The Global South and the return of geopolitics
A rise in the number and scale of political tensions between countries in the Global North clearly signal the return of geopolitics; the war waged by Russia on Ukraine is ...
A rise in the number and scale of political tensions between countries in the Global North clearly signal the return of geopolitics; the war waged by Russia on Ukraine is ...
The invasion of government offices in Brasília on 8 January by mobs of protestors and vandals forces us to revisit a fundamental question: is Brazil’s relatively recent move to democracy ...
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 human development and economic growth of a country. This article analyses the root causes of these coup, often masterminded by the military regimes. Whereas the continent has achieved tremendous progress in building democratic institutions, in this blog I argue that the conditions for recurring coups have largely remained since the adoption of continental binding principles (Lome declarations, ACDEG). The African Union (AU) and regional economic communities (RECS) ought to be more pragmatic, bold and decisive in its approaches in promoting good governance agenda in Africa.
Historically, the army has been a part and parcel in masterminding coup d’états in many African countries. Over the years, the continent through its governing body (AU) has worked towards strengthening capacity to discourage unconstitutional change of governments. However, these trends are seen to be making a comeback. In Sudan, in October 2021, Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan announced the dissolution of the civilian arm of a transitional government, set up just 2 years after we witnessed the coup d’état that overthrew the reign of long-serving leader Omar Al Bashir. Worrisome, that we witnessed similar events unfold on 5th September 2021 in Guinea, where Guinean special forces army officers led by Col. Mamady Doumbouya overthrew the government of Alpha Conde, 83, who had secured the third term in office after successfully extending the presidential term limits while in office. In the neighboring country Mali, the military in 2021 dissolved the government twice within the space of one year. In Niger, an attempted coup was staged in March 2021, just days before the presidential inauguration ceremony. Likewise, in Chad, the Military Council, headed by former President Idriss Deby’s son, took over power and installed a new government after the assassination of the then President in office. Furthermore, we have witnessed several failed coups attempts in Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Burkina Faso. Much as these coups are inspired by several different contextual factors, one similarity that spans across the countries is that the military juntas often ride on the popular support from the frustrated and unemployed civilian population against the long-serving authoritarian leaders, who are deemed responsible for bad governance and lack of opportunities.
The African continent has experienced several coups d’états during the post-independence struggles. According to a report published by Cambridge University in 2003, Sub-Saharan Africa experienced 80 successfully staged coups, and 108 failed coup attempts between 1951 and mid-2020. During that time, only 30 incumbents were able to relinquish power peacefully after losing an election to opposing politicians, while 28 heads of state voluntarily left office after serving the legally allowed number of terms as President. In the past years, the leaders of coup d’état often credit their actions for toppling governments to reasons such as corruption, mismanagement/failure of governance, and poverty.
The plotters of recent coups have also echoed similar claims. In an interview by Reuters, Col. Mamadou Doubouya of Guinea cited “poverty and endemic corruption” as the reasons for removing President Alpha Conde from office. Likewise, in previous coups in Sudan and Zimbabwe, the Generals who removed Omar al-Bashir in 2019 and Robert Mugabe in 2017 respectively, made similar claims.
The justifications made by coup plotters resonate with the current realities in many African countries. There is increasing frustration among the unemployed and uneducated young population that is yearning for participation in the governance process and access to economic opportunities. A report released by Afrobarometer in 2021 found that several citizens in sub-Saharan Africa acknowledged that governments are not matching the promises on service delivery, job creation for the youth, and the fight against corruption. Instead, there has been a considerable shrinking of civic space to demand these rights. We have witnessed an outrageous crackdown on freedom of expression, killings, arrest, and forced disappearance of dissenting views. These have instilled fear and mistrust between the government and the civilian population. As a result, young Africans are falling onto the promises of “coupes” army generals, who are forcefully assuming power with false hope for radical change, economic progress, and freedom — promises that often turn out to be short-lived.
