For anyone interested in development, it is impossible to avoid the study of post-conflict African countries, which too often reflect in text-book ways the struggle to combine growth with improved living standards. Mozambique is a good example of that, and two recent pieces of news portray the challenge beautifully.
The first came from the Africa Development Bank, which said in its latest Economic Outlook for the continent that the country is expected to grow by 7.5% this year and 7.9% in 2013. In 2011, the rate was 7.2%.
The second was about preparations for general strikes and riots against the rising costs of living in the country, particularly those of public transportation and food. Though the threats failed to materialize, they prompted increased policing and even made the State Department spread travel alerts about possible disruptions in the streets of Maputo, the capital. The memories of September 2010, when similar threats led to protests that ended in deaths and destruction, are still fresh, but have not prevented costs to continue to rise, punishing severely the 54.7% of Mozambicans that live below the national poverty line.
In spite of its privileged growth rates in the past decade, Mozambique, commonly mentioned as a success story, has been unable to tackle poverty. It has an unemployment rate of 27% and the fourth worse UN Human Development indicators in the world, better only than the DRC, Burundi and Niger. And the growth has not relieved the dependency on aid money: in 2011, donations were still responsible for 45% of the Mozambican budget.
It is a common plague of poor countries. Foreign investment can be part of the solution, but so far it has not helped that much for common Mozambicans. The country has huge infrastructure projects in place, but they continue to be foreign owned and utilize mostly foreign labor, including in construction. Local labor is kept at bay for lack of specialization.
The government has some initiatives in place to try to fight these trends. It is implementing capacitation projects and requiring some international companies to list shares at local stock markets. In fact, revisions on the current legislation could ask companies to reserve between 5 and 20 percent of their local companies for placements on the Mozambican bourse. Vale, a Brazilian mining giant, has allegedly been asked to reserve 10% of its local venture on the Mozambican stock exchange to “widen participation in a coal mining boom”.
Mozambique was one of the top five african countries in terms of growth in 2011, but as the African Development Bank has put it, “the main short term challenge is reconciling ambitious infrastructure investment with social safety nets”. That in itself is interesting – would the IMF put the need for social improvement in the same terms? And, regardless, will the current initiatives result in better conditions of living for at least part of the population?
In any way, there is still much hope. Mozambique is experiencing booms in many areas, not only in mining, and if wealth is ever to be shared, growth must continue to be high. The problem is how to decrease inequality. Isn’t that exactly what development experts attempt to do all the time? So, like I said before… for those in the development field, there is no escape to the study of post-conflict African countries.
Ps. I will be writing a lot more about Mozambique in the coming months, as I am heading to the country for some summer research projects. Stay tuned.
If you stick around you’ll see that it’s going to be Friedman-palooza here on D&S today, a concept which would normally nauseate me. But the NYT’s mustachioed bloviator-in-chief did touch on some excellent topics this week, namely the elephant in the room among foreign democracy promoters concerning Egypt.
“When the U.S. decides to just give away the military aid to Egypt without considering the consequences on us,” Okail told me, “it sends a message that the West and the U.S. don’t care about democracy and human rights. They just care about strategic stability. We, the defendants, felt betrayed. The battle we fight standing in that cage, hearing calls for our execution, is not a battle for our freedom but a battle for liberating Egyptian civil society.”
Okail referred to here is Dr. Nancy Okail, director of Freedom House’s Egypt office. Okail, an Egyptian citizen, is imprisoned by the SCAF and facing trial long after the military council freed the Americans it charged with stirring unrest. Suffering the inexplicable ramifications of an objectively good deed–building civil society, strengthening the party system, and just giving Egypt a hand transitioning into a well-functioning and fair democracy–Okail and her compatriots are rightly shaken.
But pay attention to the seeming betrayal that Okail is feeling now. Why is this, partially for someone working directly with a group like Freedom House but especially for an American like Friedman who observes them, such a hard and abrupt landing? It has long been painfully obvious that the U.S. only does promote democracy in locales and contexts where it strengthens, as she puts it, American “strategic stability.”
Consider Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report. By critically evaluating each country’s political freedoms and civil liberties, it makes a extremely unbiased judgement of both U.S. allies and nemesis. In the 2011 report, Saudi Arabia received a much-deserved 6.5 “Freedom Rating” (out of 7–I’ll let you guess which way the scale points) as well as rebukes on the country’s widespread corruption, government control of academia and press, unlawful detentions, treatment of women, and torture. Freedom House takes out all the stops, using words that U.S. government figureheads would never say in any Middle East speech.
