The case for a new federalism in Libya

libya-free_1835951cEntrenched divisions, stalled negotiations, and two rival governments threaten the very existence of the Libyan state. The absence of a capable central government creates a space for a violent struggle over key resources. A new Atlantic Council report argues that a fresh look at federalism may provide a stabilizing post-revolutionary form of governance.

In “The Case for a New Federalism in Libya,” Resident Senior Fellow Karim Mezran and Nonresident Fellow Mohamed Eljarh at the Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East examine how federalism can empower local authorities and take on the critical task of nation-building. The authors propose an alternative model to maintain a semblance of unity, with a decentralized executive branch and centralized legislative branch with limited legislative powers devolved to the regions. They argue that the set-up requires clear communication between the levels of government and helps eliminate the threat of partition by more effectively responding to the distinct segments of Libyan society. Further, they recommend a consultative constitution-drafting process and a civic responsibility initiative focused on self-governance within the rule of law. RTWT

Additional resources:

Interview with Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Dairi In Libya, Push for War Is Stronger Than Push for Peace Rewriting Libya’s Post-Revolution Narrative

Democracies emerging from power vacuums give hope for Burkina Faso

authoriginsIn the aftermath of recent protests and the apparent military take-over, Burkina Faso’s future path to elections and democratic stability is highly uncertain: a power vacuum at the center makes this transitional stage particularly volatile, says Rachel Beatty Riedl, an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University and author of the recently published book, Authoritarian Origins of Democratic Party Systems in Africa.”  What is the possibility for Burkina Faso to emerge from this upheaval more enduringly democratic? she asks, writing for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog.

Certainly, transitions from one regime type to another — say from autocratic rule to democracy — are frequently associated with higher levels of conflict, even when the ultimate result is a stable democracy. The transitional phase itself creates the possibility for greater contestation, whether a new authoritarian regime is established or a fledgling democracy is constructed. But the uncertainty of the transitional period keeps people from recognizing the potential for new forms of democratic representation to arise from this unexpected power vacuum.

My book, “Authoritarian Origins of Democratic Party Systems in Africa,” examines the party systems established over the last 30 years across African democracies. Through historical research and quantitative analysis, I demonstrate that where authoritarian incumbents were swept out of office, that power void offered opportunities for greater reform of the political system. The founding multiparty elections reflected the power void and the new rules of the game privileged new participants. The long-term result of these open and participatory transition elections are highly volatile but democratic, representative regimes, with weakly institutionalized party systems.

The key lesson is that vibrant democracies can emerge out of power vacuums, and can withstand extremely high levels of electoral volatility and seemingly disorganized party competition over the long-term, given a foundation of civic order and political rights that allow for pluralistic competition.

Key examples of this mode of transition are Benin, Zambia, Malawi and Mali; each country is a democratic overachiever given their low levels of economic development, high ethnic heterogeneity, and overall weak state capacity. These countries have maintained democracy since the early 1990s. Even Mali’s temporary democratic breakdown was due to state weakness and regional insecurity, rather than the volatility of contending political players; the inability of the Malian government to effectively project its power over its expansive territory exacerbated the Northern separatist movement’s advance and subsequent military coup.


Yemen transition ‘at risk of collapsing’ or ‘fast-tracking Arab Spring’?


yemen proetstsYemen’s president named the country’s U.N. envoy as prime minister on Monday in a move welcomed by the Shi’ite Muslim Houthi group which controls the capital, signaling an easing in the country’s prolonged political crisis, Reuters reports:

An aide to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi said Khaled Bahah’s name had been among three proposed last week by the Houthi group after they rejected appointment of Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak as prime minister last week….Bahah, who was born in 1965 and who holds a masters degree in administration, business and finance from India’s University of Pune, served previously as oil minister before being appointed Yemen’s envoy to the United Nations.

Analysts say he is a technocrat who is expected to focus on trying to improve public services in a country that has been going through political turmoil since mass protests in 2011 forced long-serving President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. The U.N. Security Council and U.N. special envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar both welcomed the appointment of Bahah on Monday, but Benomar warned “the transition is at risk of collapsing.”

“This is one step forward, now swift action is needed to ensure the formation of the government and implement the other provisions of the (peace and national partnership) agreement,” Benomar told reporters after briefing the Security Council.

On September 21, Ansar Allah (AA), also known as the Houthis, stunned the world by taking over the Yemeni capital of Sana in a single day. Although largely left out of the international spotlight, this takeover marks an important regional development and could provide Yemen with an historic opportunity, Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani writes for the Fikra Forum:

Despite its traditional ideological roots, AA is a modern political and military organization. It is modeled after Hezbollah in Lebanon, emphasizing discipline, credibility, and effective grassroots work, providing basic services to its community, enforcing rule of law, and delivering swift justice. As such, its governance model stands in sharp contrast to the corrupt and inefficient government in the rest of Yemen….For the first time in modern history, Yemen is dominated by two sectarian political groups: AA and Islah. If mismanaged, this could lead to serious polarization, fast-tracking Yemen toward the Syrian model of sectarian strife. However, the primacy of an outsider force such as AA is also an opportunity to catalyze reforms. Unlike the traditional Sana-based political elite whose corruption has frustrated reforms and paralyzed the state, AA is still unscathed as a new political player.

