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.

Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, is dead at 57

The BBC reports:

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has died at the age of 57, state media say, after weeks of illness. A government spokesman said Mr Meles had died in a hospital abroad – but did not say exactly where or give details of his ailment. Speculation about his health mounted when he missed an African Union summit in Addis Ababa last month.

Mr. Zenawi is believed to have died in a Belgian hospital – the Saint-Luc University Hospital in Brussels (where he was allegedly receiving treatment for an acute case of hematologic cancer). The last time he was seen in public was on the 19th of June 2012 at the G20 summit in Mexico.

For now the leadership transition in Ethiopia, Sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous country, appears to have gone smoothly. According to the BBC report, the deputy Premier - Hailemariam Desalegn – will take over.

Mr. Desalegn is from the south of Ethiopia, away from the political centre of gravity of the country, which for centuries has been to the north – in Tigray and Amhara dominated areas.  

It is not yet clear if the smooth transition will stick. As the Economist reported a couple of weeks ago:

“power [in Ethiopia] has still rested with a clutch of Mr Meles’s comrades from his home area of Tigray in northern Ethiopia, many of them once members of a Marxist-Leninist group that used to admire Albania’s long-serving Communist leader, the late Enver Hoxha. This hard core, including the army’s chief of staff, General Samora Younis, retains a “paranoid and secretive leadership style”, according to a former American ambassador to Ethiopia, David Shinn. Were Mr Meles to leave in a hurry, relations between the young modernisers and the powerful old guard might fray.”

Under Mr. Zenawi (May 1991- Aug. 2012) Ethiopia was a mixed bag. His rule was characterized by one of the worst human rights records in the world. But he also brought some semblance of stability following the misguided and murderous Marxist-Leninist dictatorship of the Derg under Mengistu Haile Mariam; and presided over an economy with one of the fastest growth rates on the Continent.

It is also under Meles Zenawi that Ethiopia invaded Somalia to rid it of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) which was beginning to spread Somalia’s chaos into Ethiopia’s Ogaden region (it helped that the U.S. also wanted the ICU ousted from Mogadishu because of their alleged links of al-Qaeda).

A recent profile in the Atlantic summarizes it all:

“for every Muammar Qaddafi there’s a Meles Zenawi, the shrewd, technocratic Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Inside of the country, he’s known for imprisoning his political opponents, withholding development assistance from restive areas, stealing elections, and cracking down on civil society NGOs. In the rest of the world, he’s often praised for his impressive economic record, though not for his human rights. Zenawi has attracted Western support by being a responsible steward of aid money, a security partner in a rough region, and a G20 summit invitee.”

I remain cautiously optimistic that the Ethiopian ruling elite will pull through the rocky transition period. The next elections are due in 2015. In the current parliament the ruling party, the EPRDF, and its allies control nearly all of the 547 seats.

Beyond Ethiopia’s borders, the absence of Mr. Zenawi will certainly be felt in Somalia (which is presently struggling to get on its feet after decades of total anarchy and whose government partly depends on Ethiopian troops for security) and South Sudan (where Addis Ababa has been a broker in past conflicts between Khartoum and Juba). Ethiopia’s hostile relationship with Eritrea might also experience some change, most likely for the worse as whichever faction emerges victorious in Addis engages in sabre rattling in an attempt to prove their hold on power.

Quick hits

UPDATE:

The Atlantic has a nice piece on the legacy of Meles Zenawi, the ailing Ethiopian Premier.

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The African Union elected South African Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to head its executive arm, the AU Commission. Ms Dlamini-Zuma is a former wife of the polygamist South African President Jacob Zuma. I hope that with Pretoria’s success in having her elected to head the AU South Africa will take a more proactive role in leading the regional organization. As I have stated before, I think the organization needs “owners” in the form of diplomatically powerful custodians. Being the region’s biggest economy, South Africa is well placed to provide strong leadership to the African Union, if it wanted to.

Still on the AU Summit, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been conspicuously absent, fueling speculation that he is critically ill. Rumors abound that Mr. Zenawi has left the country for a Belgian hospital – the Saint-Luc University Hospital in Brussels (where he is believed to be receiving treatment for an acute case of hematologic cancer). Some opposition groups have suggested that Mr. Zenawi may have died in hospital. The last time he was seen in public was on the 19th of June. Mr. Zenawi has led Ethiopia since 1991. His record has been a mixed bag of aggressive and ambitious development projects (with results, growth has averaged over 8.4% over the last ten years) and militarism and authoritarian tendencies that have seen many opposition members detained, exiled or killed.

