Good Mexico vs. Bad Mexico?

naimA young Mexican president assumes office and surprises the world, not least his own nation, notes a leading analyst. He proposes unprecedented reforms that don’t just clash with the entrenched ideologies of his party, the ever-mighty PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), but also with some of the country’s most powerful interests: hitherto untouchable economic titans, union bosses, and local chieftains, the Carnegie Endowment’s Moisés Naím writes for The Atlantic:

International observers laud the potential of the reforms to make Mexico less corrupt, and more prosperous and just. But at home, the reforms are met with distrust and seen by many as just another ploy that will benefit the greedy elites who build fortunes on the backs of the poor. Analysts and academics take to opinion pages and talk shows to predict that the reforms will have devastating social effects. Leftists and nationalists alike equate the reforms with submission to yanqui imperialism. Businessmen, too, oppose the reforms, which will increase competition and thus threaten their firms’ market dominance. The reforms may promise hypothetical benefits in the long term, but in the short term they pose tangible costs to these disparate and politically influential groups.

“This is exactly what happened two decades ago when then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari liberalized Mexico’s closed, state-centered economy. And it’s happening again today to President Enrique Peña Nieto,” notes Naím, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Will corruption and criminality again sabotage the reforms that Mexico so urgently needs?


Better governance most effective tool against Nigeria’s Boko Haram

nigeria boko cfrThe militant Islamist Boko Haram’s increasingly bold attacks in Nigeria threaten to fuel further Muslim-Christian violence and destabilize West Africa, making the group a leading concern for U.S. policymakers, writes John Campbell, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow for Africa policy studies, in a new Council Special Report.

“The Boko Haram insurgency,” Campbell explains, “is a direct result of chronic poor governance by Nigeria’s federal and state governments, the political marginalization of northeastern Nigeria, and the region’s accelerating impoverishment.” Rather than fighting the militant group solely through military force, he argues, the U.S. and Nigerian governments must work together to redress the alienation of Nigeria’s Muslims.

Though the United States has “little leverage” over President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, Washington should “pursue a longer-term strategy to address the roots of northern disillusionment, preserve national unity, and restore Nigeria’s trajectory toward democracy and the rule of law.”

Campbell’s long-term recommendations comprise:

Ukraine’s internal enemy: corruption (+ lustration?)


External threats to Ukraine from Russia have dominated the news, but as that situation starts to stabilize the country will need to confront an old, internal enemy, the Peterson Institute’s Anders Åslund writes for the Wall Street Journal: 

Transparency International ranks Ukraine 144 out of 177 countries on its corruption-perception index. Corruption was at the heart of popular discontent with the deposed regime of Viktor Yanukovych, and widespread graft helps explain why the economy stalled in 2012 and 2013. Kiev must tackle this problem urgently, even as its leaders confront Russia’s territorial ambitions.

Cleansing Ukraine of its corruption will require several interrelated measures. In this regard, Estonia and Georgia have shown the way, he argues in an article adapted from a longer essay that appeared in the Journal of Democracy:

To begin with, the state needs to limit its regulatory role by abolishing or merging many state agencies. Minimizing state interference in the economy—whether by privatizing state-owned assets or cutting regulations—reduces opportunities for corruption in the first place.

The government should also cut public expenditures, and corrupted subsidies must be eliminated. The deregulation of gas and electricity prices in this case must be seen as a matter of combating corruption, not as a social issue. The poor can be given targeted cash compensation instead. The tax system also needs to be simplified and the tax police abolished, to shield taxpayers from lawless persecution. Ukraine has recently adopted a law on public procurement requiring open public tenders, and voters should demand their leaders follow that law to the letter.

Officials also must focus on delivering reliable rule of law. This should entail the creation of an independent commission scrutinizing all the top judges and prosecutors in Ukraine and dismissing those found to have engaged in graft.

