Thursday, 7 March 2013

¡Adiós, Comandante! What now for Venezuela without Hugo Chávez?

By Markus Schultze-Kraft

Since the late 1990s - which from today´s vantage point seems a distant, almost pre-historical era - no other Latin American head of state has been as charismatic, polarizing, witty, hated and loved, and - deeply ironical - long-lived in office as Hugo Chávez.

First elected in 1998, the former lieutenant colonel and 1992 golpista (leader of a coup) made sure that in the years to come he would keep a firm grip on power, which he himself projected to last until 2019 - at least.

Now the comandante is gone. What does this mean for Venezuela, what should be done to avoid violence and chaos?

Dragon in the tropics

Some called Chávez a “dragon in the tropics” and brujo (wizard). Many others saw in him the reincarnation of Simón Bolívar, Venezuela´s 19th century independence hero. Or simply an annoying, endlessly talking South American autocrat and populist who used his advantage of presiding over the sub-continent´s largest oil economy to prop up governments of small, poor countries in the region that professed to be followers of his Bolivarian revolution; and to buy sophisticated weaponry from Russia and China and support regional left-wing insurgencies like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Venezuela without Chávez is a potential powder keg

What Chávez achieved or not is open to debate. Time and serious scholarship will tell. But politically there is an enormous difference now between Venezuela before and after 5 March 2013:  Chávez alive, Chávez gone. A country that has been ruled by one and the same man for more than fourteen years - and ruled, I would say, without effective checks on the president´s power and balances between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, the armed forces, the media and civil society – does not easily recuperate from the loss; and it does not easily chart a peaceful way forward. Venezuela with Chávez had many serious problems. Venezuela without Chávez is a potential powder keg.

Managing political change – thirty crucial days ahead

In accordance with the 2000 constitution, Vice-President Nicolás Maduro has taken over from Chávez. The new interim head of state is a hard-talking leader of the “boliguesía” (the spoiled upper crust of the Bolivarian revolutionary movement), former foreign minister, MP, bus driver and Chávez confident. Fresh elections will have to be scheduled within thirty days after the president´s death.  Only last October, an ailing Chávez had won yet another resounding election victory over his political opposition, which since its dreadful performance during the obscure moments of the 2002 coup against the Bolivarian president, has been gaining in strength but has yet to prove that it is up to the challenge of governing democratically and for the people. 

These thirty days will be crucial for Venezuela´s future. Among his first acts, President Maduro ordered the army and police out onto the streets across the country to maintain the peace. Venezuela´s armed forces are under oath to protect the Bolivarian revolution and Chávez´s “Socialism of the 21st Century”. There is no doubt that together with – or alongside – several popular militias that were created by the late president, the country´s armed forces could play the role of king maker or deal breaker, depending on the evolution of the uncertain political process ahead. It is the responsibility of the interim government to guarantee free and fair elections; and it is the responsibility of the political opposition to play by the rules and make every effort not to seek revenge but to project a feasible democratic future for all Venezuelans.  

The international community should support Venezuela to achieve a new democratic settlement

As heads of state from across Latin America and representatives of other governments that are part of the alliances Chávez built across the globe flock to Caracas to pay their tribute, they should keep their focus on the most important of all issues in this time of change: Venezuela, the patria (homeland) of Simón Bolivar and so many other notable minds, is a key player in the Western Hemisphere and beyond. Once a model social democracy of the South, the country and its citizens now deserve support in achieving a new democratic political settlement. Many in Venezuela and beyond are aggrieved by Chávez´s death and afraid of what the future might bring. But this should not stop them to seek a constructive way forward. The adversaries of the Bolivarian revolution, foremost the US government, are called upon to do just the same.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Diverting aid to peacekeeping will not help development – a closer look at the case of Sierra Leone

With Prime Minister David Cameron recently announcing that UK aid money is to be diverted towards peacekeeping and defence operations, participants at an IDS roundtable held in Sierra Leone earlier this year were not convinced that “peacekeeping=development”. In the UK, Tony Blair’s peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone is widely regarded as a foreign policy success, yet experience on the ground shows that the problems which led to the civil war that ravaged the country in the period 1991-2002 are still unresolved. Roundtable participants included youth activists, representatives from the police, the Centre for Coordination of Youth Activities (CCYA) and the National Youth Commission, a government body for youth. 

Cassie Biggs helped facilitate the roundtable which looked at ‘Youth, Conflict and Donor Exit Strategies’, and followed it up with field trips to Lunsar and Makeni. She shares this report:

In the eyes of international donors, Sierra Leone is a success story. It has been more than ten years since the country was at war and former combatants have been successfully disarmed and demobilised. There have been three rounds of democratic elections in which power has changed hands between two main political parties, and the most recent election in 2012 was considered largely violence free. More children are in school than ever before, there has been a proliferation of civil society groups, activists and a free media, and local councils have been established to ensure that power and resources are not held in the hands of just a few in Freetown, the capital. Such “success” led last year to a reclassification of Sierra Leone by the IMF, from “fragile” to “low income”, a move the IMF representative said was cause for celebration. 

