Africa_parliament_democracy_womenAccording to the Economist, only three out of 53 African countries had democracies by the end of the Cold War.

Now countries like the one-party presidential republic Eritrea and the absolute monarchy Swaziland are becoming irregularities on the continent. Indeed, this is because Africa has experienced increasing engagement in the democratic process.

While African countries have made significant progress in regards to the spread of democracy, there is still significant work to be done. For example, according to the Guardian, nine African leaders have been in power for more than 20 years with three of them holding power for more than 30 years.

This is an example of the popular notion that African countries are directed by a group of authoritarian heads called “Big Men,” who dominate and control every aspect of the country.

Although authoritarian heads have not lost complete power, women in Africa have benefited greatly from democratically held elections.

For example, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president of Liberia in 2011, becoming Africa’s first democratically-elected, female head of state. She was followed by Joyce Banda, who became president of Malawi in 2012 and Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, who was elected president of Mauritius in 2015.

The Guardian labels the notion that the transition of power in government is inherently violent to be “misguided.” There are many factors that could incite violence during the election process aside from transition of power.

These events include voter belief of election fraud, opposition initiated violence as a result of an act being considered unjust, or violence being instigated by leaders threatened by the opposition.

Kenya’s 2007 election proved to be an example of the devastation that can result from the election process when 1,133 people were killed and 600,000 displaced. However, while this kind of violent election gains the most international attention, it is the exception and there are more peaceful elections.

For example, the Guardian cites a recent peaceful election that took place in the Central African Republic, during which voters went to the polls in February in hopes of restoring democracy in Africa and ending years of struggle.

Post-Cold War advancement has been substantial for the African continent in many ways and the foundations that make up democracy in Africa have been overwhelmingly embraced by its citizens.

Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at Chatham House, a London-based think-tank told the Economist, “Progress comes in waves,” and much of West Africa has experienced a huge shift to democratic representation.

Many countries that have experienced devastatingly violent conflicts, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, now possess, if not perfect, adequate political systems.

Heidi Grossman

Sources: Economist 1, Economist 2, The Guardian
Photo: Flickr

John Kerry
Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.S. Senate remain embroiled in a billion dollar foreign aid battle that has been raging since 2011.

In 2014, the United States signed a $500 million loan agreement with Tunisia, which would allow the people of Tunisia to access international capital and other financing techniques to assist with their “democratic transition.”

According to the New York Times, the U.S. has extended $700 million in direct aid to Tunisia over the past four years and two rounds of loan guarantees totaling $1 billion since 2012, after designating Tunisia a major non-NATO ally in July 2015. This status brings up the promise of added military cooperation.

Being called “the Arab Spring’s only potential success story” by the Al-Monitor, Tunisia has been a central player in the Obama administration’s efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East. Secretary of State John Kerry has been working to increase the amount of USAID dollars sent to Tunisia and has been advocating for other programs of economic growth that may reinforce Tunisia’s march to democracy.

“The eyes of the world are on Tunisia, and America wants Tunisia to succeed,” said John Kerry in a news conference in 2015. “Tunisia is where the Arab Spring was born, and it is where it distinctly continues to bloom in ways that are defining possibilities for other countries in that region.”

The Tunisian government has so far been enthusiastic about transitioning to democracy, despite potential threats they may face from “regional rivals” such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Prime Minister Jomaa of Tunisia says, “We are very proud of our new constitution, of our shared values of democracy and rights […] we need to think about economic and social aspects, and also about teaching and learning because we are eager to develop our youth and to develop new technologies.”

However, not all members of the U.S. Senate are convinced that Tunisia is stable enough to promote Prime Minister Jomaa’s agenda. Senate members were wary of potential terrorist threats within Tunisia this past summer and blocked significant amounts of foreign assistance to the region that were proposed in a House Bill.

The alternative Senate appropriations bill was $10 million short of the foreign assistance demanded by the State Department. It also did increase military aid, although it cited “the terrorist threat Tunisia faces,” as a primary motivator for sending fewer dollars abroad.

