Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

Missing Pieces: Congo’s Elections, Corruption Index, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, December 2, 2011

A pile of presidential and legislative ballot papers sit unattended a polling station in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, November 29, 2011 (Finbarr O'Reilly/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow offers selections from the past two weeks in this edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy and have a good weekend.

  • Elections in the Congo: CFR’s John Campbell and Asch Harwood argue in a recent Markets and Democracy Brief that despite their divisive potential, African elections are worthwhile because Africans themselves support them. Indeed, turnout appeared strong in Monday’s vote in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But the turnout might be the only upside. A BBC report cites a litany of election day woes, including “voting material” set aflame, armed attacks, and delayed poll openings. This follows a campaign tarnished by violence and intimidation, as pieces from ForeignAffairs.com and the New York Times report. Results are expected next week. Should incumbent president Joseph Kabila claim victory, an Atlantic piece argues, he will likely be seen as illegitimate. There are also reports that the election commission, headed by a Kabila ally, might cancel votes from “opposition strongholds.” The ultimate election result could well be more misery in the world’s least-developed country. Read more »

World AIDS Day: The Role of Religion

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Buddhist monk waits to pray at a World AIDS Day commemoration in Colombo, Sri Lanka on December 1, 2011 (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Courtesy Reuters).

Since the first cases of AIDS came to public attention in 1981, the virus has claimed over 25 million lives worldwide. Preventing HIV transmission and providing care for the 34 million people living with the virus remains one of the foremost public health challenges of our time. Even in communities with high rates of HIV/AIDS, the virus is still too often a source of deep social stigma, dissuading those infected from seeking help. Although combating the spread of AIDS requires coordination and support from all sectors, key stakeholders have often exacerbated the epidemic. In South Africa, former President Mbeki’s rejection of the basic scientific consensus on AIDS led to an estimated 343,000 otherwise preventable deaths from 1999 to 2007. While religious leaders are unusually well-placed to provide followers with guidance about this preventable disease, they have in many cases contributed to the epidemic by denying the importance of condoms in HIV prevention and contributing to the stigma that AIDS patients already confront. Read more »

Volatility in the Egyptian Stock Market

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A view shows the Egyptian Stock Exchange in Cairo in June 2011 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

Despite clashes in Egypt last week that resulted in over 40 deaths, Egypt’s first parliamentary election since the Mubarak era is progressing surprisingly smoothly. Polling places have not seen predicted violence and unrest since voting began on Monday, and independent monitors believe that voter turnout in this phase of the election “could easily rise above 50 percent.” The Egyptian stock market has also moved in tandem with the country’s recent political developments. Last week, stocks plunged amid uncertainty created by massive protests and violent crackdowns; on November 22, the EGX100 index dropped precipitously—about 5.4 percent—triggering an hour-long suspension of trading. However, Egypt’s stock indices rallied today in response to investor relief over relatively stable elections. This time, rapid gains in the EGX100 (5.01 percent) were enough to again suspend trading briefly. Read more »

Morocco’s Elections

by Isobel Coleman Friday, November 25, 2011

A voter casts her ballot at a polling station in Rabat on November 25, 2011 (Youssef Boudlal/Courtesy Reuters).

Moroccans head to the polls today for their first parliamentary elections since the Arab uprisings began. It is also their first election since July, when a set of constitutional reforms giving more power to the parliament and prime minister, were approved in a referendum. In some ways, today’s election is a test of whether those constitutional reforms were sufficient to satisfy public opinion, which has grown increasingly disgruntled with the slow pace of reform in Morocco. Read more »

A Resource Revolution

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Iranian taxi driver pays for fuel at petrol station in northwestern Tehran in December 2010 directly before subsidies were cut (Morteza Nikoubazl/Courtesy Reuters).

Was Malthus right? The world’s population crossed the seven billion mark earlier this month, and seems set to add another billion people in the next twelve years. Moreover, with a rapidly expanding global middle class (some three billion could join its ranks over the next two decades), consumption around the world continues to climb. No surprise that there is increasing concern about whether the planet’s resources can possibly meet human demand. A new report published today by McKinsey & Company, Resource Revolution: Meeting the world’s energy, materials, food and water needs, provides a relatively sanguine answer to the Malthusian question. The report argues that “resource productivity improvements, using existing technology, could satisfy 30 percent of demand in 2030.” The authors acknowledge that capturing the necessary productivity improvements won’t be easy, and critically, will require significant new capital. They also argue for the removal of subsidies that keep prices artificially low and encourage inefficiency. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Egypt’s Elections, the Korean and Chinese Economies, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, November 18, 2011

Thousands of Egyptians gather during a demonstration at Tahrir Square in Cairo, November 18, 2011 (Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow covers developments in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America in this week’s edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy the reading and let us know your thoughts.

