Draft Operator Law Will Impart Harmful Restrictions on Kazakhstan Civil Society; Indicative of Regional Trends

The Republic of Kazakhstan, located in Central Asia, borders the Russian Federation to the North and the Xinjiang Uygur region of China to the East.  Kazakhstan gained its independence in 1991, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Since independence, civil society has flourished, with over 400 NGOs, many related to a wide spectrum of human rights causes, established in the last 25 years.  Recently, however, international donors to Kazakh Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have tightened their budgets, and the government has stepped in to fund the “third sector.”  While the civic space in Kazakhstan is relatively open, when compared to other countries in the region, recent legislation has imposed new restrictions on CSOs.  Despite Kazakhstan’s independence, Russia continues to serve as a kind of political model for the region’s former socialist republics.   With the implementation of the Kazakh “Operator Law” coming just a few years after the approval of the similarly restrictive Russian “foreign agent law,” Kazakhstan seems to be echoing Kremlin policy once again.

In September 2015, the Kazakh parliament introduced legislation that proposed a centralized system for administering grants and funds to CSOs in the country.  The draft law proposed the creation of a “noncommercial operator institution”, through which all state and foreign funding would pass before being allocated to CSOs.  The law also required CSOs to register their activities with the government and submit extensive information to a database managed by the government.  The draft law was approved by the lower house of the Kazakh parliament in early September of 2015 and signed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on December 2, 2015.

The new Operator Law, together with amendments made to the Criminal Code in January, has the potential to inhibit the operations of CSOs, particularly those related to human rights.  According to the new amendments to the Criminal Code, CSO leaders who fail to register their organization or accept funding while the CSO is unregistered may be punished with up to six years in jail.  Freedom House has tracked the decline of Kazakhstan’s civil society and reports that its “democratic progress” continues to decline. On a scale from 1 (most free) to 7 (least free), Freedom House assigned Kazakhstan a score of 5.75 in 2006 and a 6.50 in 2015.

Kazakh officials in favor of the Operator Law claim that it was designed to “bring greater organization and efficiency to the process of distributing public funds, mediate between state agencies and their suppliers from the CSO community and bring greater transparency to the NGO-state procurement process as a whole.” However, activists and CSO leaders fear that the law imposes restrictive government oversight on Kazakhstan’s civil society.  With a single organization allocating funds to CSOs, the government may withhold money from organizations that it perceives to be threatening.  Historically, Kazakhstan has favored certain CSOs over others, with a higher percentage of government funding being allocated to the construction of schools and hospitals rather than support for human rights initiatives. Hudson Institute stated that this may be due to a general mistrust of the sector after the destabilizing “Orange Revolutions” in the early 2000s.  The Operator Law has the potential to widen the financial chasm between CSOs that the government supports and those that it does not.

Last October, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concerns about the law when spokesperson Cécile Pouilly asserted that, “the scope and the vague wording of these amendments leaves room for broad interpretation, especially in terms of grant making, which may result in an arbitrary and discriminatory application of the law.” Similarly, UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai warned that the law, “may not only compromise the independence of associations, but challenge their very existence.” He asserted that financial resources are vital to freedom of association. The NGO community also spoke out against the law with Human Rights Watch urging Kazakhstan to “Amend the law on CSOs so that it meets international standards on freedom of association.”

Undoubtedly, the Kazakhstan Operator Law bares resemblance to the Russian “Foreign Agents” Law that was passed in July 2012.  The Russian law established that any civil society organization that received money from foreign sources, either governmental or private, had to register with the Ministry of Justice as an “organization carrying the function of a foreign agent.” Many have argued that the term “foreign agent” carries with it a heavy Cold War era connotation intended to demonize those civil society groups that carry the label. Additionally, the law states that CSOs are required to submit extensive semi-annual reports and financial records to the government regarding their organizational activities.  Today, over 120 civil society organizations are registered as foreign agents, including many prominent political and human rights organizations.

Unfortunately, a series of amendments made by the Duma in 2014 increased the regulatory power of the “Foreign Agent” Law. These amendments gave the Ministry of Justice full power to register groups as “foreign agents” without the groups’ consent. The 2014 amendments also made it illegal for Russian political parties to be sponsored by or associated with CSOs possessing “foreign agent” status. Much like the Kazakh Operator Law, Russia’s “Foreign Agents” Law allows the government to closely monitor its civil society and prevent threatening or politically uncomfortable organizations from receiving operational resources.  In Russia, as in Kazakhstan, Civil Society Organizations are funneled through a single institution, the Ministry of Justice, which maintains exclusive jurisdiction over the operational power of CSOs.

