Give elec­tions their due, but they only do so much

When­ever the de­mands on a gov­ern­ment are high, cit­i­zens al­most al­ways ex­pect the im­pos­si­ble.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents -

In look­ing for what the de­vel­op­ment im­pacts of the rash of gen­eral elec­tions in Africa in Q3 and early Q4, 2017 might be, Jide Ak­in­tunde, Man­ag­ing Edi­tor, Fi­nan­cial Nige­ria, spoke with Efosa Ojomo, a Re­search Fel­low at the Clay­ton Chris­tensen In­sti­tute for Dis­rup­tive In­no­va­tion. Jide Ak­in­tunde: The elec­tion in Rwanda is now un­der the belt. But even as Ja­cob Zuma sur­vived the lat­est no-con­fi­dence vote, Kenya's pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is wit­ness­ing a dis­quiet af­ter­math. Yet, An­golans and Liberi­ans are soon to go to the polls. This rash of elec­tions is in­struc­tive for those who mis­take Africa for a coun­try. But then, what does the sheer num­ber of four gen­eral elec­tions within three months say about the prospect of sta­bil­ity in Africa? Efosa Ojomo: It is im­por­tant that we do not mis­take elec­tions for democ­racy. And fur­ther­more, it is im­por­tant that we do not mis­take democ­racy for sta­bil­ity. It could be ar­gued quite suc­cess­fully that, some­times, States that are un­demo­cratic are more sta­ble. The Arab Spring pro­vides a frame­work through which we can un­der­stand this more clearly.

In 2010, when the Arab Spring be­gan, many ex­perts and pun­dits thought the wide­spread protests in the Mid­dle East would lead to a revo­lu­tion that would fun­da­men­tally change the power dy­nam­ics in Egypt, Libya, Tu­nisia, and Ye­men. Oth­ers thought it would spread to more sta­ble coun­tries such as Oman and Saudi Ara­bia. There was hope that democ­racy, and per­haps sta­bil­ity, would come. To­day, Egypt is cur­rently ruled by a for­mer gen­eral in the Egyp­tian army; Libya has been in chaos since the up­ris­ing; 83% of Tu­nisians be­lieve their coun­try is go­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion; and Ye­men is in con­flict, with 70% of the pop­u­la­tion in need of some form of aid.

Why didn't the Arab Spring bring the kind of revo­lu­tion many ex­perts pre­dicted?

Sim­ply put, it is be­cause the fun­da­men­tal dy­nam­ics be­tween the gov­ern­ment – re­gard­less of who is in power – and the cit­i­zenry did not change. Th­ese ex­am­ples high­light how dif­fi­cult it is to en­act true change that will ben­e­fit the average cit­i­zen. For gov­ern­ments to work for the average cit­i­zens, the cit­i­zens must be wealthy enough to de­mand a thriv­ing, and sta­ble, democ­racy.

Africa is over­whelm­ingly the poor­est con­ti­nent in our world. And by ex­ten­sion, African gov­ern­ments are poor, un­der­re­sourced, and typ­i­cally ill-equipped to man­age their fledg­ling democ­ra­cies. And so, while elec­tions mat­ter for the sake of plant­ing the seeds of democ­racy as the best way to gov­ern, to­day's elec­tions mat­ter less to the average cit­i­zen in the coun­try, es­pe­cially in the con­text of pro­vid­ing

po­lit­i­cal or eco­nomic sta­bil­ity. Just ask the average Nige­rian cit­i­zen who voted for Muham­madu Buhari in 2015. If their lot has changed at all, it has not changed for the bet­ter.

JA: The suc­cess of the Rwan­dan elec­tion that saw Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame re-elected is quite coded. How would you like to de­code it?

