Entries with Categorías Global Affairs Orden mundial, diplomacia y gobernanza .

US reorganizes its financial aid to developing countries to compete with China

The inclusion of private investment and the requirement of efficient credits differ from the overwhelming amount of loans from Chinese state banks

The active role of China as lender to an increasing number of countries has forced the United States to try to compete in this area of “soft power”. Until last decade the US was clearly ahead of China in official development assistance, but Beijing has used its state-controlled banks to pour loans into ambitious projects worldwide. In order to better compete with China, Washington has created the US International Development Finance Corporation (USIDFC), combining the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and with USAID’s Development Credit Authority (DCA).

▲ The US agency helped to provide clean, safe, and reliable sanitation for more than 100,000 people in Nairobi, at the end of 2020 [USIDFC]

ARTICLE /  Alexandria Casarano

It is not easy to know the complete amount of the international loans given by China in recent years, which skyrocketed from the middle of last decade. Some estimations say that the Chinese state and its subsidiaries have lent about US$ 1.5 trillion in direct loans and trade credits to more than 150 countries around the globe, turning China into the world's largest official creditor.

The two main Chinese foreign investment banks, the Export-Import Bank of China and the China Development Bank, were both established in 1994. The banks have been criticized for their lack of transparency and for blurring the lines between official development assistance (ODA) and commercial financial arrangements. To address this issue, Beijing founded the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) in April of 2018. The CIDCA will oversee all Chinese ODA activity, and the Chinese Ministry of Commerce will oversee all commercial financial arrangements going forward.

An additional complaint about Chinese foreign investment concerns “debt-trap diplomacy.” Since the PRC first announced its “One Belt One Road” initiative in 2013, the Chinese government has steadily increased its investment in the developing world even more dramatically than it had in the early 2000’s (when Chinese foreign aid was increasing annually by approximately 14%). At the 2018 China-Africa Convention Forum, the PCR pledged to invest US$ 60 billion in Africa that year alone. The Wall Street Journal said of the PRC in 2018 that it was “expanding its investments at a pace some consider reckless.” Ray Washburn, president of the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), called the Chinese One Belt One Road initiative a “loan-to-own” program. In 2018, this was certainly the case with the Chinese funded Sri Lankan port project, which led the Sri Lankan government to lease the port to Beijing for a 99-year period as a result of falling behind on payments.

OPIC, founded in 1971 under the Nixon administration, was recommended for elimination in the Trump administration’s 2017 budget. However, following the beginning of the US-China trade war in 2018, Washington reversed course completely. President Trump’s February 2018 budget recommended increasing OPIC’s funding and combining it with other government programs. These recommendations manifested themselves in the Better Utilization of Investment Leading to Development (BUILD) Act, which was passed by Congress on October 5, 2018. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) called the BUILD Act “the most important piece of U.S. soft power legislation in more than a decade.”

The US International Development Finance Corporation

The principal achievement of the BUILD Act was the creation of the US International Development Finance Corporation (USIDFC), which began operation as an independent agency on December 20, 2019. The BUILD Act combined OPIC with USAID’s Development Credit Authority to form the USIDFC and established an annual budget of US$ 60 billion for the new organization, which is more than double OPIC’s 2018 budget of US$ 29 billion.

▲ USIDFC‘s investment commitments by region for the FY 2020. The US$ 29.9 billion is only a fraction of the agency's budget [USIDFC]

According to the Wall Street Journal, OPIC “has been profitable every year for the last 40 years and has contributed US$ 8.5 billion to deficit reduction,” a financial success which can primarily be attributed to project management fees. As of 2018, OPIC managed a portfolio valued at US$ 23 billion. OPIC’s strong fiscal track record, combined with both the concept of government program streamlining and the larger context of geopolitical competition with China, generated bipartisan support for the BUILD Act and the USIDFC.

The USIDFC has several key new capacities which OPIC lacked. OPIC’s business was limited to “loan guarantees, direct lending and political-risk insurance,” and suffered under a “congressional cap on its portfolio size and a prohibition on owning equity stakes in projects.” The USIDFC, however, is permitted under the BUILD Act to “acquire equity or financial interests in entities as a minority investor.”

Both the USIDFC currently and OPIC before its incorporation are classified as Development Finance Institutions (DFIs). DFIs seek to “crowd-in” private investment, that is, attracting private investment that would not occur otherwise. This differs from the Chinese model of state-to-state lending and falls in line with traditional American political and economic philosophy. According to the CSIS, “The USIDFC offers [...] a private sector, market-based solution. Moreover, it fills a clear void that Chinese financing is not filling. China does not support lending to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and it rarely helps local companies in places like Africa or Afghanistan grow.”

In the fiscal year of 2020, the most USIDFC’s investments were made in Latin America (US$ 8.5 billion) and Sub-Saharan Africa (US$ 8 billion). Lesser but still significant investments were made in the Indo-Pacific region (US$ 5.4 billion), Eurasia (US$ 3.2 billion), and Middle East (US$ 3 billion). This falls in line with the USIDFC’s goal to invest more in lower and lower-middle income countries, as opposed to upper middle countries. OPIC previously had fallen into the pattern of investing predominantly in upper-middle countries, and while the USIDFC is still authorized legally to invest in upper-middle income countries for national security or developmental motives.

These investments serve to further US national interests abroad. According to the USIDFC webpage, “by generating economic opportunities for citizens in developing countries, challenges such as refugees, drug-financed gangs, terrorist organizations, and human trafficking can all be addressed more effectively.” Between 2002 and 2014, financial commitments in the DFI sector have increased sevenfold, from US$ 10 billion to US$ 70 billion. In our increasingly globalized world, international interests increasingly overlap with national interests, and public interests increasingly overlap with private interests.

Ongoing USIDFC initiatives

The USIDFC has five ongoing initiatives to further its national interests abroad: 2X Women’s Initiative, Connect Africa, Portfolio for Impact and Innovation, Health and Prosperity, and Blue Dot Network. In 2020, the USIDFC "commited to catalyzing an additional US$ 6 billion of private sector investment in global women's economic empowerment" uner the 2X Women's Initiative which seeks global female empowerment. About US$1 billion for this US$ 6 billion commitment has been specially pledged to Africa. Projects that fall under the 2X Women's Initiative include equity financing for a woman-owned feminine hygiene products online store in Rqanda, and "expanding women's access to affordable mortages in India."

Continuing the USIDFC’s special focus on Africa follows the Connect Africa initiative, under which the USIDFC has pledged US$ 1 billion to promote economic growth and connectivity in Africa. The Connect Africa initiative involves investment in telecommunications, internet access, and infrastructure.

Under the Portfolio for Impact and Innovation initiative, the USIDFC has dedicated US$ 10 million to supporting early-stage businesses. This includes sponsoring the Indian company Varthana, which offers affordable online learning for children whose schools have been shut down due to the Covid-19 crisis.

The Health and Prosperity initiative focuses on “bolstering health systems” and “expanding access to clean water, sanitation, and nutrition.” Under the Health and Prosperity initiative, the USIDFC has dedicated US$ 2 billion to projects such as financing a 200+ mile drinking water pipeline in Jordan.

The Blue Dot Network initiative, like the Connect Africa initiative, also invests in infrastructure, but on a global scale. The Blue Dot Network initiative differs from the aforementioned initiatives in being a network. Launched in November 2019, the Blue Dot Network seeks to align the interests of government, private enterprise, and civil society to facilitate the successful development of infrastructure around the globe.

It is important to note that these five initiatives are not entirely separate. Many projects fall under several initiatives at once. The Rwandan feminine products e-store project, for example, falls under both the 2X Women’s initiative and the Health and Prosperity initiative.

Obama irrestricto

[Barack Obama, Una tierra prometida (Debate: Madrid, 2020), 928 págs.]

RESEÑAEmili J. Blasco

Las memorias de un presidente son siempre un intento de justificación de su actuación política. Habiendo empleado George W. Bush menos de quinientas páginas en «Decision Points» para intentar explicar las razones de una gestión en principio más controvertida, que Barack Obama utilice casi mil para una primera parte de sus memorias (Una tierra prometida solo cubre basta el tercero de sus ocho años de presidencia) parece un exceso: de hecho, ningún presidente estadounidense ha requerido tanto espacio en ese ejercicio de querer dejar atado su legado.

Es verdad que Obama tiene gusto por la pluma, con algún libro precedente en el que ya demostró buena narrativa, y es posible que esa inclinación literaria le haya vencido. Pero probablemente ha sido más determinante la visión que Obama ha tenido de sí mismo y de su presidencia: la convicción de tener una misión, como primer presidente afroamericano, y su ambición de querer doblar el arco de la historia. Cuando, con el paso del tiempo, Obama comienza a ser ya uno más en la lista de presidentes, su libro revindica el carácter histórico de su persona y sus realizaciones.

El primer tercio de Una tierra prometida resulta especialmente interesante. Hay un repaso somero de su vida anterior a la entrada en política y luego el detalle de su carrera hasta alcanzar la Casa Blanca. Esta parte tiene la misma carga inspiradora que hizo tan atractivo Los sueños de mi padre, el libro que Obama publicó en 1995 cuando lanzó su campaña al Senado del estado de Illinois (en España apareció en 2008, a raíz de su campaña a la presidencia). Todos podemos sacar lecciones muy útiles para nuestra propia superación personal: la idea de ser dueños de nuestro destino, de cobrar conciencia de nuestra identidad más profunda, y la seguridad que eso nos da para llevar a cabo muchas empresas de gran valor y transcendencia; el poner todo el empeño en una meta y aprovechar oportunidades que quizá no vuelvan a presentarse; en definitiva, el pensar siempre por elevación (cuando Obama vio que su trabajo como senador de Illinois tenía poco impacto, su decisión no fue dejar la política, sino saltar al ámbito nacional: se presentó a senador en Washington y de ahí, solo cuatro años después, llegó a la Casa Blanca). Se trata, además, de unas páginas ricas en enseñanzas sobre comunicación política y campañas electorales.

Pero cuando la narración comienza a abordar el periodo presidencial, que arrancó en enero de 2009, ese tono inspirador decae. Lo que antes era una sucesión de adjetivos generalmente positivos hacia todos, empieza a incluir diatribas contra sus oponentes republicanos. Y aquí está el punto que Obama no logra superar: otorgarse todo el mérito moral y negárselo a quien con sus votos en el Congreso discrepaba de la legislación promovida por el nuevo presidente. Cierto que Obama contó con una oposición muy frontal de los líderes republicanos en el Senado y en la Cámara de Representantes, pero estos también apoyaron algunas de sus iniciativas, como el propio Obama reconoce. Por lo demás, ¿qué fue antes, el huevo o la gallina? Amplios sectores republicanos se echaron enseguida al monte, como pronto evidenció la marea del Tea Party en las elecciones de medio mandato de 2010 (en un movimiento que acabaría desembocando en el respaldo a Trump), pero también es que Obama había llegado con las posiciones más a la izquierda que se recordaban en la política estadounidense. Con su empuje idealista, Obama había dado poco ejemplo de esfuerzo bipartidista en su paso por el Senado de Illinois y de Washington; cuando algunas de sus reformas desde la Casa Blanca se vieron bloqueadas en el Congreso, en lugar de buscar un acomodo –aceptando una política de lo posible– fue a la calle a enfrentar a los ciudadanos con los políticos que se oponían a sus transformaciones, enquistando aún más las trincheras de unos y otros.