Douglas Rutzen of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law asserts that Russia has been a key leader in the increasingly restrictive civil society climate in Eurasia and Central Asia.  Rutzen notes that, while Russia was not the first country to implement laws that inhibit foreign funding, it contributed to the development of similar laws in neighboring countries. Citing Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 book “Tipping Point,” Rutzen compared restrictive civil society laws to an infectious disease, with Russia as the carrier. The comparison is apt. Since Russia implemented the “Foreign Agent” Law in 2012, over 70 countries have proposed constraints on civil society. Among these, Kazakhstan’s Operator Law is important because it illustrates the extent to which the space for civil society organizations is shrinking on a regional level.

Burundi: Civil Society in Jeopardy

Burundi has recently raised some concern from the international community due to unrest between its largely Hutu government and the Tutsi opposition. This unrest stems, in part, from the government’s censorship practices. Over the last few years, these restrictive government policies have affected journalists, opposition leaders, human rights defenders, and civil society organizations (CSOs). More recently, the Burundian government has turned its attention towards CSOs and human rights organizations.

Like its neighbor Rwanda, Burundi has had a long history of political unrest and ethnic tensions. A little over twelve years ago, the country was engaged in a bloody civil war that resulted in the deaths of an estimated three hundred thousand Burundians. Since then, the country has attempted to ease these tensions by dividing political leadership more equally between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. Thanks in large part to this restructuring; Pierre Nkurunziza was elected to the presidency in 2005. The most recent conflict began when Nkurunziza ran for a controversial third term and won with 69.41 percent of the vote. Nkurunziza’s reelection violated Burundi’s terms limits. According to the country’s constitution, established in 1992, a president may only serve two five-year terms. As a result of the fierce opposition to Nkurunziza’s reelection, the government has engaged in a variety of  anti-democratic actions.

According to the Economist’s Intelligence Unit, Burundi is “on the cusp” of another civil war. Self-censorship (e.g. not reporting on certain topics and declining to speak on particular issues that concern the government) is reportedly common among citizens and the government has attempted to confiscate weapons in an effort to prevent a potential coup d’état. The president has stated that those who belong to the opposition party and who do not comply with these new measures will be considered “Enemies of Burundi and treated as terrorists.”

Burundi’s government has also carried out attacks and arrests on civil society leaders, journalists, and those who oppose the new repressive measures. At a time when watchdogs and whistle-blowers are needed most and at their most vulnerable, the government has approved a new law that requires journalists to disclose all of their sources. Bob Rugurika, the director of Radio Publique Africaine, was arrested for withholding a suspect from the authorities.  In addition, Welly Nzitonda, the son of prominent civil rights activist Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, was arrested on trumped up charges and later killed by the police.

In addition to these high profile arrests, the government has also attempted to exert its control over local CSOs. Early last year, the government announced that it would freeze the bank accounts of local CSOs and the interior minister subsequently suspended the operations of such groups. According to a secretary in the interior minister’s office, these organizations were being led by civil rights activists who had fled the country and backed the “troublemakers.” Thankfully, these CSOs were given a chance to defend themselves after further investigation.

The unrest in Burundi goes beyond mere political tension. The government has attempted to silence its critics through arrests, financial restrictions, and the outright closure of human right organizations and CSOs, but Burundi needs civil society organizations now more than ever. As it stands on the brink of a constitutional crisis and an ethnic civil war, the Burundian government must communicate with its opponents and critics to ensure peace and stability in Burundi and the region.

A Coalition For Asian Development

Following the introduction of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in 2014 many questioned how such ambitious goals could be met by 2030. The SDGs address, among other developmental issues, the eradication of poverty, hunger and income inequality. In Asia, civil society demonstrates that it can bridge the gap between these lofty goals and their eventual success. According to Nicholas Booth and Beniam Gebrezghi, it is “Precisely because of civil society’s role in representing the interests of the poorest, most marginalized and excluded groups, [that it] seems more urgent than ever before in every aspect of a new agenda which seeks to ensure no one is left behind.”

