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: Exclusion in Nigeria, China at a Crossroads, and More

by Isobel Coleman
June 11, 2012

A scavenger works picking up trash for recycling at the Olusosun dump site in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, March 23, 2012 (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters).


In this installment of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow highlights new work on West Africa, China, and the relationship between economic and political reform. Enjoy!
  • Exclusion in Nigeria: A paper from the Brookings Institution tackles a troubling question: why have poverty and inequality increased even as Nigeria’s economy has grown? The paper blames two factors. First, manufacturing could greatly boost job creation and poverty reduction. But Nigeria has failed to support firms and entrepreneurs, leaving an anemic sector worth only 4 percent of GDP. Second is federalism. With states subsisting largely on oil revenue from Abuja, governors are not held accountable for their economic performance and social services. The paper suggests “performance and evaluation platforms” to increase accountability and various reforms for industry and agriculture.
  • China at a Crossroads: On the heels of last week’s Economist special report, Time features a darker series on China. An overview describes the country’s “year of living dangerously” amid political turmoil and economic stress. Youth are the focus of another piece. For many, lofty aspirations are going unfulfilled in an increasingly stratified society. A third article argues that “China’s famed growth machine is beginning to sputter,” with rising labor costs and a dangerous surfeit of state-directed investment. And a final piece contends that political opacity and corruption jeopardize continued progress. “The authoritarian development model,” it says, “has proved to be highly efficient in the short term but extremely problematic for the long run.”
  • Economic and Political Reform: It’s a classic chicken-and-egg problem: do economic reforms precipitate democracy or does democracy facilitate reforms? A paper from the National Bureau for Economic Research takes a look. It uses a new dataset measuring the degree of liberalization across six economic sectors in 150 countries from 1960 to 2004. The paper finds a strong correlation between a country’s level of democracy (measured by the Polity IV index) and economic reforms; statistical tests suggest that “there is probably a causal link from democracy to [economic] reforms,” not vice versa. Presumably, the paper notes, democratic leaders should favor reforms because they “destroy monopolies in favor of the general interests.” Still, the idea that autocracy is best for economic progress will undoubtedly live on.
  • West Africa’s Elections: Elections are seen as the linchpin of democracy, but in fragile countries they can produce violent division instead of peaceful transition. A new paper from the International Peace Institute examines this issue in West Africa. The report suggests strengthening electoral commissions, security forces, and civil society to help elections go smoothly. It also urges international donors to better coordinate their efforts and minimize the cost and technical complexity of the electoral systems they recommend. Perhaps most crucial, though, is a long-term perspective. An election, the paper says, is not an “end in itself” but one piece of a larger process. A CFR Markets and Democracy Brief last fall explores African elections.

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  • Posted by Sulayman Dauda

    The case for Nigeria is simply greed among the ruling elites. They are purely commercial bourgeois with no focuse, idea or interest in directing the the country toward the benefits of a Democratic world.

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