Civilians took to the streets of Guinea capital Conakry after the overthrow of Alpha Conde. Source: BBC News
Even if assumed that there is a positive side to these coups, the important question is, whether popular support is enough to justify these coups? This has been a subject of contentious debate over the years, raising the uncomfortable dilemma of whether citizens can pursue undemocratic means to remove political leaders who entrench themselves in power through irregular methods and subversive use of the military. History shows that these military rulers govern no better than democratically elected leaders in Africa, and such interventions often come with great risks. The world has not forgotten the iron fist rule of army generals like Idi Amin, Babangida, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, and Sani Abacha who brought hope and excitement initially when they overthrew regimes, but with time, turned out to be monsters against their people. (McGowan: 2003:340).
Therefore, by condoning such an approach, Africa risks falling back to its darkest times in the post-colonial era characterized by lawlessness, instabilities, dictatorships, and relentless coups. Much as most of these coups have been met with popular jubilations on the streets by the disenchanted youth celebrating the fall of leaders who use unconstitutional methods to cling to power, this unconstitutional approach for transfer of power does not provide a better antidote.
Col.Mamody Doumbouya addressing the media after the Juntas took charge. Source; Aljazeera news
The biggest continental body (The African Union) has been subject to criticism by its lack of teeth to bite when it comes to the enforcement of continental agreements. The existing framework drawback from 2000 when the propensity for staging coups had drastically increased, then, the Organization for African Unity (OAU), which was not known for getting involved in “internal affairs” of member states made an exception to toughen its measures to discourage unconstitutional change of government. The Union adopted a decree (Lome Declaration of 2000), which stipulates the suspension of any member states involved in unconstitutional change in government. This was followed by the adoption of The African Charter on Democracy, Election and Governance (ACDEG) framework to guide member states, regional economic communities (RECs) in building stable democratic institutions, rule of law, promoting good governance, and ensuring peace and security. To oversee the implementation of these ambitions, a secretariate was created, called The African Governance Architecture secretariate within the department of political affairs, to promote engagement and dialogue of member states on the adoption of better approaches to promote rule of law, consolidation of democratic institutions, ensuring good governance, and addressing the aspects of unconstitutional change of government in the continent.
However, for such a continent framework to achieve results, members states must work towards the commitments. Up to now, about 35 member states out of 55 have ratified the agreement. About 15 have shown interest through signing but have yet to ratify according to the primer published by the ECDPM think tank in 2022. Similarly, the greater task has been on enforcement by the governing body. Over the year, the African Union has been criticized for its inconsistency in responding to these coups. For example, David Zounmenou, the researcher at Institute for Security Studies (ISS) pointed out how the Union suspended Mali from AU and ECOWAS after the 2020 and 2021 coups, while Chad was allowed to remain in the AU, pending transition to civilian rule in the election. He argued that such inconsistency appears biased and perpetuates deliberate regime changes on the continent.
Another critique posited by Atta-Asamoah at a recent seminar on peace and security in Africa stated that the framework is only reactive, not preventative. Therefore, there is a need to uncover the root causes of these coups by asking questions as to why they happen and dismantling the breeding factors that encourage them.
African Union must strengthen its response mechanism to predict these coups. It must show that it can bite by punishing bad governance on the continent by toughening and applying sanctions indiscriminately on presidents who manipulate and extend constitutional term limits against the will of the people and calling out flawed elections which often leave citizens yearning for regime changes. These approaches will not only deter leaders from clinging to power, but will also reignite citizens’ trust towards using democratic means for seeking regime changes. Democracy can work for Africa, but its leaders ought to prioritise and practice good governance, adopt democratic principles, and hold free and fair elections to affirm and renew the faith of its citizens towards democratic transfer of power.
McGowan, Patrick J. “African Military Coups d’état, 1956-2001: Frequency, Trends, and Distribution.” The Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 41, no. 3, Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 339–70, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3876235.
Downing, J. (2008) “Social Movement Theories and Alternative Media: An Evaluation and Critique,” Communication, Culture & Critique, 1(1), pp. 40–50. DOI: 10.1111/j.1753-9137.2007.00005.x.
Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.
