Quick thoughts on presidential term limits and the political crisis in Burundi

The president of Burundi is about (or not) to join the list of African leaders who have successfully overcome constitutional term limits in a bid to hang on to power. Currently (based on observed attempts in other African countries and their success rate) the odds are roughly 50-50 that Mr. Pierre Nkurunziza will succeed. The last president to try this move was Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso who ended up getting deposed by the military after mass protests paralyzed Burkina’s major cities.

Successful term limit extensions have so far happened in Burkina Faso (first time), Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Gabon, Guinea, Namibia, Togo, and Uganda. Presidents have also tried, but failed, to abolish term limits in Burkina Faso (second time), Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Zambia. Countries that are about to go through a term limit test in the near future include Angola, Burundi, Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. Heads of State in Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Sao Tome e Principe, Tanzania, and Namibia (after Nujoma) have so far obeyed term limits and stepped down at the end of their second constitutional terms.

To the best of my knowledge only Sudan, The Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, and Eritrea have presidential systems without constitutional term limits. Parliamentary systems in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Ethiopia, and Botswana do not have limits, although the norm of two terms exists in Botswana and South Africa (and perhaps soon in Ethiopia?).

So what we see in the existing data is that conditional on *overtly* trying to scrap term limits African Heads of State are more likely to succeed than not (9 successes, 6 failures). However, this observation doesn’t tell us anything about the presidents who did not formally consider term limit extensions. For instance, in Kenya (Moi) and Ghana (Rawlings), presidents did not initiate formal debate on the subject but were widely rumored to have tried to do so. So it’s probably the case that presidents who are more likely to succeed self-select into formally initiating public debate on the subject of term limit extension, thereby tilting the balance. And if you factor in the countries that have had more than one episode of term-limited presidents stepping down, suddenly the odds look pretty good for the consolidation of the norm of term limits in Sub Saharan Africa.

I wouldn’t rule out, in the next decade or so, the adoption of an African Union resolution (akin to the one against coups) that sanctions Heads of State who violate constitutional term limits.

So will Nkurunziza succeed? What does this mean for political stability in Burundi? And what can the East African Community and the wider international community do about it? For my thoughts regarding these questions check out my post for the Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post here.

Correction: An earlier draft of this post listed Zimbabwe as one of the countries without term limits. The 2013 Constitution limits presidents to two terms (with a minimum of three years counting as full term (see Section 91).

Hundreds of South African Mercenaries Fighting Boko Haram

The New York Times reports:

Hundreds of South African mercenaries and hired fighters of other nationalities are playing a decisive role in Nigeria’s military campaign against Boko Haram, operating attack helicopters, armored personnel carriers and fighting to retake towns and villages captured by the Islamist militant group, according to senior officials in the region.

The Nigerian government has not acknowledged the presence of the mercenaries, but a senior government official in northern Nigeria said the South Africans — camped out in a remote portion of the airport in Maiduguri, the city at the heart of Boko Haram’s uprising — conduct most of their operations at night because “they really don’t want to let people know what is going on.”

This does not look good for the $2.3-billion-per-year Nigerian military. It also shows a complete lack of tact on the part of the Goodluck Jonathan administration. I mean, how hard could it have been to launder the South African mercenary involvement through some AU joint task force?

The way I see it, the problem here is not that Nigeria is using foreign fighters (even the mighty U.S. uses mercenaries, and as Tolu Ogunlesi writes in FT, the tide is turning against Boko Haram). The problem is in how they are being used. Is their use short-circuiting accountability chains between Nigerians affected and their government? How is it affecting civilian-military relations? And what will be the long-run consequences on the professionalization of the Nigerian military?

The disappearing Lake Chad, 1963-2001

 

I have been looking at the African Development Bank’s long term strategy (available here) and one of the figures that caught my eye was the extent to which Lake Chad has shrunk over the last 50 years. Wow.

Image

State-building is not a walk in the park

 “Mauritius’s state building success came on the backs of relentlessly exploited slaves and indentured labourers. Sugar planters compelled the government to ignore mistreatment on sugar estates, implement unreasonable fines and annual passport fees in the name of preventing ‘vagrancy,’ and harass those workers who tried to search for a better life in urban professions. Planters’ actions were expressly designed to subjugate and repress the politically powerless in order to maximise their economic power. Moreover, the fact that class divides coincided with racial difference meant that economic and political contention between elites and labourers on Mauritius became imbued with what was, at times, virulent racism. The worst of these endeavours were related to the planters’ quest to secure an adequate labour supply in the four decades after 1825. Later initiatives, such as railway construction and research and development programmes, were fairly benign. Together, these undertakings transformed the island’s economy and governmental capabilities. In Mauritius, then, one finds something of a developmental paradox: although the long- term consequences of state building have led to a regional ‘miracle’, the way in which the island’s elite and government laid the groundwork for it was normatively reprehensible.”

