Does Eritrea Need National Elections?
|Eritreans electing local administrators in Asmara, April 2014|
Does Eritrea Need National Elections?
There is more to democracy than merely holding elections; if elections were the mark of a democratic state, then it could be said that democracy flourishes in Africa. This is clearly not the case. The assumption that representative democracy is the answer to all of Africa’s ills has been an illusion pursued all too often at the cost of those things that are the real mark of a good society: universal healthcare, free education, security, and equality. Nowhere are these best exemplified in Africa than in Eritrea.
Eritrea, which regularly holds administrative and regional elections, is one of the most demonized countries in Africa largely because it does not hold national elections. This vilification comes as the country is making tremendous progress such as being on track to achieve 6 out 8 UN Millennium Goals, reducing HIV/AIDS by more than half to 0.6%, improving adult literacy rates to 80%, and having one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Yet, none of these achievements seem to matter. The West, led by the United States government, continues to criticize Eritrea for not following a political process they themselves believe is the best.
Ironically, the U.S. isn't even a democracy, at least not in the traditional sense. A new peer-reviewed study from Princeton and Northwestern Universities concluded that the U.S. is not a democracy but an oligarchy in which the government represents not the interests of the majority of citizens but those of the rich and powerful.
"The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence,” says the study.
Although Eritrea does not hold national elections, that doesn't necessarily mean it's against it, either. Eritrea believes developing the economy and establishing a strong and educated middle class is a prerequisite for holding national elections. This position, which is often dubbed as the Chinese/Singapoore model, is now being backed by reputable economists as the right model to follow for developing countries.
For instance, the renowned economist Dr. Dambisa Moyo argues that the Chinese model of economic growth leading to national prosperity and the establishment of a middle class is more relevant to the conditions seen in the developing countries of Africa, and that the western concentration on democracy as a primary goal is the wrong approach to the immediate problems of lifting people out of poverty. Moyo also explains there is evidence showing a direct correlation with a country's per capita income and how long a democracy can be sustained. Moyo said:
“In a recent study, the evidence has shown that income is the greatest determinant of how long a democracy can last. The study found that if your per capita income is about $1,000 a year, your democracy will last about eight and a half years. If your per capita income is between $2,000 and $4,000 per year, then you’re likely to only get 33 years of democracy. And only if your per capita income is above $6,000 a year will you have democracy come hell or high water.”
The implication here is that priorities need to be clearly ordered, and that building a nation upon democratic ideals come second to building up the economy. What this study also tells us is we need to establish a middle class that is able to hold the government accountable. With Eritrea's middle class still in its infancy and with its GDP per capita only at US$557, all national elections will bring at this point is division and protracted instability. But there is one byproduct of democracy that Eritrea needs to improve upon: its institutions.
Sir Paul Collier, a Professor of Economics at The University of Oxford, did a study to see what was causing developing countries with abundant resources to turn into resource curses. His study concluded that election competition at the national level are having significant adverse effects on development of their economies and resources, whereas strong institutions made resource booms good.
"Now, there's one big change since the commodity booms of the 1970s, and that is the spread of democracy. So I thought, well, maybe that is the thing which has transformed governance in the bottom billion. Maybe we can be more optimistic because of the spread of democracy. So, I looked. Democracy does have significant effects -- and unfortunately, they're adverse. Democracies make even more of a mess of these resource booms than autocracies..............It turns out that electoral competition is the thing that's doing the damage with democracy, whereas strong checks and balances make resource booms good." Said Collier.
In conclusion, the days of thinking changing the face of the head of state every 4-6 years will bring prosperity to a developing country are over. Each political process needs to be tailored to the country's needs, challenges, cultures and demographics. Jumping the gun and demanding the country adopt national elections without first developing the economy, and establishing a strong and educated middle class is a recipe for disaster.
Does Eritrea Need National Elections? Reviewed by Admin on 5:13 AM Rating: