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. 

What explains voter turnout inequality across the world?

We find that in countries with a high degree of bureaucratic capacity (i.e. ability to tax the rich), the wealthy turn out at higher rates than the poor. Consistent with our theory, we find that the turnout of the poor is largely unaffected by bureaucratic capacity. This finding is robust to a variety of measures of state capacity. We also provide evidence for an additional implication of our theory. If turnout rates amongst the wealthy are driven by their potential tax exposure, it ought to be the case that where redistributive politics on a tax-and-transfer dimension are salient, the rich turn out to vote at higher rates than the poor. We show that where the rich and the poor support different political parties, the rich turn out to vote at higher rates. We also provide evidence that likely confounds, reverse causation, and social desirability bias in reported turnout cannot account for the patterns we find in the data.

That is Kimuli Kasara and Pavithra Suryanarayan of Columbia [h/t monkeycage] in a paper explaining global variation in turnout rates by income. In a roundabout way the paper speaks to the factors that enhance democratic stability. Low state capacity (in this case with regard to tax collection) is bad for democratic stability because, among other things, it denies young democracies the stabilizing effect of the middle and upper classes in the democratic process thereby making them continue to behave like autocracies (Did you know that autocracies in Latin America redistributed land more than democracies?) It also takes away the taxation-based implicit contract between the voter and the state, thereby giving politicians a free hand to do as they wish with public resources.

In related news, following the US Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act Rebecca Onion at Slate posted a nice piece on the original literacy tests in Louisiana that were designed to keep minorities away from the polling stations. Interesting stuff. I wonder what the average score would be if the tests covered all voting age Americans…

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Who’s interested in democracy?

According to Google Trends the answer is Ethiopians. Between 2004 and now they score the highest in the search index for the word “democracy,” at least among the English speaking countries of the world. Ethiopians have lived under successive military and quasi-military dictatorships since the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974.

It is also interesting to see the relative concentration of searches for the word in eastern and southern Africa compared not only to other regions in Africa but also to the rest of the world. Besides Ethiopia, the other countries in Africa with a high search index have recently had somewhat high levels of political contestation through reasonably competitive elections.

On (the now shattered) Malian Democracy

Update:

Mutineers in Mali have appeared on national television to announce the overthrow of the “incompetent” government of President Amadou Toumani Toure. More on this here.

Also, I must hand it to Jay Ulfelder over at dart-throwing chimp for nailing it on Mali’s coup risk in 2012.

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What started as a mutiny in Mali on Tuesday night appears to have degenerated into a coup. Mali was due to hold elections on April 29th 2012. Since (re)democratization in the early 1990s Mali has routinely been cited as a case of democratic consolidation despite seemingly insurmountable odds (poor HDI scores, etc.). The current developments, however, raise serious questions with regard to whether the Malian political and military elite have wholly bought into the idea of settling their battles for power and influence at the ballot.

Furthermore, existing evidence (see below, part of an ongoing research project) paint a picture not of consolidation but of a cycling of over-sized coalitions that are prone to executive control and manipulation. The non-existence of stable elite coalitions (as appears to be the case in the stylized comparative case of Ghana) is a recipe for elite political instability as we are currently witnessing.

Oversize coalitions in government under electoral democracy are not a sufficient condition for elite political instability, but they are definitely a sign that things might not be right.

The idea here is that stable coalitions create room for self-enforcing arrangements among elites by raising actors’ audience costs. A regular cycling of over-size coalitions flies in the face of all of this – resulting in near-permanent first mover advantage and incentives for those left out to use extra-constitutional means to gain power.

The proximate cause of the mutiny and eventual (attempted) coup in Mali might have been a confluence of weak state coercive capacity and the resurgence of the Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country (fueled by weapons from Libya); but one cannot rule out the significance of the enabling structural conditions.

This is a data point on coups in Africa that I rather did not have.

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.

