Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

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

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Missing Pieces: India’s Economy, Islam and Democracy, and More

by Isobel Coleman
August 15, 2011

Activists from the Socialist Unity Centre of India shout slogans and hold placards during a protest against corruption and price hike in diesel, kerosene and cooking gas in Ahmedabad, India, August 7, 2011 (Amit Dave/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow features topics ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe in this week’s Missing Pieces. As always, enjoy the reading and let us know what you think.

India’s Growth Machine: Between 1991, when India launched a slate of economic reforms, and 2010, the country’s GDP more than quintupled and its GDP per capita almost quadrupled, according to the IMF’s latest figures. But lately fears are rising that this growth could slow. Inflation is high (over 13 percent in 2010, according to the IMF), foreign investment has declined (with a 29-percent drop from 2009 to 2010, according to India’s own figures), and a series of corruption scandals has wounded India’s leadership. The Voice of America and the Wall Street Journal reported last week on Indian officials’ reactions to the downgrade of U.S. government debt. A U.S. slowdown could damage India by reducing demand for its exports, including its famous outsourcing services. Recently the prime minister’s Economic Advisory Council lowered its growth projection for 2011 and 2012 from 9.0 percent to 8.2 percent, citing “the inflationary situation and investment slowdown.” That reduced rate would still be impressive. But with 37 percent of Indians below the poverty line, according to the UN Development Programme, even mild slowdowns affect millions. The Economist argued in July for new reforms to reinvigorate the economy.

Islam and Democracy: For many, the exhilaration of change in Egypt and Tunisia has been tempered by the specter of Islamist influence. Can Islamist parties–most famously Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood–be trusted to respect basic rights and obey the rules of democracy? The Economist has a suite of articles on this question (see here and here) arguing essentially that Islamists must be allowed to contest elections. After all, one of the pieces says, “The Arab world has tried suppression (and the West shamefully connived in it), and it did not work.” CFR’s Ed Husain took up a related question this spring in Foreign Policy. He argued that the Brotherhood is far from monolithic and that the United States must engage with its pragmatic members in order to “tilt the debate away from extremism and confrontation.”

(Un)sustainable Development in Afghanistan: Jack Healy has a vivid report in the New York Times about Alice-Ghan, a village north of Kabul. Built five years ago in a collaboration between the Afghan government and international donors, the village was meant to give displaced Afghans a new start. Today, Healy writes, it is mostly abandoned. “With few services or jobs within reach, hundreds of residents have moved away–sometimes even to the slums and temporary shelters they had sought to escape.” It is an uncomfortable reminder of the struggle for sustainability in Afghanistan as outside military forces, and development funds, decline. Two U.S. government reports took up this theme in June, one from the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan and the other from the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Both expressed concern about development projects that the Afghan government will be unable to sustain.

Zimbabwe’s Deadly Diamonds: The campaign to prevent jewelry sales from enriching warlords and fueling conflict has made “blood diamonds” a household phrase (and a movie title). The centerpiece of the campaign is the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, a group that aims to keep conflict diamonds out of international markets. But it is having trouble doing so in the case of Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields. Last week, the BBC reported that Zimbabwean forces have been running a “torture camp” there where they beat, rape, and even unleash dogs on miners who “demand too large a share of the profits.” Zimbabwe denied the charge. Reports of human rights abuses in Marange have emerged before, but the BBC piece comes on the heels of a controversial move by the Kimberley Process chairman to allow Zimbabwe to resume diamond exports banned since 2009. NGOs protested forcefully and the U.S. State Department said the ban should continue for now. (The International Crisis Group reported last year that diamonds were being smuggled out from Marange anyway.) The result of all this? A certification process that appears to have serious flaws. As a piece in the Guardian puts it, “there is currently no guarantee of a ‘conflict-free’ diamond on the market.”

Russia’s Dark Politics: Even as the Obama administration has tried to “reset” relations with Russia, observers both inside and outside the country have bemoaned the dismal state of Russian democracy. Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova focus in Newsweek on one troubling element: a generation of extreme nationalists who were, in many cases, nurtured by the Kremlin. Many extremist leaders, they write, received training in Kremlin-sponsored youth groups, and even now the government tries to keep them in the tent. But it appears Russian authorities may have created a monster they cannot control. Freedom House’s 2011 Nations in Transit report has a damning and detailed indictment of Russian democracy. CFR’s Stephen Sestanovich also touched on democracy concerns in recent testimony on U.S.-Russia relations in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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