Browsing articles in "Africa"
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%.

Dec 8, 2013

The Victory Symphony

Nelson Madela, accompanied by his wife Winnie Madikizela, upon his release from jail in 1990 (from @HistoricPics).

Nelson Madela, accompanied by his wife Winnie Madikizela, upon his release from jail in 1990 (from @HistoricPics).

On Thursday, Nelson Mandela, ex-president of South Africa, passed away at 95 years of age. After months of ailment and in a discrete way, far from public light, the person who held major responsibility in both ending with the authoritarian regime and in building the foundations of democracy in his country, found rest.

For years, journalists, commentators, analysts, and world leaders have underscored the enormous moral qualities of Mandela. It has been mentioned, for instance, that notwithstanding his long-lasting political imprisonment he did not tried to seek revenge from his captors once he was released. Or that, in spite of all the injustices committed against the dignity, lives, and properties of the black population, Mandela never sought to inflict damage over any human being; when the African National Congress (ANC) decided it was time to use force, he encouraged to direct it only against national infrastructure.

Next to these virtues, and from a more landed perspective, Mandela managed a peaceful transition to democracy in South Africa. This is an outstanding achievement. With the guerrilla faction of the ANC active, and with decades of accumulated grievances against the black population, there was a real threat of civil war. This risk was further increased when Mandela decided to grant amnesty to the leaders of the authoritarian rule, causing some people to feel betrayed by their leader because those who had caused them so much suffering would not receive judicial punishment.

There are two lessons that can be extracted from Mandela’s role in dismantling the South African authoritarian rule and in constructing its democracy. First, as noted by Danwkart Rustow, the sense of national unity indeed was essential for the regime transition. The existing national flag was a too strong symbol of the Afrikaans domination. By changing its design and promoting its use in popular sports events, Mandela contributed to prevent the rise of divisions or hatred among South Africans. In this same context the amnesty decision can be understood. Holding trials for the white elite responsible of the abuses against the black people could likely have resulted in jail sentences, but there was a clear risk of polarizing the society as the processes could be seen merely as the justice of the victors. Instead, struggling for unity Mandela was able to make his point clear that it was the whole country that underwent a process of political change. All the ethnic groups were part of the same nation, and in spite of having gone through different paths before, now they shared the same future.

The second lesson that can be drawn from the South African transition is that in addition to formal institutional changes, which can be promoted by a single individual, a new regime is only built with a transformation in the attitudes and behavior of people. South Africans had every reason to feel outraged with Mandela’s decision of amnesty. Yet, with the alternative of a bloody and uncertain conflict, they decided to follow the President and work towards some kind of reconciliation. The acceptance of new cohabitation rules by South Africans was what made the transition successful. Without such a change of behavior in the country’s population, a new legal framework would have remained on paper.

It can be discussed to what extent the way in which Mandela decided to carry out the transition were virtues, as mentioned above, or political calculations. Knowing the negative consequences of extreme actions aimed at effecting political change, he could have been very aware that prudence was the best strategy to achieve the transition in South Africa. Yet, paraphrasing Hannah Arendt, just by maintaining his humanity in times of darkness, Mandela contributed to make of his country a better place to live in.

Aug 20, 2013

Elections in Madagascar


Lalao Ravalomanana (left) and incumbent President Andry Rajoelina (right), two of the candidates barred from participating in the upcoming Madagascar Presidential Election (from The Guardian).

On Saturday, a new electoral court in Madagascar barred some of the 41 candidates from running in the Presidential election scheduled for this Friday, August 23. Three of those names are high-profile: incumbent President Andry Rajoelina, the 2009 ousted President Marc Ravalomanana’s wife Lalao, and 1975-1993 and 1997-2002 President Didier Ratsiraka. The reasons given from prohibiting them from presenting to the race are because they did not meet the required regulations. Rajoelina did not register his candidacy in time, while Ravalomanana, living in exile in South Africa, and Ratsiraka, residing in France since 2002, do not meet the six-months before the election date Madagascar residency requirement. The African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) welcomed the decision, expressing their confidence that these conditions of the electoral process would contribute to end the current political crisis and that its results would be accepted.

Preventing three high-profile and popular candidates from presenting to the election less than a week before the contest, even more if the decision is made by a new electoral court reviewing candidate list approved by its antecessor in May, could be seen as the politicization of a court and hence as an anti-democratic act. However, it could be also argued that the new court was doing nothing more and nothing less than checking what the law said and applying it, something that was neglected in May. Under this perspective, the court’s decision could actually strengthen the democratic character of the upcoming election.

The contest scheduled for this Friday should have had taken place in 2009, after Rajoelina seized power by chairing the High Transitional Authority (HTA), the ruling body seen as illegitimate by the SADC, the AU, and other members of the international community. Rajoelina’s authority is so contested that, when he announced in early in this summer that he would also run as a candidate for the election (in all the previous occasions between 2009 and now when presidential elections were scheduled Rajoelina tried to convince that he was not interested in continuing in power) the international community suspended all kind of aid for the election, not wanting to be involved in an exercise of questioned legitimacy, suggesting its result would not be accepted. With such complications, the contest, originally planned for mid-July, was re-scheduled for this Friday. Now that Rajoelina has been prevented from running the international community is willing to support the election again.

However, it is still not clear whether Friday’s contest will represent a first concrete step in alleviating the political turmoil in Madagascar, as the international community expects. Although donors, upon whom the Malagasy administration heavily relies, have positively assessed the conditions of the contest and could do the same with the process on Election Day, there are still to be seen what will be the reactions of Rajoelina, Ravalomanana, and Ratsiraka’s supporters when the vote takes place and during its aftermath. Clearly, respecting electoral regulations strengthens institutions and democracy, but the reasons and context in which they are respected (under arguable high international pressure and less than a week before the contest) nourish the complaints of those who have been affected by the court’s decision, potentially diminishing the expected stabilizing effect of the election. In any case, the election is just one element of a large set of factors that can restore political order in Madagascar, including the still-to-take-place legislative election, governmental responsiveness, or the relation between the government and the opposition. Until after the election we will be able to know what direction the political processes of Madagascar take.

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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