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How Improving Governance Helps Growth in Developing Countries
It’s all too true that in most developing or vulnerable countries, local or national governments are tyrannical and corrupt. These governments have a propensity to abuse power, favor the rich and ignore the oppressed. However, by improving governance in the developing world, there is hope that unethical practices will be removed and replaced with unprejudiced laws that will fairly benefit everyone.

Problems Surrounding Corrupt Government

Numerous problems surrounding nefarious practices in underdeveloped countries stem from a lack of morality, discriminatory systems and misuse of power. The World Bank reports that in vulnerable countries, a disparate sharing of authority is a common problem that causes countries to stay in a state of impoverishment rather than move toward more progressive procedures that would allow for quicker growth and sustainability.

Unfortunately, it’s easier for the already-powerful leaders to resist change rather than consider the development of new policies for improving governance to benefit the whole society, regardless of economic class.

Additionally, there are many other factors that contribute to shady practices in the governments of developing countries. One of these practices is patrimonialism, which is defined in the Encyclopedia Britannica as a “political organization in which authority is based primarily on the personal power exercised by a ruler, either directly or indirectly.” This means that too much power can easily be granted to one person or group of persons (oligarchy), rather than having different governmental branches to limit what can and cannot be done.

What Steps Can be Taken Towards Improving Governance?

In a patrimonialistic society, the land or state is “owned” by a leader, granting that person the freedom to do as he, she, or they please. This power structure contributes to the cycle of poverty — wealthy land is distributed to the other wealthy people, allowing those choice few to access the best schools, homes and healthcare; on the other hand, the slums are given to the lower class, eliminating chances to thrive in a fair economy. Ultimately, this system halts economic growth for all the citizens.

The OECD Observer gives two good examples of a patrimonialistic society; the first being Morocco, where admittance to bureaucracy protects access to economic benefits, and the next being in the Philippines, where political sovereignty can be bought and sold.

Citizen-Based Elections

A great way to combat corruption, poverty and improve economic growth is by initializing citizen-based elections. According to USAID, more than half of the world’s populace live under only partly free governments, which limits their civil liberties, causing the inability to freely engage in politics. In democratic elections, the people are granted a voice in choosing who they wish to run their government.

USAID easily lays out the course for democratic elections. The steps include freedom of speech, association and assembly; elections as an essential tool to bolster political openings and cooperation; assembling advocates and describing different political platforms to the public and encouraging political debate.

Education

Another step toward improving governance is creating equal educational opportunities for all people. A large problem in the political sphere of third-world countries is the lack of education that causes many citizens who live in poverty to not fully understand politics; in turn they lack the skills to actively participate in events such as elections or assemblies.

Not only will education improve political understandings, but it will create jobs and give students the skills needed to be seen as valuable by future employers, improving economic growth and sustainability. With higher education comes higher knowledge and realization, skills that permit citizens to see and understand what areas in their countries need change.

Public Policy and Building Democracy

One of the best ways to promote better government is through improving public policy and actively working on building a democracy. In the developing world, the people and citizens are often ignored, and their opinions are thought to be arbitrary and unimportant to those high on the political spectrum.

However, in a democratic society, the people get to vote in elections for issues such as industrial projects and new laws. To help aid in understanding public policy and democracy, The World Bank created the Governance Global Practice, which aims to initiate trust between the government and the people.

Despite all of the concerns facing governments in third-world countries, these nation-states are not hopeless. Many countries work towards improving governance and government practices. In fact, organizations such as The World Bank, USAID and the United Nations provide hope for those searching for a better quality of life, and thereby foster countries to work towards a brighter future.  

– Rebecca Lee
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts about why Voting is Important
The ability to vote allows citizens to say their opinion and choice on a variety of issues. In the American political system, voting allows registered citizens to cast their choice for the political leader that they believe can accurately make the choices that will better the country. However, there are thousands upon thousands of individuals who have the ability to vote, and yet do not. Discussed below are the key reasons why voting is important.

 

Top 10 Reasons Why Voting is Important:

 

1. The Millennial generation accounts for one-third of the electorate.

2. Less than 50 percent of eligible young voters ages 18 to 29 cast a vote in 2012.

3. 19 percent of all votes cast in 2012 came from young voters.

4. In 2012, 4 percent more young women voted than young men.

5. Young voters are more likely to support issues such as legalizing same-sex marriage, supporting a pathway to citizenship for immigrants and legalizing abortion than other age demographics.

6. 40 percent of millennials identify as non-white, making them the most diverse voting generation in history.

