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"Failed States and International Security:
Causes, Prospects, and Consequences"
Purdue University, West Lafayette
February 25-27, 1998
Democratization in the Third World
The Role of Western Politics and Research
Department of Political Science
University of Aarhus
DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
Tel: +45 8942 1133
Fax: +45 8613 9839
With the end of the Cold War came a period of massive and profound optimism concerning
the prospects for democracy in the Third World.  As we approach the end of the
twentieth century things look less bright. Are we in the early stages of a comprehensive
setback for democracy in the Third World? What has been the role of Western countries in
the processes of political transition? This paper begins with an overview of achievements
and shortcomings of processes of democratization in the Third World. I demonstrate that
many Third World countries have experienced the opening stages of a transition process to
democracy. I go on to argue that a large number of countries are stuck in the initial phases
of a democratic transition. No comprehensive setback for democracy is in the cards, but
there are no prospects for any substantial democratic progress either. My discussion of this
focuses on Africa. Although the process of democratization is by nature first and foremost a
domestic, internal affair, international actors have contributed to this unfortunate state of
affairs. My attempt to spell this out focuses on three factors: (a) the failure to appreciate the
role of nationalism and political community; (b) the overemphasis on liberalism, first
economic (reliance on the market) and then political (reliance on the ballot box and
accountability); (c) the emphasis on elitism (i.e., the tendency to support elite-dominated
democracies). Some of the problems are related to national interests: Western countries
pursue their own agenda, irrespective of the broader consequences for democracy. But
some of them are also related to the inability of research to properly spell out what the best
policies and most appropriate measures are. Indeed, research on governance and
development appears to move in odd phases that are contradictory more that cumulative: a
few years ago, emphasis was on a strong, developmental state and with a view to the East
Asian success stories it was implied that such a state was also (soft) authoritarian. Now the
emphasis is on democracy and accountability and it is implied that democracy per definition
creates a stronger, more developmentalist state.
In examining the travail of democracy in the Third World, this paper is a contribution to the
`transitology' research on processes of democratization. Within that general context it is a
main aim to discuss the relationship between processes of democratization and processes of
state strengthening, meaning the creation of more developmentalist states, better capable of
pursuing economic and social development. It is an underlying assumption that without this
connection between democratization and increased state strength, the development of
democracy itself will be severely constrained. As for terminology, I employ the standard
definition of democracy developed by Dahl. Political democracy is a system of government
that meets the following conditions:
- Meaningful and extensive competition among individuals and organized groups
(especially political parties) for all effective positions of government power, at regular
intervals excluding the use of force.
- A highly inclusive level of political participation in the selection of leaders and
policies, at least through regular and fair elections, such that no major (adult) social
group is excluded.
- A level of civil and political liberties - freedom of expression, freedom of the press,
freedom to form and join organizations - sufficient to ensure the integrity of political
competition and participation (Diamond et al. 1988:xvi).
A reasonable operationalization of this definition is made in the index employed by Freedom
House. Despite some caveats (Sørensen 1993:17) that index therefore provides us with a
reasonable starting point for looking at democracy's progress (notwithstanding the critique
by, eg., Bollen 1993).
2. Democracy at Century's End
The 1997 Freedom House survey of independent countries with more than one million
inhabitants identified forty-nine countries as free. When countries with fewer than one million
inhabitants were included (bringing the total number of states in the world to 191) the survey
classified seventy-nine countries as free, fifty-nine as partly free, and another fifty-three as
not free (Freedom House 1997).
The question whether such number constitute great democratic progress is a bit like the
question whether the glass is half full or half empty. Yes, the glass is half full: there has
been democratic progress in that past two decades. The democratic transitions began in
Southern Europe in the 1970s; they came to include Latin America in the early 1980s and
then Eastern Europe, Africa, as well as parts of Asia in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
There are more countries today than ever before with some measure of democracy. We
may also note the ideological popularity of democracy. Never in recorded history, wrote
Robert Dahl in 1989, have state leaders appealed so widely to democratic ideas to
legitimate their rule (1989:313) and the trend in this direction has grown even stronger
since then. Theorists who were earlier critical of democracy's potential now see it as the
way forward; for example, a well-known Latin American scholar recently proclaimed that
democracy is the only path which Latin American countries can follow to modernity
(Weffort 1990:39). This statement is all the more remarkable when one recalls that a
widespread mistrust of political democracy had been prevalent in earlier periods among the
popular forces in Latin America. In Africa, the one-party system is no longer being
supported as the ideal framework for consensual decisionmaking and for the promotion of
economic and social development. Finally, in Eastern Europe, people no longer buy into the
old official position that political leadership by what was understood to be the party of the
masses, the Communist party, is infinitely more democratic than liberal democracy on the
basis of a capitalist society. There appears to be only one major ideological opponent to the
dominant idea of political democracy, and that is Islam, although the authoritarian project in
China also should be mentioned.
