Nicolae Ceausescu and the Cult of Personality

Today in introduction to comparative we discussed various coercive tactics available and generally used by authoritarian and dictatorial leaders.  One of them is the cultivation of a “cult of personality.”  Nobody was better at it than the late (executed) Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.  This clip from youtube is a treasure as it shows the dictator’s last public speech; within hours both he and his equally loathsome spouse, Elena, had been executed.

Note a couple of things; first, the dramatic banners, huge photographs of the ruling couple, and other similar accoutrements of the public celebrations of a totalitarian regime.  Note also the massive crowds. In totalitarian systems (as opposed to authoritarian ones), every thing is politicized and one’s presence at events such as this would be expected.  Apathy is not allowed, and it is considered reactionary.

The second fascinating phenomenon is when the crowd (or portions thereof) begins to whistle and jeer its disapproval while Ceausescu is speaking.  The voice on his face as he realizes that he has lost the crowd is absolutely fascinating.  Rarely in history is an event like this captured for posterity.

Russian Journalist found Murdered

Freedom House, a prominent NGO that monitors and assesses the level of civil and political rights and freedoms in the world, downgraded Russia’s status in 2004 from Partly Free to Not Free.  This is part of the legacy of Vladimir Putin’s rule in Russia.  Another part of the legacy has been the dramatic number of journalists killed in Russia over the last decade.  Most of these journalists had either been working on, or had reported stories about, corruption in the government and business elite.

Here is the report from Euronews about the latest Russian journalist to be killed:

russian_reporter.jpgA Russian journalist has been assassinated in Moscow. Ilias Shurpaiev, who worked for the state-run Channel One, was found dead in his flat. He had apparently being strangled with a belt and suffered stab wounds. Shurpaeiv, a native of the mostly Muslim Dagestan province, was the author of several reports on the Caucusus region.

More than a dozen journalists have been killed in contract-style killings in Russia since 2000.

India’s Role in the Illegal Trafficking of Body Parts

This worrisome story in the New York Times sheds light on an increasingly brazen network of doctors and bandits who have organized an international trafficking ring in human body parts, such as kidneys.  While increasing numbers of Indians, and residents of other less-developed countries willingly sell their kidneys many, like the gentleman in the story, are the victims of deception and fraud.

GURGAON, India — As the anesthetic wore off, Naseem Mohammed said, he felt an acute pain in the lower left side of his abdomen. Fighting drowsiness, he fumbled beneath the unfamiliar folds of a green medical gown and traced his fingers over a bandage attached with surgical tape. An armed guard by the door told him that his kidney had been removed.

Mr. Mohammed was the last of about 500 Indians whose kidneys were removed by a team of doctors running an illegal transplant operation, supplying kidneys to rich Indians and foreigners, police officials said. A few hours after his operation last Thursday, the police raided the clinic and moved him to a government hospital.

Many of the donors were day laborers, like Mr. Mohammed, picked up from the streets with the offer of work, driven to a well-equipped private clinic, and duped or forced at gunpoint to undergo operations. Others were bicycle rickshaw drivers and impoverished farmers who were persuaded to sell their organs, which is illegal in India.

Although several kidney rings have been exposed in India in recent years, the police said the scale of this one was unprecedented. Four doctors, five nurses, 20 paramedics, three private hospitals, 10 pathology clinics and five diagnostic centers were involved, Mohinder Lal, the police officer in charge of the investigation, said.

Another Foreign Policy List: How to Steal an Election Without Breaking a Sweat

Foreign Policy magazine frequently publishes “lists” that are meant to illuminate, in a sometimes ironic manner, political phenomena that are receiving much discussion.  In a recent issue, the focus turns to elections.   From their introduction:

From Abuja to Islamabad, autocratic regimes have become adept at manipulating “free and fair elections” to stay in power. Here’s how they do it—and how to stop them.

