April 26, 2004


Democracy spreads across Africa: Ten years after apartheid, political freedom faces new pressures. (Abraham McLaughlin, 4/27/04, CS Monitor)

Forty-three of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have held at least one multiparty election during the past decade, compared with 1990, when just three were solidly democratic.

Yet outside pressures threaten to derail or even reverse this progress. The geopolitical profile of Africa is rising as a key source of oil - it will soon export more oil to the United States than Saudi Arabia - and as a potential terrorism incubator. And some observers worry that the US, a longtime backer of democracy here, may increasingly push for political stability over democracy in order to protect oil outflows and prevent terrorism. [...]

Several new US initiatives, in the Sahel Desert, and in East and West Africa, aim to bolster counterterrorism skills. They appear to be useful: Last month, for instance, Chad's military, with help from a US Navy plane, reportedly killed 42 Islamic fighters from Algeria who may have had Al Qaeda ties.

Given this shift, South Africa, the continent's economic and political powerhouse, may be key to shaping Africa's democratic future. Its just-reelected president, Thabo Mbeki, is a champion of "good governance" across Africa. Two initiatives he's pushing hard are the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) and the African Union. Both reward good government and democratic stand-outs - and punish slackers.

"This begins to shift the balance in inter-African politics toward better-governed countries," says Francis Kornegay, a columnist for several South African papers. [...]

"If there's the faintest trade-off between democratization and oil, oil will win," says Steven Friedman of the Centre for Policy Studies here.

Or consider 10 major hot spots for US counterterrorism efforts, including Somalia, Djibouti, Niger, Chad, and Kenya. Three of them are "not free." Six are "partly free." One - Mali - is "free."

There is a strong debate about how the US should tackle the war on terror in Africa. It could aim for stability by helping states gain strong antiterror military capability - even if this means supporting dictators, as during the cold war.

Or it could take a more democracy-friendly approach. "If you're going to really deal with the threat of terror, you need politically capable states" that bolster citizens' rights - thus preventing the disaffection that can breed anger, argues John Stremlau, head of international relations at the University of the Witwatersrand here. And, he says, you don't get that "by putting boots on the ground. You need ballots in the box" - democracy.

Indeed, the US has started to attach good-governance strings to its aid through the Millennium Challenge Account, a new program started by the Bush White House.

Africa's tilt toward democracy is evident from a more-nuanced Freedom House measurement of political rights and civil liberties in each country. In 2002, the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa racked up a total score of 417 points. In 2003, it was 407. In 2004, 403. The lower the score, the more freedom.

A further demonstration of why we need to break our oil dependency. Fortunately, the Bush Administration seems to take the task of improving the lives of Africans seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 26, 2004 11:42 PM

I can't take anybody seriously who thinks Mbeki, the sponsor of Mugabe, is for "free" or "good" government.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 27, 2004 12:22 AM

More extraction of oil equals less Democracy? When did this trade off become conventional wisdom?

Russia has tremendous potential oil reserves. Would Democracy or Dictatorship be more likely to exploit those oil reserves efficiently? I would think that encouraging Democracy would make oil supplies more stable, plentiful than otherwise.

I don't even think it's a close call. As a matter of fact, if you were to go the next step and separate ownership of natural resouces from the collective ownership of the government, you would get even more plentiful supplies and a heck of lot more "Democracy". Yes, short-term political turmoil "could" accompany movement to Democracy and hence resultant reduction in the flow of oil, but this is a short-term (very short-term) vs long-term issue and I merely want to point out that there is not "per se" a trade-off between Democracy and exploitation of natural resources.

So I agree with you that "fortunately" Bush is encouraging Democracy. But it is win-win not win-lose.

Harry's cynicism regarding South Africa's movement to Democracy seems justified also.

Posted by: h-man at April 27, 2004 6:33 AM


I can't take anybody seriously who thinks FDR, the sponsor of Stalin, is for "free" or "good" government.

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 7:40 AM


Yes, that's why we don't mind a stongman taking over Russia, since democracy wasn't getting the job done.

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 7:48 AM

There's an interesting comment about Russia and OPEC on EURSOC, IIRC.

Posted by: Sandy P at April 27, 2004 10:54 AM

Stalin's American sponsor was Harding.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 28, 2004 11:50 PM


Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 11:59 PM

Wilson intervened against Bolshevism, Harding brought the boys home.

You're the one who advocates the military option.

It would have been a heck of a lot easier in 1923 than in 1945.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 30, 2004 8:29 PM

Too late by then, had to do it immediatyely after the war, just as the only real shot at the USSR in the Cold War was in '44-'45.

Posted by: oj at April 30, 2004 9:57 PM