  • Egypt’s Bumpy Road: With the first round of parliamentary elections set for November 28, concern is growing about Egypt’s transition and the military’s role. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned last week that “a roomful of unelected officials” should not remain Egypt’s “most powerful political force.” Some 50,000 Egyptians protested continued military control today in Tahrir Square. The convoluted election system, with six rounds of voting and a plethora of lists, districts, and quotas, “seems deliberately designed to befuddle all but the deepest insiders,” as a Foreign Policy piece this week puts it. The piece surveys the party landscape, concluding that the Muslim Brotherhood and remnants of the Mubarak regime will likely dominate the voting. On his blog, CFR’s Ed Husain has written recently (here and here) about accusations that the Brotherhood is “bribing voters” with meat, vegetables, and candy. A GlobalPost piece highlights these and other accusations of malfeasance, along with uncertainty among voters over who is running. Read more »

The Egyptian Military Digs In

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, November 17, 2011

Protesters chant slogans against the government and military rulers at Tahrir Square after Friday prayers in Cairo in October 2011 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

During the tense early days of Egypt’s revolution, crowds massing in Tahrir Square cheered the Egyptian military as a force of moderation. Protesters held babies up to be photographed with tank operators. People shared their tea with soldiers. That honeymoon ended pretty quickly as Egyptians of all stripes became increasingly uneasy about when and whether the military would actually hand over power. Egypt is scheduled to begin parliamentary elections at the end of November, but the transition to a civilian government still seems distant. Read more »

Extremism and Democracy in Pakistan

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Earlier this month, Pervez Musharraf, former president of Pakistan, visited the Council on Foreign Relations in a bid to burnish his image in advance of his intended re-entry into politics next year. Last week, I hosted Dr. Asma Jahangir, a remarkably courageous lawyer and activist, the recent president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, a relentless critic of Musharraf, and a stalwart champion of democracy in her country. The back-to-back meetings made for quite a contrast. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Presidential Elections, Democracy and Wealth, and More

by Isobel Coleman Monday, November 14, 2011

Otto Perez Molina, presidential candidate from the Patriot Party, looks on during his campaign speech in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, November 3, 2011 (Carlos Jasso/Courtesy Reuters).

In this week’s edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow reviews three elections and two scholarly articles. I hope you enjoy the selection.

  • Election Roundup: Three developing countries, each struggling with its own mix of progress and perils, held presidential elections last week:
  1. First, in Guatemala, former general Otto Pérez Molina won a runoff election on November 6. As I noted on the blog in September, Pérez Molina is best known for his “iron fist” approach to fighting rampant violent crime. This clearly resonated with Guatemalans, though questions continue to dog the president-elect about his actions as a military officer during the country’s civil war. As this informative Reuters piece explains, some are concerned that Pérez Molina will thwart war crimes prosecutions of other former officers. An article from the Americas Society concisely reviews Guatemala’s daunting challenges on security, poverty, and impunity. And the Economist notes that Pérez Molina will need to boost government revenues to have any hope of combating violence. Read more »

An AIDS-free Generation

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, November 10, 2011

A health worker holds up a blood sample at hospital that provides treatment for HIV/AIDS patients in northern Vietnam in November 2010 (Nguyen Huy Kham/Courtesy Reuters).

In a speech on Tuesday at the National Institutes of  Health, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton  called for countries to work together to establish “an AIDS-free generation,” meaning virtually no children are born HIV positive, they would have a far lower risk of HIV infection when they become teenagers than they do at present, and where people who become infected with HIV are prevented from developing AIDS and from spreading the virus. These ambitious objectives seemed impossible not long ago, but recent scientific advances make the notion of an AIDS-free generation conceivable. In the speech, Secretary Clinton proposed three main HIV/AIDS interventions, all based on successful clinical trials: voluntary medical circumcision for men, drug treatment for  infected pregnant women to prevent HIV transmission to the infant, and antiretroviral drugs for recently infected patients to reduce the risk that their sexual partners will contract HIV from them. Nevertheless, although the vision of an AIDS-free generation is tremendously exciting, generating sufficient funding for AIDS treatment and prevention remains a daunting task. At present, worldwide AIDS spending is about $16 billion each year. Even if only half of the 34 million infected individuals receive drug treatment by 2015, that would require worldwide AIDS spending to grow to $23 billion. Given the current state of the global economy, the challenges of increasing government contributions loom large. Read more »