In this week’s installment of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow highlights another range of interesting and timely stories. Let us know your reactions, and enjoy the Columbus Day weekend.
- Democracy’s Partial Progress: The Economist this week features useful summaries of democratic developments in sub-Saharan Africa and the Persian Gulf. For the former, the view is fairly upbeat. “Multiparty democracy, albeit with hiccups and setbacks, has undoubtedly gained ground,” the magazine says. It points to Zambia’s recent presidential election, in which the defeated incumbent graciously conceded his post. And even where democracy remains unsteady, citizens are demanding rights and freedoms more vocally. As for the Gulf states, the Economist chronicles elections last month in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, along with a vote next weekend in Oman. Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said has pledged to boost the authority of the elected Shura Council, and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah recently granted women the right to run and vote in local elections. But despite these glimmers, full democracy is in no danger of breaking out. For more on the Saudi reform, see these views from CFR’s Isobel Coleman, Ed Husain, and Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.
- Government Services in Kenya and Georgia: The McKinsey Quarterly has an interesting piece on government services in Kenya and Georgia. First, the article reports on a portal that gives citizens unprecedented access to Kenyan government data. Officials hope it will both fight corruption and foster development. With procurement processes and relevant data online, journalists and citizens can ensure that the government is not overpaying for goods and services. There are also plans to build apps that use the data, for example to help farmers learn about soil productivity and product demand. Though challenges remain, the portal is a promising start. In Georgia, the government is opening “one-stop shops” that give quick and easy access to a range of public services, from land deeds to marriage licenses. Tbilisi is trying to “simplify and streamline its operations in the belief that one-stop service not only makes citizens happy but also entices investors,” the article reports. Elements include a single database that spares citizens from completing multiple forms, as well as intensive monitoring of the shops’ performance. Beyond satisfaction for citizens, tax collections are up. Thanks to steps like these, Georgia is the top reformer over the past five years in the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings.
- Learning from Emerging Markets: In a piece this week on nationalinterest.org, Uri Dadush explores the factors that have allowed middle-income emerging markets to continue booming as developed countries lag. Emerging countries have stronger “fundamental growth drivers,” he says, such as expanding labor forces, higher savings and investment rates, and the ability to quickly adopt “transformational technologies that advanced countries have to invent from scratch.” The fiscal picture is also brighter in emerging markets, with lower ratios of debt to GDP. What can advanced economies learn from this? That sustained growth requires thorough structural reforms, not just a quick stimulus, Dadush argues. Unfortunately, as he notes, reforms often make good economics but bad politics.
- South Africa’s Moral Authority: South Africa did not grant the Dalai Lama a visa to attend Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday party this week, the second time Pretoria has blocked the Dalai Lama from visiting. Many detect the influence of China, South Africa’s largest trading partner. The government denies this, saying it did not refuse the visa but was still considering the application when the Dalai Lama cancelled his trip. But by failing to own up to “what was clearly a political decision,” CFR’s John Campbell writes, President Jacob Zuma looks weak. All of this has sparked a wider debate over South Africa’s legacy of post-Apartheid moral leadership. Many believe this legacy has been tarnished, not only by the Dalai Lama incident but also by Pretoria’s friendship with Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi and other stances in recent years. As Eve Fairbanks writes this week on foreignpolicy.com, the country is pursuing a “mixed-signals foreign policy” as it wavers between moral considerations and power politics. Canada’s Global and Mail puts the central question powerfully: “Nelson Mandela is still alive at the age of 93, but is his political epoch finally dead and buried?”