Participants at the roundtable were not convinced that the reclassification reflected the reality on the ground, however. Sierra Leone remains “conflict prone”, warned Charles Lahai, Chairman of the Sierra Leone Youth Empowerment Organisation. Marcella Samba Sesay, the moderator and head of a local NGO, the Campaign for Good Governance, added that many of the same grievances which led youth into the ranks of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) back in 1991 have not been addressed. One of the commonly accepted underlying triggers of the 11-year conflict was the systematic exclusion and marginalisation of youth, she says, and this is still a key issue today.

A donor-driven peace process in Sierra Leone

In fact, participants felt there was little ownership of the peace process, the DDR process (Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration) or the institutions that implemented them. Many of the concessions which brought the RUF to the negotiating table were not wanted by the majority of people in Sierra Leone, but had been insisted upon by donors, they added. Participants cited the role in the government for Foday Sankoh, who had been head of the RUF, the trial and jailing of Samuel Hinga Norman, the head of the Civil Defense Forces, a local vigilante force which fought the RUF, and who was publically regarded as a “war hero”, and the providing of skills training and jobs for former combatants in a time of acute unemployment, as steps too far.

Persistent youth unemployment, marginalisation, and gangs

The focus on ending the violence through accommodation instead of justice and development, of negative peace rather than positive peace, has meant that the country has not only lingered at the bottom of the Human Development Index in the past decade, but also has not dealt with the legacy of one of Africa’s most brutal conflicts.
A police representative present at the event, said gang violence is a serious and growing problem, with more than 250 street gangs in Freetown alone. While Marcella Samba Sesay highlighted a worrying trend of violence against women, including rape and domestic abuse.

No one believes that the country is on the verge of another rural-based insurgency, but the participants feared that the grievances which led to the war have not been addressed, and that the outbursts of violence happening in the city and in the rural areas could spiral in to something bigger, especially if the government does not act in a responsible way.

Conflict over land and labour in mining areas

The mining communities are a good illustration. Protests have been happening in Kono District in the East, in Sierra Leone’s diamondiferous areas, but also closer to Freetown, where rutile and iron ore are being mined. Many communities are unhappy with the way in which deals have been struck with international mining companies over compensation for land taken. Some complain that the compensation is too little or that the deal was struck without their input. In the two mining communities visited, landowners say that half of the compensation goes to the paramount chief, the district council and the local MP; and in Makeni, landowners say the compensation does not cover the cost of crops lost to flooding of arable land or the repairs to houses damaged by blasting.

But it is not just about the money. Communities also criticise the mining companies for reneging on promises. In Lunsar, a town just three hours drive from Freetown, the secretary of the Land Owner’s Association said the mining company promised to employ 80% of the people in the community, but so far, only about 20% had jobs. He said that unemployed youth were also flocking to the town to seek jobs, and when they didn’t find any, were causing security problems. Several had been arrested for protesting against the mining company, calling for jobs and development.

Violence – the only way to draw attention to social problems?

Many of those we spoke to said they do not want to use violence, but they feel they are not being listened to and that the only way to get the attention of the authorities, and increasingly, the media, is to strike and protest. When people feel they have nowhere to turn to, violence becomes the only option.

As Charles Lahai of the Sierra Leone Youth Empowerment Organisation put it: “If the youth are not given a space, they will make one for themselves, often by violent means.”

Cassie Biggs was in Sierra Leone working on the IDS Addressing and Mitigating Violence programme. She is a former MA Governance and Development Student at IDS and now works for UNESCO in South Sudan, promoting women’s participation in media.  

Check out our project page for more on IDS' work on mitigating and preventing routine violence in Sierra Leone.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Small is beautiful: a new approach to governance reform

by Josie Stewart *

David Cameron recently became the first British Prime Minister to visit Liberia, where amidst a flurry of international attention he co-chaired a meeting of the High Level Panel advising on the global development agenda beyond 2015.

While Cameron received criticism from at least one commentator for his high profile engagement in Liberia, his predecessor Tony Blair, free from the responsibilities of office, has used numerous visits to Liberia to support change in a much more immediate and much less glamorous way. The hands-on efforts of his Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) provide an interesting example of how new approaches to governance support are being operationalized using small-scale strategic interventions to drive change.

