Browsing articles in "Foreign Aid"
Mar 6, 2014
Erika Hernandez

Mozambique On The Edge

Renamo fighters in Mozambique / Source: TandemPost

Renamo fighters in Mozambique / Source: TandemPost

After 20 years of peace, possibilities of civil strife in Mozambique are emerging once more. Mozambique held municipal elections back in November. The two main contending political parties were the long-time ruling party Frelimo and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM). The Renamo (the Mozambican National Resistance) movement decided to boycott elections by not participating. Since early last year, Renamo has announced a cease to peace, which were reached between them and the ruling party in 1992. The underlying reason for this behavior is that Renamo’s leader, Afonso Dhlakama, has suffered life-threatening attempts allegedly by the party-in-government. To this, several commentators have called for international intermediation in order to prevent another civil conflict that could spread to Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia. Interestingly, Mozambique is one of the most gifted countries I nAfrica with natural resources and foreign aid. If the country receives so much aid and has the economic means to rise above poverty conditions, would additional support for peace help? Or is it that too much resources are causing the national to divert back to civil war?

Today, Mozambique is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with last year’s figure reaching 7% of GDP growth (est. CIA) but years like 2011 were estimated at 12.6% (World Bank). In 2012, UK’s Global Peace Index ranked Mozambique within the 50 most peaceful countries in the world. However, peace agreements between Renamo and Frelimo were formally broken last October due to threats to Dhlakama. Attempts to disappear Renamo by the government have worked in that the force of the movement has diminished. This scenario has favored the rise of the MDM party, which has successfully performed during the last municipal elections. The power in Renamo lies in that they have 1,000 armed fighters and 51 parliament members. Needless to say, the government has stronger means of coercion. The situation started to deteriorate since last year and worsened in January 1 when people began to flee towns of Pembe and Fanha-fanha, where Renamo militias reactivated. The fear of strife is so high that even several policemen have also fled. The memory of human slaughter is fresh. Back in 1985, the town of Homoine experienced the worst massacre of 400 people, including civilians’ deaths. In addition, the country is rich in coal, titanium, natural gas and petroleum and just recently discovered more reserves. Moreover, Mozambique’s heavily relies on development aid – 40% of its state budget comes from developmental sources. Some aid providers are the Southern African Development Community (SADC), African Union, European Union and United Nations.

To what extent does the country need further aid? Mozambique is trapped in its own resource and aid curse. The issue here is not about criticizing acts of charity, whose intention for help is commendable. I contest that the problematic lies, rather, in how well do these additional resources trickle down to a regular Mozambican, as well as to their contribution to promoting political inclusiveness. Accordingly, 54.7% of the population live below the poverty line (World Bank est. 2009). Despite pouring all this money into the country, the poverty line has had almost no substantial change. Moreover, if money is not going to ameliorate public services then corruption can explain money dispersal, among other reasons.

It is quite possible that several aid programs have only slowed economic empowerment and that they have increase the prowess of the powerful. Importantly, I see this as a problem that can be best addressed through democracy and governance programs rather than prioritizing development aid. One of the main problems is that the current government is unwilling to share power with Renamo. If the MDM party has already attained a certain degree of representation as an opposition party, there could be possibilities. Yes, it could be that the MDM negotiated its entrance to the government against Renamo. Yet, this same mechanism can best serve Renamo to reenter politics, on the condition of peaceful engagement. A DG program is necessary since exclusive politics in this country are potentially explosive. Third party intervention would be effective if it sought power-sharing mechanisms, conditioned on aid disbursements. Yes, it may seem a bit of draconian to impose such requirements. However, do we want to see Rwanda II happening? I doubt so. A thorough DG analysis of the current situation would help to estimate its probabilities of success, hand-in-hand with the apportioning of development aid.

Jan 23, 2014

The Magic Mountain

A session of the Montreux, Switzerland, conference on Syria (from BBC).

A session of the Montreux, Switzerland, conference on Syria in a hotel of the town (from BBC).

On Wednesday, a long-expected international conference backed by the United Nations began in Montreux, Switzerland. Its participants, representatives from 40 countries (including the U.S. and Russia) and delegates from the Syrian government and some factions of the Syrian opposition, discuss the so-called Geneva communiqué. This document was issued in 2012 as a result of another international meeting about the Syrian conflict. In general, it provides a framework within which the war will come to an end, including the stop of violence, the formation of a transitional government with full executive authority, and the holding of elections, among other things. After a one-day break, the meeting will resume on Friday in Geneva.

