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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Policy Planning Staff > Secretary's Open Forum > Proceedings > 2003

Obstacles, Challenges, and Consequences of Bringing Democracy to Africa's Authoritarian Governments

Dr. Marina S. Ottaway, Senior Associate, Democracy and Rule of Law Project, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Presentation at the Secretary's Open Forum, Washington, DC
May 29, 2003

Opening Remarks and Introduction

The views and opinions expressed in this presentation are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect Administration views or policy.

Thank you, Mr. Keppler, for that introduction, and thank you for the opportunity to talk about this topic. It's always a good reminder about how small the number of people dealing with Africa is in this town when I look around the room and I realize how many people I know in here. I see a lot of familiar faces--people I have known for many, many years, because it's always the usual suspects, essentially, who deal with Africa in this town.

I am going to take the opportunity to broaden some of the points that I made in the book, focusing more specifically on issues that are more directly related to Africa. The conclusions of the book were by necessity very broad, because since I was talking about countries from many different continents, with many different characteristics, I essentially had to focus on the lowest common denominator. And what I hope to be able to do today is to talk a bit more specifically about issues that affect Africa.

We start talking about what we have seen--what has been the impact of democracy promotion in Africa till today? And if you just go with the basic figures, I think the picture is extremely encouraging. In 1990 there were only three African countries that held regular multi-party elections—specifically, Botswana, Senegal, and Mauritius--and neither Botswana nor Senegal had ever had a change in the party in power, despite the fact that they have regular elections. Today there are 43 out of 48 countries holding regular multi-party elections.

In my assessment, probably only two additional, if they had not been for democracy-promotion efforts by the United States and other members of the international community, I think, probably there would have been only two additional countries on top of the three that already held multi-party elections in 1990 that were doing so today. I am pretty sure that both Namibia and South Africa would be countries with formal democratic process. I am really not sure about the majority of the other countries.

The bad news, of course, is that elections do not tell the entire story and just go by the very unsatisfactory but still only available index of democracy, which is the Freedom House ratings. Only 18 out of these 43 countries that hold the regular multi-party elections in Africa are rated as free by Freedom House. I think those ratings have to be taken with a large grain of salt, because they change fairly often. In other words, countries move up and down at a rather disconcerting speed, which means that certainly countries that are considered free today are not necessarily considered democracies either. So the picture is not all that satisfactory.

It even looks worse if you start looking in terms of population, not just in terms of the number of countries, but in terms of population, because with the exception of South Africa, I think none of the other African countries is a democratic country. In fact, when you look at the overall picture with large African states, it's a very dismal picture. The Democratic Republic of Congo--we all know what the conditions are there. I think Nigeria made some progress in terms of the formal political process, although how much--how you rate this last election is very open to discussion. At the same time, it's a country teetering on the verge of disaster. It does not mean disaster will occur, or it will occur any time soon, but certainly that possibility is always there.

Angola has finally come out of a civil war, but it's far from stabilized. It has yet to address the underlying problems. The Sudan is constantly in a state of war. In Ethiopia, while certainly presenting a better picture than it did in the 1980s, it is still a country with very serious problems.

So when you look at the large African countries, what you realize is that we are really very far from being out of the sticks with the political transitions in African countries. Actually, I would argue--and this is a point on which I will explain later on--that one of the greatest threats to the consolidation of democracy and the progress of democracy in African countries today is the weakness of the states--of the African states, and particularly the weakness of the large African states. In order to have a democratic country, you have to have a stable state. And the fact is that at this point there are very large states in Africa that are extremely unstable. Recently, in Ivory Coast, and unfortunately a stark reminder of how quickly even a country that seemed to--had long been considered one of the least problematic countries in Africa in many ways--how quickly a country of that sort can disintegrate.