In sum, the idea of democracy is presently very strong at the global ideological level. Very
few authoritarian rulers would actively defend traditional, authoritarian modes of rule (North
Korea and Iraq are possible examples). In the large majority of cases, authoritarianism is
justified with reference to its supposedly positive sides of creating, e.g., order, stability,
growth, and welfare. The `Tocqueville factor' is therefore at work on a global level: very
few dictators believe that they have an inherent, legitimate right to be dictators. As one
observer recently noted, to live under autocracy, or even to be an autocrat, seems
backward, uncivilized, distasteful, not quite comme il faut-in a word, `uncool' (Nadia
Yet it is also clear that the glass is half empty: much of the democratic progress is only frail
and shallow, a thin veil over political and social structures and institutions which have
changed little since the days of authoritarianism. One scholar has reiterated a distinction
made between the shallow `electoral democracies' and the more democratically developed
`liberal democracies' (Diamond 1996; for one earlier introduction of this, see Brown 1996).
`Electoral democracies' may hold periodical elections and thus demonstrate some measure
of political competition, participation, and liberties; but parts of the population are most
often kept out of the political process, the military and other important sections of states
power are frequently closed off from democratic control, the media may be non-free, the
courts may be corrupt and ineffective, and so forth. In short, elections take place, but
democracy has not developed in most other respects. Examples of `electoral democracies'
are Brazil, Burkina Faso, Congo, El Salvador, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Russia,
Tanzania, Turkey, Ukraine, and Zambia.
While the number of `electoral democracies' has increased steadily, the number of more
developed `liberal democracies' has remained almost unchanged. There were 76 `liberal
democracies' in 1991 and 79 in 1996. In other words, elections are held in many countries,
but the process of democratization is not moving forward; and at the same time, the quality
of democracy has deteriorated in a number of countries with a long-term democratic
experience: Venezuela, Colombia, India, and Sri Lanka. In sum, many of the cur.rent
democratization are of a restricted, elite-dominated variety, what Terry Lynn Karl (1990)
has called frozen democracies, unwilling to carry out substantive reforms that address the
lot of the poor majorities. Take Latin America, where one scholar has recently emphasized
how the democratic transitions are developing into a hybrid form of
democratic-authoritarian system which he calls market authoritarianism; in this system the
trappings of formal democracy are retained and the tenets of market economics ... are
generally followed. But in response to mounting social unrest rule is more by decree than
consent, media critical of government is bullied and power is maintained through corruption,
intimidation and, ultimately, by force (Payne 1996).
Economic reforms have worked in Latin America in the sense that they have brought some
measure of stability and lower inflation; in that sense, the fundamental economic outlook is
hopeful. But, as one observer has stressed, the poor cannot eat fundamentals (Economist
1996); income gaps are widening, the absolute number of people living in poverty is
increasing; real wages have fallen and unemployment is higher than in 1990. An authoritarian
takeover by the military is not likely; but military and police forces continue to hold
privileged positions in the region; spending on security exceeds total welfare spending while
political control of the military remains insufficient. Most courts are corrupt and inefficient
and in many Latin American countries groups of police are a source of threat rather than a
source of protection for the population.
Elite domination and increasing popular despair also characterizes Eastern Europe and in
particular Russia. The old communist elites, the nomenklatura, have not blocked economic
and political reforms; instead they have chosen another strategy: to exploit old positions and
networks in transforming themselves into the new, market-oriented economic and political
elite. Instead of preventing reforms, the old elites are swimming with the tide and popping
up as owners of newly privatized companies, often acquired cheaply with the help of old
friends. The old elite also continues to dominate state bureaucracies and in recent years it
has regained political power with the help of newly formed, non-communist parties. Why do
people vote for former communists? Because the communists promise to make people rich;
they represent success: more than any other identifiable social group in Eastern Europe,
they are seen to have achieved the most in the new regime (Applebaum 1996). Old
communists no longer represent the past; they represent the successful capitalist future.
What is the problem then? Is it not the ideal situation that the forces of the past are
becoming the architects of the future? The problem is that only few of the new
entrepreneurs are bearers of traditional capitalist virtues such as hard work, honesty, and
responsibility. It is sooner a corrupt business class which is intimately intertwined with a
corrupt political class; the result is some forms of robust private entrepreneurship, an
enormous, gray market, and large companies, some state-owned some private, which enjoy
deeply corrupt relationships with powerful politicians. Various forms of criminal mafia will
dominate some parts of the region; politicians will come to represent various business
interests, as they clearly do already, particularly in Russia (Applebaum 1996).
There are some positive elements in this otherwise gloomy picture of Eastern Europe.
Economic and political relations with Western Europe are developing rapidly. The attraction
of closer cooperation with the European Union will help prevent any across-the-board
deterioration of democratic conditions. In that sense Eastern Europe's external environment
is conducive to democracy. That is not the situation in South and East Asia. In China,
economic growth rates remain high, but corruption among political and economic elites is an
increasingly severe problem. Political repression of any dissident voice is swift and severe,
including numerous executions. Corruption is a main problem in many other countries in the
region as well, including Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
India has experimented with market oriented economic reforms in recent years and that has
led to some increased economic dynamism. But benefits have not reached the some 400
million Indians who are poor; the resulting popular discontent is being tapped by Hindu
nationalist parties. That has led to political fragmentation and bitter communal violence.
India will not disintegrate as have some of the very weak African states, but Indian
democracy has suffered in the process and the political scene in several Indian states is
dominated by militant groups or even by criminal gangs, as in the case of Bihar.
