Browsing articles in "Africa"
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.

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.

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.

Email Subscription to D&S and Blog

* indicates required

Posts by Region

Posts by Topic

Switch to our mobile site