“Their commitment to good governance and to fighting corruption coupled with a strong prime minister, fully supported by the president, can help Yemen carry out true and necessary reforms that could put the country back on a path of economic growth,” argues Iryani, president of the democracy organization TAWQ, vice president of the Sana-based Khobara Center think tank, and an advisor to Human Rights Watch. This article originally appeared on Fikra Forum.

The virtues of modesty: work with the grain to develop democracy

dem asstce levy grainNeither modestly incremental ‘good governance’ nor transformational transition programs are effective at building sustainable democratic institutions, says Johns Hopkins University’s Brian Levy.

As part of a leadership team within the World Bank tasked with integrating governance into development strategy. I participated in forging the good governance consensus. But I’m now convinced that it is wrong, he writes for Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab:

I’ve come to realize that it completely underestimates how much time and commitment are needed to transform a country’s institutions. As my new book argues, we need to shift our attention away from trying to achieve everything at once and focus instead on gains that can initially seem quite modest — but which, if pursued persistently, can sometimes.

Here is what makes efforts at far-reaching institutional reform in nascent democracies so unlikely to succeed. Many emerging democracies depend for their stability on complex personal alliances and compromises. Rival factions may agree to use an election to decide who gets to govern — but beyond that they’re generally unwilling or unable to commit to formal rules for either the economic or political game. Instead, as Nobel Prize-winning economic historian Douglass North has underscored in his recent work, what really holds things together are deals on how to share the spoils of power. Sometimes insiders can be wholly predatory. But at other times, personalized arrangements can provide just enough stability to push economic development forward and to strengthen democratic institutions.

Economically, an approach that goes “with the grain” offers three key lessons on how we might engage differently, Levy contends:

First, do no harm. The experience of Bangladesh offers an excellent example of the advantages of caution. In both 2001 and 2005, Transparency International rated Bangladesh as the world’s most corrupt country. Even so, since its transition to democracy in the early 1990s, its economy has grown at a rate of 6 percent annually, while the child mortality rate has fallen by two-thirds, from 151 per thousand in 1990 to 52 per thousand by 2009. Far-reaching institutional reforms — such as high-profile campaigns against corruption — might have destabilized the (ethically ambiguous) institutional arrangements that have made these achievements possible, potentially doing more harm than good….

Second, practitioners should focus on achieving concrete results via “islands of effectiveness” rather than on across-the-board overhauls. Political and economic elites are rarely willing to give up their special privileges in settings where they enjoy enormous power. In such situations, reformers have a better chance of doing good by nurturing zones of economic dynamism rather than endlessly (and fruitlessly) pushing for a “level playing field.” ….

Third, don’t overreach. One form of overreaching is to over-promise — suggesting, for example, that newly democratizing countries can quickly create market-supporting institutional arrangements that usually take decades to build. A similar error is to insist that all good things come by traveling the democratic path — and only along that path. The evident success of East Asian autocracies — from South Korea’s quarter-century of strong, inclusive growth under military rule to China’s historically unprecedented success in lifting close to a billion people out of poverty in just a few decades — make a powerful counter-argument to this simplistic view.


Yemen: Saleh bites back?


Credit: Sada

Credit: Sada

Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, has been besieged since August by armed Houthi followers demanding the government’s resignation after a decision to cut fuel subsidies, the latest in a series of grievances they hope to settle, notes Nasser Arrabyee, a Yemeni journalist based in Sanaa. Thousands of protesters are camping out near important government institutions like the ministry of interior, raising concerns that there will be a violent escalation to topple the government. Meanwhile, Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is using the crisis to reestablish his influence on the country’s politics, he writes for Carnegie’s Sada Journal:

Seeking to appear above the fray, Saleh keeps denying claims that he supports Houthi fighting in Amran, Jawf, and Sanaa. “We will not stand with a party against the other,” he toldsupporters from Amran on September 9, calling for dialogue to save Yemeni blood after more than 10 pro-Houthi protesters were killed and 60 others injured in a confrontation with the government forces near the cabinet building. Saleh has made a show of ignoring the unrest, instead receiving tribal and religious leaders from all over Yemen who came to show support after an alleged assassination attempt. …

Whatever its strength or motives, Saleh’s potential overt support for the Houthis would likely help their cause in the short term, giving them political backing—particularly from pro-Saleh tribal leaders and his supporters within the army. However, even an informal alliance risks enflaming the tensions in Sanaa and may lead to further violence. But Yemen can avoid all-out war if the Houthis opt for a political solution. If they form a party and maintain the backing of Saleh and his supporters, they will be able to make stronger demands, and President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, who depends mainly on international support that would be lost if Yemen went to war, is keen to ensure such a resolution.