Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places

A few days ago, I had the privilege of attending a lecture at LSE by Professor Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion. He talked about the topics in his new book: Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places. I haven’t read it yet, but am itching to get my hands on a copy as soon as possible – especially after hearing his amazing lecture.

In his talk, he spoke about the rampant poverty and instability of the “bottom billion” countries, and the links between this economic stagnation and political conflict. Essentially, he believes that governance in Africa is one of the main obstacles to economic development, and if Africa is to develop anytime soon we have to focus on helping African countries develop stable democracies elected through regular, free, and fair elections. This is political science 101: economic development and political stability are deeply intertwined.

He started off by stating the two essential functions of the state: to provide security and to be accountable to the people. These are essential public goods that foster economic growth and are necessary for the development of any society. In Europe, states emerged first as a solution to the problem of security. And due to the constant external warfare amongst countries, European states needed more money to fund war, and thus turend to taxation as a means of getting this money. Taxation leads to representation: these states had to become more accountable to the people in order to gain their tax money and support. Thus, war became a rallying point for accountability and national unity. The reason African states are in such dire condition right now, Collier asserts, is because they developed via a very different process that did not allow for security and accountability. African states didn’t emerge autonomously. Their boundaries were drawn arbitrarily by the colonial powers, and there was no sense of common national identity. Some states were too large to maintain internal unity, while some were too small to be effective. There was no external warfare, but lots of fighting amongst various groups within individual states. The countries had no way to mobilize taxation. Most African countries do not have truly free and fair elections, and even if they do the presidents are often overthrown by military coups. So these countries have ended up not providing security nor accountability to their people.

So what can we actually do about this? The way forward, he says, is to work towards both these things: security and accountability. There are regional solutions: African countries can come together to provide security for one another. This hasn’t really worked in the past, though, because many countries may have illegitimate interests and may use these opportunities to exploit one another. In addition, the regional effort for accountability has not been successful — even if many African leaders say they want to unite, they would never give up or share sovereignty themselves. For example, recently Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi has called for a pan-African state and a single African government. But if he had to do so, he would likely never actually give up power in favor of a federal solution. Thus, regional efforts are not likely to make much progress.

And so, Collier turns to international solutions, which he believes are most effective. For security, he cites that post-conflict peacekeeping is highly effective in reducing recurrence of conflict in a particular country; sure, we have to continue aid, but we definitely have to dedicate more resources to ramping up peacekeeping in many post-conflict situations. Collier also supports more robust budget systems with increased governance conditionalities imposed by donors. I certainly see the merit in these suggestions.

But perhaps his most controversial suggestion is international intervention to ensure the accountability of African governments. He proposes the establishment of an international standard for free and fair elections. If a government holds a free and fair election fulfilling these standards, then the resulting winner should be guaranteed “protection” against any coup by powerful international actors, like the US. So essentially, an African president who is elected through free and fair elections, and then continue to rule in a democratic manner with good governance, then the US would help them to stay in power against any party who might try to overthrow him. This would give an incentive for an African leader to help establish free and fair elections with the hope that he would be granted protection, and this would also discourage coups because the threat of US intervention would be too great for any party to attempt a coup.

Although the idea is appealing, I have to say I’m not completely convinced. Is the only solution to stability, economic development, and democracy in Africa related to military intervention? There have to be ways in which economic development and bottom-up approaches can also help these societies: it seems pessimistic to assume that international intervention is the only solution to these problems – even in the long run. Where do NGOs and businesses come into play? And how would this work out politically – what happens if the US guarantees against a coup but then has to actually intervene? Would the US, UK, UN, etc actually agree to such a plan? Sure, his solution might work out, but suggesting politically unfeasible solutions isn’t all that effective.

Overall, I have some reservations, but still hope to read the book because I am sure it’ll provide valuable insights into the state of democracy and governance in Africa. What do you think: is military intervention a good idea to ensure security and accountability in the countries of the bottom billion?