Over the last 30 years there has been dramatic growth in Asian civil society. Today, the United Nations Development Programme works closely with local civil society organizations on a variety of development projects. In the wake of Japan’s triple disaster in March of 2011 (the earthquake, along with the resulting tsunami and nuclear disaster) for example, civil society organizations played a crucial role in reconstruction and community development efforts. Nicholas Booth and Beniam Gebrezghi again point out: “These civil society groups worked side-by-side with local communities, educators, businesses, local governments, and national governments to help the victims and to get Japan back on its feet.”

More recently, civil society helped rebuild Nepal after the country was devastated by an earthquake in April 2015. With the Nepalese government unable to conduct proper disaster relief, the people of Nepal turned to one another. In June, our blog focused on Nepal and its efforts to rebuild with the aid of international philanthropy. Using Twitter and Facebook, Nepalese citizens were able to arrange rescues, deliver supplies and provide shelter. According to Christian Science Monitor, “Nepal’s response to the [earthquake] was helped by an increase in the number of civil society groups since the introduction of multiparty democracy in the 1990s.” In response, Google has brought back “Person Finder,” a system used after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake to check social media for possible updates on missing persons. Locally based initiatives including Tomnod, a program designed to crowdsource images of structural damage, provided first responders with valuable information.

While civil society is filling the gaps left by other sectors, there is still much that Asian governments can do to encourage third sector growth. China, Nepal and Japan have seen an increase in civil society registrations, but CSOs in other Asian countries are combating increasingly restrictive policies. In Laos, the Ministry of Home Affairs has amended the decree on nonprofit associations (NPAs) and foundations by adding the requirement that groups must notify or obtain permission from the government for funding that they receive from foreign sources. This new policy, which echoes Russia’s infamous “Foreign Agent Law,” can lead to funding delays of up to 18 months and pose significant operational difficulties for programs funded by international philanthropy. The Laotian government’s crackdown on civil society has been downright hostile. John Sifton, Asia Advocacy director of the Human Rights Watch explained the situation, “If a human rights defender like Aung Sang Suu Kyi were to stand up in Laos and speak out against authoritarian rule, she would be immediately arrested.”

These restrictions are, unfortunately, not limited to Laos. In Singapore’s recent elections, the People’s Action Party (PAP) retained its majority in parliament, a position that it is held since 1959. The PAP, positioned as a center right party, has a reputation for restricting the actions of free speech within the city. In March 2015 Amos Yee, a teenager responsible for a video that criticized a former Singapore leader was arrested. Yee was sentenced to 18 months of “reformative training.” Amnesty International was quick to respond: “According to the Office of the UN Commissioner on Human Rights, reformative training is ‘akin to detention and usually applied to juvenile offenders involved in serious crimes’ and was referred to in a recent Singapore district court decision as ‘incarcerative in nature and should be imposed cautiously’.” Limits on free speech have a direct and negative impact on many civil organizations whose intrinsic goals of aiding society often conflict with official government policy.

Without the assistance of civil society organizations, the Sustainable Development Goals laid out by the UN cannot be met by 2030. If Asia’s leaders want to see these goals met, the restrictions on civil society organizations must be eliminated. Asian countries have both the organizational capacity and financial resources to help combat poverty, hunger and inequality, but will they be able to step up to the challenge?

Beyond ODA: Integrating Philanthropy into the Post-2015 Development Agenda

Last month, representatives at the United Nations Third International Conference on Financing for Development agreed to a number of proposals to fund the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals. Collectively known as the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, these proposals cover a range of financing sources, from domestic tax revenues and official development assistance to private sector financing and philanthropy. The Agenda also included measures to support international trade and capacity building. World leaders now hope that the financing mechanisms laid out in the AAAA will encourage countries to adopt both the SDGs and a climate change accord scheduled for negotiation in Paris this December.

 

Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon congratulates delegates on adopting the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. Source: UN Economic Commission on Africa
Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon congratulates delegates on adopting the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. Source: UN Economic Commission on Africa

 

The SDGs are a proposed set of 17 goals that are meant to provide benchmarks for a variety of development issues over the next 15 years. The goals cover poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, energy, the environment, and a host of other global challenges. Each goal is accompanied by a number of targets that serve as tangible metrics of a country’s progress towards the SDGs. These new goals are a follow up to the Millennium Development Goals, a 15-year set of eight benchmarks that world leaders agreed to back in 2000. To improve their drafting process for the new goals, the UN organized the largest consultation program in its history that combined government input with surveys of the general public.