I think to understand the problems of democratic transition in Africa let me start first of all by talking about the political context. I will come back to the show of the state in my concluding remarks. And my first observation is that if we look at African countries, the context of political change is not favorable. In other words, based on what we know about what facilitates democratic transitions, conditions in Africa are very poor for democratic transitions. Let me make it clear that we don't--we are certainly not in a position to say the academic community, the practitioners and so on, are not in a position to say unless you find A, B, and C you are not going to find democracy developing in this country. What we can say is that there are certain conditions that are more often associated with progress toward democracy than other conditions. And by and large those conditions do not exist in Africa.

First of all, I would argue--and this is a point that I think which some people disagree with--but in my opinion, the demand for democracy in Africa as opposed to the demand for change is rather weak. I think we have made a mistake in the recent years. To believe that work is very clear--that is, the fact that a lot of Africans are really fed up with the kinds of governments that they have, there is a real rejection of authoritarian governments, of a lot of incumbent governments in Africa is necessarily a demand for democracy. Unfortunately, very often sort of the popular pressure exhausts itself when a change of regime is brought about. There was a lot of popular pressure for the multi-party election in 1991 in Zambia, the elections that led to the ouster of Kaunda. The popular pressure was not kept up when Kaunda's successor Frederick Chiluba turned out to be pretty much of a carbon copy of his predecessor.

We are seeing in Senegal, which is the country I discuss in the book, that there was a tremendous popular support for change. "Sopi" (ph), change, was the slogan, in fact, of Wade and his party. But that pressure for change again exhausted itself with the change of party in power, with the change of leadership. And when Wade started taking the same kind of steps to prevent a free political process that his predecessor had taken, almost carbon-copy steps--the ones that were taken by Diouf--there was really no howl of protest in the country.

So there is, I think, a strong demand for change but not necessarily a strong demand for democracy, because the organization, the organized political forces capable of sustaining that demand is not there. So democracy is very much dependent on pressure coming from the outside at this point.

Secondly, I think we know that there is a very clear association between the rapid economic growth, particularly the kind of rapid economical growth that changes the character of the society, that changes the composition of the labor force, that changes the degree of modernization, the sort of very basics of the society--as it happened, for example, in East Asia--is missing in Africa. Some countries are beginning to experience, certainly, more encouraging rates of growth than they did in the 1980s, but certainly by and large, with very large exceptions, they are based on fairly specific circumstances, like in the case of Mozambique. Economic growth in Africa has been rather sluggish, and certainly not such as to change the character of the society. This is not East Asia, where at some point the society has changed so much that the old political system just does not fit any longer. I think we may see that, for example, happening in China; we are not going to see happening in Africa any time soon.

Third, there is a very strong--the African countries are at this point plagued by ethnic and religious divisions that have become very highly politicized, and this again is and in addition by increasing economic polarization. Polarized societies are not good breeding grounds for democracy, because essentially one of the requirements of democracy is--there are two major requirements of democracy: one is that everybody has to be able to live with the victory of the party or parties they did not support; in other words, there has to be some guarantee that the swings in policies are not going to be intolerable; and, two, you have to have the possibility of an important swing vote, because after all it is people who change their minds from one election to another that make democracy possible and develop and who prevent the development of fixed majorities and minorities. The more polarized a society is, the less likely that you will have a swing vote. People who vote along ethnic lines don't change their allegiance from one election to another. And the work you have when society is polarized is a very unfavorable situation.

Finally, there is the old problem of--which is not insurmountable, but it is the lack of experience--previous experience with democracy. The democratic systems that most African countries had independence lasted for a very, very short time, so that there is really no historical experience on which an African country can build. And, finally, there is no neighborhood effect. The neighborhood effect, the fact that in a certain region you have a very considerable number of countries that have experienced democratic transition, has been shown to really have a strong impact on the countries lagging behind in the region. We have seen that in Latin America. We are seeing it in central Europe and eastern Europe, where certainly the core of countries that become democratic in central Europe is beginning to pull in the ones on the periphery, countries like Bulgaria and Romania, the entire sort are being pulled into the process. Unfortunately, what is still missing in Africa is a quorum of important countries that can serve as models.