The first day of the encounter was dedicated to speeches from all the delegations attending it. Leaving rhetoric aside, this first glance at the conference illustrates the obstacles that very likely it will find in the near future. The most salient point of divergence is that while the U.S., most of the foreign delegations, and the Syrian opposition insist that Bashar Al-Assad must step down and cannot be present in a transition government, the official Syrian representatives assure that the continuation of Al-Assad as president is not to be discussed. Further, for the Syrian government the conference is not about discussing the formation of a transition authority (even more, Syria is the only participating delegation that did not subscribe the Geneva communiqué), but about the Syrian people’s demands of “eliminating terrorism”, “terrorists” being how they refer to Al-Assad opponents (in addition to the fact that there have been reports of Al-Qaeda activity in Syria). Therefore, there are different and diverging goals among the attendants to Montreux and Geneva.

Another aspect that could complicate the conference is its measures of success. It would be very unlikely that the main goal of the Geneva communiqué, the constitution of a transition government, is achieved. However, there are other more specific goals that will be discussed in the second part of the meeting. While the Montreux event featured speeches from each delegation, Geneva will hold more head-to-head mediated conversations between the parts in conflict. It is expected that the talks in these sessions go around issues such as the provision of humanitarian assistance and the protection of human rights in the areas of conflict, the facilitation of the flow of people between zones controlled by the government and by the opposition, or the continuation of the provision of basic public services throughout the country. The extent to which deals can be struck in these issues is still to be seen, but it appears they have more chances of success than topics related to the transitional government.

But even within that reduced set of expectations about the conference, whatever results it could bring could find further difficulties to be implemented in the ground. This is mainly due to the fragmentation of the Syrian opposition. Its largest and arguably most visible section for external viewers, the Syrian National Council, is not sitting at the table because it refuses to discuss anything until Al-Assad leaves power. The leader of another large group, the National Coordination Committee, refused to participate because its delegation did not have sufficient time to prepare itself. Finally, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces yielded to pressures from other countries and agreed to take part in the discussions, although many of its members did not agree with this because they wanted guarantees that Al-Assad would step down.

The picture above could suggest that the prospects for the conference in Geneva are grim. However, it must also be underlined that the current assessment is made taking as after just one day of work in which top-level diplomats (mostly foreign ministers from the participating countries) gave speeches. The session in Geneva could be more productive, constructive, or at least less polarized, given its interactive nature and the presence of mediators. At the same time, the top objective, the formation of a transition government without Al-Assad, could almost be ruled out. Once works in Geneva begin and some time as gone by we can have a clearer idea about what to expect from this conference.

Jan 17, 2014

Cuba and the European Union – Moving Ahead

This week the European Union announced the decision to begin the process of ending with its “common position” of suspending relations with Cuba. Proposed in 1996 by then Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, the objective was to create some pressure on the island to foster democratic change. After twenty years of this policy and apparently much more for pragmatic reasons than for having achieved, even partially, its goal, the tentative date to normalize relations is 2015.

The EU common position is a rare tool in European foreign relations. Within its framework, all EU members adopt a single stance in relation to a specific issue or country. Common positions have been notably used for Congo, Zimbabwe (both of which have ended), and Cuba. Somewhat similar to the embargo imposed by the US, the EU common position had diplomatic and economic components. On the one hand, there wereare no bilateral agreements which would serve as a framework for any kind of relation between Cuba and the EU or its individual members. On the other hand, investment and business opportunities practically came to a halt.

Since some years ago, members of the EU (among those Spain) noticed the ineffectiveness of the agreement. They relied on a number of arguments. First, aside from Cuba, the EU common position was only used for Al-Qaeda. For some European foreign ministers, it was inadequate or exaggerated to place in the same category a Communist country and a terrorist organization. Second, they witnessed some, albeit arguably superficial and selected, changes in the island. The replacement of Fidel Castro by his brother Raúl as the president of the country, the relaxation of some controls (such as those related to international travel, for instance), and the release of more than seventy prisoners identified by the EU as political were taken as symbols that some things were occurring in Cuba. They are clearly far away from a full respect to the human rights of Cubans and from the openings that are conductive to a democratization, but they were enough for some to assess that the situation was not the same when the common position began. Thirdly, there were some instances in which the common position was ignored. For example, the release of political prisoners took place after a dialogue between Spain and Cuba, which should not have taken place because the policy did not allow for bilateral dialogues of any kind. As well, there were reports about visits between members of the Cuban and European Catholic Churches, which, again, were prohibited under the common position.

