Adam Nossiter posts an excellent story in the New York Times on the “slow moving coup” in Niger. The situation is basically this: after a decade of democracy, President Tanjda (–>) is refusing to relinquish power when his term expires. In the process, he is subverting a number of state institutions, like the supreme court, to push through a referendum to change the constitution to extend presidential term limits. (Sound familiar?). Nossiter explains the toll this is taking on Niger’s nascent democracy:
One thing the people have dearly acquired, though, after decades of coups, military strongmen and weak governments, is a political order that has resembled democracy, albeit with lapses: two successful presidential elections, defeated candidates who go home without causing turmoil, an outspoken opposition and an alert if beleaguered press.
The citizens are manifestly unwilling to give up their shaky gains. The street protests have given way to strikes and daily banner headlines in the nongovernment press, like the one last week proclaiming “The Dismantling of Democracy” in the leading opposition newspaper, Le Républicain.
This sort of situation is all too familiar in struggling democracies. It reminds me of a point that Paul Collier makes in Wars, Guns and Votes. Namely, that it would make a great deal of sense to set up some sort of fund to give “fellowships,” or something of the like, to presidents in the developing world who willingly relinquish power when their term expires. Too often, the incentives cut against giving up power when one’s term limit expires; the personal fortunes of heads of state are often tied to their country’s primary export commodity (in Niger’s case, uranium). Once power is relinquished, so too is ability to exploit that commodity for personal gain.
As long as institutions of state remain weak, it would seem to make sense to have some sort of fund to provide an incentive for term-limited developing world presidents to relinquish power. The downside, of course, is buying off retired presidents fosters the perception that developing world leaders enter politics for personal financial gain. But the upside — firming up fragile democracies — seems to outweigh the drawbacks here.
Of course, the big question is who or what should fund this endeavor. I nominate Mo Ibrahim.
During the past two decades, the quantity of weapons-usable nuclear material safeguarded by the [International Atomic Energy Agency] has increased tenfold without a corresponding growth in funding.
The thrust of the piece — that Amano is facing some really difficult challenges — underscores a point that we didn’t really make in our coverage of the contentious IAEA elections: that whoever its director is, be (s)he from the global North or South, the IAEA’s success will depend mostly on the countries that make up its members — and, of course, donors.
Point is, IAEA countries will have to pony up. The Obama Administration has requested a twofold increase in funding from the U.S., which is good, so long as it follows through. It also makes current director Mohamed El Baradei’s request for an 11% budget increase seem eminently reasonable.
On the operational side, the countries that aren’t meeting their commitments to the agency — or are flouting them — need to either fall in line, or face the possibility that the IAEA be strengthened enough to be able to levy automatic sanctions on rule-breakers, which is an option that Weitz raises in his piece.
Let’s hope Amano is getting ready for his tenure to begin in November, but, even more so, let’s hope that every country — from the nuclear powers to the nuclear longshots — will support him more than they have his predecessor.
It’s not very surprising that Liberia’s opposition party is taking advantage of this opportunity to call for the country’s president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, to resign. “This opportunity” is the recent recommendation by Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that Johnson-Sirleaf, because of her early support for the rebel group led by eventual dictator, current indicted war criminal, and recent convert to Judaism Charles Taylor, be banned for politics for 30 years.
As unsuprising as the political reaction to the TRC’s report are the facts underlying the case. When Johnson-Sirleaf was elected, she made no secret of her earlier support for Taylor. Without imputing any comparison of the justness of the two causes, think of the Robert Mugabe case in Zimbabwe. Current prime minister and political rival Morgan Tsvangirai has said that he admires Mugabe’s rise to power, qua rebel, in 1980 — but that this does not excuse the crimes committed by Mugabe’s regime since then.
Johnson-Sirleaf’s tenure, moreover, has decidedly not resembled Mugabe’s, and her support for Taylor did not involve her in the human rights abuses that characterized the dictator’s modus operandi. The TRC, then, seems to be injecting itself pretty clearly into the country’s political debate. The suggestion that a sitting president should be banned from politics can’t really be anything but political.