The concerns of the Senate are not unfounded. The deteriorating situation in Syria has had profound effects on Tunisia, both with Syrian refugees pouring into the region and Tunisians themselves becoming involved in the civil war. According to Al-Jazeera, 5,500 Tunisians have joined groups like ISIL, al-Nursa Front and al-Qaeda in the neighboring nations of Syria, Iraq and Libya.

However, USAID has been working with Tunisia to create programs of entrepreneurship and economic opportunities that may halt the flow of young Tunisians toward radical groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Funds like the Tunisian-American Enterprise Fund, which allocates investments totaling $20 million into small and medium enterprises in Tunisia, is one attempt to jump-start Tunisia’s private sector despite political turmoil that may hinder it.

“Measurable economic progress can help bolster democratic reforms both in Tunisia and elsewhere in the region,” said Alina Romanowski, the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Middle East for USAID. “The Tunisian-American Enterprise Fund will help to address gaps in financing for entrepreneurs and small businesses that overwhelmingly drive Tunisian private sector growth.”

USAID and the budding Tunisian democracy are hoping that these economic reforms can be perfected in Tunisia and then transferred to other nations like Syria. Private sector growth, combined with financial support from the U.S. and USAID, could promote a new era of peace and prosperity for Tunisia while also creating a useful ally for the United States in the Middle East.

John Kerry has called Tunisia “a shining example to those who claim democracy is not possible in this part of the world.”

Emma Betuel

Sources: NY Times, Al-Monitor, USAID
Photo: Flickr

Important Job of a SenatorThe job of a senator is to act on behalf of the American people in legislative sessions to ensure the voice of the common citizen is heard. Each of the 50 U.S. states has two Senate representatives. Discussed below are the most important aspects of the job of a senator.


The Job of a Senator: Key Aspects


Represent Constituents
The most important job of a senator is to represent the people. A senator speaks with citizens about problems, concerns or suggestions they have for their district.

People elect their senators with the expectation that they will fight for legislation that is in the best interest of the average citizen.

Senators’ offices take phone calls and emails from citizens who want to share their opinions. They then review the information  they receive to find out the stances of their constituents on various issues.


Inform the Public
In addition to gathering information from members of the community, a state senator shares information with the public.

A senator must be proactive and diplomatic. They may make many visits to schools, clubs and other organizations who want to learn more about the legislative process.

Senators also hold press conferences, give speeches and speak with the media in order to educate people on current issues and inform them of current legislation.

Additionally, if a constituent is having difficulty working with a government agency, they can contact their state senator to help facilitate interaction and strengthen their voice.


Serve on Committees
Senators are required to serve on Senate committees. Each committee has a different focus such as health, education, business or national security.

At each scheduled committee meeting, members listen to presentations from lobbyists, organizations and other interested parties on important topics. Afterward, senators debate new bills and propose amendments to existing legislature.


Introduce Legislation
A senator also uses constituent feedback to identify new laws that need to be passed. Senators work with their staff to research topics, identify issues and propose laws to protect citizens.

An important part of the job of a senator is to be active and vocal in order to get as much publicity and support for a bill as possible. They consistently network with fellow Senate members and organizations to convince others why supporting their bill is important and just.

A finalized bill will pass through several committees on its way to the Senate floor for a full vote.

If said bill originated in the Senate, it is passed on to the House of Representatives for approval by Congress. If approved by Congress, the bill goes to the president to be signed into law or vetoed.


So what are the differences between the Senate and Congress?

The Senate and the Congress share the responsibility of drafting and passing legislature for law. However, each body has differing structures and powers.

According to AllGov’s website, the Senate is known as a “continuing body,” because its members are only up for reelection every six years, whereas members of Congress are reelected every two years. Additionally, while the rules of procedure for Congress are re-adopted for every new session, the rules of the Senate have remained continuous since 1789.

