Posts tagged ‘Democracy’

08/29/2011

Sub-Saharan African Dictators Must Go

Following the demise of North African dictators in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, President Obama should now focus on greater democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa, where many have held office for more than 10 years, and well beyond the growing international standard of no more than two 5-year terms.

CAMEROON: Paul Biya has been in public office in Cameroon since the early 1960s. He became Prime Minister in 1975 and President in 1982. He seized control of his political party in 1983, drove his rival into exile, convicted him of plotting a coup, and sentenced him to death. Biya won 99% of the vote in 1984, because he had no opponent. He survived a coup, before being re-elected in 1988. In a multi-party contest in 1992, Biya claimed a plurality, despite cries of fraud. After a two-term constitutional limit was imposed in 1996, Biya won 92% of the vote in 1997, because his opponents boycotted the election. He won another 7-year term in 2004, again under a cloud of suspicion. Biya called term-limits undemocratic in 2008, and simply removed them. It’s now time for the people of Cameroon to remove Biya.

EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo seized power in 1979 in a bloody coup, sentenced the previous leader to death, and became president. After winning a full 7-year term in 1982, he was re-elected in 1989, as the only candidate on the ballot. He claimed nearly 100% of the vote in 1996, 2002 and 2009, in contests marred by fraud. He keeps control by denying a free press and an opposition party. Obiang considers himself a god. It is time for the Equatorial Guineas to end his 32-year rule.

ANGOLA: Jose Eduardo dos Santos, became Angola’s second president in 1979. He won a plurality in the 1992 election, under allegations of fraud, and caused the civil war to continue. He said in 2001 he would step down before the next presidential election, but remained by amending the constitution to allow his ruling party to pick the leader. After 32 years, Santos has to go.

ZIMBABWE: Robert Mugabe, age 87, has been president of Zimbabwe since 1980, when the white government collapsed. Media controls were created in 2002, to ensure ongoing election victories. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested in 2003, as Mugabe was accused of running a dictatorship. When Tsvangirai claimed victory in 2008, Mugabe managed to stay in office by creating a power-sharing arrangement in 2009. After 31 years in power, it’s time for Mugabe to step aside.

UGANDA: Yoweri Museveni has been Ugandan President since the prior government was overthrown in 1986. He promised a return to democracy, but held no election for 10 years, and then claimed 75% of the vote in 1996. In 2001, he accumulated 69%, in a race that was not free or fair, according to the Ugandan Supreme Court. Afterward, he said he would not run again, but he then abolished term limits and took 59% of the vote in 2006. He was re-elected again in 2011, with 68%, a tally disputed by outsiders. After 25 years, it’s time for Museveni to leave.

BURKINA FASO: Blasise Compaore of Burkina Faso came to power in 1987 in a bloody coup, during which the incumbent was executed. His opponents boycotted the 1991 election. After he was “re-elected” in 1998, the constitution was amended in 2000 to reduce presidential terms from 7 to 5 years, and to limit presidents to a total of two terms. Compaore argued the changes did not applied retroactively, so he ran and won again in 2005, and was re-elected in 2010. After 24 years, it’s time Compaore left.

Three more Africans have ruled since the 1990s, including: Yahya Jammeh of Gambia (1994-); Denis Sassau Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville (1997-); and Pakalitha Mosisili of Lesotho (1998-).

President Obama is uniquely qualified to speak directly to the African people regarding the virtues of term limits. He should encourage the U.S. Congress and the EU to suspend all aid to any country ruled by leaders who have been in power more than 10 years, until they choose new leaders, and adopt term limits.

08/26/2011

North Africa/Mideast: More Rulers To Go

Now that Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, have thrown out their dictators, who is next? The answer is: any leader who has been in office for more than 10 years should be packing his bags, and the most senior among them should be getting on the bus first.

YEMEN: Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 31 years, should get on board. He solidified control in 1978 by executing 30 military officers, who he believed conspired against him. He was “elected” in 1983, and every five years afterward, with such large margins, they were suspect. After the 1999 election, he extended his term from five to seven years. In 2005, he promised not run again in 2006, but did anyway, and claimed 77% of the vote. During the Arab Spring, he said he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2013, offered to resign, but then did not. After suffering wounds in a bomb blast in June 2011, he returned. Get on the bus Saleh!

SYRIA: Even though Bashar Assad has ruled Syria for only 11 years, his father controlled the country for 29 years, from 1971 through 2000, and the Assad family has had a grip over the Syrian people for 40 years. Although Bashar was “elected” in 2000 and 2007, no opposition was allowed, and his rule lacks legitimacy. The bus driver has a reserved seat with Bashar’s name on it.