Spain successfully pushed for an ending of the economic embargo against Cuba in 2003 (its negotiation token was the release of the political prisoners). Ten years later, the Spanish newspaper El País mentions that the EU is the first foreign investor in Cuba, and that the EU is Cuba’s second foreign trade partner, after Venezuela. So, there was a material benefit to extract from finishing with the economic component of the common position. With the elimination of the diplomatic part, agreements could be reached between the two parts to improve their economic relations.

However, there are some caveats to ending with the European policy. For instance, Poland and the Czech Republic have notoriously insisted on the inclusion of a human rights observation clause in any bilateral agreement with Cuba, still to be negotiated. It remains an open question how the Cuban government reacts to this and, eventually, how it will be enforced. Additionally, members of the Cuban opposition have requested the EU to have a broader vision of its relation with Cuba. Blogger Yoani Sánchez criticized that in his visit to Cuba last week, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans had meetings only with government representatives and not with the dissidence, who have many human rights and democracy projects that also need assistance from Europe.

The ending of the EU common position towards Cuba can be taken as an example of pragmatic foreign policy. Although its maintenance could have had some relevance in the discourse and in ethics (democracies not having relations with a non-democratic regime), the EU came to terms with the reality that the common position was not serving its objectives and that ending with it could yield material benefits. The European experience can thus be added to the list of cases of embargoes failing to promote democracy or which were surpassed by another set of goals.

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.

May 3, 2013

Out of Bolivia

Evo Morales during a speech on Monday, in which he announced the expulsion of USAID (from AFP).

President Evo Morales during a speech on Wednesday, in which he announced the expulsion of USAID (from AFP).

On Wednesday, Bolivian President Evo Morales expelled the United States Agency for International Development from his country, which he said “continue[d] conspiring” against his government. The timing is intentional. The Bolivian newspaper Los Tiempos pointed out that since 2006 the President nationalizes a company on May 1st, the international Labor Day (some industries touched by these measures have been petroleum, telecom, cement, and energy). In his speech on Monday Morales mentioned it was turn to “nationalize and deepen the dignity of the Bolivian people”. Even more, he explained that his decision should be understood as a protest against Secretary John Kerry’s comment on a hearing before Congress saying that Latin America was the U.S.’s backyard when referring to its geographic proximity. Morales further argued that through its social development and health programs USAID manipulates some union leaders against him and his administration.

The relation between the U.S. and Bolivia has been difficult over the last years. In 2008, Morales expelled DEA representatives and the U.S. Ambassador, Philip Goldberg, from Bolivian soil. That year, the Bush administration refused to “certify” Bolivian efforts against drugs, which would diminish the amount and kind of anti-narcotics aid the country received. Under the argument that an escalating conflict among coca producers compromised the security of DEA agents, Morales ordered them out of the country. Furthermore, he accused Ambassador Goldberg of fomenting the violence. Although later another Ambassador was admitted (the DEA was not), relations remained strained.  Last year, in a speech before foreign diplomatic representatives in La Paz, Morales mentioned that he expected that with the beginning of President Obama’s second term in 2013 tensions would diminish. With the expulsion of USAID, a State Department officer said Morales was not working towards that goal. As happened when the DEA left the country, the Bolivian government ensured that it would take over and continue with USAID activities.

Contrary to the expulsion of U.S. agencies in Russia, for example, the Bolivian case is not a token of a non-democratic government trying to control civil society organizations or foreign agents in general. Although the democratic credentials of Bolivia have sometimes been called into question (mainly due to the hegemony of Morales’ party, Movement Towards Socialism), clearly there is no attempt to curtail opposition or participation similar to that of Russia.

But similarly to Venezuela, where U.S. presence has also been attacked, there is an anti-American attitude behind Morales’ decisions. One the one hand, it can be thought that the expulsion of USAID on May 1st and the nationalization of other companies that same day in previous years is an attempt of the President to reaffirm his image in his country, which has lost popularity in the last years. It is hence more an act of domestic than of international politics. On the other hand, the 1960’s and 1970’s provide evidence that the presence of U.S. agencies in Latin America has not always been with the most democratic or peaceful intentions in mind. Although the Cold War is over, it is a historical period of time that still provides opportunities for political exploitation. And the presence of foreign agents to make judgments about internal policies (as is the “certification” of anti-narcotics actions) might be easily interpreted as a violation to the national sovereignty.

U.S. officers said the expulsion of USAID was baseless. In a way, it is not. The instruction to leave Bolivia might indicate that, as Secretary Kerry discussed, the U.S. is missing a policy towards Latin America. Without the necessary political and diplomatic bilateral work between U.S. and foreign diplomats, assistance is subject to those vulnerabilities.

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