ICG claims Ivory Coast on verge of another civil war

In a new report, the International Crisis Group (ICG) claims that the Ivory Coast is on the verge of another civil war. The ICG places the blame for the precarious political situation in that west African country squarely on the shoulders of Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to acknowledge defeat in the most recent president election. For the executive summary, click here, where you can also find a link to the full report, which is only available in French currently.

Côte d’Ivoire is on the verge of a new civil war between the army loyal to the defiant Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to acknowledge he lost the November 2010 presidential election, and the “Forces nouvelles” (FN), the ex-insurgency now supporting the winner, Alassane Ouattara. The vote should have ended eight years of crisis, but Gbagbo, staged a constitutional coup and resorted to violence to keep power. The result is a serious threat to peace, security and stability in all West Africa. The African community should not be influenced by the support that Gbagbo enjoys from a part of the population that has been frightened by the ultra-nationalist propaganda and threats of chaos of a militant minority. It must act decisively, not least to defend the principle of democratic elections, but key countries show signs of dangerous disunity. Any proposal to endorse Gbagbo’s presidency, even temporarily, would be a mistake. His departure is needed to halt a return to war.

The November election was intended as the culmination of a painstaking peace process that began after the September 2002 rebellion and was endorsed by many agreements, the latest being the Ouagadougou Political Agreement (OPA) of March 2007. Gbagbo, like all other candidates, took part in the election on the basis of a series of compromises reached on all aspects of organisation and security.

There is no doubt Ouattara won the run-off.

 

 

Kurdish Nationalism

What are the prospects for an independent Kurdish state to form out of the wreckage of Iraq? How likely is it that Kurds who live in 5 separate states will set aside their differences long enough to coalesce around the common goal of creating a state for the Kurdish people? As we now know, the Kurdish territory in northern Iraq has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy since the establishment by Great Britain, France, and the United States of the “no-fly zones” in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. (Interestingly, the no-fly zones were established by these three states for putatively humanitarian purposes and had not received official sanction by the United Nations Security Council. For more, click here.)

Following the war-induced collapse of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime in 2003, the Kurds of Iraq have enjoyed de facto independence in northern Iraq, with a temporary “capital” at Irbil (though the Kurds wish to reclaim the city of Kirkuk, located in the middle of an oil-rich region, as the capital of any independent state in northern Iraq). In IS 309, we read Michael Ignatieff’s chapter on Kurdistan, from his 1993 book, Blood and Belonging, which provides a snap-shot of the situation of the Iraqi Kurds some two years following the establishment of the no-fly zones. Ignatieff addresses the potential for greater autonomy of the Iraqi Kurdish region from the Iraqi state/regime of Hussein and finds skepticism on the part of most Kurds. Fast-forward almost twenty years (has it been that long!!) and we find the situation on the ground has changed substantially. The difficulties, though, seem to remain and the prospects for Kurdish independence are no less clear today than they were some twenty years ago, particularly given the Turkish state’s response to Kurdish separatist sentiment on the territory of eastern Turkey. Here are a couple of interesting short documentaries on the current state of the Kurdish independence movement in Iraq and Turkey.

Here’s a video on the Kurdish situation in Turkey.

The Political Economy of Revolution–Egypt

In our last session of IS 210 we looked at the topic, political economy. O’Neil defines political economy as “the study of the role of economic processes in shaping society and history.” The recent overthrow of the Mubarak regime in Egypt is a good case study with which to highlight some of the links between political revolution and political economy. Anybody who has taken a political economy course in political science at the graduate level in the last 15 years or so has almost certainly read Stephen Haggard and Robert R. Kaufman’s influential work, The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions. The authors attempt to answer a series of inter-related questions related to the politics/economics nexus as it appeared to them in the early 1990s:

“What role have economic crises played in the near-global wave of political liberalization and democratization? Can new democracies manage the daunting political challenges posed by economic crises and reform efforts? Under what economic and institutional conditions is democracy most likely to be consolidated?”

Haggard and Kaufman ultimately eschew both liberal theories of modernization and (neo)-Marxist theories of dependency and turn to a rational choice framework that focuses on the strategic actions of political elites–especially presidents and military leaders–under conditions of economic and institutional constraint. In addition, the authors make a few key assumptions, one of which I will highlight here: “…the 0pportunities for political elites to mobilize political support or opposition will depend on how economic policy and performance affect the income of different social groups.” (6) The empirical evidence draws from countries such as Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Philippines, Peru, and Bolivia. There argument certainly has relevance for the situation in Egypt today and for the potential for the Egyptian polity to make a successful transition toward consolidated democracy.