 

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda, a vital part of the new development goal drafting process, is a step towards recognizing the role of international philanthropy and the private sector in supporting global development. The agreement makes several references to the importance of the private sector in economic growth, particularly the role of the financial sector in enabling small businesses. Furthermore, Article 10 of the agreement explicitly lists philanthropies and foundations as vital members of the “global partnerships” that are required to meet the SDGs. This is a substantial improvement over the funding section of the MDGs, which overwhelmingly relied on official development assistance and did not reference to international philanthropy.

 

However, there is still a lot more that the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the SDGs could do to support philanthropy’s vital role in development. In June, the CGP cohosted the Conference on Policy Coherence for Mobilizing Private Financial Flows for Sustainable Development with the OECD Development Center. The purpose of this conference was to discuss how to best utilize private funding for the SDGs in the lead up to the Third International Conference on Financing for Development. Dr. Carol Adelman, director of the CGP, provided a number of recommendations, summarized below:

 

  • Efforts to measure private financial flows and to publicize philanthropic best practices should be increased
  • Private and philanthropic actors should be included in drafting the SDGs
  • Innovation should be the primary criteria for creating public-private partnerships as part of the SDG targets for global partnerships
  • Philanthropy should be recognized as a unique source of development practices rather just an additional funding source for official development goals
  • Countries should strive to improve their legal environments for investing in both for-profits and not-for-profits
  • Intergovernmental organizations should facilitate the distribution of private resources to developing countries by evaluating best practices and identifying successful ventures

 

Though these suggestions were not explicitly included in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, countries looking for ways to finance their SDG efforts should still consider them. Many of these suggestions simply entail engaging with the private and philanthropic sectors, and collecting new data. However, some countries may balk at evaluating their legal environments. A major finding of the CGP’s new Index of Philanthropic Freedom is that laws created to serve the legitimate interests of the state, such as capital controls and illicit financial flows legislation, often hinder philanthropic efforts as well. Examining their legal requirements will require states to evaluate the benefits of combating illicit finance or managing volatile financial flows against the benefits that come from international philanthropy.

 

As Dr. Adelman noted in her comments, 80% of the developed world’s economic engagement with the developing world comes from the private sector, philanthropy, and remittances. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda is an important first step in acknowledging these essential flows and how they can help meet the SDGs. But the international community needs to go further in developing a more holistic funding plan for the SDGs, and the recommendations made at the Conference on Policy Coherence are an excellent place to start.

Deep Impact: Impact Investment in Pakistan

On Thursday, April 17, the Center for Global Prosperity had the pleasure of hosting an event, “Philanthropy for Civil Society in Pakistan”, with CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation, Dr. Mirza Jahani, Chairman of the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy, Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, and CGP’s Director Carol Adelman. The panelists spoke on topics ranging from the recent growth of civil society in Pakistan to the impact of economic development on future philanthropy.

imgres-1One very interesting point Lakha made was the pervasiveness of a giving culture in Pakistan and the importance of leveraging that community giving to strengthen civil society. He spoke about how Muslim culture has an ethos of giving that Pakistanis take very seriously. According to Lakha, approximately 80% of Pakistanis participate in some form of philanthropy, whether it be through monetary donations, volunteering, or both. These are levels equal to the US, one of the most philanthropic populations in the world. To further illustrate his point, he spoke of how 28% of those participating in philanthropy live on $2 a day.

Throughout the discussion, Lakha placed special emphasis on the growing role of civil society. He claimed that as Pakistani civil society develops, citizens would increasingly rely on it to fill the government gap in providing social services. Because of this, Pakistan must find a way to leverage the philanthropic culture to promote civil society growth. It is not enough to just participate philanthropy, Pakistan must find a way to develop and apply this philanthropic culture in a systematic and effective way.