The Senate also has the sole power to approve or reject nominations by the president and treaties with foreign governments by a two-thirds vote.

Taylor Resteghini

Sources: AllGov, United States Senate, United States House of Representatives
Photo: Flickr

In 1991, political scientist Samuel Huntington hypothesized three historical waves of democratization across Europe and the Americas. Now, it is the African continent’s turn to create a fourth wave of democratic elections.

It started on Dec. 17, 2010, when Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian produce seller, set himself on fire in front of a municipal building.

Bouazizi’s act ignited protests against the oppressive authoritarian regime all over Tunisia. In 2011, the dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, stepped down from power and fled the country.

In the following three years, Tunisia held its first democratic elections, rewrote its Constitution and saw peaceful transitions of power.

In 2011, similar transitions occurred in the North African countries of Egypt, Libya and Morocco. Along with uprisings in the Middle East, this movement is collectively called the Arab Spring.

The changes in government in these countries have yet to resemble the democracies in North America and Western Europe. But while transitioning from long-standing authoritarian rule to full-fledged democracy does not happen overnight, the Arab Spring undoubtedly sent a message rippling all over the African continent.

The message? The voices of the impoverished and oppressed can be heard.

Last May, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria and witnessed an incredible hand-off of power after President Goodluck Jonathan lost the general election.

Surprising critics who believed that Jonathan would not resign, Jonathan willfully stepped down and even congratulated his successor. This marked the first peaceful transition of power in Nigeria’s history.

This year, Kerry traveled back to Nigeria to emphasize Nigeria’s increasingly important position to help with security and development in Africa. He also reminded the new government of the precedent and example they set, as this year is becoming a crucial year for democracy in Africa.

Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Libya, Mauritius, Niger, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia are all set to have elections this year.

These elections could turn out to be a critical turning point for countries like Chad, where the same leader has been in power for 24 years.

Some staples of democratic transition include a move to transparent elections, term limits, freedom to publicly support any candidate and voter enfranchisement.

Transparency and term limits are important in the election process because, without both, an authoritarian regime can stay in power for decades. Fraudulent elections are often the main reason why people refrain from voting in the first place.

When authoritarian regimes remain in power for decades, repeated policy mistakes stifle the economic development and empowerment of a country. Change can only come when those in power are committed to the needs of their constituencies.

Freedom to publicly support any candidate and voter enfranchisement are also very important steps for an African democratic transition.

When media is censored or run by the government, speaking out against the incumbent is often illegal and can even lead to dangerous consequences.
This is also a problem because, in many African countries, less than half of eligible voters are registered to vote, and many minority groups do not have the right to vote at all.

When it comes to poverty, these four aspects of democracy are key. When marginalized groups take part in policy-shaping, a country can grow together and mitigate inequality. Furthermore, when every voice is involved in decision making there is less chance for discontentment and violent revolt.

As Kerry points out, “A free, fair and peaceful presidential election does not guarantee a successful democracy, but it is one of the most important measuring sticks for progress in any developing nation.” The coming months’ elections will be a giant leap toward democracy and development in Africa.

Celestina Radogno

Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC, The Brookings Institute, The Guardian, U.S. Department of State
Photo: Wikimedia

biometric voting in ghana
Electoral fraud is a difficulty all democratic nations face. Processing the decisions of entire populations leaves room for deception and inaccuracy. Several African nations – such as Kenya, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – have combated voting errors with electronic, biometric voting. The latest nation to hop on the bandwagon was Ghana in December of 2012. The change was rewarded.

Voters are now required to register with standard biometric information: fingerprints and photographs. Before casting their ballot, they wait for finger scans and facial recognition systems to verify their identity. These are preformed on miniature Biometric Voting Machines, called BMVs.

The Ghanaian government, which has a reputation for stability in a struggling region, made accessibility a priority. During election season, 26,000 polling stations were operated.

Non-verified citizens were prevented from voting, so the stations and BMVs took technological precautions: the machines were run on AA batteries, a power source that could be easily replaced and rechargeable backups were sent out, and in areas with unreliable power sources, the backups were charged on government-procured generators.

