elections and democracy in the central african republic

The Central African Republic is a country the size of Texas with a population of 4.8 million and GDP that is “significantly smaller than that of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.” Since independence from France, a string of autocrats (including the infamous Emperor Bokassa), have held power in Bangui without much care for the hinterlands. The current president, Francois Bozize, seized power in a 2003 coup. In response to domestic and international pressure, well orchestrated elections were held last Sunday.

Mr. Bozize’s “Work nothing but Work” (KNK) party is expected to win. In 2008 he signed a peace agreement with several rebel movements spread throughout the country that were opposed to his rule. Elections were part of the deal.

But of what use are elections in places like Central African Republic?

“William Easterly recently argued that “good governance” rhetoric notwithstanding, aid to dictators has remained steady since 1972. The rich countries no long have strategic interests at stake, but the “Gerund Defense” enables donors to keep the money flowing: with only a few exceptions, no matter how corrupt or autocratic a regime, it could be said to be “developing” or “democratizing” and hence on a progressive course necessitating assistance. But the dictators hold “farcical ‘elections'” and nothing changes. If we take Easterly’s warning seriously and start to question the progressivist aid ideology, what should we do about those places where elections occur, and aren’t exactly farcical, but meaningful democracy – in which citizens’ grievances and claims are taken seriously and responded to by their political leaders – remains elusive? The Central African Republic (CAR), whose citizens voted in first-round presidential and legislative elections Sunday, is one such place. In the end, the case of places like CAR might prove more insidious, because it calls into question the definitional link between elections and democracy.”

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