One of the most successful models both of economic growth and of democracy on the African Continent is unfortunately not one that is likely to be an example, and it is Mauritius, which is very small very, which is kind of peripheral to Africa. It's not really--a lot of people don't think of Mauritius when you think about Africa, so that it's not a country that is very likely to be a big model. If Nigeria was to become truly a democratic country, on the way to economic reform, they could have a very strong effect on the surrounding countries. Unfortunately, a country like Mauritius does not.

So what is, given this picture essentially, what is the character essentially of most of the African countries that, in fact, have today different political systems than what they had in 1990 that now a multi-party system that holds elections and so on? And I'd argue that they'd fall into the category of what I'd call semi-authoritarian regimes, which is something that exist throughout the world. It's not something which is peculiar to Africa. I define semi-authoritarian regimes as countries that have the facade of democracy; that is, that have political systems, that have all the institutions of democratic political systems, they have elected parliaments, and they hold regular elections. They have nominally independent judiciaries. They have constitutions that are by and large completely acceptable as democratic institutions--but where, at the same time, there are very serious problems in the functioning of the democratic system.

I would argue that there are two categories of problems that plague these countries, essentially. One are problems that are related to what I call games semi-authoritarian regimes play. That is, in the second they suffer from structural problems that make a transition to full democracy very different. Let me start with the easiest part, which is the games that semi-authoritarian regimes play. And I think we are all familiar with the games. Semi-authoritarian regimes in any country of the world are very good at holding multi-party elections while at the same time making sure that the core power of the government is never going to be affected. In other words, they are going to hold elections, but they are not--the regime is not going to lose those elections. They'll sacrifice some people. The most common sacrificial lamb in African countries that are trying to show that they are democratic is town councilmen, the sort of local elected officials. They can very well be sacrificed--can be allowed to be voted out of power in fact, showing to the citizenry and showing to the world that there is in fact a democratic process in this country: Look, people can get the rascals out; people can, in fact, change the elected officials. Unfortunately, that happens only at the local level. It happens a little bit in the parliaments with the ruling party's backbenchers. It very rarely happens with people who are central to the regime's survival. In other words, semi-authoritarian regimes tend to build a firewall around the core government, essentially the core regime. They will prevent it from really being challenged in a serious way. How is this done? Here, there is a long menu of steps that are taken that range from the very crude--the stuffing of the ballot boxes that takes place in all countries--to the much more covert and the much more subtle. Manipulations of the computers that calculate the final results is something that has happened. It requires a greater deal of sophistication, but I think it is not unheard of, and I think it took place, for example, for all the best reasons in the world. This was one case where I was very much in favor of a little bit of manipulation of election results in the transitional election in South Africa in 1994. I think it's no secret that those perfect electoral results had a little human help and did not just happen. Essentially this was--the reason why I say that this was not a bad idea is that the results were the ones that really helped to maintain the support of all the people that needed to support the transition. It kept all the groups in the political process, and probably it was a good thing. The injury is, of course, that you do it once, and then you know how to do it, and you do it a second time. It does not seem to have happened so far, but certainly it's a very serious problem.

There is all sort of manipulation of the voter registration process. We all know that the voter registration process in African countries is extremely troubling. It is difficult to register people in a fair way, particularly in countries where the population registry itself is very defective, where people don't necessarily have ID papers and so on, and there are always a lot of problems with the voter registration process. There are cases of intimidation, sometimes extremely over, as you heard for example in the last elections in Zimbabwe, but cases where the intimidation is not quite clear and so on. Plus there is a lot of spending of government money for election purposes. The incumbent parties have a tremendous advantage because they are very good at sort of not respecting the distinction between party money and government money and so on and so forth. So there are tremendous advantages of incumbency that allow governments to play these games to manipulate the gains.

