Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tunisia riots, president of 23 years steps down

I need to grade final exams today, but wikipedia has a pretty good summary of what's been going on in Tunisia over the past month or two. Long story short: President Ben Ali ran the country for 23 years, in party with the help of support from France and the US, who liked that he kept the country from being taken over by Islamic extremists.  Of course, to do that he had to use a little bit of repression, which doesn't always go over well with the locals (note that the above description, with different names and dates, also describes Egypt and other countries in the region).  

Usually Tunisia is pretty calm, thanks in part to government subsidies for basic life needs, but the government started pulling back on that.  In late December, young people started rioting in response to joblessness and so on.  By early January, the protests had spread - 95% of lawyers went on strike, teachers went on strike, etc.  The police, who had started off breaking up riots pretty peacefully, started using riot gear and tear gas, but it didn't help. On January 14, President Ali stepped down.

Some Western observers are calling the events the Jasmine Revolution, following the other color revolutions in the past few years.

After Ali stepped down, Prime Minister Ghannouchi took charge of a unity government dominated by the president's party, but protestors weren't happy with that, so they demanded that members of opposition parties quit the government.  In today's NY Times, it was reported that five or more ministers from opposition parties quit the unity government, which is putting the Prime Minister in a tough spot.  We'll see how long he lasts. 

This is a big event for Tunisia, and an even bigger event given the context of North Africa and the Middle East ("MENA").  I'm trying to think of a previous example in which a long-lived dictators was overthrown by domestic protests and I'm not thinking of any in the past 30 years or so (I'm going to look real quick at some countries in the region on www.rulers.org ). Most of the changes took place in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.   The uprising against the French in Algeria (see the Battle of Algiers) was in the late 50s/early 60s.  Nasser and company overthrew the monarchy or whatever in Egypt in the 50s and has been ruled by Mubarak since 1981. Qaddafi has been running Libya since 1969. Morocco still has a king. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the UAE, etc. are still run by kings or sultans or emirs or whatever.  Iraq we know.  Iran had it's Islamic revolution in 1979.  Here's a possible candidate as precedent: Mauritania had President Taya as president from 1984-2005, but he was overthrown in a coup, not an uprising. Things haven't been going great since - a short military government, a short civilian government, another short military government, and another civilian government elected in 2009. 

So some rulers in the area, like Mubarak and Qaddafi, might want to worry.  Both of them are, I believe, grooming sons to be successors. Libya has all that oil, Egypt still gets gobs of aid money from the US. Those factors alone suggest they'll be OK in the short and medium term.  Here is a blogger looking at income levels and so on to say that Tunisia is a more likely candidate for democracy than its neighbors. Some scholars, most famously Przeworski and his co-authors, dispute the idea that high income facilitates transition to democracy, but many others, including Boix & Stokes, say that high income does play a positive role, albeit a small one. 

I should be grading now.  I'll post more if I have time. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

South Sudan referendum update

Reuters reports that turnout has already passed the 60 percent threshold required for the referendum to be binding.  Voting will continue until this Saturday (I think - it says it's a week-long voting period) and preliminary results won't be available until February.  This is a reminder that infrastructure in a lot of Africa isn't great, and in South Sudan it's particularly bad.  It's about 25,000 square miles in size (about the size of West Virginia) and has only 40 miles of paved roads, that's a road density (road miles per 100 square miles) of about 0.2.  Sudan as a whole has the lowest road density in Africa (0.5), and most of the roads are in the north.   For comparison, West Virginia has a road density of 7 road miles per 100 square miles.

This being Sudan, Reuters also reports 46 deaths in clashes between Northern nomads and southerners.

Jonathan Chait at tnr.com is one of my favorite bloggers, and I was glad to see that someone (Martin Peretz) at TNR did a short blog on Sudan. Africa isn't  his specialty and he was mostly good about qualifying his statements (Perhaps... possibly...).  For example, he says "The nightmare that faces almost all of the African states is that very few of them consist of one integral people. In fact, I don’t recall one of them." Well, I can recall one, and it's Somalia.  It didn't help much, did it?  Not only is Somalia a total mess, it didn't even manage to stay unified. The only reason South Sudan is looking to become a sovereign state before Somaliland is because the international community isn't recognizing Somaliland's sovereignty.  (UPDATE: Maybe Peretz meant, when he said one integral people, a country where that one people is undivided.  If that is the case, Somalia isn't an exception - there are Somali-populated regions in Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya, and Somalia wasted a lot of its resources at independence trying to unite Greater Somalia through force of arms).

So Peretz quotes Ramberg who says that states should break up if they can't get along.  But there are reasons they don't usually break up.  One is that the land held by the opposition often has something the central government wants, such as oil (as in the case of Sudan).  Another is that the international community doesn't like to recognize new sovereign states, at least not in Africa (as shown in the case of Somaliland).  If the international community is unlikely to recognize you, this deters potential secessionists from seeking secession, and if the international community gives you aid based in part on the level of suffering, governments won't want to give up regions that are suffering.  The best thinker I know on this stuff is Pierre Englebert, I wish Peretz had quoted him instead.  In fact, I'll put that in a comment to Martin's post now.

