Hope for Somalia?

Mogadishu, Somalia

Mogadishu in wilder days, prior to the African Union peacemaking mission. Photo credit: ctsnow (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Al-Shabab is in retreat. The country has a new president respected by many at home and abroad. Foreign donors are pledging significant new aid. Peace is taking hold in larger portions of the country. This is a season of hope in Somalia. Or, at least it seems that way to outside observers.

But what are Somalis envisioning for their future? Are ordinary people eager for a federal system held together by a Mogadishu-based central government? The new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has impressed Britain, America, and other key states with his rhetoric about a decentralized political system. No significant tasks have yet been completed on the path to a federal Somalia.

Like Afghanistan, Somalia does seem to be an appropriate candidate for shared power between local and national governments. Both countries have long histories marked by intense political loyalties rooted in local communities. Both countries have cultural foundations in pastoral lifeways.

In the case of war-ravaged Afghanistan, federalism is the road not taken. The Hamid Karzai era has been one of centralized political power, backed by foreign military might and international aid.

In Somalia, President Mohamud may yet prove skeptics wrong by pursuing and constructing a democratic federal system in this failed state. Developing a federal structure is hard, even in more favorable environments than Somalia. To succeed, federations need strong momentum in favor of democracy and the rule of law. And decentralized systems require particularly strong courts, in order to sort out power struggles between local governments and the central government.

Putting all of these challenges aside, it is still not clear that most Somalis want a modern state—federal or otherwise. Western governments, the African Union, and the UN may all desire a reconstructed Somali state. Perhaps most Somalis continue to see the modern state taking more than it gives. If that perception continues to hold sway at the grassroots level, maybe the latest state building effort in the Horn of Africa is just old wine in new wineskins. I welcome feedback from those on the ground in Somalia.

Corruption Kills … and Other Signs

Effective states are marked by a strong respect for the rule of law. Corruption undermines a culture of respect for the rule of law. Instead, government decisions – both big and small – are shaped by corrupt practices. Or, in the case of “grand corruption,” senior officials simply help themselves to public resources in unlawful ways. In the end, though, all states – even the most effective ones – face a perpetual struggle against graft and official thievery. The images below provide some snapshots of anti-corruption campaigns in places as diverse as Detroit, India, and Uganda.

Corruption Complaint Box in India

An ironic shot (2007) from the Indian-controlled portion of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Photo credit: watchsmart (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

"Corruption Kills" sign in Uganda

This sign from Uganda says it all. When corruption results in ineffective governance, it is indeed deadly. Photo credit: futureatlas.com (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Anti-corruption Poster from Nigeria

What does it mean to inhabit a “corruption-free zone”? Photo credit: jbracken (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

A Protest Sticker in Detroit

Corruption is universal, as this sticker from Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. suggests. Photo credit: CAVE CANEM (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Anti-corruption Stop Sign

A simple, but powerful statement of civil disobedience. Photo credit: Naberacka (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

The Sweetest Moments for Democracies (and Elections in Failed States)

Obama won, again. Americans were prepared for a long election night, and the potential for a repeat of the Bush versus Gore (2000) counting process. And, despite many (deepening) flaws in America’s democracy, Mitt Romney provided us another of democracy’s sweetest moments at the end of a hard-fought presidential election. Like the losing candidates before him, he conceded defeat and respected the rules of the game. In too many fledgling democracies and weak states, electoral losers do not accept defeat, even when it is legitimate.

Before we move on to challenges of democratization in developing countries, it is worth noting briefly the current challenges to democratic governance in the United States. It is important that Americans and others recognize that the U.S.A. is not necessarily the model democracy that it once was. Here are just a few of the key issues plaguing the American polity:

  • The inability of Congress and the president to seek common ground on big issues facing the country.
  • Rising incivility among citizens and elected officials alike.
  • An electoral system awash in money, and the corrupting influence of that money.
  • Gerrymandered legislative districts, leading to a disconnect between citizens and lawmakers, as well as a more polarized debate.

Although democracy in the United States is not in full health, respect for electoral process is alive and well. If only it were so in many transitional democracies of Africa and Asia.

Laurent Gbagbo

The former president of Cote d’Ivoire refused to leave office in 2010 after his electoral defeat. Gbagbo’s intransigence led to additional armed conflict in this West African state. Photo credit: Paterne (Creative Commons license).

Why is accepting electoral defeat so difficult in new democracies? Let us count the reasons:

  1. Elections are often held under conditions that are not fair. Ruling parties often appoint biased officials who oversee voting. Media coverage is often slanted in favor of those in power. And so on.
  2. Electoral defeat in poor countries often leads to significant loss of income for losers. Mitt Romney will almost certainly make more money outside the White House. Not so for the elites who lose elections in many developing countries. Access to public offices – including the pay, perks, and potential for corrupt dealings – affords huge material opportunities for politicians.
  3. Electoral losers – both elites and ordinary citizens – may face persecution from the winning side.

In the recent decade, numerous states have descended farther into state weakness or failure after disputed elections. Notable cases include: Madagascar (2002), Zimbabwe (2008), and Cote d’Ivoire (2010).