Dr. Jahani made an intriguing comment on the current organization of philanthropy in Pakistan. He claimed that it fell into two camps: pure philanthropy and pure investment. He argued that in order to leverage the philanthropic culture, Pakistan must find a way to fill the gap between these two approaches. Both philanthropy and investment are needed in the development of civil society but often seem to be at odds. Philanthropy has the perception of being perfectly altruistic while investment is about the investor’s monetary returns. How can these two approaches that seem at complete odds work in conjunction with one another?

imgresSome argue that impact investment could be the connection between pure philanthropy and pure investment. Simply stated, impact investment is strategic investments companies make for financial gain that also have a social or environmental improvement goal. Impact investment gained popularity last year when it became a focus at the G8 Social Impact Investing Conference and the Aga Khan Foundation has had an impact investment initiative since 2011. In 2012 alone, companies donated more than $8 billion to impact investment. It is a way for companies to increase profits while also earning public goodwill.

Because impact investment primarily occurs through private corporations, the concept connects strongly to the economic development of Pakistan. During the discussion, Lakha pointed out that the economies of developing nations are growing at a faster rate than those in high-income countries. This means an increase in overall philanthropy and investment in Pakistan. He argued that corporate philanthropy is becoming increasingly important and will be critical to the development of a strong civil society. While an increase in philanthropy is a desirable trend, through impact investment Pakistani corporations could scale up the impact and returns of its investments through a single action. If Pakistani corporations catch on to the impact investment trend, Pakistan might see a large increase on its returns on investment, both on the economic and social ends. Now the country must figure out the best approach to encouraging impact investment.

If you would like to listen to the entire discussion on “Philanthropy for Civil Society”, please click here.

April is the Cruelest Month: the Coming Austerity Measures and Elections in Ukraine

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Anatolii Stepanov
Photo Credit: REUTERS/Anatolii Stepanov

The International Monetary Fund has offered Ukraine a two-year bailout package of $18 billion in return for steep economic reforms. The long-term goal of the bailout package is to stabilize a Ukrainian economy that is running up expenses and moving toward a debt default. It is hoped that economic stability in Ukraine will lead to the political stability that can then ease Ukraine’s transition to democracy, and more importantly, away from Russia. By opening up to the IMF deal, Ukraine will signal to nations like the US and Japan that they are committed to restructuring their economy and are open to investment. For example, the United States Congress is working on a bill for $1 billion in aid to Ukraine as well as economic sanctions against Russia. The European Union has put $15 billion on the table. It total, Ukraine is in position to receive around $27 billion in aid.

The downside to these deals is that the enforced austerity measures will likely hurt the average Ukrainian citizen by increasing gas prices by 50% and inflating the currency, the hryvnia, by somewhere between 12% and 14%. Therefore, we may see the cost of living rise while the purchasing power of the hryvnia plummets. Ukraine’s interim Prime Minster Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk explained that there would be a minimum-wage freeze and an increase in taxes for Ukraine’s largest companies. All of this spells out hard times for Ukraine in the coming years. But consider the result if Ukraine were not to accept the austerity measures. As The New York Times reported, Yatsenyuk “told the Parliament on Thursday that the country was ‘on the brink of economic and financial bankruptcy’ and that gross domestic product could drop 10 percent this year unless urgent steps were taken in conjunction with the fund.” With such instability, Ukraine’s interim government would not have the time or the legitimacy to set up the proper institutions before the planned election in May.

Photo Credit: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images

The top candidates for the election include former Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, billionaire businessman Petro Poroshenko, and Parliamentary leader as well as former professional boxer Vitali V. Klitscho. Tymoshenko, who was born in the industrial and Russian-leaning eastern Ukraine, has support from the western and central provinces. However, it is Poroshenko and Klitscho who lead in the polls. No matter the result in May, the next president of Ukraine is set to face a difficult transition in all aspects of society. Somehow, he or she must ease the pains of economic liberalization, consolidate political factions, and reign in nationalist as well as pro-Russian sentiments. International aid may help, but the real battle for Ukrainian independence must be fought from within. It is a fight to defeat the legacy of authoritarianism; a fight that Ukraine desperately needs to win.

The Beginning of a Beautiful Partnership?