EO: De­cod­ing Rwanda is quite straight­for­ward, ac­tu­ally. The coun­try is tak­ing a page out of the play­book of the late Lee Kuan Yew of Sin­ga­pore. While there are sim­i­lar­i­ties in both na­tions, there are vast dif­fer­ences that Kagame must man­age prop­erly in or­der to suc­ceed. In de­fense of the strat­egy, just as Sin­ga­pore is now one of the rich­est States in the re­gion, Rwanda's gains since the geno­cide have been un­prece­dented. Few African coun­tries can boast the gains that Rwanda has made in ris­ing in­comes, life ex­pectancy, and im­prove­ments in health, over the past two decades. Kagame is the dar­ling of many in the in­ter­na­tional donor com­mu­nity. Tony Blair re­spects him; Bill Gates and his foun­da­tion work closely with the coun­try; and Kagame speaks at elite in­sti­tu­tions all over the world, ex­plain­ing his vi­sion and strat­egy. He (Kagame) un­der­stands that mar­ket­ing his vi­sion to po­ten­tial donors is as im­por­tant as ex­e­cut­ing it. If he con­tin­ues his mar­ket­ing strat­egy and con­tin­ues to show progress in de­vel­op­ment, he will con­tinue to be suc­cess­ful.

JA: Kenya has not been able to ex­or­cise the ghost of its elec­tion vi­o­lence of ten years ago in the way Rwanda has been able to move away from the geno­cide that had oc­curred in the coun­try. What are the forces that make elec­tions in Kenya still vi­o­lence-prone and what do you en­vis­age the out­comes of the lat­est elec­tion would be, beyond sim­ply who will win?

EO: The re­cent Kenyan elec­tion was a must-win for both can­di­dates. For the in­cum­bent, it would have been the first time an in­cum­bent lost in Kenya. And for the op­po­nent, this was go­ing to be his last elec­tion. As such, this elec­tion was pe­cu­liar in the sense that both men had to win, but only one could win. So, re­gard­less of whether there was vi­o­lence ten years ago, this elec­tion would have been hotly con­tested. And it was.

The ques­tion re­ally should be; why does a poor coun­try spend more than half a bil­lion on an elec­tion that is likely to have lit­tle im­pact on the average Kenyan's life? That, I think, is a more in­trigu­ing ques­tion.

JA: In An­gola, long-term pres­i­dent, Ed­uardo Dos San­tos, has an anointed suc­ces­sor, who would nev­er­the­less go through the bal­lot process. Does this elec­tion sig­nal a real turn­ing-point to­wards democ­racy for the oil-rich coun­try?

EO: It is im­por­tant to note that, while elec­tions are an im­por­tant com­po­nent of democ­ra­cies, and it is im­por­tant to main­tain them, elec­tions by them­selves do not au­to­mat­i­cally sig­nify democ­ra­cies. In his book, The Fu­ture of Free­dom, CNN's Fa­reed Zakaria writes that, “In a demo­cratic coun­try that has a per capita in­come of un­der $1,500, the regime on average had a life ex­pectancy of just eight years. With be­tween $1,500 and $3,000, it sur­vived on average for about eigh­teen years. Above $6,000 it be­came highly re­silient. The chance that a demo­cratic regime would die in a coun­try with an in­come above $6,000 was 1 in 500. Once rich, democ­ra­cies be­come im­mor­tal.”

What this means for the average An­golan is that, their up­com­ing elec­tions are a step in the right di­rec­tion. How­ever, it is only just a step. More must be done to in­crease the in­comes of the average An­golan in or­der to make the coun­try's gover­nance and democ­racy more sta­ble and more rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

JA: For what­ever Pres­i­dent Ellen John­son Sir­leaf may have achieved for Liberia, her regime was dogged by al­le­ga­tions of nepo­tism, and the Ebola cri­sis would have de­railed some of her pro­grammes. Are Liberi­ans go­ing to be vot­ing for or against her legacy?

EO: Liberi­ans are more likely to vote for a dif­fer­ent can­di­date this elec­tion pri­mar­ily be­cause of the change they hope to get in the form of new lead­er­ship. This chang­ing of the guard isn't spe­cific to Liberi­ans, or Africans, even. When­ever the de­mands on a gov­ern­ment are high, cit­i­zens al­most al­ways ex­pect the im­pos­si­ble. As a re­sult, con­sid­er­ing the strug­gles Pres­i­dent Sir­leaf faced through the course of her pres­i­dency, Liberi­ans are likely to try their luck with a dif­fer­ent can­di­date.

