Browsing articles in "Africa"
Nov 18, 2012

“Yet” another Election Day…

Yesterday Sierra Leone held general national elections (president and congress; the contest for local administrations is today) for the third consecutive time after the end of its ravaging Civil War in 2002, which left the country in economic and social ruins. Furthermore, the BBC notes these are the first elections organized completely by the country, as the United Nations administered the contests of 2002 and 2007. The results will be made public in ten days. If no presidential candidate obtains at least 55% of the vote, the two top candidates will meet again in a second round. So far everything indicates that the contest ran smoothly, before and during election day. There have been no major violent incidents, and after the closing of the campaigns there was a rally in the capital, Freetown, in support of peace. Just in case, armed soldiers have been deployed in strategic areas. Is Sierra Leone now a democracy?

Elections have been used as the identification mark of a democratic breakthrough. This idea has received a number of critiques, especially under the argument that to place the boundary between authoritarianism and democracy in procedures is too simplistic. However, Staffan Lindberg has argued that the organization of elections in African countries dramatically contributes to the strengthening of democracy, even though the electoral exercise is not carried out under completely free and fair conditions. He points out that elections make citizens more aware of their political rights, especially due to the facts that as equal members of the society their votes all count the same, and that they can speak out their concerns and do something to try to attend them. The more time elections are held, the deeper that awareness gets into citizens. At the same time, Nicolas van de Walle has noticed that the construction of democratic parties in Africa faces some obstacles, among which are their differentiation along ethnic, rather than programmatic, lines, and the large risk that the party of the winner of the first election becomes dominant given the patronage networks it can build by distributing the resources of the state.

Although there are nine candidates, two are the main contenders in the Sierra Leone elections: the incumbent Ernest Bai Koroma, from the All People’s Congress party (APC), and the representative of largest opposition group, the Sierra Leona People’s Party (SLPP), Julius Maada Bio. Koroma was first elected in 2007, succeeding the SLPP’s government, which won the elections immediately after the end of the Civil War. Now, Koroma is campaigning under the motto “I will do more”, and his most important banner is the infrastructure that has been built under his government, mainly paved roads and an ambitious health care program (relevant in the context of countless people who suffered amputations during the war). He also expects that the recently discovered oilfields boost the national economy. The management of the resources with which those works have been financed has prompted accusations of being soft on corruption, contrary to what he promised in his inauguration address. He has retorted by saying that it is wrong to expect him to do the job of the judiciary by making the judgments, implying the problem is elsewhere, not in his government.

On the other hand, Bio, a retired brigadier general, calls himself the father of democracy, given that he staged a coup against the military Junta in 1996 to which he belonged, allegedly out of suspicion that it would not keep its compromise to pass power on to an elected president. After the coup, Bio organized presidential elections and stepped down in order to allow the winner to take office. When questioned about his former allegiance to the Junta, he underscores that his commitment to democracy is demonstrated by his splitting from it. In this campaign, he insists that even if Koroma’s record during his first term is good, the SLPP’s first government was far more successful, and he is determined to achieving something similar. His most important support might come from people who doubt that Koroma’s health program can be sustained in the future, or from citizens unable to find a job.

The ghosts from the civil war and violence are still present in the country. One of the running candidates, Eldred Collins, was the spokesman of the Revolutionary United Front, the rebel group acknowledged to have committed the largest and grossest atrocities against civilians during the conflict. Furthermore, teenagers have been reported to be harassing supporters of the SLPP by impeding their entrance to their party’s rallies and throwing stones against them; allegedly, they are paid by the APC with money, food, and alcohol. In addition, the motorcades of the two major candidates were in a stand-off when they met at a crossroads and mutually blocked their way through.

According to the theory, the considerably free environment for elections makes a good prospect for democracy in Sierra Leone. So far,the absence of concerns around the organization of the elections suggests that the Sierra Leone’s government has successfully met the challenge of the first contest organized by itself. In addition, in spite of the ethnic support for parties and candidates that has not completely disappeared, and although it cannot be ascertained that patronage networks are nonexistent, both of the two largest parties have not disbanded when they have lost elections, surviving as organizations and presenting candidates for the next contest. The further step towards their consolidation is to form a constituency whose interests they can articulate. This should be in the greatest interest of the citizens, as that can help to prevent an oligarchic party system where the APC and the SLPP take power in pre-established turns. Finally, after the devastating experience of the war, citizens seem to be committed not to return to violence: for a third time they are returning to polls. Without a question, this constitutes the most important asset for democracy in Sierra Leone.