There were errors that needed working out. Late distribution of BVMs postponed the opening of some polling booths. Malfunctions caused further delays. Some Ghanaians waited for hours, leaving the queue and returning the next morning before they could vote. Even more problematic, the systems were disconnected at first; there was no central database on which to store information. This would have made it possible for a voter to register at two different centers, then vote multiple times.

Still, the voting was carried out and widely considered effective: international observers called it credible. Voter turnout came in at 80.1 percent. BVM implementation has given many Ghanaians peace of mind. Since the pursuit of the program was transparency, the investment could be considered a success.

Splash technology is now leasing the voting system to pubic and private Ghanaian organizations. Anyone who wishes to conduct quick and transparent election, they say, should have the power to do so.

Olivia Kostreva

Sources: TechPresident, Ace, VOA, IT News Africa
Photo: TechPresident

election in afghanistan
On Saturday June 14, Afghanis vote to elect a new president. The event could mark the first peaceful democratic transition of power in the nation’s history. The runoff election, between Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, will determine President Hamid Karzai’s successor.

The outcome of the June 14 election in Afghanistan will be essential for establishing stability. The results will also greatly affect America’s relationship with Afghanistan. This is because future U.S. military presence in the country is highly dependent upon the winner. Therefore, the election is of particular importance for Americans.

Currently, the United States has 32,000 troops in Afghanistan. All combat troops are scheduled to leave the country by December 31, 2014, according to President Barack Obama. But the United Nations as well as the U.S. would like to try and create a security agreement with the new Afghani leader. The U.S. hopes to keep some military presence in the country after the December 31 deadline in order to continue the training of the Afghani military against terrorism threats.

President Karzai refuses to sign the agreement and says that the deal should be made with the new leader. So the U.S. is now left to wait.
But the process of counting the ballots and the time needed for the new president to assume power could take months. This leaves the U.S. with very little time to form an agreement. With the impending December 31 deadline, Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, has started planning a “zero option,” which withdraws all U.S. troops by the date if an U.S.-Afghani agreement cannot be made in time.

The “zero option” plan would not only withdraw U.S. troops but also cut billions of dollars in aid. This would likely leave the country vulnerable. And because the Taliban still has strong holds within the country; the absence of aid and military support could leave more parts of the country susceptible to their control.

The Taliban threatened retaliation against all those who voted in the presidential election on June 14. They view the race as invalid because of the presence of U.S. troops in the country. But many Afghanis defied these threats by casting their ballots. In a strong turnout, an estimated 7 million Afghanis voted. There were scattered attacks around the country but no major violence erupted. The election offers a promise of a peaceful future for a nation that has been at war for 13 years.

But claims of fraud and irregularities in the election have come from both candidates. Specifically, instances of ballot stuffing and polling stations running out of ballots taint the legitimacy of the votes cast. The possibility of the losing candidate rejecting the official election results threatens the entire election process. If Afghanistan cannot establish a peaceful democratic transition, then the country risks falling back into instability.

The official preliminary results are not expected before early July. And as the ballots are being counted, both Afghanistan and the U.S. wait anxiously to see the outcome.

— Kathleen Egan

Sources: Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, NY Times
Photo: CBSNews

A recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that countries that become more democratic achieve about 20 percent higher gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in the long run. Evidence showed that democracies were better at implementing economic reforms, investing more in public goods like education and reducing social unrest, all of which, to some degree, are tied to increasing GDP.

The researchers, Daron Acemoglu, Suresh Naidu, Pascual Restrepo and James A. Robinson, studied 175 countries between 1960 and 2010. Their study tackled the difficult task of comparing apples and oranges. There are countries that recently transitioned into a more democratic state, while others have had a long history of an established democracy. There are countries that hold elections, but practice only single party rule. There are countries that have been in and out of conflict. And there are countries with political institutions and economies that ebb and flow with a change in leadership. Nonetheless, Acemoglu, Naidu and Restrepo took on the challenge of creating a baseline for comparing different countries by developing an improved version of a democracy index.

