Sunday, March 8, 2009

Does Democracy Promote Good Governance?

Opponents of MONUC have sometimes argued that its focus on elections was premature, and that the $400 million the international community spent on holding elections was an exercise in formality that merely ratified Kabila's position as the incumbent. (In some of the darker interpretations--what Prunier calls the Leninist readings--the elections merely served to provide ideological cover for the continued exploitation of Congolese resources.) I've defended MONUC on this score. The advantages of incumbency typical in young African democracies don't explain why Kabila lost the vote of the western half of the country. Second, I'm not sure how you nurture African democracies without simultaneously working on the formal structures of governance as well as on its infrastructure and ideological struts: the political parties, the rule of law, a free press, etc. Third, in the long run, democracy is still the best hope for national self-correction: if Kabila disappoints the Congolese, there is a decent chance he could be voted out of power in 2011. Fourth, the possibility of being thrown out of office ought to give him some incentive to try to improve the lives of his people.

But until now, a lot of my reasoning was just conjecture. I hadn't known of any analysis establishing a relationship between holding elections and good governance. A new paper from AfroBarometer suggest that there is a connection:
The results show an elective affinity between free elections and improved governance. But any democracy advantage is more apparent in relation to some dimensions governance than others. For example, while elections apparently boost the rule of law and control of corruption, they also seem to undercut the transparency of government procedures and the responsiveness of elected officials. To address the debate on causality, the paper compares governance performance before and after electoral alternations, both across countries and in one particular country (Mali). It concludes that, as a rule of thumb for policy sequencing, democracy promotion need not await the prior establishment of a rule of law.
It will be interesting to see what 2011 brings. I don't know which country might serve as a guide post for the DRC. Obviously, Kabila can't pull a Kagame, and jury rig an election with 97 percent of the vote. Would he attempt a Marcos, and reschedule the vote, undermine it, and then pull out a fraudulent victory by a few percentage points? If so, would the Congolese revolt? (Depends, I suppose, on how badly he lost. I don't think he can steal an election if he gets trounced--even if the Congolese acquiesce, the donors wouldn't allow it.) The obvious African scenario is Kenya, and to a lesser extent Zimbabwe, where Kabila delays the vote, steals the election with last-minute chicanery, then holds out the promise of negotiating a power-sharing agreement with elements of the opposition. This will be easier to do if the opposition isn't united, but even if it were, political figures are under such pressure to secure positions for themselves and their clients that Kabila is likely to be able to coopt enough of his adversaries to remain president.

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