Share

11 Responses to Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places

  1. Jennie Maria says:

    In terms of security and accountability, I agree that powerful international military force would aid in establishing governments with free and fair elections within Africa. It must be done carefully though, because one could argue our involvement with Latin America throughout our history has supplied little stability. However, like you I find it hard to believe this is the only solution to establishing stability and economic development in countries throughout Africa. Sometimes solutions to these issues sound great in theory, and I too would be interested in reading other books by Paul Collier, but once put into practice how efficient and effective would it be? When it comes to opposing enemies we’re not familiar with, like these coups, it could be more difficult than we imagine. Also finding international support for missions such as these could be challenging. There has to be more to it than flying in and protecting political figures, and how important would be the citizen’s involvement (like mentioned, NGOs and businesses..)?

    Great post I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found you through Nisha Chittal’s twitter page and I’m glad I did! I’ve been meaning to start a book by Dambisa Moyo titled Dead Aid, about how rich countries have sent over a trillion dollars to aid in Africa and how it is keeping the economies that accept the aid from economic development and stability. Will be interesting to compare notes to Collier’s ideas.

    • Akhila says:

      Thanks for the great comment! I checked out your blog and it’s great that you also write about political issues :) I’ll definitely be following along..

      It’s true – America’s history is one of botched interventions into other countries, often with a good intention but more often resulting in chaos and conflict. In Latin America we definitely have a track record of establishing brutal dictatorships. In Indonesia, too. The point is, we’ve intervened in so many countries, and what has been the result? Military intervention is dangerous at the end of the day, and we’d like to think this would be an easy fix to the problem — just threaten them. But in reality, that doesn’t work out always, and we can’t rely on military as the tool to establish democracy. And one more thing: the US usually intervenes when there’s a direct benefit for it, so what gives the US or other countries the incentive to take on this monumental task? It seems to me like the US and international community would never really reach a consensus on this.

      I really want to read Dead Aid as well, as it’s generated so much controversy around! I hope to get my hands on these books sometime soon.

      • Jennie Maria says:

        Thanks Akhila, I appreciate your comments. I’m going to be following your site as well :)

        We can’t rely on military as the only tool to establish democracy, and I hear what you said about our motive for intervention. It’s funny though, when I say something along those lines a lot of my friends who travel abroad and help provide health care to struggling countries all over the world, they get offended. But as a whole, we did nothing for Darfur even though the UN called it the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.

        Dead Aid does have a lot of controversy surrounding it, one of the reasons why I can not wait to read it. I don’t think I agree with cutting off all aid to Africa, like Moyo suggests, but I think the problem is much of the aid we send gets in the hands of people who greedily use it for themselves, not for the people who need it most.

        Andrew Mwenda has written about and spoken out with a similar sentiment, and I’ve read a lot of his work. Another great illustration to the idea that we need to be more careful about where the aid actually goes is the book Mountains Beyond Mountains and the work of Dr. Paul Farmer. Now he’s in Haiti, but still, he doesn’t believe throwing money at a situation helps unless it’s directed properly.

        • Akhila says:

          You bring up great points here and thanks for the response! That’s odd that your friends get offended…but I think America at least in terms of foreign policy pretty clearly tends to intervene where the US has a significant motive or benefit. Like Iraq, where the rebuilding provided lots of profits for private companies and such.

          Have you read “The Shock Doctrine”? Another AMAZING book that really shaped the way I think about the world, especially regarding American/Western intervention and ideologies/influence. Definitely worth it if you have interest in these issues!

          Dead Aid — she definitely chose the title and premise to be controversial so the issue would get talked about and it’s working. Yes, I’m not sure we should cut off all aid but it should be monitored more strictly perhaps, and perhaps reduced. I want to read it to learn more :-)

  2. Jennie Maria says:

    In terms of security and accountability, I agree that powerful international military force would aid in establishing governments with free and fair elections within Africa. It must be done carefully though, because one could argue our involvement with Latin America throughout our history has supplied little stability. However, like you I find it hard to believe this is the only solution to establishing stability and economic development in countries throughout Africa. Sometimes solutions to these issues sound great in theory, and I too would be interested in reading other books by Paul Collier, but once put into practice how efficient and effective would it be? When it comes to opposing enemies we’re not familiar with, like these coups, it could be more difficult than we imagine. Also finding international support for missions such as these could be challenging. There has to be more to it than flying in and protecting political figures, and how important would be the citizen’s involvement (like mentioned, NGOs and businesses..)?