Another challenge the researchers took on was to address the question, “does democracy need development first?” Some critics suggest that democracy would be economically costly when certain preconditions are not satisfied. For example, it is suggested that a benevolent dictatorship may be preferred when it comes to simple economies and poverty ridden-countries (or what some economist may label as those with “low human capital.”) Others argue that democracy promotes redistribution of resources that would discourage economic growth, or interest groups may end up dominating economic policies at the cost of the majority and hence increase inequality. The example of communist China and its economic powerhouse is often used to support the argument that political rights are not essential for economic growth.

However, Acemoglu, Naidu and Restrepo demonstrated that democracy does not have a negative effect for countries with low levels of economic development. Evidence showing increases in GDP were associated with democracy, no matter the stage of the country’s development. The researchers did note on the side that a population’s level of education did matter, but not in contradiction to their finding. Democracy had a stronger effect for economies with a greater fraction of the population with secondary schooling.

In sum, Acemoglu, Naidu and Restrepo found that there is a statistically significant positive correlation between democracy and future GDP per capita and this was especially so when examining countries that have switched from non-democracy to democracy into their next 30 years.

– Maria Caluag

Sources: NBER, The Regional Economist

Photo: TCF

On January 26, 2014, the national assembly of Tunisia passed a new constitution that created a full democracy in the country. The constitution was the first in the Arab world to provide full equality for men and women.

Article 20 guarantees male and female citizens equal rights and equal treatment before the law. Article 45 of the constitution requires the state to protect women against violence and guarantee equal presentation of men and women in elected institutions.

Ms. Lobna Jeribi, a member of the Ettakattol party, described the article as “a revolution in itself. It’s a big, historic step, not only for Tunisian women”.

But has this new constitution truly given women their rights? Will women be seen equal by the law after the passing of this constitution?

In September 2012, Meriem Ben Mohamed was out with her fiancé in Tunis, the capital city of Tunisia. Two policemen took turns raping her in a police car, while her fiancé was forced by a third policeman to hand over cash money.

On March 31st, the three policemen were convicted in a Tunis courtroom. The two men who raped her were given seven years in prison, while the third policeman was convicted of extortion and was given a two-year sentence.

However, Ben Mohamed’s road to justice was long and full of obstacles. When she first accused the policemen of sexual assault, the Tunisian security services charged her with “public indecency”. After public outcry, the president of Tunisia, Mocef Marzouki, gave her an official apology.

The policemen denied the charges of rape and accused Ben Mohamed of seducing them on that night. During the trial, medical evidence was presented, which demonstrated that Ben Mohamed was sexually active before the policemen raped her.

In Arab countries, sexual activity before marriage is taboo. Instead of focusing the attention upon the perpetrators, much criticism during the trial was launched towards Ben  Mohamed herself, in a standard case of victim blaming.

Ben Mohamed currently lives in France and has described her ordeal in a published book called “Guilty of Being Raped”. When she walked out of the courtroom, Ben Mohamed shouted, “when I demand justice, they insult me”.

In Tunisia, the maximum jail term for rape is 25 years. Because the policemen were only given seven years in prison, Ben Mohamed’s legal team will appeal for a longer sentence.

Ben Mohamed’s case demonstrates the fierce opposition Tunisian women face in day-to-day life. Despite the newly adopted Tunisian constitution that guarantees women protection against violence and equal rights before the law, there is still a long road before women can walk the streets of Tunis, unafraid.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: The Economist, BBC, Iol

He pleaded not guilty to all of it. To allegations of suspending the constitution and putting forth a state of emergency, making unlawful constitutional alterations and detaining superior court judges, General Pervez Musharraf claimed innocence.

