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.


West fails to help Kurds counter ISIS

ISIS ISWInternational cooperation to check the rise of the jihadist group, ISIS, has so far proved elusive, even as its influence has hurt the interests of world powers and complicated the regional rivalries among Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the New York Times reports:

“You say you don’t like ISIS. What do you do about it?” said Michael Stephens, the Qatar-based deputy director of the defense analysis group of the Royal United Services Institute, a research group headquartered in London.

For the United States and Europe, Mr. Stephens and others said, supporting the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government wholeheartedly is tricky because that sends the wrong message to Sunni-led Persian Gulf allies. Backing the Kurds is tricky because neither Iraq nor Turkey wants its Kurdish territories to secede. Supporting the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in fighting his ISIS opponents is impossible, given the efforts to unseat him for the last three years. “There are so many variables here,” Mr. Stephens said. “Any action will have so many unintended consequences.”

The Kurdish regional government and the Iraqi government urgently need more substantial assistance, argues Zalmay Khalilzad (right), a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. khalilzad

“With Iran and Saudi Arabia locked in a proxy war in Syria, Saudi Arabia competing with Qatar and Turkey for influence throughout the region, and Kurds — themselves hardly united — leaning ever further toward independence, it is not realistic to expect a coherent strategy for confronting ISIS to emerge from the region,” said Noah Bonsey, the Syria expert at the International Crisis Group. “The U.S. has the clout and capacity to build partnerships capable of reversing ISIS gains, but seems to lack the necessary vision and will.”

The latest string of victories by ISIS militants in Iraq raises an enormous and obvious question: What’s the U.S. doing to help the Kurds? The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins asks.

The United States has plenty of reason to worry, said Julia McQuaid, an analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses in Arlington, Va., and not just because Western recruits to ISIS can come home and wreak havoc.

ISIS propounds the idea of a Sunni “caliphate,” which by definition threatens the borders of nation-states. “While there should be little concern for any current jihadist movement successfully establishing a global caliphate under its banner,” Ms. McQuaid wrote in a blog post, the Islamic State’s model “may have profound implications on the security environment in other countries.”

Africa’s ‘laboratories of democratization’

Hassan Sheikh MohamudSomalia’s Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Benin’s President Boni Yayi are expected to address tomorrow’s Africa Civil Society summit on Capitol Hill.

According to a recent profile, among the 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Somalia’s Hassan Sheikh Mohamud:

  • Throughout his leadership, he has refused to become embroiled in clan politics, instead touting national reconciliation and unity
  • He was one of the few Somali intellectuals to remain in the country throughout the 21-year civil war
  • His administration was the first to be recognized internationally for more than two decades
  • Early in his career, he made a name for himself helping resolve clan disputes
  • He faces daily assassination attempts
  • In 2013, TIME Magazine included him on its annual list of the world’s 100 most influential people, citing his efforts at “advancing national reconciliation, anti-corruption measures, and socio-economic and security sector reforms” as the reasons for making the list.

Agência Brasil - ABr - Empresa Brasil de Comunicação - EBCBenin has been described as ‘the laboratory of democratization in Africa’.

According to the latest Bertelsmann Index, Benin “became the trendsetter for radical democratization processes in the whole of Francophone Africa” and Yayi “continued to rule throughout the period under review with respect for democratic principles and with a commitment to strengthening the market economy.”

“Benin has a special place in that history [of African democratization in the 90s],” said National Endowment for Democracy board member Princeton Lyman, head of the Africa program at the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Foreign Relations.

“It’s one of eight countries that experienced a pro-democracy movement succeeding in ousting the incumbent one-party government that have maintained democratic institutions and multiparty elections since the transition,” the others being Cape Verde, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Madagascar, Malawi, and Zambia, according to a recent analysis.

Despite political turmoil, emerging consensus in Ukraine

ukrainesolidarnoscGlobal attention remains focused on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, especially in the wake of the tragic downing of the Malaysian commercial airliner MH17, David Klion writes for World Politics Review.

But in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, the ongoing war with Russia is only one of several competing priorities. Attempts to restructure and reform Ukraine’s troubled economy have led to a series of political earthquakes. Two weeks ago, the governing coalition, which had been assembled after the Maidan protests drove former President Viktor Yanukovych from power, was dissolved, and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk offered his resignation. Then last week, Yatsenyuk’s resignation was rejected by Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada. At first glance, the infamously dysfunctional Rada appears to be as chaotic as ever, even as Ukraine struggles to maintain control of its eastern regions.

But the situation in Kiev may be more stable than it seems. The backdrop for the Rada’s shakeup is a promise made by Ukraine’s newly elected President Petro Poroshenko to hold new parliamentary elections. The public has been demanding a new government ever since Yanukovych fled Ukraine with single-digit approval ratings, but according to Ukraine’s constitution, Poroshenko cannot dissolve the Rada and call for elections unless the ruling coalition collapses. This means the major parties that make up the post-Maidan coalition—former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivschyna, boxing champion Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR and the far-right Oleh Tyahnybok’s Svoboda—have to part ways and compete against each other in elections, likely to take place in October, with the expectation that their cumulative support will grow vis-a-vis Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.

Joanna Rohozinska, senior program officer for Eastern Europe at the National Endowment for Democracy, predicts that UDAR and Svoboda stand to gain the most from new elections.

“These two parties have captured the populist mood of the Maidan,” she says. By contrast, Batkivschina is losing support because Tymoshenko “hasn’t been playing a particularly constructive role. Many people see her as out of touch with political reality since leaving prison. She’s considered a member of the old order.”