But where does Freedom House operate? Not Saudi Arabia. Take a look at their office locations, all in relatively tame but strategic places around the world. Cameroon, for instance, a sought-after AFRICOM center in the natural resources hub of the Gulf of Guinea. Kyrgyzstan, home to U.S. air fleets and a peg in the complex Central Asian counterterror operation. Mexico, whose strategic stability as an American neighbor goes without saying.
We are much, much better off with groups like Freedom House than we are without them. Indeed, it is unreasonable to expect the U.S. to operate democracy promotion efforts everywhere, and Freedom House has excellently chosen locales where their programming has been effective and, until Egypt, more or less well-received. As a student of democracy promotion myself, I support this. I honestly do. But I always, even subconsciously, remember the inherent linkages between government-supported NGO activity and strategic interests. That’s just the way it is.
I suppose I get Friedman’s approach to encouraging Americans to keep a critical eye on U.S. foreign policy. He causes cognitive dissonance by setting up a simple example, like Okail in her prison cell, and compares it to our ideals, like the U.S. helping everyone get a fighting chance at democracy. And, sure, most NYT readers probably aren’t international democracy buffs. But there is so much more to the story than, like he says, “stand[ing] up firmly for our own values.” And it’s a shame that although he says the mouthpiece to say it, he doesn’t.
What if on top of political and economic grievances, other major reasons behind the revolts of the Arab Spring were disputes over food and water resources? The argument is not new, but it was at least rekindled in a very compelling way by Thomas Friedman just a couple days ago at the New York Times.
We’ve known for years that those food and water struggles are coming and will have violent political consequences. But not too many experts out there are ready to admit that such a broad upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East might have more than an indirect relation to them, and the topic has not received much attention lately. However, if Friedman is right and we don’t work on these issues, we might be missing an important point going forward. He says that if we focus only on political and economic stresses, and not on the less visible “environmental, population and climate ones, “we will never be able to help stabilize these societies.”
Rami Zurayk, an agronomy professor at the American University of Beirut, was already telling the PBS last year that the jump in food prices was an important factor mobilizing people in the Arab Spring. “If you look at Tunisia, for example, you see that the Tunisian uprising started in the rural area,” where many small farmers live and need better means to support their families. “And the Syrian uprising started in Daraa, which incidentally is in the center of the Horan plains [in the south near Jordan] …one of the centers of origin of wheat and wheat farming in this part of the world”. A place where, added Friedman, Syrian farmers “were demanding the right to buy and sell land near the border, without having to get permission from corrupt security officials.”
It all comes up to the idea that environmental and climate changes have “eroded the social contract between citizens and the state”. It makes sense. If changes caused droughts, reductions on food production and other such problems, and if old authoritarian regimes, whose credibility was already exhausted, weren’t able to respond to increased demands, it would be easy to have the grievances translated into more social and political unrest.
Considering this argument, we can expect unrests of the type we are witnessing now to come back periodically, as new governments fail to solve environmental issues bound to get worse and worse. The Arab Forum for Environment and Development cautions that the region will face severe water scarcity as early as 2015 and that this will have profound social, political and economic ramifications.
What does all this mean? Proponents of the environmental and populational cause affirm that besides addressing democratization, it is just as crucial to work on agricultural, irrigation and water projects in those regions. Some go as far as suggesting new regulatory frameworks for water consumption and water pricing mechanisms. This is something international groups can have a deep effect on, if they focus more efforts into it. But are they doing that or missing the opportunity?
The US government decided to ease some sanctions against Burma this week, following elections for Parliament that were considered an important, though far from decisive, step towards democratization. Interestingly enough, the country’s path is being compared (in hopeful tones) with that of Brazil and other Latin American countries in the 70′s and 80′s. But how accurate is that?
Part of the joy about Burma is due to the fact that the country’s famous opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi got a seat in the midst of the clear victory of her party –and, this time, the Burmese government accepted the results. If you don’t remember, in 1991, a similar result was nullified, and she had been put under house arrest before the vote.
Considering that elections in the past five decades were either not credible or later voided, it is a significant development, even if it only counts for a tiny percentage of seats in Parliament. If this can’t be called democratization yet, it is at least liberalization. And there are encouraging signs in other areas too, such as the beginning of an economic reform.
For now, the power structure in Burma and the domination of the military are still untouched. The rulers are the ones controlling the “opening”. Many say that the move is driven by the desire to ease sanctions, and if that is the true, it would be an interesting case study for the impact of international pressure.
Others, like Thomas Carothers, argue that what is in place is a process “in which softliners in a military-based authoritarian power establishment worried about its legitimacy are attempting an unfolding set of iterative political and economic reforms” — hence the comparison to South America.
Carothers mentions Brazil in particular, where “softliners gradually reintroduced civilian rule, followed by credible electoral processes, and kept peace with the hardliners by allowing them to retain many of their economic prerogatives and avoid prosecution for their past wrongs”.
