Tag Archives Democracy

Return of Military coups in Africa threatens Democratic gains achieved in past decades

Return of Military coups in Africa threatens Democratic gains achieved in past decades

The recent coups d’état in Africa threaten the political stability and democratization trends achieved in the past decade in the post-independence era. History has shown that military coups directly impact ...

The War in Ukraine: Is this the End of the Liberal International Order?

The War in Ukraine: Is this the End of the Liberal International Order?

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought war back to Europe. The international ramifications of the war are clear, for instance now that President Putin talks about nuclear deterrence and ...

COVID-19 | Another top priority in times of crisis: keep democratic life up and running by Isabelle Desportes

The coronavirus crisis seems to have reduced societal functioning to the bare minimum as an increasing number of governments have limited freedom of movement in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus. The introduction of several such authoritative measures needs to be counterbalanced by active citizens who continue to uphold democratic life and question these measures themselves, argues Isabelle Desportes, who studies how humanitarian emergencies are handled in settings where this is not the case. ‘Authoritarian dangers’ are not only a concern for far-away countries long labelled as ‘hopeless pariah states’, as European attempts are showing us these very days.


It is inherent to times of crises: many decisions and emergency legislative mechanisms will be enforced in countries all over the world these coming days and weeks. While such centralistic measures are often necessary, they also bear the risk of infringing on an effective and socially just handling of the pandemic now, and will shape our societies on the long term.

My research on disaster responses in Myanmar, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe showed that while responses to the disasters (a flood in 2015 in Myanmar and crippling drought in 2016 in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe) were mostly coordinated and efficient, the political contexts in which the disaster occurred meant that discussions on disaster preparedness and the modalities of relief were ignored. Important dynamics were observed for the three contexts: as the disasters destroyed homes, disrupted livelihoods and uprooted communities, their intense impacts had to be handled in the midst of ongoing marginalization of certain population groups at the hands of other groups and/or the state. Disaster responders were highly mobilized, but with little space to openly debate the modalities of relief, to have full insight into the extent of needs, and to raise concerns.

Following the disasters, a number of longer-term changes could be observed, according to the 271 disasters responders that I interviewed and who were active in organizations ranging from community groups to United Nations bodies:

  1. The already marginalized were impacted most strongly by the disasters, being the most vulnerable to start with (with limited coping capacities and safety nets, fewer rights, a lack of voice and bargaining power);
  2. Disaster responses were not always carried out in the common interest of societies at large and in accordance with humanitarian principles, but could serve as a conduit for violence, and to further enforce the interests of a few[i];
  3. This was mostly achieved not via bold announcements and clear restrictions, but through everyday acts. This includes how data is collected, analysed and shared as part of disaster needs assessments, or which seemingly bureaucratic conditions are tied to response mechanisms. The manner in which certain topics are routinely framed in public discourse also bears importance. When certain issues are not discussed transparently or not discussed at all, they cannot be taken care of[ii].

Myanmar seems to have embarked on a dubious handling of the coronavirus crisis already, denying cases of COVID-19 infections so far. But, crucially, the above described is not only a matter of concern for faraway countries long labelled as ‘hopeless pariah states’. In a 2019 article, political scientist Marlies Glasius highlights how authoritarianism applies not to entire regimes in an ‘all or nothing’ fashion, but to patterns of action that sabotage accountability between the people and their political representatives “by means of secrecy, disinformation and disabling voice”. Such practices can be applied everywhere, including in democratic settings.

The risk of this happening is especially high in situations of crisis, which, quite rightly so, call for urgent and extraordinary measures. Political leaders from France to Spain recently proclaimed that they were ‘waging wars’—rhetoric that bears the risk of stifling criticism and pluralistic views in the name of ‘national unity and security’. In academic jargon, such moves are termed ‘securitization[iii]. In Israel, the transitional government just pushed through the use of mass surveillance techniques on civilians to ‘monitor the virus’. This move is not approved nor overseen by the Knesset, to the dismay of many lawyers and human rights organizations. The Hungarian parliament might have to enter a phase of imposed hibernation, and journalists could be fined for propagating ‘fake news’. In several European countries, governments are currently negotiating with telecommunication companies to track population movements. One of the advanced arguments? ‘This was effective in China’. Yet, these privacy-invading practices can also be difficult to unwind, and can set precedents.

A key democratic concern is not only how decisions are taken, but also whether they are taken in the common interest of societies at large. Our political representatives, the media, but also every one of us have a crucial role to play in this. Social and environmental issues must be kept central, not only serve as adjustment variables to the economic or political interests of a few. To take one example even closer to home: in the Netherlands, the government is currently likely to financially support airline company KLM, which would quickly go back to launching its climate-destroying 500,000 flights a year. If such an action really is in the collective long-term interest in our times of climate breakdown deserves to be discussed.

So yes: stay home, wash your hands. But also, depending on your possibilities and preferences, and picking your fights such as to not enter into senseless clicktivism: keep our democracies alive and ensure that institutions are held accountable for the decisions they take now. This crisis can be a political turning point, and it is for all of us to make that future a desirable one.