The growing importance of the private sector is becoming a widely acknowledged fact in the development community. Now the problem for the development community is deciding how to properly incorporate the private sector into a public sector dominated field. Public-private partnerships seemed to be the solution, but effective and lasting partnerships are few and far between. To address the issue, The Partnering Initiative has released a paper titled “Unleashing the Power of Business: A practical roadmap to systematically scale up the engagement of business as a partner in development”. The paper provides recommendations for how the development community can promote public-private partnerships and ultimately take advantage of the advantages the private sectors provides to development work.

imagesIn order for public-private partnerships to be successful, the paper describes the need for what they call an “eco-system of support”. According to the authors, this eco-system is necessary for the successful fostering of public-private partnerships. The requirements include:

  • Funding organizations – partnerships must have financial support
  • Intermediary organizations – Organizations initiating partnerships
  • Training organizations and universities – necessary for capacity building
  • Consultancies – further support for partnership development
  • Research institutes – measures success of partnerships

Without the above five criteria, it becomes very difficult to foster strong partnerships.

The authors then provide a course of action within the specified ecosystem that will successfully develop public-private partnerships. The authors based the course of action on the perceived barriers including: lack of trust, timelines, communication difficulties, power dynamics, and differing priorities. The five critical steps include:

  1. Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 11.18.14 AMDeveloping trust between sectors – Done through increased communication and prioritization of a common interest
  2. Collaboration and aligning of development priorities – Streamline development process by creating joint development programs centered around combined development goals and resource partnerships
  3. Develop local platforms for partnership – Committees that create collaborative environment and reduce overall risk posed to private companies
  4. Measure partnership results and effectiveness – Evaluation of whether partnerships are having the desired impact
  5. Develop institutional capacity to maintain partnerships – Create support structure and training program to improve organization preparedness for partnerships

With such an extensive action plan, the question of ownership is crucial. Who is responsible for developing and evaluating partnerships? The authors argue that ownership must come from a cross-sectoral group, either created solely for this purpose or already in existence. Public-private partnerships involve a variety of development groups: local, international, public, private. A cross-sectoral group is the most appropriate owner because it will have representatives from the many parties involved in public-private partnerships.

A major concern with the course of action, however, is the bureaucratic nature of developing partnerships. Creating a cross-sectoral group to oversee partnerships, build institutional capacity, and evaluate performance is only going to contribute to the already bureaucratic nature of development work. The authors address this issue in the paper and claim the solution is to prioritize specific action. But this is not a realistic solution. Anyone working in development will say that having a common goal is not enough to overcome the constraints of bureaucracy. This course of action could just add more red tape for development organizations to get through.

images-1A course of action to foster public-private partnerships is absolutely necessary. The public sector needs to embrace the growing importance of the private sector and make room for it in the development sector. But is this approach truly the best way? The added bureaucracy alone seems daunting but the realism of achieving these goals must also be a consideration. The action plan sounds like a fine proposal but does not seem to be strongly grounded in the actual nature of development. The first point alone, improving trust between organizations, is a lofty goal. Those in the public sector do not trust each other after working together for decades. It does not seem realistic to assume private and public actors would suddenly trust one another after simply an increase in communication. Can we also expect these companies to directly align their goals?

Realistic or not, The Partnering Initiative has made a large contribution to the growing field of public-private partnerships by identifying key barriers and possible courses of action. It explores a topic with minimal research and opens the door for future studies on enhancing public-private partnerships.

Rocking the Vote: Challenges in Election Monitoring

Counting votes in the 2009 presidential elections in Herat, Afghanistan.
(BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)
http://blogs.sun-sentinel.com/click/2009/08/off-the-wires-afghanistans-election-day.html

Election monitoring is commonplace in the world of democracy promotion today. The men and women who observe elections – hailing from NGOs such as the National Democratic Institute (NDI) as well as international organizations like the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – aim to prevent election manipulation, fraud, and corruption. Short-term election observers arrive in the country under observation a few days before the election is set to begin. They meet with party members, police, election officials, and members of the general population to try to get a sense of what policies are at stake in the coming election and who the front-runners appear to be. On the day of the election, observers visit polling stations to make sure that the legitimacy of the election is not jeopardized in any way by government intimidation, closed polling centers, corrupt vote counters, and suspiciously low (or high) voter turnout. The team of election observers will report any unusual findings. If all is well, the election observers will watch the tallying of the votes, concluding that the citizens freely and fairly elected the winner.

A new report discussed at the Seventh Annual New York University Center for Experimental Social Sciences Conference on Experimental Political Science brings to light some interesting findings on the effectiveness of election monitoring. The authors set out to investigate whether or not election observation actually reduces various types of electoral manipulation. Their case study is the 2012 presidential election in Ghana. Specifically the authors examine “overvoting,” a phenomenon that occurs when more votes are cast in an election than there are registered voters. Secondly, the authors assessed “unnaturally high levels of turnout.” It is well known that even in nations under compulsory voting laws, such as Australia, voting rates rarely venture into the 90 per cent range.

