Nigerians ready to swap democracy for security?

nigeria buhariWith Nigeria’s presidential election only weeks away, Boko Haram’s unchecked rampaging here in the country’s north is helping to propel the 72-year-old general, Muhammadu Buhari (left), to the forefront, The New York Times reports:

After ruling Nigeria with an iron hand 30 years ago as the country’s military leader, Mr. Buhari is now a serious threat at the ballot box, analysts say, in large part because of Boko Haram’s blood-soaked successes…. As military ruler, Mr. Buhari showed little respect for the democratic process, rising to power in a coup that swept aside a civilian government and promising to include the political participation of Nigerian citizens “at some point.”

“The state is collapsing and everybody is frightened,” Jibrin Ibrahim, a political scientist with the Center for Democracy and Development, said of Boko Haram.

“They are able to capture more and more territory, but also increase the level of atrocity,” he added. “A lot of people are frightened that these people can take over the whole country. So a lot of people are saying, ‘Give Buhari a chance.’ ”

NigeriaA sense of déjà vu accompanies Buhari’s quest to win the presidency in Nigeria’s forthcoming elections, 31 years after he first rose to power in a coup, the FT’s William Wallis adds:

In 1983 as now, Africa’s leading oil producer was in the throes of an oil shock. The resulting collapse in state revenues revealed how bloated and corrupt government had become during the preceding boom, when politicians were awash with petrodollars.

Austerity beckoned, and General Buhari imposed it with a “war on indiscipline” in the 20 months before he was overthrown by rival officers. He has tried unsuccessfully to win back power at the polls three times since civilian rule was restored in 1999. But on each occasion — in 2003, 2007 and 2011 — world oil prices were either recovering nicely or close to peaking. The tough outlook this year for Africa’s largest economy, which depends on oil for more than 90 per cent of export earnings and 70 per cent of state revenues, sets the scene for a much tighter contest this time round.

“The conflict is rapidly intensifying,” Nathaniel Allen, Peter M. Lewis and Hilary Matfess, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, wrote in the Washington Post.

“Nigerian casualties are now running more than double those in Afghanistan and substantially higher than in Iraq just a few years ago. An estimated 3,120 civilian and military casualties were recorded in Afghanistan last year. In Iraq, 4,207 fatalities were estimated in 2011 in the wake of the surge. The worsening conflict in northern Nigeria already has suffered more casualties this year than the world’s most publicized contemporary wars.”

nigeria girlsSecretary of State John Kerry, moving to prevent another key U.S. counterterrorism ally from collapsing under a militant insurgency, on Sunday warned Nigeria’s top two presidential candidates that future military assistance will depend on February’s election being peaceful and transparent, The Wall Street Journal reports.   

Relations between American military trainers and specialists advising the Nigerian military in the fight against Boko Haram [which has been described as Africa’s ISIS] are so strained that the Pentagon often bypasses the Nigerians, choosing to work instead with security officials in the neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon and Niger, according to New York Times reports.

The Foreign Policy Initiative held a conference call on the situation in Nigeria.  Key quotes and full audio from the event are available here.

*The Center for Democracy and Development is a longtime partner of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

2014: year of the dictator?

DemocracyChart.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlarge (1)

Freedom House

Recent trends and events of the past year indicate that the engine of democracy has run out of steam, argues Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and author of The Twilight of International Human Rights Law.

Probably the most striking examples are the advance of authoritarianism in two relatively wealthy and modern-seeming democracies, Turkey and Hungary, he writes for Slate:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has jailed political opponents and harassed the media. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban says he wants to create an illiberal state modeled on Russia and Turkey.

Russia, which lumbered toward democracy in the 1990s, has become an increasingly authoritarian place. ..China’s authoritarian system is increasingly admired throughout the developing world. The government has managed to maintain order (the country is enviably safe) despite wrenching economic and social change. Since the size of China’s economy surpassed that of the United States earlier this year, it will become increasingly hard to maintain that democracy is necessary to economic development. ..President Raúl Castro has made clear that he plans to maintain Cuba’s authoritarian system while working on economic reform, along the lines of the China model. The cheering from Venezuela and other parts of Latin America expresses the relief felt by leftist authoritarians who see that if the United States can tolerate an undemocratic Cuba, it will have no grounds for criticizing authoritarianism in their countries.

