Browsing articles in "Africa"
Aug 6, 2013

Investment and Development

Brazil President Dila Rousseff with (from o Globo).

Brazil President Dila Rousseff greets Gabon President Ali Bongo, whose government was condoned a US$3.5 million debt (from o Globo).

Yesterday, the Brazilian Senate approved President Dilma Rousseff’s project of condoning US$900 million (around 80%) of the total debt some African countries have with Brazil. The nations to be benefitted with this measure include Zambia, Tanzania, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Sudan, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, and Equatorial Guinea. Congo-Brazzaville had the highest debt, amounting to US$352 million, followed by Tanzania with US$237 million. President Rousseff’s government has stated that this is part of a strategy to boost and strengthen ties with those countries which has been going for some time in the form of investment in oil, mining, infrastructure, and the opening of new Embassies.

Opposition legislators, human rights organizations, and a large part of the local and international press have criticized that each Brazilian is now obliged to donate US$3.47 to African leaders who have used that money in personal extravagances and to maintain nation-wide corruption networks. This point of view has a lot of ground. Without question, the international help given to many African countries was what maintained authoritarian leaders and practically state-less systems in which patronage was the rule. From this point of view, clearly the goal of helping development was not met. Most, if not all, of the countries that are in Brazil’s list of exemption have very serious institutional, political, economic, and social problems evidencing that any foreign resources were diverted for uses different to their original intention.

President Rousseff’s decision is related to a broader question of development assistance in poor countries: how to deal with debts or other compromises contracted by a country that we know is not going to pay back? There are two faces of this problem. First, the case of African countries in which an authoritarian leader that signed the contract was ousted and was replaced by either another authoritarian regime or by an incipient democracy. In this case, condoning the debt could be a “vote of confidence” for the new leader, expecting to gain his favor; similarly, it could be a way to support the transition by easing the burdens on the new regime. The second face of African countries not paying back their debts is that of Big Men being in office for decades. Here, condoning debts could also be a way of regaining the favor of the authoritarian leader and open opportunities to facilitate the presence of the country condoning the debt.

In all of those situations there are ethical considerations, such as accepting and apparently doing nothing about the fact that money granted for development was stolen by African authoritarian leaders and forcing Brazilian taxpayers to assume losses. With its decision, Brazil seems to offer a solution to those issues. Many African countries are not going to pay back, reason for which the donor should invest and, in the mid- or long-run, retrieve such investment in the form of earnings and, hopefully, the sum originally lent, in the end benefitting both the development of African countries and the pockets of Brazilian citizens. This business model of international assistance, so to speak, might sound attractive to Brazilian entrepreneurs and could also be more assuring to the receptor nations, as the use of foreign resources will be managed by the owners of those resources, instead of by a corrupt leadership.

The problems are, first, the risk implied in all business decisions and, second, that for any investment to be successful a specific environment is required, including guarantees on property rights, public safety, and a stable national economy, items absent in many of the countries receiving Brazilian capital. As well, the international image of investing companies and the government that sponsors them could become that of predators in a weak country, which is what has happened to many American firms participating in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries in the Middle East.

This is not an ex-ante condemnation of the Brazilian strategy. Expectedly, knowing that so much is at stake Brazilian diplomats will work to ensure that their investments are protected. Additionally, they must remain aware that it is a gamble, in fact a very risky gamble for everyone given the weak institutions in most of those countries. In the end, they would like to proof that if their investment is retrieved, ethical, political, and other kinds of considerations can be kept at the margin as everyone would win.

Aug 4, 2013

Election Aftermath Questions

Presidential Candidate Tsvingirai, who obtained the second place in the election (from Le Monde).

Presidential Candidate Morgan Tsvingirai, who obtained the second place in the election (from Le Monde).

Yesterday, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced that Robert Mugabe won another 5-year term as President (he has been in office since 1980, then as Prime Minister) with 61% of the vote, and that his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) obtained 158 of the 210 available seats in Parliament, gaining he two-thirds majority required to make changes to the country’s major laws. In second place were former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T), with 34% of the Presidential tally for him.

As soon as the official results were announced, or event earlier, reports from foreign and domestic observers criticized the election. The European Union, the U.K., the U.S., France, and other local independent observers said that the final vote count did not reflect the will of the people and that there had been many irregularities during Election Day, that millions of voters were disenfranchised by not finding their names on voters’ lists, that underage people were brought from rural areas to vote for Mugabe, and that potential opposition voters in remote regions were harassed by pro-ZANU-PF militias. To the eyes of the world and to those of many Zambians, the election is simply illegitimate and a farce. Tsvingirai explained he will use all legal resources to contest the official result. A notable exception was the African Union, whose head of mission, former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo, assured that the election took place under conditions of freedom and that citizens were able to express their will.

