This week, the website Global Conflict Analysis, administered by a political science student, published a list of the ten most dangerous countries of the world. In descending order, followed by the most important reason identified for violence, these are:
- Syria: Civil war.
- Somalia: Warlords and radical organizations.
- Afghanistan: Inter-ethnic clashes and conflict with U.S. forces.
- Iraq: Civil war after the post-Saddam chaos and conflict with U.S. forces.
- Sudan and South Sudan: Ethnic and religious conflicts.
- Yemen: General political turmoil.
- Pakistan: Insurgents.
- Haiti: High rates of overall crime.
- Niger: Armed rebels and terrorists.
- Honduras: High murder rate. Particularly dangerous for journalists since Porfirio Lobo took office.
A major problem with this list is that it lacks a constant indicator for violence, relying rather on its author’s subjective perceptions apparently having the news as a basic input. This contrasts with another widely-cited violence guide, the Global Peace Index (GPI), which is constructed with 23 weighted objective and subjective measurements, including perception of criminality, jailed population, military expenditure, displaced people, or number of available heavy weapons. It can always be argued that other variables could have been included, but the same set has been used since 2007 for all the same countries, allowing to make comparisons in time and space.
In spite of these methodological differences, it should not be surprising that Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, and Pakistan appear in both lists. Of the rest of the countries mentioned by Global Conflict Analysis, just Haiti and Honduras are not among the 20 most violent nations according to GPI.
The contrast between a robust and a not so robust list of violent countries yields a well known conclusion: places with weak or no states are hot pots for violence. This also suggests that no matter the indicators used to measure it, violence has become a hallmark in the international image of some countries. This comes to complicate even more assistance programs aimed at those nations.
It is usually the case that the roots and kinds of violence are not the same throughout the country. Near capital cities there tends to be more tranquility, in contrast to conflictive border areas. Also, violence might concentrate in just some cities, or happen in just some social groups. But, arguably, its effects are always the same: families destroyed, reduction of social capital, and obstacles for socioeconomic development. Even clearly identifying the roots, dynamics, and locations of violence, the question remains open. As with the apparent dilemma between socioeconomic development and democracy, what to do first? Build the state or reduce violence? The lack of a centralized authority is a major hiatus to implementing any achievements throughout the national territory. But without eliminating violence no advancements, even if marginal, are guaranteed to be sustainable. And for the everyday life of most people, violence has more long-lasting effects than the absence of a state. Maybe there is disagreement among international observers about the scope and measurement of violence. But for people who suffer it, it is always unbearable. Without peace, no other development objective can be met.
Yesterday, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) published its 2012 Annual Report, coinciding with the organization’s 25th anniversary (http://www.pageturnpro.com/IFES/49069-IFES-2012-Annual-Report/index.html#1). In that year, IFES articulated its work through four themes: election management, electoral integrity and transparency, citizen participation, and inclusion and empowerment. For each, officials conducted field work in countries meeting the challenge of organizing, many times for the first time, a democratic election. Their efforts have truly a world reach: Guatemala, Egypt, Tunisia, Guinea, or Cambodia. Furthermore, they cover a vast array of topics, including voter education, party financing, fight against fraud and malpractice, or electoral justice.
After Huntington’s emphasis on elections as the benchmark of a democracy, contests for public offices have received as much attention as maybe no other element in a democratization process gets. It is there that IFES enters the scene. However, as the organization’s scope shows, few things can be as difficult in any regime, even more if it is undergoing a transition from an authoritarian rule, as organizing democratic elections (meaning they are free and fair or that their results reflect as closely as possible the will of the electorate). There are many requisites for that to happen: an effective rule of law to guarantee enfranchisement, a solid judicial system to process conflicts, or voters that know and understand their rights. IFES has developed workshops, seminars, and partnerships with local actors to work in that direction. At the same time, the result of this work will be just an institutional and reliable contest for power access and distribution. Its use, which gives substantial contents to a democratic regime, is something separate from what electoral assistance can provide. As well, the work IFES undertakes is, in the end, about constructing and applying rules. And history has shown over and over again that for rules to have more chance to succeed actors that will use them must participate in their design.
Thus, the work IFES undertakes points to two essential features of any successful democracy and governance collaboration project: trying to balance a holistic approach while acknowledging the limits of the program, and working in a constant involvement with beneficiaries. So far, the balance is positive, and surely it will continue like that in the future.
Last summer, I posted a short piece about Malawi’s Joyce Banda. Southern Africa’s first female president had only been in office for three months back then, but her actions were already making headlines. Banda announced plans to sell the presidential jet, a luxury item acquired by her predecessor and an ongoing source of domestic contention and international condemnation. She confronted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir over his ICC indictment, refusing to host the planned African Union Summit with Mr. Bashir in attendance. But what finally caught the attention of the international community was a policy shift that, while eminently technocratic, served as a harbinger of the sort of reform that donors love to see. Banda devalued the Malawian Kwacha by 49 percent, and right on cue, the Millenium Challenge Corporation and the International Monetary Fund responded with new aid packages worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The circumstances surrounding Banda’s rise to power add intrigue to the story. A surprise choice as President Mutharika’s running-mate in 2009, she was booted out of the ruling party for showing flashes of political independence — particularly her refusal to endorse Mutharika’s brother as his presidential successor. But as an elected official, Banda was legally protected from arbitrary dismissal, and she displayed a rugged resilience by shrugging off demands for her resignation as vice president in the face of intense criticism at public rallies and on state-owned media. This obstinate stance ultimately put her in the State House when Mutharika died in office last year.
Banda quickly emerged as interesting case study: What happens when a relative political outsider suddenly rises to the top of the government, confronts an important actor in the region (the African Union), initiates a painful series of austerity measures to rebuild international aid relationships, but does it all without a strong domestic constituency or the support of the ruling party?
After nearly a year, we’re starting to see some answers. As expected, the currency devaluation drove inflation through the roof, simultaneously increasing the cost of living and decreasing the real value of worker salaries. State employees responded this month with a nationwide strike, the biggest in Banda’s short tenure. A majority of Malawi’s 120,000 civil servants refused to resume work until the Banda administration boosted wages by 65 percent. Schools and airports shut down. Nurses and doctors threatened to join the strike. Banda struck a deal, announcing a 61 percent wage increase for the lowest-paid civil servants. But top officials in her administration were quick to note the unsustainable strain that higher wages would place on Malawi’s budget. “If we go down that route then we should forget recovering from the difficulties that we are trying to recover from now,” the minister of finance recently said. “[We would be] returning not only to the way we were before the reform, but a worse situation where the economy would simply collapse.”
But it’s important to remember that a collapse of this sort would be a manufactured one; the predictable result of divorcing domestic politics from economic policymaking driven by donors. The problem goes something like this. In order to attract international aid and investment, the government acquiesced to demands for austerity. As new aid flowed in to supplement the national budget, the domestic sources of government revenue shrank as inflation hurt the economy and put downward pressure on spending and real wages. So the share of Malawi’s budget provided by international aid rose as well, today standing at approximately 40 percent. This gives donors tremendous leverage and alters the incentives of Malawian leaders. But Malawi’s citizens are not happy, and they begin to protest and demand more government spending to alleviate tough economic conditions. Government officials find themselves in an untenable position. If they agree to increase wages, it may indeed overtax Malawi’s still modest budget and threaten the international aid they so desire, since much of it is conditioned upon financially sound policies — as determined by the donors. If they refuse domestic demands for action, they risk punishment at the ballot box. And Malawi’s next election is only a year away.
It appears to be a lose-lose situation for Banda. But rather than grab one of those third rail options with both hands, she has plotted a middle route between them with her recent deal with the state workers. The IMF, for its part, released an amazingly cynical statement warning of “growing public outcry” over the very conditions that its policies helped produce. What does it recommend? A doubling down on austerity, of course, with tighter expenditure controls and monetary policies until inflationary pressures recede. There was no mention of policies or resources to redress the very real economic costs on a human level. In fact, the IMF seems rather pleased with Malawi’s current trajectory, saying that “there are encouraging signs that economic recovery is underway.”
This is the danger when a government finds itself more accountable to international donors than to its own citizens. Banda may well survive this recent storm, but there are a number of domestic groups (including opposition parties) that surely will not forget moments where government policy was driven by external forces and produced considerable internal pain. Perhaps we will have to wait until the 2014 election to offer a more complete assessment of the Banda experiment. But for a leader without a natural political constituency, estranged from much of the political elite, and whose popularity is dwindling among those affected by her austere approach, Banda’s political future does not look promising. Donor darling or not, all politics is local.
A brief announcement for those who might be interested in the Horn of Africa. There will be an event about state-building in Somalia on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. in the Intercultural Center on Georgetown’s campus (7th floor, Executive Conference Room). We’ve got some great panelists from the State Department, the National Endowment of Democracy, Relief International, and an organization called Somali Family Services. It should be a valuable chance to learn about recent developments and interact with practitioners that have worked on Somali issues for many years. More information is below. I hope to see you there!
State-building in Somalia
New Government, Old Challenges
Abdurashid Ali, Somali Family Services
Rob Satrom, Department of State
Eric Robinson, National Endowment for Democracy
Steven Hansch, Relief International
Wednesday, February 20, 2013, 10:00 – 11:30 AM
Executive Conference Room, 7th Floor, Intercultural Center (ICC), Georgetown University
In August 2012, Somali leaders from around the country implemented a series of steps to replace the Transitional Federal Government, which had exercised nominal control over the country since 2004. A National Constituent Assembly adopted a new constitution, and members of Somalia’s new federal parliament elected an academic and civil society activist, Hassan Sheikh Mohammad, as president. Meanwhile, political progress in Mogadishu has been accompanied by security gains against al-Shabaab, which has been pushed out of its largest remaining urban stronghold in Kismayo by AMISOM forces.
Despite these developments, many core issues remain unresolved. How will the federal government consolidate its authority beyond Mogadishu? To what extent will regions like Puntland and Somaliland, with their own political transitions, choose to participate in the new system? What are the implications for development efforts across the country, and how can the international community assist in state-building? Please join us for a discussion of these issues, and more.
A brief reminder about our upcoming issue for Democracy & Society. We are exploring an ongoing debate within the security community, one that has surged onto national headlines as President Obama nominates new members of his foreign policy team. Are international security threats changing, or has there simply been a shift in perception? What methods of intervention do they demand in response? We hope that you will participate in the issue!
Democracy & Society, Volume 10, Issue 2
We are seeking well-written, interesting submissions of 1500-2000 words on the themes below, including new publications, summaries and/or excerpts of recently completed research, and works in progress. Submissions for the issue are due Friday, March 1st. Please email all papers to email@example.com. Click here for a PDF version of this page.
Reassessing Security Threats and the Future of Intervention
World powers are reassessing exigent threats to international security. After a decade of aggressive approaches to terrorism and state-building, we are now debating the circumstances that demand external intervention. The form of intervention is changing as well, with new methods emerging for military engagement, development, and diplomacy. Are we moving toward a new consensus on what constitutes a security threat and how international actors respond to them, or are we in a period of uncertainty around these issues? What problems may emerge from “light footprint” approaches that use advanced technology and quick, targeted actions? Under what conditions are failed states security concerns that require external intervention? What are the implications for development efforts?
- Shifting Tactics, or Priorities? The U.S. has taken a more restrained approach toward recent conflicts in Libya, Syria, and Mali, despite the presence of al-Qaeda-linked militants and other Islamist extremists. What does this say about the threat that these and similar groups still pose to the U.S. and its allies? Is terrorism still the highest security priority for Western powers, and if not, what is taking its place? How do we define security threats going forward, and what sort of policies or interventions do they demand?
- Technology. As seen in Libya, Pakistan, and Yemen, targeted attacks using advanced technologies, such as drones, are a new option to address security threats. Are these isolated cases, or do they represent a new paradigm for the use of force? Do the potential costs associated with the use of drones and other advanced weapons outweigh the potential benefits from a “light footprint” approach? What are the dangers of waging war by remote control?
- The Impact of State Failure on International Security. In 2003, former President George W. Bush said: “Failed states spread instability and terror that threatens us all.” Is that assessment still true today? If so, should intervening countries pursue political and economic goals of state-building or should they focus more narrowly on security? Which of these options would lead to better security outcomes, both for the intervening actors and the countries in question?
- Civilians at War. What practical and moral questions arise from the expanded role of civilian actors in military engagements, such as the CIA and private contractors, who often conduct targeted killings without significant oversight and accountability? Is military outsourcing a wise policy, or are there negative consequences that we have failed to consider?
- The Decentralization of Intervention? As the balance of power shifts throughout the international community, is there a vacuum of responsibility in responding to security threats? Is this leading to regional responses that are ad hoc, disorganized, or less effective? What are the implications for future interventions and development efforts?
Please email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional information, please visit www.democracyandsociety.com or contact Andrea Murta, Josh Linden, or Kate Krueger at email@example.com.
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