“For quite some time, U.S. foreign policy has been based on the assumption that we should promote democracy,” Posner notes:

The seemingly relentless rise of democracy made this approach seem reasonable, and perhaps it sometimes was. But much of the flowering of democracy took place in Western countries, or countries that inherited Western institutions and norms from Western colonizers. So advances in democracy that we attributed to our own benevolent influence probably reflected deeper-seated historical and cultural factors over which we have no control. It may well be that democracy has reached its limits.


Is U.S. ‘shortchanging its commitment’ to advancing democracy?

carotherscolormedium8U.S. assistance to advance democracy worldwide has shrunk by 28 percent during Barack Obama’s presidency and is now less than $2 billion per year, says a leading authority. The decline has been especially severe at the U.S. Agency for International Development, which traditionally funds the bulk of U.S. democracy assistance, notes Thomas Carothers, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. USAID spending to foster democracy, human rights and accountable governance abroad has fallen by 38 percent since 2009, he writes for The Washington Post:

The drop-off affects almost every region to which such aid is directed. It has been largest in the Middle East — a startling 72 percent cut that came just as much of the Arab world attempted a historic shift toward democracy. In Africa, a 43 percent decline has left a paltry $80 million for democracy work for the entire continent outside of Liberia and South Sudan. Overall, the number of countries where USAID operates dedicated democracy programs has fallen from 91 to 63.

To grasp just how unimpressive the U.S. commitment to aiding democracy abroad has become, consider this: Leaving aside Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, USAID spending on democracy, rights and governance in fiscal 2014 — $860 million — totaled less than what just one U.S. citizen, George Soros, spends annually to foster open society globally … The main aid agency of the country that prides itself on being an unmatched force for democracy cannot even match the financial commitment of one of its citizens?

Supporting democracy, human rights and better governance more substantially and effectively will not produce instant solutions, Carothers writes:

But patiently and seriously pursued, such aid can be a crucial part of the longer-term solutions we seek. Troubled though our democracy can seem at home, our society still enjoys its unique stability and security thanks to its pluralistic, open political system rooted in democratic accountability and the rule of law. That formula remains the right one for our pursuit of stability and security abroad.


Western aid will help consolidate Tunisia’s emerging democracy

tunisia demoAn official under former hardline ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali appears set for a close run-off in Tunisia’s presidential polls with a rival who says he represents the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprising that toppled him, Reuters reports:

Preliminary results in the country’s first presidential ballot since the uprising are expected later on Monday. But the parties of two frontrunners said initial tallies showed they would face off in next month’s second round…..One frontrunner, Beji Caid Essebsi, who was parliament chief under Ben Ali, has cast himself as a veteran technocrat. He will face off with Moncef Marzouki, the current president who has warned against return of “one-party era” figures like Essebsi.

Many Tunisians weighed security concerns against the freedoms brought by their revolution and by its democratic reforms, which have remained on track in sharp contrast to the upheavals brought by the Arab Spring elsewhere in the region, including the military coup in Egypt and the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya, AP reports.

Exit polls suggested that neither of the two leading candidates was likely to win an outright majority and that a runoff between them would be necessary. Official results were not expected for one or two days, The New York Times adds.

“The presidential election is the last milestone on Tunisia’s transitional path,” said Abdel Latif Hannachi, a professor of modern history at Manouba University in Tunis. It should herald a period of “democratic consolidation,” he said.

tunisia_ugtt(1)Outside the cosmopolitan coastal capital of Tunis, front-runner Essebsi, an 87-year-old politician who served under two autocratic regimes, is seen as an unsettling relic of the autocratic regimes that ruled Tunisia from its independence from France in 1956 until the 2010 uprising, The Wall Street Journal reports (HT: FPI).

