Democracy, international actors, and foreign aid

democ and soctySince the third wave of democratization, Western donors have been following a strategy of democracy promotion to non-democratic countries that involve giving assistance to both governmental and non-governmental actors including parliaments, judicial institutions, political parties, civil society, electoral management bodies, and election observation missions. With recent backlashes in the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe in mind, what do we know about the relationship between foreign aid and democracy?

The Democracy and Governance Program at Georgetown University is seeking well-written, interesting submissions of 1,500 – 2,000 words for their Spring-Summer 2015 publication, Democracy & Society. The submissions can be new publications, summaries, excerpts of recently completed research book reviews, and works in progress. Submissions for this issue will be due by April 1, 2015. We are seeking articles that address the following issues and questions:

The Historical Development of Aid Politics and Aid Governance: What are the origins of Western aid programs and how have they changed to remain effective and relevant in changing international contexts? How has the current aid paradigm differed from those in the past? What forecasts can we make for future adjustments to aid policy? In reaction to changes in the international political context, how have democratization efforts modified their efforts in order to maintain relevance in the short-term? Have these fixes produced favorable results for countries? Have past development paradigms produced problems for policy implementation in the present?

The Efficacy of Foreign Aid: How has foreign aid affected democratization efforts in non-democracies? What are the political implications of such efforts and how have they affected international relations between states? What results has foreign aid had on establishing and fortifying democratic institutions and governmental efficacy? What are some of the positive and negative impacts of funding political parties and civil society organizations abroad? What cases can we study that demonstrate successes and failures of democracy promotion? Which agencies/organizations have been innovating democracy promotion to draw more favorable results?

Changes and Challenges for Democracy Promotion: Not only has democracy become widely accepted as a universal norm, but also the international community is now more readily inclined to accept the legitimacy of intervention in the event of gross violations of human rights even when this transgresses state sovereignty. Likewise, recent years have seen the emergence of new actors in the democracy promotion field. It now extends well beyond the U.S. For example, the European Union has emerged as a key player, spurred by the need to consolidate democracy in its post-communist eastern periphery, especially as these states became candidates for EU accession. What is the role of the new actors? Will organizational diversity complicate democratization?  What restrictions are placed on funds directed at democratic, political, and social organizations? Have these restrictions yielded positive or negative results in securing a more democratic environment for developing governments? Should there be restrictions placed on certain practices that do not currently exist? Who or what should dictate these restrictions?

Prospects For A More Inclusive Paradigm: Should democracy promotion be more inclusive? How can democracy promotion incorporate the perspectives of the local populations it affects? Given that governmental efforts typically work through institutional channels, does this limit the influence civilians and non-elites can have within their political systems?

Variations on these themes will be accepted. Research on democracy assistance programs is encouraged. Questions and comments are welcome. Please email all submissions along with a brief author’s bio to

Please visit, for more information about Democracy & Society and for more information about the M.A. in Democracy and Governance and the Center for Democracy and Civil Society.

Please click here for the D&S Style Guide.

Indonesia’s Demokrasi: ‘still a work in progress’

indonesia democrasiLast October when Joko Widodo became president of Indonesia, the election of a man with scant political or military connections appeared to seal the country’s transformation from military dictatorship to credible democracy. It could so easily have been otherwise, writes FT analyst David Pilling.

“Fifteen years later,” writes Hamish McDonald in Demokrasi, “Indonesians were watching Egypt’s failed transition to democracy and thinking: That could have been us.”

On the surface, Indonesia is a huge success story. Although not a member of Jim O’Neill’s Brics club, in purchasing power parity terms its economy is roughly on a par with Britain’s. As the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, it is also seen as a model of moderation…..

Yet, as Demokrasi makes clear, beneath the surface nothing is as straightforward as this list of virtues makes it appear. The picture that emerges is instead of a country still struggling to slough off its often dark past and still grappling with the business of creating a modern state capable of turning impressive headline gross domestic product growth into meaningful development. Religious intolerance has been allowed to fester and, if anything, is on the rise…..

Indonesia’s institution building is, the book makes clear, still a work in progress, he adds:

Radical political decentralisation has brought accountability, but also more layers of potential graft. There have been real attempts to rein in corruption, says McDonald, though bribe-taking remains rife. Even the Corruption Eradication Commission, which was established in 2002 and has taken some important scalps, has not been immune from scandal.