The most spectacular setbacks for early and frail democratic openings have been in
Sub-Saharan Africa, where ethnic violence in some cases has led to the breakdown, not
merely of the sprinkles of democracy, but also of state authority altogether, as in Rwanda
and Somalia. In several cases, the fragile democratic opening has itself fueled violent conflict
as will be discussed below. In many African countries, the new, weak parliaments tend to
become merely another player in the old, authoritarian system of personal rule. It should be
emphasized, however, that with the exception of some African countries there has not been
any comprehensive decay of democracy. This also applies on a more general level,
encompassing the Third World and Eastern Europe. We are not facing a sweeping
backslide to authoritarianism; the problem is sooner one of democratic consolidation; a very
large number of the current transitions remain stuck in the shallow waters of `electoral
democracy'. External actors bear some substantial responsibility for this unfortunate state of
3. The Role of Outsiders in Processes of Democratization
There are two principal views on the role of outsiders in processes of democratization in the
Third World. The first is that democracy is basically a domestic affair and thus there is very
little that outsiders can do about it, one way or the other. The second view is that most
weak Third World countries are the puppets of stronger states in the North; the strong
therefore heavily influence, not only the economic and social but also the political structures
and processes of the weak. There is some truth in both of these views. But first, a longer
historical look at the issue is helpful. What is `domestic' or `internal' as opposed to
`international' or `external' is no historical given. Most Third World countries got their own
domestic sphere at the point of independence, of decolonization. Before that, they were
part of the domestic spheres of their colonial motherlands. That experience left them with
features more or less conducive to the pursuit of democracy. Liberal modernization theory
will normally stress the positive legacy: some local industry and infrastructure; an education
system; a machinery for the upholding of order; an institutional structure; some basic rule of
law; and a constitution which contained democratic values (Latin America, colonized by
non-democratic Spain and Portugal, is of course an exception here). Radical dependency
theory will stress the destructive elements of the colonial legacy: a distorted economic
infrastructure, geared to the demands of the motherland; a hierarchical political system
directed at control and surveillance, not at any form of democracy; an institutional structure
aimed at order cum repression, not at participation and pluralism. The blend of
`constructive' and `destructive' elements in the colonial legacy will of course vary across
countries. Robert Pinkney has provided a very helpful overview of these variations in
colonial rule as seen from the perspective of democratization (Pinkney 1993:42-3).
The advent of decolonization is often downplayed in radical analyses, with the argument that
economic dependence continues exactly as before and the state institutions of the newly
independent countries remain under foreign influence. This contention is profoundly
misleading. Formal independence, that is, juridical sovereignty, is of the utmost importance.
At the moment of independence a new political, economic, social, and cultural sphere is
created which has some substantial amount of autonomy. This new `inside' or domestic
sphere can still be influenced by external forces of course, but the conditions of operation
are very different from before. On the one hand, there is a new need for finding domestic
allies; that implies some sort of bargaining situation between insiders and outsiders. On the
other hand, interventions in sovereign states cannot be conducted in complete ignorance of
the rules of international society. After all, the basic norm of juridical sovereignty is
non-intervention which means that acts of intervention have to be justified. So both in the
domestic and in the international sphere the rules of the game changes in ways which
provide increased autonomy to domestic actors.
After the advent of independence, external actors can either help or hinder democracy and
democratization in specific countries. External actors have done both and we have a
discussion similar to the colonialism debate, about which aspecthelp or hinderhas been
the dominant one. The current consensus on the issue appears to be this: during the Cold
War the superpowers were first and foremost looking for allies in the Third World, caring
little if the partners were democratic of not. The logic of power and national interest
prevailed: `he's a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch'. That logic could lead to US
support for non-democracy in Chile, Guatemala, Zaire, and elsewhere. That the Soviet
Union would support non-democracy in the Third World was less surprising given its own
status as a totalitarian dictatorship.
The end of the Cold War has strengthened a trend already underway in US policy for some
years: to emphasize the support for democratization and human rights. This goes hand in
hand with a general tendency in international society to upgrade the support for liberal
values. Radical critics reject that this is a real change; it is merely a fresh tactic employed by
imperialist forces whose goals remain unchanged: subordination and control of the Third
World (e.g. Moore 1996). I think there is more to it, including a real intention of promoting
liberal values, although such policies are not conducted in a completely unselfish manner (I
am not aware of any examples of national policies which have that quality). One problem in
this context is that it is easier for external forces to prevent, hinder or block a process of
democratization than it is to encourage, promote, preserve and protect that same process;
the negative job is easier for outsiders than the positive one. What follows is not an attempt
to analyze the support for democratization in empirical detail. Instead I want to take a look
at three issues which are below the surface of day-to-day policy even though they
significantly influence the ways in which these policies are conducted. The first issue is
nationalism; the second is variants of liberalism; and the third is elitism. The aim of the
exercise is to establish a connection between these issues and the lack of democratic
progress in the Third World as diagnosed above.