Actors seeking to influence election results impose many complicated strategies for doing so. The authors list a number of methods by which voters can be turned away from the polls. Manipulators can do this by voter intimidation via government forces like the police or military. Political parties can have their own, separate, security forces that scare civilians away from the polls. Even worse, these strongmen can coerce civilians to vote for a candidate they do not support. A vote for the opposition candidate would put the lives and property of the voter’s family in danger. Fearing retribution, the average voter will not risk the lives of his loved ones for the sake of democracy.

The Kenyan presidential elections in December 2007 triggered a wave of violence.
The Kenyan presidential elections in December 2007 triggered a wave of violence.

In the opposite scenario, electoral manipulators seek to add “ghost voters” to the election, running up the vote count for a selected candidate. Ballot stuffing is a common tactic. Sometimes the final results are simply changed to suit a politician’s demands. High voter turnouts increase the victor’s claim to legitimate power, although most citizens recognize it as a sham. Thus, with this two-sided approach, the manipulation of elections can do a great deal of damage to democracy and liberty within a nation.

The results of the case study, the authors write, were positive, though they exposed some new problems that the election monitoring community must address. In sum, while election monitors did reduce electoral manipulation at the polling place at which they were stationed, those seeking to manipulate the election simply moved to unobserved polling places: displaced but not disrupted. The authors explain:

We find that observers reduce fraud at the stations where they are deployed by about 60 percent. We also find evidence that observers displace fraud to nearby but unobserved polling stations. This displacement is concentrated in the historical strongholds of Ghana’s two major political parties. This suggests that parties are better able to relocate fraud in single-party dominant areas where the dominant party enjoys social penetration and where political competition is low. (Asunka et al., pg.3)

Moving forward, placing election monitors at polling stations at which fraud is more likely to occur (rather than randomly selected polling stations) would be a more effective way to prevent fraud. Working from strategic districts around a nation, election monitors can better combat the intimidation and ballot-stuffing that is all too common in today’s emerging democracies.

Teach a Man to Fish, or Track an Illegal Fisherman

Africa is a continent of vast natural resources, and the West African coastline is no exception. Large portions of the West African population rely on the coast for their livelihoods. In the region, 1.6 billion tons of fish, estimated at a value of $3 billion, is caught off the coast of West Africa. This figure directly or indirectly employs over 3 million people, and represents up to 10% of GDP in countries, such as Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone. It is also estimated that up to two-thirds of the animal protein consumed in coastal West African states is fish, highlighting its importance as an economic and nutritional resource for West Africans. Unfortunately, Africa is also a continent used to exploitation from people outside of their borders. In West Africa, this has manifested itself in the form of massive trawlers, particularly from Europe and Asia, appearing along its coasts.

Traditional West African pirogue in front of a Spanish trawler

These trawlers are largely involved in what is known as IUU fishing, or Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing. This is a more comprehensive way of thinking about fishing, as it involves not only the act of fishing, but also the illegal trade of the fish and the demand by consumers for those products. The trawlers usually fish in areas near the shore and then either mix them with legal catches in the Canary Islands or in refrigerated vessels known as “reefers”. The effect of IUU fishing in most of these countries are unsustainable practices of overfishing. It also takes away the livelihoods of some of the poorest people on earth. Illegal trawling has been estimated at $1 billion, while the Ivory Coast reported in 2010 that their catch was down by 30%. The end destination tends to be vessels from China, South Korea, Belize, and the EU, with 25% of European fish coming from West Africa.

Haidar el Ali, the Senegales Fisheries Minister

It has been difficult for the West African governments and their populations to cope with the international trawlers. Corruption is a big issue with the granting of licenses for some of these vessels. Even when caught, most of the captains or crew members offer policemen and fisheries officers a bribe to look the other way, typically in the thousands of dollars according to a source in the Guinean military. These West African states also tend to be weak in the international arena. The largest fine ever levied against one of these trawler operators was $1 million by Liberia in 2013. However, according to the Senegalese Fisheries Minister, Haidar el Ali, these vessels can haul in 3,000 tons of fish with an estimated value of $100,000 in one trawl, highlighting how weak a deterrent some of these fines can be.

