Why autocrats should fear protest-led revolts more than ever

carapicoNew research investigating the fall of dictators has uncovered some interesting data: in the past decade, autocratic leaders have become more vulnerable to popular revolt and less so to insider-led coups, the most common way dictators have exited power in recent history, says the International Republican Institute’s Brian Braun.

A number of academic studies have identified the downward trend in coups since their height in the 1960s and 70s, but academics have only recently begun to investigate the modes of exit that have replaced them, he writes for Muftah.org.

The research, authored by Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz, not only presents insightful data on the prospects for democracy in post-autocratic societies, but also offers democracy assistance implementers new ways of thinking about how to best support reform-minded activists living in authoritarian societies.

Adapted from a study conducted by Milan Svolik, the authors’ research examines whether revolts that overthrow dictators are short-term exceptions to conventional wisdom that autocrats are most susceptible to coups. The data reveals that, while regime insiders forced out the majority of autocrats from the 1950s to the present, uprisings against autocratic regimes now remove a greater proportion of dictators than coups. Astonishingly, the percentage of autocrats ousted by revolts has tripled from four to twelve percent since the end of the Cold War and accounts for a quarter of all overthrows between 2010 and 2012.

Kendall-Taylor and Frantz’s research not only found that protest-led exits are more likely to result in democratization than exits resulting from civil wars, coups, resignations, term limitations, or deaths in office, but also that popular uprisings are more likely to sweep away the institutional structures of autocratic regimes, which, if left intact, are likely to lead to new dictatorships. Other research (Debs and H.E. Goemans) offers similarly insightful data: the less violent the fall of a regime, the more likely democracy will follow. Where dictators believe they are likely to be killed or imprisoned, they are more likely to respond to popular protests with violence (think Ceaușescu in Romania, Qaddafi in Libya, and Assad in Syria), thereby decreasing the chances of democracy taking root.

Together this research offers democracy assistance practitioners sage advice at a time when the number of reform-minded activists standing up against corrupt and abusive governments seems too many to count. As autocrats find clever new ways to suppress dissent and prolong their regimes, the democracy assistance community can employ this knowledge as it helps local activists promote transparency and accountability in their own governments.

Investing in open-source and data collection platforms is one of the most promising avenues to equip activists living under authoritarian systems with the tools to engage their governments in open and public dialogue on matters of civic and private life. Twitter and Facebook, both social media sites, were key forums for public discourse and important tools that helped to mobilize the masses that brought down long-time autocrats Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, and helped coordinate the mass demonstrations against the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during Iran’s disputed June 2009 presidential elections.

Other online platforms are equally important. By developing and promoting free crowd and open-source software like Ushahidi, which promotes transparency and raises public accountability by performing functions like mapping polling places and documenting institutional corruption, democracy assistance implementers can provide activists with accessible, low-cost tools designed to hold governments accountable. The FixMyStreet website, which uses similar interactive mapping software to report potholes and broken street lights to make municipal governments responsible for repairs, is one of many innovative and popular ways for cell phone users across the globe to monitor the activities of city administrators.

Since violence is likely to hamper the transition to democracy, international implementers should also prioritize conflict mediation programs that help mitigate the likelihood acts of violence will thwart the path toward a peaceful and democratic transition. Search for Common Ground, one organization that focuses on conflict resolution programming, works with political and religious leaders, civil society organizations, militaries, media, and minorities on conflict sensitivity, reconciliation, and mediation issues to cooperatively resolve sometimes deadly disputes in conflict-prone countries. This approach has been successfully applied to volatile regions such as Sudan, Yemen, and Timor-Leste. In countries where different camps within a protest movement seek divergent outcomes (think Egypt), it can help ensure that competing parties work together instead of against one another after an autocrat is overthrown.