Un­for­tu­nately, our re­search sug­gests that of­ten times, cit­i­zens are too fo­cused on their gov­ern­ments and the re­sults of elec­tions for change to oc­cur. While a bet­ter gov­ern­ment can, the­o­ret­i­cally, im­prove the cir­cum­stances of the average Liberian, un­for­tu­nately, what we find time and again in many poor coun­tries is that the gov­ern­ment's hands are tied. To those look­ing for th­ese elec­tions to bring wide­spread change and pros­per­ity, they are look­ing at the wrong en­tity. Give elec­tions their due, but don't pin your hopes on them. They can only do so much.

JA: In Sub Sa­ha­ran Africa, Paul Kagame stands tall (pun un­in­tended) as a leader that has fos­tered, quite vividly, eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion for his coun­try. While elec­tions tend to heat up the poli­ties, the ques­tion arises as to whether th­ese elec­tions ac­tu­ally pay much div­i­dend. What are the key de­vel­op­ment agen­das that may be ad­vanced in Kenya, An­gola and Liberia after the elec­tions?

EO: From a purely de­vel­op­ment numbers stand­point, Kagame's strong lead­er­ship has been very ef­fec­tive. From a long-term vi­a­bil­ity stand­point, not so much. And not be­cause of the hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions per se, or the lack of "chang­ing of the guard." It's more so be­cause Kagame's Rwanda has not fo­cused pri­mar­ily on im­prov­ing the em­ploy­ment prospects of Rwan­dans through the cre­ation of new mar­kets.

Once un­em­ploy­ment is ad­dressed ef­fec­tively, cit­i­zens tend to feel ac­com­plished. Un­for­tu­nately, Rwanda's de­vel­op­ment strat­egy is just a more ef­fi­cient ex­e­cu­tion of con­ven­tional de­vel­op­ment par­a­digm that cre­ates de­pen­dence on West­ern donors and lit­tle else to sus­tain­abil­ity. If Kagame and the lead­ers in Kenya, An­gola and Liberia fo­cused more on en­sur­ing ev­ery young adult in their coun­try had a good job, all the other de­vel­op­ment is­sues would take care of them­selves.

To be more spe­cific, th­ese gov­ern­ments should fo­cus on at­tract­ing in­vest­ments that cre­ate new mar­kets for the average per­son in their coun­try. This is the miss­ing link be­tween Kagame's strat­egy and that of the late Lee Kuan Yew of Sin­ga­pore.

JA: Africa's pri­vate sec­tor has con­tin­ued to try to make the most of the or­der that democ­racy presents. What are your thoughts on ac­cel­er­at­ing en­ter­prise de­vel­op­ment to lever­age po­lit­i­cal progress in African coun­tries?

EO: What mat­ters most for the average cit­i­zen in any coun­try, and most im­por­tantly in Africa, is well-pay­ing jobs. And the gov­ern­ment, no mat­ter how hard they try, does not cre­ate jobs. That's the job of com­pa­nies. And while gov­ern­ments cre­ate the en­vi­ron­ments that en­ter­prises must work within, there is lit­tle ev­i­dence to sug­gest that dras­tic change hap­pens un­der demo­cratic regimes. Democ­ra­cies, by de­sign, limit dras­tic change – for the bad, and un­for­tu­nately, for the good.

In or­der to ac­cel­er­ate en­ter­prise de­vel­op­ment in African coun­tries, gov­ern­ments must do some­thing that is coun­ter­in­tu­itive. That is, they must get out of their own way. In many of to­day's rich coun­tries, in­no­va­tions that cre­ated new mar­kets for average cit­i­zens pre­ceded reg­u­la­tions. But in many of the poor coun­tries to­day, reg­u­la­tions pre­cede in­no­va­tion. As a re­sult, th­ese reg­u­la­tions stymie the en­tre­pre­neur­ial ecosys­tem, thereby cre­at­ing a sit­u­a­tion where the in­ge­nu­ity of the pri­vate sec­tor is suf­fo­cated.

Efosa Ojomo

Rwan­dan Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame

Liberian Pres­i­dent Ellen John­son Sir­leaf

Kenyan Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta

An­golan Pres­i­dent José Ed­uardo dos San­tos

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