So the hope is that Burma follows the same path.
There are, however, more differences than similarities between the two countries, the most obvious ones being the economic power and the fact that Brazil had experimented with democracy far more than Burma did before its latest democratization process. Also, civil society in each grew in completely different directions. From that perspective, perhaps the comparison is way too optimistic.
On the other hand, internationally, the times seem certainly good for some optimism. There is a lot of buzz everywhere, and it encourages people to push harder. The US easing sanctions means that non profits can start initiatives focused on democracy-building (not that I have a blind faith in those, but anyways…). I suppose that is how it starts –a small crack here, a little opening there. So, in a decade, we might look back at these elections and see it as an even greater turning point than it looks now.
As expected, the Brics – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – did not achieve their proposed goal of creating a new development bank to rival the World Bank during their latest meeting, which ended yesterday. But they did not give up: the countries announced the creation of a working group to discuss the idea further and write a report on it for next year. I don’t see why.
Officially, the idea is to better fund initiatives and improve access to capital for developing countries. It seems to me, though, that what is behind the move is in reality exasperation with the slow pace of change in leadership and decision-making at the World Bank and the IMF.
Pressed with the news (and about to leave his post), Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, weighted on the issue saying in an interview with Reuters that a joint development bank by the Brics will have a hard time getting off the ground and could struggle to match the World Bank’s expertise.
He is probably right. The Brics are right to push for reform at Bretton Woods institutions, and it is about time developed countries cede some space. But it was just the other day that Brazil, for example, went from borrower to lender of the IMF, and It is not clear that the country and its colleagues are not getting ahead of themselves in their search for a more prominent global position.
Developing countries tend to suffer more from badly implemented programs and policies than from lack of capital per se.The Brics still suffer from pervasive corruption and not all are currently stars in the good policy map. Wouldn’t that be reflected in their new bank? Perhaps changing the way institutions we have today work would have more of an impact than creating new ones without solid new approaches in place.
Besides, Brics countries already have a strong presence in developmental initiatives, specially in Africa. Would the rise of a new bureaucracy and a new process be so much more helpful?
Not to mention the challenge of internal coordination. The Brics are a great brand, but they mean very little as a group beyond defying the West management of the global financial architecture. Brics compete amongst themselves and are found more often than not on opposing sides of foreign policy. This banking idea is barely a plan and it has already led to rivalries: China expressed in not so subtle a tone the desire to occupy its presidency, which bothered Brazil (afraid of of Chinese dominance) and India (which wanted a rotation of the future chairmen).
If the new bank the Brics envision changed the way development is addressed, it could be a good thing. The danger is of manufacturing another institution to replicate the same problems we see elsewhere today.
Posts by Region
Posts by Topic
- December 2013 (3)
- November 2013 (8)
- October 2013 (12)
- September 2013 (14)
- August 2013 (13)
- July 2013 (13)
- June 2013 (15)
- May 2013 (13)
- April 2013 (13)
- March 2013 (19)
- February 2013 (21)
- January 2013 (16)
- December 2012 (12)
- November 2012 (14)
- October 2012 (21)
- September 2012 (21)
- August 2012 (8)
- July 2012 (13)
- June 2012 (17)
- May 2012 (6)
- April 2012 (9)
- March 2012 (16)
- February 2012 (20)
- January 2012 (13)
- December 2011 (10)
- November 2011 (14)
- October 2011 (19)
- September 2011 (25)
- August 2011 (10)
- July 2011 (16)
- June 2011 (14)
- May 2011 (14)
- April 2011 (16)
- March 2011 (20)
- February 2011 (15)
- January 2011 (24)
- December 2010 (16)
- November 2010 (24)
- October 2010 (27)
- September 2010 (17)
- August 2010 (42)
- July 2010 (40)
- June 2010 (65)
- May 2010 (72)
- April 2010 (38)
- March 2010 (18)
- February 2010 (32)
- January 2010 (46)
- December 2009 (45)
- November 2009 (38)
- October 2009 (15)
- September 2009 (24)
- August 2009 (11)
- February 2009 (1)
Who we like
- AfPak Channel
- CIPE Blog
- Countries at the Crossroads
- Cyrus Samii
- Democracy Arsenal
- Democracy Dialogue
- Democracy Digest
- Democracy Resource Center
- EITI Blog
- Fruits and Votes
- Global Voices Online
- One Blog
- Open Budgets Blog
- Open Democracy
- Policy and Power
- Progressive Realist
- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Blogs
- Space for Transparency
- The Coming Prosperity
- The Democratic Piece
- The International Jurist
- The Kaufmann Governance Post
- United Nations Democracy Fund