprouted a series of protests in which one of the main demands was to have anticipated elections. In the face of this “feedback”, the members of the GNC reached a unanimous agreement to anticipate Election Day.

In the end, without a constitutional framework it seems that the Libyan transition from an authoritarian rule is being mainly driven by a true commitment of all relevant political actors to build a democratic system. Of course, not all is a smooth and easy story. As mentioned, the GNC reached a deadlock between its two largest groups, preventing it from functioning. In addition, there have been some violent episodes through all this process, and although no loss of life must be minimized, those events have not hampered the transition. Furthermore, some ethnic groups have announced a boycott to the election under the argument that under the current rules their representation is not guaranteed. It is too soon to make an encouraging prevision of the election and the work of the Constituent Assembly, which has three months to present its draft. In the end, the positive observations above apply to the work of the GNC, and now it is another collegiate body that takes the lead in the Libyan transition. Possibly the greatest incentive for the Constituent Assembly to achieve its goal is in the fact that although democratic institutions are still under construction, the democratic environment seems to be setting in the political processes of Libya.

Feb 10, 2014
Erika Hernandez

Fleeing from the Central African Republic

Source: MICHAEL ZUMSTEIN / Agence Le Monde

Source: MICHAEL ZUMSTEIN / Agence Le Monde

The Department of State has named Central African Republic’s current situation in a ‘pregenocidal’ state. Thousands of Muslims have and are currently fleeing CAR, indicating that an imminent crisis is taking place here over religious and political issues. Having President Michel Djotobia renounce last January, meant that the Muslim grip of power over politics disintegrated. The crisis was impending given that Djotobia had arrived to power by the support of Muslim rebels named “Séléka” who carried out attacks on Christian militias as well as on civilians. Payback from the Christian militias was to be expected once Muslim dominion over politics collapsed. Today, Bangui (the capital) is the nucleus of the conflict where Muslims are beheaded and mutilated. Numbers on the death toll are yet unknown, but the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that nearly 68,000 people have fled CAR and calculated 400,000 internal refugees. Even after having designated an interim president, the government is weakened to the extent that no security apparatus is extant. Not only does the situation seems difficult to contain but other countries like Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger and even the unstable Sudan are now forced to receive CAR refugees. The vacuum of power in the country goes hand-in-hand with the lack of security. But to reestablish the power vacuum, security must be first reestablished.

On December 5, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution sponsored by France in order to restore peace. The UN decided to send to CAR the International Mission to Support CAR (Misca) that would replace the Multinational Force at Central Africa (Fomac). By itself, France decided to create operation “Sangaris” in order to informally support the UN mission –and also due to its previous colonial linkage. For the International Crisis Group, the most immediate and urgent needs at CAR are to “restore security and public order and to provide humanitarian aid,” which the UN is already carrying out. The group also recommends that a medium-term objective should be to create a political transition to last roughly 18 months, which implies holding elections. As a long-term objective, the group considers the reconstruction of the state.

In order to create a strong CAR state, social order is required. Without it, it would be impossible to reconstruct the state. Regarding political transition, it is important to question whether the current presidential system is able to reconcile the numerous social and political groups in the country. So far, the conflict has detonated over religious affairs and it seems that holding majoritarian power only worsened the situation. If the conflict is not contained and continues to exacerbate, struggle over ethnic issues could ensue given CAR’s multi-ethnic structure. Perhaps, a more appropriate model to address conflict between groups is a parliamentarian, consociational system. Unearthing Arend LIjphart’s analysis is apposite here. Since constructing a state implies redesigning the political system, we may pose several questions to help design a conflict-proof model: in the case of CAR, should the executive power be constituted by a coalition cabinet or by a winning party? Should the executive power be linked to the legislative power? Would multiparty system foster peaceful agreements or more conflict? How strong can the state become if the country adopts a federal and decentralized government? Proposing a system that allows the inclusion of the majority of societal groups is necessary. However, since a consociational system entails numerous trade-offs, it could only be feasible if willingness to share power exists.

It is particularly important to continue monitoring whether the ‘pre-genocidal’ situation is controlled. Once control is attained, it would be important to hold talks between the groups so as to reach peaceful consensus. So, how to proceed from here? The results of negotiations would help us to determine whether or not a consociational system could help prevent religious and ethnic conflicts. Only until then, until knowing whether there really exists a reconciliation spirit or not, we will unveil the possibilities. If the country continues an unstable trajectory, this could also influence stability in neighboring countries. Unfortunately, picking the most appropriate political system for the Central African Republic will be determined by how the actors end up playing their cards. So far, Muslims stand at a disadvantage given that they constitute 15% of the total population while Christians represent nearly 50%.

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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