Follow parliamentary debates and news on government decisions, interact with your political representatives, check whether political and technical institutions act in line with their mandates, keep informed about social realities different from your own, send in reader letters and challenge the media to relay these different social realities and issues, financially support independent media and civil society advocacy groups, join ‘online demonstrations’ (see for instance the alternatives proposed for the Belgian march against racism last weekend), keep mobilized within your party, union or civil society collectives, or even create your own.  And any other basic to creative means you might come up with, and would like to share in the comments?

[i] In Myanmar for instance, the government has long aimed to homogenise its multi-ethnic and religious peoples into a unified Buddhist and Bamar entity. During the response to 2015 cyclone Komen, state aid was biased against religious and ethnic minority groups, and self-help and non-state aid initiatives to help those groups were grossly hampered. Muslim communities were forcibly relocated in military vehicles following the floods, state aid was distributed from monasteries not accessible to non-Buddhist groups, and the Rohingya minority was framed in public discourse as not worthy of support.
[ii] This is linked to self-censorship practices, which I discussed with colleague Roanne van Voorst in another blog.
[iii] The term is generally associated with the Copenhagen School.

This article is part of a series about the coronavirus crisis. Find more articles of this series here.


IsabelleAbout the author:

Isabelle Desportes is a PhD researcher involved in the research project ”When disaster meets conflict” at the ISS.

 

 

In search of a new social contract in the Middle East and North Africa – what role for social policy? by Mahmood Messkoub

In search of a new social contract in the Middle East and North Africa – what role for social policy? by Mahmood Messkoub

Social policy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is in urgent need of reform. Critiques of current social policy models point out their deficiencies in terms of coverage ...

EADI/ISS Series | Rethinking Empowerment and Accountability in ‘Difficult Settings’ by John Gaventa

EADI/ISS Series | Rethinking Empowerment and Accountability in ‘Difficult Settings’ by John Gaventa

Over the last two decades, development has been replete with theories and interventions focusing on ‘empowerment and accountability’, and how these could contribute to a range of outcomes, be they ...

Deglobalisation Series | Challenges to the liberal peace by Syed Mansoob Murshed

We may have reached a stage where economic interactions have become so internationalised that further increases in globalisation cannot deliver greater prospects of peace.[1] But the logic of the capitalist peace still holds water; the intricate nature of the economic interdependence between advanced market economies almost entirely rules out war, but other hostile attitudes can still persist, and even grow.  


Liberal peace theories posit that peace among nations is not a result of a balance of power, but rests on the pacific nature of commonly held values, economic interdependence, and mutual membership of international organisations. Ideal theories of the liberal peace can be traced back to the work of Immanuel Kant, who in his essay on the Perpetual Peace[2] argued that although war is the natural state of man, peace could be established through deliberate design. This requires the adoption of a republican constitution simultaneously by all nations, which inter alia would check the war-like tendencies of monarchs and the citizenry; the cosmopolitanism that would emerge among the comity of nations would preclude war. The European Union is the most obvious, albeit imperfect, example.

Mirroring Kant’s thoughts is the contemporary philosopher John Rawl’s [3] notion of peace between liberal societies, which he refers to as peoples and not states. He speaks of well-ordered peoples. These are mainly constitutional liberal democracies, which arrive at such a polity based on an idea of public reason. In a well-ordered society, based on public reason, human rights are respected, and the distribution of primary goods (a decent living standard, dignity, respect and the ability to participate) for each citizen’s functioning is acceptably arranged.

Another version of the liberal peace theory based on economic interdependence is the ‘capitalist’ peace notion.[4] The intensity of international trade in an economy is the least important feature in the peace engendered by capitalism. The nature of advanced capitalism makes territorial disputes, which are mainly contests over resources, less likely, as the market mechanism allows easier access to resources. The nature of production makes the output of more sophisticated goods and services increasingly reliant on “ideas” that are research and development intensive, and the various stages of production occur across national boundaries. Moreover, the disruption to integrated financial markets makes war less likely between countries caught up in that web of inter-dependence. It is also argued that common foreign policy goals reflected in the membership of international treaty organisations (such as NATO and the European Union) also produce peace.

The chances of the well-ordered, tolerant societies envisaged by Rawls living in peace within themselves and with one another have greatly diminished with the recent rise in inequality, the growing wealth and income share of the richest 1-10% of the population, and the rise in varieties of populist politics. Also, the quality of Kant’s foedus pacificum has been dealt a severe blow by nations such as the UK choosing to leave the European Union, adversely affecting the utilisation of soft power via common membership of international organisations.

We also may have come to a stage where economic interactions such as the exchange of goods, provision of services and the movement of finance have become so internationalised that further increases in globalisation cannot deliver greater prospects of peace.[5] But the logic of the capitalist peace still holds water; the intricate nature of the economic interdependence between advanced market economies almost entirely rules out war, but other hostile attitudes can still persist, and even grow, given recent developments. This includes the rise in populist politics.