4. Nationalism: Promoting and Obstructing Democracy
If nationalism is a bond of loyalty among the people that constitute a nation, then some
measure of nationalism is a necessary precondition for democratization. That is because the
nationalist bond of loyalty is the glue which ties the group of people inside the state's
territory together; it helps create the minimum of national unity which is at the core of the
political community that is the nation. As spelled out in Rustow's classic model, national
unity simply indicates that the vast majority of citizens in a democracy-to-be...have no
doubt or mental reservations as to which political community they belong to (Rustow
1970:350). There may well be ethnic or other cleavages between groups in the population;
it is only when such divisions lead to basic questioning of national unity and political
community that the problem must be resolved before a transition to democracy becomes
feasible. National unity was an issue in India and Pakistan and is an issue today in the Third
World, in particular in Africa. The problem is also present in Russia and Bosnia.
Democratization demands a settling of the national question: Who are the nations that are
going to democratize?
The issue will emerge elsewhere as well. For example, in China any process of
democratization will have to settle the problem of Tibet's claim for autonomy. The question
is also relevant for established democracies that have to confront crises concerning their
national unity and political community: If these matters are not resolved in a democratic
manner, the result will be the breakdown of democracy combined with repression of the
minority group, or even civil war, as in the case of Sudan, Sri Lanka, and Chechnya.
Political community was created in Europe with the help of nationalism over an extended
period of time. Territory came first; the state building elites first consolidated control over a
territory and only in a later phase came the construction of a nation. This building of a
national community was helped by two factors, one material the other non-material. The
material factor was the welfare, security, and order provided by the state; the non-material
factor was the idea of national community provided by mythology, interpretations of history,
and ideology. Put differently, political community is based on two types of legitimacy:
vertical legitimacy (the connection between state and society, the notion that the state elite
and its institutions have a right to rule); and horizontal legitimacy, defining the membership
and the boundaries of the political community of people (cf. Holsti, 1996). The nationalism
of the nation-state thus contains two different elements of nationalism which coexist in
harmony: a territorially based idea of Gesellschaft, the community of citizens within defined
borders; and the ethnic idea of Gemeinschaft, the community of people defined by the
The European idea of a nation-state was exported to the Third World. My discussion of
this will focus on Africa, the region with the most severe problems in terms of political
community, even though there are also serious problems in the Balkans. African states were
created from the outside by colonial powers; the Declaration of Independence adopted by
the UN in 1960 emphasized that "all peoples have the right to self-determination". But note
that "peoples" does not mean communities of people such as nations. It means the territorial
entities that were the colonies. Independence meant independence for the colonial
territories, upholding colonial borders. The people inside those borders were communities
only in the sense that they shared a border drawn by others. Their idea of nationalism was a
negative one: get rid of the colonizers. When that project succeeded, there was no positive
notion of community left over. Political elites made attempts to construct such a notion, eg.
Nyereres Ujamaa socialism, Kenyatta's Harambee, and Mobutu's authenticité (Laakso
and Olukoshi, 1996). There was some measure of success in a few countries, but in general
the project was a huge failure: it was extremely difficult to knit together diverse ethnic
groups with different languages, beliefs, and ways of living. And the state elites quickly gave
up trying. What emerged instead was, in Chris Clapham's terminology, monopoly states:
"Confronted by weak administrative structures, fragile economies, and in some cases
dangerous sources of domestic opposition, political leaders sought to entrench themselves in
power by using the machinery of state to suppress or coopt any rival organization-be it an
opposition party, a trades union, or even a major corporation. Rather than acknowledging
the weakness of their position, and accepting the limitations on their power which this
imposed, they chose to up the stakes and went for broke" (Clapham 1996a:57). It was
abundantly clear that these clientelist systems lacked "the capacity to create any sense of
moral community amongst those who participate in them, let alone among those who are
excluded" (Clapham 1996a:59). Therefore, political community was not created, neither in
the Gesellschaft nor in the Gemeinschaft sense. The communities that prevailed were the
different ethnic sub-groups which competed for access to state power and resources,
sometimes building frail alliances amongst each other.
It is extremely difficult if not impossible to graft democracy upon countries lacking political
community. On the one hand, if an election shall be seen as legitimate, then the state must
clearly be seen as legitimate, and that is rarely the case in Africa; where there is a lack of
horizontal legitimacy because of the absence of both the material and the non-material
factors that created legitimacy in Europe. On the other hand, political liberalization opens for
more, not less, conflict in society because of the lack of horizontal legitimacy (eg. Clapham
1996a; Holsti 1996; Mansfield and Snyder 1995).
The problem has not been properly confronted by Western politicians and researchers. For
several years after independence, it was believed that the general process of modernization
in all spheres of society would take care of the problem. The belief was predicated on the
notion of "all good things go together"; modernization in one area would positively influence
modernization in other areas. Eventually, modernization would root out the traditional,
backward-looking values and attitudes. There are two problems with this view; on the one
hand, it overestimates the synergetic effects of modernization; on the other hand, it
downplays the extent to which the so-called "traditional" baggage has a role to play in the
building of political community.
In research, the modernization view of the 1950s and 1960s was put on the defensive by
dependency theory. The latter had little to offer, however, in analyzing the political
community and nationalism issue in the Third World. It was more or less assumed that a
severing of the ties to the old colonial master, the metropolises, would take care of the
problem. In real politics, the problem was overshadowed by the priorities of bipolar
competition. In much of 1980s, Western politics and research converged on the idea that a
weakening of the state and a strengthening of the market would take care of the problem.
