Civil society key to Africa’s development, democratization


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.


‘No Moroccan exception. It’s authoritarian,’ says rebel prince


Credit: Stanford CDDRL

Credit: Stanford CDDRL

Fareed Zakaria is typical of those commentators who point to countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Jordan, and Morocco as models for gradual democratization, notes Brookings analyst Shadi Hamid.

“The absence of free and fair elections should be viewed as one flaw, not the definition of tyranny…. It is important that governments be judged by yardsticks related to constitutional liberalism,” Zakaria writes.  “Despite the limited political choice they offer,[they] provide a better environment for life, liberty, and happiness of citizens than do … the illiberal democracies of Venezuela, Russia, or Ghana.”

To the contrary, says a former regime insider.

“There is no Moroccan exception. It’s an authoritarian regime, that’s all,” says Prince Moulay Hicham (left). “After the death of King Hassan, it quickly became evident to his son that change implicates costs and trade-offs. He was not ready to make sacrifices, and the regime just went back to its old ways.”

Nicknamed “the Red Prince,” he grew up to become a political activist whose public support for democracy has put him at odds with his family in Morocco. He exiled himself to America and was banned from the presence of the king for advocating a constitutional monarchy, like that in Britain or Spain, Aida Alami writes for The New York Times:

MOROCCOPRINCE4106sQ9WnfL__AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-44,22_AA300_SH20_OU08_In April, he published a new autobiography, “Journal d’un Prince Banni,” or Diary of a Banished Prince, that weaves together a series of vignettes and anecdotes to give readers a rare glimpse into Morocco’s royal family. But it also serves as a harsh political critique of the kingdom from an insider…..

In 2011, as the Arab Spring was sweeping autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya from power, King Mohammed offered constitutional reforms that guaranteed more social equality and attention to human rights. But Prince Moulay Hicham says those changes were once again cosmetic, and he has repeatedly urged the kingdom to make swift changes. Real democratization, he argues, is the only change that will save the monarchy in the long run.

The prince, who holds degrees from Princeton and Stanford, and is a former United Nations peacekeeper in Kosovo, serves on the advisory board of Human Rights Watch and has founded various institutes. A businessman and passionate advocate of green energy, he also produced the award-winning documentary “A Whisper to a Roar,” on the fight for democracy across the world.

“This book is harsh because the reality is harsh,” said Ignace Dalle, author of “Les Trois Rois” (The Three Kings), a book on the Moroccan monarchy. “Moulay Hicham is right; this cannot last forever.”

King Mohammed has come under fire for his stranglehold on the economy and for micromanaging the elected government.

“I don’t see in Mohammed VI’s entourage any advisers who will tell him to move forward,” Mr. Dalle said. “They are too absorbed by their own personal interests.”

John Waterbury, an American scholar and author of “Commander of the Faithful,” an extensive account of Morocco’s politics, said Prince Moulay Hicham’s book provides intimate details that shed light on the monarchy and the king’s entourage. That attempt at transparency, Mr. Waterbury said, was bound to spark shock and anger.

“In his advocacy, Moulay Hicham is hard on many Moroccans, especially the rich and privileged that live off rents provided by the Makhzen,” he added, referring in Arabic to the establishment elite. “His critique has been building for years. It has been manifest both in family occasions — weddings, birthdays, even deaths — and in his published opinions in Le Monde Diplomatique and elsewhere.”


US warns Moscow: stay out of Ukraine/Why Russia won’t interfere

The White House today warned Russia to keep its troops out of Ukraine, amid fears that Moscow may step in with military force following the overthrow of the President, its ally, Agence France Presse reports:

Tensions also mounted in Crimea, in Ukraine’s southeast, where pro-Russian politicians are organising rallies and forming protest units demanding separation from Kiev. The region is now seen as a potential flashpoint because of its deep strategic significance to Moscow.

US President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, said it would be a “grave mistake” for Russian President Vladimir Putin to send soldiers into Ukraine to restore a friendly government after the upheaval. Nobody would benefit if Ukraine were to split apart, she said. “It’s in nobody’s interest to see violence return and the situation escalate.”

Lilit Gevorgyan, a Russia analyst at IHS Jane’s Insight, said: “If there’s turmoil and real talk of the breakup of Ukraine, the Russians will be interested in securing” Crimea’s Sevastopol port. “Strategically, symbolically and historically, it’s important for the Russians.”

She told AFP: “There are many Russians who believe it was [former Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev, who was an ethnic Ukrainian, who decided to give [Sevastopol] to Ukraine, and still believe it is unfair. If it had been part of Russia, it would have provided a deepwater port for its Black Sea fleet, whereas Russia now has to pay a lease until 2042.”

But the Kremlin is unlikely to interfere, says a prominent analyst.