There are two major sources of uncertainty in this electoral process. First, there is the question of violence. The immediate aftermath of Election Day and of the announcement of the official results, in spite of the dissatisfaction with them, has been of a relative peace and calm. This is in contrast with the 2008 contest, in which Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in a first vote but without the sufficient margin, thus requiring a runoff. Amid 200 deaths, Tsvangirai dropped from the race arguing he wanted to stop blood from running. However, the relative peace and calm situation so far could drastically change within hours. Nobody wants violence, but nobody can control the expected despair of another five years with Mugabe in office.

The second source of uncertainty emerges from the fact that Mugabe is 89 years old. For some time there have been rumors that his trips to Singapore for routine or not grave medical check-ups (such as something dealing with his eyes) are shades covering his cancer treatment. And some memory lapses have been taken as proof that presidential duties are well beyond his current capacities. In any case, undoubtedly he is old, and the fact that five more years of him are required prompts thoughts on what will happen if he dies in office or if he becomes unable to continue with his tasks. Surely there must be some line of succession described in the Constitution, or some “anointed one” by Mugabe. But the question is if he will be able to keep some degree of order in the country by keeping opposition political forces close to a post-Mugabe administration, by constructing legitimate institutions and giving the first steps towards building a state, or by preventing political chiefs from fleeting with any of the remaining “state resources” left.

The margin of action of Mugabe’s successor will be largely determined by the existing peace or disorder at the time the transition begins to take place. The exact moment and conditions of such transition are unknown, but for sure the following question will be asked: state or democracy first? Mugabe has worked for more than the last twenty years to finish off with both of them, and the time is coming close for Zimbabweans to ask what their priority will be in reconstructing them, or how they will deal with both challenges at the same time.

Jul 28, 2013

Tunisian Summer

Deputy and opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi, assassinated on Friday in Tunisia (from Le Monde).

Deputy and opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi, assassinated on Friday in Tunisia (from Le Monde).

Two days ago Tunisian Deputy and founder of the opposition party People’s Movement Mohamed Brahmi was assassinated. This is the second political murder in less than six months, Chokri Belaid, another opposition figure, having been killed in February. In separate interviews with the local and international press, President Moncef Marzouki and Interior Minister Lufti ben Yedu have established a link between both crimes: the same weapon was allegedly used against Brahmi and Belaid, and Salafist extremists, fighting against what they perceive as any obstacle for the implementation of the Islamic law in Tunisia, would be behind the attacks. Furthermore, Marzouki insisted that those crimes are a conspiracy from Salafists to destabilize the government, and assured that Tunisia will not descend into the chaos and violence that has appeared in other Arab Spring countries such as Egypt.

Marzouki’s confidence on the Tunisian political process relies on more or less broad and inclusive agreements and discussions about the new constitution. As opposed to, again, Egypt, in Tunisia the work on the draft of the constitution has been constant and is about to be finished, having the legitimacy of all major political parties. The President is confident that the outcome will also have the approval of citizens as, contrary to the intentions of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, in Tunisia a liberal and secular state has been sketched. The exclusion of hardline Islamists is what Marzouki argues makes them desperate and is pushing them to commit selective crimes, in an attempt to weaken the construction of the new democratic state.

It can be said that the President’s argument is in general valid. However, his optimism can be modulated by the fact that it has taken more than two years to count with the draft of the constitution, and that the negotiation process has been anything but terse. At the same time, this note is not atypical, as all countries that emerge from long authoritarian governments have to struggle with designing new rules to make decisions and with making decisions with the rules as they are designed.

A larger problem in Marzouki’s assessment seems to be in his interpretation of Brahmi’s murder. His argument about a Salafist conspiracy against the democratizing government can be conceded; clearly, extremists can see their position threatened in a state that will tolerate a plurality of political groups. However, the worrisome part is that this anti-liberal group has attacked twice, even with the same weapon. Marzouki mentioned in an interview just after Brahmi’s assassination that information about Belaid’s killers, product of months of investigation, was about to be revealed when the new crime was committed. Hours later the Interior Minister spoke about the Salafist involvement in both deaths, and promised that inquiries would continue. The reason to be worried about the political process in Tunisia is not only because high-profile political murders were carried out, but also because the state has not shown sufficient capacity in investigating them, particularly that of Belaid, who died in February. It is not only that Salafists and other anti-liberal groups feel threatened by the laws of a new democratic state, but also that they feel they can act freely under the current administration.

Marzouki expressed his optimism about the Tunisian political process in an interview during a critical moment; the reaction to Brahmi’s death was a number of demonstrations and with a national strike calling for the ousting of the current administration and of the ruling party, Ennahda. Hence, it is understandable he kept for himself a more critical view of the events. But the fact that the same group was able to attack twice with six months in between suggests a major weakness of the state in law enforcement. Transitions from authoritarian rules more often than not are not only about designing new rules to make decisions, but also about reinforcing the basic state functions, which frequently were coopted for political ends during the authoritarian rule. Writing a new constitution can be the most visible token of a regime transition, but the strengthening of the basic state capacities, such as law enforcement and justice administration, is what will ensure that the constitution can be applied. Salafists might indeed have a plan to destabilize the Tunisian transition, but the government must also have a plan to close any windows of opportunity to Salafists from attaining their goals.