In 1999 Musharraf overthrew Pakistan’s constitution and took the presidency in order to, from his perspective, “restore the country’s honor” at a time of near economic default. Yet some consider this same power grab to have been more along the lines of a military coup. Musharraf’s formal indictment for high treason on March 31, however, relates primarily to his actions after taking office.

In 2007, shortly after his reelection for the Pakistani presidency, Musharraf got scared. The country’s Supreme Court, whose opposition toward Musharraf had been steadily growing, was scheduled to rule on the election’s legality. Insinuating that any justices who failed to sign on to the “provisional constitutional order” would be dismissed from their positions, Musharraf enacted emergency rule in an effort to maintain his withering hold on power. By 2008 the downtrodden president resigned in the face of possible impeachment.

The court cases Musharraf faces at present may have come sooner had he not fled the county following his resignation. Intending to restart his political career, he returned to Pakistan in 2013 only to be met with a barrage of accusations against him. Since his arrival, the former president has prolonged and delayed his hearings with impeccable reliability. Citing health issues and security concerns, the March 31 indictment came on Musharraf’s second attendance at the court out of a total 37 scheduled hearings. And his fateful second trip to court only occurred due to the humiliating risk of arrest that came along with the Pakistani police officers’ visit to his hospital bed at the military hospital in Rawalpindi, where he has repeatedly shown face on account of chest pain prior to a hearing. He has so far complained of a rickety knee, a bad spine, hypertension and a clogged artery, among other creative ailments. In addition to apparently failing health, on two occasions Musharraf somehow managed to discover explosives laying oddly conspicuously in his farm yard outside of Islamabad. Whether or not there is truth to these claims, Musharraf’s future is in a seemingly precarious position.

If he is found to be guilty of the five charges placed against him, Musharraf could be sentenced either to life in prison or be given the death sentence for high treason.

According to some scholars, the trial itself is a sign of democratic progress in Pakistan. Musharraf’s indictment signified the first time any army chief or military dictator faced charges of going against the constitution. As such, the Pakistani court is taking a vital stand in support of constitutional sanctity and democratic values in a manner previously unseen.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: New York Times, Al Jazeera, DAWN, New York Times

Since becoming Prime Minister in 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has contributed to calming Turkey’s military, strengthening its political parties, and increasing the personal freedoms of its citizens. United States Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both held Turkey on a pedestal as an example of the ability for Islam and democracy to coexist.

Yet the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has faced little to no opposition strong enough to challenge Erdogan’s position, for which he has won three successive elections. At over 11 years in office, Erdogan is now the second longest reigning Prime Minister in Turkey’s 94-year history. The nation is falling from its democratic grace.

When thousands of Turkish citizens protested the one-party state in the spring of 2013, Erdogan’s authoritarian power was evident. Tear gas, water cannons and mass arrests asserted the Prime Minister’s authority over those who wished to speak out. The in December parliament, led mostly by the AKP, presented a proposal to make protests against public services illegal.

Such actions, in addition to Erdogan’s attempts to limit and control social media, emphasize worrisome threats to basic human rights and democracy in Turkey. But the next set of elections is coming soon, and the simple fact that people continue to look towards it brings hope. Despite unfortunate actions resulting from Erdogan’s hoarding of power, Turkey formally remains a functioning democracy. If all goes as planned, the upcoming elections will take place in as free and fair an environment as ever.

Movement away from democracy in Turkey poses risks to the nation’s future political and economic security. With such tumultuous circumstances taking place in the nations bordering Turkey and in the Middle East in general, Erdogan arguably cannot afford to throw away its alliance with the United States and the Western world. Likewise, undemocratic actions take away from any chances Turkey has of being admitted in the European Union, whose membership requirements include a free market and democratic freedoms.

So while many may claim that Turkey, as a result, could not possibly move far enough from democracy as to put these alliances in true jeopardy, recent events have not sparked much confidence. Elections, however, will likely outline what the world can expect from Turkey in the near future.

Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Carnegie Endowment 1, Carnegie Endowment 2, Al Jazeera, Politico
Photo: Business Insider