Jake Caldwell, Director of Policy for Agriculture, Trade, and Energy at American Progress, and coauthor of The Coming Food Crisis, has written recently about the daunting economic challenges facing any new government with respect to food security. In the midst of rapidly increasing global commodity prices–especially foodstuffs–the government must find a way to continue to feed its people, many of whom live on less than $2/day in income. Caldwell writes:

“Egypt has spent $4 billion a year, or 1.8% of GDP, on its bread subsidization program in an attempt to insulate the 40% of Egyptians living on less than $2 a day from inflation. But prices continue to rise…

…Egypt faces daunting challenges as it prepares for broad presidential and parliamentary elections within a year. Ongoing volatility in global food prices will strain resources during this critical transitional period.

As the world’s largest importer of wheat, Egypt is acutely vulnerable to any surge in food prices. Wheat prices have risen 47 percent over the last year and other staples are rapidly approaching dangerously high levels.

Food price inflation and volatility strike hard at the household budgets of average Egyptian families. Many of them spend 40 percent of their monthly income on food. As prices rise, purchasing power is eroded, and the recovery of Egypt’s fragile economy during the transition is slowed.”

How much time will the new Egyptian government have to provide food security for the Egyptian people before the polity’s patience with democracy is compromised? Or is the public yearning for democracy and liberty so strong that economic crisis will have little effect on democratization in Egypt going forward?

Social Network Media and Revolution

In the wake of the revolutionary changes that have (hopefully) taken place in Tunisia and Egypt, much has been made about the role of social media–particularly Facebook–in facilitating the participatory aspect of the revolutionary end-game. (A Google search of `Facebook AND Egypt revolution’ turns up over 22 million hits.) The Globe and Mail’s  Chrystia Freeland is the latest journalist to address the phenomenon, quoting economists Daron Acemoglu and Matthew Jackson.

Freeland notes that social network media have helped resolve what social scientists refer to as the collective action problem.

“It is a question of co-ordinating people’s beliefs,” said Daron Acemoglu, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who, with Matthew Jackson of Stanford University in California, is working on a paper about the effect of social networks on collective action problems.

Protesting against an authoritarian regime is a prime example of this issue, Mr. Acemoglu said, because opponents of a dictator need to know that their views are widely shared and that a sufficient number of their fellow citizens are willing to join them to make opposition worthwhile.

“I need to know if other people agree with me and are willing to act,” he said. “What really stops people who are oppressed by a regime from protesting is the fear that they will be part of an unsuccessful protest. When you are living in these regimes, you have to be extremely afraid of what happens if you participate and the regime doesn’t change.”

That makes publicly protesting an oppressive regime a classic collective action problem: If everyone who wants regime change takes to the streets, the group will achieve its shared goal. But if too few protest, they will fail and be punished. Even if an overwhelming majority wants change, it is smart for individuals to speak out only if enough compatriots do, too.

To Freeland’s characterisation of the collective action problem I would add that the reason it is “smart for individuals to speak out only if enough compatriots do, too” is because each individual reasons in the following manner:

  • I am only one person; my individual marginal contribution to the probability of having a successful revolution is infinitesimally small.
  • Thus, my taking part or not will not be determinative. That is, the revolution will succeed or fail regardless with or without my participation.
  • Given the above, and given potential costs of participating, it is rational for me to not participate.

Social media, however, can help to change the calculus of participation by assuring the would-be participant that millions of others will also participate, thereby decreasing the potential costs of participation to any one individual. I do have an issue, however, with Freeland’s use of the Groupon analogy, which is based on the difference between the types of private goods Groupon specialises in and the truly public good that is a revolution.