El historiador británico Niall Ferguson ha apuntado que el fenómeno Trump no se entendería sin la presidencia previa de Obama, aunque probablemente la agria división política en Estados Unidos sea una cuestión de corriente profunda en la que los líderes juegan un papel menos protagonista de lo que supondríamos. Justamente Obama se vio a si mismo como alguien idóneo, por su mezcla cultural (de raza negra, pero criado por su madre y abuelos blancos), para superar esa grieta que en la sociedad estadounidense iba agrandándose; sin embargo, no pudo tender los puentes ideológicos necesarios. Bill Clinton se enfrentó a un similar bloqueo republicano, en el Congreso liderado por Newt Gingrich, y procedió a transacciones que fueron útiles: restó carga ideológica y trajo una prosperidad económica que relajó la vida pública.

Una tierra prometida incluye muchas reflexiones de Obama. Generalmente aporta los contextos necesarios para entender bien las cuestiones, por ejemplo en la gestación de la crisis financiera de 2008. En política exterior detalla el estado de las relaciones con las principales potencias: la animadversión hacia Putin y la suspicacia hacia China, entre otros asuntos. Hay aspectos con distintas posibles vías de avance en los que Obama no deja margen para una posición alternativa lícita: así, en un tema especialmente emblemático, carga contra Netanyahu sin admitir ningún error propio en su aproximación al problema palestino-israelí. Esto es algo que otras reseñas del libro han señalado: la ausencia de autocrítica (más allá de admitir pecados de omisión al no haber sido todo lo audaz que hubiera deseado), y la falta en admitir que en algún aspecto quizás el oponente podía tener razón.

La narración transcurre con buen ritmo interno, a pesar de las muchas páginas. El tomo termina en 2011, en un momento aleatorio determinado por la extensión que se prevea para una segunda entrega; no obstante, tiene un colofón con suficiente fuerza: la operación contra Osama bin Laden, por primera vez contada en primera persona por quien tenía el máximo nivel de mando. Aunque se desconoce el grado de implicación de otras manos en la redacción de la obra, esta tiene un punto de lirismo que conecta directamente con Los sueños de mi padre y que ayuda a atribuirla, al menos en gran medida, al propio expresidente.

La obra contiene muchos episodios de la vida doméstica de los Obama. Los constantes piropos de Obama a su mujer, la admiración por su suegra y las continuas referencias a la devoción por sus dos hijas podrían considerarse algo innecesario, sobre todo por lo recurrente, en un libro político. No obstante, otorgan al relato el tono personal que Obama ha querido adoptar, dando además calidez humana a quien con frecuencia se le acusó de tener una imagen pública de persona fría, distante y demasiado reflexiva.

Una nueva visión geopolítica de Asia

[Rory Medcalf, Indo-Pacific Empire. China and the Contest for the World’s Pivotal Region (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020) 310 págs.]

RESEÑASalvador Sánchez Tapia

En 2016, el primer ministro Abe de Japón y su homólogo indio, Narendra Modi, realizaron un viaje en el tren bala que une Tokio con Kobe para visualizar el nacimiento de una nueva era de cooperación bilateral. Sobre la base de esta anécdota, Rory Medcalf propone al lector una reconceptualización de la región más dinámica del globo que deje atrás la que, por mor del influjo norteamericano, ha predominado por algún tiempo bajo la denominación “Asia-Pacífico”, y que no refleja una realidad geopolítica más amplia.

El título de la obra es un tanto engañoso, pues parece aludir a un eventual dominio mundial ejercido desde la región indo-pacífica, y a la lucha de China y Estados Unidos por el mismo. No es esto lo que el libro ofrece.

Para Medcalf, un australiano que ha dedicado muchos años a trabajar en el servicio exterior de su país, “Indo-Pacífico” es un concepto geopolítico alternativo que engloba a una amplia región eminentemente marítima que comprende los océanos Pacífico e Índico, por los cuales circula la mayor parte del comercio marítimo global, así como los territorios costeros conectados por ambos mares. En el centro de este inmenso y diverso espacio se encuentran, actuando como una suerte de bisagra vertebradora, Australia, y la zona del sureste asiático que comprende el Estrecho de Malaca, vital paso marítimo.

El enfoque geopolítico propuesto sirve de argumento para articular una respuesta regional al creciente y cada vez más amenazador poder de China, que no pase por la confrontación o la capitulación sumisa. En palabras del autor, es un intento, hecho desde un punto de vista liberal, para contrarrestar los deseos de China de capitalizar la región en su favor.

En este sentido, la propuesta de Medcalf pasa por que las potencias medias de la región –India, Australia, Japón, Corea, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc.– logren una mayor coordinación para dibujar un futuro que tenga en cuenta los legítimos intereses de China, pero en el que estas potencias equilibren de forma eficaz el poder de Beijing. Se trata de que el futuro de la región esté diseñado con China, pero no sea impuesto por China. Tampoco por Estados Unidos al que, no obstante, se reconoce como actor clave en la región, y con cuyo apoyo el autor cuenta para dar cuerpo a la idea.

El argumento del libro sigue un guion cronológico en el que aparecen tres partes claramente diferenciadas: pasado, presente y futuro. La primera de ellas expone las razones históricas que justifican la consideración de la indo-pacífica como una región con entidad propia, y muestra las deficiencias de la visión “Asia-Pacífico”.

El bloque referido al presente es de índole descriptiva y hace una breve presentación de los principales actores del escenario indo-pacífico, del creciente poder militar chino, y de cómo China lo está empleando para retornar, en una reminiscencia de la época del navegante chino Zheng He, al Océano Índico, convertido ahora en arena de confrontación geoeconómica y geopolítica, así como en pieza clave del crecimiento económico chino como ruta por la que navegan los recursos que el país necesita, y como en parte marítima del proyecto global de la nueva Ruta de la Seda.

En lo tocante al futuro, Medcalf ofrece su propuesta para la región, basada en un esquema geopolítico en el que Australia, naturalmente, ocupa un lugar central. En una escala que va desde la cooperación hasta el conflicto, pasando por la coexistencia, la competición y la confrontación, el autor hace una apuesta por la coexistencia de los actores del tablero indo-pacífico con China, y plantea acciones en las tres áreas de la promoción del desarrollo en los países más vulnerables a la influencia –extorsión, en algunos casos– china; de la disuasión, en la que Estados Unidos continuará jugando un papel central, pero que no puede estar basada exclusivamente en su poder nuclear, sino en el crecimiento de las capacidades militares de los países de la región; y de la diplomacia, ejercida a varios niveles –bilateral, multilateral, y “minilateral”– para generar confianza mutua y establecer normas que eviten una escalada hacia la confrontación e, incluso, el conflicto.

Estos tres instrumentos deben venir acompañados de la práctica de dos principios: solidaridad y resiliencia. Por el primero se busca una mayor capacidad para gestionar el ascenso de China de una forma que promueva un balance entre el equilibrio de poder y el acercamiento, evitando los extremos de la contención y el acomodo a los designios del gigante. Por el segundo, los estados de la región se hacen más resistentes al poder de China y más capaces de recuperarse de sus efectos negativos.

No cabe duda de que este enfoque geopolítico, que sigue la estela abierta por Japón con su política “Indo-Pacífico Libre y Abierto”, está hecho desde una perspectiva netamente australiana y de que, de forma consciente o no, realza el papel de esta nación-continente, y sirve a sus intereses particulares de definir su lugar en el mundo y de mantener un entorno seguro y estable frente a una China que contempla de una forma cada vez más amenazadora.

Aún reconociendo esta motivación, que no deja de ser consecuencia lógica de la aplicación de los viejos conceptos del realismo, la visión propuesta no carece de méritos. Para empezar, permite conceptualizar a China de una forma que captura el interés por el Índico como algo integral a la visión que de sí misma tiene respecto a su relación con el mundo. Por otra parte, sirve como llamada de atención, tanto a las numerosas potencias medias asiáticas como a los pequeños estados insulares del Pacífico, sobre la amenaza china, ofreciendo el maná de una alternativa diferente al conflicto o a la sumisión acrítica al gigante chino. Finalmente, incorpora –al menos conceptualmente– a Estados Unidos, junto con India y Japón, a un esfuerzo multinacional capaz, por el peso económico y demográfico de los participantes, de equilibrar el poder de China.

Si la intención del concepto es la de fomentar en la región la conciencia de la necesidad de componer un equilibrio al poder de China, entonces puede argumentarse que la propuesta, excesivamente centrada en Australia, omite por completo la dimensión terrestre china, y la conveniencia de incorporar a ese balance a otras potencias medias regionales que, aunque no se cuenten entre las marítimas, comparten con ellas el temor al creciente poder de China. De forma similar, y aunque pueda pensarse que las naciones ribereñas de África y América forman parte integral de la entidad definida por las cuencas indo-pacíficas, éstas están conspicuamente ausentes del diseño geopolítico, a excepción de Estados Unidos y Rusia. Las referencias a África son muy escasas; América Central y del Sur están, simplemente, innombradas.

Se trata, en definitiva, de una interesante obra que aborda una importante cuestión de alcance global desde una óptica novedosa, realista y ponderada, sin caer en escenarios catastrofistas, sino abriendo una puerta a un futuro algo esperanzador en el que una China dominante pero cuyo poder, así se argumenta, podría haber ya alcanzado su pico máximo, pueda dar lugar al florecimiento de un espacio compartido en el corazón de un mundo reconectado de una forma que los antiguos navegantes no habían podido ni siquiera imaginar.

Election violence in Africa: Motivations and effects on election outcome. The case of Kenya and Burundi

Police cordon off Uhuru Park in Nairobi in 2008 to bar opposition from holding there Mass protest rally [Wikimedia Commons]

▲ Police cordon off Uhuru Park in Nairobi in 2008 to bar opposition from holding there Mass protest rally [Wikimedia Commons]

ESSAY Álvaro de Lecea Larrañaga

From the moment colonial empires left the African continent and the new republics celebrated their first democratic elections, the issue of election violence has been present in the majority of the countries. It is a problem that has not changed and that keeps disturbing national and international supporters of a peaceful democratization of the African continent. It is not the first time in history we know about election violence in democratic states, such as France during the nineteenth century; nevertheless, the African dynamics are quite peculiar.

Violence, in general terms, has become a political instrument in the African democratic dynamics (Laakso, 2007). Depending on the actor making use of it, the motivation behind it is different. It is also important to take into account the historical, political, socio-cultural and economic context of each country to understand the purposes of the usage of this controversial mechanism. The spur is not the same for the ruling party or the opposition party, or other groups like the youth. Hence the use of violence has a lot of influence in the outcomes of an election process as it is an effective means that shapes the democratic dynamics when it comes to the election of the representatives at all stages of the electoral processes. For example, the ruling parties use it to avoid being removed from their powerful positions and all the benefits that come from them (Mehler, 2007).

This issue of power, with a high level of influence of money, is probably the most common motivation for every actor involved in these dynamics (Muna & Otieno, 2020, pp. 92-111). Not only the ruling powers but the ones trying to substitute them or the ones trying to impose a new order are, in some way, motivated by the powerful positions they could attain. The violence therefore permeates all party structures and is also noticeable within the parties.