SUDAN: Omar al-Bashir seized control of Sudan in a military coup in 1989. After disbanding his revolutionary council, he made himself president in 1993. He received only 75% of the vote in 1996, even though he was the only candidate on the ballot. In 2000, he won 86%, another suspicious tally. Bashir has been known to imprison political opponents. After 22 years without change, it’s time for Omar to take his bags to the bus station.

CHAD: While in Chad’s military in 1990, Idriss Deby toppled the government and made himself president in 1991. He claimed 69% of the vote in 1996, and 63% in 2001, but the electoral process was criticized by international observers. Worse yet, Deby removed a constitutional two-term limit in 2005, which allowed him to be re-elected in 2006. He took 64% of the vote in a boycotted contest. After 21 years, Deby should get on board.

While other long-term leaders in other parts of the world must also go, there is a momentum in North Africa and the Mideast that  should continue. Let’s do what we can to remove these dictators.

08/18/2011

Wisconsin Recall: A Democratic Success

Now that the last of the Wisconsin State Senate recall elections has ended, the Democrats can claim an important success, as they won five of nine contests, gained a net of two Senate seats, and reduced the Republican majority from 19-14 to 17-16. No matter what spin Gov. Walker and his right-wing allies put on it, if you ask the Republicans whether they would be willing to go through the recall process again, they would certainly say no.

As soon as Walker completes his first year in office in 2012, and becomes eligible for a gubernatorial recall, petitions will again be circulated to put his name on the ballot, for yet another election. The Democrats will have to field a good candidate to oppose him, as an unbelievable sum of money will be spent to retain Walker.

The Republicans should have learned a few lessons from the recall elections. First, if the legislative agenda is going to include radical proposals, at the very least, they must be raised during the campaign season, and not for the first time once they take office.

Second, when the Republicans see large crowds of ordinary citizens gathering to oppose their legislative agenda, they should ignore them only at their peril. While it is true typical protesters in Madison are not representative of Wisconsinites at large in other parts of the state, they are still a barometer of general attitudes, and again cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Third, outside money alone does not determine the outcome of elections, where the electorate is informed on important issues, and they are motivated to vote accordingly. In fact, ads that contradict what people know to be true, only strengthen their resolve, and make them even more determined to prevail.

Walker is now finally talking about working with the Democrats, but he did not come into office with that posture, and he has only recently shifted his stand, because he knows his head is on the chopping block. Soon the ax will fall, but at this point, it is too early to predict if the blade will actually sever his head.

07/25/2011

African Development Is Needed

The African continent, with over 50 nations, needs to eliminate hunger, provide primary education, improve health standards, and develop international trade.

The process of development must start with the Africans themselves. They must establish democratic forms of government, in which representatives are chosen through free and fair elections. They need honest law enforcement officers, who cannot be bribed, and lawyers and judges to protect the rights of the accused. Their import offices, and sea and airport authorities, must be managed fairly. They need building inspectors, and tax collectors, who cannot be corrupted, and competent food inspectors. They must run efficient land title and post offices, and have good city transit systems.

Once the proper infrastructure is in place, the developed nations should then provide teachers to assist in primary education, and in the development of technical skills.

To eliminate hunger, education in food science is the first step. The fishing industry must thrive. Orchards can be planted, so locals have fresh fruit. Dairy farming is needed for milk. Livestock can be raised, using animal feeds. Meat processing and butchering can be taught. Some will need to learn veterinarian science. Crop farming methods must be explained, as to seeds, fertilizers, and irrigation. Grain elevators can be erected. Bakeries can be built. Some will need to learn grocery store management.

To improve health care, training is needed in medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, eye care, hygiene, and mortuary science. American and European health care professionals should help by training African students in the U.S. and Europe.

The Africans must develop their natural resources, such as oil, so their power plants can run. They need skills in transforming trees into lumber, rubber into tires, and sand and gravel into cement.

They need public utility development, such as electric power. Water and sewer treatment facilities must be built. They must improve waste disposal methods. They need pipelines for water, sewer, and gas. Water-well-drilling techniques must be taught.

The Africans need shipping and transportation, such as modern seaports for ocean-going vessels, and airports with air cargo facilities for intercontinental flights. Rail for freight and passenger trains must be laid. City buses are required for mass transit. Roads must be constructed, and the locals must be taught highway maintenance. They need mechanics for trucks and autos, with people who can fix brakes, mufflers, and transmissions. Tourism can be developed through hotel and resort construction.

Africans need to learn the global methods of money and banking. They must have a supply of trained bookkeepers and accountants.