That notion has not been validated by events and in the 1990s a more nuanced view has
finally emerged in both politics and research, perhaps because the fragile processes of
democratization have exposed the issue. At the same time, this new realism is accompanied
by serious doubts as to whether a number of countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa,
are really viable entities when the issue of political community is brought in (e.g. Bienen and
Herbst 1996; Sørensen 1996).
In sum, one of most serious problems hindering the process of democratic development in
many Third World countries is the issue of political community and nationalism. Western
politics and research has neglected the problem and currently appears to have few ideas
about how to confront it in a serious way.
5. The Many Versions of Liberal Democracy
Liberal democracy is a big house with many rooms. This is due to the fact that liberalism
developed in opposition to the medieval, hierarchical institutions, the despotic monarchies
whose claim to all-powerful rule rested on the assertion that they enjoyed divine support.
Liberalism attacked the old system on two fronts. First, the liberalists fought for a rollback
of state power and the creation of a sphere of civil society where social relations including
private business and personal life could evolve without state interference. An important
element in this respect was the support of a market economy based on the respect for
private property. The second element of early liberalism was the claim that state power was
based not on natural or supernatural rights but on the will of the sovereign people.
Ultimately, this claim would lead to demands for democracythat is, for the creation of
mechanisms of representation that assured that those who held state power enjoyed popular
support. The tradition that became liberal democracy was liberal first (aimed at restricting
state power over civil society) and democratic later (aimed at creating structures that would
secure a popular mandate for holders of state power). Even when the focus was on
democracy, the liberals had various reservations. They feared that democracy would
impede the establishment of a liberal society (Therborn 1977:3).
In context of promoting liberal democracy in the Third World, the liberal tradition has been
carried forward by Western countries in three different models of liberal democracy,
drawing upon different aspects of the liberal heritage. The first model stresses the strictly
liberal elements of liberal democracy, that is, a limited role for the state in an economy
guided by market principles and open to international exchange. That is the version of liberal
democracy behind the first generations of structural adjustment programs (SAPs), although
the view is not expressed in these terms in the World Bank publications because the bank
sees itself a neutral, non-political player. The state is viewed as a problem or a constraint
rather than a positive player in economic, social and political development. The SAPs aimed
at minimizing the role for the state in society, liberalize the markets, and privatize public
enterprise. While the World Bank gave "a qualified yes" to the question of whether
adjustment was paying off in Sub-Saharan Africa (WB 1994:131), an editorial in Codesria
Bulletin a few years earlier was in no doubt that the liberalizations "completely undermines
Africa's sovereignty, [and] creates and/or further strengthens authoritarian regimes who will
have to implement an inherently anti-democratic set of socio-economic reforms entailed in
the programmes" (quoted from Barya, 1992). A similar debate has taken place concerning
the use of SAPs in Latin America.
There appears to be little doubt that structural adjustment has had some positive effects in a
number of cases, especially in improving the conditions for agricultural production. It is
equally true that the balance between market and state had tipped too much in favor of state
in a number of countries and adjustment can play a constructive corrective role in such
cases. But most of the time, the possible beneficial effects tended to be canceled out by the
short- and medium-term negative effects of rapidly increasing prices, more unemployment,
cutbacks in public services, etc. We tend to get the "market authoritarianism" mentioned
above in addressing current democracy in Latin America: political and economic systems
with some of the institutions and procedures of liberal democracy, but with very little to
offer the poor majority whose everyday problems of mere survival remain a low priority on
the political agenda.
The second model of liberal democracy that the West has supported put a greater emphasis
on the political, participatory aspects of democracy. But in many cases, perhaps especially
in Africa and some parts of Asia, focus has been on the notion of holding free and fair
elections rather than on the broader political, cultural and institutional transformation
connected with a process of democratization. There is no doubt than holding free and fair
elections is an important element in a transition to democracy. But as an isolated event, the
election is only the tip of the democratic iceberg. If it is not closely connected with deeper
rooted changes it does not mean very much. A situation in Côte d'Ivoire provides an
example. Felix Houphet-Boigny, who had been president for several decades, took the
opposition by surprise in 1990 by quickly giving in to its demands for open presidential and
legislative elections. In a country where there had not been opposition activity for thirty
years, twenty-six political groups were summoned by the president and told about the
forthcoming elections. Opposition requests for a delay in order to gain time for getting
organized was rejectedthe argument was that the demand for instant elections came from
the opposition itself. As a result, the election could be controlled by the president's own
party, which also had a large measure of control over the media. Both the president and his
party scored comfortable victories at the elections.