The issue of intra-party violence has not received a lot of attention due to more frequency of state inspired violence against the opposition. Yet it is becoming more prevalent especially in political parties that hold power. This is because the belief is usually entrenched that if one represents the ruling party the chances of getting elected get higher. It should also be noted that the risk of intra-party violence increases as inter-party competition decreases, making intra-party violence more common in districts where a single party dominates (Bech Seeberg, Skaaning, & Wahman, 2017).

The timing of the violence is very relevant to understand the problem of election violence. The different three kinds of election violence (pre-election violence, post-election violence and violence during the Election Day) carry different connotations with them (Daxecker, 2013). They are the result of the general context of the country and represent the behaviour of their citizens towards the democratic principles of the nation. This can also be a response to the electoral campaigns of both the ruling and opposition parties, which sometimes involve violent means too.

Pre-election violence is normally recorded within parties as they carry out their primaries to select representatives and during the campaign process in a bid to hinder opponents from getting access to the people. Violence on Election Day is usually designed to disrupt areas where some candidates suspect they will lose or feel the election process has not been fair. While post-election violence is mainly an expression of dissatisfaction with the outcome of the election.

The role of media and international observers are also key for drafting the big picture of the problems involving election violence. These to some extent can escalate the conflict or reduce it. The power of information is huge and these agents are the most reliable sources to the local and international communities. If an international observer, such as a Committee from the United Nations, declares an election fraud, post-election violence is a very possible outcome (Daxecker, 2012). However, the media, and more concretely a trustworthy local media agent, has the power to calm the masses and bring peace.

Finally, the electoral system chosen by each country will also have a direct effect on the violence because of the interests behind the election. The plurality voting is the most used system among African states. These kinds of systems are also known as winner-takes-all, because the winner gets all the power. Even if it is not necessarily a negative system, as successful countries such as France or Brazil also use them, the difference of power between a common citizen and a politician is so big in Africa that the interest of getting those posts is higher (Reynolds, 2009). This will cause that any means justified to get there, including the use of violence.

To further analyze the motivations behind election violence in Africa and the effects it has on the region, and to try to offer a functional solution for this issue the article explores two case studies: Kenya 2007 and Burundi 2010.

African election violence case studies

Kenya 2007

The presidential and parliamentary elections held in Kenya in 2007 are a great example of election violence where external factors had influences on the outcomes. However, these external factors were not the only ones causing the violence. Internal issues such as the historical culture of the country, the electoral system or the will of power were also influential in this case. To understand the big picture, it is always important to analyze every relevant aspect.

Since the first multi-party democratic elections in Kenya, held in 1992, post-election violence has been very present. During the almost thirty years of dictatorship in Kenya after their independence from the British Crown, repression was promoted throughout the whole territory. Abuses of human rights, nepotism, widespread corruption and patronage were very common (Onyebadi & Oyedeji, 2011), therefore Kenyans are used to protest, violently if needed, against political fraud and suppression of their democratic rights.

Mwai Kibaki’s victory in the 2007 elections brought a whole wave of violent protests because of the fraudulent accusations the elections received (Odhiambo Owuor, 2013). Not only the opposition leader Raila Odinga denounced the election as massively rigged, but also the international community did so. As they condemned the election as fraudulent, the United Nations intervened and helped reach a deal between both party leaders. In this case, the violence produced arrived after the elections (post-election violence) and was motivated by the fraudulent accusations made by international and national observers.

The solution reached was to recognize Kibaki as president and to create a new position of Executive Prime Minister for Odinga. Furthermore, they stipulated that cabinet positions were to be shared by the disputants and their political parties. This characteristic outcome was accepted with more enthusiasm by the Kenyan people because it divided the power in more than one person and, therefore, the abuse of it as it had happened before was not so probable. The electoral system, which is explained later on, has helped these abuses to be produced, so this different outcome meant a significant change in the Kenyan policy-making.

In the case of Kenya, media is very relevant, as the two most successful newspapers, the “Daily Nation” and “The Standard”, with a combined strength of 75% market share, do not receive funding from the government. Without falling into sensationalism, these newspapers were able to become agents of peace and reconciliation. As violence raged in the post-election period, the newspapers adopted a thematic approach to reaching a peaceful outcome (Onyebadi & Oyedeji, 2011).

This conflict, apart from the effects it had on the electoral outcome, influenced the economic situation of the country. The annual percentage growth of GDP fell from 6.8% in 2007 to 0.2% in 2008, the annual percentage of GDP per capita growth was negative (-2.5%) and the growth on the percentage of employment regarding total labour force began increasing again in 2008, going from 2.5% that year to 2.7% in 2009 (World Bank, 2020). However, this data is biased because of the economic recession several countries, including Kenya, suffered due to the 2008 financial crisis.

Finally, Kenya’s first-past-the-post single member constituency electoral system gives the electoral winner plenty of power. Moreover, the economic inequality, the domination of the powerful elites of the country who are very influential in the political system and the fact that Kenyan political parties are not usually founded on ideology but serve the ideas of the funders, produce a form of democracy that represents the few rather than the majority. Therefore, it is very complicated to terminate the desire for political power from the Kenyan mindset.

Burundi 2010

Burundi’s history has been marked by the Hutu-Tutsi rivalry. Since it got independence in 1962, the ethnic cleavages between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi have been remarkable. The 2010 elections are not quite different from the rest, as the outcomes resulted in boycotts and violence. Burundi is a country that has used violence as a tool of solving conflicts several times and has a violent historic precedent regarding “democratic” elections (Mehler, 2007). Several prime ministers and presidents from the different ethnic groups have been assassinated throughout Burundi’s democratic history, which has led to a series of coups and ethnic clashes.

During the 2010 elections, the United Nations also sent a mission to observe the democratic process followed. They affirmed that the winning party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD–FDD), were able to campaign throughout the country, whereas the opposition parties had much less visibility (Palmans, n.d.).

The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), which is supposed to organize, conduct and supervise the elections independently from any party were not as transparent as they were meant to and didn’t respect the rights of the political parties, which caused the boycott led by the opposition (Niang, n.d.). In Burundi too, elections have mainly been a struggle for power as a means of gaining access to economic resources through control of the state. So, the tensions have always been great during elections. Thus, violence tends to be used by nearly every actor involved.

The peculiarity within this case is that the violence didn’t only take place after knowing the results of the elections, but also before the Election Day. Pre-election violence came as a consequence of systematic disagreement between CNDD-FDD and opposition parties. Although several institutions were created to ensure the legality and transparency of the election, such as the CENI, the CNDD-FDD tried to arrange the legal and institutional context to force the process into its advantage and ensure its victory against the opposition.

The pre-election violence transformed into post-election violence leading to the main opposition leader, Agathon Rwasa, having to flee the country. Even though the violence was not as widespread as in Kenya, the situation remained tense in the country. The results didn’t change, and the political rivalries were further entrenched. In this case, the use of violence and coupled with display of power won the elections which created more fear and despair within the population.

Conclusion

Election violence is very common in several countries over the world, with an emphasis on Africa. There, it has become some kind of political instrument which, despite being anti-democratic by nature, is part of the policymaking, campaigning and electoral process. It is different depending on the timing it appears and plenty of factors influence its appearance and control. Within the most remarkable we can find the role of international and national observers, the role of the media, both national and international, and the will of power, usually linked to the economic benefits the winner receives. Furthermore, depending on who the actor is making use of it, the factors behind it can change drastically.

After having analyzed the two case studies, Kenya 2008 and Burundi 2010, and having interpreted the impact these issues have had in their internal socio-economic parameters, it is also obvious that these anti-democratic practices do have some impact in every aspect of the society involved in it. Its most remarkable influence can be seen on the election outcome. In both cases, violence was key for establishing the results. In the case of Kenya, it was the motor that boosted a change in the policymaking, and in the case of Burundi, it helped the winning party keep the power.

The three main factors that influence this kind of policymaking and that should be reviewed and, if necessary, modified to end the violence are the electoral system most African countries follow, the ethnic nature of violence and the common African mindset regarding power. The majority of the electoral systems followed in Africa are winner-takes-all systems that makes it hard for the loser to give up power and lose the benefits it brings. Also, as the case of Burundi has shown, ethnic rivalries are a very common reason motivating the violent outcomes of elections, even if the state follows a democratic regime. This, together with the great will of power present on the African societies, demonstrated by the intra- and inter-party violence, provokes the unsustainable situation present nowadays.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bank, W. (2020). World Bank Database. Retrieved from https://datos.bancomundial.org/

Bech Seeberg, M., Skaaning, S.-E., & Wahman, M. (2017). Candidate nomination, Intra-party Democracy, and Election Violence in Africa. ResearchGate.

Daxecker, U. E. (2012). The cost of exposing cheating: International election monitoring, fraud, and post-election violence in Africa. Journal of Peace Research.

Daxecker, U. E. (2013). All quiet on Election Day? International election observation and incentives for pre-election violence in African elections. Electoral Studies, 1-12.

Laakso, L. (2007). Insights into Electoral Violence in Africa. En M. Basedau, G. Erdmann, & A. Mehler, Votes, Money and Violence: Political Parties and Elections in Sub-Saharan Africa (págs. 224-252). South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

Mehler, A. (2007). Political Parties and Violence in Africa: Systematic Reflections against Empirical Background. In M. Basedau, G. Erdmann, & A. Mehler, Votes, Money and Violence: Political Parties and Elections in Sub-Saharan Africa (pp. 194-223). South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

Muna, W., & Otieno, M. (2020). The ‘Money Talks Factor’ in Kenya’s Public Policy and Electoral Democracy.

Niang, M. A. (n.d.). Case study: Burundi. EISA.

Odhiambo Owuor, F. (2013). The 2007 General Elections in Kenya: Electoral Laws and Process. EISA, 113-123.

Onyebadi, U., & Oyedeji, T. (2011). Newspaper coverage of post-political election violence in Africa: an assessment of the Kenyan example. Media, War & Conflict, 215-230.

Palmans, E. (n.d.). Burundi's 2010 Elections: Democracy and Peace at Risk? European Centre for Electoral Support.

Reynolds, A. (2009). Elections, Electoral Systems, and Conflict in Africa. The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 75-83.

The Abraham Accords and future prospects

The wave of diplomatic recognition of Israel by some Arab countries constitutes a shift in regional alliances

Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates [Pixabay]

▲ Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates [Pixabay]

ANALYSISAnn M. Callahan

With the signing of the Abraham Accords, seven decades of enmity between the states were concluded. With a pronounced shift in regional alliances and a convergence of interests crossing traditional alignments, the agreements can be seen as a product of these regional changes, commencing a new era of Arab-Israeli relations and cooperation. While the historic peace accords seem to present a net positive for the region, it would be a mistake to not take into consideration the losing party in the deal; the Palestinians. It would also be a error to dismiss the passion with which many people still view the Palestinian issue and the apparent disconnect between the Arab ruling class and populace.