This may or may not be pushing the boundaries of what a truth and reconciliation commission is meant to achieve. It’s good to have the truth out there — even if everyone already knew it — if only because, as Chris Blattman reasonably argues, many in the West have a tendency to over-canonize Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. But there’s not much that calling for a popular sitting politican to abandon office is going to do other than provide an arrow for the politically opportunistic opposition.
“The so-called ‘military coup’ in Honduras was a successful effort by Honduran patriots to preserve their constitutional system of government from an international alliance of communists and socialists backed by Iran,” Kincaid wrote in a column published at aim.org.
Yes, Zelaya tried to subvert national institutions to his parochial advantage. But the military deposing a duly elected national president is inimical to the principals of democracy that the Honduran military is purporting to defend. I think Kevin Casas-Zamora said it best in a balanced piece for Brookings, “If Zelaya must be prosecuted for his hare-brained attempt to subvert the Honduran constitution, then let the courts proceed as rigorously as possible. And the same applies to the coup perpetrators. If Honduras is to have a decent future its politicians and soldiers, in equal measure, must learn that the road to democracy and development runs through the rule of law.”
UPDATE: Republican members of Congress join the fray.
…to their original two candidates. After six seven many rounds of voting back in April, the agency’s board of governors remained split between the respective candidates favored by the West, Japan’s Yukiyo Amano, and the global South, Abdul Samad Minty. Two experienced nuclear diplomats from Europe, one of whom many had hung their hopes for a compromise option, have both now backed out. So, besides the Spaniard Luis Echavarri, who got four out of 35 votes, we’re back to where we started.
(image of Yukiya Amano, 2006)
Judging by the relative silence in western media, nary a peep does it make. But there are some striking similarities between the unfolding situations in Honduras and Niger. To wit:
Country A) Elected President wants to serve beyond the limits of his constitutionally mandated term. Country B) Elected President wants to serve beyond the limits of his constitutionally mandated term.
Country A) Elected President wants to hold a referendum to change the constitution Country B) Elected President wants to hold a referendum to change the constitution
Country A) Supreme Court decides this is not legal. Country B) Supreme Court decides this is not legal.
Here, however, is where the similarities seem to end.
Country A) The military, backed by opposition leaders, ousts the president.
Country B) The president declares a state of emergency, dissolves the supreme court and arrests the main opposition leader.
A, is of course, Honduras. B is Niger, where aformentioned opposition leader accused President Mamadou Tandja of carrying out the equivalent of a coup. And, it would appear, President Tandja is coming under fire from both the European Union and Economic Community of West African States, both of which have cautioned Tandja over his proposed term-extension. The African Union may also pile on when it meets in Libya for a summit today.
In Niger, the military has so far stayed neutral. But is this the sort of case where the military can act as an check on the power of the president and as a guarantor of the constitution? As usual, Paul Collier has some smart views on this sort of thing.
The only force that leaders truly fear is their own military. After all, a leader is far more likely to lose power as a result of a coup than in an election. Coups are now regarded by liberal opinion as an anachronism: soldiers should stay in barracks. While this is obviously right as an ultimate goal, it is too sweeping in the short term. Introducing elections before checks on power induces an incumbent to uproot the limited checks that might already be in place. This, essentially, was what happened in Zimbabwe, as Mugabe uprooted the tender shoots of the rule of law in order to steal elections with impunity. Ruling out any political role for the military may exclude the only force that might be effective against tyranny.
Despite being unfashionable, coups are undoubtedly treated by incumbents as a serious threat. But they have been an unguided missile, indiscriminately displacing both corrupt and decent regimes. To improve electoral accountability, we need to provide coups with a guidance system. For many years the EU and other international bodies have monitored the conduct of elections, declaring whether they were “free and fair.” However, these judgements have not been linked to any significant consequences. I want to introduce a red and green card system for coups according to the monitoring rules. A verdict of “free and fair” would lead to a red card: a statement that the international community would use its best efforts to put down a coup against this legitimate government…A judgement of “not free or fair”… would mean is that if the military launched a coup, the government would not be protected. Of course, a green card would constitute a signal: the international community would be inviting the military to take action.
Obviously, the situations in Honduras and Niger are different from Collier’s ideal-type of coup. But something to keep in mind.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.