Against this background, one may speculate whether the current pressure from Western
donors for multiparty systems and political democracy in Africa can have counterproductive
effects. The Western countries themselves are examples of the fact that democracy cannot
be installed overnight; it is a long-term process of gradual change. When quick fixes of
imposing multiparty systems, for example, are substituted for the long haul of patiently
paving the way for a democratic polity, the result may be that a thin layer of democratic
coating is superimposed upon a system of personal rule without major changes in the basic
features of the old structure. According to Marina Ottaway, Western countries have tended
to interpret democratization very narrowly as the holding of elections, and the sooner the
better. But elections, or the prospect of elections, are highly destabilizing in countries
threatened with collapse .... Elections appear to be the wrong place whence to start a
process of democratization in a collapsing, conflict-ridden state. In recent years, African
elections have typically been organized in a hurry, in some cases before parties had time to
consolidate or armed movements had agreed to disarm. As a result, losers have found it
easy to reject election results, and voters had little choice but to vote on the basis of ethnic
or religious identity...Elections held under wrong conditions can be a real setback for
democratization (Ottaway 1995:245; for a similar view, see Dahl 1992 and Elklit 1994)
The other major drawback of a democratization which focuses on elections is that there is
little change for the better in the economic policies of the new regimes. A recent analysis
found that "elections may actually increase the use of patronage... Traditional patron-client
relations have often been critical in winning recent elections, indicating that the nature of
African politics has not changed despite the new liberalization. Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya
have all reported massive overspending as governments sought to reward traditional
supporters, notably members of particular ethnic groups and civil servants, to smooth the
transition process or gain votes...The particular circumstances of political liberalization in
Africa cause leaders' horizons to be relatively short and therefore induce particular
strategies such as clientelism which may be unnecessary where democratic structures are
more institutionalized." (Bienen and Herbst, 1996:38-9).
Given the problems with the 'market model' and the 'election model' of democracy, at third
model is currently gaining ground in Western theory and practice. It takes a broader view of
the political and economic issues at stake in that it combines ideas about a state that is
democratic in the sense of being responsive, legitimate, and under the rule of law, with ideas
about a strong, developmentalist state, better capable of promoting economic and social
development. This is a fresh turn in Western thinking; many observers used to see strong,
developmentalist states as basically non-democratic, using the experience of the
authoritarian developmentalist states in East Asia (South Korea and Taiwan) as the
empirical argument. The tone for this debate was set by Chalmers Johnson's emphasis on
the need for 'soft authoritarianism' which could provide political stability and order; the idea
is that political pluralism which might challenge the goals of the developmental elite must be
avoided. Japan showed the way in this respect, in displaying "an extremely strong and
comparatively unsupervised state administration, single-party rule for more than three
decades, and a set of economic priorities that seems unattainable under true political
pluralism during such a long period" (Johnson, 1987:137).
Yet is was never quite clear that authoritarianism was a necessary element in a
developmentalist state (Hamilton, 1987; Baeg Im 1987). And comparative analysis could
quickly reveal that the special conditions surrounding a 'soft authoritarian' developmentalist
state in East Asia were not present elsewhere, least of all in Africa. In other words, any
attempt to make a general claim on the basis of the East Asian experience that
authoritarianism will invariably help create a strong, developmentalist state must be rejected.
The different variants of 'soft' and 'hard' authoritarianism found in Africa, Latin America, and
South Asia have all failed to help generate a developmentalist state (Sørensen, 1993).
Against this background, more recent thinking among both scholars and practitioners in the
West focus on the combination of the merits of a strong, developmentalist state and a more
democratic, responsive state. This comes forward, for example, in the recent work by
Merilee Grindle (1996). According to her analysis, a strong state in the developmentalist
sense has the following capacities: Institutional capacity; technical capacity; administrative
capacity; and political capacity where the latter includes legitimate authority and responsive
and representative government (Grindle 1996). A similar view, in most respects, emerges
the most recent World Bank report on the state in a changing world (1997): the bottom line
of the analysis is that the state needs to be effective as well as responsive; i.e.
developmentalist and democratic.
I believe that this time around Western sources must at least be credited for getting the
analysis right: it is necessary to simultaneously push state effectiveness and democratic
responsiveness. Finding powerful ways of doing so, however, is no easy task. The current
agenda of 'good governance' appears to have several deficiencies in this respect, because it
continues to scratch the institutional surface and not address the underlying problems. And
in the short and medium run, the "effectiveness" part of good governance (cutbacks in public
employment, hold expenditure in check, etc.) can work against the "legitimacy" part of more
responsive government. According to one observer, the alternative to governance is to
"look at the roots of legitimacythe acknowledged right to commandboth of states and
institutions, without the fallacious assumption that certain institutions will always be seen as
legitimate. The fundamental arbiter of state power is the strong identity of the citizen with the
state. Without a strong sense of loyalty from followers, a leader's actions, goals and policies
are not supported unless they are to the direct, clear and personal benefit of the followers...
Throughout much of Africa, the level of aggregation into groups willing to give some amount
of disinterested support to a leader is far lower than that of the whole state" (Kenny,
1997:11). In one sense, this takes us back to the problems addressed above, about
nationalism and political community. At the same time, we are able to find cases where
good governance programs have worked much better than in Senegal, the case addressed
by Kenny (1997). I return to this issue below.
In sum, liberal democracy is no simple, straightforward entity. Three different models of
liberal democracy have been pushed by the West in the Third World: the liberal market
model, the election model, and the strong/responsive state model. The two former models
contain serious weaknesses; the latter is attractive, but rather difficult to establish in practice,
especially in the short and medium run.