Technical college training for building construction is needed so they have architects, excavators, carpenters, bricklayers, cabinet-makers, electricians, plumbers, and people to install furnaces, heating ducts, water heaters, and air-conditioning units.

Since communications is now global, they must erect cell phone towers, and cable and Internet lines, and learn laptop computer science, radio and TV broadcasting, and how to write newspapers.

In the retail industry, they must learn to market men’s and women’s cloths, shoes, furniture and bedding, and appliances, such as refrigerators, stoves, microwaves, washing machines, dryers, and electronics, including laptops, TVs, and radios.

Development is not an either or proposition, since all of the things listed above can be worked on simultaneously.

06/20/2011

Saudi Arabia: Women Need Equal Rights

After the men of Saudi Arabia were recently ordered by their king to drive tanks into neighboring Bahrain to crush a pro-democracy uprising, a counterattack of sorts was launched last week when the Saudi women courageously took to the streets and drove cars in violation of a sexist law that bars them from operating vehicles.

Although the protest occurred in Saudi Arabia, discrimination against women pervades the entire Persian Gulf. I saw a sign at a hotel swimming pool in Dubai, United Arab Emirates that said women could use the pool between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. only. A Ponderosa Steak House in Doha, Qatar, had one entryway for men and another for women and families. As I walked through the wrong door, not noticing the warning, the waiter escorted me to the correct section for men. Throughout the Persian Gulf, where temperatures can rise to 106 F in the shade, men wear comfortable white cotton with their faces exposed, while women dress like nuns in hot black robes, with everything covered but their eyes.

Saudi Arabia’s Stone Age policy of limiting the use of vehicles to men, and other such Persian Gulf practices, are due to a lack of a representative democracy, where women are excluded from the process, a mix of church and state, and geographical isolation.

Undemocratic monarchies, like the Saudi Arabian kingdom, should be overthrown. Voices on Wall Street and in the Pentagon, who fear change in the region, should be ignored. While markets may momentary get the jitters, during a transition away from a monarch, a democratic leader will certainly continue the sale of oil and there will be no long-term disruption in energy supply.

After establishing a republic, the mixing church and state must be addressed. The problem is any form of government in Saudi Arabia will favor Islam, since the Prophet Mohammed was born in Mecca. The only way to guarantee women freedom from backward religious beliefs is to use the tension between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims to guarantee some constitutional rights.

Perhaps the best way to move the isolated Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabian kingdom into the 21st Century is through increased communication. Not all Muslim states live in the Stone Age. Those along the Mediterranean rim, physically closer to Europe, have had a greater exposure to Western values and customs. Until recently, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf was simply too far away to hear arguments supporting equal rights. With the Internet, the idea of equality is able to spread, and change is now possible.

The West should support democratic movements among our Persian Gulf allies; we should advance the American idea of a separation of church and state, and continue interjecting modern ideas into isolated regions through the Internet and other forms of communication, so someday soon equal rights can be achieved.

04/22/2011

British Royalty: Please Abdicate Already

Since even the most respected news outlets, like the BBC, are covering the upcoming wedding of Prince William and Kate, it is difficult to get away from the frivolous non-sense of it all.

The practice of inheriting a throne and holding it for life should have ended long ago. No one has a Devine Right to anything. No one should by birth become a king or queen, or even a prince.

Monarchy has nothing to do with merit. A person with no particular talent has no right to be elevated to a royal position.

The British throne is institutionally sexist. It goes to the eldest son, but to a daughter, only if she has no older or younger brother.

The English crown belongs to a white society. It is unlikely non-white British subjects will ever see one of their own on the throne.

The monarchy is not accountable. The royals can just about say or do anything, and yet keep their elite positions.

The royal family cannot be justified financially, and yet tax-payers in the United Kingdom must finance their lavish lifestyles.

The crown sends the wrong message to impressionable young minds. Hard work and good grades should be rewarded, not the image of beauty queens, like Kate Middleton and Princess Diana.

Although Britain’s monarchy is limited by a constitution, it still must end, as it provides aid and comfort to absolute monarchs, by allowing them to defend their existence by pointing to the UK.

Why are constitutional monarchies, with limited powers, worth keeping? If they have so little power, what purpose do they have?

The current royal family needs to be the last. The easiest way for that to happen is for Charles and others in line, to simply abdicate.

If they do not, the 15 independent countries that sill nominally recognize the British royal family as their Head of State, should terminate that relationship now. In the 12 that have predominately non-white populations, including 9 former British colonies in the Caribbean, and 3 in the Pacific, they should object to rule by an outdated white hierarchy in England. The Caribbean states that must terminate their Commonwealth monarchies are: Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and St. Vincent. The three non-white states in the Pacific that need to end it are Papua-New Guinea, Tuvalu and the Solomons.

