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.
A few recent articles on Wukan’s elections and their aftermath touched on recurring themes of democratic development. Reaching beyond the People’s Republic and their experiments in democratic governance, these themes extend to shifts in governance and popular expectations contrasted by bureaucratic realities. In Wukan as in other places around the world, the hopes and exhilaration of the public continue to be muted by the often gradual nature of democratic change.
The protests and push toward elections in Wukan were fueled in part by disputes over land rights, claims of corruption, and the capture of public resources by private enterprise. Villagers perceived self-governance as a path toward addressing the problem as others have in several other locations in Guangdong province including the nearby village of Shangpu. Once newly elected officials were in place it was, expected that in short order these property issues would be resolved.
Unfortunately change is rarely as swift as those who demand it might hope. Promises made during elections, even if made in good faith, are often riddled with challenges in implementation. All too often the resulting failure to bring about swift change and reparation for perceived ills is viewed as a flaw in Democracy rather than just a reality of governance.
Interesting parallels might be drawn between the situation in Guangdong and our slow (when functioning) US system with its tendency to mute change. I like many others, am often quick to judge elected officials, particularly those responsible for legislation. Yet often I’m sure my expectations stretch well beyond the realm of reason, particularly with relation to the speed of institutional change.
In 2008 the nation, particularly young adults were jubilant over the election of President Obama. The sea of successes and frustrations of the past few years have likely gone a long way toward reinforcing some of the worst assertions of those who see democratic participation as pointless, yet how many of our expectations four years ago were truly reasonable?
More recently the election of Elizabeth Warren has gained my attention as one of the high marks of potential change among our representatives. As with the President however I often find myself wondering just how much Senator Warren really is capable of changing and/or fixing the systematic flaws which landed us in our current economic mess. In states near and far striving toward democratic governance, the challenge of the electorate’s expectations rears its head time and again.
These expectations and the gulf between campaign promises and political reality present real problems for those who would govern. Particularly once the realization sets in that not all that a politician promises on the campaign trail will ever come to fruition. There is the decision of whether it would be best to limit the goals set in advance and potentially lose an election, or push wild promises with the hope that the public will understand failures after election. Is there a way to mitigate the expectations of the electorate without dampening faith and trust in the system?
This week has been one of the most agitated for the Mexican press: on Tuesday, the leader of the public schools teachers’ union (SNTE), Elba Esther Gordillo, was detained under charges of embezzlement, and money laundering.
La Maestra (the Professor), as she is more widely known, had been for 24 years the head of the union that frequently is referred to as the largest in Latin America, measured by number of members. She was the intermediary between the government and elementary and high school professors, obtaining substantial benefits for them. Among these are secure teaching positions (not subject to firing due to bad performance), better salaries than those of other state workers of similar hierarchical level (the Constitution establishes that the state will offer free education; thus, it hires professors, considering them bureaucrats), personal favors, and, to the leaders of sections of the union, paid cruises, deluxe cars (after a meeting she gave away 59 Hummers), or iPads. Otherwise said, it was an almost textbook example of a patrimonial union founded on the fees required from unionized teachers.
Next to this, as leader of the teachers Gordillo had an enormous negotiation power in education policy affairs, having the last word in relevant decisions, ranging from which professor would be appointed to what school, or the design of the curricula for elementary and high schools. What is more, during the administration of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) despite major criticism her son-in-law was appointed Under Secretary of Public Education (allegedly, in exchange of the support she, by means of SNTE, gave to Calderón’s campaign).
In addition to a charismatic personality, her power can be better understood as deriving from the position the SNTE had in the old PRI authoritarian regime. The party had three major support groups: peasants, workers, and bureaucrats, each of them organized in a union. By large, that of state workers consisted mostly of teachers. Usually, top members of each of those unions had high positions within the party or were elected to the Chamber of Deputies. Given the privileged access to resources they could enjoy, either they became powerful allies to the President, or enemies. In fact, Gordillo arrived to the leadership of SNTE because the government (arguably, President Carlos Salinas gave the instruction to do so) deposed its previous head, Carlos Jongitud. Gordillo then established a close relationship with the government and the PRI, being its Secretary General and member of the Chamber of Deputies in 2003. However, the president of the party, Roberto Madrazo, decided not to support the fiscal reform initiative she was working in alongside President Vicente Fox (2000-2006), who belonged to another party. The quarrel reached such a level that she was expelled from the PRI under the pretext of treason; in 2005, she introduced a new party.
No one thinks that the arrest of Gordillo was undeserved or unjustified. Very frequently she showed off that she adored using clothes and accessories from designers whose products were well beyond the reach of the salary of any teacher (allegedly, she spent 3 million dollars in the Neiman Marcus store, paid with a credit card). Furthermore, the governments of Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón (both members of the opposition National Action Party) have received critiques for not having acted against her.
The only problem in the arrest is, as was common during the authoritarian regime under the PRI, the political use of justice. Days before the detention, President Peña Nieto (from the PRI) presented a new education law, to which Gordillo fiercely opposed. Now behind the bars, she will represent no problem. This mirrors the detention in 1989 of the leader of Pemex (the state-owned oil company) workers’ union, Joaquín Hernández, reportedly because he was against the privatization reforms the government was implementing. Hernández, just like Gordillo, was a patrimonialist union leader. The current leader of the Pemex workers’ union, Carlos Romero Deschamps (again, member of the Chamber of Deputies for the PRI), is thought of being guilty of embezzlement. The question is: will Gordillo’s detention be a single case, or will corrupt union leaders be targeted?
This month, but particularly the last days, Tunisia has faced a major political upheaval. First, it was the assassination of the secular opposition politician Chokri Belaid, generating suspicion against Islamist parties. A special target was Ennhada, that to which the Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali belonged to and which has the largest share of seats in Parliament. Next, there was a conflict between the secularist party Congress for the Republic and Ennhada because the former wanted some cabinet members to be removed under allegations of bad performance. Then, it came a proposal from the Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali to replace all the cabinet with technocrat (and, supposedly, politically neutral) ministers. He said that if this suggestion was rejected, he would quit. And the suggestion was rejected, mainly by his own party, apparently because he made such comprise without any previous consultation. So he quit. Now, Ennhada will have to pick one of its members for the position of Secretary General, thus becoming the new Prime Minister. Its leader, Rached Ghannouchi, said they will try to replace the moderate Jebali with someone more conservative.
This chain of events has raised concerns about the present and future of Tunisia’s political system. About its present, because it was largely believed that this country was an example for other Arab Spring countries to follow. The previous authoritarian ruler was ousted, elections were held, a Constituent Assembly is functioning, and a coalition government was installed. Therefore, there were reasons to think that the institutions necessary for a democratic regime were obtaining sound foundations. The relative facility with which the government has fallen prompts to think twice about the commitment of national political actors to the advancements made towards democracy. The future of Tunisia comes into question because another government must emerge from the Assembly that is currently working on the Constitution. With the same correlation of parties with which the previous cabinet fell down, will a new one come about? If not, apparently the option to consider is elections. Will a new Constitutional Assembly take over the work on the Constitution? What will happen to the articles already drafted and agreed upon?
Of course, no part of the previous discussion includes a suggestion that the transition and democratic institution building processes in Tunisia are now under severe threat. That is a central feature of parliamentarian regimes: allow for a government to leave if it comes to a gridlock. The risk is what replaces it. As has happened in other times and places, Ennhada can present itself as the only party with sufficient capacity to bring order back to the country, while using an expected wider support to push for its Islamist policies, driving the country away from democracy. However, this last sentence is speculation. Political regimes can be thought of as rules to solve problems of power distribution. Now, the problem is that a new government must be formed, and that the Constitution is still pending. The way in which this issue is dealt with can be seen as a test on how firm is the ground on which democratic institutions are being built in Tunisia.
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.
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