Nov 16, 2012

The Rule of Law in Uganda

This week the international press informed that the Speaker of the Ugandan National Assembly, Rebecca Kadaga, mentioned that as a Christmas gift for all its supporters by the end of the year that chamber was going to pass a law against homosexuality. This is not yet certain, as part of the legislation is still pending; but that can be accelerated. Uganda already prohibits homosexual intercourse. In its original version, the new legislation punished it with the death penalty (apparently this hardening of the sanction is not included in the current version of the law), it will be illegal to promote homosexuals’ rights or to sponsor or abet homosexuality.

There are three possible interpretations, not necessarily exclusive, for the haste in wanting this new law approved. First, that it is a project of Mrs. Kadaga. Some weeks ago she attended the Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting in Quebec City. There, she was confronted by the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird, who in a hallway conversation mentioned (the Ugandan newspaper Daily Monitor writes “accused”) the violation of human rights in Uganda, especially against homosexuals. Mrs. Kadaga’s reaction, which earned her to be received with a crowd upon her return at Kampala, was to say that Uganda was no protectorate of Canada, that Uganda was not going to be intimidated by any foreign government on issues of homosexuality, and that she spoke “for the whole of Africa, for the Arab world and Asians”, whose delegates at the Quebec meeting allegedly thanked her for her retort to Mr. Baird, when she defended an anti-homosexuality stance.

Unfortunately, as suggested by Mr. Baird, the move against homosexuality is not restricted to Mrs. Kadaga’s recent commentaries nor it is a fad of the last weeks. The second view on the revival of the anti-homosexual law is that it demonstrates a years-long trend of attacks upon the community in Uganda that promotes sexual liberty, diversity and rights. A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on the obstacles to civil society development in Uganda (published last August: mentions that the pressure on the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community in the country has been going on for years. A climatic moment was reached in 2009 when the original anti-homosexuality bill was introduced for discussion in Parliament. Ever since then the bill had not been on the legislative debate agenda; this situation could change after what Mrs. Kadaga has been saying. Furthermore, she is supported by Simon Lokodo, a former Catholic priest and now Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity. In an interview with HRW, Mr. Lokodo said that, although the Ministry’s mandate was to fight corruption, he, “empowered to uphold human moral values”, must also fight homosexuality, given that LGBT rights supporters were “on a mission to destroy” Uganda. The HRW document includes an account of harassment against LGBT organizations throughout this entire year.

Allegedly (a third view on the problem), the fight against organizations defending homosexuals’ rights is a tactic of the government to regain some support or to distract attention from other more pressing issues. Its current President, Yoweri Museveni, has been in power for 26 years and faces no limit on the number of terms he can remain in office. Afrobarometer found that his popularity had fallen from 64% in January to 26% in March 2011, after a violently contested reelection and a poorly performing economy. In addition, the Ugandan government failed to promptly respond during the summer this year to an Ebola outbreak, arguing no traditional symptoms like coughing blood were shown by the infected people, which led to at least 16 deaths. The malady has persisted: this week’s news informs of a new Ebola presence in the country, killing three people in the last days.

Notwithstanding which interpretation is used to view the passing of homosexuality laws, it is not difficult to assert that this kind of legislation does little for the Ugandans. Given the governmental environment, there seems to be the sentiment that the discussion, if any, and voting on the anti-homosexuality bill will not face much organized or effective opposition. Bleakly, this might become another case in which the international community was unable to stop such an attack on human rights.



Oct 21, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Liberian Wars

Back in Liberia after a trip to Japan, president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told government officials to “follow or get out of the way”. By “follow” she meant her lead and the projects she has for developing a country plagued with poverty, divisions and the fresh memories of the the civil war(s).

Leymah Gbowee, left, and Ellen Jonhson Sirleaf

Nobel laureate Sirleaf faces a tough scenario. Elected and re-elected on high hopes of getting Liberia on a positive path, she has come under attack recently from inside and out. One of the most notorious of those attacks came from long time ally Leymah Gbowee, the peace activist who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the president. Gbowee criticized Sirleaf for not doing enough to curb corruption and nepotism in the government (two of the president’s sons are government officials; another just stepped down). As she came out publicly with her reservations against Sirleaf, the activist resigned as head of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The move also came after she was accused of mismanaging funds, which she denies.

It is hard to pin down who to side with. Transparency International said in a report this year that Sirleaf “has demonstrated a strong leadership on anti-corruption issues”. Still, Liberia has endemic and wide-spread corruption that does not seem to be waning.

Obviously, no one with a brain could expect her to finish the job in a couple of years. Experts have been studying corruption forever and there is no silver-bullet here. Besides, it doesn’t help that there were two civil wars totaling about 14 years in Liberia since the 90’s; that the country has 85% unemployment, 63.8% of people below or at the national poverty line, a GDP per capita of US$ 500 (ppp) and ranks 182 out of 187 countries at the UN Human Development Index. In other words, it is a deeply problematic place.

