1 Democracy in Africa Responses to Questions from Jason McClure David H.
Shinn 5 December 2010
Question: How do you assess democratization in Africa over the past five years? How does that compare with the initial 10-15 years following the end of the Cold War? Answer: African politics became increasingly authoritarian from the 1960s until about 1990. There was a strong challenge to autocratic rule in the early 1990s that lasted into the late 1990s. As the 20th century came to an end, sustained democratization went into decline again and has yet to recover. The picture is, however, mixed. This is not surprising when you are considering 53 very different countries. In recent years, the record has been good in countries such as Ghana, South Africa, Mali, Benin, Botswana, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Cape Verde, Seychelles and Mauritius. In most other countries, democratization has not performed well. Eritrea has not had an election since independence in 1993. Madagascar, Guinea, Zimbabwe and Cote d’Ivoire have been in political turmoil in recent years while one party politics has prevailed in countries such as Sudan, Angola, Gabon and Cameroon. Question: Is ethnicity becoming more or less potent as a political force on the continent? What countries have successfully mitigated ethnic polarization in their politics and how have they accomplished this? Answer: Ethnicity is holding its own as a potent political force in Africa. Very few African countries have managed to overcome this scourge. By a combination of luck and relatively enlightened political leadership, ethnically diverse countries such as Tanzania and South Africa have managed to avoid the most harmful aspects of ethnicity. But even in these countries a single political party has retained power since independence. A number of more authoritarian governments have actually been more successful in minimizing the impact of ethnicity, but this has largely been due to more repressive tactics. Question: Are large oil/natural resource finds a curse for democratic governance? Which countries offer the best model for handling large mineral/oil finds while maintaining democratic institutions? What are the characteristics of African countries that manage their resource finds well (for example: high education level, ethnic homogeneity, existing democratic structures, etc.) and what are the characteristics of countries whose governance has been harmed by resource discoveries? Answer: In the case of large oil deposits, I am not aware of a single country in Africa (and most of the rest of the world) that has not suffered from the oil curse. These governments tend to be authoritarian or corrupt or both. Ghana is an important test case if it can be the first in Africa to maintain relatively democratic government and avoid the oil curse. The situation with mineral wealth provides a mixed picture. Botswana (diamonds), South Africa (numerous minerals) and Zambia (copper) have largely avoided the negative aspects of significant natural resource wealth.
2 All three countries are at the higher end of the education, health care and democracy scales, but I doubt that three countries provide enough evidence to reach any generalizations. Question: Has the rise of China challenged the assumption that democracy is necessary for economic growth and stability in Africa? Do you see that China’s aid, trade and investment on the continent has been positive, negative or neutral for democracy? Answer: Over the medium term (10, 20 perhaps 30 years) you can have economic growth and stability in Africa with little or no democracy. The problem is that authoritarianism begets more authoritarianism and, at some point, there is a breaking point unless there is movement, even slow movement, towards increased participation of the people in government. While China’s involvement in Africa so far has been largely positive for African economies and existing governments, it has not been positive for the expansion of western-style liberal democracy. China is an important source of financial resources for Africa and has helped drive up the price of African commodity prices, especially natural resources. Until 2009, when it had a large trade surplus collectively with Africa’s 53 countries, China’s trade was generally in balance with Africa. The problem is that China has huge trade deficits with several of Africa’s major oil producing countries such as Angola and large trade surpluses with about thirty of Africa’s mainly poorer countries. In the case of Africa’s poorest countries, this is not a sustainable relationship. Question: What has persistent conflict in countries like Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia had on governance in neighboring states? Answer: Conflict in these states has had a detrimental impact on stability in neighboring countries, which tends to lead to more severe security responses in the neighboring countries and, indirectly, has a harmful impact on governance. Conflict in neighboring countries also diverts scarce resources and the attention of senior leaders from development. These conflicts have opportunity costs for their neighbors. Question: How do you assess the role of the following institutions in promoting democracy in Africa over the past five years: the U.S., the EU, the African Union, South Africa, France and the U.K.? Answer: They have all been saying the right things and in some cases pursuing policies that try to promote democracy. None of them has devoted much by way of financial resources that directly improves democracy. In many cases, the African governments have been unwilling to accept financial resources that encourage democracy and might endanger their continuation in power. The biggest positive surprise among these actors has actually been the African Union. It has taken some tough stands against governments that have not measured up such as Togo, Madagascar and Guinea. This was unheard of twenty years ago. Question: What do you foresee over the next 10 years? Will economic growth spur democratic reforms? Answer: Enlightened African leaders will spur democratic reforms. Without enlightened leadership that really believes in democratic principles, I doubt there will be much improvement. Too many leaders are interested in remaining in power at any cost. One of the biggest setbacks in Africa in recent years has been the elimination of previously existing term limits in African
3 constitutions. Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Gabon, Togo, Tunisia and Uganda, among others, have abolished presidential term limits. This is not a good omen. Economic growth might help to encourage democratic reforms, but I do not think it is the major factor.