The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.
News and Views
Commentary from experts on the directions and challenges of democracy assistance programs.
|October 20, 2012||
Reflecting on the anti-apartheid movement and the consequent birth of South Africa’s democracy, “Over the Rainbow” measures the country’s progress as well as its setbacks.
“In the 18 years since black-majority rule began and South Africa became a full democracy, its people have made progress,” with increased access to clean water and electricity, a new constitution, and the abolishment of the “racist legislation of apartheid.”
The article argues that despite these advancements, “in other ways South Africa is in a worse state than at any point since 1994,” referencing the “wildcat strikes” that erupted across the country after “police shot dead 34 miners on strike at a platinum mine near Marikana.”
Among many issues, including poor governance, a struggling economy and “growing social stresses”, the “starkest measure” of the country’s “failure” is the “yawning gap between rich and poor.” Despite 18 years of democracy, “South Africa [is] one of the most unequal countries in the world.”
Additionally, South Africa is suffering from rampant corruption, and while “no one knows how much money corruption costs the country ….the effect on its democracy is devastating.” The article argues that “the most important check on the [African National Congress—ANC] comes from outside party politics,” which means that both lobby groups and NGOs must work to keep the government accountable.
Many fear that ANC’s upcoming leadership election will not bring about necessary change, because South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, remains “unchallenged” and “if he is simply re-elected without promising anything new, it will be a worrying sign that the ANC has failed to grasp what ails their country.”Read More
|October 17, 2012||
“Today, the United States is perceived by the Arab public as increasingly irrelevant to the issues Arabs care about,” argues Marwan Muasher, former deputy prime minister of Jordan, in his op-ed for the New York Times. The U.S. must adapt its old policies to provide support for “a new Middle East where citizens are increasingly aware of their own power and of the gaps between U.S. policies and American values.”
Muasher writes that the U.S. seems “unwilling” to lead on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian peace, which “has created a situation where most people in the region have given up on Washington in this regard.” America’s weakened economy and the failure to leave behind a “functioning democracy” after U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq have also contributed to waning influence in the region.
Muasher says that “to revive American relevance,” America must “embrace” a leadership role in mediating an Arab-Israeli peace agreement. Secondly, the U.S. must also embrace the “political transformation” and “development of a pluralistic culture” sweeping across the region “by supporting the democratic process and the building of new institutions.”
Lastly, for the U.S. to regain its influence, the U.S. “needs to recognize that political Islam is not the enemy” and “embrace a policy that rewards performance over ideology.”
While Muasher argues that the U.S. must strengthen and change its efforts in the Middle East, he acknowledges “that the process is largely a responsibility the region must assume for itself.”Read More
|October 16, 2012||
“Arabs continue to strongly support democracy as the best form of government, even as understandings of democracy continue to evolve…” explains Marc Lynch in his article sharing the findings of the Arab Barometer Project.
This project is “different from other surveys” as it uses “very careful methodology” and is highly academic, “which means there is less attention to the current events of the day…and more to the underlying attitudes.” All of the data used is “open and access and available to all researchers.” The survey questions are “designed to be comparable with the Barometers in Latin America, Africa and Europe.”
Based on the data collected, the project concluded that while support for democracy in Jordan and Lebanon declined, “it remained high in absolute terms everywhere.” The results also indicated “some evidence that the political understanding of democracy increased in the wake of the Arab uprising.” The Barometer also found “that support for Islamist views of politics is receding rather than surging.”
These results offer insight into the “underlying attitudes” across the Arab world, but, Lynch explains, “like all the others [results], should be seen as snapshots offering only partial visibility into the real attitudes of Arab citizens and how those views matter.”Read More
|October 16, 2012||
Princeton Lyman, special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, argues that the leaders of Sudan and South Sudan have “laid out a visionary path for the future of their countries” after approving “a series of groundbreaking agreements on security, financial, nationality and other issues.”
To implement these agreements, “the two states need to put in place the agreed-upon demilitarized border zone that will reduce the danger of armed clashes.” Secondly, they need to restart oil production, “which will allow South Sudan to enjoy the profits of its own sovereign resources and Sudan to benefit economically through fees.” These negotiations “ease Sudan’s loss of 70 percent of its oil reserves when South Sudan became independent” and also ensure that the South will have the economic resources to continue nation building.
“Perhaps even more exciting is the prospect for lucrative trade at the borders,” explains Lyman who believes that cross-border trade “could provide economic gains that rival or even exceed oil exports.” The agreement of a “soft border will preserve traditional and nomadic ways of live” and “will make it possible for border communities to become places of shared investment and not flashpoints for conflict.”
These agreements have left two issues unresolved: “a process for determining the final status of disputed border and claimed areas, and for the disputed region of Abyei.” Lyman also notes that Sudan has continued to violate international norms , bombing civilian areas in Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur and that South Sudan “continues to struggle with its own internal challenges” such as human rights issues and “managing internal conflict in places like Jonglei province.”
“But in taking the long view, Sudan and South Sudan have taken a chance on each other in hopes of ushering in a new era of collaboration and mutual benefit.” While both countries still face considerable challenges, “these agreements are the best chance for the Sudanese and South Sudanese to know the peace for which they have long yearned.”Read More
|October 15, 2012||
South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma became the first female leader inaugurated into the African Union’s top leadership position.
Dlamini-Zuma, recently the minister of home affairs and former foreign affairs minister, pledged to work for “‘a prosperous, peaceful and integrated Africa.’” During her inaugural address, she reflected on Africa’s struggles overcoming slavery and colonialism and praised Africa’s economic progress “and peaceful transfers of power.”
Despite Africa’s “‘laudable progress,’” she warned that Africa continues to have “‘some difficulties and setbacks with pockets of instability and conflict.’” Referencing both Mali and the Sahel Region, she “vowed ‘to spare no efforts’” toward resolving these conflicts.
Reflecting on “‘lessons learnt from recent conflicts,’” she promised to increase cooperation and coordination with the United Nations.
Calling on all Africa’s citizens, government officials and civil society leaders she asserted that “‘it is therefore our responsibility… to ensure that the democratic process is irrevocable and to pledge ourselves to work for its success.’”Read More
|October 15, 2012||
In Roger Cohen’s article, “The New Egypt” he describes the wave of protests that have erupted “in anger at Morsi’s first 100 days as president and ….at what they see as a flawed, over-hasty procedure for drafting a new constitution.” The protesters gathered on Talaat Harb Street, close to Tahrir square “in the bloodiest clash between the nation’s secular and Islamist currents since the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak 20 months ago.”
Karima el Hefnawy, a prominent social activist explained the protestors’ grievances, “‘the Brotherhood does not work for the people but its own interests. Now the Egyptian people can see their fanaticism.’”
Karima and the other protesters highlight the challenges Morsi faces in convincing the 48.3 percent of voters who did not support him “that they, too, have a place in the new Egypt.” Cohen lists many of the challenges, criticism and setbacks Morsi and his party face, noting the Brotherhood’s apparent “hard time accepting dissent,” made apparent by Friday’s violence.
Cohen asks whether “that glorious dream of liberty, democracy and the rule of law crumbled, as most things do, into the enveloping Cairo dust?” He explains that it is “too soon” to be bitter—democracy is both “fragile” and “unpredictable.” Therefore, he calls on the West “to back Morsi to be better than Friday’s violence suggested” and calls upon Morsi “prove he is” and can be better on the issue of the constitution.Read More
|October 13, 2012||
Scott Gold of the LA Times reports on Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl “who publicly demanded an education and was shot by Taliban militants.” Her assassination attempt “created an icon for a global movement — for the notion that the most efficient way to propel developing countries is to educate their girls.” Gold notes that Malala has become the face of this movement.
At the age of 11, she began a diary expressing her grievances “about life under the Taliban’s thumb.” These diaries, published by the BBC, propelled “instantaneous, worldwide conversation.” Her request to attend school revived the global development dialogue about the importance of women’s education.
Gold explains that “researchers developed metrics to measure the effect” of educating girls and found that increasing schooling leads to more skilled workers, higher incomes, and lower disease rates. “Extrapolate from there and the results ballooned from primary education to more efficient local government, even democratic reform.”