There also is--and this is something that you find more rarely, but I think it's also very important to also keep in mind that there is a lot of manipulation of the institutions. If you look at some of the countries--and I think Senegal is perhaps the best example of this--Senegal is a country that probably has by African standards quite clean elections by and large. It is a country that has a fairly good human rights record, and it is a country that is very scrupulous, very punctilious when it comes to respecting the niceties of what the law says, what the Constitution says. It's a country that has a very legalistic tradition. Unfortunately, because the incumbent government, both before the transition and now, enjoys such a large majority, it can always change the law and change the institutions. There is no--well, I shouldn't say--I always said there is no constitution in the world that has been amended more often than the Senegalese Constitution. I shouldn't state that, because I don't know it for a fact. Let me just say it is difficult to imagine a constitution which is amended more often than the Senegalese Constitution. And it's amended for election purposes. It is amended for political purposes. It's interesting to follow the disappearance and reappearance of the Senegalese Senate that, you know, now it's hear and now it's not. And it all depends simply on an election calculus, whether it is in fact in the interest of the government to have the second chamber of parliament, or it is not in the interest of the government to do so. And parliament has disappeared and reappeared every 2 or 3 years for the last 15 years. And, in fact, the saga started all over again after Wade was elected.

So there is--what you find is even situations, and these are the more subtle ones and the more difficult to really pinpoint, where the government respected the laws, where the government works through the institutions, but at the same time the institutions and the law are not above the government, because the government has the power to change them. A constitution that can be amended at will anytime you want does not impose much of restraint on the government itself.

Essentially there is a lot of game-playing that takes place. But in addition to this game-playing, which to some extent donors fairly know how to handle. I mean, a lot of democracy assistance in fact does focus on trying to stem this game-playing by semi-authoritarian regimes. A lot of democracy assistance goes into improving voter registration. A lot of democracy assistance goes into improving the quality of elections, the purpose of election observing. A lot of election assistance goes into building up civil society organizations so then citizens become capable of trying to keep the government accountable in monitoring the elections and so on and so forth. So much--and we are fairly good at this, I would argue. This is a collective "we," the democracy-promotion community, I think. It's fairly good at this job of trying to prevent game-playing.

What is much more difficult, what is the real obstacle I think--in my opinion--is the underlying structural problem; that is, those problems that make it relatively easy for governments to continue manipulating elections, for governments to play games. And those problem are much more difficult for the international community to address. For example, we know perfectly well that one of the greatest obstacles to democracy in Africa is ethnic voting--voting along ethnic and religious lines. It's no secret. We are all aware of it. The problem is: What can we do about it? It's much easier to improve the capacity of the election commission, to build up the election commission, than it is to, in fact, do something about the problem that goes very deep into the society, that it is at the heart of the political game that is played both by the government and by opposition parties in a lot of African countries.

So do we even try to address those issues? Yes, we do try to address those issues. There are attempts at promoting better inter-ethnic relations in a lot of countries. There are attempts at putting in place programs that will lead to reconciliation among groups that have been very hostile to each other, and so on. Most of these projects have limited effect. And the ones that have the most effect are the ones that work at the very local level, so that we have--we can point to a lot of little successes in many countries. There are a lot of examples of villages where essentially ethnic relations have improved drastically as a result of outside interventions. But that is very different to say we can really affect the political climate in an entire country. So you know there are a lot of structural problems that are very, very difficult to address.

Another structural problem that is difficult to address essentially--and let me leave it at that, but let me rephrase this. What is it that the international community could address better in terms of trying to push African countries over the threshold from semi-authoritarian regimes, where they are likely to stay without a lot of pressure, to more democratic regimes? In other words, what can we do to deepen these transitions? I would like to focus on two issues, given the fact that I have limited time here. One is the issue of the state. I said I would go back to that, and I would like to go back to that issue now. And the second is the issue of what can we do to help the newly created democratic institutions have a real role in many of the African countries? We are seeing a lot of parliaments that are nicely elected. They are even fairly elected in fairly clean elections, and yet do not play a very important role. And I think there is more that we could do. There are probably different approaches that we could do to try to put some teeth into some of these institutions.