Finally, democracy assistance practitioners should be committed and prepared to work with democrats abroad long after autocratic regimes have been overthrown. Although Kendal-Taylor and Frantz suggest a brighter prospect for democratic movements in the future, implementers must also be aware that protest movements that succeed in replacing autocratic regimes with democratic systems are still highly susceptible to undemocratic relapses. Even after a revolt has led to democratization, the country is still vulnerable to autocratic backsliding. Democracy assistance implementers must, therefore, maintain a strong and supportive relationship with activists well past the transition to help realize the dream of establishing a stable and democratic society.

Brian Braun is a program assistant with the International Republican Institute’s Middle East and North Africa division.

Civil society key to Africa’s development, democratization

africacivsocNED

Africa needs a radical overhaul of government-civil society relations if the continent is to eradicate corruption and establish the rule of law necessary to attract the investment needed for economic growth and reducing poverty, a major conference heard yesterday.

“Across Africa, a middle class is rising, activists are building democratic institutions, and nations once torn by hatred are making progress through cooperation,” House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer told the African Civil Society Conference, organized by the National Endowment for Democracy and its partners. “From Dakar to Dar-es-Salaam, from Cairo to Cape Town, Africa is changing. Much of that change has been the result of greater cooperation among nations to maintain security and promote the rule of law.”

The forum brought together civil society activists, democracy advocates, journalists and members of the US Congress at Capitol Hill in a parallel event to the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit. Six panels on Human Rights, Good Governance & Accountability, Elections, Media, Conflict & Security, and Civil Society Challenges contributed the drafting of an Action Program for Democracy.’ But NED president Carl Gershman warned that some of the activists faced threats to their lives and livelihoods on their return home.

Floribert_Chebeya“Some of the activists here today return to Africa to uncertain fates; we need to stand with them and ensure they have the global spotlight,” said Carl Gershman, highlighting the case of journalist-campaigner Rafael de Morais, who faces trial in Angola. He also paid tribute to Floribert Chebeya (left), the Democratic Republic of the Congo rights advocate murdered in 2010.

Conference delegates stressed the need to build the capacity of women to exercise leadership in public space; called for greater cooperation between US and African civil society organizations to share experiences and solidarity; demanded that African governments stop the stigmatization of civil society organizations; to democratize the African Union by ending the “system of mutual back-scratching between the AU and African governments;” and called on the US government to tell African leaders to “walk the talk and stop stealing elections.”

 

Civil society panel delivers its recommendations

Civil society panel delivers its recommendations

Henry Maina, Director of East & Horn of Africa for Article 19, highlighted media repression in several African countries and cited the current plight of Ethiopia’s Zone 9 bloggers who he described as “just using mobile phones and websites: ” He added:

Recommendations by the media task force included encouraging international media organizations to have more comprehensive coverage of news in Africa and to “move away from the narrative of Africa as the hopeless continent.” The task force would also like African governments and leaders “to establish independent media regulation mechanisms as well as clear and transparent criteria” so that media organizations are not stifled.

“Media is a mirror where leaders can perceive themselves,” one panelist stated, without which “journalists find themselves in situations of self-censorship and leaders may be going the wrong way.”

Africa is experiencing a profound transformation, said Hoyer, delivering his closing remarks. “But much of that change has come from people power – the undeniable force of ordinary men and women who stand up and say ‘enough’ to corruption and ethnic divisions,” he said.

 

Measuring Civil Society’s Enabling Environment

ICNLslider4_CivilSociety……is one of several must-read articles in the latest issue of Global Trends in NGO Law.  In this issue, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law examines eight assessment tools that seek to measure civil society’s enabling environment. The tools are:

  • USAID’s Civil Society Organizations Sustainability Index
  • CIVICUS’ Enabling Environment Index
  • The Hudson Institute’s Philanthropic Freedom Index
  • The Global Partnership Monitoring Framework, Indicator #2
  • The CSO Contribution to the Global Partnership Monitoring Framework
  • The Balkan Civil Society Development Network’s Matrix on the Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development
  • ICNL/CIVICUS’ Enabling Environment National Assessments
  • CIVICUS’ Civil Society Index-Rapid Assessment

The report compares these tools by objectives, methodologies, outputs, key dimensions and indicators, data sources, geographic scope and frequency of publication. The tools examined offer a wealth of information about the current state of civil societies’ enabling environments.

Global Trends in NGO Law is an online periodical published by ICNL, synthesizing key legal developments affecting CSOs around the world. 

Link: Assessment Tools for Measuring Civil Society’s Enabling Environment (Vol. 5, Iss. 1, August 2014)

Africa’s ‘laboratories of democratization’

Hassan Sheikh MohamudSomalia’s Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Benin’s President Boni Yayi are expected to address tomorrow’s Africa Civil Society summit on Capitol Hill.

According to a recent profile, among the 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Somalia’s Hassan Sheikh Mohamud:

  • Throughout his leadership, he has refused to become embroiled in clan politics, instead touting national reconciliation and unity
  • He was one of the few Somali intellectuals to remain in the country throughout the 21-year civil war
  • His administration was the first to be recognized internationally for more than two decades
  • Early in his career, he made a name for himself helping resolve clan disputes
  • He faces daily assassination attempts
  • In 2013, TIME Magazine included him on its annual list of the world’s 100 most influential people, citing his efforts at “advancing national reconciliation, anti-corruption measures, and socio-economic and security sector reforms” as the reasons for making the list.

Agência Brasil - ABr - Empresa Brasil de Comunicação - EBCBenin has been described as ‘the laboratory of democratization in Africa’.

According to the latest Bertelsmann Index, Benin “became the trendsetter for radical democratization processes in the whole of Francophone Africa” and Yayi “continued to rule throughout the period under review with respect for democratic principles and with a commitment to strengthening the market economy.”

“Benin has a special place in that history [of African democratization in the 90s],” said National Endowment for Democracy board member Princeton Lyman, head of the Africa program at the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Foreign Relations.

“It’s one of eight countries that experienced a pro-democracy movement succeeding in ousting the incumbent one-party government that have maintained democratic institutions and multiparty elections since the transition,” the others being Cape Verde, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Madagascar, Malawi, and Zambia, according to a recent analysis.

Despite political turmoil, emerging consensus in Ukraine

ukrainesolidarnoscGlobal attention remains focused on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, especially in the wake of the tragic downing of the Malaysian commercial airliner MH17, David Klion writes for World Politics Review.

But in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, the ongoing war with Russia is only one of several competing priorities. Attempts to restructure and reform Ukraine’s troubled economy have led to a series of political earthquakes. Two weeks ago, the governing coalition, which had been assembled after the Maidan protests drove former President Viktor Yanukovych from power, was dissolved, and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk offered his resignation. Then last week, Yatsenyuk’s resignation was rejected by Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada. At first glance, the infamously dysfunctional Rada appears to be as chaotic as ever, even as Ukraine struggles to maintain control of its eastern regions.

But the situation in Kiev may be more stable than it seems. The backdrop for the Rada’s shakeup is a promise made by Ukraine’s newly elected President Petro Poroshenko to hold new parliamentary elections. The public has been demanding a new government ever since Yanukovych fled Ukraine with single-digit approval ratings, but according to Ukraine’s constitution, Poroshenko cannot dissolve the Rada and call for elections unless the ruling coalition collapses. This means the major parties that make up the post-Maidan coalition—former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivschyna, boxing champion Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR and the far-right Oleh Tyahnybok’s Svoboda—have to part ways and compete against each other in elections, likely to take place in October, with the expectation that their cumulative support will grow vis-a-vis Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.

Joanna Rohozinska, senior program officer for Eastern Europe at the National Endowment for Democracy, predicts that UDAR and Svoboda stand to gain the most from new elections.

“These two parties have captured the populist mood of the Maidan,” she says. By contrast, Batkivschina is losing support because Tymoshenko “hasn’t been playing a particularly constructive role. Many people see her as out of touch with political reality since leaving prison. She’s considered a member of the old order.”

RTWT