On the 15th of September, 2020, a joint peace deal was signed between the State of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and the United States, known also as the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement. The Accords concern a treaty of peace, and a full normalization of the diplomatic relations between the United Emirates and the State of Israel. The United Arab Emirates stands as the first Persian Gulf state to normalize relations with Israel, and the third Arab state, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. The deal was signed in Washington on September 15 by the UAE’s Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. It was accepted by the Israeli cabinet on the 12th of October and was ratified by the Knesset (Israel’s unicameral parliament) on the 15th of October. The parliament and cabinet of the United Arab Emirates ratified the agreement on the 19th of October. On the same day, Bahrain confirmed its pact with Israel through the Accords, officially called the Abraham Accords: Declaration of Peace, Cooperation, and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations. Signed by Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the President of the United States Donald Trump as a witness, the ratification indicates an agreement between the signatories to commence an era of alliance and cooperation towards a more stable, prosperous and secure region. The proclamation acknowledges each state's sovereignty and agrees towards a reciprocal opening of embassies and as well as stating intent to seek out consensus regarding further relations including investment, security, tourism and direct flights, technology, healthcare and environmental concerns.

The United States played a significant role in the accords, brokering the newly signed agreements. President of the United States, Donald Trump, pushed for the agreements, encouraging the relations and negotiations and promoting the accords, and hosting the signing at the White House.

As none of the countries involved in the Abraham Accords had ever fought against each other, these new peace deals are not of the same weight or nature as Egypt’s peace deal with Israel in 1979. Nevertheless, the accords are much more than a formalizing of what already existed. Now, whether or not the governments collaborated in secret concerning security and intelligence previously, they will now cooperate publicly through the aforementioned areas.  For Israel, Bahrain and the UAE, the agreements pave a path for the increase of trade, investment, tourism and technological collaboration. In addition to these gains, a strategic alliance against Iran is a key motivator as the two states and the U.S. regard Iran as the chief threat to the region’s stability.

Rationale

What was the rationale for this diplomatic breakthrough and what prompted it to take place this year? It could be considered to be a product of the confluence of several pivotal impetuses.

The accords are seen as a product of a long-term trajectory and a regional reality where over the course of the last decade Arab states, particularly around the Gulf, have begun to shift their priorities. The UAE, Bahrain and Israel had found themselves on the same side of more than one major fissure in the Middle East. These states have also sided with Israel regarding Iran. Saudi Arabia, too, sees Shiite Iran as a major threat, and while, as of now, it has not formalized relations with Israel, it does have ties with the Hebrew state. This opposition to Tehran is shifting alliances in the region and bringing about a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern powers.

Furthermore, opposition to the Sunni Islamic extremist groups presents a major threat to all parties involved. The newly aligned states all object to Turkey’s destabilizing support of the Muslim Brotherhood and its proxies in the regional conflicts in Gaza, Libya and Syria. Indeed, the signatories’ combined fear of transnational jihadi movements, such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS derivatives, has aligned their interests closer to each other.

In addition, there has been a growing frustration and fatigue with the Palestinian Cause, one which could seem interminable. A certain amount of patience has been lost and Arab nations that had previously held to the Palestinian cause have begun to follow their own national interests.  Looking back to late 2017, when the Trump administration officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, had it been a decade earlier there would have been widespread protests and resulting backlash from the regional leaders in response, however it was not the case. Indeed, there was minimal criticism. This may indicate that, at least for the regional leaders, that adherence to the Palestinian cause is lessening in general.

The prospects of closer relations with the economically vibrant state of Israel, and by extension with that of the United States is increasingly attractive to many Arab states. Indeed, expectations of an arms sale of U.S. weapon systems to the UAE, while not written specifically into the accords, is expected to come to pass through a side agreement currently under review by Congress.

From the perspective of Israel, the country has gone through a long political crisis with, in just one year alone, three national elections. In the context of these domestic efforts, prime minister Netanyahu raised propositions of annexing more sections of the contended West Bank. Consequently, the UAE campaigned against it and Washington called for Israel to choose between prospects of annexation or normalization. The normalization was concluded in return for suspending the annexation plans. There is debate regarding whether or not the suspending of the plans are something temporary or a permanent cessation of the annexation. There is a discrepancy between the English and Arabic versions of the joint treaty. The English version declared that the accord “led to the suspension of Israel’s plans to extend its sovereignty.” This differs slightly, however significantly, from the Arabic copy in which “[the agreement] has led to Israel’s plans to annex Palestinian lands being stopped.” This inconsistency did not go unnoticed to the party most affected; the Palestinians. There is a significant disparity between a temporary suspension as opposed to a complete stopping of annexation plans.

For Netanyahu, being a leading figure in a historic peace deal bringing Israel even more out of its isolation without significant concessions would certainly boost his political standing in Israel. After all, since Israel's creation, what it has been longing for is recognition, particularly from its Arab neighbors.

Somewhat similarly to Netanyahu, the Trump Administration had only to gain through the concluding of the Accords. The significant accomplishment of a historic peace deal in the Middle East was certainly a benefit especially leading up to the presidential elections, the which took place earlier this November. On analyzing the Administration’s approach towards the Middle East, its strategy clearly encouraged the regional realignment and the cultivation of the Gulf states’ and Israel’s common interests, culminating in the joint accords.

Implications

As a whole, the Abraham Accords seem to have broken the traditional alignment of Arab States in the Middle East. The fact that normalization with Israel has been achieved without a solution to the Palestinian issue is indicative of the shift in trends among Arab nations which were previously staunchly adherent to the Palestinian cause. Already, even Sudan, a state with a violent past with Israel, has officially expressed its consent to work towards such an agreement. Potentially, other Arab states are thought to possibly follow suit in future normalization with Israel.

Unlike Bahrain and the UAE, Sudan has sent troops to fight against Israel in the Arab-Israeli wars. However, following the UAE and Bahrain accords, a Sudan-Israel normalization agreement transpired on October 23rd, 2020. While it is not clear if the agreement solidifies full diplomatic relations, it promotes the normalization of relations between the two countries. Following the announcement of their agreement, the designated foreign minister, Omar Qamar al-Din, clarified that the agreement with Israel was not actually a normalization, rather an agreement to work towards normalization in the future. It is only a preliminary agreement as it requires the approval of an elected parliament before going into force. Regardless, the agreement is a significant step for Sudan as it had previously considered Israel an enemy of the state.

While clandestine relations between Israel and the Gulf states were existent for years, the founding of open relations is a monumental shift. For Israel, putting aside its annexation plans was insignificant in comparison with the many advantages of the Abraham Accords. Contrary to what many expected, no vast concessions were to be made in return for the recognition of sovereignty and establishment of diplomatic ties for which Israel yearns for. In addition, Israel is projected to benefit economically from its new forged relations with the Gulf states between the increased tourism, direct flights, technology and information exchange, commercial relations and investment. Already, following the Accord’s commitment, the US, Israel and the UAE have already established the Abraham Fund. Through the program more than $3 billion dollars will be mobilized in the private sector-led development strategies and investment ventures to promote economic cooperation and profitability in the Middle East region through the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, Israel and the UAE.

The benefits of the accords extend to a variety of areas in the Arab world including, most significantly, possible access to U.S. defense systems. The prospect of the UAE receiving America’s prestigious F-35 systems is in fact underway. President Trump, at least, is willing to make the sale. However, it has to pass through Congress which has been consistently dedicated to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region. According to the Senate leader Mitch McConnell (Rep, KY), “We in congress have an obligation to review any U.S. arm sale package linked to the deal [...] As we help our Arab partners defend against growing threats, we must continue ensuring that Israel’s qualitative military edge remains unchallenged.” Should the sale be concluded, it will stand as the second largest sale of U.S. arms to one particular nation, and the first transfer of lethal unmanned aerial systems to any Arab ally. The UAE would be the first Arab country to possess the Lockheed Martin 5th generation stealth jet, the most advanced on the market currently.

There is debate within Israel regarding possible UAE acquisition of the F-35 systems. Prime Minister Netanyahu did the whole deal without including the defense minister and the foreign minister, both political rivals of Netanyahu in the Israeli system. As can be expected, the Israeli defense minister does have a problem regarding the F-35 systems. However, in general, the Accords are extremely popular in Israel.

Due to Bahrain’s relative dependence on Saudi Arabia and the kingdom’s close ties, it is very likely that it sought out Saudi Arabia’s approval before confirming its participation in the Accords. The fact that Saudi Arabia gave permission to Bahrain could be seen as indicative, to a certain extent, of their stance on Arab-Israeli relations. However, the Saudi state has many internal pressures preventing it, at least for the time being, from establishing relations.

For over 250 years, the ruling Saudi family has had a particular relationship with the clerical establishment of the Kingdom. Many, if not the majority of the clerics would be critical of what they would consider an abandonment of Palestine. Although Mohammed bin Salman seems more open to ties with Israel, his influential father, Salman bin Abdulaziz sides with the clerics surrounding the matter.

Differing from the United Arab Emirates, for example, Saudi Arabia gathers a notable amount of its legitimacy through its protection of Muslims and promotion of Islam across the world. Since before the establishment of the state of Israel, the Palestinian cause has played a crucial role in Saudi Arabia’s regional activities. While it has not prevented Saudi Arabia from engaging in undisclosed relations with Israel, its stance towards Palestine inhibits a broader engagement without a peace deal for Palestine. This issue connected to a critical strain across the region: that between the rulers and the ruled. One manifestation of this discrepancy between classes is that there seems to be a perception among the people of the region that Israel, as opposed to Iran, is the greater threat to regional security. Saudi Arabia has a much larger population than the UAE or Bahrain and with the extensive popular support of the Palestinian cause, the establishment of relations with Israel could elicit considerable unrest.

While Saudi Arabia has engaged in clandestine ties with Israel and been increasingly obliging towards the state (for instance, opening its air space for Israeli direct flights to the UAE and beyond), it seems unlikely that Saudi Arabia will establish open ties with Israel, at least for the near future.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has only heightened prevailing social, political and economic tensions all throughout the Middle East. Taking this into account, in fear of provoking unrest, it can be expected that many rulers will be hesitant, or at least cautious, about initiating ties with the state of Israel. 

That being said, in today’s hard-pressed Middle East, Arab states, while still backing the Palestinian cause, are more and more disposed to work towards various relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia is arguably the most economically and politically influential Arab state in the region. Therefore, if Saudi Arabia were to open relations with Israel, it could invoke the establishment of ties with Israel for other Arab states, possibly invalidating the longstanding idea that such relations could come about solely though the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Regarding Iran, it cannot but understand the significance and gravity of the Accords and recent regional developments. Just several nautical miles across the Gulf to Iran, Israel has new allies. The economic and strategic advantage that the Accords promote between the countries is undeniable. If Iran felt isolated before, this new development will only emphasize it even more.

In the words of Mike Pompeo, the current U.S. Secretary of State, alongside Bahrain’s foreign minister, Abdullatif Al-Zayani, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the accords “tell malign actors like the Islamic Republic of Iran that their influence in the region is waning and that they are ever more isolated and shall forever be until they change their direction.”