While some remain skeptical, many see Malala’s story as a pivotal moment in Pakistan’s history. Shabana Basij-Rasikh, a U.S.-educated Afghan woman who returned home to open her country’s first all-girls boarding school, said that “‘what Malala has achieved, the military could not.’"
She has become “a potent symbol for the global push to improve developing countries by educating their girls.”Read More
|October 12, 2012||
“So where do all the security measures and the claims of victory against the Taliban in Swat stand following the attack on Malala Yousafzai?” asks Daud Khan Khattak in his article for The Atlantic. He explores how the Taliban’s assassination attempt against Malala, a young Pakistani girl demanding education, will impact the country’s political future and stability.
Khattak explains that upcoming general elections have impacted religious leaders’ response to the attack. Leaders of religious parties “have offered only bland generalizations like ‘we condemn terrorism’ and ‘whoever is responsible for the attack must be punished.’" He argues that these responses make civilians who want a “modern, developing peaceful country” the victims.
Imran Khan, a “cricketer-turned-politician” led a rally in which he “called for talks with the Taliban.” Yet, many look to past negotiations and peace deals with the Taliban that have failed. As Bashir Ahmad Bilour, a minister in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, points out “‘how can we hold talks with people who are out to kill even our children and boldly claim responsibility for such attacks?’”
While the question of how Pakistan’s leaders will respond to Taliban violence continues, Malala’s “unarmed jihad… has proven stronger and more lasting than the gunshots from her would-be assassin and is resounding in every corner of Pakistan, inspiring her countrymen to stand up…”Read More
|October 8, 2012||
After President Hugo Chávez won the Venezuelan presidential election with 55 percent of the vote, he reportedly called his rival, Henrique Capriles Radonski, to appeal for “national unity.” They both mentioned their telephone conversation in Twitter posts, referring to “unity and mutual respect.” However, the exchange did not visibly ease relations between Chávez and the opposition.
William Neuman reports that “there was little indication of a warmer tone on display at a news conference held by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, a leader in Mr. Chávez’s party, who called the vote for Mr. Chávez “a resounding majority.” Additionally, a lot of uncertainty remains about the direction Chávez plans to lead Venezuela, as many are unclear about what his version of “‘21st century socialism,’” will mean.
Many economists believe that Chávez’s plan will be hindered “in the short term by a looming economic reckoning.” Ricardo Hausmann, the director of the Center for International Development at Harvard University warns that “‘they engineered an electoral year boomlet that is now going to fizzle...’”
Mr. Chávez’s health has also posed a major question for Venezuela’s political future. “Francisco Rodríguez, an economist with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, speculated that Mr. Chávez might propose changing the succession rules,” in order to ensure that he can appoint his successor.
While many are congratulating Venezuela on carrying out “peaceful elections,” the opposition party has expressed grievances. Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, a leader of the opposition coalition that backed Mr. Capriles argues that elections were “clean but not fair because, he said, Mr. Chávez had used vast state resources to promote his campaign.”Read More
|October 7, 2012||
William Neuman’s New York Times article reports on the recent re-election victory of President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. Chávez defeated his opponent Henrique Capriles Radonski by a margin of 54 to 45 percent. Though he won definitively, Neuman reports that the margin was narrower than in past elections, and Chávez is now a “politically weakened winner facing an emboldened opposition that grew stronger and more confident as the voting neared, and held out hope that an upset victory was within reach.” Turnout for the vote was more than 80 percent, the highest it has been in decades.
Venezuela’s problems, “including out-of-control violent crime, crumbling roads and bridges, and power blackouts that regularly plague much of the country outside the capital,” have Chávez facing a different country than his previous years in office. His health, as well as his refusal to publicly share details of his cancer, also poses the question of whether he will be able to serve out his new term in full, to the end of 2019.
Though the opposition lost, Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue deemed the election a “‘fundamental turning point,’” because Chávez is “‘going to have to deal with a very different society than he dealt with in his last term, a society that’s awakened and more organized and more confident.’”Read More