Here is their list, with some real-world examples of each:

  1. Control the processKenya’s constitution invests an enormous amount of power in the executive branch. This allowed President Mwai Kibaki to create a vast system of patronage throughout the government based largely on tribal ties. The head of the Electoral Commission of Kenya, Samuel Kivuitu, has recently admitted that he was pressured by the president’s office to announce results before he could verify their authenticity.
  2. Manipulate the mediaIn the months leading up to the recent presidential election in Georgia, President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government shut down Imedi TV, an opposition-friendly television station founded by one of the president’s rivals and managed by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
  3. Keep out the observersDuring the 2005 Egyptian parliamentary elections, judges at individual polling stations made seemingly arbitrary decisions about whether to allow outside monitoring. The result? Some stations were monitored and some were not. Monitors were beaten by police in one southern city, and eight were arrested and released elsewhere.
  4. Misreport resultsNadia Diuk, senior director for Europe and Eurasia at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), relays a tale from Azerbaijan’s 2000 elections: “The light went out in the room where the counting was to take place, and the flashlights of the observers just caught sight of a bundle of ballots sailing through the air to land on the counting table.” [This is my favorite! :)]
  5. Foster incompetence and chaosNigeria’s 2007 national and state elections take the chaos prize. Ballots arrived late to polling stations, if at all, or were printed with missing or incorrect information. Polling places and procedures were changed at the last minute. With security lax, reports were rampant of militants harassing voters and youth gangs breaking into polling places and making off with ballot boxes.
  6. Resort to the crude stuff A favorite tactic in Egypt is to deploy riot police in strategic polling locations to keep out voters for the opposition Muslim Brotherhood—while state employees arrive in buses and are ushered in en masse. In 2005, a bloody showdown in the streets of Alexandria between government-backed thugs wielding machetes and Brotherhood supporters seeking to cast their votes became international news, embarrassing the regime.

Corruption and Transparency International (Redux)

Apropos of an earlier post and discussion in class today about correlation and causality, here is an excerpt from an interview with Transparency International’s Huguette Labelle, where she answers questions about the apparent correlation between corruption levels and GDP, and corruption levels and levels of violent conflict:

The countries with the best scores in the CPI seem to be some of the world’s richest countries – is higher GDP the key to less corruption?
I think the difference between the countries at the top and the bottom is not so much due to their relative wealth or poverty, but to the development of their institutions. The top scorers have effective public sectors, with open contracting procedures, strong disclosure rules and access to information.

Labelle is implying here that the correlation between corruption and GDP is not causal; it is spurious (we’ll talk about spurious causation next class).

Many of the countries with the worst scores in the CPI are victims of violent conflict (Somalia, Myanmar, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan). What is the relationship between failed states and corruption?
In a crisis situation, the institutions of government are weakened, so corruption can more easily take hold and spread. It is not just individuals, but also institutions, that are responsible for maintaining integrity in a country. Many countries at the bottom of the CPI are failed states that are at the intersection of poverty, conflict and corruption.

Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index for 2007

Economists, political scientists and practitioners have long been aware of the deleterious effects of corruption. Transparency International, an international NGO, has been playing a lead role since its inception in 1993 in the fight to highlight the problem of corruption and in creating a forceful international anti-corruption movement. What is corruption?

Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It hurts everyone whose life, livelihood or happiness depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority.

What are some of the effects of corruption, but obvious and hidden?

Corruption hurts everyone, and it harms the poor the most. Sometimes its devastating impact is obvious:

* A father who must do without shoes because his meagre wages are used to pay a bribe to get his child into a supposedly free school.

* The unsuspecting sick person who buys useless counterfeit drugs, putting their health in grave danger.

* A small shop owner whose weekly bribe to the local inspector cuts severely into his modest earnings.

* The family trapped for generations in poverty because a corrupt and autocratic leadership has systematically siphoned off a nation’s riches.

Other times corruption’s impact is less visible:

* The prosperous multinational corporation that secured a contract by buying an unfair advantage in a competitive market through illegal kickbacks to corrupt government officials, at the expense of the honest companies who didn’t.

* Post-disaster donations provided by compassionate people, directly or through their governments, that never reach the victims, callously diverted instead into the bank accounts of criminals.

* The faulty buildings, built to lower safety standards because a bribe passed under the table in the construction process that collapse in an earthquake or hurricane.

Corruption has dire global consequences, trapping millions in poverty and misery and breeding social, economic and political unrest.

Corruption is both a cause of poverty, and a barrier to overcoming it. It is one of the most serious obstacles to reducing poverty.

Here is a chart comparing corruption levels around the world in 2007. The higher the cpi score, the higher the level of perceived corruption.


McClatchy–Kenyan president lost election, U.S. exit poll indicates

The McClatchy Washington Bureau is an excellent resource for news on political events around the world. Here they report on the results of an exit poll commissioned by a US-government backed foundation, which claims to show the incumbent Kenyan president was soundly defeated in the recent disputed election that has set off rioting and inter-ethnic killing sprees.

NAIROBI, Kenya — An exit poll carried out on behalf of a U.S. government-backed foundation indicated that Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki suffered a resounding defeat in last month’s disputed election, according to officials with knowledge of the document.

