Africa's mixed record of democratization, including the emergence of a large number of hybrid regimes committed to effective governance and real economic development but not Western-style democracy, has led some analysts and foreign policy makers to question the wisdom of promoting democracy as a core theme of U.S. Africa policy. Lately, the focus has been on the leaders who have come to power in Central Africa and the Horn -- Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and Laurent Kabila of the former Zaire (Dan Connell and Frank Smyth, "Africa's New Bloc," March/April 1998).

Attention has focused on these five because upon taking power all inherited economic basket cases, and some the legacy of civil war. What sets this group apart is not their newness or cohesiveness as a bloc, but what they are against. All are committed to sweeping away the failures of the past, including the political class associated with those failures. All want to assert African control of the continent's destiny, and thus reject a deferential attitude toward outsiders and their advice. All are also impatient with leaders of neighboring states who do not share these objectives and whose regimes threaten their own. The conventional wisdom about the new leaders is that all have embraced economic reform, reestablished political stability, and reduced human rights abuses, but have resisted multiparty democracy -- a strategy that has achieved dramatic results. In this view they deserve, and indeed have received, the support of the international community because they are committed to putting their own houses in order.


On closer inspection, one finds considerable variation among the chosen five. The so-called "new" leaders of Africa are not all new. Museveni has been in office for more than a decade; Meles and Isaias are approaching seven years. None plans to retire anytime soon. With respect to economic reform and the establishment of a strong free-market economy, all are pragmatic and have given up most of their earlier commitments to Marxism. Only Museveni, however, has delivered a comprehensive set of economic reforms. The others still distrust capitalists.

Are these regimes really stable? Only Isaias governs a truly stable country with broad-based political support. While Meles and Museveni have brought peace to their countries, they have not yet secured legitimacy among large sections of the population. Kagame rules a country that remains at war. Kabila has yet to reestablish a national political system for Congo, and there are doubts about whether he has the ability or the inclination to do so. Ethiopia and Uganda have set up decentralized structures of governance to manage ethnic conflict more effectively, but whether power will devolve to subnational governments remains to be seen. The new leaders' attitudes toward democracy also differ. Uganda has held free and fair elections -- although the candidates could not run as representatives of political parties -- in which Museveni was returned to power and a new parliament was elected. Elections in Ethiopia have not been free, while Eritrea is for practical purposes a one-party state.


The new leaders do believe, as conventional wisdom has it, that economic development must precede democracy. They reject the view that democratization and development are mutually supportive. Yet the African countries with the highest long-term growth rates have been Botswana and Mauritius, which also have the longest records of democratic rule. More recently, positive growth has returned to Benin, Ghana, Mozambique, and South Africa, where the resurgence of democracy has been strongest. Growth is also positive in Cote d'Ivoire, Tanzania, and Malawi, where democratic transitions are still at an early stage. Africa's worst performers during the 1990s -- Kenya, Nigeria, and the former Zaire -- are cases not of failed democratization but failed authoritarian rule. The views of the new leaders notwithstanding, the clear lesson from Africa is that economic renewal and democratization go hand in hand.

For U.S. policy, the implication of this relationship is that countries in different stages of democratic transition must be treated differently. African regimes can be divided into four categories. First are a handful of states with strong and potentially enduring commitments to both free-market economies and democratic governance but that are not yet consolidated democracies. In this category are Benin, Botswana, Mali, Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, and South Africa. Second are those that have demonstrated a modest to strong commitment to macroeconomic reform and have embarked on democratic transitions by holding multiparty elections or have carried out a significant degree of political liberalization. Included in this group are Burkino Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Third are those that have embraced macroeconomic reform but seek to promote development without democracy. In this group are Burundi, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Gabon, Gambia, Niger, and Rwanda. Fourth are those that either resist both economic reform and democratic rule or are unable to exercise authority across their territory due to civil war or state collapse. In this group are Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan.

The challenge for the United States is to maintain a clear and consistent commitment to its foreign policy goals in Africa while calibrating them for each category of states. These goals, as articulated during President Bill Clinton's trip to Africa earlier this year, are essentially three: economic reform and sustainable development via Africa's integration into the global economy, improvement on human rights and progress on democratic transition, and reestablishment of political stability and effective governance in war-torn states, particularly in central Africa.

