Browsing articles in "Development"
Jan 18, 2013

Freedom in the World

On Wednesday Freedom House published Freedom in the World: 2013, a report built on an index trying to measure the level of political rights and civil liberties in all the countries of the world and in some territories in dispute ( Here are some highlights:

Numbers: 90 countries ranked as free (three more than the previous year). 27 nations had significant declines, next to 16 with gains. It is the seventh consecutive year in which there are more declines than gains.

Arab Spring countries have experienced diverging paths. On the positive extreme we have Tunisia; on the other side, Syria. Egypt seems to be the case in the middle. The evidence for advancements in liberties is in the energy of civil society and the installation of a civil rule. On the contrary, worrisome issues include the cumbersome process of writing the Constitution, the lack of balance to the President’s power, or attacks to NGOs. Furthermore, it is yet unclear whether the Muslim Brotherhood is committed to democracy or not.

This adds up to another observation: authoritarian leaders are finding even more ways to curtail the liberties of citizens, as is the case of Russia and Turkey. Putin and Erdoğan have taken different course of action to secure or increase their power in face of other political actors (opposition parties, the legislature) or the society (by rigging elections, reducing freedom of speech, or frustrating the activities of NGOs).

Regarding North America and Western Europe, although no major changes with respect to previous years are reported, it is noted that nationalist sentiments (and against immigrants) have arisen in some countries due to constraints related to the economic crisis that began in 2008.

Under this scenario, it might seem fair to re-ask the question posed by Barbara Geddes almost two decades ago: what do we know about democratization forty years later? An initial caveat is to refrain from unconditional enthusiasm when facing citizen protests, whose outcome is still largely uncertain. Given that this is the seventh year in a row in which declines in liberties surpass the gains, could this be an indicator of the world experiencing a “reverse wave of democratization”, borrowing from Samuel Huntington? The subtitle for the Freedom House communiqué is “Calls for US leadership as democracy declines for seventh year”. Before that, it seems about time to think with even more attention about why democracy assistance actions and domestic political processes have and have not led to that goal.

Jan 13, 2013

Three Years Later

The Haitian Presidential Palace in January 2010, the day of the earthquake (from The New York Times).

The Haitian Presidential Palace in January 2010, the day of the earthquake (from The New York Times).

The image of the collapsed Presidential Palace was seen as the most adequate symbol of the situation in Haiti after the earthquake of 2010: what was left were only ruins. In the days following the disaster, the press constantly updated the figures of the deaths, the homeless, the wounded, and of any other classification for the victims. Unfortunately, if anyone thought that the situation in Haiti could not get worse, he or she was proven wrong.

The disaster offered a creepy opportunity to start anew, practically from a tabula rasa (as a symbol of this re-start, in September 2012 the Presidential Palace was finally demolished, expecting to build a new permanent house for the executive branch of government in the coming years). On the one hand, Haitians did not give themselves to despair. Moving stone by stone, they have cleaned up the roads and streets of the country, rebuilt houses, and reestablished services. In addition, the government has implemented new regulations and programs that aim at helping the poorest sectors of the population to rent a house (the construction code was substantially modified), to ameliorate the nourishment of children, and to fight tropical diseases such as cholera. In the midst of the crisis, the country went through a presidential election that, although highly contested during the campaigns, was carried out peacefully and within the existing institutional channels. The assistance of foreign governments and multilateral organizations is at all times acknowledged.

On the other hand, as suggested in the communiqué of the United Nations Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti (MINUSTAH), efforts have to be increased. There are still at least 300,000 people living in refugee camps, the passing of hurricanes still poses a major threat (as was the case last November during Sandy), and the government is still working to develop full authority and capacities (the Mission’s 2012 report can be found here: Otherwise said, the mammoth institutional challenges of Haiti are still clearly present, building an efficient and democratic state that in its previous versions had been rampaged by dictators and that had been unable to process the society’s conflicts. If this was an easy task, it would have been done by now.


Dec 5, 2012
Shuang Bin

A cake and a national social media movement


Even as a Chinese I don’t quite get the point of this cake joke. But it is so popular among netizens, on Weibo(Chinese twitter) or renren, or any popular forums in China. I think this situation itself explained something.

Some background first: Basically Qie Gao(切糕) is a kind of big dense cake sold along major inner land’s cities streets by Uygurs, who came from Xinjiang Province of China. Customers can ask to cut it and only buy a small piece, priced by weight. Recently, in an incident at Yueyang city, an inner land city, a customer and seller started to argue against the price, and it has been upscaled to a fighting. The local police at Yueyang, announced that the damaged cakes valued ¥160,000.00 RMB (about $25,706.00 USD). Instantly, this ironic news has been quickly spread out on Internet and netizens have developed it to different forms of jokes, thanks to the unbelievably high price for just a cake. From this incident and the spread of the news, it can be observed that a lot of people had considerable negative experience with those cake sellers. One major problem is that customers usually didn’t know the cake is so dense so that a small piece could be very heavy; and the sellers didn’t tell customer the unit price they talked about was for per 50 gram, not for 500 gram (the later one is more commonly used in China). And many reported they were forced to buy it even when they were ask to pay an extremely high price.

Some jokes are about the value of the cake, others are targeting Uygurs. One famous sentence is:”if the seller hit an old lady with the cart, the old lady then running away, not the sellers”. It implies that majority of the netizens think how peremptory the sellers are. And most people believe it is the minority identity allows the sellers to act outrageously without due consideration of any regulation, since the police don’t want to be accused of discriminating minorities by taking actions against them.

For ordinary Han Chinese, this group of sellers’ behavior freeze their impression over Uygur people. Han think they are cheating the customers, and think some Uygurs have been even engaged with stealing, by experiencing other similar incidents. The sense of humor on social media does not conceal the real problem. Instead, it reflects the tension between Han and ethnic minority groups in numbers of inner land cities, as well as serious development predicament in some ethnic minorities’ concentrated provinces.

Han Chinese hate unfairness, especially when it comes to minority issues. In China, there are various kinds of policies favor ethnic minorities, ranging from education to child policy. Beyond those formal policies, when Han Chinese see these Uygur sellers can repeatedly cheat customers; can sell things along the street without licenses; can do unlawful things without being punished, while Han Chinese can’t, Han feel being discriminated against. Adding the consideration of the facts that Han perceive themselves as the host of inner land cities and thus should be treated well, they can hardly tolerate this kind of unfairness. Though one may argue these people can not represent Uygers population as a whole, the fact is that the negative consequence caused by such institutional setting has become serious enough to stir up a national social media movement.

However, the economic and social development in Xinjiang and many other places like Xinjiang are becoming increasingly distorted. According to a research conducted in 2008, 71% of the high-end job positions (government or management) and 57% of the technology related jobs were held by Han Chinese in Xinjiang. In contrast, that number for Uygurs are only 17% and 30% respectively, while more than 61% of Uygurs are working in agriculture sector. Moreover, the percentage of Uygurs population to provincial population has decreased from 67% in 1950s to less than half in 2000. That means Han Chinese have been flooding into the province and taking more fruit from the development process than Uygurs. It has forced a lot of young Uygurs to seek their livelihood in inner land cities. But without specialized skills, they cannot earn enough to feed themselves. In addition, they are more or less excluded from the process of natural resources exploration inside Xinjiang. Overall, those seemingly favorable policies do not actually bring balanced benefit to minorities.

Till now, all the ethnic autonomous regions’ top seats are still controlled by the CCP’s appointees. To be concrete, even though the chairmen are usually local ethnic people,  the Party Secretary of so-called autonomous regions, who hold the real power, remain Han Chinese. A quick answer to address the problem is to allow Uygurs and other ethnic minority groups to decide their development policies and agenda by electing their own leaders and to improve the security operation and judicial process in a more impartial manner. Yet, essentially, the ethnic cleavage cannot be easily addressed even under more democratic rule. The tension reflected through the ethnic cleavage is fundamentally about the competition over scarce resources. Currently, for Uygurs youth and other minorities at Xinjiang, to get a good job requires formal education and willingness to keep their loyalty to the Party. But both are risking going against their own religions and cultural transitions. Thus it would still be difficult for them to really participate into the modernization process.

New directions to settle ethnic tensions are badly needed now! If the Party really wants to have control over this place, at least they have to listen to minorities’ opinion in a truly humble manner. Too few actually understand what’s going on.

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.



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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