And in Somalia, BloombergBusinessweek reports on the massive corruption in the Transitional Federal Government.

The nearly 200-page report lists numerous examples of money intended for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) going missing, saying that for every $10 received, $7 never made it into state coffers.

The report, written by the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea and obtained by The Associated Press Monday, says government revenues aren’t even clear: The Ministry of Finance reported revenues of $72 million in fiscal year 2011, while the accountant general reported revenues of $55 million.

The Somali Government remains an unrepresentative shell, propped up by African Union forces and barely in control anywhere outside of Mogadishu. No elections are in sight (and rightly so. I have never been a fan of rushed post-conflict elections. See Liberia circa 1997 for details), instead the UN and the AU are presiding over a process in which Somali power brokers will put together a list of electors to appoint the next parliament. The current government’s mandate expires the 20th of August (next month).

Maintenance of infrastructure still a major challenge in Africa

A good measure of state effectiveness is how well stuff is maintained. In well run places repainting is always on schedule. Potholes are fixed. And the light bulbs are not loose. I was reminded of this fact while on transit in Addis last Friday.

In 2006, the last time I was there, Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa was a swanky new airport. It made me feel like JKIA in Nairobi was a joke. But only five years later the place is a shadow of its former self. The loos are poorly maintained, especially the one near gate 8: It only had one urinal and there was only one elderly lady cleaning both the gent’s and the ladies’ thus creating a lot of awkwardness.

The problem at the Addis airport ails the infrastructure of most of the developing world. Roads, buildings, gardens etc are all poorly maintained. It’s like no one sees the potholes, the peeling paint or the overgrown gardens. Or may be no one cares. Either way the lack of maintenance imposes very high costs since the once in a while maintenance drives oftentimes start when it is too late – which invariably means that the whole thing (especially with roads) has to be done again.

This is a void (infrastructure maintenance) that can be filled by the private sector. IFIs that finance these major infrastructure projects to begin with can, in conjunction with domestic governments, hire private companies to maintain the expensive roads, bridges, airports, etc. This will not only save money but also create jobs for millions of young men and women who have very little prospect of finding gainful employment

Welcoming Southern Sudan to the EAC

UPDATE: A related article on Uganda’s influence in the soon to be independent South Sudan can be found in the New York Times.

In three days the East African Community will celebrate the independence of its next newest member. Because of SPLM connections in Kenya, among other East African nations, the Southern Sudanese economy will most likely orient itself southwards.

Kenya’s Vision 2030 development plan, for instance, will link Southern Sudan to the Indian Ocean coast via a pipeline and railway line. Oil from South Sudan is currently exported through Port Sudan, 3,000 kilometres away. The planned link to Lamu would reduce that distance to 1,700 kilometres.

For Southern Sudan, economic ties with its southern neighbors will not only grant it access to much needed capital and skilled labor but also implicitly guarantee it security against its menacing neighbor to the north.

I doubt that Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda will sit on their hands if the north decides to bomb local offices of Equity Bank, Ethiopian Airlines or Ugandan retail outlets in Juba (Remember the “Kenyan” tanks fiasco?). It also helps that IGAD has suddenly woken up to the security challenges posed by proxy wars among its member states. Kenya’s president, and current head of IGAD, recently chastised Eritrea for its ties with militant groups in the region.

IGAD will provide yet another forum for the region to put pressure on Khartoum to honor the CPA and not resort to war.

Several Kenyan companies have already set up shop in Juba. About 70,000 Kenyans live and work in Southern Sudan. According to the Business Daily:

Although several major Kenyan companies like Equity Bank, KCB, UAP Insurance and many small enterprises operate in South Sudan, the independence declaration on July 9 is expected to trigger another wave of corporate movement there.

Bidco Refineries that has a dealership in South Sudan, for example, is expected to consider having a physical presence there, said the company’s CEO Vimal Shah in an earlier interview. Kenyan manufacturers are, however, discouraged by low consumption levels and shortage of power, water and sewerage systems.

Co-operative Bank of Kenya is also expected to start setting up its banking infrastructure with a new venture that will be 30 per cent owned by the Government of South Sudan.

The new bank is expected to benefit from government business as it will process salaries of government employees and enjoy business arising from the government’s shareholding in the venture. The peaceful aftermath of the January 9 referendum that voted for secession from the North has helped to improve the country’s risk profile.