“There is a guarantor of our revolution and it is our civil society,” said Ghazi Mrabet, a prominent civil-rights attorney and political analyst. “It has proved uncompromising in our transition to democracy and forced compromise and dialogue,” he tells the Journal:

Through a vibrant array of worker unions, legal associations and women’s rights groups, Tunisia’s citizens have held unusual sway in moderating between the dominant forces in the nation: Islamists who gained early support for their opposition to Mr. Ben Ali’s regime, and former regime figures who have recast themselves as experienced statesmen uniquely equipped to manage the nation during a turbulent period.

The next round is likely to see a framing of ‘democrats versus anti-democrats’ rather than ‘secular versus Islamists’ as in other countries, notes David McLaughlin, an election observer with the National Democratic Institute for the election.

This is because the second-place party in the legislature, the Islamic Ennahda party, did not field a presidential candidate. Their support for a coalition government led by a prime minister in the legislature remains a deep unknown in Tunisian politics, he writes for The Globe and Mail:

For democrats, Tunisia offers the prospect of stability and progress. But western democracies will need to pay it serious attention. Democratic progress must be accompanied by economic progress. Tunisia requires western aid and development beyond the significant democratic assistance countries like Canada have already given.

Monica Marks, a Tunisia analyst from Oxford University, told PRI that Essebsi is winning Tunisians over by strumming on very familiar chords.

“He’s offering a kind of paternalistic, big man approach to politics,” she says. “[Essebsi is a] highly charismatic personal leader who says to the people, ‘I offer you safety and security, I’m offering you state prestige. If you invest trust in us, the old political elite, the statesmen, we are going to solve your problems.’”

In what some analysts interpret as a setback for political Islam, Ennahda didn’t field a candidate or indicated any preference, a signal that the party can live with Essebsi and allowing it to avoid backing a losing candidate, said Riccardo Fabiani, a senior analyst for North Africa at Eurasia Group.

tunisia ghannouchi“Reaching this historic moment today is a proof the democratic experience was a success in Tunisia” Rashid Ghannouchi, Ennahda’s leader, said while waiting to cast his ballot in Tunis. “Regardless of the results, the success of this election is in itself a victory.”

“People in the Arab world will watch Tunisia as a laboratory,” said political analyst Hammadi Rdissim. “We can do it, it’s not a myth, it can be a reality, and elections and democracy are possible in an Islamic country.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated the Tunisian people for their success in holding presidential elections, POMED adds.

“Tunisia’s democratic path will remain an inspiration to all those in the region and around the world who are working to build the foundation for an inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous future,” he said, adding that the U.S. will continue to provide Tunisia with economic and security assistance. A number of U.S. NGOs participated in observation missions, including the Carter Center, the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute - the latter two being core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Tunisia at a Crossroads: Between a Nascent Democracy and the Old Guard

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

12:30pm – ICC 270, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

Radwan A. Masmoudi  is the Founder and President of the Center of the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID), a Washington-based non-profit think tank dedicated to promoting dialogue about democracy in the Muslim world. He is also the Editor of the Center’s quarterly publication, Muslim Democrat. In April 2012, he was elected as a member of the Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy.

Seating is limited. Lunch will be provided. RSVP

Five ways to improve democracy assistance

ukrainesolidarnoscRecently there has been growing and justified skepticism about the idea of democracy promotion, say two prominent observers. Without trying to calculate the gains of democracy in places like Tunisia or the growing authoritarianism in places like Egypt, this a good moment to look at the role of democracy promotion in this new, shaky world landscape, SRDJA POPOVIC and SLOBODAN DJINOVIC write for Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab:

Too many promising nonviolent struggles have collapsed because there was no transitional support after the removal of a dictator. Democratic change is a continuous process, not a one-time event, requiring continuous support and investment in order for it to succeed.

Newborn democracies need assistance in building democratic institutions, which at the moment of “revolution” are often very weak or missing altogether after decades of authoritarianism. Do not forget: A full 11 years elapsed between independence and the signing of the U.S. Constitution.