Does Democracy Deliver Development?

Does Democracy Deliver Development?

In the mountains of Afghanistan, American capitalism won its jihad against Soviet communism. Moscow’s tentacles could no longer cling onto those imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain. The Velvet Revolution set Czechoslovakia ablaze. The Berlin Wall fell. The end of history was proclaimed. Fukuyama predicted that the marriage between liberal democracy and free market would an end to absolute poverty. While liberal democracy has reached all corners of the globe, few countries are lands of milk of honey.

Democracy must stand up to scrutiny. Tal Tyagi attempts to explain why South Africa has resided over rampant poverty in spite of consistently having fair elections since the fall of apartheid while Eritrea has been one of the fastest growing economies on the planet despite having never held elections.

The demographics of Africa’s horn are far more conducive to development than the sub-tropical south. Contemporary South Africa was forged in the wake of anti-apartheid struggle while Eritrea was born in the wake of a three-decade liberation struggle against Ethiopia.

The overriding shared circumstance is the timing of their independence, 1993 and 1994 respectively. This was at the height of what is known as ‘democracy’s third wave’ where all across the globe, democracy surpassed dictatorship as the dominant form of governance. Thanks to this global shift, we now live in a world where there are well over a hundred democracies. The prosperity this promised can be tested by comparing one nation which embraced the zeitgeist and the other which rejected it.

©Wasfi Akab/Creative Commons License
©Wasfi Akab/Creative Commons License

In South Africa, albeit amidst ferocious political violence, free elections were held in 1994. The incredible 95% voter turnout demonstrated popular confidence in the process. However, democratisation did not save the South African economy from violent decline. Between 1987 and 1995 mining shred 30% of its workforce and employment levels in gold and coal shrank by 35% and 45% respectively.

Alternatively, and ironically, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front renamed itself the Popular Front for Democracy and Justice in 2001. This cosmetic change was followed by the cancelling of scheduled elections, the banning of opposition and closure of all independent media. Nonetheless, Eritrea could boast a stunning 7% GDP growth while South Africa’s was only 0.6%.

Democracy in South Africa has not solved endemic unemployment despite all parties running on a platform of job creation. The last figures indicate that unemployment is at a shocking 24.9% in South Africa, compared to a respectable 6.3% in Eritrea.

Could democracy be the sacrificial lamb that the ‘third world’ needs to toss to the slaughter?

The electoral arena seems to reward slogans and charisma over carefully considered policies. Being electible does not guarantee the ability to handle public policy, this is reflected by President Mbeki’s questioning of the link between HIV and AIDS and the fact that in 2012, 6.1 million people were infected. In Eritrea HIV rates have halved and only 0.8% of the population are infected. Amazingly, this is even lower than HIV prevalence in Washington DC!

African post-colonial scholar, Mugyenyi, provides a potential explanation for the failures of democracy despite the myriad causal promises made: ‘developing countries are wobbly in their foundations… In these conditions, open democratic politics can be divisive and destabilizing because society lacks social cohesion.’ Despite being made up of nine different ethnic groups, having nine languages and being half Muslim, half Christian, no major inborn conflict has ever occurred. Contrastingly racial tension in South Africa is rife, something illustrated by Kayum Ahmed (CEO of the South Africa Human Rights Commission): ‘Race remains a critical issue for all of us as South Africans…’ The rise of white supremacism reflects the sentiment that the new order only represents the black majority.

©David Stanley/Creative Commons License

Other scholars believe the economic virtues of dictatorship arise out of their capacity to insulate themselves from special interests, such as large firms or unions. Symbiosis between big business and the state is alive and well in South Africa. Lobbying and veto powers wielded by capital are a major source of corruption and ultimately, a major impediment to development.

Marais, expert in South African political economy, cites that ‘by 1996 the ANC government’s economic policy was geared to service the aspirations of the emerging black bourgeoisie at the expense of the impoverished majority’s hope for a less iniquitous social order.’ The ANC has moved into the pockets of black billionaires such as Patrice Motsepe – platinum magnate and major party benefactor. Democracy may have swept away the old apartheid system but it has not prevented wealth apartheid.