Paul Kagame: Rwanda’s “savior” turned despot

Rwandans go to the polls on August 9th. There are no prizes for guessing who the winner will be. President Paul Kagame, who is credited by most to have ended the Rwandan genocide in 1994, has recently had to resort to his darker tendencies to continue his stay in power, even as he walks the tight rope of political liberalization. Given the instability that the whole process has created in the country (grenade attacks in Kigali, murder of opposition leaders, attempted assassinations in foreign lands, ever rising ethnic tension etc etc) one wonders whether Mr. Kagame should stop trying to have his cake and eat it.

Political liberalization means being willing to give up power. But it is obvious that Mr. Kagame is not ready for this. Instead he wants it both ways – by holding sham elections to keep the liberal international community happy and singing his praises while he continues to muzzle the Rwandan domestic democratization movement. He may yet succeed at this, or in the more likely scenario go the way of the proverbial man who tried to ride two donkeys at the same time.

As Bratton and van de Walle have pointed out, “Liberalized authoritarianism…. is an unstable form of regime. Its political openings are easily and summarily shut as strongmen place ever heavier reliance on a shrinking circle of military loyalists. In the worst-case scenarios, blocked or precluded transitions lead to an intensification of political conflict, to anarchy (a regime without rules of any kind) and to the implosion of the authority of the state.”

President Kagame came to power in 1994 after leading the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front in the conquest of Kigali. Since then he has had a largely positive role in an attempt to heal Rwandan wounds and spur economic development. But 15 years is a long time and it is increasingly becoming clear that Mr. Kagame has overstayed his welcome in State House, Kigali. Like Uganda’s Museveni, Ethiopia’s  Zenawi, and other Continental autocrats, he seems convinced that he is an irreplaceable God’s gift to Rwanda. Someone needs to disabuse him of this belief.

Links I liked

A nice piece by Moussa Blimpo on Aid Watch highlights the urgent need to improve general conditions at African universities. On a related note, I totally agree with Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda’s position that Aid should be more targeted – and perhaps at times even to the middle class – if it is to make much impact in Africa. African development in the 21st century will not come from subsistence farmers and vegetable kiosks in the informal settlements. The Continent needs big business. I am not downplaying the entrepreneural ability of those target by pro-poor development initiatives. Far from that, all I am suggesting is that the better educated African middle class have a higher chance of being able to scale up their enterprises and create the kind of firms that will create much needed jobs in most of Africa.

Also, check out Texas in Africa’s posts on the increasingly authoritarian Rwandan government and the goings on in Kivu on the eastern reaches of the DRC. The Ethiopian Strongman Meles Zenawi seems to have gotten away with sham elections (the Ethiopian economy is doing well enough, I guess, so enough Ethiopians still love him) but it is not clear if Kagame will this August or his next door neighbor Museveni next year. Given Rwanda’s recent history the Rwandans will most likely opt for stability at the expense of an open free and fair democratic process. Whatever happened to Kagame, Zenawi and Museveni being the new generation of “enlightened” African leaders….

Quick hits

No surprises in the Ethiopian elections. Sunday’s elections most certainly resulted in a mandate for Meles Zenawi. It still will be interesting though to know how many seats the opposition won. Final results are not out yet.

In other news, the junta in Niger has decided that future presidential candidates must have university degrees. Don’t tell them anything about President Lula of Brazil who has done a fabulous job over the last ten years even though he did not finish primary school. My suspicion is that there is a specific Nigerien who is planning to run for office but does not have a university degree. It’s hard to imagine that the junta had the plight of Nigerien peasants in mind when they came up with this requirement.

And lastly, it is beginning to appear like the referendum on Kenya’s new constitution may not be a done deal. The NO camp just got more ammo thanks to this court ruling.

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.

as if somalis did not have enough problems….

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is implicated in a leaked report that suggests that corrupt officials have been diverting food aid intended for displaced Somali refugees. It is feared that al-Shabab (the Islamist insurgency group that is fighting against Somalia’s transitional government and its international backers) is benefiting from the diversion of food aid.

Diversion of food aid for other ends is not new in this region of the Continent. In the 1980s when the Ethiopian government under tin pot dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam was fighting Eritrean and Meles Zenawi-led rebels, both sides of the conflict diverted food aid and used it to purchase weapons, with disastrous consequences. The CIA seems to have forgotten about this particular case. The agency is a key nemesis of al-Shabab in Somalia.