The challenge is particularly difficult vis-a-vis the hybrid regimes in the second and third categories because of their diverse mix of policies. Virtually all of these countries are better off economically and politically than they were at the beginning of the 1990s. Several, including Ethiopia and Uganda, have had dramatic improvement in their growth rates. None, however, is a consolidated democracy, and in some progress toward building democratic institutions has been painfully slow.

These hybrid regimes are brittle because few have established strong institutions to sustain their economy or polity. They will either evolve into more democratic regimes or slip back into the authoritarian rule that characterized Africa throughout the 1980s. Such a return to authoritarianism would risk state collapse and civil war.


Consider these realities in the hybrid states of the Great Lakes and the Horn, which are high priorities for the Clinton administration. With the northern third of Uganda fertile ground for rebellions, Museveni must incorporate the people of the region into the nation in the same way he reached out to the Baganda by restoring the kingdom of the country's largest ethnic group to consolidate his regime in the south. After nearly 12 years in power, he must also build institutions that will facilitate a smooth transfer of power to a successor.

In Ethiopia, Meles must likewise craft appropriate mechanisms -- perhaps via that country's nascent federal structures -- to bring the alienated Amhara and Oromo, the country's two largest ethnic groups, back into the political process if long-term stability is to reign.

In Rwanda, prospects for stability turn on whether Kagame's Tutsi-based minority regime can deal with the Hutu majority politically rather than militarily. After the genocide, the rural areas are now nearly 95 percent Hutu, which makes successful counterinsurgency operations almost impossible without an effective political component. This may ultimately require the country's partition into regions designated for each ethnic group. But if the minority regime continues to rely on a purely military option, it will result in more carnage and, ultimately, collapse.

Similarly, in Congo, Laurent Kabila may have filled a vacuum at the center, but his regime must either reach an accommodation with regional political elites who command extensive followings in Kivu, Kasai, and Katanga or become the victim of its own hubris. Indeed, many observers have already concluded that this will be Kabila's fate and no longer include him in the "new leader" group.

The bottom line is that in none of these cases is long-term stability or prosperity likely without a more liberal and inclusive politics, in which diverse interests bargain for, share, and possibly alternate power with each other. Democratization, in short, is in the self-interest of those in power.


The question, then, is whether the United States should continue to urge democratization for the good of these nations and leaders, or whether it should ease up in order to maintain harmonious short-term bilateral relations. While broadly cooperating with these regimes, the United States should still maintain a dialogue about the need to deepen the democratization process. Consistent with the Joint Declaration of Principles signed in Entebbe in March by President Clinton, Meles, Museveni, and Kabila, the issues to be addressed might include strengthening the rule of law, increasing government transparency and accountability, making decentralization meaningful, developing an independent media and civil society, and ensuring genuine electoral competition no matter what the political framework.

In looking at how to approach the new leaders in the Great Lakes and the Horn, U.S. policymakers should review their experience in dealing with a similar figure in west Africa, Ghana's Jerry Rawlings. In the late 1980s, Rawlings, who came to power through a military coup in 1981, undertook a tough economic reform program with the support of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The United States strongly supported this effort but continued to encourage the Rawlings regime to move to a more open and broad-based political system, echoing the views of Ghana's strongly democratic middle class. In the early 1990s, Rawlings established a multiparty system, but the first elections, held in 1992, were not seen as legitimate by large segments of the population. In response, the United States, while continuing to back Rawlings, began to explore means of bringing the Ghanaian opposition back into the political process. This led to a large multiyear effort by the Agency for International Development to improve the electoral machinery in Ghana, which held its second elections in 1996. While the results were quite similar to the first, the elections achieved broad legitimacy and led to the active participation of the opposition in parliament and a broad and open political debate. By maintaining a steady policy of engagement with a dynamic new leader but not losing sight of the importance of political reform in sustaining economic policy reforms, the United States played a positive role in Ghana's evolution.

Critics of U.S. efforts to promote democracy abroad argue that the U.S. national interest is not served when foreign policy objectives are defined in moralistic terms rather than on the basis of concrete interests. Yet in the post-Cold War world, the main U.S. interest in Africa is the peaceful development of African states so that they are no longer islands of instability and poverty that require U.S. assistance or intervention, but partners in trade and full members of the international community. Achieving these goals depends on the continued promotion of democracy as a core element in U.S. Africa policy.

Joel D. Barkan is Professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa and a Senior Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace. David F. Gordon is a Senior Fellow at the Overseas Development Council.

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