A note from Mr. Development Man

Perhaps after experiencing a Bill Easterly moment, a friend of mine (grad student here at Stanford) had this on his facebook wall:

“Hello, my name is Mr. Development Man. I know Africa so much!! I went there one summer and stayed with an NGO. I talked to my servant cook who served me food, so I know African workers. I read a few books written by white Americans about Africa, and remembered their big words. So I know African ideology. African prostitutes talked to me at my hotel poolside, so I know about relationships in Africa. I took pictures of kids at the orphanage, so I know how Africans suffer.

My conclusions: Africans are corrupt. The place is poor because of poor policies. And my knowledge can help them. If they just listened to my smart American knowledge — obtained from the 2 months at the NGO, my white man books, my prostitutes, my few words with my servant cook — they would develop!! Why don’t they listen to me?? I can help them…Stubborn, corrupt African politicians…

Signed, Mr. Development Man. Remember, I am here to help you Africa!!”

I have a sense that Mr. Development Man’s note is directed at both development practitioners and academics alike. Let us all take heed.

Chad, who is into short stories and is also a late night radio DJ, wrote this Letter to Mr development man on the dynamics of the love-hate relationship between donors and aid recipients.

H/T Chad.

Protestant ethic and the spirit of democracy?

This article explores Protestantism’s inadvertent, historic role in dispersing elite power and spurring democracy. Economic and political elites typically hoard resources and perpetuate class distinction. Conversionary Protestants undermined this social reproduction because they wanted everyone to read the Bible in their own language, decide individually what to believe, and create religious organizations outside state control. Thus, they consistently initiated mass education, mass printing and civil society and spurred competitors to copy. Resultant power dispersion altered elite incentives and increased the probability of stable democratic transitions.

I test my historical arguments statistically via the spread of Protestant and Catholic missionaries. Protestant missions account for about half the variation in non-European democracy and remove the influence of variables that dominate current research. These findings challenge scholars to reformulate theories about cultural vs. structure, and about the rise of democracy.

That is Woodberry of UT Austin in a rather provocative paper that will soon hit the printing press. The paper is a reminder of how much we still don’t know about the mechanisms that produce democracy and limited government – and by extension general institutional development.

You can find a copy here.

Is Uganda experiencing its 1991 moment?

UPDATE II: Angelo over at TIA offers an analysis of the ongoing situation in the development of Uganda’s oil sector. After months of under-the-table maneuvers by the executive it appears that the Ugandan legislature has finally found its voice. Angelo credits this both on the rise of independents and internal divisions within the ruling party, NRM.

Perhaps in an attempt to deflect from its recent woes the government has also been trying to prosecute those involved in the mega-corruption surrounding procurement for construction projects in the run-up to the commonwealth summit in 2007. Senior officials, including a cabinet minister, have since resigned over this saga.

Many of us thought that the oil money would buy Museveni more time in State House, Entebbe. But the other thing the discovery of oil has done is increase the stakes. It remains to be seen how far Ugandan politicians and their coalitions within and without NRM are willing to go in order to get their fair share of the cake. I would not want to be M7 right now.

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UPDATE: Joel D. Barkan has a nice piece outlining Uganda’s and Museveni’s many challenges are potential scenarios of the continuing struggle for accountable government in Uganda.

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The early 1990s were a heady time on the African continent. Student riots, mass strikes, opposition rallies and international pressure were causing many a one party African dictator sleepless nights.

By dint of history, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda escaped the winds of change that were sweeping through the continent. Having brought stability to Kampala and most of southern Uganda following the 1981-86 bush war, he had gone ahead to preside over the longest stretch of sustained economic growth in Uganda’s history. Many loved him. He was able to sell his weird idea of no party democracy to the masses. As a result Uganda’s first multiparty elections took place in 2006, a full 20 years after Museveni came to power.

But the long honeymoon for Museveni – the champion of Ugandan security and growth since 1986 – appears to be in its twilight. Since the last elections early this year, protests have rocked Kampala and other major urban centres across the country. Earlier today on twitter Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda argued that Museveni’s success will be the source of his downfall. Economic growth has created a lot of powerful forces with a lot to lose as Museveni continues to restrict political space in his bid to cling to power.

In a new article in the Journal of Democracy, Angelo Izama, another Ugandan journalist, echoes the same claims. The Ugandan masses can no longer tolerate the regime’s sins of misgovernance. High level sleaze in government, economic mismanagement (recent walk to work riots were in reaction to high inflation, partly related to runaway campaign spending by Museveni) and general fatigue with the overbearing Ugandan securocracy have ignited protests by the masses, beyond those called for by the main opposition party.

By all accounts Museveni is in a tight corner, despite his 68% win in the February 2011 polls.

But as many Uganda experts would quickly add, do not count M7 out just yet. The recent discovery of oil in the Lake Albert region is expected to provide a steady supply of cash to prop up the regime into the immediate future. Furthermore, the Ugandan opposition remains divided and unable to come up with a singular message against the regime’s many failures in the recent past.

That said, the cat appears to have been let out of the bag. Like many of his regional counterparts back in 1991, Museveni will have to make significant concessions if he is to survive the latest street protests.

But just how much time does Museveni have?

In my view, a lot of time. This is partly because Museveni has successfully convinced Ugandans – including many in the opposition and media that are opposed to his rule – that he is indispensable. Many, in the same breath, decry the sleaze and economic mismanagement in his administration but admire his regional military adventurism and opportunistic “independent mindedness.”

There is simply no compelling (and credible) replacement for Museveni in the public psyche (yet). The opposition leader Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s personal physician turned foe, is a pale shadow of his former self.

The other reason is Uganda’s weak civil society – a direct product of the country’s tumultuous history since the mid-1960s. Not enough indigenous independent wealth has been created to support a nascent opposition and civil society movement as was the case in Kenya, among other early experimenters with electoral pluralism, in the early 1990s.

Being the adroit politician that he is, Museveni will definitely play this reality to his advantage into the foreseeable future.

For the sake of Ugandans and the hope of a freer East African Community, I hope I am wrong.

Accountable leadership 1 Abdoulaye Wade 0

Abdoulaye Wade is a study in delegative democracy gone crazy (In the words of Paul Collier, democrazy). Delegative democracy  is the phenomenon of elected leaders going rogue and essentially performing auto-coups (mostly through constitutional gymnastics) in order to entrench themselves in power (see O’Donnell). Leading lights in this regard include Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, the late Frederick Chiluba of Zambia, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand.

Mr. Wade’s latest assault on Senegalese democracy has been his attempts to lower the threshold for the election of a president to a mere 25% down from 50%. He’d much rather win cheap against a fractured opposition in the first round than risk a runoff against a single opposition candidate. After 11 years in power without much to sing about the risk is just too high for the Wade regime. President Wade also wanted to create the position of an elected vice president before the 2012 elections. Many believe that Wade had his son Karim in mind for this new post.

In the end determined opposition protest outside the Senegalese parliament forced the president to withdraw the draft legislation.

If the opposition unites [and that is a big IF], they could beat Mr. Wade in 2012. Frequent power cuts, a flagging economy, rampant inflation and Wade’s brand of crass and tone deaf nepotism (he wants to be succeeded by his own son despite the revolutions the Islamic near-abroad) have served to alienate the aging leader from many voters, particularly in urban areas.

Mr. Wade is expected to run for a third 7-year presidential term next year. He is 85.

textual presence

Google has digitized more than 5 million books in a project that also enables users to track changes in scholarly attention to particular topics. I did a few searches and came up with these results. They obviously do not mean much and are only useful in knowing what scholars paid more attention to at any given time.

There was a time when Africa was cooler than Asia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Positive trends: investment outbids aid

 

 

 

 

 

 

institutions beat democracy?