Putin’s new anti-Americanism

russiaputinterrorAmbassador Michael McFaul was there when the promise of democracy came to Russia—and when it began to fade, the New Yorker’s David Remnick writes.

An expert on democracy assistance, McFaul encountered resistance to his ideas within the Administration, Remnick reports:

During one argument among aides in the White House, McFaul took the position that nations need not wait for the development of a middle class before building democratic institutions. As McFaul recalled, “Somebody said, ‘That’s interesting, but that’s not what the President thinks.’ And I said, ‘That’s interesting, but if that is what he thinks he is wrong.’ It was a jarring moment, and I thought I might even get fired.” He recalled arguing with Tom Donilon, the national-security adviser, about the issue. “Donilon would tell me, Obama is not really interested in that stuff. He’s just a realist.” And yet McFaul, who is not shy about suggesting his own influence, pointed out that Obama gave speeches in Cairo, Moscow, and Accra, in 2009, “making my arguments about why democracy is a good thing. . . . Those speeches made me more optimistic, after all those colleagues telling me he is just a realist.”

“Obama has multiple interests he is thinking about,” McFaul went on. “He has idealist impulses that are real, and then impulses about concerns about unintended consequences of idealism. We were in the Roosevelt Room during the Egypt crisis, and I asked, ‘What do you think?’ He said, ‘What I want is for this to happen quickly and the Google guy to become President. What I think is that this will be a long-drawn-out process.’ ”

Reminick profiles several of Russia’s leading ideologues and details the disturbing prevalence of anti-Western illiberal conspiracy theories that inform the regime’s policies.

Dmitri Kiselyov, the head of Russia Today, Putin’s newly created information agency, and the host, on Sunday nights, of the TV magazine show “News of the Week,” is a masterly, and unapologetic, purveyor of the Kremlin line, he notes:  

“Putin now talks more about ideology and about the system of values and the spiritual origins of Russia. In this sense, he, too, is a person of tardy development. He became President unexpectedly. He had no preparation for this role. He had to respond to challenges in the course of things. At first, he had to reconsolidate the state. Now he has inspired a new energy that can be drawn from the national character and the system of values that are rooted in our culture.”

“People in the West twenty-five years ago were surprised by how calmly Russians seemed to absorb the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Boris Mezhuev, the conservative columnist, said. “It seemed to them as if we had voted on it! But in no time at all people were told that everything they had worked for was nonsense. They were told that the state they lived in was based on an unfair idea, that ideology was a myth, the West was only a friend—a complete reversal of ideas. The West underestimated the shock. Only now are we facing the consequences.”

There is an air of defiance, even a heedlessness, to Putin’s behavior, Remnick suggests:

 As the conservative commentator Stanislav Belkovsky put it to me, “It was clear that the actions in Crimea would lead to sanctions, capital flight, and a deterioration of Russia’s reputation, but nobody supporting the aggression thought twice. The imperial horn has been sounded. But we are a Third World kleptocracy hiding behind imperial symbols. There are no resources for a true imperial revival.”

Aleksandr Prokhanov, a far-right newspaper editor and novelist, is another influential voice, Remnick notes:

Together with members of other institutions associated with the Kremlin—the armed forces, the intelligence services, and the Russian Orthodox Church—he started an intellectual group called the Izborsky Club. In the nineties, Yeltsin had called on a group of intellectuals to help formulate a new “Russian idea,” one that relied largely on a liberal, Westernized conception of the nation. It went nowhere. Now, with such notions as “democracy” and “liberalism” in eclipse, groups like the Izborsky Club, Prokhanov says, are a “defense factory where we create ideological weapons to resist the West.” He said the group recently organized a branch in eastern Ukraine, led by the pro-Russian separatists. “The liberals used to be in charge in all spheres,” Prokhanov said. “Now we are crowding them out.”

DUGIN-150x150Prokhanov is hardly an outlier on today’s ideological scene in Russia. Nor is the geopolitical theorist, mystic, and high-minded crackpot Aleksandr Dugin (right), who has published in Prokhanov’s newspapers. He was once as marginal as a Lyndon LaRouche follower with a card table and a stack of leaflets. He used to appear mainly on SPAS (Salvation), an organ of the Russian Orthodox Church. Now the state affords him frequent guest spots on official television.

“For all of Dugin’s extremism, he has, in the past decade, found supporters in the Russian élite,” Remnick notes:

According to the Israeli scholar Yigal Liverant and other sources, Dugin’s work is read in the Russian military academy. He has served as an adviser to Gennady Seleznyov, the former chairman of the Russian parliament. His Eurasia Movement, which was founded in 2001, included members of the government and the official media. He declared his “absolute” support for Putin, and when he pressed his political positions in public it was usually to take the most hard-line positions possible, particularly on Georgia and Ukraine. In 2008, he was appointed head of the Center for Conservative Studies at Moscow State University. Dugin used to brag that “Putin is becoming more and more like Dugin.” And indeed Putin speaks more and more in terms of Russian vastness, Russian exceptionalism, of Russia as a moral paradigm.

Despite these disturbing trends, McFaul – a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy – remains “very optimistic about Russia and Russians,” he tells Remnick:

“In my two years as Ambassador, I just met too many young, smart, talented people who want to be connected to the world, not isolated from it. They also want a say in the government. They are scared now, and therefore not demonstrating, but they have not changed their preferences about the future they want. Instead, they are just hiding these preferences, but there will be a day when they will express them again. Putin’s regime cannot hold these people down forever. I do worry about the new nationalism that Putin has unleashed, and understand that many young Russians also embrace these extremist ideas. I see it on Twitter every day. But, in the long run, I see the Westernizers winning out. I just don’t know how long is the long run.”