The most popular myth about Moscow’s role in the Ukrainian crisis is that Mr. Yanukovych has been but a puppet of President Vladimir V. Putin. In reality, Mr. Putin has been very frustrated with his Ukrainian counterpart, says Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center:

To Mr. Putin, Mr. Yanukovych is unreliable, forever vacillating between the European Union and Russia; and now, a totally spent force, he has fled from Kiev to Kharkiv, a Russian-speaking city in eastern Ukraine. Moscow knows that the Ukrainian oligarchs, most of whom used to support Mr. Yanukovych, are largely anti-Russian. Though they in effect rule Ukraine, they fear being taken over by the richer business giants next door. Even those who made their money in Russia, like the protest-funder Petro Poroshenko, prefer to keep it in the West.

Despite what some Ukrainians suspect, Moscow is unlikely to try bringing about the breakup of Ukraine in order to annex its southern and eastern parts, he writes for the New York Times:

That would mean civil war next door, and Russia abhors the idea. Moscow’s best option at this point is to stand back and wait, while quietly favoring decentralization in Ukraine. Although federalization is seen in Kiev and western Ukraine as a step toward ultimate partition, it could in fact help hold Ukraine together. With more financial and cultural autonomy, the country’s diverse regions could more easily live and let live, and keep one another in check. Promoting decentralization in Ukraine would be a realistic long-term strategy for Russia, something Moscow has lacked so far.

Sergei A. Markov, a political strategist who advises the Kremlin, criticized the “cynical geopolitical games” that European leaders played in Ukraine, and suggested that Russia needed a new approach. “It’s simply necessary for Moscow to reformat the Ukraine element of its foreign policy,” he told Interfax.

Since Ukraine could either descend into chaos or right itself on a path toward a new democratic stability, the European powers and the United States must offer the country all possible support to move toward the latter, says Brussels-based analyst Ulrich Speck:

Ukraine’s crisis isn’t just political: The country faces economic default without support. It had been relying on Russia for that help, and now Europeans and Americans must quickly work with the International Monetary Fund to provide a financial lifeline to Kiev and to prepare longer-term economic-assistance programs; they must also be ready to give direct emergency aid by themselves, if needed. Simply by announcing a readiness to commit to these steps, they would be providing enormous help to the forces committed to change in Ukraine.

Besides getting through the first days and weeks, there are two great political risks the West must help Ukraine to address, he writes for the New York Times:

One is the inevitable attempt to undermine an emerging order. The protest movement that began last November, centered in Kiev’s Independence Square, has won. But it is quite possible that the forces that supported the former regime, especially in the east and south of the country, are going to contest the new order…..The second risk is that the new regime will look like the one installed after the Orange Revolution in 2004: years of painful stalemate, political institutions blocking each other, permanent infighting and no clear separation between political and economic power.

It is primarily up to the Ukrainian people to put their still-young country on a new path. Many have demonstrated incredible courage over the last weeks. But a post-Yanukovych Ukraine will still be a fragile state with weak institutions.

The key to this approach lies in Berlin, says Speck, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, the European center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

In the 1990s, it was Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Angela Merkel’s mentor, who pushed through the enlargement of the European Union to include former members of the Soviet bloc as a way to stabilize Germany’s Eastern neighborhood….Seen by many as the European Union’s leading power, Germany can bring France on board, a necessary condition for getting the bloc fully behind a new approach to Ukraine. Moreover, Berlin, with its strong economic ties with Moscow, is able to keep the West’s relations with Moscow on track. And Berlin pulls enough weight in Washington to put together a common trans-Atlantic strategy.

Dr. Nadia Diuk, Vice President Programs-Africa, Central Europe and Eurasia, Latin America and the Caribbean, National Endowment for Democracy (above) shed light on recent events in Ukraine with a recent article for World Affairs, ”Euromaidan: Ukraine’s Self-Organizing Revolution.”

“January 22nd, the date usually celebrated in Ukraine as the Day of Unity between east and west, will now go down in history as the day the two-months-long Euromaidan movement saw its first fatalities as violence escalated in Kyiv’s city center, with internal troops and special forces pitted against the formerly peaceful protesters in a vicious, at times almost medieval battle. One civic activist was found beaten to death in the woods outside Kyiv, and others were shot as they took part in the standoff.”

Read the complete article here.

Tunisia’s new constitution a model for Egypt? Labor, civil society pressed Islamists to compromise

President Moncef Marzouki and the head of the National Assembly today signed Tunisia’s new constitution, enshrining one of its last steps toward full democracy after a 2011 uprising that inspired the Arab Spring, Reuters reports:

After years of autocratic rule under Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s charter has been praised as one of the most progressive in the Arab world, designating Islam as the state religion but protecting freedom of belief and sexual equality. Parliament erupted in celebration after the official signing of the constitution following its approval by assembly deputies on Sunday evening, which ended months of deadlock that had threatened to undo Tunisia’s transition.