6. Support for Elite-Dominated Democracy?
The final item I want to address is more straightforwardly political than the others. It rests
on a distinction between elite-dominated and mass-dominated democracies (due to Karl,
1990). Elite-dominated democracies are systems in which traditional rulers remain in
control, even if pressured from below, and successfully use strategies of either compromise
or forceor some mix of the twoto retain at least part of their power. Mass-dominated
democracies are systems in which mass actors have gained the upper hand over traditional
ruling classes; they push for reforms from below, attacking the power and privilege of the
elites. During the Cold War, support for traditional rulers took priority even over
democracy. In the early 1960s in the Dominican Republic, a democratically elected
government under Juán Bosch set out to promote economic development through nationalist
economic policies that went against some American interests in the country. When Bosch
faced the prospect of a military coup, Washington decided to opt for the authoritarian
military dictatorship. John F. Kennedy set forth the alternatives as follows: "There are three
possibilities in descending order of preference; a decent democratic regime, a continuation
of the Trujillo regime [a military dictatorship], or a Castro regime. We ought to aim at the
first, but we can't really renounce the second until we are sure we can avoid the third"
(Quoted from Doyle 1983:335). Thus, fearing that the Bosch regime would develop into a
Castro regime, the United States found it safest to back a military dictatorship.
The charge put forward by some observers is that the United States follows basically the
same policies today, after the end of the Cold War, albeit with a new twist: the elites must
support the basic rules of a liberal democratic game. The most thorough investigation
making this point has been done by William Robinson (1996). He contends that: "All over
the world, the United States is now promoting its version of "democracy" as a way to
relieve pressure from subordinate groups for more fundamental political, social and
economic change... The promotion of "low-intensity democracy" is aimed not only at
mitigating the social and political tensions produced by elite-based and undemocratic status
quos, but also at suppressing popular and mass aspirations for more thoroughgoing
democratization of social life.." (Robinson, 1996:6). A similar charge has been put forward
against France in context of that country's policies in Francophone Africa (Monga 1997).
Yet before finding the US, France, and perhaps other Western countries guilty of narrow
support for elite-dominated democracies, the broader context of the issue must be
considered. First, the distinction between elite-domination and mass-domination is less
straightforward than it seems. Some administrations may have the support of both
substantial factions of elites and of a majority in the population (e.g. Cardoso in Brazil;
Mandela in South Africa) and such broad support may even be reflected in their policies.
Second, democracy introduces a degree of uncertainty in the political process. It opens
channels for popular pressure on the rulers. Even elite-dominated democracies may be
pushed in the direction of more effective reform measures and in that sense more
responsiveness to mass needs, as demonstrated for example, by the travail of democracy in
Costa Rica (cf. Sørensen, 1993). Third, some of the measures backed by Western
countries, for example as regards increasing the economic and administrative discipline of
state elites in Africa square poorly with a notion of unremitting support for those same elites.
After all, the whole notion behind structural adjustment was the idea that the political
interests of the state elites was "the source of the mismanagement of the African economies,
and any rectification therefore required that economic management be taken out of their
hands and placed in those of the 'market'" (Clapham, 1996:812).
Taking this into consideration, I believe we end up with a soft version of the elite-support
thesis. Western countries are likely to support administrations that (i) are liberal on
economic policies including the support for economic openness toward the world market;
(ii) respect private property including setting up an effective system of commercial law; (iii)
whose leadership is oriented towards cooperation with the leading Western countries. In
that sense there is an elite-orientation in Western support for democracy in the Third World.
And although domestic forces are more important for the outcome, this support has helped
sustain what Karl (1990) terms frozen democracies, that is, restricted, elite-dominated
systems, unwilling to transgress the narrow limitations imposed on them by elite factions
who engineered the transition to democracy in the first place. They are unwilling to carry out
substantive reforms that address the lot of poor citizens. Both Latin America and Asia have
a number of administrations that correspond to this description.
7. And Now the Good News ...
I have painted a rather bleak picture of the current democratizations in the Third World.
Furthermore, I have pointed to the lack of political community, the various models of
democracy promoted by the West, and to the notion of elitism as underlying elements which
help explain the lack of sustained democratic progress, elements which donor countries
have not adequately addressed. There are some positive factors which have not been given
much attention above. In a number of Third World countriesgenerally those at the higher
levels of socio-economic developmentboth political and economic reform are doing
reasonably well. Yet the most encouraging items are sooner to be found in those countries
that have achieved political and economic success despite being beset by some of the
problems mentioned above, including a high potential for ethnic conflict because of many
ethnic groups in the population and a rather low level of economic development at the time
of independence. If we can explain why these countries have been successful in spite of the
adverse conditions they faced, we may have some indications about how to get around the
problems discussed above.