That is Ryan Saylor writing in the latest edition of Review of African Political Economy.

The paper mostly focuses on the success story that was Mauritian state (capacity) building. But this paragraph is a reminder to those who imagine a whiggish history for much of the developing world to go take a hard, honest look at history.

Throughout most of history, in order to have barons that successfully limited the power of the king or his equivalent (thus creating the roots of post-enlightenment democracy) you needed barons who could extract the life out of peasants. Wars that made states killed lots of young conscripts, confiscated private property and led to the demise of whole peoples’ ways of life (Not all French had French speaking ancestors, for instance). And speaking of the French, they went through lots of republics and dictatorships to become what they are today. Further afield, following its own civil war the institutions of government designed to protect human rights in the US had to look the other way until the 1960s in order to preserve its democracy. In the 20th century, decades of intolerant Kemalist ideological orthodoxy laid the foundation for the Islamic world’s most resilient democracy in Turkey.

Source Wikipedia. Darker shades indicate state failure.

Source Wikipedia. Darker shades indicate state failure in 2011.

Will Egypt, Rwanda, Kenya and the rest escape these patterns if they are ever to become Denmark, the supposed paragon of liberal democracy?

How does one go about state-building in a modern world with sacrosanct borders and a saner human rights regime?

Recent events in the DRC and CAR confirm the urgency with which we ought to address the question of state-building in the developing world in general, and in Sub-Saharan Africa in particular (see map).

Wars of conquest (which probably would have resulted in Rwanda, Angola and Uganda carving up the DRC) are no longer kosher. Add to that the demands of a tighter and saner human rights regime and you are left with little room to maneuver if you are trying to create an effective state (which occasionally may involve curtailment of political rights). Unless you can somehow insulate yourself from the so called stakeholders, including the International Bleeding Hearts Industrial Complex – like much of east Asia did through the 70s and 80s – you are left with a rather tricky situation of trying to forge a unified state with a million and one centrifugal forces with communal rights backed by threats of donor sanctions. The same system ensures that every rebel group that can cobble together a few guns gets to sit at the table (see Sudan, Mali, Burundi, DRC, CAR, Chad). The UN or some Nordic state pays the hotel bills. Western observers and their sponsoring organizations write reports. Some of them meticulously document human rights abuses by rebels and government troops alike.

Meanwhile censuses are never taken. Taxes are never collected. Little economic activity takes place. And millions of people continue to live just a little bit better than they would in some stateless state of nature.

The present international consensus appears to be one that believes in state-building through democracy and institutions. Lived reality for much of world history appears to contradict this consensus. In most cases democracy and the phantom great institutions appear to lag state-building.

The challenge for those of us interested in state-building is to think of ways to go about the effort in a manner that is sensitive to the present human rights regime and structure of the international system. The present urgency, occasioned by widespread human suffering in the less governed spaces of the globe, requires that all reasonable options (including some uncomfortable ones) be put on the table.

Re-assessing Africa’s Resource Wealth

Over at African Arguments Bright Simons tries to debunk the accepted paradox of African poverty in the middle of a natural resource glut. The post is definitely worth reading, and raises some salient questions regarding resource use and development policy in Africa – and by extension, the economic viability of some African states (thinking of Chad, Central African Republic and Niger….)

Of those few minerals that Africa is believed to hold globally significant or dominant reserves, nearly all of them are concentrated in 4 countries: South Africa, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea. When one computes the level of inequality of mineral distribution across different continental regions, Africa pulls up strongly, showing a far higher than average level of distribution ‘imbalance’ per capita or square mile. In very simple terms, it means that mineral wealth is more concentrated in a few countries in Africa compared to other continents. 

Adding that…..

with the exception of bauxite and petroleum, these minerals are not as widely used in industry (or in the same considerable volumes) as a number other minerals, such as tin, copper, nickel, zinc, iron, coal, and lead, that Africa does not produce in sufficient quantities. Indeed, of the top 5 metallic minerals which constitute 62 percent of the total value of global production, Africa is only a significant producer of one of them: gold. Africa has 8 percent of the world’s copper, 4 percent of aluminium, 3 percent of its iron ore, 2 percent of lead, less than 1 percent of zinc, and virtually no tin or nickel. To put these figures into perspective, recall that Africa has about 14.5 percent of the world’s population.

….. Africa’s low production of the ‘hard minerals’ minerals most intensely used in industry compared to the less widely used ‘soft minerals’ reduces its total take from the global mineral trade. But it also makes a nonsense of fashionable policy prescriptions that emphasise import-substitution strategies based on value addition to minerals, rather than export competitiveness through smart trade strategy and the deepening of the financial system to support entrepreneurs.

More on this here.

H/T Africa in Transition.

Failed states index out, the usual suspects top the list

FP has the annual list of failed states. The Continent has a heavy presence on the list, with the usual suspects like Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Niger and Central African Republic, among the top failures. Also on the list are otherwise stable places like Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, among others.

The list is, in some sense, a reminder that several states out there are in dire straits. Insecurity and poverty continue to be a daily experience of far too many people. But it also raises methodological questions regarding the rankings. Some of the rankings certainly do not make any substantive sense and merely feed into alarmist stereotypes we already have of certain countries or regions of the world.

Methodological issues aside, the list is yet another reminder that despite the recent surge in Afro-optimism, a lot still needs to be done in order to improve the human condition in Africa, among other regions of the world.

Niger’s military keeps its word

The Nigerien military, led by Salou Djibo, has handed over power to democratically elected President Mahamadou Issoufou. The military ousted strongman Mamadou Tandja 14 months ago after he attempted to extend his rule beyond the term limit. Twice now, the last time being in 1999, the Nigerien military has intervened in politics in support of democracy.

The new president has promised to tackle poverty and famine in the uranium-rich country.

Former president Tandja had been in power since 1999. In late 2009 he was supposed to leave office at the end of his two terms but amended the constitution in a sham referendum allowing him to stay on for a third term. This forced the military to step in. Mr. Tandja’s presidency did not do much for Niger’s 15 million odd citizens. 63% of them continue to live on less than a dollar a day.

the generals have kept their word

My doubts were misplaced, thank goodness. Soldiers in Niger have overseen elections, one year after overthrowing Mamadou Tandja. President Tandja had attempted to cling on to power after he was term-limited. Gen. Salou Djibo, head of the military junta that carried out the coup one year ago, vowed to hand over power to the elected government in April.

The run-off election pitted opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou against Seini Oumarou, an ally of the ousted former President Tandja. Mr. Issoufou won 36% of the vote in the first round and is confident of winning the runoff.

Uranium-rich Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. Nominal per capita income in the country is $370 (Around $700 PPP). The literacy rate (15 years and older) is a dismal 29%. Fertility rate stands at 7.6 children per woman and 63% of its 16.4 million people live below the poverty line.

child-bride index

African states dominate the Economist’s child-bride index, with the Sahelian states of Mali, Niger and Chad in the top three. They also have the lowest literacy rates among their female populations.

This is one of those problems associated with “culture” that most development experts shy away from. My take on this is that the cultural defenses of such practices is a lot of horse manure.

There is nothing African about marrying off a 12 year old girl.

Most child marriages have deep-rooted economic motivations. In most cases it boils down to the bride-price. Solving the problem will therefore require not just laws that throw “human rights” at young African girls, but a concerted effort that also includes development practitioners to provide alternative income to men who marry off their 12 year-olds in exchange for goats.

ushering in the new year

Happy new year to all readers.

2011 will be a crucial year for a few countries on the Continent. On January 9th Southern Sudan will vote for secession, creating the newest state in the world. The aftermath of that might be all out war with North Sudan (over borders and oil) and/or civil war in the south (ethnically motivated warfare over control of the new state). That is what most analysts predict. I think there is a glimmer of hope for peace due to heavy Kenyan investment in the south and the desire to build, link and orient the new nation towards the East African Community. Watch this space as it all unfolds.

Uganda will hold elections on February 18th. Yoweri Museveni will win big and dig in even more now that Uganda has oil in the west of the country. Also bolstering Mr. Museveni’s hold on power will be the LRA’s delusional insurgency in the north of the country and the continuing war on terror in the horn of Africa – Uganda’s troops form the core of the African Union (AU) forces in Somalia. Mr. Museveni has been in power since 1986.

The other major election will be in Nigeria, the continental behemoth in the west. President Goodluck Jonathan is favored to win, but his victory will most certainly be tainted with chaos and irregularities.

Other countries holding elections in the new year are Central African Republic, Benin, Madagascar, Cape Verde, Chad, Djibouti, Niger and Liberia.

Electoralism remains largely dysfunctional and inconsequential in Africa because of a myriad of structural impediments (poverty, weak institutions, monarchical presidentialism, etc). In the recent past events in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Cote d’Ivoire have shown how far the Continent is from being a liberal democratic paradise (may be democracy is not for everyone at all times?). 2011’s elections will no doubt fail to buck the trend.