Let me start with the problem of the state. I think there has been a--and my argument is, just to put it on the table first, that in a lot of countries--not in all countries but certainly in a lot of African countries, if we are serious when we talk about democracy, what we need to concentrate on is not the political process but the state itself. There are a lot of countries where talking about promoting democracy without first addressing some of the basic problems of the state is a waste of time. I think, if I can choose just one example, I think the Democratic Republic of Congo is the most important case here. If we are serious about sort of promoting democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I think we have to stop and go back essentially. We cannot start with negotiation among the warring factions. We cannot start with planning for the election for government. We have to start taking a hard look at whether or not there is a state that can be democratized in the first place, and what it would take to reconstitute a viable Congolese state. Because the fact today ithat there are no secessionist movements in the Congo at this point, and to date there seems to be some sort of a vague feeling of national belonging, does not mean that there is a functional state that is ready to be democratized.

If I can sort of put this in a form of a very simplistic statement, I would argue that you cannot have democracy unless you have a bureaucracy to begin with. And I'm not particularly fond of bureaucracy --that's why I work for a small think tank and not for the U.S. Government essentially. But I really think that unless there is a strong administrative structure in a country you really cannot talk about building a democratic system. Because what the democratic process--the democratic process addresses one set of issues. It addresses the issue of how leaders are chosen. It addresses the issue of how different institutions relate to each other. It addresses issues of how officials should act, for example, how the judiciary should act, the independence of the judiciary from other branches of government. It does not address the problem of how the decisions that are taken by these democratic institutions can possibly be implemented. That is the job of the bureaucracy. That is the job of the administrative apparatus. And it seems to me that spending a lot of time perfecting the system that leads to decisions does not help very much if there is no possible way in which those decisions are going to be implemented. I would argue at this point in the Congo it does not matter too much about how officials in Kinshasa are chosen, because officials in Kinshasa do not control the country. So that essentially unless there is a very serious state-building process that goes on. I would argue even before--and here the issue--I am not in a position to say exactly. I am not ready to say exactly what the sequence has to be, but unless you can make sure that by the time there is a democratically elected government there also is a administrative apparatus that can lead to the implementation of any decisions that government is making, we are wasting our time. I would argue that in the most troubled African countries at this point we are putting the cart in front of the horse, that we are putting too much emphasis on the democratic process, while we really should put a lot more emphasis on the rebuilding of the state itself; that there is a sequencing of steps that we need to think more clearly in our minds, and that is what we should concentrate on at this point. So this is the issue of the state.

The second is the issue of the institutions. Now, not all countries are--fortunately, not all African countries are like the Congo. I have chosen the worst-case scenario. But I would like to point out that, yes, the Congo is more extreme than other countries, but there are a lot of other countries where the state capacity is in very serious doubts. But there also are countries where the state capacity is not in serious doubts. And what we need to do in that context--in the context of those countries, where you have at least a sufficient degree of state capacity--is to ask the question whether there is more that we as the donor community can do to enhance the role of the democratic institutions that we help put in place.

The most important institution on which we need to focus is the parliament. We all know that most elected parliaments in Africa--even after the elections, even after transitions--are not playing a particularly important role. They are not playing a particularly important role for a number of reasons. One reason, the one in which donors had focused, is the lack of experience and the lack of capacity by the parliament itself, themselves. For example, just because the history of democratically elected parliaments in Africa is relatively short in most countries, you don't have a lot of know-how. Essentially, everybody is a freshman, if you want, or just about, so that there is a lack of knowledge and a lack of capacity about how the parliament should function. There is a lack of experience, congressional staff, and so on. These are the issues that the international community is good at addressing. We do a lot of strengthening of parliament activities. They provide training for members of congress, but even more training for their staff. They help them set up a committee system. We help them set up information retrieval systems, so that with the idea that a well-functioning parliament needs to have access to information other than what the government feeds it that it is important to have. These are all important things.

What we are not paying as much attention to is the fact that for a number of reasons most of the crucial decisions--the decisions that usually get the population mobilized, that get the attention of the public on, that most directly affect the population of these countries--are not taken by the parliament and are not taken by the parliament because the executive is shutting the parliament out, but they are not taken by the parliament because the international community is shutting the parliament out. So there is, to me, a question that if we are really interested in promoting democracy in these countries we need to rethink somewhat the way in which we do business. If you want to strengthen this African institution, we need to rethink the way in which we do business.