The rise of populist politics

The growth in inequality, but more especially the creeping rise in the social mobility inhibiting inequality of opportunity, has spawned the illiberal backlash manifesting itself in the rise in mainly right wing populist politics. A large segment of immiserated voters vote for populists knowing that, once elected, the populist politician is unlikely to increase their economic welfare, as long as they create discomfiture for certain establishment circles, vis-à-vis whom these voters see themselves as relatively deprived. Immigrants and immigration is scapegoated and made responsible for all economic disadvantage and social evils following the simplistic and simple-minded message of right-wing demagogues. It has to be said that left-wing populism, too, has emerged in many societies, mainly among educated millenarians whose economic prospects are often bleaker than those of their parents, and in regions (such as Latin America) with a strong Peronist tradition.

By contrast, during the golden age, which lasted for a little over a quarter of a century after World War II, no particular group in society was disadvantaged by economic growth and the advance of capitalism. The elites appeared to internalise the interests of the median and below-median income groups in society. Social mobility was palpably present, and social protection cushioned households against systemic and idiosyncratic economic shocks. The growth in inequality linked to globalisation and labour-saving technological progress since the early 1980s has disadvantaged vast swathes of the population: it first pauperised the former manufacturing production worker through either job offshore relocation or stagnating real wages, and latterly it is emasculating even median service sector occupations. At the same time the income and wealth share of the top 1-10% of the population grows at an accelerating pace, faster than the rise in national income.[6]

In developing countries there has been a growth in autocratic tendencies, the liberal half of a liberal democracy, even when the other part of democracy, the electoral process, is broadly respected. The use of plebiscites by strong men to garner greater power has been a frequently used tool. There is even talk of autocratic rulers delivering development and economic growth and autocratic tendencies may be greater in nations that have achieved economic structural transformation. But the logic of the “modernisation”[7] hypothesis that argues that democracy is demanded by society as it becomes affluent may still ring true, even if the process is non-linear, and other complex factors need to be taken into account.

A hyper-globalisation trilemma?

Faced with these challenges, we need to abandon our “Panglossian” faith in the ability of markets to always do good. The rules of globalisation and capitalism only serve elites who are owners of internationally mobile skills and wealth. There may be a hyper-globalisation trilemma[8], whereby the simultaneous achievement of national sovereignty, democracy and hyper-globalisation is impossible. It is worth reiterating that hyper-globalisation refers to a situation where for the collective the pains from increased globalisation in terms of adverse distributional consequences outweigh the gains in terms of enhanced income.

Earlier advances of globalisation was made relatively more acceptable in Europe compared to the United States, given the greater prevalence of social protection in the continent. Gradually, after 1980, and especially since the dawn of the new millennium, more and more groups have been disadvantaged by globalisation, and the politics of austerity has diminished social protection, fraying pre-existing domestic social contracts. Thus, many advocate a more limited globalisation, akin to the halcyon days of the golden age, also known as the Bretton Woods era (1945-73), whose hallmark was that the demands of globalisation never exercised veto powers on the domestic social contract.

A retreat from hyper-globalisation is desirable, but not through channels that diminish international cooperation and partnership, like Brexit and President Trump’s protectionist sabre rattling that undermine agreements like NAFTA. What is needed is internationally coordinated checks on hyper-globalisation and agreements on certain wealth taxes on the richest individuals, which is needed to address the alarming rise in wealth inequality given the fact that social protection can only have a palliative, and not curative, impact on these stupendous inequalities.


References:
[1] Rodrik, Dani (2017) Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy, Princeton: University Press.
[2] Kant, Immanuel (1795) Perpetual Peace and Other Essays on Politics, History and Morals, reprinted 1983. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.
[3] Rawls, John (1999) The Law of Peoples, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
[4] Gartzke, Erik (2007) ‘The Capitalist Peace’, American Journal of Political Science 51(1): 166-191.
[5] Rodrik, Dani (2017) Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy, Princeton: University Press.
[6] Piketty, Thomas (2014) Capital in the Twenty-first Century, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
[7] Lipset, Seymour (1960) Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics. New York: Doubleday.
[8] Argued by Dani Rodrik; see, for example, Rodrik (2017), op. cit.

Also see: Backtracking from globalisation by Evan Hillebrand


csm_6ab8a5ef34f1a5efe8b07dff07d52162-mansoob-murshed_0833a7fcf4About the author:

Syed Mansoob Murshed is Professor of the Economics of Peace and Conflict at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands. His research interests are in the economics of conflict, resource abundance, aid conditionality, political economy, macroeconomics and international economics.

 

 

The Age of Democratic Resilience by Mohamed Salih

The Age of Democratic Resilience by Mohamed Salih

About the author: Mohamed Salih is PhD in Economics and Social Science, University of Manchester, UK, 1983) is Professor of Politics of Development at the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague ...