Africa gets its democratic groove on

The Boston Globe has an interesting piece on the spread of democracy and other postive developments in Africa. As the author points out, between 1990 and 2006, the number of countries that are “free” or “partly free” jumped from 19 to 34, according to Freedom House’s well-known democracy index. One cause of the continental spread of democracy was the end of the Cold War:

While the democratic movements themselves were homegrown, the West played a role in this transition, most analysts agree. During the Cold War, African leaders were able to play the United States and Soviet Union off each other, threatening to switch their allegiance if they were pushed too hard to reform. With the fall of the Soviet Union, this dynamic changed, and the US and other Western countries showed a new willingness to enforce the political conditions they attached to their aid. In Kenya, it was the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that finally forced Moi to hold multi-party elections.

When it comes to Western economic involvement the article is more critical, suggesting institutions such as the World Bank have not have always attached helpful conditions to their loans to African countries (a point Joseph Stiglitz forcefully makes in his book Globalization and its Discontents). It is amazing really, how counterproductive Western economic policy toward Africa can be. Arguably the best thing Western states could do for Africa would be to stop subsidizing their own agricultural producers so much that African farmers can’t compete on the international market. Until that happens, there will always be a faint wiff of hypocricy surrounding the way Western governments portray themselves as Africa’s rescuers.

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