“The people are angry as little is changing, reforms are not being implemented, and corruption is not being fought,” says Ukraine scholar Taras Kuzio, referring to a spate of violent attacks on politicians with strong ties to the ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. “The anger unleashed by the Euromaidan remains, but elites are not implementing the changes that would reduce tension.”

But these attacks, by the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector , do little to inspire confidence in a successful parliamentary election on October 26 and the reforms that are expected to follow, Linda Kinstler writes for the New Republic:

These so-called “people’s lustration” efforts could quickly unravel everything that the Maidan revolution accomplished. In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov issued a plea for an end to this variety of political activism: “Another couple of Shufrichs [with] smashed faces and lynched Pylypyshyns, and Europe will turn its back on the revolution we’ve won. I am afraid that America will, too.” Much to the delight of RT, the leader of Ukraine’s Radical Party, Oleh Lyashko, responded by suggesting that perhaps it’s time for Avakov, too, to be thrown into a dumpster. 

“By signing the Association Agreement with the European Union, Ukraine has committed itself to adopting hundreds of reform laws, while the EU has committed itself to providing substantial technical assistance in drawing up new laws and reorganizing state agencies,” notes Åslund. “That deal is on hold for now, but Brussels and Kiev can still find ways to move forward. Those parts of the agreement that target corruption, for example, should be a priority; as should building a strong and independent judicial system.”

Mr. Åslund is a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and author of “How Ukraine Became a Market Economy and Democracy” (Peterson Institute, 2009).


Democracies do best in fight against graft


In many countries, corruption is so endemic that it is considered impossible to eradicate. And yet India, Brazil and SA have created institutions and processes to fight at least some corruption, writes a prominent analyst.

Many of these tools would be impossible to use in the absence of the democratic institutions that support them, writes Ann Bernstein, head of the Centre for Development and Enterprise:

We also know much more about corruption in democratic societies than we do in authoritarian states, thanks to the efforts of citizens, parliaments, state institutions, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and the media. This does not mean corruption is more prevalent in democratic regimes. On the contrary, democracies provide more opportunities for people and institutions to expose and talk about corruption wherever it occurs and to fight for improvements.

In each one of these countries, the problem of corruption remains profound, and has not by any means been defeated, she suggests:

However, the possibility of reform lies in the nature of the three constitutional democracies. All of them have multiple self-correcting mechanisms; citizens do not depend upon the goodwill of the executive or of the ruling party for political reform. When Parliament itself is corrupt or unable to curb executive power, then individual citizens, civic organisations, the independent judiciary or specially created independent state institutions, all supported by a robust independent media, can take over the task of improving the quality of governance, as they have done in the past.

“The continuing battle against corruption ultimately requires more transparency, more effective democratic institutions and more accountable representative democracy, not less. It is hard to see how authoritarian states can compete with this,” Bernstein concludes.

• Bernstein is head of the Centre for Development and Enterprise and a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. This article is based on a new publication from the centre: The Democratic Alternative from the South: India, Brazil, and SA.


Isabel dos Santos, Her Father, George Soros and Me

rafael marquesSo desperate are pro-regime PR consultants to find a way of attacking Angolan civil society activist Rafael Marques de Morais that they have tried to find impropriety in his former links to the NY-based Open Society Institute (OSI), funded by the billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Their machinations offer an opportunity to consider the ways in which the Dos Santos regime has tried to neutralizing dissent, he writes.

The question of George Soros is simple. The regime led by Isabel dos Santos’s father has been the main beneficiary of his involvement. Subsequent events bore out what Marques, founder of the anti-corruption website Maka Angola, calls his “disillusionment with the modus operandi of international organisations and the superficial nature of their programs supporting democracy and the struggle for human rights.”

Marques is an award-winning journalist and human rights activist, specializing in political economy, the diamond industry, and government corruption. A former Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow, his writings have helped set the agenda for political debate in Angola by exposing abuses of power and endemic corruption through his journalism and his work with Maka Angola, an Angolan platform, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.