Let me give you an example of this. We all know the crucial document for all African countries now that opens then all other doors is the poverty reduction strategy paper, the PRSP. This is a World Bank document, but we all know that this has an impact on what bilateral donors do. It has a big impact on the country. Now if you look at the documents of the World Bank and if you look at what happens when these PRSPs are prepared in African countries, they're supposed to be prepared through a participatory process that has to be, if I can use that expression, maximum physical participation by the people of the country, so that there is an attempt to consult with NGOs, to consult with various interest groups--we consult with all sorts of things.

In the most recent documents, World Bank documents on this, among the people listed is members of parliament. I have yet to find a document--although I understand that there is beginning to be some discussion on this--that said the parliament is the vehicle--the parliament as an institution should have a major say on the preparation of poverty reduction strategy papers. In other words, here is a decision that is going to affect the country very, very basically, and that decision is not really run through the parliament of the country. That's what I mean when I say we are undermining the institutions we are setting up.

I would like us to really, as the donor community in general--this is for bilateral donors, for USAID, for the United States, for the multilateral donors like the Bank and so on--to really rethink more clearly what should be the role of this democratic institution we are helping to set up vis-a-vis our aid programs. Aid programs have negotiated with the executive. You have to get the approval of the executive. They are discussed with the ministries--probably enough, you'd say. I quite understand you--and the idea of also having to have the consent of the parliament is enough to send shivers down anybody's spine. I'm quite aware of this, because the democratic process is a very difficult process. But I think if we are serious about promoting democratic institutions we cannot on one side set them up and on the other side regularly bypass them in terms of what we ourselves are doing. So that I think that one thing that would be very important is if we really started giving more serious thought about not how we can help these countries train their parliamentary staff, but what we can do to make sure that the parliament is in fact the locus where important decisions that affect the country are made.

Let me stop here. Obviously, these are just some ideas, some suggestions. There's a lot more ground to talk, but let me stop here.

MR. KEPPLER: Questions?

Q:  I'd like to begin, doctor, if I may. The spirit of the Open Forum, which is designed to bring alternative policy views to the attention of our policymakers and decisionmakers, how would you suggest that the U.S. Government adjust or amend its approach to the realities that you brought to our attention today?

DR. OTTAWAY:  Let me give you an example of state reconstruction, the fact that you have to have functioning states. I think in the case of the Congo, for example, I think this is the time to sort of talk less about the negotiations and the agreements among the groups and to make sure that given the fact that the government itself does not, or any of the entities in the country, have the capacity to enforce any agreement that is reached, that the international community steps in first to enforce the agreement from the outside, and second to make sure that an internal capacity is built to enforce those agreements. That would be one example.

The other example, I would like to see a discussion taking place within the State Department and within USAID about what we can do to make the process of negotiating aid projects more democratic, to involve the democratic institutions rather than just talking to a very small number of bureaucrats in a very selected agencies. I think that is--and I realize this is not an easy thing to do. I realize that talking to, involving the legislature in these negotiations to make a problem which is already difficult even more difficult. But then the question to me is: Where are our priorities? Is democracy-promotion really one of our priorities in Africa? Isn't it one of our priorities in Africa?

MR. KEPPLER:  The gentleman in the back there, please.

Q:  Marina, if I understood your presentation correctly, you argued for structural modifications to processes, procedures, protocols, whatever. The question comes on the issue of corruption and how that affects the democratic process, and whether or not that is amenable to structural corrections or structural improvements or whether addressing takes or needs to take other forms apart from parliamentary reform that would address specifically the sort of corrosive effect corruption has on the democratic process.

DR. OTTAWAY:  Let me give you first of all sort of the first step. I think we need to think very clearly what kind of corruption we are going to address. We are not going to address all the instances of corruption in African countries. In one of--you know, you have petty corruption, you have high-level corruption, you have corruption that does--we have corruption that really undermines the country, and you have corruption that somehow is morally reprehensible, and certainly unforgivable but does not undermine the country. We are not very good at distinguishing between the two. Why is it corruption has had such a devastating effect in Africa, while it has not prevented the development of South Korea, for example, which is not exactly a model of cleanliness, essentially.