Policy-making in Eritrea is seemingly insultated from damaging economic interests of the market. The policy of ‘self-reliant development’ revolves around instrumental intervention of the sovereign state’s highly selective engagement with foreign investment. Proof this development model works lies in Eritrea’s position as one of only four countries to have achieved six of the eight millennium development goals.

Qualities of technocratic expertise, cohesion and self-reliance realised by the marriage of state-capitalism to ruthless authoritarianism is by no means isolated to the Horn of Africa. In the sixties, Eritrean dictator, Isaias Afwerki, received training in China (itself a country which has brought millions out of poverty without liberal democracy) and now his regime is something of a satellite state. The growth this model has managed to deliver is not something to be overlooked in a world where basic needs such as clean water, food and electricity are still unaccessible for millions.

Overall, if liberal democracy is to ride the storm of the 21st century, leaders need to ensure a functioning civil service which is capable of managing rather than just promising policy. Structures that guard against the tyranny of the majority have to be strengthened and the prostitution of governments to special interests must come to an end. However, the case for democracy can no longer be made as an economic one. If it is to be defended, it should be defended on spiritual grounds, on the grounds of human dignity.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The $17 trillion handshake: 7th BRICS Summit and the week that was

The $17 trillion handshake: 7th BRICS Summit and the week that was

With the stage set in the capital city of Ufa, Bashkortostan, there was excitement and anticipation in the air. As the EU attempted to reach an agreement on how best to deal with Greece,Mridulya Narasimhan explores the BRICS leaders meeting in Ufa on the 6-7 July. 

Why they matter, why now?

Once seen as an incongruous body with no standing, the BRICS now seem to increasingly be gaining everyone’s attention. Google Trends shows the word ‘BRICS’ increased its search history 12 times between July 2015 to July 2015.

In 2007, the US economy was double that of BRICS – as of last year, the combined BRICS economic output almost equalled U.S’s GDP. Individually, these nations have had their share of stagnations but their collective contribution to global GDP only continues to rise.

But BRICS is not just another economic bloc with the sole intentions of harnessing trade relations- the summit was indicative of an economic partnership between nations as well as a strategic alliance with intent to develop long-term diplomatic ties. With India-China border tensions, China’s closeness to Pakistan, Russia at loggerheads with the West while India reaches out to them, there is little homogeneity amongst the member nations. What seems to however hold them together is the realisation of their growing importance and the common goal of shifting the locus of control away from the West.

©GovernmentZA/Creative Commons License
©GovernmentZA/Creative Commons License

The BRICS solution to break the West’s (including IMF and the Bank) economic monopoly is plain and simple – introducing competition. Headquartered in Shanghai, the New Development Bank finished its first board meeting and will soon be operational to lend internationally. Headed by India’s K.V Kamath, the bank is set to start off with a capital of $50 billion which will be hiked to $ 100 billion in less than two years.

India – The odd man out

India seems like they might be caught between a rock and a hard place. China and Russia see the BRICS as an instrument to do away with the US hegemony while India is looking forward to a new-found albeit tactical ‘friendship’ with the US. Russian relations with the United States have reached boiling point a few times in the recent past.

China too has been in loggerheads with the US over maritime disputes in the South China Sea with the latter alleging that China’s strategic moves are provocative in nature. The relation is no better off between Brazil and US after it was recently made public by Wikileaks that the US intelligence has kept surveillance over President Dilma Rousseff and her aides. It will certainly be interesting to see how India manages to earn its keep at BRICS while continuing to forge a relationship with the U.S.

The new economic order – or just another ‘BRIC’ in the wall?

Without doubt, BRICS seems to make for a great example as far as unity in diversity is concerned. But what does not go unnoticed is also that these nations are not on the same page as far as agendas are perhaps concerned.