Canada, Australia and New Zealand must also terminate their nominal connection to the crown. It is nothing more than a psychological dependency that lacks any rational explanation.

After the 15 Commonwealth states have abolished their lingering ties to the British monarch, the royal family in England will be isolated, and will then be easier to finally terminate.

04/19/2011

Iran Is No Threat to Bahrain

When the people in the Bahraini Sheikdom started demanding democratic change, some defended the monarchy, by interjecting a fear factor that Iran was behind the demonstrators. Iran however is not involved, and the world should not be fooled into thinking so. While it is true Bahrain has an old history with Persia (Iran), today, there is no realistic Iranian intervention on the horizon.

Iran and Bahrain are neighboring states in the Persian Gulf. The relatively large state of Iran is on one side of the water body, and the small island-nation of Bahrain is on the other.

Iran first fought for Bahrain, during the Persian-Portuguese War (1507-1622), when Portugal invaded the island and started an occupation (1521). Iran was determined to drive the European intruders from the Persian Gulf, and after 81 years, they did so (1602). They then occupied Bahrain for 180 years, until the current royal family seized control (1782). A British Protectorate was later superimposed upon the Bahraini government (1868).

As Britain was considering Bahraini freedom (1968), the Shah of Iran asserted a right to the island, based on the Persian presence in the colonial years. Iran soon however dropped their claim (1970), as 99% of the UN said Bahrain should become a free state. Since Bahraini independence (1971), Iran has made no further claim.

While democratic majority rule in Bahrain would bring down the Sunni ruling family, because the people are 50% Shiite, and only 40% Sunni, some jump to the conclusion the island would be controlled by Iran, since it is 89% Shiite. That sort of reasoning was used in 1960 against John Kennedy, when some argued, since he was Catholic, he would be controlled by the Pope in Rome.

The best predictor of what would actually happen in the region is to look at the Bahrain history of 103 years of British rule, and the presence of the U.S. 5th Fleet for the past 40 years. While Bahrain has allowed years of western influence, Iran has never welcomed a colonial power. Moreover, since Iran is ethnically Persian, and Bahrainis are Arab (73%), it not at all likely the Arabs will allow the Persians to rule them.

We should unconditionally support democracy for Bahrain, and ignore the bogeyman theory that Iran has been pulling the strings.

04/11/2011

Zimbabwe: Mugabe Shouldn’t Run Again

Robert Mugabe, 87, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 31 years, plans to run for yet another 5-year term. While he will always be remembered by his people as a hero who led Zimbabwe to majority rule, his legacy is now at risk of being overshadowed by the suppression of freedom and failed economic policies.

Zimbabwe was a British colony known as Southern Rhodesia. Its black majority was ruled by a white racist minority. When Britain ordered Rhodesia to give blacks equal voting rights, white leader Ian Smith refused and instead declared independence (1965).

The refusal to end minority rule triggered a quasi-colonial guerilla war (1965-79). The UN asked member states not to recognize the Rhodesian regime, in which a minority of 250,000 whites controlled four million blacks (1965). During the conflict, Mugabe and the blacks fought from bases in neighboring Zambia, while Smith employed South African mercenaries, and arrested, tried, and executed many courageous black freedom fighters.

Over time, Rhodesia became isolated, as the blacks sabotaged the railroad that ran through neighboring Portuguese Mozambique to the Indian Ocean (1972). The white government was further cut off, when black majorities in neighboring Mozambique and Angola eliminated white Portuguese colonial rule (1975).

Mugabe emerged as a leading figure during the final push towards liberation (1976). As the UN called for free and fair elections, Smith visited President Carter, who pushed him into granting black voting rights (1978). Soon afterward, the white government finally abdicated and majority rule was allowed (1979). Rhodesia was renamed Zimbabwe, as Mugabe became president (1980).

If Mugabe had retired after two terms as president, he would have gone down in history as another George Washington. But he did not think his job was done by merely bringing about majority rule. Since the best farm land was controlled by the white minority, Mugabe seized it and redistributed parcels to blacks (1988). As farms were left to those with no experience managing them, the agricultural sector collapsed. Food shortages threatened famine, as an economic crisis gripped the country. Aid from the west was cut off due to the land seizure program (1998-2001). Galloping inflation ultimately led to price controls (2007).

Mugabe also put controls on the press to ensure his continued election victories (2002). He arrested opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai (2003). Frontline reported Mugabe was running a harsh dictatorship, without dissent (2006). When Tsvangirai claimed an election victory (2008), Mugabe refused to step down, and remained in office under a power-sharing deal (2009).