I think we really need to give some more thought to this, for a very simple reason--not that we should ever say that corruption is good and we don't pay any attention to it, but because we have limited capacity to address the issue of corruption, so that we must make that we address it in those areas where it's really important, and we don't waste our time, certainly not on petty corruption, I would argue, which is very often just a function of lousy salaries. If you were paid $20 a month, probably most of us would take bribes, let's face it. So that it's--you know, those are problems that should not be the target of an anti-corruption campaign.

And then I think the question becomes which are the institutions that can really do something? This is a case of institution building. [Short audio break for tape flip.] It's not so much an issue of democracy as much of the building up of the administrative structure. In other words, I don't think--yes, let me rephrase it somewhat. In the short term I think the most important problem is the strengthening of an administrative apparatus, of those government offices that are supposed to deal with corruption. I think we have to rethink very clearly some of the decentralization projects that we carry out in African countries on the issue of corruption, because I think there is some evidence--and I am working on this, and I am not ready to say I can prove it for a fact. I hope--give me a few months, and I hope to be able to do this--that decentralization processes often make corruption worse, because instead of having a few corrupt agencies you now have dozens of corrupt agencies. Essentially you have even less accountability often at the local level than you have through the central level. I think there is a lot of dismay. Again, I will not put this in writing, because I don't have the conclusive proof. But from what I hear, there is a lot of dismay on the part of the IMF about the impact of the decentralization that they pushed on Nigeria, because they are dealing now with not just a corrupt central government but also a lot of very corrupt state governments that have a lot more money than they used to have. Therefore, corruption is multiplying, and so on. So I think there are some very serious issues that need to be considered on the administrative side.

On the political side, that is on the democracy side, it is more difficult to address it, because I would argue that the best guarantee that the government will not be corrupt through and through is frequent turnover in the government. I think even countries that had democratic political structures, that have not had a turnover in the party in power for a long period, have become corrupt. The two best examples are Japan and Italy, both of which essentially ended up with extremely corrupt governments, because those governments were there for too long. In 40 years you have the time to build a very cozy relations with all sorts of other groups. Unfortunately, that's not an issue that we know how to address in the short run. If you have countries where the opposition is very, very weak, it is going to take time essentially before political change can take place. So I think in the short term there are really two things. One is to try to figure out which aspects of corruption we really need to focus on, and be less moralistic and more strategic, if you want. And the second is to strengthen administrative structures, including rethinking the short decentralization.

Q:  One thing that you left out in your presentation is the effect on the economy. It seems to me without a wholesale revamping, rapid revamping away from the free trade Western IMF/World Bank policies to state-directed infrastructure these African countries have no chance of survival. And I ask about the question of Nigeria is now today swearing in Obasanjo for the second term--democracy, democracy. Has there actually been an improvement in that country? And therefore it raises the question--I don't know if you raise it in your book: Can you actually--what does democracy mean if you don't actually have an improvement in the living standards, the health care, the education of a country? What is democracy, and where does Nigeria stand today vis-a-vis when it was under Abacha economically and for the welfare of the people?

DR. OTTAWAY:  No, I think this is a very--I pointed out in the beginning, early in the discussion, that economic conditions are very unfavorable in Africa for an economic transformation. Can we really say that a country cannot become more democratic until it embraces a certain set of economic policies? I am a bit hesitant to go that far, in the sense that if you look at the economic development--and this leads us in a very controversial and different area. But if you look at how countries that had become both industrialized and have decent standards of living for their citizens, and have become democratic, they did not develop on the basis of World Bank and IMF bank type of prescriptions. They did industrialize under very strong protective barriers. There is a whole controversy concerning the East Asian miracle. It's the whole controversy concerning: Are the suggestions of the Washington consensus really the correct ones? Do they need to be modified? And you know that that issue has been reopened now and so on and so forth.

And the second is the sequencing; that is, do we really have to--should we put all democracy-promotion work on hold and just concentrate on economic development at this point? Or is it possible to have political change parallel to economic change? And I'm not ready to state that we should put all political work on hold and simply concentrate on economic development.

