John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Democracy Index

by John Campbell
December 16, 2010

The Economist ‘Democracy Index’ provides a quick overview of international progress toward democracy, as defined by a London editorial staff that appears to admire the values of Scandinavian Social Democracy (as do I). The index reflects a Western delight in quantifying abstractions such as ‘democracy’ and then ‘rating’ countries. Nevertheless, it has its uses as a ‘big picture’ indicator.

With respect to Africa, for example, in the aggregate it shows that democracy (as it defines it) is retreating. But the index’s utility is much diminished when applied to specific countries. For example, the index ranks Ireland – with less than five million people and in the midst of a financial meltdown – higher than the United States with more than 300 million and a relatively stable system of public finance. (Ireland significantly outscores the U.S. in ‘political culture’ and ‘civil liberties.’ Or, the index rates South Africa – with perhaps the world’s greatest mal-distribution of personal income and very high levels of violent crime – above France. (The scores are close with South African pulling slightly ahead on ‘political participation’ and – incredibly – ‘functioning of government.’)

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  • Posted by Mark Tully

    Charts like these confuse me. First, they’re composed and cited by the same people who tell us imposing our values on others reeks of colonialism, racism, and a general arrogance. No one seems to mind the Empire as long as it’s got a nice pension. Second, as the post indicates, it comes to some strange conclusions. Ask South Africans if they’d like their situation to look like France or South Africa and I suspect they’d be willing to sacrifice “better government” for not having a majority of the country sentenced to die from AIDS.

    Has the London editorial board or any of the social scientists that will use this chart to suggest policy changes interviewed anyone in these countries to figure out how they feel? Odd way to promote democracy if they haven’t…

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