Mar 24, 2013

Behold the Prisoner

Bosco Ntaganda (from Al Jazeera).

Bosco Ntaganda (from Al Jazeera).

On Monday last week, Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese warlord facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity (notably the conscription of children for his Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, FPLC, at least six years ago) from the International Criminal Court (ICC) presented himself in the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda asking to be taken to the ICC. An official from the court said it was the first time in history that a person with an arrest warrant voluntarily showed up for being processed. Ntaganda is already in The Hague, and he will be presented on Tuesday before a pre-trial court, in order to verify his identity, inform him personally of the charges of which he is accused, and set the date to begin the hearings for the process.

There are two questions around this surrender. First, why did he do it? Analysts suggest some possibilities. One option is that in fact Rwanda arranged Ntaganda to be delivered to the U.S. Embassy in order to try to clean the national name from accusations of supporting the activities of DRC rebels. It has also been suggested that Ntaganda’s own rebel group, M23 (a secession from the Congolese Army), was divided over the future of the rebellion, especially after in December 2012 it lost control over the city of Goma, which it had taken as a stronghold one month earlier. The group’s fissure would have been so deep that some of its members, defeated by another faction, fled to Rwanda, diminishing Ntaganda’s support base in DRC and increasing the threats to his physical security.

This leads to the second question: what is the future of the M23 and other rebellions in Congo? Ntaganda’s surrender does not leave the M23 acephalic. The winner of the group’s internal divide is Sultani Makenga, also sought for war crimes. It has been argued that Makenga is now so powerful that Ntaganda was better-off being trialed by the ICC than facing a confrontation with his former guerilla mate over the leadership of the M23 and the control over some areas of the country. In any case, Makenga blames and expectedly would be seeking revenge from Ntaganda for the assassination attempt against him last February.

The physical removal of Ntaganda from the scene of conflict then might not have solved much. He will be trialed and more likely than not will be found guilty. But he has left a vacuum of power in the M23 leadership, and Makenga is ready to seize it. However, Ntaganda might still fight for the remnants of his position from the bench of the defendants, thoroughly collaborating to build a case against Makenga. A Congolese warlord is to be put in jail, but his legacy of conflict is far from being over.



Mar 20, 2013

Security and Democracy

Tunisian police officers containing a demonstration in January this year (from The Telegraph).

Tunisian police officers containing a demonstration in January this year (from The Telegraph).

This week a group of Tunisian scholars are visiting Georgetown University to exchange ideas with local academic community about the political developments in their country. As part of this tour, yesterday a meeting took place to talk about the challenge of reforming security institutions.

The task is of a major importance as the security apparatus was one of the pillars that sustained the rule of Ben Ali. Thus, its reform towards a professional force and working for the protection of citizens would represent a substantial step towards the democratization of the Tunisian state. However, two obstacles were identified by our colleagues. First, there is no clear map of the current situation of the security institutions. It is estimated that over 70,000 officials belong to them, and that over 1,200 legal instruments, some of them public and other not, regulate their operations in one way or another. With this numbers it is unclear what are the exact chains of command or the organizational structure of the security forces. Second, it is not evident either where to start the reform. The Tunisian faculty spoke of three possible options: recover citizen legitimacy, establish a new legal framework, or professionalization of officials. However, we were reminded that the security forces still lack a defined mission, vision, and objectives for the democratic times. Without them, it is difficult to provide a narrative for reforms, for which any changes undertaken have the risk of being unarticulated, hence contributing to the incoherence of the current security institutions.

In a way, the challenge faced is not dissimilar to many other processes of institutional reform: the picture of the starting point is less clear than what appears to be, and first actions are far from obvious. However, the specific difference with other reforms is that in this case the outcome is closely linked with the direction the democratization of Tunisia will take: either the new state is strengthened with a, as they call it, republican police, or, without a capable and impartial security apparatus, institutions acquire more resistance to change, the country falls into deeper instability, and the voices claiming for an authority capable of restoring order make more noise.

The stakes of the reform of security apparatus are without question very high. But the approach to it was subject to debate in the meeting. On the one hand, given that security institutions will become part of the new democratic state and that their ultimate goal is their de-politicization, it can be argued that their reform must be kept separate from political upheavals in the country. On the other hand, if governments are unstable (as was seen last month, when many members of the cabinet and eventually the Prime Minister resigned), it is unlikely that the challenges for the reform will be met. What is more, the difference between both processes might not be evident for many citizens who, in the end, could easily group cabinet politicians, members of congress still working on the constitution, and police officers as “the government”, assessing their performance with the same template. If police is still repressive and partial, then people will see little difference between the government of Ben Ali and those that followed him. The problem is tremendously complicated, but because the reward of attending it is so high debates must continue.


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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