MR. KEPPLER:  Any other questions before we conclude? Ambassador Steinberg?

AMB. STEINBERG:  Just a quick comment on that issue. The other problem though is that societies that are highly dependent upon a single commodity have a problem with democratic transition because if you lose the keys to the government offices you lose all economic influence, all economic power, rent-seeking opportunities. And so in some of these societies there is almost the reverse implication that corruption opportunities increase and therefore you resist democratic alternates.

A separate question though: When you were talking about the question of the neighborhood, what is your attitude toward NEPAD and whether that is something that the United States should take seriously as a proposal by Africans themselves to move toward greater transparency, greater democracy? And a related question: Any views you might have on the Millennium Challenge Account and how we should be using that to encourage democracy.

DR. OTTAWAY:  I totally agree with you about the single commodities. That's certainly a problem.

Concerning NEPAD, I think when NEPAD was first proposed I thought that there was real opportunity the way we should have been reacted to say okay, we are going to take your--you know, we are going to accept your statement that you are going to hold each other accountable. We will not do that with our entire aid program; we will do it with certain amounts of monies, and let's see what happens. If you decide if you hold each other accountable, and so on. In other words, put the burden on the countries that were proclaiming this, because in the end that is really the most important thing, that we cannot police Africa forever; that it really should be done by African countries, and it's important to try and create the neighborhood effect.

I am not sure that I would argue the same now, because it seems to me that what we have seen in practice up till now--that is, between the time that--this is an argument that I had set forth before the Canada meeting, between then and now we have seen enough to really call into question whether this peer review process has been taken seriously by the Africans themselves. And if they do not take it seriously, then you know I don't think we should take it seriously either. Would they have been taking it more seriously if, in fact, money had been offered on that basis up front? I don't know. You know, we can speculate as much as we want.

Concerning the Millennium Challenge Account, the question to me is: Could one of the components of the Millennium Challenge Account be a peer review process? In other words, should we just base it on rules and regulations that are imposed by us, or is there a way to try and encourage more collective responsibility on the part of the states that are going to be participating in it? I think that is, basically--what I am saying is that I think there is something very valid and very important in the idea of a peer review process, because of the importance of creating this neighborhood effect. And if there is a way to introduce an element of that in the Millennium Challenge Account, I think it's worth giving it some thought.

MR. KEPPLER:  Dr. Ottaway, I want to thank you very much for your very compelling presentation.

DR. OTTAWAY:  Thank you for the opportunity. (Applause.)

MR. KEPPLER:  My pleasure, my pleasure. I think you'll all agree Dr. Ottaway covered a very broad spectrum of issues, very well focused in a very limited amount of time. Despite her best efforts, though, I think you will find all the information you may be interested in following up on in her book. And once again I'd like to remind everybody it will be on sale after the program in the diplomatic lounge, which is right off the Loy Henderson. So thank you again, Dr. Ottaway.

I'd just like to remind everybody about some upcoming programs. Next Tuesday, June 3, we'll have Dr. James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute. He'll be here to talk about "American Policies and Politics: The View from the Arab Street." On June 16 we will have a program "Islam and Democracy: The Possibilities, the Consequences and the Risks of Bringing Democracy to Islamic Nations, People and government." And then, on July 2, we'll have Aaron Miller, who is currently the president of the Seeds of Peace organization here to talk about: "Is A Palestinian-Israeli Peace Possible?"--and, if so, how to go about it. He has some ideas on alternative approaches to supplement the diplomatic initiative. I think you will find all those programs very interesting, and I very much would
look forward to having you join us on those dates.

I'd like to remind everybody to track upcoming Open Forum programs, if you just go to our website, Open Forum, it's at the bottom of the State Department website, you will find what days the programs are. It also will specify who our guest speakers and panelists are. And now we have included the biographies on the website.

So once again I want to thank you for joining us today, and I look forward to seeing you for the future programs. Thank you very much.


Released on June 19, 2003

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