    Great post I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found you through Nisha Chittal’s twitter page and I’m glad I did! I’ve been meaning to start a book by Dambisa Moyo titled Dead Aid, about how rich countries have sent over a trillion dollars to aid in Africa and how it is keeping the economies that accept the aid from economic development and stability. Will be interesting to compare notes to Collier’s ideas.

    • Akhila says:

      Thanks for the great comment! I checked out your blog and it’s great that you also write about political issues :) I’ll definitely be following along..

      It’s true – America’s history is one of botched interventions into other countries, often with a good intention but more often resulting in chaos and conflict. In Latin America we definitely have a track record of establishing brutal dictatorships. In Indonesia, too. The point is, we’ve intervened in so many countries, and what has been the result? Military intervention is dangerous at the end of the day, and we’d like to think this would be an easy fix to the problem — just threaten them. But in reality, that doesn’t work out always, and we can’t rely on military as the tool to establish democracy. And one more thing: the US usually intervenes when there’s a direct benefit for it, so what gives the US or other countries the incentive to take on this monumental task? It seems to me like the US and international community would never really reach a consensus on this.

      I really want to read Dead Aid as well, as it’s generated so much controversy around! I hope to get my hands on these books sometime soon.

      • Jennie Maria says:

        Thanks Akhila, I appreciate your comments. I’m going to be following your site as well :)

        We can’t rely on military as the only tool to establish democracy, and I hear what you said about our motive for intervention. It’s funny though, when I say something along those lines a lot of my friends who travel abroad and help provide health care to struggling countries all over the world, they get offended. But as a whole, we did nothing for Darfur even though the UN called it the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.

        Dead Aid does have a lot of controversy surrounding it, one of the reasons why I can not wait to read it. I don’t think I agree with cutting off all aid to Africa, like Moyo suggests, but I think the problem is much of the aid we send gets in the hands of people who greedily use it for themselves, not for the people who need it most.

        Andrew Mwenda has written about and spoken out with a similar sentiment, and I’ve read a lot of his work. Another great illustration to the idea that we need to be more careful about where the aid actually goes is the book Mountains Beyond Mountains and the work of Dr. Paul Farmer. Now he’s in Haiti, but still, he doesn’t believe throwing money at a situation helps unless it’s directed properly.

        • Akhila says:

          You bring up great points here and thanks for the response! That’s odd that your friends get offended…but I think America at least in terms of foreign policy pretty clearly tends to intervene where the US has a significant motive or benefit. Like Iraq, where the rebuilding provided lots of profits for private companies and such.

          Have you read “The Shock Doctrine”? Another AMAZING book that really shaped the way I think about the world, especially regarding American/Western intervention and ideologies/influence. Definitely worth it if you have interest in these issues!

          Dead Aid — she definitely chose the title and premise to be controversial so the issue would get talked about and it’s working. Yes, I’m not sure we should cut off all aid but it should be monitored more strictly perhaps, and perhaps reduced. I want to read it to learn more :-)

  3. [...] much as I wish I was. I’m guilty of referring to the continent almost like one country when talking about democracy in Africa, and of acting like so many Africans are “starving and dying and warring and [...]

  4. Mandy says:

    Hey Akhila, I just came across this in my RSS feeder and it’s really well written and I’d like to respond.

    This line really jumped at me:

    “Collier also supports more robust budget systems with increased governance conditionalities imposed by donors”

    But isn’t that what drove many African countries into the insane levels of debt they currently face? The funds they borrowed from the International Monetary Fund in the 70′s and 80′s were all accompanied with SAPs that had a laundry list of requirements for African governments to implement as a condition for receiving loans. Among these was democracy as a governance structure.

    SAPs are one of the key reasons why IMF loans failed so miserably in Africa and why I would strongly disagree with continuing with this same line of reasoning. It has proven ineffectual once already so what makes us think it’d work again?