The Africa Governance Initiative

Set up in 2007 by a fresh-out-of-Downing-Street Tony Blair as part of a package of ventures to keep him busy, AGI became an independent UK-registered charity in 2009. AGI’s goal – ‘to provide practical advice and support to help Africa’s leading reformers to bridge the gap between their vision for a better future and their government’s ability to achieve it’ – built on Blair’s view of government as ‘a race between expectations and capability’ and his role as Patron provides him with a platform for promoting his vision of leadership.

As a practical expression of this vision, AGI rests on the core idea that the twin elements of democracy and state capacity are inextricably interdependent – effectiveness matters. The ability to demonstrate returns from bureaucratic reform can work to build both political incentives for reform and the credibility of the political system as a whole.

The overt approach

In the AGI model, Blair enables highest-level access and provides political advice to African leaders while small teams of long-term expatriate advisors work alongside senior government officials to help them get things done. The idea is to support leaders in bridging the ‘implementation gap’; in order to do this the focus is on building skills, systems and structures to improve prioritisation, planning and performance management in key areas of the government system. The focus is on driving the system to implement a few clear priorities, building capacity for delivery along the way.

AGI embeds advisors in strategic positions along the government delivery chain, vertically arranged to support delivery at key stages of implementation. The intervention is designed top-down from the apex of the political pyramid; this is intended to maximise the leverage of the centre of government over the rest of the system, and to ensure that the numerous parts of the delivery chain pull in the same direction and there is alignment between political vision and practical delivery. This approach also achieves maximum advantage from the close communication and teamwork that characterise AGI teams, enabling them to plan strategic interventions and tackle the information monopolies that so frequently cause delivery blockages in dysfunctional systems.

AGI advisors have explicit capacity-building mandates, and are recruited primarily on the basis of their interpersonal and management skills rather than purely technical knowledge. Their day-to-day work involves coaching, advising, encouraging and enabling counterparts to make small changes to such basic things as meeting protocols, action logs and internal communication systems. The mundane nature of this work sharply contrasts with the glamour of Presidential audiences, and the flexibility and agility of interventions is enabled by the culture and approach of the organisation as much as by its small size and relatively unrestrictive philanthropic and institutional funder requirements.

The discreet approach

While AGI’s overt approach has begun to attract attention in the development industry, the organisation is more quietly attempting to find a workable path through some of the more contested issues surrounding the role of external actors in governance reform:
  1. Extending Western influence into the very heart of sovereign African states. Engaging closely with politics will always bring significant risk and uncertainty, especially in highly politicized contexts within often fragile political systems. Although bound by charity status to remain apolitical, AGI does not see politics as something to be avoided or ignored. Where the organisation differs from many others that espouse the importance of engaging with politics, though, is that AGI puts its money where its mouth is. Close association with ruling parties and clear influence with African leaders, for example Rwanda’s President Kagame, is not something that all Western NGOs would embrace. In reality AGI does more than just put weight behind national development agendas – the organisation works to create demand as well as simply respond to it.
  2. Returning to the old expert-counterpart model of assistance in which well-paid expatriate advisors are embedded alongside government counterparts. In doing this, AGI teams tread a careful line between the perspectives and languages of both host governments and the partner community.
  3. Resisting some, if not all, pressure to fill capacity gaps. AGI sidesteps the unresolvable tension between capacity building and delivery through de facto acknowledgement that the two are mutually reinforcing. In the absence of a consistent approach to this issue, AGI uses haziness to its advantage, enabling flexibility and responsiveness in their approach. This means that AGI advisers at times support counterparts as they ‘reinvent the wheel’ while bringing in ready-made solutions from elsewhere when this is more appropriate.
  4. Going against the strict results agenda. No one can say for certain whether AGI’s interventions work, or represent value for money. The results chain is by necessity unclear, as a successful AGI intervention is one in which the role of AGI is invisible or forgotten. These interventions also require significant investment in building relationships, understanding motivations and incentives and building influence to the point at which the reality of vested interests can be made part of the solution rather than part of the problem. The AGI approach requires significant investment without guaranteed return.

The potential approach

The AGI model is one worth watching. As the organisation continues to grow – at the time of writing they are active in 7 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa (Guinea, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and South Sudan) – and as the approach matures, it will be interesting to see if it can continue to manage the tensions that it has embraced and if it can evolve to address some currently outstanding issues. One of these is the organisation’s frequent reliance on working with high calibre counterparts in temporary posts that are funded by donors and paid salaries commensurate with the dual economy created by the aid industry. Another is the reliance on personal networks, privileged access and dependency on centralized power that the AGI approach not only accepts but, arguably, reinforces.
Can AGI resolve these issues, build its momentum and continue to get things done? Time will tell… This is an approach that is being worked out on the ground, bit by bit, or ‘small small’, as Liberians would say.

* Josie Stewart is a student on the MA Governance and Development course at IDS, 2012 - 2013, and was formerly a Governance Advisor with AGI in Liberia.