Looking East: The fetishization of “oriental” despots is an old Western habit

This choice of an alien heroism was the result of a heightened interest, characteristic for Xenophon’s time, in the Orient – Eastern culture, ideology and sociopolitical forms. A light was expected from the East. Cultural interanimation, interaction of ideologies and languages had already begun. Also characteristic was the idealization of the oriental despot, and here one senses Xenophon’s own contemporary reality with its idea (shared widely by his contemporaries) of renovating Greek political forms in a spirit close to oriental autocracy. 

That is Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin, writing in the Dialogic Imagination (p. 54). Next time you read Tom Friedman in the Times and feel a little envy over supposed autocratic efficiency in Beijing remember that the world has seen this before. May be that will help you relax a bit, and put things in perspective. 

How I would not lead the World Bank – Bill Easterly

For those, like me, who still miss Aid Watch, here is Easterly over at FP:

I would not appoint U.S.-educated elites vetted by their autocratic home governments to represent the underrepresented peoples of the world. I would not negotiate the contents of World Bank reports with governments in either the West or the Rest, except possibly for correcting typos.

I would not lead the World Bank by perpetuating the technocratic illusion that development is something “we” do to “them.” I would not ignore the rights of “them.” If the New York Times should happen to report on the front page that a World Bank-financed project torched the homes and crops of Ugandan farmers, I would not stonewall the investigation for the next 165 days, 4 hours, 37 minutes, and 20 seconds up to now.

More on this here.

And for more on leadership selection at IFIs see CGD’s policy brief here.

when dictators’ oracles fail them

One of the biggest problems in dictatorships is the dearth of dependable information. This problem affects both dictators and their oppressed subjects alike. The same applies to presidents in electoral regimes who surround themselves with “yes men,” the latter who are oftentimes more concerned about pleasing their patron than giving him the right information.

This cartoon from the Daily Nation exemplifies the surprise from some quarters that greeted Rupiah Banda’s defeat in the just concluded tripartite elections in Zambia.

Former president Banda might have been a victim of misinformation, above and beyond the fact that the opposition Patriotic Front run a skillfully crafted campaign complete with this mega hit (in Zambia at least).

HT African Arguments

Dictatorship and Disease

Most Bad things go together.

Like Keating at FP, I am unwilling to make any causal claims linking dictatorship to disease or vice versa but suffice it to say that most people who live under dictatorships – in Chad, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, North Korea, etc – do live despite great odds occasioned by their respective governments’ incompetence and runaway lack of accountability.

It is not obvious that democracy necessarily leads to good outcomes. In this regard I agree with Huntington that it is not the type of government that matters but the degree of government. China and Rwanda, for instance, are competent autocracies with high degrees of government. They also register much better outcomes than many nominal democracies out there

(Just for the record, this is not to say that we should not promote democracy. Despite the sobering reality of this world, I believe that everyone should do all in their capacity to help disperse power whenever they see it being concentrated in one individual or institution — paraphrasing my officemate Tomer).

museveni wins another term, Gaddafi using African mercenaries

Long-term Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, in on course to a comfortable win in the country’s general election. With over 70% of the votes counted Mr. Museveni leads his closest rival, Besigye, with over 40%. President Museveni, ruler of Uganda since 1986, started off as a different kind of African president, presiding over a decade of sustained growth, drastic reduction in HIV infection rates and general peace and stability. But he stayed for too long. Beginning in the mid-1990s Uganda transitioned – under intense domestic and international pressure – from a “no-party democracy” [whatever that means] to a multiparty electoral system in which Museveni allowed for opposition at the margins.

The new dispensation created pressures for greater levels of patronage in order for Museveni to stay in power. He scrapped constitutionally mandated term limits, created a cabinet of over 70 ministers and went crazy with what Ugandans call “districtization” – the act of creating new local government jurisdictions purely for patronage purposes. Uganda’s new found oil reserves will certainly continue to fund the long-term autocrat’s stranglehold on Ugandan politics. Rumors abound that he intends to install his son and head of the presidential guard as his successor.

In other news, Col. Gaddafi is reported to be using African mercenaries to quell rebellion in the east of Libya. For decades Gaddafi has been a Guevara wanna-be, funding armed rebellions all over the Continent (Including the infamous Charles Taylor of Liberia). He seems to have done all that in the hope that the rebels he funded would come to his aid, like is happening now. But the presidents/rebel leaders who have sent soldiers to kill Libyans demanding for their natural rights should be aware that it is precisely such acts that have landed Jean-Pierre Bemba at the Hague.

after sudan, ethiopia

Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir is here to stay. Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi is up next on a list of African autocrats who face elections this year. Ethiopia holds parliamentary elections on May 23rd in a vote that will determine who becomes Prime Minsiter. Africa’s second most populous country cremains under tight rule by the increasingly despotic Meles Zenawi. It is a foregone conclusion that Mr. Zenawi’s party will win. The only non-academic part of these elections will be how many seats the opposition is allowed to win. Mr. Zenawi has run the country since 1991 when he led a rebellion that overthrew the tinpot dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

More on Mr. Zenawi’s rule here.

The other elections coming up in the next month include Mauritius (May 5th) and the Central African Republic (May 16th). Keep track of these elections here.