7. In most communities, the turnout for voting is less than 50 percent.

8. Every vote matters. There have been several cases in U.S. history where this has been seen. A New Hampshire Senate race was decided by two votes out of 223,363 in 1974. A Massachusetts gubernatorial election was decided by two votes out of 102,066 in 1839. And the Alaskan congressional race was decided by a single vote out of 10,035 cast in 2008.

9. Through voting you have the opportunity to influence the government.

10. In most state and national elections, you need to be registered to vote anywhere from 10-27 days before the actual election. That is why it’s important to regularly check if you are eligible to vote in your district.

In all, voting is a constitutional right and privilege that Americans have. It’s best to make use of that right instead of squandering it and disregarding what our Founders stood for.

Alysha Biemolt

Sources: Do Something, Post Star, Huffington Post, Independent
Photo: The Wannabe Luxembourger

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

How to Vote In Elections
The 58th United States presidential election is scheduled to take place on Nov. 8, 2016. Two Democrats and six Republicans remain on track for the election, as of Feb. 10.

As the day approaches, voters are under more pressure to become aware of the specifics on how to vote in elections. BallotPedia provides election information, including dates of primaries and caucuses for each party, information about the delegate selection process and a history of the most recent elections in each state. It also holds records of voting patterns and demographic profiles, which can be a valuable resource for voters interested in learning more about the factors that contributed to their state’s decisions in the past.

According to USA.gov, eligible voters are U.S. citizens at least 18 years of age and they need to meet their state’s residency requirements. Each state’s policy differs slightly but all documentation is easily accessible via the U.S. Election Commission’s website. Voters are able to look up the conditions on an interactive map of all states, which provides the exact dates of presidential and congressional primaries, primary runoff and a link directed to voters’ online registration.

In addition, USA.gov recognizes the complexity and confusion of the voting process. Therefore, “in an effort to simplify that process and bring the most important government tasks into the digital age, GSA has created an online voter registration tool,” as stated on its website.  The tool is an online platform – vote.USA.gov – that provides state-specific online resources and easy voter registration.

This tool aims to assist voters by providing a link to online registration of more than 30 states and the District of Columbia, as well as a form for voters to fill out and mail to their state’s election office. Voters should identify whether their state offers the National Mail Voter Registration Form before proceeding.

Hoa Nguyen

Sources: USA.gov 1, USA.gov 2, Ballotpedia, NY Times, Wikipedia
Photo: Unsplash

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

elections-in-iraq
After weeks of political deadlock, the elections in Iraq were finalized and the parliament elected a speaker. Their choice was Salim al-Jubouri of the Alliance of National Powers, who won 194 of the 273 votes, clearly above the necessary 165 votes.

This came after previous failed attempts to create a deal for the new government. The first session of Parliament saw only 255 of the 328 members, the missing ones either boycotting or afraid to visit Baghdad because of the violence.

Possible deals were placed on the table, including allowing the Kurds to announce their choice for president in exchange for the Shiites’ National Alliance bloc to elect a Shiite prime minister.

However, no deal was formally agreed upon.

The United Nations issued a statement about the situation, responding to the extremely high June death toll (3 times that of May’s and the highest since 2008) and the politicians’ inability to agree.

“Politicians in Iraq need to realize that it is no longer business as usual,” said Representative Nickolay Mladenov. “I call upon all political leaders to set aside their differences. What can be achieved through a constitutional, political process cannot be achieved through an exclusively military response, security must be restored, but the root causes of violence must be addressed.”

Parliament finally put their foot in the door by appointing Salim al-Jubouri, a moderate Islamist, as the new Speaker.

Parliament also elected two deputy speakers: Haider al-Abadi, a Shiite from Maliki’s Dawa Party, and Aram al-Sheikh Mohammad, a Kurd from the Goran Party. Salim al-Jubouri was elected as a member of parliament and head of the legal committee in 2005, and was elected again as a member, this time as the head of the human rights committee for the 2014 parliament.

Because there is a newly elected speaker, according to the Iraqi constitution, a new president, who by constitution must be a Kurd, should be chosen within 30 days after the speaker has been elected.

Jubouri does not expect a decision for the presidency that soon.

Once the president has been elected, he has the responsibility to name the nominee of the Council of Representatives bloc with the largest number of lawmakers, who then nominates the Prime Minister.

By law, the prime minister must be a Shia Arab. The prime minister-designate then selects his cabinet members and presents that list to parliament within 30 days.

The system of a Sunni speaker, Shia Arab prime minister and Kurd president was created in order to bring balance to the government, to mend the highly divided state and ensure one group would not overtake the others.