The military coup in Egypt persuaded the Islamist Ennahda party to compromise on its demands for shariah law and the dilution of women’s rights, say analysts.

“The Tunisians did a great job of negotiating the text in very difficult circumstances,” said Zaid al-Ali, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance and an expert on Arab constitutions. “The coup pushed the process to the edge and they were teetering on the edge. They deserve a lot of credit for getting away from that.”

“This cleavage between Islamists and secularists in Tunisia is going to continue for a very long time, so if the courts can really be considered an independent, fair institution, people will rely on them to resolve conflicts in a legal way,” he told the FT.

Ali said the constitution lacks details spelling out the exercise of basic rights for individuals, but he pointed out that it also contains stronger guarantees preventing parliament from curbing rights than any charter in the Arab world.

Tunisians had another advantage, says Craig Charney, a veteran pollster in South Africa and the Middle East. Tunisia “already had strong civil society institutions” – like the General Labor Union (UGTT) and the Tunisian Human Rights League. These institutions, explained Charney, “were able to play a nonpartisan moderating role between the different political factions,” he told The New York Times:

And, unlike Egypt, Tunisia also did not have a politicized military with deep roots in the economy that had incentives to meddle in the political arena. Syria, Libya and Iraq had no real civil society institutions at all.

The adoption of a new constitution is an important step in reducing political uncertainty, Fitch Ratings says:

But easing political and social tensions will be a long and challenging process….. Tunisia’s political transition will face another challenge when postponed elections are held. These will take the interim government several months to organize and are unlikely to take place before the second half of the year. The elections will test the extent to which social polarization has permanently reduced political stability, and are no guarantee against further social and political fragmentation.

The significance of Tunisia’s democratic reconstruction process has been the capacity of secularists and Islamists to “play ball,” according to a prominent analyst.

“State foundations never needed to be propped up by an army (as in Egypt) …. the lasting and most important gift of Bourguiba’s statecraft. At no stage were state structures threatened by failure (as in Libya) despite newly empowered inexperienced rulers,” says Dr Larbi Sadiki, a specialist in Arab democratization.

Above all else, at the core of drafting a democratic and modern constitution has been the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) whose sole tough assignment was from the outset to write the charter. The “troika” bringing together secularists and Islamists in the country’s first ever power-sharing exercise has been a stroke of genius, he writes for Al-Jazeera:

This is where Tunisia’s Islamists outclass Islamists across the Arab region: phases of democratic reconstruction are no time for seeking power monopoly or being driven by majoritarian political equations. Saving democracy from itself meant, at one level, by-passing rules of democratic engagement such as being dogmatic about majority rule. Nahda also knew when to make concessions. As a result of concessionary and bargain politics, Nahda has improved its position whilst its main rival, Nidaa Tounes, is so racked by internal dissent.

Lastly, the Federated Union of Tunisian Labor (UGTT) has learnt, despite initial trepidation due to lack of neutrality, how to revise its politics and provide a “balancing act” that the democratic reconstruction process called for. By leading and seeking a moderating role, especially through the National Dialogue process, it has helped tone down ideologically driven divides and mutually exclusive political agendas, voices and forces.

“With this, Tunisia should be a model for the region,” Ennahda chief Rached Ghannouchi said of the charter. “These advances in democracy in Tunisia should have a positive effect on the other Arab Spring countries.”

Neo-authoritarian reform needed for China’s democratization?

A further insight into the strategic mindset of China‘s ruling Communist Party or a predictable rationalization for one-party rule?  

Strongman politics serves as a linchpin of neo-authoritarianism, along with modernization-oriented reform and opening-up policy, a leading party ideologue argues. 

Gradualist democratization cannot be achieved without strong leaders. It is powerful leadership that helps generate adequate courage, wisdom and capability to delegate power, make breakthroughs, and cleave a path of gradualist democratization with Chinese characteristics, claims Wang Zhanyang, director of the Political Science Department at the Central Institute of Socialism:

In numerous critical historical moments, many countries have missed opportunities of peaceful transition to democracy due to lack of a strong leadership and thus paid a excessively high prices for reform. This is what China should try to refrain from. It is historically lucky to have a strongman during a nation’s transformation era.

Neo-authoritarianism is historically necessary but not inevitable because it rides on strongman politics instead of institutionalization.

It is, nevertheless, worth noting that the future is brimmed with uncertainties even though we have scored some achievements in the current neo-authoritarian reform. We might be exposed to another hazard in that social turmoil will arise if we fail to shift to gradualist democratic reform in due time. By then whether we can make it into democratic reform will be the most intractable challenge.  

“Neo-authoritarianism serves as an indispensable transition,” he writes for the official Global Times. “Only by advancing the reform and opening-up in this stage and then promoting it to democratization will China realize modernization.”