The poll by the Washington-based International Republican Institute — not yet publicly released — further undermines Kibaki’s claims of a narrow re-election victory. The outcome has sparked protests and ethnically driven clashes nationwide, killing hundreds.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga led Kibaki by roughly 8 percentage points in the poll, which surveyed voters as they left polling places during the election Dec. 27, according to one senior Western official who’s seen the data, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. That’s a sharp departure from the results that Kenyan election officials certified, which gave Kibaki a winning margin of 231,728 votes over Odinga, about 3 percentage points.

U.S. and European observers have criticized the official results, which came after long, unexplained delays in counting the votes, primarily from Kibaki strongholds. Jendayi Frazer, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said over the weekend that there were “serious irregularities in the vote tallying, which made it impossible to determine with certainty the final result.”

It wasn’t clear why the International Republican Institute — which has conducted opinion polls and observed elections in Kenya since 1992 — isn’t releasing its data. A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kenya confirmed that a poll was conducted but referred questions to the institute, where officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

Kenyan activists called on U.S. officials to release any data that would shed light on election fraud.

Worldwide Governance Indicators from the World Bank

Probably the best compilation of data related to governance can be found here .  The data can be viewed interactively (this is how I created the world map above that is being used as the page header for my website) here. The data include measures for most of the world’s countries on the following:

The Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) project
reports aggregate and individual governance indicators for 212 countries and territories over the period 1996–2006, for six dimensions of governance:

Voice and Accountability

Political Stability and Absence of Violence

Government Effectiveness

Regulatory Quality

Rule of Law

Control of Corruption

The aggregate indicators combine the views of a large number of enterprise, citizen and expert survey respondents in industrial and developing countries. The individual data sources underlying the aggregate indicators are drawn from a diverse variety of survey institutes, think tanks, non-governmental organizations, and international organizations.

The six aggregate indicators and the underlying data sources can be viewed interactively on the Governance Indicators webpage of this site. Documentation of the latest update of the WGI can be found in “Governance Matters VI: Governance Indicators for 1996–2006.” Further documentation and research using the WGI is available on the Resources page of this website or at

What is governance? From the website we find this definition of governance:

Governance consists of the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised. This includes the process by which governments are selected, monitored and replaced; the capacity of the government to effectively formulate and implement sound policies; and the respect of citizens and the state for the institutions that govern economic and social interactions among them.

Transparency International Corruption Index

Here’s another excellent source of information from an NGO, Transparency International, that investigates, writes about, and collects data dealing with corruption. This NGO puts out an annual Transparency Index, listing countries around the world with respect to the level of corruption in each.

What is Transparency International?

Transparency International, the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption, brings people together in a powerful worldwide coalition to end the devastating impact of corruption on men, women and children around the world.
TI’s mission is to create change towards a world free of corruption.

Transparency International challenges the inevitability of corruption, and offers hope to its victims. Since its founding in 1993, TI has played a lead role in improving the lives of millions around the world by building momentum for the anti-corruption movement. TI raises awareness and diminishes apathy and tolerance of corruption, and devises and implements practical actions to address it.

Here is a link to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), and Bribe Payers Index (BPI), among others. There is a wealth of information on this site related to corruption.

Afrobarometer–Key Findings

The very first Afrobarometer Briefing Paper–here’s the link to a PDF version–(April 2002) presents some key findings regarding the views of African residents in about a dozen African countries on phenomena such as democracy, freedom, governance, etc. Here are a few I found interesting:

  • Corruption is seen as pervasive

Whereas about one-half of survey respondents think that corruption among public officials is common (52 percent), about one-third think it is rare (35 percent). Perceived corruption is highest in Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, and lowest in Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia. Generally, however, people perceive more corruption than they themselves have personally experienced. Such perceptions, and the social inequalities they reflect, tend to corrode satisfaction with economic reform policies and with democracy.

In class, I use the module on economic and political development as an opportunity to ask students if they have ever tried to bribe an official for any reason whatsoever. The answer amongst my mostly suburban-bred American students is a unanimous “no.” Generally only I (and sometimes a foreign student) raise our hands to answer in the affirmative. I try to impress upon the students that bribery and corruption is a normal part of life in most non-Western countries. In most citizens’ dealings with official (read: governmental and quasi-governmental) institutions, bribing at least one official is absolutely necessary to get anything done.

Continue reading “Afrobarometer–Key Findings”