I asked Pierre what he thinks of the South Sudan referendum.  He is happy for them, but is uncertain about their future success.  He notes that they have been fighting for recognition more than they have been working on state construction.  This brings me back to the roads situation.  Herbst talks about how African states are states in name, and are recognized by the international community, but many of them aren't really states in the sense that the central government has full control over its territory. Herbst measures state capacity using paved road density.  As noted above, South Sudan will have significantly lower road density than anywhere else in Africa, so it seems unlikely that it will be one of Africa's big success stories anytime soon.

Although it depends how you measure success. As would be the case for an independent South Sudan, Chad and Angola have oil but not roads, and they were two of the biggest economic success in the world. But Chad is spending a lot of its oil revenues on arms to fight its civil war rather than on development.  Angola ended its civil war almost 10 years ago, but life there still isn't great for most.  According to the human development index (HDI, based on health and education as well as income), Angola still ranks near the bottom - number 146 out of 169 countries, just below Haiti.

Friday, January 7, 2011

African economies finally growing

The Economist notes that 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world were in Africa, and 7 of the 10 countries with the best predicted economic growth in the next 5 years are in Africa.  Three of the fastest 6 are big oil producers (Angola, Nigeria, and Chad - not a big oil producer yet but recently discovered oil so growing from a very low base) and Rwanda grew quickly because it was playing catchup from destroying its economy in the civil war.

Still, though, Africa has historically been somewhat of a basket case, so this is definitely good news.  But are these exceptions or is Africa as a region doing better?  The Economist article notes that Africa as a region did better than Latin America in the 2000s (although still trailed Asia), whereas Latin America grew faster than Africa in the 1990s.  So Africa is definitely doing much better than it has in the past, thanks to improved economic policies and so on.

One thing to note is that the Economist listed GDP growth, which is important for investors looking where growth is happening and to have an idea of which countries are increasing their economic weight on the world stage, but it's not the best measure if we want to know whether living standards are improving.  A better measure is GDP per capita, to account for population growth, and indeed African countries tend to have high population growth.

I just looked at real GDP growth rate and real GDP per capita growth rate for 2000-2007 because that's what was available in the Quality of Governance data set I have handy (I used the United Nations data). Here is what I got by region for countries with population over 10 million:

                                            Real GDP Growth         Real GDP per capita growth
Eastern Europe                                 6.1                                                6.1
Latin America                                  4.4                                                 3.1
North Africa & Middle East             4.6                                                2.7
Sub-Saharan Africa                          5.3                                                2.8
Western Europe & North America   2.3                                                1.6
East Asia (including Japan)              4.5                                                4.1
South-East Asia                                7.1                                                5.6
South Asia                                        7.8                                                5.7

(I haven't figured out how to put a nicer looking table on the blog yet)

So sub-Saharan Africa beat Latin America 5.3 to 4.4 in the 2000s if you look at GDP growth, but if you look at GDP per capita growth, Latin America did better.  But still, Africa did a lot better than it has in the past.  In the 1990s, GDP growth was 3.2% and GDP per capita growth was 0.4%, meaning in ten years, quality of life on average almost stood still. In the 1980s, GDP per capita growth was -0.9%.  So an average per capita growth rate of 2.8% is really good for Africa, historically speaking. I'll take it.

More on South Sudan referendum

Here is a Monkey Cage post by a doctoral student, Cameron Wimpy, in Southern Sudan.

And here is Cameron's blog, including his impressions of the referendum process in Southern Sudan and some photos.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Elections in Nigeria

The next thing I plan to blog a bit about when I have time is elections in Nigeria - voting started today for the governorship in Delta state, one of Nigeria's main oil-producing states, and how that election goes will impact the presidential election that is coming up in April. Rivals are trying to block frontrunner President Goodluck Jonathan from running.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

This is important, too - African leaders mobilize to help U2


New country in the near future - South Sudan!

I don't have time to write about this, but this is pretty big news - South Sudan may become country #193 this month. See Economist article. Wikipedia has more info with lots of links to articles, and if you want more you can go to southsudannation.com .

UPDATE: In preparation for voting on the referendum for independence, which starts Sunday January 9, the army of Southern Sudan signed a ceasefire with a renegade general's fighters.  This is a reminder that conflict in Sudan is not only between the central government and southern Sudan, or between the central government (and its proxies) and Darfur, there is also conflict within southern Sudan. Scholars such as Zachariah Mampilly have been writing about these conflicts for years, but they don't get as much attention in the popular press.

Anyway, if South Sudan becomes its own country, this will be huge news, not just for its inhabitants, but also because it is a major exception in the history of independent Africa.  As Pierre Englebert and Rebecca Hummel note, Africa, with its arbitrary borders and social cleavages, seems ripe for secessionist movements, yet these rarely occur and almost never succeed (Eritrea being a notable exception). Englebert has argued that artificial borders are a major cause of Africa's poor governance and performance, and sees the emergence of states with new boundaries, recognized by the international community, as a potential way to encourage better governance on the continent. My guess is that Pierre sees Sunday's vote as a positive development, but I haven't heard him say so directly.  I'll email him now and see what he says.  He might also think that Cote d'Ivoire would be better off splitting in half rather than continuing as a single state.