Tunisia’s new government excludes Islamists

tunis-flagTunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid announced a new minority government Friday that excludes most of the major players on the political scene, including Islamist and leftist parties, AP reports:

The big winner in last year’s elections was the nationalist Nida Tunis party, but with only 86 of the 217 seats, it had promised to form a broad governing coalition to see the country out of its economic crisis. However, the 24 new ministers presented Friday appeared to come from only two parties that may not have enough seats to survive a no-confidence vote.

The cabinet includes 10 ministers from Nida Tunis, including the foreign minister, and three from the Free Patriotic Union Party, which holds 16 seats. Together the two parties will have less than half of the seats in parliament, which means they may have difficulty implementing the necessary reforms to tackle Tunisia’s titanic economic problems like high inflation and unemployment.

The Islamist party Ennahda, with the second largest number of seats in the assembly, had sought a unity government with Nidaa Tounes to improve stability with the new government set to crack down on Islamist militants and tackle economic reforms, Reuters adds:

Nidaa Tounes leaders had not openly opposed a unity administration. But Nidaa Tounes hardliners were against any alliance with Ennahda, who they blame for turmoil during the first Islamist-led government after the 2011 uprising. Ennahda party leaders were consulting on Friday on whether to accept the new government.

The Ministry of Tourism, a key sector that has struggled since the 2011 revolt that ousted long-time strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was given to a party headed by the owner of one of Tunis’s two major football clubs, AFP adds:

The Free Patriotic Union of wealthy businessman Slim Riahi, who owns Club Africain, was also given the ministry of sports and youth. Riahi’s party came third in the polls

A major external challenge facing Ennhada is its lack of governing experience, says analyst Monica Marks. Senior party members understand the need to reform the nation’s bureaucratic culture but have not yet identified how to implement such a change, she told the Project for Middle East Democracy:

The rise of Salafism within the country presents another challenge. This movement, which has violent elements, encompassed many types of Salafists. Ennhada initially struggled to respond to this challenge before settling upon increasing funding for religious education and socio-economic programs to address this situation.  Marks also pointed out internal challenges that have threatened the cohesiveness of the party, such as whether or not to form a coalition government with Nidaa Tunis officials and personnel from the Ben Ali  regime.

Cuba: civil society’s ‘new wiggle space’ – four conditions for US reset

cuba posibleThe United States and Cuba began historic talks Thursday, aimed at ending more than five decades of official estrangement, The Washington Post reports:

Despite somewhat stony exteriors as the official sessions began, the delegation heads, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson and Josefina Vidal, head of the Americas department of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, were said to have made initial progress in breaking the ice ……Jacobson plans to hold a breakfast for Cuban civil society representatives, human rights activists and political dissidents Friday before her departure.

Jacobson said re-establishing diplomatic ties and opening embassies in Havana and Washington were “not overly cumbersome,” but that the two sides had profound differences on other issues, such as Cuba’s human rights record, Reuters adds.

The Presidents of the United States and Cuba have laid the groundwork that will allow “Cuba’s situation to improve,” said Yoani Sanchez, a prominent dissident blogger and director of the Internet portal “We now have to use this new wiggle space.”CUBA DEPEISTRE

Raul Castro has warned that he does not consider this new era of detente an opening for significantly altering Cuba’s communist system, one-party rule or economy, which is largely controlled by the state, the LA Times reports.

“Raul Castro will try to gain the most while giving up the least,” Jose Daniel Ferrer, a leading dissident who opposes the regime but welcomes rapprochement, said in an interview.

Cuban officials are hanging tight to their managed economy and will do their best to control any transition, analysts suggest.

“As Roberta Jacobson begins historic talks with Cuban officials, the first of their kind in over 30 years, it is essential to keep progress on democratic reform and respect for human rights at the top of the agenda,” said Robert Herman, vice president for regional programs at Freedom House. Ms. Jacobson and her delegation should “raise concerns over recent crackdowns on universal human rights, including freedom of expression, and engage in meaningful conversation with members of Cuban civil society and dissidents, who will be instrumental in balancing discourse while diplomatic relations are being restored.”

