|Home | Current Issue | Previous Issues | Submission Guidelines | Books for Review|
Africa's New Leaders: Democracy or State Reconstruction? Marina Ottaway. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1999. viii + 138 pp. paper: $10.95.
Africa's New Leaders is almost certainly the most authoritative study yet published on this subject. It is also far more significant than its brevity suggests. A critique of the politics of rising expectations, régime survival, and structural change in the 1990s, its analytic frame rests on two main pillars. One is modernization theory, at least its still-fashionable assumptions in US policy and NGO circles regarding the promotion of Western-style democracy in different climes. The other concerns structural spin-offs from Cold War's end, in particular opportunities for autonomous initiatives by new-generation state élites in Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaïre). The study's focal puzzles are no less clear. How did five of Africa's most prominent new "élites of means" seek to reconcile their régimes' military antecedents and weak social institutionalization with heightened expectations for government openness, political accountability, and economic reform? Are these leaders veritable agents of social transformation, or pragmatic tacticians seeking to reinvent - and put their own imprints on - the respective states? How had fundamental principles and incremental process blended under these régimes, and how did this effect state-society relations?
Ottaway's answers are expressed in original, accessible language, although few will fail to notice pointed similarities with modernization discourse of the 1950s and 1960s. New-generation leaders, she argues, are not politically chaste or ideologically naïve. Rather they are well-honed tacticians who rejected the "failed policies of their predecessors" and are willing to challenge the global order, promote new identities and interests, and "devise new strategies to overcome old problems" (pp. 1, 10, 83, 106, 110, 126). No exemplars of transformation (p. 5), all except Kabila have had the institutional landscape "unusually" inclined in their favor (p. 14). They also symbolize some craving for change best understood through a combination of empirical and interpretive methods. Hence, Africa's New Leaders does straddle policy and academic analysis. It probably will not excite readers seeking elegant engagement with theory, detailed documentation of sources, or an index. Surely, however, it offers down-to-earth lessons to Africa watchers - policy experts, aid managers, democracy activists, scholars.
The leaders' collective record, Ottaway concludes, has been mixed. In real terms "new-generation" rhetoric and praxis had differed very little from the founding fathers' (pp. 8-9). Yet the cases have varied significantly: Uganda, Ethiopia, and Eritrea stand far above Rwanda and the Congo in attainment. Ottaway herself doubts whether Laurent Kabila fits in the group élan (p. 13, 92-3) as others have doubted Ugandan President Museveni's putative grandfather status. Factors shaping differentiation within the bloc have included the character of domestic social forces, the leader's personal rôle and régime leverage, and how the mix has shaped constructions of political and economic reform on domestic and international levels.
As the 1990s dawned, several African dictators saw power slip through their fingers. With local pressure for change reaching new heights, some of Africa's tyrants lost their once-gilded thrones. Successor régimes in turn courted groups and élites less beholden to foreign powers and more inclined to unorthodox methods, including force (pp. 10-2, 112, 126). Thus there was the emergence of "African solutions to African problems," a troubleshooting quasi-strategy that has met the leaders' propensity for forceful self-assertion without undermining the West's interests (pp. 115-6). For example, military intervention in the Sudan and in Zaïre not only showed how resolute the new régimes could be, but both adventures also hinted at some pro qui pro with US interests in the region and an all-too-easy blurring of principle and exigency in their policy processes (pp. 108-13).
The domestic arenas have been more convoluted still. All five societies were in some "protracted turmoil" (p. 10) through the 1980s. The leaders' bequests were institutionally bankrupt estates with high ratios of liabilities to assets. Little surprise then that the first overriding public priority was to restore or establish minimum conditions of collective existence - productive infrastructure, traditions of civil life, effective authority structures, and mechanisms for conciliation and participation. All this Ottaway calls "democratic capital," incorporating Putman's social capital (p. 13). Without plentiful supplies of it, she argues, periodic elections, competing political parties, independent media, free market economy, the attributes of democracy beloved of US policy and Western NGOs, are likely to accentuate pre-existing ethnic, religious, and social divisions in society, at least in the short term (p. 124). Better an unfashionable transition agenda then perdition by indiscretion!