UPDATE #2: The Economist has some good coverage of the upcoming vote. And here is there coverage of the last time a new African state (Eritrea) was born.  They are with Englebert, that new states can be a good thing for Africa. Also from the Economist, a video history of modern Sudan:

200 countries, 200 years, in 4 minutes

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Things looking slightly better in Cote d'Ivoire

Gbagbo agreed to lift a blockade(!) on Ouattara's temporary headquarters in the Hotel du Golf and to negotiate with Ouattara, who agreed to give Gbagbo a face-saving exit, as long as Gbagbo admits he lost the election.

As this short piece points out, however, Gbagbo appears to be in the company of rulers such as Mugabe who care about almost nothing else but staying in power, no matter how much their legitimacy has evaporated and how bad it is for their country.  So I won't feel too optimistic until Gbagbo physically leaves the building.

Monday, January 3, 2011

(Former) President of Cote d'Ivoire continues to refuse to step down

Laurent Gbagbo, who has been president of Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) since 2000, refuses to recognize the results of the election held November 28, which international observers agree was won by his opponent, Alassane Ouattara. "Ivory Coast's constitutional court, run by a staunch Gbagbo ally, reversed the U.N.-ratified electoral commission results showing a Ouattara win, citing massive evidence of fraud."

The irony is that when Gbagbo was first elected, the head of the state at the time,  General Robert Guei, claimed that he had won the election, but Gbagbo insisted that he was the true winner, and street protests of Gbagbo supporters convinced Guei to recognize the results.  Furthermore, the only reason Gbagbo won in the first place was because Guei had outlawed the other competitors, including former president Henri Konan Bedie (who was overthrown by Guei in 1999) and Ouatarra. 

Ouattara may be the most viable presidential candidate since Félix Houphouët-Boigny died in 1993, after ruling the country for 33 years.  Ouattara was Prime Minister from 1990-1993 and carried out presidential duties for the last 18 months, as Houphouet-Boigny was ill.  A few hours after Houphouet-Boigny died, Bedie, the President of the National Assembly under Houphouet-Boigny, went on national television and announced that he was the new president. A few months later he was elected president of the ruling party, the PDCI. Before facing Ouattara in the 1995 presidential election, Bedie had the electoral code changed so that candidates with a foreign-born parent were barred from running in order to disqualify Ouatarra, enabling Bedie to win virtually uncontested (Gbagbo also boycotted this election). Guei overthrew Bedie in 1999 (Guei was originally dismissed as chief of the army in 1995 for refusing to mobilize troops against Ouattara). In 2000, Ouattara was still disqualified, as was Emile Constant Bombet and Bedie, enabling Gbagbo to win.  Civil war broke out a few years later, and although Gbagbo's term was supposed to end in 1995, it has been extended continuously because of the war and delayed elections. 

So Gbagbo saying Ouattara shouldn't take office because of elections irregularities is pretty rich. In any case, the international community, including the UN, has endorsed the results from the country's own electoral commission that Outarra won by over 8 percentage points, 54.1 to 45.9.  Hopefully Gbagbo will accept reality soon before serious civil war re-erupts. The reason Gbagbo became president in the first place is because protestors called on the incumbent to recognize the results - following the Gbagbo's refusal in early December, protestors took to the streets, burning tires and so on.  

South Africa invited to join BRIC group

 The BRIC group is Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Jim O'Neill of Goldman Sachs invented "the BRIC term in 2001 to describe the four nations that he estimates will collectively equal the U.S. in economic size by 2020." At the time it was intended to be a term used for investors but since then it has taken on meaning as a political group as well. The BRIC countries had their first official summit in Russia in June 2009 and are meeting in China in 2011.  South Africa is invited to this summit, and there is speculation that the name will be changed to BRICS.  Jim O'Neill doesn't consider South Africa, with an economy and population much smaller than the other four, to be a viable candidate for the group. South Korea, Turkey, Indonesia, and Mexico are more reasonable candidates by those measures.  But South Africa adds a new continent to the group, and China wants to expand its role in the economy of Africa in general. "China emerged as Africa's largest trading partner in 2009, outpacing the European Union and the United States, China's People's Daily said." South Africa is obviously the largest economy in Africa.  This works for South Africa as well, raising its position as a future global power and investment target. Martin "Davies said South Africa could better earn a seat on economic merit if it can integrate the economies of the Southern African Development Community -- a 15-state regional block."

First post

I waste too much of my time looking at blogs on American politics, especially Jonathon Chait and Ezra Klein.  Since my primary geographic research focus is Africa, I should spend more time than I do following African politics.  I looked for a blog on African politics that I like as much as the blogs I read on American politics, but couldn't find one.  If someone knows of one, please let me know.  In the meantime, starting in 2011, I will try to transfer some of the time I waste from reading American politics blogs to writing an African politics blog.

Since it is the start of the year, I was going to try to start off with something that kind of summarizes the past year, but I need to do some other things today and that sounds time consuming, so I'll just start with some of the interesting stories of the day.