Current Prime Minister Nouri Maliki wishes to run for another term, but the majority of parliament wants him to step down.

A unified government is necessary for Iraq to overcome its issues with the Sunni insurgency and general security concerns. Although this election came with some setbacks and disagreements, there are still improvements to celebrate.

“We shortened the time compared to the last time,” said Abbass al-Bayati, a Shiite lawmaker. “This is evidence that Iraqi democracy is on the right track.”

Courtney Prentice
Sources: Reuters, Firstpost, BBC, New York Times 1, New York Times 2, New York Times 3
Photo: Reuters

2014_Afghan_Presidential_Election
According to an article by the New York Times, the Independent Election Complaints Commission said that the Afghan presidential election this time around appears to be cleaner than the one in 2009.

Nader Mohseni, the commission’s spokesman, said that fraud was less prevalent in the 2014 elections compared to other elections in the past. Unlike the 2,842 complaints that the commission recorded in 2009, only 1,573 were counted this year.

“Compared with 7.5 million people who voted, that number is very small,” said Mohseni. “That’s what the international observers believe as well.”

Setting the election aside, the year 2014 is an important year for Afghanistan. Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, said that President Obama told Afghan president Hamid Karzai that his refusal to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement gave the U.S. no choice but to withdraw its military from the country.

“Keeping on 5,000 troops and some equipment at a handful of small bases will not be difficult if Karzai’s successor decides to sign the SOFA,” Cole said.

But is it necessary for U.S. troops to keep their presence in Afghanistan after more than a decade of combat in the country?

Around the time Cole made these remarks the Taliban has been involved in several violent campaigns that made Pakistani officials question whether Kabul can ultimately stay in control of the situation and confront the group.

“Whether the Afghanistan National Army can stand up to the Taliban is one question,” Cole said. “Another is, if Afghans still can’t stand up to the Taliban after a decade of US aid, when exactly would the billions poured into the country finally bear fruit?”

According to journalist Patrick Cockburn, the current situation in Afghanistan is not looking good at all.

While visiting Kabul a few years back, Cockburn realized “the main problem in Afghanistan was not the strength of the Taliban but the weakness of the government.”

“It does not matter how many NATO troops are in the country because they are there in support of a government detested by much of the population,” he explained. “Everywhere I went in the capital there were signs of this, even among prosperous people who might be expected to be natural supporters of the status quo.”

Cockburn also believes that this year’s election will not be a success and will be more fraudulent considering Karzai is no longer able to run for a third term.

“The April 2014 election is likely to be worse than anything seen before, with 20.7 million voter cards distributed in a country where half the population of 27 million are under the voting age of 18,” he said.

Cockburn also reveals that election-monitoring institutions, such as the one Mohseni represents, are under the control of the government.

As a result, if the Afghan government controls the Independent Elections Complaints Commission, there is no guarantee that the New York Times article is correct for claiming that the 2014 elections are in fact cleaner.

– Juan Campos

Photo: DW
Sources:
The New York Times, Counterpunch, Z Magazine

Legislative_Elections_Colombia
Congressional elections in Colombia took place on March 9th. President Juan Manuel Santos, who is currently in peace process negotiations with the FARC guerilla group that has been terrorizing the country for fifty years, has narrowly kept his National Unity coalition majority in the lower and upper houses of Congress.

Many view the elections as a referendum on Santos’ negotiations with the FARC rebel group. The Santos administration has gained ground in recent negotiations with draft agreements already set for rural development and political participation for minority parties.

The elections also propelled former President and political rival of Santos, Alvaro Uribe, into the Senate. Santos had served under Uribe as Defense Minister until he won the presidency, and has since reversed many of the policies Uribe had fought for, including restarting the peace process. Uribe opposes government negotiations with the FARC rebel group, and his win in the Colombian Senate signals a fracture in public opinion on this contentious issue.

A narrow win for Santos’ Unity Party in congressional elections means that he has less of a mandate should he win in presidential elections to be held on May 25. In the Senate, the Unity Party won 21 of 102 seats, or 20.6%, while Uribe’s right-leaning Democratic Center Party won 19 seats, or 18.6%. In the lower house, the Unity Party won 37 of 166 seats, or 23.9% of votes, while the Democratic Center only won 12 seats, or 7.7% of seats.

Important to note is the high rate of voter abstention during the elections. Out of the 32,835,856 Colombians eligible to vote, only 58.11% actually voted. Further, out of the votes cast, 6.2% of votes for the Senate and 6.6% of the House votes cast the blank ballot option. Unmarked ballots drew 5.85% of the votes in the Senate and 3.4% in the House.