Here lies the case for "sequencing of reforms" (p. 133), a re-affirmation of conventional wisdom on the "crisis of adaptation" in Africa. Such discourse had peaked coincidentally with "political order" in the 1970s, prompting the debate as to whether economic development and political liberalization should be pursued (and achieved?) one at a time before or after each other, hardly in tandem. In theory, a phased transition does offer a promising, "steady as she goes" process. In the hands of politically insecure state élites, however, it has long helped to reinforce self-serving experiments from colonial indirect rule to Uhuru and Ujamaa. Such paradigms proliferated in Africa through the 1970s, occasioning neither political liberalization nor economic development but near-total collapse that necessitated the structural adjustment programs during the 1980s. In this circumstance, the either-or format of the study's sub-themes, Democracy or State Reconstruction, may have, in effect, lent scholarly credence to the leaders' self-legitimizing platforms. At this stage some might ask what is new about the new leaders - apart from the delusions of élite cycles and vitriolic criticism of international actors. Others simply will murmur déjà vu in cynical resignation!
Ottaway's goal, it seems, is not so much to advance the leaders' claims. It is rather to show how unrealistic and insensitive to sub-optimal African conditions US policymakers and NGOs have been in pushing democratic reforms (p. 105). The "development first, democracy later" strategy is fraught with risks; Uganda, Ethiopia, and Eritrea's leaders, Ottaway asserts, admitted that, "if their present policies are successful, they will have to be modified radically in the future" (p. 9). This need not make them closet despots in the eyes of donors and opposition figures. But progress on the transient frame is not democracy either, only further confirmation that the transition to democracy cannot begin in these societies until after "basic problems are resolved to some degree" (pp. 12, 130). What constitutes "some degree" is open to interpretation. It is also open to abuse by wily rulers; but so too is precipitate unleashing of competitive elections and market forces on societies just emerging from long-running conflict. In this frame, Ottaway's innocuous realpolitik meets scholarly endeavor. Western donors and activists need to rethink their paradigms lest they become irrelevant (p. 5); leaders who had shown "much less concern for the final outcome" of their policies (p. 9) deserve the benefit of the doubt nonetheless (p. 9). Yet, because arbitrary reversals and even re-traditionalization are real possibilities, today's incremental choices might well be building blocks for tomorrow's personal or small-group empires (p. 130). So where are the new-generation régimes headed?
There are no definitive answers, only pointers. Economic restructuring was high on the agenda; production had improved dramatically in all cases except the Congo. Policy reform, including deregulation, decentralization, and privatization had proceeded apace, more intensely in Uganda and Ethiopia than in Rwanda and Eritrea. Some pluralism has emerged in Uganda and Ethiopia (pp. 120-1); moreover, Ugandan NGOs have been more receptive to incremental change than opposition parties (pp. 40, 44). Étatism has remained Eritrea's favored strategy (pp. 57-8), while Rwanda has prevaricated, and Kabila's Congo has slipped into virtual paralysis. In all cases, a ghoulish fear of the recent past has dominated popular imaginations nonetheless, fueled in part by official discourse (pp. 89, 128-9). As a result, domestic opposition has been ineffectual, or driven to embrace self-defeating measures, from obdurate insistence on principles through election boycotts to armed attacks on régime symbols (p. 120). The populace also seemed quiescent, keeping (or kept) well away from matters substantive as state-led mobilization subsumed popular participation (pp. 26, 43-5, 53, 79, 88) and rulers tried out new and not-so-new mechanisms constructed in their personal or small-group images (pp. 27, 118, 126).
Africa's New Leaders is strongly recommended, as much for its authoritative analysis as for its wider import. The study bears out several general lessons. First, to the extent that gaps between expectations and social reality are proverbial in institution-building the world over, the euphoria of the 1990s most certainly reflected dissatisfaction with ousted régimes rather than with the potential of the new. Second, new leaders' seeming rejection of institutional perspectives in favor of "everyday approaches" is far from realistic. While institutions themselves do not make social change any more feasible, change is not sustainable at all without institutions. Progress has been slow in these cases partly because of the leaders' high personal stakes in possible outcomes. If developmental states are almost always ruler-friendly, then opportunities to construct new mechanisms in situations of near-zero institutionalization must promise abundant payoffs, including variants of gerrymandering. Africa's new state élites have yet to face the challenge of creating an environment that includes all publics and encourages the growth of productive debate and countervailing viewpoints. The well-worn game of doing one thing at a time, although convenient, has merely postponed doomsday time and again, providing justification for sit-tight leaders of all hues. It is far too costly in the long term.
Olufemi A. Akinola
|Home | Current Issue | Previous Issues | Submission Guidelines | Books for Review|