About the author:
Robert Okello is an ISS alumnus who attended the Human rights, Gender, and Conflict class of 2020-2021. He currently works as Policy Researcher with European Centre for Development Policy Management under the governance and accountability, working to build inclusive and sustainable development policy and cooperation between Europe and Africa.
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Imagine that you are a police officer and witness a close colleague accepting a bribe. Would you report this behaviour or turn a blind eye to it? 600 police officers in Uganda answered similar questions relating to a variety of cases of undesirable police conduct. A series of recent publications by Dr Natascha Wagner and Professor Wil Hout, with ISS alumna Dr Rose Namara, shows that officers who participated in an accountability project were influenced positively in their attitudes towards desirable and undesirable police behaviour.
The arrest of Ugandan musician, businessman and opposition politician Bobi Wine in August 2018 caused world-wide attention to the brutal behaviour of the Ugandan police force. This crackdown on a popular figure in the country added to the already bad reputation of Uganda’s police, which is commonly seen as violent and corrupt.
Democratic theory sees the police, next to the army, as the ‘strong arm’ of the state. These institutions are faced with a ‘paradox of power’: they possess important coercive tools that should be used to protect the state and its citizens, but could also be employed to attack those whom they should protect. For this reason, accountability mechanisms are created to ensure that police behaviour respects the principles of the rule of law. Countries with a robust rule of law mechanism, such as The Netherlands, subject the police to strict political and legal oversight. Police officers who ‘cross the line’ and engage in unacceptable behaviour will likely be punished, although recent reports on the code of silence in the police force in The Hague suggest that this may not always be self-evident.
Similar mechanisms do not apply to the same extent to Uganda, which is widely seen as an imperfect democracy, with many traits of so-called ‘competitive authoritarianism’. The country holds regular elections, but political liberties are seriously impeded by the rulers of the country. President Yoweri Museveni’s regime, which has ruled Uganda since the removal of Obote in 1986, regularly uses the police force to repress oppositional forces that may threaten its hold to power. The recent setup of a Field Force Unit for handling riots and demonstrations, according to some observers, is one example of the militarisation the Ugandan police, and could represent a further step to using the police for regime support.
In this seemingly hostile context, the Police Accountability and Reform Project was implemented by the Ugandese NGO HURINET with the financial help of the Dutch Embassy in Kampala. The project aimed to improve relations between civil society, the media and the police by organising dialogues, and inform the public about the work of the police. These activities were meant to strengthen police accountability mechanisms.
The evaluation department of The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs brought in a team from ISS to assess, among others, the police accountability project. The ministry was interested to see to what extent its ‘good governance’ policies in various countries had been effective. Our aim in relation to the project on police accountability was to estimate whether it impacted the attitudes of Ugandan police officers. We concluded that the project in all likelihood contributed positively to the attitudes of police officers regarding desirable and undesirable police activities.
Our research project consisted of different activities. One important element was a survey among a large group of police officers, drawn from districts across Uganda, with the help of a dozen cases of police behaviour. Based on earlier research on police integrity, we let police officers evaluate a variety of cases (or ‘vignettes’), among others relating to police officers who take bribes, steal from a burglary site, and refuse to record a complaint about torture by one of the officer’s colleagues, and, to a District Police Commander who orders a violent response to a demonstration, leaving 20 people dead. Police officers who participated in the project appeared on average much more critical about the misbehaviour depicted in the cases, while they were also more likely to report a colleague for misbehaving. They were more inclined to see the behaviour as a violation of official policy and were more supportive of disciplinary action against misbehaving colleagues.
Interviews with 23 police officers, selected from the higher ranks, supported the findings from the survey. Overall, officers who participated in the accountability project had clearer ideas about human rights norms, the proper treatment of arrestees and relations with the community. The responses of those police officers were credible signs of the norm-setting impact of the accountability project.