–Jeff Meyer

Photo: XinhuanNet
Sources:
The Economist, The Economist, Reuters, Colombia Reports, Colombia Reports

India_Free_Laptops_Students
With the intention to win elections, politicians in India have seen fit to provide their constituents with gifts that are especially beneficial for those living in poverty.

Before elections, starting in 2011, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu J. Jayalalitha gave $322 million worth of freebies to the southern Indian state consisting of roughly 70 million people.

“Freebies are a fact of life in Indian politics, and items like livestock are only part of it,” states an article by the Associated Press. “All three parties seen as the front-runners in upcoming elections have enticed voters with subsidies on electricity, cooking gas or grain.”

However, the article also states that concerns about providing people with free stuff are growing because such action may harm both the economy and government finances. For instance, economists are worried about the new $805 million cooking gas subsidies that were announced by the government.

This is not the first time that freebies have raised public concern. People have, in the past, questioned whether the act of giving people laptops, cows and subsidies in order to win elections is corrupt. In July 2013, judges of the Indian Supreme Court said, “Freebies shake the root of free and fair elections to a large degree.”

Under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, giving people freebies cannot be regarded as a “corrupt practice” because they can be viewed as “promises made in an election manifesto.”

Nevertheless, voters in India welcome the freebies due to the high cost of living. Apart from being the world’s biggest democracy, the Associated Press reports that around 270 million people in India live in poverty. This amounts to 22% of a population of 1.2 billion people.

According to an article by the Telegraph, the World Bank estimates that “India now has a greater share of the world’s poorest than it did thirty years ago” despite the decline of people living in extreme poverty worldwide.

This is a problem in the long run because the economic growth in India is unable to keep with the growing population rate. By 2016, India is expected to be the world’s most populous nation with at least 1.5 billion inhabitants.

To make things worse, there is a perception in developed countries that India has a fast-growing economy. The Telegraph states, “The United States has announced a 16[%] reduction while Britain has announced it will end its £280 million per year aid programme.”

Granting that India’s economy is unable to keep up with its population growth, the U.S. should reconsider its proposal of cutbacks if it wishes to help the nation out of poverty.

– Juan Campos

Sources: The Hindu, The Telegraph
Photo: The Hindu

Election_Campaigns
Election campaigns are big business in the U.S. With all the recent attention given to the amount of money being spent on them, it is interesting to look at how the cost of election campaign financing over the last presidential race measures up to current spending on development projects.

According to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), campaign spending for the 2012 fiscal year totaled nearly $7 billion. The presidential election campaign alone cost approximately $2.6 billion—the remainder having been spent on financing congressional campaigns.

The first presidential race since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC ruling conferred corporations with freedom of speech rights, the 2012 race saw $1.07 billion raised for Barack Obama and $992.5 million for Mitt Romney through their parties and affiliated Super PACs (highly specialized political committees which make no direct contributions to candidates but undertake independent expenditures towards the election campaign).

In comparison, the President’s new Power Africa initiative, which will help fund building electrical infrastructure for Africa is slated to cost the same $7 billion over the next five years. By contrast, however, powering Africa would bring basic access to electricity to the 90 million children who go to primary schools without it; or to the 255 million African patients who are served in health facilities (hospitals, clinics, etc.) in the dark.

It is argued that access to electricity has the greatest positive impact of basic infrastructural development projects. Given that some estimates indicate that for every $1 spent on modernized grids, between $2.80 and $6 is returned to the broader economy, it is no wonder that there is such a large movement seeking to electrify Africa.

This is exactly what the Electrify Africa Act, which is currently working its way through Congress, is meant to ensure. The bill seeks to address some of the shortcomings of the Power Africa initiative. While the President’s initiative is an important start, it represents 5% of the necessary $300 billion needed by 2030 to give electrical access to the 110 million African households currently off the grid.

In Sudan, students were able to improve their pass rate from 57% to 97% in one year with electric lighting. It doesn’t take much to help ensure that cases like these continue to spread across Africa as it is empowered with basic electrical access for all – but it does come at a cost.

The next time you see an election advertisement or hear about the cost of campaign finance on the news, pick up the phone and let your congressmen and women know that you support increased funding for the Power Africa initiative and that you would like to see more support for the Electrify Africa Act. It takes 30 seconds to help improve the lives of millions of Africans.

– Pedram Afshar

Sources: Open Secrets, RT, NY Times, ONE, National Geographic, Solar Aid
Photo: The Guardian