On the other hand, principled and courageous politicians – such as those in Ghana – can sometimes choose sweet democratic moments, and gracefully concede defeat.

What are your thoughts about elections around the world? Could the international community do more to help electoral losers concede defeat?

Drunk on Power: Zimbabwe’s Mugabe

At independence in 1980, Zimbabwe (formerly known as Rhodesia) had many advantages. And, despite some domestic tragedies and the turmoil in neighboring South Africa, the 1980s were a decade of development progress for this former bread basket of southern Africa. Zimbabwe muddled through the 1990s, mostly living off the gains of the previous decade. In the 2000s, however, Zimbabwe descended into state failure, largely because of the power drunk rule of Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party. Remarkably, after 32 years in power, Mugabe is attempting to prolong his tenure in elections planned for 2013.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Mugabe and his ZANU-PF cronies were anti-colonial revolutionaries and Marxists. Despite heightened tensions with the white minority population at independence, Mugabe initially chose a path of racial reconciliation and gained international goodwill. But, as Martin Meredith recounts in his excellent biography, Mugabe, the democrat-turned-dictator was fully exploiting the race card by the early 2000s. Like so many other power drunk “big men,” Mugabe settled on a governing program of regime survival at all costs.

In the 2000s, the ZANU-PF government pursued policies that led to state decay and economic collapse. A “land reform” program abruptly transferred productive farmland from white commercial farmers to blacks, but many of the key beneficiaries were well-connected Mugabe cronies. The government imposed crippling price controls on most consumer goods. Excessive printing of the national currency, flight of foreign capital, and general economic mismanagement led to other-worldly hyperinflation and the official abandonment of the Zimbabwean Dollar in early 2009. And, opponents of ZANU-PF were forcibly relocated from Harare urban districts, denied emergency food aid, and otherwise repressed by Mugabe’s thugs. As much as one-quarter of Zimbabwe’s population fled the country.

In economic terms, the situation in the country has stabilized since 2009, roughly coincident with abandonment of the national currency and the introduction of a nominally power-sharing government. Inflation is now in the single digits. Zimbabwe has registered economic growth of 5-10 percent over the last few years, and per capita incomes have roughly doubled, though from the very low annual number of $300. Adult life expectancy has risen from 43 years (2004) to 51 years.

Even so, Mugabe is a tyrant posing as a democrat. At one time he was a hero. But that time has long passed. The Southern African Development Community, the rest of the international community, and freedom-loving Zimbabweans should send “Uncle Bob” packing.

The singer Johnny Clegg got it right in his song “The Revolution Will Eat Its Children (Anthem for Uncle Bob)”:

He’s a leader, talks of freedom
He knows the power of the Big Idea
He’s a dealer, he’s a seeker
Of the power that comes from fear
He gave his life to the party machine
Holding on to a secret dream
He knows better than anyone
Power comes from the barrel of a gun

And he’s rising up against them now
And he’s rising up in country and town
Rising up against them now, rising up

Business Environments in Failed States

Though it has many critics, the World Bank Group fulfills many key roles in the global system. One key role is provision of data to policy makers, citizens, and investors. One closely watched index is the “Doing Business” survey, which assesses how easy it is to start and operate a company in different countries. The index formally measures 10 indicators. Examples of these indicators include: ease of registering a new firm; accessibility of consistent electricity supply; credit availability; ease of trading across international borders; and the quality of courts. Each country receives an ordinal ranking, between 1 and 183, and a lower number indicates greater ease of doing business.

The Doing Business survey is another important way to assess the effectiveness of governance in various parts of the globe. While it is possible to have a middle ranking and still achieve strong economic growth (e.g. China, Brazil), states that perform poorly on this survey are generally stagnant. Following is a list of the worst 20 performers, starting from the very bottom:

Chad (183rd out of 183 states), Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo,

Eritrea, Guinea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Venezuela, Guinea-Bissau, Benin,

Haiti, Niger, Angola, Zimbabwe, Djibouti, Burundi, Timor Leste (East Timor),

Cote d’Ivoire, Uzbekistan, Laos, and Iraq.

Many of these bottom 20 states have already been directly highlighted elsewhere in this blog. All on this list, however, have been indirectly discussed. Common struggles include: authoritarian tendencies in governance, lack of the rule of law, high levels of corruption, poor infrastructure, and arbitrary judicial proceedings.

Even so, some critically weak or failed states perform somewhat better on this World Bank survey. Though hardly excelling, Afghanistan is just outside the bottom 20, at 160th. Pakistan has a middle ranking (105th), and Nigeria (133rd) has made some significant progress since the end of military rule in 1999.

Other low-income and/or modestly weak states also perform fairly well in the ranking. These include: Georgia (16th), Colombia (42nd), Rwanda (45th), Mexico (53rd), Ghana (63rd), and Zambia (84th).

What are your thoughts about the Doing Business survey? Is it a helpful tool for assessing governmental effectiveness? Is the survey unduly biased towards free market-oriented principles? Do you have personal reflections that relate to doing business abroad?

*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.