While her officials keep being accused of corruption, Sirleaf insists the government is about to begin a series of new projects to speed national development.

Many of those projects will no doubt focus on Liberia’s natural resources. Almost 80% of the economy is based on agriculture, and exports are basically rubber, coffee, palm oil, iron and other commodities. The rest of the world is very mindful of that: Liberia has the highest ratio of foreign direct investment to GDP on the planet. State funds are thus largely tied to the country’s natural resources, and when speaking of corruption and mismanagement we are also talking about this particular type of wealth.

Sirleaf is a big advocate of foreign investment, and has done everything possible to open up the country for them. There has been some positive results. Up to 2011 the government had secured over US$ 19 billion in investments, the majority in the iron ore and palm oil sectors. FDI could amass US$ 2 billion in taxes and royalties in the next decade, according to the IMF, with improvements extending to roads, ports and power plants.

But there are many, many downsides as well. A study completed by Columbia University last year mentions that job creation is low and that government corruption and financial mismanagement “have compromised the good intention of concessionaire-financed Social Development Funds and contributed to a rising mood of distrust and hostility regarding some concessions”. It further states that indigenous communities have been marginalized during the negotiations and implementation of projects, resulting in high tension around several FDI projects, while members of affected communities experience little improvement to living standards as a result of them. Finally, the study concludes that “institutions lack the full ability to effectively monitor compliance of concession agreements and penalize infringements”.

Liberia is also rich in diamonds and gold. It is interesting how at this point one almost cringes at this descriptions… It seems a recipe for disaster under the current rush of undeveloped countries to secure foreign investment, which on many occasions result in lack of transparency, corruption, embezzlement and increased domestic tensions.

Sirleaf’s challenges are far from new or original. But she better rush to get things on the right path again, if she wants to leave power as the symbol of progress and peace that she was on the eve of her first victory.

Oct 4, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Jobs, resources, democracy

gas project in Papua New Guinea

In its newest jobs report –mentioned previously by my colleague Pablo–, the World Bank dedicates a large section to resource-rich countries, some of which (in) famously struggle to manage the impact of the extractive industries’ revenues on the democratic practices of the state. The section starts with an important warning: investments in extractive industries do not create many jobs, regardless of their often sizable fraction of GDP and potential to foster “spectacular increases in export revenue”.

What does that have to do with democracy? Well it could have quite a lot to do with it, particularly in developing countries. Now, this is a complicated area of study (“resource curse”, anyone?) and I do not want to make a case for a causal link not fully established, but some things are worth noticing, particularly when we use examples.

While nations like Angola and Mozambique boast huge growth rates due mostly to the oil and mineral industries, their populations sink into poverty and find it hard to reap the benefits of living in a resource rich region of the world. Jobs, or their lack thereof, are a big part of that. The World Bank estimates that extractive industries “may not account for more than 1 or 2 percent of total employment in resource rich countries”, even when taking indirect ones into account. The numbers get worse when seen in parallel to investment in mining projects. A liquid natural gas project in Papua New Guinea, for one, had an investment cost of over twice the country’s GDP at the start-up, and while it may lead to double digit growth rates for years to come, it is “unlikely to generate more than 1,000 direct jobs in the longer term”.

Mozambique is also featured in the section as an example of low job creation. The Benga mining project, with an investment of 13,6% of the country’s GDP, currently employs 150 people and will generate 4,500 jobs once in full operation (projected). In one of the interviews I did during my summer in Mozambique, a researcher from Cemo (Center for Mozambican and International Studies) told me their estimate for formal employment in the country was about only 20%.

Obviously there is little development possible when there are no jobs and no income generation activities for the larger population. As we can see from the report, even when there are regulations that require extractive companies to hire most workers from the domestic labor force, their sheer number is not enough to impact even the regional employment rate. Also, the World Bank mentions a tension “between jobs for productivity and jobs for social cohesion”, which “may be even more difficult to avoid in developing countries due to the lack of institutional strength and implementation capacity.” Not to mention a rise in inequality, since there is no doubt a few are profiting from the projects.

I would add that in Mozambique and other resource-rich developing countries, megaprojects are many times set via secret contracts and tax relief policies to international corporations, which contribute to the little redistribution of revenue to the population at large.

What would be the impact on democracy? First, there could be a growing social tension caused by the imbalance created by these industries. Regardless of the growth rates, development is not a given, but conditional on very good policies implemented to deal with the revenues. Besides, countless studies link resource richness with challenges to democracies and democratization. I am far from a resource-curse determinist, but some things are easily noticed. To keep using the example of Mozambique: there was a soft version of Thomas Carothers’ “dominant power systems” present before the extractive boom, but afterwards the opportunities to replicate the “rentier state” effect* grew exponentially. Oil industries in general (gas and coal, in the case of Mozambique) fit well in this pattern due to their little use of labor force and concentration of revenues in the hands of states. And the lack of accountability is problematic.

