Democracy Derailed? Botswana’s Fading Halo

by Amy R. Poteete

Botswana earned a reputation for political stability, electoral democracy, and economic growth in the 1970s and 1980s, when much of the African continent appeared to be mired in economic stagnation and authoritarian rule. This reputation has persisted despite contradictory developments. Since the 1990s, many other African countries introduced multiparty elections, and economic performance improved across the continent. Over the same period in Botswana, corruption and mismanagement have become increasingly prevalent while the abuse of governmental authority have drawn attention to the absence of effective checks on executive power.

Many observers – foreign governments, international financial institutions, Freedom House, Transparency International, and academics researchers – tend to downplay these problems. They insist, by and large, that Botswana has remained stable, democratic, and well-governed relative to other African states. The southern African country continues to enjoy “a halo effect”. But the halo has faded. Political tensions are much more serious and deeply rooted than most observers acknowledge. They have now erupted in the run-up to parliamentary elections on October 24th.

Ballot boxes from the 2014 elections. (Photo from the Independent Electoral Commission, Republic of Botswana, 2014.)

Ballot boxes for the 2014 elections. (The Independent Electoral Commission, Republic of Botswana.)

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Chibok Girls Freedom and Boko Haram Ceasefire: Seeing is Believing

By Richard Joseph

Boy with #bringbackourgirls sign at protest

A #bringbackourgirls protest in New York City, May 3, 2014. Photo by Michael Fleshman, CC BY-NC 2.0.

The announcement by senior Nigerian military and government officials that an agreement has been reached with Boko Haram for the release of more than 200 kidnapped Chibok girls is welcome, although it has understandably been greeted with considerable caution. And news that a ceasefire has also been agreed, and that further negotiations will take place, is another positive development.

But this is a case when we will actually need to see the girls emerging from their six-month confinement before we can truly believe.

After all, it was only recently that it was announced that Abubakar Shekau, reputed leader of the jihadist group, had supposedly been killed… again. Yet Shekau, or someone claiming to be him, probably lives on in a country where much political, economic and now military affairs take place in the shadows.

Read the full oped at CNN

Nigerian Pathways: Towards Stability, Security, and Democratic Development

By Richard Joseph

July 23 marks 100 days since the Chibok girls were abducted. The Boko Haram insurgency has brought to world attention the shortcomings of Nigeria’s army, police, and other security services. President Goodluck Jonathan is seeking $1billion in external loans to enhance their capacity. His government has shifted from one bold declaration to another: a state of emergency, total war, and now adding more funds to the billions already poured into these services. There is an urgent need for a comprehensive strategy focusing on the wider Nigerian predicament as well as the opportunities for sustainable progress. This essay and others to follow will address this need.

Untitled by Issek of Cameroon

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Electoral Politics and Power Strategies in Ethiopia

By Elise Dufief

International democracy promotion is challenged by the global retreat of democracy. The case of Ethiopia demonstrates how political space can be narrowed, a hegemonic regime strengthened, and election observer missions constricted in their capacity to influence outcomes. Election monitoring can deepen the contradictions between regime practices and democratic objectives. *

Why does the Ethiopian government regularly organize elections and invite election observers only to reject their findings? How did the governing party come close to losing the 2005 election yet triumph in 2010 with 99.6% of the vote? Why do international actors such as the EU Observer Mission continue to participate in these processes where their credibility is likely to be tarnished? Such questions must be answered about the manipulation of democracy promotion instruments by a non-democratic regime.


Photo of Billboard in Meskal Square

Addis Ababa – Meskal Square 2013 – (c) E. Dufief

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The Chibok Girls and an Embattled Nigeria

By Richard Joseph

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on

Two centuries ago, John Keats wrote his enigmatic “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. It came to mind after President Barack Obama’s foreign policy address at West Point. The unheard message was about the Nigerian Urn, filling with human ashes from terrorist atrocities and military counterattacks. The heard melody was about the girls of Chibok, hauled away like livestock into the Sambisa Forest: “Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave”.



Escaped Chibok schoolgirls meeting with Borno state governor

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Bring Back Our State: Another Nigerian Plea

By Ayo Olukotun

“Democracy Day Blues” republished with the permission of The Punch, Nigeria

“The national protest, Bring Back Our Girls, should be complemented with Build Us a State. There are some missions, such as overcoming the Nigerian state crisis, that require more than advanced intelligence technologies”
– Prof. Richard Joseph, May 22, 2014

May 29 was Democracy Day in Nigeria, the 15th edition of the milestone which marked the formal inauguration of civilian rule on May 29, 1999. Political science professor Richard Joseph captures, in the opening quote of this essay published by The PUNCH on Thursday, May 22, the sombre, despairing mood in which this year’s Democracy Day was marked around the country. This writer quibbles mildly with Joseph’s refrain, “Build Us a State”, by suggesting that it should have read, “Bring Back our State”, without disagreeing with the agenda he proposes.

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Confronting Boko Haram and the Nigerian Predicament

By Richard Joseph

This post first appeared on the Brookings Institution’s ‘Africa in focus’ blog. The original text can be read here.

The mass kidnapping of girls has brought the Nigerian Predicament to global attention. The insistence by Nigerian authorities that these and other incidents reflect global terrorism is not the full story. For a long time, Boko Haram was portrayed as a local phenomenon. Now it is depicted, most recently in a UN Security Council resolution, as an al-Qaeda affiliate. There is more conjecture than hard knowledge about this elusive entity.

Photo credit: Brookings Institution

Photo credit: Brookings Institution

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