Ethnic Violence in Guyana–Economic Hardship and Ranking of Groups

Here is the video we watched yesterday in IS 309. The video reported on inter-ethnic violence (between those of east Indian heritage and Creoles/Africans/Blacks) that was occurring in the northern South American country of Guyana in 2004. I used the video to highlight some of the themes Horowitz explores in chapters 3 and 4 of Ethnic Groups in Conflict. What are some of the issues that you noticed when watching the video? For a good analytical study on inter-ethnic violence in Guyana from 1948-1999, see this article in the Journal of Peace Research. I provide the abstract for you below:

Coercive and elitist approaches to political control in post-colonial states like Guyana have often proved counterproductive with respect to resolving ethno-political conflicts in these parts. In Guyana, this contradiction is usually manifested in terms of the escalation of legitimate political competition into overtly violent ethno-political violence and polarization, and reinforced by the consequent devaluation of the more democratic or pacific alternatives to conflict resolution such as mass or grass-roots participation, intergroup negotiations, and third-party mediation. Recurring debates between Cultural Pluralists and Marxists on this issue have so far failed to shed light on the prospects for the more pacific approaches to conflict resolution. Closer analytic scrutiny of actual ethno-political conflict events in Guyana between 1948 and 1999 leads to the understanding that such conflicts derive largely from what is termed a continual crisis of political legitimacy reflected in the inequities of political representation and economic resource distribution across groups. The more democratic or pacific approaches are here suggested as most appropriate for the resolution of the political legitimation crisis and the ultimate realization of a sustainable peace among the diverse groups in the Guyana political system.

Egypt’s Mubarak Seeks Dissolution of Government Amidst Mass Protests

In today’s session of IS 210 we analysed the concept of the state and also talked about the related political concepts of regime and government. We noted that they were conceptually distinct political phenomena with differing levels of institutionalisation–with the state being the most institutionalised, and the government being the least.

In the midst of continuing mass demonstrations against his rule in Egypt, president Hosni Mubarak has asked the government to resign. Mubarak seemingly hopes that the government’s resignation will appease the demonstrators. What’s interesting from our perspective–as students of comparative government–is that Mubarak hopes to maintain his regime at the expense of the government. It is accurate to call the current leadership of Mubarak a regime, since the norms/rules associated with political authority at the national level have been institutioinalised over the course of the almost three-decade reign by Mubarak as Egypt’s president. The question then becomes will the protesters be satisfied with a change in government alone, or will they insist on a change in the nature of this authoritarian regime, which will obviously not be effected without the removal from office of Mubarak himself. As in the case of many authoritarian regimes, in Egypt it is also true that the autocrat is the regime himself.

Here’s more from the CBC on Mubarak’s latest moves:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says he has asked the government to resign and promised reforms as protests engulf his country.

In a televised speech broadcast early Saturday local time, Mubarak used his first public comments since the unrest began to defend the security crackdown on demonstrations.

“I assure you … I’m working for the people…. as long as you’re respecting the law,” Mubarak said.

“We have to be careful of anything that would allow chaos,” he said.

At the same, Mubarak tried to speak to the demonstrators who have filled Egypt’s streets for days.

“I’ll always be on the side of the poor,” he said. “I am with bettering the economy.”

Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for three decades, has been facing the biggest pressure of his tenure.

Before the president spoke, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters defied a night curfew and some reportedly set fire to Mubarak’s party headquarters in Cairo. Flames were seen licking at the National Democratic Party headquarters shortly after 6 p.m. local time, though it was not immediately confirmed how the fire began.

The best real-time coverage of the political events in Egypt is, in my opinion, Al-Jazeera. You can watch live streaming coverage of Al-Jazeera here.

A Wave of Protests across North Africa and the Middle East

Following closely in the aftermath of the dramatic changes that have taken place in Tunisia recently, the political unrest seems to have swept its way across northern Africa, with the situation in Egypt now drawing most of the attention. Alan Cowell of the New York Times writes:

After days of protests that have toppled one president and shaken many others, governments across the Middle East braced on Friday for http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/blog/http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/blog/2011/jan/25/middleeast-tunisia://www.guardian.co.uk/global/blog/2011/jan/25/middleeast-tunisia/jan/25/middleeast-tunisia outbursts of rage and discontent directed at entrenched regimes confronting an exceptional clamor for democracy.

The immediate epicenter of the protests was Egypt, where Internet and cellphone connections were closed or restricted in Cairo, Alexandria and other places. Riot police took to the streets of Cairo before the Friday noon prayers that in http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/blog/2011/jan/25/middleeast-tunisia parts of the Islamic world have been a prelude to unrest as worshippers pour onto the streets.

The protests have underscored the blistering pace of events that have transformed the visage of the Arab world, particularly among regimes that have traditionally enjoyed the support of successive administrations in Washington.