The World Bank concludes the section affirming that “the main challenge facing resource-rich countries is to spread the wealth in ways that do not undermine productivity growth and social cohesion spillovers.” It is worth taking a further look.


*in very simplistic terms: governments use low taxes and patronage to relieve pressures for accountability while limiting group-formation that might lead to more democratic demands

Sep 23, 2012

The Great Wall of Libya

In one of his stories, Franz Kafka suggests that China would not have come to being if it were not for the construction of its Great Wall. People from all over the kingdom were summoned by an Emperor whose existence was probably unknown by many workers-to-be peasants. As well, at the building site, people from diverse regions would have suddenly realized that, though coming from villages previously just heard of in fantastic stories, they actually must have some kind of link because they were collaborating in the same effort. Even more, Kafka (maybe without sufficient historical accuracy but certainly with literary audacity) suggests that the enemies from which the Chinese were trying to protect themselves had never gone through the site where the Wall was being built, had never reached the villages of any of the workers or even could have been gone for many years. But the construction of the Wall, and with it saying “Here is China, there is not China. You are Chinese and must protect yourselves against the not-Chinese who want to attack you”, set the bases for an Empire that fell just 100 years ago.

Today, Libya might be under an analogous situation: trying to rebuild (or, perhaps, plainly build) their country as a single political unit. This Sunday’s English version of the Al-Jazeera website reports that the government “moves to dissolve rogue militias”. It is equivalent to say “We are the authority, you are not.” This matches with one of the key elements of the state as defined by Weber and that has been present in the mind of statesmen during all of the 20th Century: the state has the legitimate monopoly of violence. What is more, Libyans want their state to be democratic: “Even if you are not the authority, you can form a political party, present to elections, win representation in the parliament, talk and then we will see.”

Literature on transitions to democracy notice how difficult it can be to build at the same time the state, which implies a sense of political unity (or, at least, a tacit agreement that the institutions in place will not be challenged, even less by armed means), and a democracy, which entails a sense of political plurality (potentially opening the door to organizations that could undermine democratic practices). In Libya these two problems converge in one political actor: rogue militias.

Indeed, the term is used in plural. And in contrast to Kafka’s story, the danger in Libya is real. In December 2011, Al Jazeera organized a discussion panel which the participation of Libyan scholars, students, former rebel fighters and NGO representatives. At that time, a month after the interim government was inaugurated, they all agreed that one of the most important concerns of Libyans had to do with the two largest militias: pro-Gaddafi and anti-Gaddafi. On the one hand, given its weakness the government could do little to regulate weapons or to uncontestably impose its authority throughout all the national territory. On the other hand, there was a shared fear among the country’s population that if the course taken by the political processes did not satisfy the armed groups in one way or another (they could say a dictatorship was replacing that of Gaddafi, they could feel excluded from the institution-building discussions, they would like to prevent a particular group from being involved in the new political life of the country –a militia group says they attacked Sufi camp sites because they “supported Gaddafi’s regime and they believe in magic”-, they would pursue more radical ideas than the government or they wanted to catalyze changes) they would return to arms and the violence would resume. And no state, even less if it is weak or trying to become democratic, can survive in a violent environment.

In the interview mentioned above, the participants were proud to say that the Libyans had shown exemplar behavior after the fall and death of Gaddafi, as no mob riots had occurred and the only sources of violence were the militias. However, during this year, it has been clear that without a central authority any pretext can lead to violence. Just think of the last two weeks: the diffusion of the video The Innocence of Muslims caused anti-American revolts which, directly or indirectly, translated into the death of officers at the United States Consulate in Benghazi. In spite of the civic sense most Libyans have, rogue armed groups offer no guaranty.

Fortunately, the order of the Libyan government seems to have encountered a favorable environment. Even before being issued, this Friday inhabitants of Benghazi evicted members of the Ansar al-Sharia militia, arguing they were tired of living under their presence and to avoid more episodes similar to that of the American Consulate. As reported by Al-Jazeera, the Libyan military had established its presence in some hours’ time, apparently without incident. Then this Sunday, the government says it has decided to dissolve all remaining rogue militias. It is still to be seen if this goal will be achieved. It will be a major challenge for the newly elected Prime Minister, Mustafa Abushagur, who beginning September 12 has one month to form a cabinet. In any case, it is positively remarkable that in a state trying to consolidate power and to be democratic, citizens’ actions turn into government orders and not the other way round.

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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