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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.

December 30, 2012

Combating Corruption in Transition Countries

The Huffington Post

John Sullivan, executive director of the Center for International Private Enterprise, writes that while political transition varies widely in different countries, it is never a “one-off event.” Citing examples such as Egypt, Tunisia and Burma, Sullivan argues that transition is often a long and difficult process toward meaningful change. Though corruption is often a driving force behind political change, it also doesn’t disappear after a revolution has ended. Corruption, Sullivan says, “is not just a moral problem: it is an institutional problem, a matter of the underlying incentive structures that determine why things work the way they do.”

Engaging citizens through organizations like civil society groups and think tanks is key to fighting corruption during a political transition. Sullivan also stresses in particular the importance of engaging the private sector in “building integrity and transparency.”

“History shows that it can take years before democracy is fully institutionalized, market economy becomes competitive and inclusive, and embedded corruption begins to be effectively treated. As we celebrated the International Anti-Corruption Day on December 9, let us examine lessons learned from past transitions and apply them in new contexts so that corruption does not derail people's aspirations for greater political and economic freedom.”

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December 28, 2012

Save Mali Before It’s Too Late

The New York Times

Oumou Sall Seck, the mayor of Goundam in northern Mali, gives a personal account of the change that has taken place in her town and the rest of the northern region after it was taken over by rebel extremists. Seck, who was the first woman to be elected mayor in northern Mali, was forced to flee as her town and others were left “foundering in total chaos.” The greatest tragedy, she says, “is that people are starting to get used to it.” Seck calls for international help to immediately reclaim northern Mali and “resolve the crisis before it becomes a greater threat.”

“After recovering its lost territory, Mali needs help in organizing free, transparent and credible elections to choose representatives who are elected by — and not imposed upon — the citizens. We also need help reconstituting a national army, accelerating political decentralization, strengthening civil society groups and making economic development a fundamental part of re-establishing security.”

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December 24, 2012

In Saudi Arabia, women are confined by technology

The Washington Post

Though technology has enhanced communication and individual liberty for many around the world, in Saudi Arabia it is being used to modernize a system that suppresses women’s rights, according to Minky Worden, director of global initiative for Human Rights Watch. The country is now using SMS to make it more convenient for women—who are treated as minors—to be monitored by their male “guardians.” However, some women are also using Internet-based communication like Twitter to demand equal treatment and make the world more aware of their situation.

“It is jarring to see a government use the latest digital technology to enforce medieval treatment of women. One hopes at least that digital technology can increasingly give voice to courageous women fighting for equality, and for their supporters outside Saudi Arabia to press for structural reform of the kingdom’s backward policies.”

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December 20, 2012

Overhaul of US Foreign Aid is Overdue

The Hill

Reps. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.) and Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) advocate for an overhaul of the U.S. foreign aid system that would make it more effective in serving the country’s long-term interests, arguing that the Global Partnerships Act of 2012 (H.R. 6644) will help modernize the foreign aid process currently outlined by the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to make it more transparent and accountable. Despite the country’s fiscal challenges, they emphasize the importance of continuing to invest in foreign assistance, which makes up only one percent of the federal budget, because effective foreign aid can help “create the conditions where it’s no longer needed.”

“Foreign assistance is a critical tool in the diplomatic toolkit. A great power must have the tools to act—beyond simply intervening militarily. A streamlined, effective foreign aid template can enhance U.S. values and influence in a dangerous world and help avoid the enormous costs in blood and treasure that inevitably result from military intervention.”

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December 11, 2012

Putting Mali Together Again

The New York Times

The crisis in Mali demands a long-term solution, rather than the current options of negotiating deals with rebels and sending multinational forces to fight Malian terrorists in the Sahara, which would provide only a temporary solution, says Alex de Waal, executive director for the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He argues that “Mali’s problem won’t be solved by making deals with good guys and sending special forces to hunt the bad guys — because there are no good and bad guys, just buyers and sellers of expedient allegiances.”

De Waal suggests that Mali should explore devolving political power to the provinces, and that Europe and America should stop funding both rebel groups and government officials. Leaders have been corrupt on all sides, he says, and Mali needs its own version of a truth and reconciliation commission.

“Outrage at the abuses perpetrated by the Islamist rebels should not provoke a moral panic in which we lose sight of what will deliver a solution. Malians need a consensual political formula for governing their diverse country, and for creating a system based on sustainable development and not a scramble for personal riches, licit and illicit. Only when such a political process is under way will military operations to reconquer the desert bring lasting benefit.”


Related: Read the testimony on Mali by NDI’s regional director for Central and Western Africa, Christopher Fomunyoh, before the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa.

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December 10, 2012

Ghana's Mahama Reaches Out to Defeated Rivals


Ghana's incumbent President John Dramani Mahama was announced the winner of the country’s Dec. 7 election, and urged his opponents, who have threatened to contest the polls, to “join [him] now as partners in the projects of nation-building and of creating a better Ghana."

Mahama is reported to have won 50.7 percent of the vote. The non-partisan Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), which deployed more than 4,000 poll watchers and conducted a parallel vote count, confirmed the results and said the election was “generally free and fair.”

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December 9, 2012

Terror Central in Mali

The Washington Post

The Obama administration has dubbed Mali “a safe haven” for terrorist and extremist groups. The Washington Post editorial board writes that spite a “Taliban-style rule of stoning and amputations” that has been imposed in Northern Mali, the United Nations says that military intervention will not come before the fall of 2013. The U.N. Security Council could approve a resolution for intervention by West African states that have pledged to contribute 3,300 troops. However, military experts say that a “counterinsurgency campaign in a territory larger than Texas would likely exceed the capabilities of the African forces,” while the Obama administration is insisting on holding elections for a new government and negotiations with groups in Northern Mali before military intervention.

“Negotiations, which began this month, are certainly worth a try," said the Washington Post editorial board. "But it’s also worth bearing in mind what is happening while this process drags on. As a Malian minister told the Security Council, ‘there are floggings, amputation of limbs, summary executions, children forced to become soldiers, rapes, stoning, looting and the destruction of cultural and historical sites.’ Perhaps the diplomats in Turtle Bay can conclude it’s prudent to allow such atrocities to continue for another 10 or 12 months. But morality as well as common sense suggests that intervention must come sooner.”


Related: Read the testimony on Mali by NDI’s regional director for Central and Western Africa, Christopher Fomunyoh, before the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa.

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December 9, 2012

Inventing Democracy

The New York Times

Nearly a generation after it wrote the most progressive constitution on the continent, Bill Keller describes South Africa as “a great vantage point for watching the Arab world struggle to tailor itself a set of new democracies.” South Africa, he writes, should be a model for aspiring democracies, but “a glorious constitution carries you only so far if its values have not taken root.”

After asking influential figures of South African democracy what advice they would give to other struggling democracies, Keller summarizes suggestions related to creating a constitution, promoting peace and reconciliation within a country and creating national unity, many of which can also still be applied to South Africa as it struggles to practice many of the values set forth in its progressive constitution.

Keller shares advice from Mamphela Ramphele, a nonpartisan anti-apartheid activist and academic, for founders of new democracies as well as for South Africa that “freedom […] has to be won over and over.”

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November 30, 2012

A Second-Term Democracy Agenda

The Washington Post

David J. Kramer and Arch Puddington of Freedom House write that President Obama’s second-term policy agenda should include a strategy “to expand freedom’s reach to those parts of the globe where fear and repression prevail,” and that supporting freedom would advance American interests. They argue that trying to share the burden of “pressuring authoritarian regimes to change” with other regional powers has not worked, and that “if the United States does not take the lead in pressuring repressive powers, the job won’t get done.” Kramer and Puddington list areas where the Obama administration’s support of democratic ideals could have a positive impact, including China, Syria and Russia.

“Obama should set an example by speaking out about freedom’s essential role in a peaceful world, denouncing those responsible for acts of repression and meeting regularly with those engaged in the daily struggle for freedom.”

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November 26, 2012

The 100 Top Global Thinkers of 2012

Foreign Policy

Foreign Policy has identified its "Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2012." At the top of the list were Aung San Suu Kyi and Thein Sein of Burma, which the magazine noted was a “testament to the notion that individuals and their ideas can truly change the world.”

“In an age when ideas, good and bad, travel the world at hyperspeed, we are proud to celebrate the brave thinking of those at the cutting edge of this global debate over freedom of expression.”

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