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.
- Indexing Corruption: Transparency International (TI) yesterday released its 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index. New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Singapore are seen as cleanest. Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, North Korea, and Somalia are viewed as most corrupt. A TI blog post provides interesting context, including the solid though not airtight correlation between this index and the UN’s Human Development measure. Reuters points out that awareness of corruption seems higher this year in Arab countries affected by revolts: rankings for Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen all dropped significantly. One question unanswered here is what types of corruption prevail in each country. In a recent paper, former World Bank official Michael Klein suggests that this matters greatly, arguing that some forms of corruption allow elites to benefit while the broader economy does, too.
- Brazil’s Evolution: A New Yorker piece chronicles Brazil’s economic success and its architects: Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the pro-market academic credited with taming hyperinflation; Lula, the former union official who championed the poor and boosted Brazil’s profile abroad; and incumbent Dilma Rousseff, the radical who became a politician. Especially interesting is the comparison between the gregarious Lula and the methodical Rousseff, his hand-picked successor. Rousseff has toned down Lula’s high-flying foreign policy while continuing his efforts to fight poverty and inequality at home. Her “society-first, market-second ideology,” according to the article, also entails “protect[ing] Brazilian industry” from what she views as unfair foreign competition. Brazil comes across as a rising giant whose outlook, though not unfriendly to America, differs fundamentally from traditional American free-market views. For more on Brazil’s rise and U.S.-Brazil relations, see CFR’s recent Task Force report.
- Reckoning in Bahrain: Last week, Bahrain’s Independent Commission of Inquiry released its report on the government’s response to protests early this year. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa appointed the commission in June and accepted its findings. The report exhaustively details abuses by security forces and the judiciary during the crackdown on mainly Shia protesters, including excessive force, arbitrary detention, unfair trials, and torture. Human Rights Watch offers a useful summary. The king quickly established a committee to implement the report’s recommendations, which include legal reforms and better training of security forces, according to CNN. But opposition leaders want more “sweeping changes” and the royal family appears unready to oblige, says this Carnegie Endowment analysis. Indeed, according to a Guardian piece, the leader of a principal Shia group said that a government responsible for abuses cannot be trusted to reform. The Economist credits King Hamad for boldness but suggests it “may be too late to halt Bahrain’s downward spiral of sectarian enmity.”
- Vietnam’s Wavering Boom: Vietnam’s annual GDP growth has averaged more than 7 percent since 2000, according to IMF figures. Net foreign direct investment has jumped more than six-fold. A Financial Times article last week, however, highlights creeping troubles: inequality, inflation, and leaders who appear unable to respond. In an effort to build “national champion” firms, the piece explains, Vietnam funneled credit to “wasteful state-owned enterprises and favored private businesses.” This credit boom has sparked soaring inflation, costing consumers and sapping confidence in the currency. Authorities have raised interest rates to compensate, but this has hurt businesses, fueling strikes and bad debts. Meanwhile, longstanding problems such as corruption, poor infrastructure, and bureaucracy are lingering. Foreign Minister Pham Bihn Minh addressed many of these issues at a CFR meeting in September.