Apart from Iran, in the Middle East Turkey and Qatar have been openly vocal in their opposition to Israel and the recent Accords. Qatar maintains relations with two of Israel’s most critical threats, both Iran and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group. Qatar is a staunch advocate of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. One of Qatar’s most steady allies in the region is Turkey. Israel, as well as the UAE, have significant issues with Ankara. Turkey’s expansion and building of military bases in Libya, Sudan and Somalia demonstrate the regional threat that it poses for Israel and the UAE. For Israel in particular, besides Turkey’s open support of Hamas, there have been clashes concerning Ankara’s interference with Mediterranean maritime economic sovereignty.

With increasing intensity, the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has made clear Turkey’s revisionist actions. They harshly criticized UAE’s normalization with Israel and even said that they would consider revising Ankara’s relations with Abu Dhabi. This, however, is somewhat incongruous as Turkey has maintained formal diplomatic relations with Israel since right after its birth in 1949. Turkey’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the region, including in Qatar, is also a source of contention between Erdogan and the UAE and Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia. Turkey is Qatar’s largest beneficiary politically, as well as militarily.

In the context of the Abraham Accords, the Palestinians would be the losers undoubtedly. While they had a weak negotiating hand to begin with, with the decreasing Arab solidarity they depend on, they now stand even feebler. The increasing number of Arab countries normalizing relations with Israel has been vehemently condemned by the Palestinians, seeing it as a betrayal of their cause. They feel thoroughly abandoned. It leaves the Palestinians with very limited options making them severely more debilitated. It is uncertain, however, whether this weaker position will steer Palestinians towards peacemaking with Israel or the contrary. 

While the regional governments seem more willing to negotiate with Israel, it would be a severe mistake to disregard the fervor with which countless people still view the Palestinian conflict. For many in the Middle East, it is not so much a political stance as a moral obligation. We shall see how this plays out concerning the disparity between the ruling class and the populace of Arab or Muslim majority nations. Iran will likely continue to advance its reputation throughout the region as the only state to openly challenge and oppose Israel. It should amass some amount of popular support, increasing yet even more the rift between the populace and the ruling class in the Middle East.

Future prospects

The agreement recently reached between President Trump’s Administration and the kingdom of Morocco by which the U.S. governments recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara in exchange for the establishment of official diplomatic relations between the kingdom and the state of Israel is but another step in the process Trump would have no doubt continued had he been elected for a second term. Despite this unexpected move, and although the Trump Administration has indicated that other countries are considering establishing relations with Israel soon, further developments seem unlikely before the new U.S. Administration is projected to take office this January of 2021. President-elect Joe Biden will take office on the 20th of January and is expected to instigate his policy and approach towards Iran. This could set the tone for future normalization agreements throughout the region, depending on how Iran is approached by the incoming administration.

In the United States, the signatories of the Abraham Accords have, in a time of intensely polarized politics, enhanced their relations with both Republicans as well as Democrats though the deal. In the future we can expect some countries to join the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan in normalization efforts. However, many will stay back. Saudi Arabia remains central in the region regarding future normalization with Israel. As is the case across the region, while the Arab leaders are increasingly open to ties with Israel, there are internal concerns, between the clerical establishment and the Palestinian cause among the populace – not to mention rising tensions due to the ongoing pandemic. 

However, in all, the Accords break the strongly rooted idea that it would take extensive efforts in order for Arab states to associate with Israel, let alone establish full public normalization. It also refutes the traditional Arab-state consensus that there can be no peace with Israel until the Palestinian issue is en route to resolution, if not fully resolved.

Qatar diplomatic crisis: a political conflict toward regional dominance

Behind the tension between Qatar and its neighbors is the Qatari ambitious foreign policy and its refusal to obey

Recent diplomatic contacts between Qatar and Saudi Arabia have suggested the possibility of a breakthrough in the bitter dispute held by Qatar and its Arab neighbors in the Gulf since 2017. An agreement could be within reach in order to suspend the blockade imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain (and Egypt), and clarify the relations the Qataris have with Iran. The resolution would help Qatar hosting the 2020 FIFA World Cup free of tensions. This article gives a brief context to understand why things are the way they are.

Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, one of the premises for the 2020 FIFA World Cup in Qatar

▲ Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, one of the premises for the 2020 FIFA World Cup in Qatar

ARTICLEIsabelle León

The diplomatic crisis in Qatar is mainly a political conflict that has shown how far a country can go to retain leadership in the regional balance of power, as well as how a country can find alternatives to grow regardless of the blockade of neighbors and former trading partners. In 2017, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain broke diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed a blockade on land, sea, and air.

When we refer to the Gulf, we are talking about six Arab states: Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. As neighbors, these countries founded the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981 to strengthen their relation economically and politically since all have many similarities in terms of geographical features and resources like oil and gas, culture, and religion. In this alliance, Saudi Arabia always saw itself as the leader since it is the largest and most oil-rich Gulf country, and possesses Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holy sites. In this sense, dominance became almost unchallenged until 1995, when Qatar started pursuing a more independent foreign policy.

Tensions grew among neighbors as Iran and Qatar gradually started deepening their trading relations. Moreover, Qatar started supporting Islamist political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, considered by the UAE and Saudi Arabia as terrorist organizations. Indeed, Qatar acknowledges the support and assistance provided to these groups but denies helping terrorist cells linked to Al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State or Hamas. Additionally, with the launch of the tv network Al Jazeera, Qatar gave these groups a means to broadcast their voices. Gradually the environment became tense as Saudi Arabia, leader of Sunni Islam, saw the Shia political groups as a threat to its leadership in the region.

Consequently, the Gulf countries, except for Oman and Kuwait, decided to implement a blockade on Qatar. As political conditioning, the countries imposed specific demands that Qatar had to meet to re-establish diplomatic relations. Among them there were the detachment of the diplomatic ties with Iran, the end of support for Islamist political groups, and the cessation of Al Jazeera's operations. Qatar refused to give in and affirmed that the demands were, in some way or another, a violation of the country's sovereignty.

A country that proves resilient

The resounding blockade merited the suspension of economic activities between Qatar and these countries. Most shocking was, however, the expulsion of the Qatari citizens who resided in the other GCC states. A year later, Qatar filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice on grounds of discrimination. The court ordered that the families that had been separated due to the expulsion of their relatives should be reunited; similarly, Qatari students who were studying in these countries should be permitted to continue their studies without any inconvenience. The UAE issued an injunction accusing Qatar of halting the website where citizens could apply for UAE visas as Qatar responded that it was a matter of national security. Between accusations and statements, tensions continued to rise and no real improvement was achieved.

At the beginning of the restrictions, Qatar was economically affected because 40% of the food supply came to the country through Saudi Arabia. The reduction in the oil prices was another factor that participated on the economic disadvantage that situation posed. Indeed, the market value of Qatar decreased by 10% in the first four weeks of the crisis. However, the country began to implement measures and shored up its banks, intensified trade with Turkey and Iran, and increased its domestic production. Furthermore, the costs of the materials necessary to build the new stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup increased; however, Qatar started shipping materials through Oman to avoid restrictions of UAE and successfully coped with the status quo.

This notwithstanding, in 2019, the situation caused almost the rupture of the GCC, an alliance that ultimately has helped the Gulf countries strengthen economic ties with European Countries and China. The gradual collapse of this organization has caused even more division between the blocking countries and Qatar, a country that hosts the largest military US base in the Middle East, as well as one of Turkey, which gives it an upper hand in the region and many potential strategic alliances.

The new normal or the beginning of the end?

Currently, the situation is slowly opening-up. Although not much progress has been made through traditional or legal diplomatic means to resolve this conflict, sports diplomacy has played a role. The countries have not yet begun to commercialize or have allowed the mobility of citizens, however, the event of November 2019 is an indicator that perhaps it is time to relax the measures. In that month, Qatar was the host of the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup tournament in which the Gulf countries participated with their national soccer teams. Due to the blockade, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain had boycotted the championship; however, after having received another invitation from the Arabian Gulf Cup Federation, the countries decided to participate and after three years of tensions, sent their teams to compete. The sporting event was emblematic and demonstrated how sport may overcome differences.

Moreover, recently Saudi Arabia has given declarations that the country is willing to engage in the process to lift-up the restrictions. This attitude toward the conflict means, in a way, improvement despite Riyadh still claims the need to address the security concerns that Qatar generates and calls for a commitment to the solution. As negotiations continue, there is a lot of skepticism between the parties that keep hindering the path toward the resolution.  

Donald Trump’s administration recently reiterated its cooperation and involvement in the process to end Qatar's diplomatic crisis. Indeed, US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien stated that the US hopes in the next two months there would be an air bridge that will allow the commercial mobilization of citizens. The current scenario might be optimistic, but still, everything has remained in statements as no real actions have been taken. This participation is within the US strategic interest because the end of this rift can signify a victorious situation to the US aggressive foreign policy toward Iran and its desire to isolate the country. This situation remains a priority in Trump’s last days in office. Notwithstanding, as the transition for the administration of Joe Biden begins, it is believed that he would take a more critical approach on Saudi Arabia and the UAE, pressuring them to put an end to the restrictions.

This conflict has turned into a political crisis of retention of power or influence over the region. It is all about Saudi Arabia’s dominance being threatened by a tiny yet very powerful state, Qatar. Although more approaches to lift-up the rift will likely begin to take place and restrictions will gradually relax, this dynamic has been perceived by the international community and the Gulf countries themselves as the new normal. However, if the crisis is ultimately resolved, mistrust and rivalry will remain and will generate complications in a region that is already prone to insurgencies and instability. All the countries involved indeed have more to lose than to gain, but three years have been enough to show that there are ways to turn situations like these around.

Kingdoms of Fire: The Arab response to Turkish influence by TV series

Soft power in the regional race for gaining the upper hand in the cultural and heritage influence among Muslims

A picture taken from the Kingdoms of Fire official trailer

▲ A picture taken from the Kingdoms of Fire official trailer

ANALYSIS Marina García Reina and Pablo Gurbindo

Kingdoms of Fire (in Arabic Mamalik al nar) is the new Emirati and Saudi funded super-production launched in autumn 2019 and born to face the Turkish control in the TV series and shows field for years. The production has counted on a budget of US$ 14 million. The series goes through the story of the last Sultan of Mamluk Egypt, Al-Ashraf Tuman Bay, in his fight against the Ottoman Sultan Selim. The production is the reflection of the regional rivalries in the race for gaining the upper hand in the cultural and heritage influence among Muslims.

Historicity

To understand the controversy this series has arisen we have to comprehend the context where the story takes place and the main characters of the story. The series talks about the Ottoman conquest of the Mamluk Sultanate of 1517. The Ottomans are already known for the general public, but who were the Mamelukes?

A Mameluke is not an ethnic group, it is a military class. The term comes from the Arab mamluk (owned) and it defines a class of slave soldiers. These mamluks had more rights than a common slave as they could carry weapons and hold positions of military responsibility. They were created in the ninth century by the Abbasid Caliphs with the purchase of young slaves and their training on martial and military skills. They became the base of military power in the Middle East. This military elite, similar to the Roman Praetorian Guard, was very powerful and could reach high positions in the military and in the administration. Different groups of mamelukes rebelled against their Caliphs masters, and in Egypt they successfully claimed the Caliphate in 1250, starting the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Syria. Their military prowess was demonstrated in 1260 in the battle of Ain Yalut where they famously defeated the Great Mongol Empire and stopped its expansion towards the west.