    “…then continue to rule in a democratic manner with good governance, then the US would help them to stay in power against any party who might try to overthrow him.”

    Perhaps this is because I’m Canadian but I think this would fall under the responsibility of the United Nations. Firstly, I’d be leery of granting the United States such tremendous power and control over an African state. The US is by no means a neutral party and you can bet that almost all of the US’s foreign discontents will find a way to call this neo-colonialism. Secondly…how is it not neo-colonialism?
    Thirdly, history has demonstrated that a foreign-state sponsored government is pretty much doomed. Iran is a good example of this.

    I also think free and fair elections is the last step in creating a stable state, not the first. This always seem so controversial but it has been my observation that a stable society is the ideal platform for change rather than “democracy”. Because this is the thing about sustainability: it requires a firm stable and legitimate economy and it requires the participation of citizens who are in control. An externally imposed democratic system fails. Every. Single. Time. (two commonly cited examples of success: Japan–has not had an ruling party change in close to 80 years. South Korea: democracy was not installed until the late 70′s and was handed over from a military junta.)

    I firmly believe that military intervention has its time and place. The R2P doctrine is a good starting point on how to use military intervention effectively although it has considerable problems as well. Darfur is actually an example of where R2P is called for since the government not only has failed spectacularly to protect the citizens, they are purposely engaging in a process that is leading to genocide. This is a cause for intervention as per the conventions established by the UN in 1948. Bashir can whine about sovereignty all he wants but when a state uses its power to effectively suppressed or oppressed or in this case, destroy, a civilian population, the legitimacy of his sovereignty is moot, I think.

    Sorry for this but there were so many fascinating points in this piece that I just wanted to hit up a few of the key ones I see.

    Cheers!

  5. Mandy says:

    Hey Akhila, I just came across this in my RSS feeder and it’s really well written and I’d like to respond.

    This line really jumped at me:

    “Collier also supports more robust budget systems with increased governance conditionalities imposed by donors”

    But isn’t that what drove many African countries into the insane levels of debt they currently face? The funds they borrowed from the International Monetary Fund in the 70′s and 80′s were all accompanied with SAPs that had a laundry list of requirements for African governments to implement as a condition for receiving loans. Among these was democracy as a governance structure.

    SAPs are one of the key reasons why IMF loans failed so miserably in Africa and why I would strongly disagree with continuing with this same line of reasoning. It has proven ineffectual once already so what makes us think it’d work again?

    “…then continue to rule in a democratic manner with good governance, then the US would help them to stay in power against any party who might try to overthrow him.”

    Perhaps this is because I’m Canadian but I think this would fall under the responsibility of the United Nations. Firstly, I’d be leery of granting the United States such tremendous power and control over an African state. The US is by no means a neutral party and you can bet that almost all of the US’s foreign discontents will find a way to call this neo-colonialism. Secondly…how is it not neo-colonialism?
    Thirdly, history has demonstrated that a foreign-state sponsored government is pretty much doomed. Iran is a good example of this.

    I also think free and fair elections is the last step in creating a stable state, not the first. This always seem so controversial but it has been my observation that a stable society is the ideal platform for change rather than “democracy”. Because this is the thing about sustainability: it requires a firm stable and legitimate economy and it requires the participation of citizens who are in control. An externally imposed democratic system fails. Every. Single. Time. (two commonly cited examples of success: Japan–has not had an ruling party change in close to 80 years. South Korea: democracy was not installed until the late 70′s and was handed over from a military junta.)

    I firmly believe that military intervention has its time and place. The R2P doctrine is a good starting point on how to use military intervention effectively although it has considerable problems as well. Darfur is actually an example of where R2P is called for since the government not only has failed spectacularly to protect the citizens, they are purposely engaging in a process that is leading to genocide. This is a cause for intervention as per the conventions established by the UN in 1948. Bashir can whine about sovereignty all he wants but when a state uses its power to effectively suppressed or oppressed or in this case, destroy, a civilian population, the legitimacy of his sovereignty is moot, I think.

    Sorry for this but there were so many fascinating points in this piece that I just wanted to hit up a few of the key ones I see.

    Cheers!

Leave a reply