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: Kyrgyzstan, China in Africa, and More

by Isobel Coleman
November 4, 2011

Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva casts her ballot during the presidential election at a polling station in the capital Bishkek, October 30, 2011 (Sultan Dosaliev/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow offers a selection of news and scholarly work in this week’s edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy and have a good weekend.

  • Kyrgyzstan’s Election: Former prime minister Almazbek Atabayev won Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election on Sunday. He will take over on December 31 from Roza Otunbayeva, who has served as caretaker president since an uprising toppled the previous regime last year. As Voice of America explains, this will be the first voluntary transfer of power in Central Asia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Sunday’s polls were decidedly imperfect, according to the OSCE. But “observers overall assessed the voting positively”–a solid outcome in a country torn apart after last year’s uprising, as this report from the International Crisis Group shows. The Economist explains that Atabayev will need to repair lingering ethnic tensions, as well as combat organized crime and boost the economy. The new president is seen as friendly to Russia; he pledged on Tuesday to close the U.S. air base at Manas, a crucial supply post for the war in Afghanistan, when its lease expires in 2014.
  • Africa’s Growth Engine? According to testimony at a U.S. Senate hearing on Tuesday, China’s trade with Africa totaled $127 billion in 2010–$14 billion more than America’s. But how much, exactly, does Chinese investment contribute to African economic growth? A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research aims to find out. It concludes that the effect has been considerable in some countries but negligible in others. Between 2003 and 2009, Chinese investment accounted for 1.9 percent of GDP growth in Zambia, 1.0 percent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and 0.9 percent in Nigeria. In Angola, Botswana, Kenya, and South Africa, the contribution was less than 0.1 percent. Beyond the numbers, the question is what side effects Chinese investment brings. One answer comes from a Human Rights Watch report out yesterday on abuses at Chinese-run copper mines in Zambia.
  • Cuba’s Coming Capitalism? The Cuban government announced yesterday that it would allow citizens to buy and sell property for the first time in more than 40 years. Cubans have long swapped houses in an informal market. Starting next week they will be able to do so openly, with the government collecting taxes on each transaction. The New York Times reports that the consequences are unpredictable. On the one hand, an open real estate market could unleash tremendous capital that can “jumpstart the island’s economy.” On the other hand, some fear the reform will produce social stratification and homelessness. Either way, it is the latest of several steps by President Raúl Castro to liberalize Cuba’s economy, including opening a limited market for cars and expanding opportunities for self-employment. In a compelling op-ed last year, CFR’s Julia Sweig criticized the Obama administration for failing to respond to this “radical new phase in Cuban history.”
  • Democracy and Health: Do citizens of democracies live longer? A new study in World Politics suggests they do. And the authors argue that the reasons go beyond the tendency of democratic governments to distribute “health-enhancing resources” more widely than do autocracies, as other studies have found. Instead the new article contends that certain basic democratic attributes–autonomy, social capital, collective action, and free media–might improve health, regardless of how the government distributes resources. To test this theory, the authors examine the level of democracy and life expectancy in 153 countries between 1972 and 2000. They find that democracy has a significant effect on life expectancy, even after controlling for the distribution of resources. In a separate test of autocracies, the authors find that the degree of media freedom alone has a strong impact on life expectancy. Perhaps dictatorship, in addition to its other drawbacks, is hazardous for your health.
  • Latin America’s Malaise: The Economist has results from the latest 18-country Latinobarómetro survey. They are gloomy. Only a bare majority of Latin Americans believe “democracy is preferable to any other kind of government,” down a few points from last year. Support for democracy among Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Mexicans dropped sharply, as the magazine points out, probably due to violent crime. The figure in Brazil also took a dive, for reasons that are less clear. Citizens’ satisfaction with their own democracy also declined from last year in many countries, notably Brazil, Colombia, and most of all Chile, which has endured months of student protests over the cost of education. The Economist thinks this discontent despite solid economic growth means that more prosperous citizens are demanding more of their leaders. If so, those leaders must find ways to respond. Full results (in Spanish) are available on the Latinobarómetro site.


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