The Ottoman Empire was formed as one of the independent Turkish principalities that appeared in Anatolia after the fall of the Sultanate of Rum in the thirteenth century. It rapidly expanded across Anatolia and also reached the Balkans confronting the Byzantine Empire, direct heir of the Roman Empire. In 1453, after a long siege, they conquered Constantinople, sealing the fate of the Byzantine Empire.

By the sixteenth century, the Ottomans and the Mamluks were the two main powers of the Middle East, and as a perfect example of the “Thucydides trap”, the conflict between these two regional powers became inevitable. In 1515, Ottoman Sultan Selim I launched a campaign to subdue the Mamelukes. Incidentally, this is the campaign represented in the Arab series. In October 1516, in the battle of Marj Dabiq, the Mamluk Sultan Al-Ghawri was killed, and Syria fell into Ottoman rule. Tuman Bay II was proclaimed as Sultan and prepared the defense of Egypt. In 1517 the Ottomans entered Egypt and defeated Tuman Bay at the battle of Riadanieh, entering Cairo unopposed. Tuman Bay fled and, supported by the Bedouins, started a guerrilla campaign. But he was betrayed by a Bedouin chief and captured. On April 15, 1517, he was hanged to death on the city gates of Cairo and with him the Mamluk Sultanate ended.

With the end of the Mamluk rule, Egypt became an Ottoman province. The Ottoman control lasted from 1517 until the start of WWI, when the British Empire established a protectorate in the country after the Ottoman Empire entered the war.

A response to Turkish influence

Unlike Saudi Arabia, which until 2012, with the release of Wadjda, had never featured a film shot entirely in the country, other Middle Eastern countries such as Turkey and Iran have taken their first steps in the entertainment industry long before. 

Turkey is a clear example of a country with a well-constituted cinema and art industry, hosting several film festivals throughout the year and having an established cinema industry called Yesilcam, which can be understood as the Turkish version of the US Hollywood or the Indian Bollywood. The first Turkish narrative film was released in 1917. However, it was not till the 1950s when the Turkish entertainment industry truly started to emerge. Yesilcam was born to create a cinema appropriate for the Turkish audience in a period of national identity building and in an attempt to unify multiplicities. Thus, it did not only involve the creation of Turkish original films, but also the adaptation and Turkification of Western cinema. 

One of the reasons that promoted the arising of the Turkish cinema was a need to respond to the Egyptian film industry, which was taking the way in the Middle East during the Second World War. It represents a Turkish nationalist feeling through a cinema that would embrace Turkey’s Ottoman heritage and modern lifestyle. 

Now, Turkish productions are known and watched by audiences worldwide, in more than 140 countries, what has turn Turkey into world’s second largest television shows distributor, generating US$ 350 million a year, only surpassed by the USA.

These Turkish productions embracing the Ottoman period are also a reflection of the current Neo-Ottoman policies carried out by the President Tayyip Erdogan, who many believe is trying to portray himself as a “modern Ottoman ruler and caliph for Muslims worldwide.” It is clear that the Turkish President is aware of the impact of its TV shows, as he stated, in a 2016 speech referring to a Turkish show named “The Last Emperor”—narrating important events during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid—, that the West is treating Turkey in the same way as 130 years ago and, regarding Arabs, he stated that “until the lions start writing their own stories, their hunters will always be the heroes.”

A soft power tool

Communication—especially visual communication and, therefore, cinema—plays an important role in either reinforcing the identity status quo or challenging self-views and other-views of the dynamic, multi-faceted self[1]. It is precisely the own and particular Saudi identity that wants to be portrayed by this series. 

The massive sums invested in the production of Mamalik al nar, as with other historical TV shows, is an evidence of the importance of the exercise of “soft power” by the cinema and TV show industry in the Middle East. As it has been highlighted above, Turkey has been investing in cinema production to export its image to the world for a long time now. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been restrictive when it comes to cinema, not even allowing it within the country in the case of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) for more than 35 years, and they have had few interest on producing and promoting self-made cinema. Now this has dramatically changed. Saudis have an interest in translating their self-conception of matters to the world, and communication is a way of contesting and resisting a dominant culture’s encroachment[2] that is being headed by Turkey.

In the words of Yuser Hareb, Genomedia owner (Mamalik al nar’s film production company), the series was born from the idea of creating an alternative to the influence that Turkish productions have within Arabs. The producer argues that the Ottoman Empire period is not much of a glorious heritage for Arabs, but more of a “dark time,” characterised by repression and criminal actions against Arabs. Turkish historic cinema “adjusts less than a 5% to reality,” Hareb says, and Mamalik al Nar is intended to break with the Turkish cultural influence in the Middle East by “vindicating Arab history” and stating that Ottomans were neither the protectors of Islam, nor are the restorers of it.

Dynamics are changing in the region. The Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), the large Emirates-based and Saudi-owned media conglomerate that is one of the strongest broadcasting channel in the Arabic speaking world, was in charge of broadcasting in the Arab countries some of the most famous Turkish dramas since 2007, such as the soap opera Gumus, which final episode had 92 million viewers across the region. In March 2018, MBC rejected several Turkish dramas and it even announced an unofficial moratorium on broadcasting any Turkish series. This decision was praised by the Genomedia owner (the producer of Mamalik al nar), Yuser Hareb, pronouncing against those who passively permit the influence of foreigners with their films and series. Furthermore, MBC is also responsible for the broadcasting of Mamalik al nar in the region. The combination of these movements put together can easily portray a deterioration of Turkish-Arab relations.

Egypt also serves as an example of this anti-Turkish trend, when in September 2014, all Turkish series were banned in response to Erdogan’s support for the Islamist president Mohammed Morsi  (overthrown in July 2013) and his attacks on President Abdelfatah Al-Sisi. This adds to the backing of Turkey of the Muslim Brotherhood and the intromission in Libya to gain regional leadership over the exploration of gas deposits. In short, the backing of Islamist movements constitutes the main argument given when criticising Turkey’s “neo-colonialist” aims, which are not completely denied by the Turkish government as it claims the will to be a restorer for the Muslim world.

Double-sided

Ultimately, both the Turkish and the Saudi Arabian sides have the same opinion of what the other is trying to do: influencing the region by their own idiosyncrasy and cultural heritage. It is indeed the crossfire of accusations against one another for influencing and deceiving the audience about the history of the region, especially regarding who should be praised and who condemned.

Turkish and other pro-Erdogan commentators have described Mamalik al nar as an attempt to foment division between Muslims and attacking the Ottoman legacy. Yasin Aktay, an advisor to Erdogan, remarked that there are no Turkish series that attack any Arab country so far, unlike this Saudi series is doing with the former Ottoman Empire by manipulating “historical data for an ideological or political reason.” Indeed, it is an attack on “the Ottoman State, but also on contemporary Turkey, which represents it today.”

The legacy of the Ottoman Sultanate has been subjected to political and intellectual debate since medieval times. Specifically, after World War I, when a lot of new Arab nation-states started to consolidate, the leaders of these new-born states called for a nationalist feeling by means of an imperialist discourse, drifting apart Turks and Arabs. It is still today a controversial topic in a region that is blooming and which leadership is being disputed, however —and, perhaps, fortunately—, this ideology does not go beyond the ruling class, and neither the great majority of Arabs see the Ottomans as a nation that invaded and exploited them nor the Turks see Arabs as traitors.

No matter how much Erdogan’s Turkey puts the focus on Islam, the big picture of Turkish series is a secular and modern outlook of the region, which has come to be specially interesting to keep up with the region’s changing dynamics. That could be overshadowed by salafist movements restricting freedom of speech in what is considered immoral forms of art by some.

All in all, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are determined to counterbalance Turkey’s effort to increase its regional clout through the use of “soft power” instruments by means of reacting to the abundance of Turkish dramas by launching TV series and shows that offer an “Arab approach” to the matter. In any case, it is still to be seen whether these new Arab productions narrating the ancient history of the Arab territories will have or not a success equivalent to the already consolidated Turkish industry.

 


[1] Manuel Castells. The rise of network society. (New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009).

[2] Thomas K. Nakayama and Raymond J. Krizek. (1995). Whitness: A strategic rhetoric (Quarterly Journal of Speech, 1995), 81, 291–319

De Gaulle, rebeldía y causa

[Pablo Pérez López, Charles de Gaulle, el estadista rebelde (Ciudadela: Madrid, 2020), 218 págs]

RESEÑAJairo Císcar

Coincidiendo con el 50 aniversario del fallecimiento de Charles de Gaulle y con el 75 aniversario de la victoria aliada en la Segunda Guerra Mundial, el profesor Pablo Pérez López publica esta nueva biografía del “más ilustre de los franceses”, como a veces es referido. Cuando se emprende la escritura de una biografía, y más cuando es acerca de un personaje del que se han escrito infinidad de libros y artículos, se corre el riesgo de diluirse en lo anterior y no aportar nada nuevo. Sin embargo, este volumen nos presenta al personaje desde una óptica diferente: su rebeldía. Rebeldía entendida como lucha por lo que se cree justo, como un inconformismo activo que empuja a superar la mediocridad, como amor y servicio a Francia en sus momentos más oscuros. Precisamente creo que este es uno de los mayores logros del libro: presentar, en apenas 200 páginas y con un estilo amable y directo, un nuevo retrato del general francés, al que encumbra –más allá de los claroscuros disculpables de toda persona– como un modelo a seguir y un ejemplo de valentía que cuenta con plena actualidad.

El libro nos presenta la vida de De Gaulle de manera cronológica, desde su infancia hasta su muerte. Resulta fundamental, para entender al gran hombre que será posteriormente, hacer un análisis de su vida temprana. Se presenta así a un joven inquieto y soñador, devoto cristiano desde muy pronta edad. Un joven que al descubrir con apenas 14 años una vocación, la de la vida militar, que marcará toda su vida y la vida de millones de compatriotas suyos, se aplicará enormemente a ella hasta convertirse en un sobresaliente líder. Destaca también en el libro el amplio uso de pasajes de sus memorias o textos manuscritos del protagonista, que revelan la faceta más desconocida del personaje: su psique, su amor, su devoción, su rebeldía. Porque hay que recalcar que se muestra a un De Gaulle consciente de sí mismo (que no prepotente) y que tiene claro que tiene una misión.

Pronto se pasa a introducir al entonces capitán, que sobresalió durante la Gran Guerra por sus sesudos análisis y capacidad prospectiva, al que su amor por Francia nunca le nubló el juicio a la hora de señalar los fallos propios y ajenos. Un joven que a pesar de la humillación que le supuso caer prisionero (a pesar de sus heroicos esfuerzos que le valieron la Legión de Honor), no cejó de aprender y examinar al enemigo, aprovechando cada momento de sus 32 meses de cautiverio.

Se sigue su evolución tras la Gran Guerra, ya como una promesa en el séquito de Petáin. Pero no todo son éxitos. La vida de De Gaulle está trazada en la grandeza de los hombres que saben sobreponerse a las dificultades. Quizás la más especial, y en la que se aprecia su verdadero carácter, es en la vida de su hija Anne, que padeció síndrome de Down, y con quien De Gaulle desarrolló un extraordinario vínculo y cercanía. Con ella era con quien el pensativo general se vestía de afable y afectuoso padre.