Map of West Africa

Even against these long odds, governments and civil society organizations are starting to turn the tide. Greenpeace has been active in mobilizing Senegalese fishermen against the Common Fisheries Practice of the EU, which defines how EU fishing vessels are allowed to operate worldwide, particularly by pushing the cancellation of subsidies for fishing fleets far from EU shores. Furthermore, 29 fishing licenses were cancelled in 2012 in Senegal after 52,000 small-scale fishermen threatened action against both the illegal fishing fleet and the government over alleged impropriety of the granting of licenses. The aforementioned Mr. el Ali has also been more active in his pursuit of justice, seizing vessels and establishing fines for repeat offenders. Internationally, there has been a call by the former UK foreign secretary and current president of the International Rescue Committee, David Milliband, to an international ocean-police force to stop the estimated illegal fishing of $10-24 billion worth of fish worldwide. At a more practical level, the Environmental Justice Foundation has raised money to equip local fishermen in Sierra Leone to track illegal trawlers and identify them so that they can be passed on to EU and African authorities, while pushing South Korea and Panama to act on vessels under their flags. The actions of illegal trawlers have been extremely problematic for the West African population, but continued action and coordination of governments, along with continued success by civil society organizations there may be hope for West Africans along the coast.

Distress Call From an Ancient City

The recent uptick in violence in Syria had made it nearly impossible for aid organizations to deliver supplies to Syrian citizens caught in the crossfire of a civil war. Civilians trapped in the Syrian city of Homs because of bombings, sniper fire and roadblocks are low on food and medicine. Fortunately, aid organizations brought supplies to around 700 people and transferred them to a safer section of the city that was once a beacon of culture and civilization. Scenes like this are happening all across Syria, with pro-Assad forces and opposition fighters exchanging gunfire while women, children, and the elderly attempt to flee or seek shelter from the fighting.

A destroyed neighborhood in Homs, Syria.
A destroyed neighborhood in Homs, Syria.

Recently, negotiations between Syrian pro-government and opposition leaders have fallen apart. Mediated by the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, the first round of talks that began in late January failed to accomplish much aside from hurt feelings on both sides of the negotiating table.  Ten days later, in a second attempt at a dialogue, UN officials looked to ease the chaos breaking out in the Syrian city of Homs by coming to a transfer of power agreement with the Assad government. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN mediator who took the lead in talks with the Assad government, apologized to the Syrian people after negotiations for a transitional government fell through.

On February 10 a cease-fire facilitated the evacuation of citizens and allowed supply trucks and aid workers to give care to the remaining civilians trapped within the crumbling city walls. The cease-fire was, unfortunately, the only positive progress made since talks began in January. Meanwhile, what little is left of Homs continues to be a battleground for opposition and government forces, an estimated 2,500 Syrians caught in their wake.  Photos of the devastation have triggered media outlets to post “before and after” pictures of some of the most treasured monuments in Homs and across Syria.

The UN Security Council came to an agreement on Feb 22 that gives the Assad government and the opposition forces 30 days to comply with a set of humanitarian goals. Russia and China, who are part of the five permanent Security Council members, came out in support of the resolution. All 15 members of the Security Council voted in support of the resolution.  Among other humanitarian goals, the resolution calls for:

  • The cessation of all forms of violence, some of which will be considered war crimes when the conflict is over.
  • The protection of civilians from indiscriminate aerial attacks, including the use of barrel bombs.
  • The expansion of humanitarian relief operations and the movement of medical supplies across the Syrian border.
  • The safe evacuation of all citizens who wish to leave the besieged cities.
  • The end of arbitrary capture and torture of civilians.

Still, the resolution saw opposition from Syria’s UN Representative Bashar al-Jaafari, who claimed that the humanitarian aid has a political agenda. United States Secretary of State John Kerry recently spoke out against the violence in Syria, putting greater pressure on Russia to tone down their support for the Assad regime. The United States continues to meet with world leaders, but a clear solution to the crisis in Syria has evaded them. Some feel that Assad is using these attempts at diplomacy as a buffer until his military can win the civil war against the government opposition fighters. Others remain hopeful that the dialogue at the UN brought forth the demands of both sides, even though no agreement could be reached.