Totalitarian regime

cuba foranothercubalogoindexCuba is home to the longest-standing totalitarian regime in the Western Hemisphere, said the University of Delaware’s Maria P. Aristigueta, who recently presented a talk on “The Role of Civil Society in Leading Change in Cuba.”

Civil society groups in Cuba are cautiously optimistic about the change in U.S. policy, she said, drawing on her research conducted through a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) grant in 2007. But they want to ensure that four main conditions are met prior to the U.S. re-establishing diplomatic relations with the country, she said:

  • Political prisoners need to be released immediately. Elizardo Sánchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation estimates there are still more than 100 people imprisoned.
  • Cuba must ratify the United Nations human rights covenants.
  • All “apparatus of repression” must be dismantled, including assaults on “counterrevolutionaries,” arbitrary arrests, demonization and intimidation of those who think differently, and police surveillance of activists.
  • The Cuban government must accept the existence of civic structures that have the right to express opinions, decide, question, and choose. These voices that have not been represented in the current negotiations between the governments of Cuba and the U.S.

[T]he biggest prize [of the policy shift] should be the advance of democracy and open markets in Latin America, The Economist says:

The Castros are not the only ones who will be discomfited by the loss of the American alibi. Venezuela leads a loose coalition of countries that uses defiance of the United States as an excuse for policies that stunt economic growth and democratic rights. It has long supported Cuba (and other Caribbean countries) with sales of oil at heavily subsidised prices. Even for robustly democratic countries like Brazil, the American bogeyman makes it easier to justify resistance to trade deals and to cosy up to uglier regimes.

Gradualism rather than revolution is what Cuba needs, according to Harvard analyst Noah Feldman:

Of course human rights abuses should be reversed and free expression expanded. That’s why the freeing of political prisoners is a positive step. But when it comes to Cuba’s economic development, slow progress is preferable to radical transformation. The same is true of political evolution; moving too fast might not produce greater freedom, but actually the opposite.

Cuba is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2014, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2014 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2014

Lessons learned on Tunisia’s ‘perilous path to freedom’

tunis-flagTunisia’s experience holds many lessons for other countries undergoing a democratic transition, says Rached Ghannouchi, the founder and president of the Ennahda Party.

Tunisia’s success was built on consensus, he writes for The Wall Street Journal:

This has prevented fragile democratic institutions from collapsing due to political conflict. Tunisia’s commitment to inclusion also allowed us to navigate questions of transitional justice and begin addressing decades of inequality and an economy plagued by inherited structural problems. There can be no majority or minority when building the foundations of democracy.

The decision not to nominate an Ennahda presidential candidate reflected our willingness to make sacrifices to prevent polarization. Domination by any one political faction risks a return to the authoritarianism under which Tunisians suffered for three decades.

The labor unions of the UGTT were the most significant of the civil society groups that played a vital role in advancing and defending the transition, says Salah Eddin al Jourshi, President of the Al Jaheth Cultural Forum.

“There are dangers that threaten the process of building a healthy civil society from parties who have a completely opposite understanding of civil society in its modern meaning,” he told the Arab Reform Initiative’s Bassma Kodmani and Salam Kawabiki:

This new force, and we use the term “force” here because civil society played an important role when the parties were weak and fought each other, intervened to limit the ramifications of these disputes, or at least to direct them to a specific course of action. ….Civil society played a major role in preparing for the holding of elections that were important in the history of Tunisia. Through this process, some civil society leaders joined the executive authority and for three years now, are government leaders or in state institutions. Many of them were nurtured in civil society and managed associations and human rights organisations. They were behind the first commission that was established. If there had been a similar commission in Egypt, events would not have unfolded as they have. In order for the commission to protect the revolution and democratic transition, the head and members were from civil society.

Europe can play a vital role in sustaining Tunisia’s progress and promoting an alternative, Ghannouchi adds:

Increased foreign direct investment and trade can create high-skilled jobs that provide social mobility, strengthen our society and limit the appeal of extremist groups. Simultaneously, it will offer European companies with operations in Tunisia a high-quality gateway to Africa. The combination of increased regional security and business growth can only be a positive for Tunisia and Europe. …..But Tunisia’s democratic transition remains unfinished and cannot be taken for granted. Tunisia’s friends in Europe can help ensure our continued progress, a contribution that will benefit not just Tunisia but the rest of the region and beyond.