Esta formación de su carácter me parece esencial para entender el resto del libro, y por tanto el resto de su vida. Sin ánimo de acabar haciendo un resumen completo del volumen (que como se ha dicho anteriormente abarca toda su trayectoria vital, con especial y necesario énfasis en su “vida política”), me parecía necesario reflejar la singular propuesta y objetivo de este libro, que no es otro sino mostrar ese lado más desconocido del general francés, esa rebeldía e inconformismo que le empujó a tener un peso importantísimo en la creación de la actual forma de la República Francesa y cuya impronta, 50 años después de su muerte, sigue viva en Europa y en la política francesa.

Personalmente, me ha atraído mucho el estilo y organización del escrito. Hace que la propuesta sea amena y fácil de leer, a la vez que un trabajo muy serio y profundo, que invita a una reflexión constante. Muestra la intimidad y la soledad de un hombre ante la incomprensión de sus contemporáneos, con respecto a los que siempre estuvo adelantado. Un hombre que, en definitiva, siempre antepuso el bien mayor, su amada Francia, al bien propio. Un experto tanquista que supo dirigir a su país en momentos tan distintos: el gobierno de la Francia Libre en Londres, el desfile en los Campos Elíseos, la revuelta de Argel, el nacimiento de la Vª República Francesa, Mayo del 68 y su postrera dimisión, como hombre de honor, tras perder el referéndum sobre el Senado y las regiones que convocó, en uno de sus últimos actos de rebeldía, en contra de todos sus asesores.

Finalmente, De Gaulle fue rebelde hasta la muerte, rechazando cualquier funeral de estado y reposando, junto a su querida hija, en un pequeño pueblo francés. Su lápida –que simplemente reza: Charles de Gaulle, 1890-1970– no hace sino mostrar su rebeldía final. Murió el hombre, pero nació el mito.

Brasil: de dónde viene para saber a dónde va

[Lilia M. Schwarcz y Heloisa M. Starling, Brasil: una biografía (Debate: Madrid, 2016), 896 págs]

RESEÑAEmili J. Blasco

Brasil: una biografía Presentar la historia de un vasto país como es Brasil en un único volumen, aunque extenso, no es tarea sencilla, si se quiere profundizar lo suficiente. «Brazil. A Biography» (para esta reseña se ha utilizado la edición en inglés de Penguin, de 2019, algo posterior a la publicación de la obra en España; el original en portugués es de 2015) es un relato con la apropiada lente. «Brasil no es para principiantes», dicen las dos autoras en la introducción, expresando con esa cita de un músico brasileño el modo como concibieron el libro: sabiendo que se dirigían a un público con generalmente poco conocimiento sobre el país, debían poder trasladar la complejidad de la vida nacional (de lo que constituye un continente en sí mismo) pero sin que la lectura resulte agónica.

El libro sigue un orden cronológico; no obstante, el hecho de arrancar con algunas consideraciones generales y de construir los primeros capítulos en torno a ciertos sistemas sociales y políticos generados sucesivamente por las plantaciones de caña de azúcar, la esclavitud de población africana y la búsqueda de oro hace que la vida de Brasil avance ante nuestros ojos sin tener la sensación de mero corrimiento de fechas. Más adelante llega un siglo XIX que para los hispanos tiene el interés de ver el negativo de la historia que conocemos respecto a las colonias americanas españolas (frente al caso español, durante las guerras napoleónicas la Corte de Portugal se trasladó entera a Rio de Janeiro y la independencia no derivó en diversas repúblicas, sino en una monarquía propia y centralizada). Y después un siglo XX que en Brasil constituyó un buen compendio de las vicisitudes políticas del mundo contemporáneo: del Estado Novo de Getúlio Vargas, a la dictadura militar y a la restauración de la democracia.

La obra de Schwarcz y Starling, profesoras de la Universidad de São Paulo y de la Universidad Federal de Minas Gerais, respectivamente, pone atención en los procesos políticos, pero arropándolos siempre con los paralelos procesos sociales y culturales que se dan juntos en cualquier país. El volumen aporta mucha información y referencias bibliográficas para todos los periodos históricos de Brasil, sin desconsiderar unos para ocuparse más de otros, y el lector puede detenerse especialmente en aquellos momentos que le resulten de mayor interés.

Personalmente, me he entretenido más en la lectura de cuatro periodos, relativamente distantes entre sí. Por un lado, los intentos de Francia y Holanda en los siglos XVI y XVII por poner un pie en Brasil (no tuvieron éxito permanente, y ambas potencias tuvieron que conformarse con las Guayanas). Después el surgimiento y consolidación en el siglo XVIII de Minas Gerais como tercer vértice del triángulo del heartland brasileño (Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo y Belo Horizonte). Luego la descripción de la vida de una corte de estilo europeo en las circunstancias del clima tropical (la monarquía duró hasta 1889). Y finalmente las experiencias del desarrollismo de mediados del siglo XX, con Juscelino Kubitschek y João Goulart en un tour de force entre el compromiso democrático, el personalismo presidencial y las corrientes de fondo de la Guerra Fría.

La lectura de esta obra aparta numerosas claves para entender mejor ciertos comportamientos de Brasil como país. Por un lado, cómo la inmensidad del territorio y la existencia de zonas a las que difícilmente llega el Estado –es el claro ejemplo de la Amazonia–, otorga un importante papel al Ejército como garante de la continuidad de la nación (el éxito, quizás momentáneo, de Bolsonaro y su apelación a las Fuerzas Armas tiene que ver con eso, aunque esta última presidencia ya no queda incluida en el libro). Por otro, cómo el cuarteamiento del poder territorial entre alcaldes y gobernadores genera una multitud de partidos políticos y obliga a cada candidato presidencial a articular múltiples alianzas y coaliciones, en ocasiones incurriendo en una «compra-venta» de favores que generalmente acaba teniendo un coste para la institucionalidad del país.

La redacción del libro fue concluida antes del colapso de la era gubernamental del Partido de los Trabajadores. Por eso la consideración de los gobiernos de Lula da Silva y Dilma Rousseff es, quizás, algo complaciente, como una suerte de «fin de la historia»: desde el final de la dictadura militar en 1985, el país habría evolucionado en la mejora de su vida democrática y social hasta el tiempo coronado por el PT. El «caso Lava Jato» ha demostrado más bien que «la historia continúa».

The Ethics of Ubuntu as a basis for African institutions: The case of Gacaca courts in Rwanda

Photographs of Rwandan genocide victims displayed at the Genocide Memorial Center in Kigali [Adam Jones]

▲ Photographs of Rwandan genocide victims displayed at the Genocide Memorial Center in Kigali [Adam Jones]

ESSAYEmilija Žebrauskaitė

Introduction

While the Western Westphalian State – and, consequently, the Western legal system – became the default in most parts of the world, Africa with its traditional ethics and customs has a lot to offer. Although the positive legalism is still embraced, there is a tendency of looking at the indigenous traditions for the inspiration of the system that would be a better fit in an African setting. Ubuntu ethics has a lot to offer and can be considered a basis for all traditional institutions in Africa. A great example of Ubuntu in action is the African Traditional Justice System which embraces the Ubuntu values as its basis. This article will provide a conceptualization of Ubuntu philosophy and will analyse its applications in the real-world scenarios through the case of Gacaca trials in Rwanda.

Firstly, this essay will define Ubuntu: its main tenants, how Ubuntu compares with other philosophical and ethical traditions, and the main criticism of Ubuntu ethics. Secondly, the application of Ubuntu ethics through African Indigenous Justice Systems will be covered, naming the features of Ubuntu that can be seen in the application of justice in the African setting, discussing the peace vs. justice debate and why one value is emphasized more than another in AIJS, and how the traditional justice in Africa differs from the Western one.

Lastly, through the case study of Gacaca trials in post-genocide Rwanda, this essay seeks to demonstrate that the application of the traditional justice in the post-genocide society did what the Western legalistic system failed to do – it provided a more efficient way to distribute justice and made the healing of the wounds inflicted by the genocide easier by allowing the community to actively participate in the judicial decision-making process.

It is the opinion of this article that while the African Traditional Justice System has it’s share of problems when applied in modern-day Africa, as the continent is embedded into the reality of the Westphalian state, each state being a part of the global international order, the Western model of justice is eroding the autonomy of the community which is a cornerstone of African society. However, the values of Ubuntu ethics persist, providing a strong basis for traditional African institutions. 

Conceptualization of Ubuntu

The word Ubuntu derives from the Bantu language group spoken widely across sub-Saharan Africa. It can be defined as “A quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity” (Lexico, n.d.) and, according to Mugumbate and Nyanguru, is a homogenizing concept, a “backbone of African spirituality” in African ontology (2013). “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” – a Zulu phrase meaning “a person is a person through other persons” is one of the widely spread interpretations of Ubuntu. 

In comparison with non-African philosophical thoughts, there can be found similarities between Ubuntu and the traditional Chinese as well as Western ethics, but when it comes to the modern Western way of thought, the contrast is striking. According to Lutz (2009), Confucian ethics, just like Ubuntu ethics, view the institution of family as a central building block of society. An Aristotelian tradition which prevailed in the Western world until Enlightenment had some characteristics similar to Ubuntu as well, namely the idea of Aristoteles that human being is a social being and can only reach his true potential through the community (Aristoteles, 350 B.C.E.). However, Tomas Hobbes had an opposite idea of human nature, claiming that the natural condition of man is solidarity (Hobbes, 1651). The values that still prevail in Ubuntu ethics, therefore, are rarely seen in modern liberal thought that prevails in the Western World and in the international order in general. According to Lutz (2009) “Reconciling self-realization and communalism is important because it solves the problem of moral motivation” which Western modern ethics have a hard time to answer. It can be argued, therefore, that Ubuntu has a lot to offer to the global ethical thought, especially in the world in which the Western ideas of individualism prevail and the values of community and collectivism are often forgotten.

Criticisms

However, while Ubuntu carries values that can contribute to global ethics, as a philosophical current it is heavily criticised. According to Metz (2011), there are three main reasons why Ubuntu receives criticism: firstly, it is considered vague as a philosophical thought and does not have a solid framework; secondly, it is feared that due to its collectivist orientation there is a danger of sacrificing individual freedoms for the sake of society; and lastly, it is thought that Ubuntu philosophy is applicable and useful only in traditional, but not modern society. 

When it comes to the reproach about the vagueness of Ubuntu as a philosophical thought, Thaddeus Metz examines six theoretical interpretations of the concept of Ubuntu:

U1: An action is right just insofar as it respects a person’s dignity; an act is wrong to the extent that it degrades humanity.

U2: An action is right just insofar as it promotes the well-being of others; an act is wrong to the extent that it fails to enhance the welfare of one’s fellows.

U3: An action is right just insofar as it promotes the well-being of others without violating their rights; an act is wrong to the extent that it either violates rights or fails to enhance the welfare of one’s fellows without violating rights.

U4: An action is right just insofar as it positively relates to others and thereby realizes oneself; an act is wrong to the extent that it does not perfect one’s valuable nature as a social being.

U5: An action is right just insofar as it is in solidarity with groups whose survival is threatened; an act is wrong to the extent that it fails to support a vulnerable community.

U6: An action is right just insofar as it produces harmony and reduces discord; an act is wrong to the extent that it fails to develop community (Metz, 2007).

While arguing that the concept U4 is the most accepted in literature, Matz himself argues in favour of the concept U6 as the basis of the ethics is rooted not in the subject, but in the object (Metz, 2007).

The fear that Ubuntu tenants make people submissive to authority and collective goals, giving them a very strong identity that might result in violence against other groups originates, according to Lutz (2009), from a faulty understanding of Ubuntu. Even though the tribalism is pretty common in the African setting, it does not derive from the tenants of Ubuntu, but a corrupted idea of this ethical philosophy. Further criticism on the idea that collectivism might interfere with individual rights or liberties can also be denied quoting Lutz, who said that “Ethical theories that tell us we must choose between egoism and altruism, between self-love and love of others, between prudence and morality, or one’s good and the common good are individualistic ethical theories” and therefore have nothing in common with ideas of Ubuntu, which, unlike the individualistic theories, reconciles the common and personal good and goals. 

The third objection, namely the question of whether Ubuntu ethics remain useful in the modern society which functions according to the Westphalian State model is challenged by Metz (2011). While it is true that Ubuntu developed in a traditional setting in which the value of human beings was based on the amount of communal life a human has lived (explaining the respect for the elders and the ancestors in African setting), a variant concept of dignity that in no way can be applied in a modern setting, there are still valuable ethical norms that can be thought by Ubuntu. Metz (2011) provides a concept of human dignity based on Ubuntu ideas, which, as he argues, can contribute to ethics in the modern African setting: “individuals have dignity insofar as they have communal nature, that is, the inherent capacity to exhibit identity and solidarity with others.” 

The Ubuntu ethics in African Indigenous Justice System

The institutionalisation and centralisation of power in the hands of the Westphalian State takes away the power from the communities which are central to the lifestyle in Africa. However, the communal values have arguably persisted and continue to directly oppose the centralisation. While the Westphalian State model seems to be functioning in the West, there are many good reasons to believe that Africa must look for inspiration in local traditions and customs (Malisa & Nhengeze, 2018). Taking into consideration the Ubuntu values, it is not difficult to understand why institutionalisation has generally not been very successful in African setting (Mugumbate & Nyanguru, 2013), as a place where the community is morally obliged to take care of its members, there is little space for alienated institutions. 

Generally, two justice systems are operating alongside each other in many African societies: the state-administered justice system and the African Indigenous Justice System (AIJS). According to Elechi, Morris & Schauer, the litigants can choose between the state tribunal and AIJS, and can apply to be judged by the state if they do not agree with the sentence of the AIJS (Elechi, Morris, & Schauer, 2010). However, Ubuntu values emphasise the concept of reconciliation: “African political philosophy responds easily and organically to the demands for the reconciliation as a means of restoring the equilibrium of the flow of life when its disturbed” (Nabudere, 2005). As the national court interventions often disharmonize the community by applying the “winner takes it all” approach, and are sometimes considered to be corrupt, there is a strong tendency for the communities to insist on bringing the offender to the AIJS tribunal (Elechi, Morris, & Schauer, 2010).

African Indigenous Justice System is a great example of Ubuntu values in action. The system operates on the cultural norm that important decision should be reached by consensus of the whole group as opposed to the majority opinion. AIJS is characterised by features such as the focus on the effects the offence had on victims and the community, the involvement of the litigants in the active definition of harms and the resolution of the trial, the localisation and decentralisation of authority, the importance of the restoration of harm, the property or relationship, the understanding that the offender might be a victim of the socioeconomic conditions; with the main objective of the justice system being the restoration of relationships, healing, and reconciliation in the community (Elechi, Morris, & Schauer, 2010). Underlying this system is the concept of Ubuntu, which “leads to a way of dealing with the social problems which are very different from the Western legalistic, rule-based system which had become the global default” (Baggini, 2018).

One of the reasons why AIJS can be considered exemplary is its ability to avoid the alienation of the Western courts in which the victim, the offender, and everybody else seem to be represented, but neither victim nor offender can directly participate in the decision making. The system which emphasises reconciliation and in which the community is in charge of the process is arguably much more effective in the African setting, where communities are generally familiar and close-knit. As the offender is still considered a part of the community and is still expected to contribute to its surroundings in the future, the participation in the trial and the decision making is important to the reconciliation: “unlike adjudicated justice, negotiated justice is not a winner take it all justice. Resolution can be reached where the offender, the community, and the victim are each partially wrong” (Elechi, Morris, & Schauer, 2010). As there is very little hope for an offender to be reintegrated into a close community without forgiving and forgiveness from both parties, this type of approach is pivotal.

Another interesting feature of AIJS is the assumption that the offender is not inherently bad in himself, but is primarily a marginalised victim, who does not have the same opportunities as other members of the community to participate in the economic, political, and social aspects of the group, and who can be made right if both the offender and the community make effort (Elechi, Morris, & Schauer, 2010). This concept differs from the Western Hobbesian idea of human beings being inherently corrupt and is much closer to traditional Western Aristotelian ethics. What makes the African concept different, however, is the focus which is not on the virtue of the person himself, but rather on the relationship the offender has with his family and community which, although violated by the offence, can and should be rebuilt by amendments (Elechi, Morris, & Schauer, 2010).

The Gacaca Trials

The Gacaca trials are the state-administered structure which uses communities (around a thousand of them) as a basis for judicial forums (Meyerstein, 2007). They were introduced by the Rwandan government as an alternative to national justice after the Rwandan genocide.

During the colonial times, Rwanda was indirectly ruled by the colonizers through local authorities, namely the Tutsi minority (Uvin, 1999). The Hutu majority were considered second class citizens and by the time of independence were holding deep grievances. The Rwandan Revolution of 1959-1961 overthrew the monarchy and the ruling Tutsi elite. After the independence from the colonial regime, Rwanda was ruled by the Party of Hutu Emancipation Movement, which was supported by the international community on the grounds of the idea that the government is legitimate as it represents the majority of the population – the Hutu (ibid.) During the period of transition, ethnic violence against Tutsi, forcing many of them to leave the country, happened (Rettig, 2008). In 1990 the Rwandan Patriotic Army composed mostly by the Tutsi exiles invaded Rwanda from neighbouring Uganda (ibid.) The incumbent government harnessed the already pre-existing ethnic to unite the Hutu population to fight against the Tutsi rebels. The strategy included finding a scapegoat in an internal Tutsi population that continued to live in Rwanda (Uvin, 1999). The genocide which soon followed took lives of 500,000 to 800,000 people between April and July of the year 1994 when the total population at the time is estimated to have been around 8 million (Drumbl, 2020). More than 100,000 people were accused and waited in detention for trials, creating a great burden on a Rwandan county (Schabas, 2005).

According to Meyerstein (2007), the Gacaca trials were a response to the failure of the Western-styled nation court to process all the suspects of the genocide. Gacaca trials were based on indigenous local justice, with Ubuntu ethics being an underlying element of the system. The trials were traditionally informal, organic, and patriarchal, but the Rwandan government modernized the indigenous justice system by establishing an organizational structure, and, among other things, making the participation of women a requirement (Drumbl, 2020). 

The application of Gacaca trails to do justice after the genocide was not always well received by the international community. The trials received criticism for not complying with the international standards for the distribution of justice. For example, Amnesty International invoked Article 14 of the ICCPR and stated that Gacaca trials violated the right of the accused to be presumed innocent and to the free trial (Meyerstein, 2007). There are, undoubtedly, many problems that can be assigned to the system of Gacaca when it comes to the strict norms of the international norms. 

The judges are drawn from the community and arguably lack the official legal training, the punitive model of the trials that arguably have served for many as an opportunity for personal revenge, and the aforementioned lack of legal protection for the accused are a few of many problems faced by the Gacaca trials (Rettig, 2008). Furthermore, the Gacaca trials excluded the war criminals from the prosecution – there were many cases of the killings of Hutu civilians by Tutsis that formed the part of the Rwandan Patriotic Front army (Corey & Joireman, 2004). This was seen by many as a politicised application of justice, in which, by creating two separate categories of criminals - the crimes of war by the Tutsis that were not the subject of Gacaca and the crimes of the genocide by the Hutus that were dealt with by the trials – the impunity and high moral ground was granted for the Tutsi (ibid). This attitude might bring results that are contrary to the initial goal of the community-based justice - not the reconciliation of the people, but the further division of the society along the ethnic lines. 

However, while the criticism of the Gacaca trials is completely valid, it is also important to understand, that given the limited amount of resources and time, the goal of bringing justice to the victims of the genocide is an incredibly complex mission. In the context of the deeply wounded, post-genocidal society in which the social capital was almost non-existent, the ultimate goal, while having justice as a high priority, was first of all based on Ubuntu ethics and focused more on peace, retribution, and social healing. The utopian perfectness expected by the international community was nearly impossible, and the Gacaca trials met the goal of finding the best possible solutions in the limits of available resources. Furthermore, the criticism of international community often seemed to stem not so much from the preoccupation for the Rwandan citizens, as from the fact that a different approach to justice threatens the homogenizing concept of human rights “which lashes out to squash cultural difference and legal pluralism by criticizing the Gacaca for failures to approximate canonized doctrine” (Meyerstein, 2007).

While it is true that even Rwandan citizens often saw Gacaca as problematic, whether the problems perceived by them were similar to those criticised by the international community is dubious. For example, Rwanda’s Supreme Court’s response to the international criticism was the provision of approach to human rights which, while not denying their objectivity, also advocates for the definition that better suits the local culture and unique circumstances of post-genocide Rwanda (Supreme Court of Rwanda, 2003). After all, the interventions from the part of the Western world on behalf of the universal values have arguably created more violence historically than the defended values should ever allow. The acceptance that Gacaca trials, while imperfect, contributed positively to the post-genocide Rwandan society has the grave implications that human rights are ultimately a product of negotiation between global and local actors” (Meyerstein, 2007) which the West has always refused to accept. However, it is the opinion of this article that exactly the opposite attitude, namely that of better intercultural understanding and the search for the solutions that are not utopian but fit in the margins of the possibilities of a specific society, are the key to both the efficiency and the fairness of a justice system. 

Conclusion

The primary end of the African Indigenous Justice System is to empower the community and to foster reconciliation through a consensus that is made by the offenders, the victims, and the community alike. It encourages to view victims as people who have valuable relationships: they are someone’s daughters, sons, fathers – they are important members of society. Ubuntu is the underlying basis of the Indigenous Justice System and African ethnic in general. While the AIJS seems to be functioning alongside the state’s courts, in the end, the centralization and alienation from the community are undermining these traditional values that flourish in the African setting. The Western legalistic system helps little when it comes to the main goal of justice in Africa – the reconciliation of the community, and more often than not only succeeds in creating further discord. While the criticism of Gacaca trials was undoubtedly valid, it often stemmed from the utopian idealism that did not take the actual situation of a post-genocide Rwanda into consideration or the Western universalism, which was threatened by the introduction of a justice system that in many ways differs from the positivist standard. It is the opinion of this article, therefore, that more autonomy should be granted to the communities that are the basic building blocks of most of the African societies, with the traditional values of Ubuntu being the basis of the African social institutions.

 

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