Overall, our findings show that it pays off to engage police officers in discussions about acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour, even in a difficult environment such as Uganda. Obviously, the spreading of norms about police behaviour is just one element in creating a better functioning police apparatus. A shift in attitudes does not necessarily represent a reversal of behaviour, since the latter is influenced by many factors other than attitudes. The accountability project in Uganda demonstrated the usefulness of working with the police, although longer-term collaboration may be necessary for achieving permanent results. This may be an important lesson for improving police operations in other countries where accountability and rule of law are a concern.
About the authors:
Wil Hout is Professor of Governance and International Political Economy at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam. His research interests relate to international political economy, regionalism, development policies and issues of governance and development.
Natascha Wagner is associate professor of Development Economics at the ISS. Her research interests lie in international economics, development, health and education. She has participated in various impact evaluation projects and large scale data collections in Africa and Asia ranging from public health to good governance and sustainable development.
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January is Zero Waste month in the Philippines, celebrating the month in which a law on waste management was signed in 2000. Since the law came into force, various cities and towns in the Philippines have shown leadership in implementing the law. But strong political will and robust policies are needed to ensure that government leaders and an engaged citizenry can transform the Philippines into a zero-waste country.
Five years ago, Presidential Proclamation No. 760, signed by former president Benigno S. Aquino III, officially declared the month of January as Zero Waste Month. The proclamation defined ‘zero waste’ as “an advocacy that promotes designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, and to conserve and recover all resources, and not indiscriminately dispose or burn them.”
Even before the issuance of the proclamation, various nongovernmental organizations in the Philippines have been trying to mainstream zero waste as a goal for our government. In fact, PP 760 traces its roots to the first-ever Zero Waste Youth Convergence organized by Mother Earth Foundation, in which 5,000 youth leaders issued a Zero Waste Youth statement calling for the celebration of a Zero Waste Month.
January was chosen as Zero Waste Month because this was the month when Republic Act No. 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, was signed. Many countries around the world have expressed admiration for this landmark Philippine law, as it calls for a decentralised waste and resource management system that also bans waste incinerators.
According to the National Solid Waste Commission, waste in Philippine cities and municipalities is mostly composed of organics (52 percent). Recyclables comprise 28 percent, and residuals (waste that can’t be reused, recycled or composted) 18 percent. Much of the waste (80 percent, which is organics and recyclables combined) can be safely returned to nature or industry without resorting to landfills and incineration.
Through proper segregation, organics can be composted in our homes, schools and offices. In a linear waste management approach, organics are wasted instead of being turned into a resource. Under a zero-waste approach, recyclables are reused and recycled and become a source of livelihood for waste workers as well.
Various cities and towns in the Philippines have shown leadership in implementing the law, hoping to transform into a zero-waste city. A good model is San Fernando, Pampanga, which achieved a 78-percent waste diversion record (or the amount that was composted or recycled instead of going into the landfill) in 2017, from 12 percent in 2012. Tacloban City was also able to increase the coverage of waste collection but managed to decrease the volume of waste sent into landfills.
However, the work does not end at the local government unit (LGU) level. Many LGUs that have already been implementing zero-waste policies need strong support from national government agencies and legislators. They have the power to enable an environment that supports these policies by enacting laws and supporting the implementation of such laws that can scale up the successes of LGUs doing the zero-waste approach.
For instance, cities like San Fernando, Pampanga, that are trying to reduce nonrecyclable plastic waste through local ordinances cannot implement zero waste effectively unless there is a law at the national level to mandate businesses to stop the production of single-use disposable plastic packaging. Having a national law will ensure that materials such as disposable implements or throwaway sachet packaging are not produced in the first place. Thus, it removes the burden from LGUs to have to manage plastic waste that can neither be recycled nor composted.
With strong political will and robust policies in place, government leaders and an engaged citizenry can transform the Philippines into a zero-waste country. The coming midterm elections is an opportune time to ensure that we are on the right track.
This article was originally published in The Inquirer: https://opinion.inquirer.net/119378/a-zero-waste-philippines-is-possible#ixzz5fyE854dE
About the authors:
Froilan Grate is the regional coordinator of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives Asia-Pacific.
Jed Alegado is the communications officer for Asia-Pacific of #breakfreefromplastic.
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