Brazil, India and South Africa are thriving democracies while China and Russia are believers of vigilance; wary of liberal ideas and open markets. With such different ideologies, the one main common thread that remains is the trade economics and development.

©GovernmentZA/Creative Commons License
©GovernmentZA/Creative Commons License

Another key question that remains unanswered is where does China’s priority lie? It remains to be seen how China will choose to prioritise the BRICS agenda as China’s main priority is the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank. With BRICS members also being a part of the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank and India and Russia being its second and third largest stakeholders, there seems to be a clear conflict of interest as so which institution shall get priority and the active role China chooses to undertake with regard to BRICS is yet to be seen.

The BRICS members have made it clear time and again that inclusive growth, economic prosperity and transparency are its raison d’être. But what is yet to be clarified is how much say each nation will have? Brazil, Russia and India will contribute $18 billion each, South Africa $5 billion and China intends to contribute $41 billion to the New Development Bank – a clear indication of their financial clout. If these numbers are anything to go by, goes without saying that key decisions will most certainly be influenced by China.

Lastly, even with this new economic order in place there, none of the nations presented a very clear plan of how to take things forward. Although, India did manage to present a ‘ten-step program’, the initiatives that include a soccer tournament, audit cooperation, a film festival etc. seem more like team-building exercises with little significance.

It is far too early to know what the future holds for BRICS but the summit is certainly a step closer to BRICS acknowledging its potential. These nations, together, can either develop a strong esprit de corps or can be the reason why BRICS, like many others before them, fades into oblivion.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Justice and Reconciliation slipping away in the trial of the Khmer Rouge

Justice and Reconciliation slipping away in the trial of the Khmer Rouge

On 7 July 2015 International Co-Investigating Judge Mark Harmon became the fourth international judge to resign from the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia. The Tribunal is investigating the role played by former Khmer Rouge officials in systematic violations of international law, including genocide and crimes against humanity. Here, Lewis Wotherspoon discusses the continued failures to bring members of the Khmer Rouge to justice.

In a statement Mr Harmon stressed that his reasons for stepping down were “strictly personal” but in a case dogged by corruption and cries of foul play this assertion cannot be taken at face value. Indeed local police have recently refused to act on an arrest warrant issued by Harmon against suspect Meas Muth charged with crimes against humanity.

©533338296/Creative Commons License
©533338296/Creative Commons License

Once upon a time the war crimes tribunal in Cambodia was compared loftily to the Nuremburg Trials of the Nazi top brass, but today, 9 years and a mere 3 convictions later the UN backed court has descended into farce. The Cambodian Government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge recruit is keen to silence the trials as he fears Cambodia would descend into anarchy.

Hun Sen is perhaps genuinely keen to avoid the opening up of old wounds but many have noted it is the fear that many within Hun Sen’s who previously belonged to the Khmer Rouge could be implicated in proceeding. It is worth noting that Mr Hun Sen, who has been in power for 27 years has previously issued apocalyptic warnings that if he were to die or be beaten at the ballot box (a fate not likely) the country would be plunged into a bloody civil war.

Despite Hun Sen’s stark warnings the real Cambodian Civil War occurred between 1967 and 1975 and brought to power the genocidal government of Pol Pot, which went on to kill a quarter of the country through a policy of displacement, starvation, torture and execution.

The tragedy of the current court debacle is that there is widespread domestic appetite for substantive trials to take place and an international guarantor in the form of the UN ready and willing to assist in the deliverance of justice.

In South Africa, after the fall of apartheid the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up to shine a light into the horrors of white minority rule. Victims were able to give harrowing testimonies of the violence and discrimination meted out and had the opportunity to address the perpetrators in person. Despite the TRC failing to properly recompense victims and victim’s families it was still generally seen as a positive step towards national forgiveness.

Again, after the genocide in Rwanda where between 500,000-1,000,000 were killed in just 100 days with machetes and garden tools, there was a process of popular justice and reconciliation. Like South Africa the Rwandan process has not inflamed grievances but rather eroded them. Although like in South Africa there has also been a distinctive lack of financial compensation and restitution.

©H. Michael Karshis/Creative Commons License
©H. Michael Karshis/Creative Commons License

What is clear is that a legal process where justice is seen to be done can have a role in healing societal division. That’s not to say it is a solution in itself- justice in the courts should work in conjunction with a policy which ensures economic justice as well. It is the economic aspect which the newly democratic South Africa failed to address and as such there has been no land redistribution and many of the systematised advantages that whites enjoyed under apartheid remain to this day. This is not an argument for a “pact of forgetting” policy as pursued by Spain and advocated by the Cambodian regime but rather a blueprint for the construction of a better resolution.

The problem in Cambodia is that, Sen’s government which is littered with former Khmer officials, would be happy to see the UN pack up and leave. In the negotiations which set up the court Kofni Annan, then General Secretary of the UN pushed for an international court free from the interferences of Cambodian politicians. The compromise was a hybrid court- composed of both international and Cambodia judges.  This has left the Cambodian Government with the  free reign to pressure and influence proceedings.

Despite the international community’s relative inability to guide the proceedings without infringing on Cambodia’s sovereignty we can still ensure the state’s financial reparations program is fully funded. Reparations are of course not just about financial payments and a recent announcement by the government which commits it to a national commemoration day and the inclusion of Khmer Rouge atrocities in the education curriculum is of course to be welcomed.

The defendants on trial in Cambodia are now all well into their 80’s and suffering from ill-health. One has recently died and another, Leng Thirith was declared unfit to stand trial due to Alzheimer’s disease. Time is of the essence and if there is not a renewed international effort to pressure the Cambodian Government as well as commit to further reparations funding, the Cambodian people, almost all of whom were affected personally by the killings, will lose their shot at justice.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Fifa: Any positives?

Fifa: Any positives?

Fifa has been caught in the eye of a media storm that raises allegations of corruption, tax evasion, and bribery. Our Blog Editor, Joe Corry-Roake, examines the Fifa scandal with regards to the philanthropic work the organisation has done in the past. 

©blogcpolitic /Creative Commons License
©blogcpolitic /Creative Commons License

Within the space of a week, Sepp Blatter was both re-elected as Fifa President, and subsequently resigned. Blatter was able to be elected because during his time as President, FIFA have given a lot of money to help the development of less established parts of the globe by investing in both football and social projects. While there has of course been some corruption and not all of the money has necessarily gone where it should have gone, comparisons can certainly be made with other areas of ‘aid giving’ where money is frequently lost or utilised as ‘operating’ money or to grease the wheels.

Fifa argues that football provides money for local grassroots initiatives and also encourages countries to put on youth tournaments that are a source of national pride and can help develop infrastructure. The World Cup in South Africa in 2010 was seen as a big opportunity for a country to show all of the good that they have to offer to a global audience (even if the legacy suggests a lot of the money that was spent was wasted on vanity projects with little thought to usage in the longer term).

Not only can this pride be potentially beneficial in bringing investment and other resources into the country, but Fifa goes to great lengths to show other positive benefits of sport, such as in peace-building efforts. Blatter recently stated that “the World Cup in Russia [in 2018] will be able to stabilise all the situation in this region of Europe that is suffering now.” If this is true then you have to give Fifa huge credit from transforming a game widely criticised and condemned during the 1980’s due to its links with violence and hooliganism into one which can succeed in building bridges where nothing has has succeeded.

However, despite these successes, the promotion of this positive aspect of the game of football can be seen as just a tool to grow the consensus of the intrinsic good of their product. In doing so they not only enhance their own image but encourage greater investment from corporate sponsors who can claim to not only support a leisure activity but also a social good. This positive public relations exercise spins the game which is becoming increasingly commercialised into a new phenomenon far less open to criticism.