Two obvious candidates for further scrutiny in this respect are Botswana and Mauritius. On
independence in 1968, Mauritius was a poor sugar-economy with deep ethnic cleavages in
the population; Botswana was a cattle-economy with a population divided into eleven
different tribes. The country had the good fortune of discovering diamonds on its soil, but
several other African countries have had rich mineral deposits and still been unable to
convert that potential into broader development. How could Mauritius and Botswana
succeed economically and even be able to simultaneously establish functioning political
democracies? A recent analysis is helpful in providing an answer to that question. Carroll
and Carroll identify the following factors behind the political and economic success of the
the fact that talented political leaders were personally committed to democratic government,
and to economic development; the creation of a competent, politically independent state
bureaucracy with personnel policies based largely on merit, but with a composition that is
reasonably representative of their societies; the development of a public realm that is
capable of imposing at least modest checks on the actions of the state, and that is
characterized by a balance between universalistic and particularistic norms, and by a
pragmatic recognition of the important representative role of tribal/ethnic organizations and
institutions (Carroll and Carroll 1997:470).
These are interesting and convincing answers to the question posed above; yet it is also
clear that such answer begs new questions. Where do talented leaders committed to
democratic government and economic development come from? As indicated by Carroll
and Carroll, it is reasonable to assume that success cultivates success: once a competent
leadership has been established and has demonstrated a decent track record chances are
good that capable leadership will continue. But what about that crucial turn-around phase,
where success is by no means secure and leadership might as well turn out to be
narrow-minded, egoistic, and self-serving? What is it that brings forward the Mandelas and
the Musevenis instead of the Mobutus and the Mois? If it is not pure coincidence then the
question merits further research. The hopeful answer that such leadership is more or less
automatically created by holding elections has not been confirmed by events. It should also
be emphasized that good and honest leaders are not enough, especially if they are
committed to bad policies. Julius Nyerere of Tanzania is an honest man who has done much
good for the country, but his policies of a state-led economy and a basically
non-democratic polity also led to disastrous results.
As for the second item, a good bureaucracy, it is clear that early decisions were made in
both Botswana and Mauritius, not to sacrifice competence for `nativization' of the public
service and to base recruitment on merit. At the same time, however, Carroll and Carroll
stress that the Weberian ideal of an impartial public service probably should be abandoned
when it comes to developing countries with many different ethnic groups in the population.
In the two countries examined, care has been taken to make the bureaucracy representative
of subgroups in society without sacrificing merit. Such a representative bureaucracy is
more likely to consider a wide range of views and interests in making decisions. Indeed, the
simple existence of a representative bureaucracy if often taken by the public as evidence
that the state is responsive and legitimate (Carroll and Carroll 1997:473).
The third item above concerns the need for a civil society to constrain the state. In many
poor Third World countries there is no civil society in the traditional Western sense of the
word. At very low levels of development, there is no business class, no middle class, not
even a well defined class of peasants. Partly as a consequence of this, there are few
autonomous, strong secondary organizations based on universal membership criteria.
According to a recent analysis by Goran Hyden, the prime contemporary challenge is how
to restore a civic public realm. The trend of postindependence politics in most African
countries has been to disintegrate the civic public realm inherited from the colonial powers
and replace it with rivaling communal or primordial realms, all following their own informal
rules" (Hyden 1992:23). Yet the good news from Botswana and Mauritius is that these
communal and primordial realms can act as at least "a modest check on the power of the
state" (Carroll and Carroll 1997: 479). In other words, under favorable circumstances
traditional social forces can perform some of those functions that we would normally expect
demand the presence of a more fully developed civil society. That is, ethnically divided
societies can sustain democracy even though their civil societies have been weak, and ethnic
divisions continue to exist.
Perhaps the main message from the experience of these countries is the importance of
competent leadership and some measure of institutional innovation. None of the countries
may live up to the highest demands of liberal democratic procedures and institutions, but
they should be credited with substantial democratic success anyway. Current developments
in Uganda appear to present another encouraging case of the combination of competent
leadership and institutional innovation. Under Yoweri Museveni an institutional and political
reconstruction of the state is underway which promises to respect basic democratic features
(political control is vested in elected bodies after a process of basically free elections). Yet
political democracy is far from complete; a multi-party system is not allowed due to fears
that it will recreate the ethnic divisions that drove Uganda to civil war and state failure. A
referendum around year 2000 is expected to decide whether or not this system shall
continue (Kjær and Svensson, 1997).
The lesson for outsiders appears to be that the support for competent leadership and some
measure of institutional innovation (which may compromise the ideal of a 'perfect' political
democracy) is the way ahead. One must hope that narrow interests will not prevent moving
in this direction. In any case, outsiders can probably only be facilitators; they cannot on their
own produce the necessary conditions for democracy and development. In other words,
democracy and development can not be taught; it can only be learnt (cf. Clapham
1996:823). The learning process will, however, continue to be heavily dependent on the
lessons and recommendations that Western countries have to offer.
The process of democratization does not fare well in many Third World countries. We are
not facing a sweeping backslide to authoritarianism; the problem is sooner one of
democratic consolidation; a very large number of the current transitions remain stuck in the
shallow waters of `electoral democracy'. I have pointed to the lack of political community,
the various models of democracy promoted by the West, and to the notion of elitism as
underlying elements which help explain the lack of sustained democratic progress. External
actors bear some substantial responsibility for this state of affairs. Even if it is true that
democracy can not be taught, only learnt, Western countries would do well to rethink some
of the practices in support for democracy. Especially, more support for competent leaders
and institutional innovation appears to promise better result in terms of both democracy and
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. Comments on an earlier draft of this paper from Jørgen Elklit and Mette Kjær are