Note the words that I have changed to red in the quote above. Is this author using these words as synonyms? If so, is he using them as precisely as he could be? Is he using them incorrectly?

For more information, here’s a useful set of reports, with myriad links to video and audio, from the UK Guardian’s Jack Shenker reporting in Cairo. In addition, the CBC website has an interesting flash-type graphic showing how the geographical extent of the spread of the protests.

Theories of Ethnic Identity Formation and Ethnic Violence & Ivory Coast

In IS 309 this evening, we assessed the strengths and weaknesses of three competing theories of ethnic identity (and ethnic violence)–constructivism, primordialism, and instrumentalism. We read the following:

  • Fearon, James D. and David D. Laitin. 2000. Review: Violence and the Social Construction of
    Ethnic Identity,” International Organization, 54:4, pp. 845-877
  • Harvey, Frank P. 2000. Primordialism, Evolutionary Theory and Ethnic Violence in the Balkans:
    Opportunities and Constraints for Theory and Policy,” Canadian Journal of Political Science, 33:1,
    pp. 37-65
  • Collett, Moya. 2006. Ivoirian identity constructions: ethnicity and nationalism in the prelude to
    civil war,” Nations and Nationalism, 12(4), 613-629
  • Kaplan, Robert. D. 1993. Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through history Part I and One Chapter from each of Parts II, III, and IV.
  • Hechter, Michael. 1995. Explaining Nationalist Violence,” Nations and Nationalism, Vol 1(1), 53-68.
  • We then viewed a video on the breakdown of political life in the Ivory Coast and the descent of that once relatively prosperous west African state into civil war. The civil war was characterised as a battle between the “Muslim-populated north and the Christian-dominated south.” How accurate is this characterisation of the ethnic character of Cote D’Ivoire’s civil war?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOjgiPMs7nc

    For information about the current political situation, in the wake of the refusal of former(?) President Laurent Gbagbo to acknowledge having lost power in elections held several weeks ago, watch these.

    Tunisia’s President Steps Down and Flees Country

    We’re witnessing the fall of another autocrat, this time in the northern African country of Tunisia. The (as of earlier today) former president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, has stepped down amidst worsening violence and protests, ending 23 years of autocrat rule. The BBC reports:

    Tunisia’s president has stepped down after 23 years in power amid unprecedented protests on the streets of the capital Tunis.

    Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi said he would be taking over from President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. A state of emergency has been declared amid protests over corruption, unemployment and rising prices.

    BBC sources say Mr Ben Ali has flown to the Mediterranean island of Malta, but this has yet to be confirmed.

    Earlier, police fired tear gas as thousands of protesters gathered outside the interior ministry.

    Doctors say that 13 people were killed in overnight clashes in Tunis, and there are unconfirmed reports that five people have been killed in protests on Friday outside the capital.

    Troops have surrounded the country’s main international airport, Tunis Carthage, and the country’s air space has been closed.

    In an address on state television, Mr Ghannouchi said: “Since the president is temporarily unable to exercise his duties, it has been decided that the prime minister will exercise temporarily the duties.”
    Tunisia’s President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali addresses the nation in this still image taken from video, January 13, 2011. Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was only Tunisia’s second president since independence from France in 1956

    Mr Ghannouchi, 69, a former finance minister who has been prime minister since 1999, will serve as interim president. Earlier, the president – who had said in a TV address on Thursday night that he would relinquish power in 2014 – said he was dismissing the government and dissolving parliament, and that new elections would be held within six months.

    The state of emergency decree bans more than three people from gathering together in the open, and imposes a night-time curfew. Security forces have been authorised to open fire on people not obeying their orders. Human rights groups say dozens of people have died in recent weeks as unrest has swept the country and security forces have cracked down on the protests.

    The protests started after an unemployed graduate set himself on fire when police tried to prevent him from selling vegetables without a permit. He died a few weeks later.

    If Tunisia manages to use this moment as the springboard towards democratisation, it would be only the second true democracy in the Middle East/North Africa. According to the Freedom House organisation, that region of the world is the least democratic, as the map below demonstrates

    Freedom in the World 2010

    Worse Than War

    In IS 302 today, we viewed the first 2/3 of the PBS documentary, Worse than War, based on the work of genocide (note: not genocidal) scholar Daniel Goldhagen , who is probably known best for his book Hitler’s Willing Executioners. Many of the issues raised by Goldhagen in the documentary were relevant to the readings of this week by Kaldor, et al.