Furthermore, while the amount of money being put into those less developed footballing nations is increasing, most of the large footballing  “event’s main direct benefits, from television and marketing rights, all go to FIFA.” These are then said to be shared around the ‘football family’ but as can be seen in Brazil and South Africa, they have just been left with white elephant projects.

©Marko Forsten /Creative Commons License
©Marko Forsten /Creative Commons License

Blatter has now stepped down but this doesn’t mean that the continued use of backhanders and pandering to countries and individuals to gain votes will cease. What instead needs to happen is a realisation and an understanding that football does have great potential to make a real and tangible difference to people’s lives but this is only if it is used correctly. For example, Fifa-sponsored programmes in Liberia are said to not only help improve individuals self confidence and health benefits of partaking in exercise, but also being “the vehicle that can bring unity for our [Liberian] people.” This is just one example of a grassroots attempt which is complemented by the use of famous sporting stars lending their name and their brand to worthy causes. Between 2011 and 2014, Fifa’s income totaled almost $6 Billion USD with 4 billion of these coming from the Brazil World Cup.

This money combined with the huge potential reach of football – with 3.5 billion fans and 250 million people worldwide playing the game at either a professional or amateur level – is a huge opportunity for the next president not only to clean up the internal mechanisms of Fifa but also to recognise that, despite the potential of football to be a real force for good, simply expressing this as rhetoric is not enough. Football is not an intrinsic good but it can be of great instrumental value; giving access and opportunities to people all over the world and acting as a unifying force.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Taming the rhino: is farming the future of conservation?

Taming the rhino: is farming the future of conservation?

A rhino’s horn is its worst enemy, with poaching levels rising uncontrollably to supply the lucrative international black market. On International Day for Biological Diversity 2014, Sean Mowbray examines whether legalising the hunt could save Africa’s endangered rhinoceros species from extinction.

 

Three men walk through the undergrowth, two carrying high-powered rifles. In the distance the rhino is spotted. The first shooter calmly takes aim and fires. The rhino’s high-pitched squeal is heart-wrenching as it struggles to escape and further shots pound into its body. The gigantic animal crashes to the ground, another victim of the rampant poaching epidemic afflicting Southern Africa.

Rhino horn in packaging
Two rhino horns wrapped in cling film and hidden within a fake sculpture, confiscated by the UK Home Office. © UK Home Office/Creative Commons license

The trade in rhino species and their parts has been prohibited internationally since 1977. However, poaching rates in South Africa have hit record levels for the past six consecutive years (1004 individuals in 2013), a trend that – if it continues – would see the species become extinct in the wild by 2020. Driven by high demand in Asia, particularly in China and Vietnam, supply is maintained by sophisticated organised crime syndicates. One kilo of horn can reportedly fetch prices of up to $65,000, higher than the equivalent weight of gold and heroin.

In the face of this escalating problem, the South African government is currently deliberating submitting a proposal to legalise the trade at the next Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) meeting in 2016. The exact details of the planned proposal are vague but broadly envisage the creation of rhino ‘farms’, where the horns can be removed humanely from captive rhinos and then sold through registered traders. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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New Year’s Resolutions: Mandela’s Lessons

New Year’s Resolutions: Mandela’s Lessons

Historical figures pass away, but the world – after mourning – moves on. As we enter the second month of 2014, Sabrina Marsh examines what today’s political leaders can learn from the legacy of the late Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela by David Flores
© JulieFaith/Creative Commons

Nelson Mandela was a worldwide symbol of the apartheid struggle and a key transformative figure of the last century. As the world continues to pay tribute to one of the great leaders in human history, Africa’s heads of state should use this period of reflection to learn from his legacy. Mandela taught the world much about leadership, forgiveness and courage. However, we must recognise, too, his inevitable limitations. Africa faces many challenges: the people of South Africa, and Africa as a whole, continue to suffer from internal violence and economic dislocation, and pressing poverty remains. The continent’s leaders would do well to take on board these three resolutions for 2014. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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