While Mugabe deserves respect for risking his life in the struggle against white minority rule more than three decades ago, his age, prior service of 31 years in office, willingness to control the free press, and his inability to solve current economic problems, all lead to the conclusion that he should not run again.

04/01/2011

Ivory Coast Sends Wrong Message

Ivory Coast, a country along the south coast of West Africa, has faced instability and unrest since the 2010 presidential election, when incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept the victory of his opponent, Alassane Quattara.

The election was monitored by international groups, who have confirmed that it was devoid of any voter fraud. The final count showed Quattara, the candidate from the north, receiving 54% of the vote, and Gbagbo, whose support was from the south, with just 45%. The UN subsequently endorsed Quattara as the winner.

Yet Gbagbo simply ignored the results and declared himself victorious, without any credible evidence to support his claim. He did this in spite of the Ivory Coast constitution that limits presidents to 10 years in office. No matter what the election outcome, it would appear Gbagbo is legally barred by the Ivorian Constitution from continuing, since he came to office in 2000 and has already served for 11 years.

The sad thing about personalities like Gbagbo is not so much what they do to their opponents, but the harm they inflict upon their own people, and the damage they cause to Africa as a whole. Africa needs to project a positive image of political stability, so tourism and international economic development may follow. People like Gbagbo contribute nothing to the advancement of Africa. Instead, they cause economic retreat and disinvestment.

After 117 years of French colonial rule, Ivory Coast started out in 1960 as one of the most successful in West Africa. The country’s first leader, Felix Boigny (1960-93), maintained close economic ties with France and the nation prospered. When their second leader, Henri Bedie (1993-99), faced economic troubles, he was taken out in a coup. Under Gbagbo, the country went through a civil war (2002-07) and now it is experiencing violence again.

Gbagbo tries to portray UN Peacekeepers and the international community as neo-colonial enemies. He accuses them of interfering in internal politics. But his attempt to make the globe a scapegoat is not helpful. Gbagbo must now step down and allow political stability, so global businesses can once again engage in economic development and Ivory Coast may once again prosper.

03/28/2011

Yemen: Where Will Change Take You?

As the people of Yemen started protesting this year, their leader, Ali Saleh, said he would not seek re-election, hoping this would satisfy the crowd. When the protests continued, the police used tear gas. Saleh then promised a new constitution, but that was not enough, and the unrest intensified. Saleh’s men then opened fire on the crowds, causing injury and death. Saleh’s response was to discharge his cabinet, but the crowds wanted more; they wanted Saleh gone. Following the mutiny of some high-ranking generals, Saleh finally offered to resign, but not until next year. That offer, of course, was too little and too late.

Yemen is now in a state of emergency, as Saleh suspended basic constitutional rights. It appears that after 31 years, Saleh will be gone soon. Yemen is about to go through change. The question is what will it be? Who will replace the 31-year regime?

The situation in Yemen is not like Tunisia or Egypt. Yemen is at risk of going from bad to worse. It has history of civil war, a poor economy, a large population of 24 million and an almost equal  Sunni-Shiite mix. It is located in a very troubled part of the world. If the crisis is not resolved, Yemen could easily slide into conflict.

Yemen previously had internal strife. North Yemen experienced an 8-year Civil War (1962-70), which pitted royalists against rebels. South Yemen (Aden) battled British colonial rule (1963-67). Following independence, the South (Aden) and the North (Sana) struggled with each other at times, before creating one republic (1990). Four years later, a part of the country tried to secede, leading to another Yemen Civil War (1994).

Yemen is a place where there has been violence against the U.S. The port city of Aden is where the USS Cole was bombed and 17 Americans died in 2000. Sana is where the U.S. Embassy was attacked and another 18 perished in 2008.

The Yemen economy is one of the poorest in the world. It is not like Libya or one of the Persian Gulf states, where protesters can be placated with oil money. Here, poverty exists, which is the fuel that often ignites revolution. Neighboring Saudi Arabia actually built a wall to keep the flow of impoverished Yemenis out.

Yemen’s population is 50% Sunni Muslim and 50% Shiite. Unlike the North African states, where 99% were from the same Islamic school, Yemen is closer to the Iraqi model, where divisions between the two Islamic branches may be exploited.

Yemen is geographically located in a troubled neighborhood. Somalia, the poster child of a failed state, is located just across the Gulf of Aden. In this part of the world, pirates captured 49 ships in 2010 alone, and there is a certain degree of lawlessness here.

While no regime should continue beyond 31 years, particularly if the people are opposed to it, we can only hope, given what Yemen is up against, that what follows will be an improvement.