7 steps from autocracy to democracy

recent speech by International Crisis Group’s deputy president Nick Grono, Alex Evans has distilled 7 very plausible lessons on how to ensure a successful transition from autocracy to democracy. 1) Reform has to happen quickly before impetus runs out – which it will, quickly. “If reforms don’t happen almost immediately, the opportunity is soon lost. Not full democratic transition of course, but enough to establish momentum for continued transformation.” 2) Democratisation after protests can happen faster and more easily in places that don’t have entrenched traditional elites. “…frequently popular uprisings are co-opted or taken over by the members of the existing elite. Sometimes this is defensive, to ensure the elites’ survival, after the sacrifice of a few leaders … other times, as recently in Kyrgyzstan, the revolt was simply an extra-constitutional, intra-elite, reshuffle.” 3) Try to get the military out of politics as soon as possible. “All too frequently Western nations seem comfortable with this, as the militaries are known entities, create a semblance of order and normality, and their commanders have often been trained at Leavenworth or Sandhurst. But more often than not, the military just ends up undermining democratic development, as in Pakistan.” 4) Get elections right. Not too early, not too late, and understanding that “they’re not an endgame”. “Often it will be better to build elections from the ground up – starting with local elections before moving to parliamentary or presidential polls, as local democracy helps build capacity.” 5) Understand that outsiders are largely bystanders during the transition, at least in the early chaotic stages. “The US did not persuade Mubarak to leave, nor could the Saudis convince him to stay – the Egyptian army decided.” 6) Don’t try to pick winners. Often irresistible to international actors, but rarely successful (Grono cites Karzai, Kagame, Meles, Museveni); external actors should focus on institutions rather than on individuals. 7) Conflict prevention matters. “The long term, painstaking work of investing in institutions, building the rule of law and developing civil society may be the most effective way for outsider actors to influence these transitions, in the years before they occur. Those countries with more developed institutions and more entrenched rule of law will likely stand a better chance of a stable transition than those without – think Jordan, or even Egypt, as compared to Libya.” Any additions?]]>

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7 Responses to “7 steps from autocracy to democracy”
  1. hi Duncan,
    One aspect missing is whether there’s any time period/schedule for these seven steps. As H-J Chang argued in Kicking Away the Ladder, today’s developed nations took decades to reach democracy. So when can we expect the change in political system?

  2. Rosaline Hirschowitz

    Democracy has become a buzz-word. It is something we should all want. But often we do not know what we are actually asking for. I think we need to take a step backwards and think about what types of democracy there are before we decide what we want. There are really very different democratic systems with very different consequences for poor and marginalised people. For example, if political parties raise money from corporations linked to lobby groups who are trying to protect their vested interests, this may lead to increasing inequality and disregard for the needs of others. If we have proportional representation, with small minority parties having seats in parliament, the interests of the majority are not necessarily served. If we have coalitions, the democratic process itself is not necessarily effective. If we have constituencies, some small groups of people living in rural areas for example, may have more say through representation in parliament than others living in overcrowded slums. I therefore challenge you and Oxfam to open the debate on what we mean by democracy.

  3. Robert Bradfield

    Let me try and explain democracy. Democracy exists for about ten seconds, it is the time from entering the voting booth till you have made your mark on the ballot paper. After this you will be governed by a minority: the ones that decide what is “good” or “bad” for you, that make laws and then enforce these laws whether you agree with it or not.
    If one want to see what true democracy is, then we have a very good example of one in Switzerland, where every piece of legislation or decision is presented to the people for acceptance or rejection. No wonder that Switzerland have not been involved in any war for the past 300 to 500 years.

  4. 1. In response to other commenters here. Democracy, for all it’s shortcomings, really does bring with it positive development dividends. I had a go at listing these these here: http://wp.me/pSqRs-5Z
    2. Evidence (not perfect, but evidence nonetheless) suggests that aid can have an important role in helping countries successfully transition to democracy. For example,
    Foreign Aid, Democratization, and Civil Conflict: How Does Democracy Aid Affect Civil Conflict?
    Au: Burcu Savun and Daniel C. Tirone
    Published: American Journal of Political Science
    Abstract: It has been suggested that democratizing states are prone to civil wars. However, not all democratizing states experience domestic political violence. We argue that one of the key factors that “shelters” some democratizing states from domestic political violence is the receipt of democracy aid. Democratizing states that receive high levels of democracy assistance are less likely to experience civil conflict than countries that receive little or no external democracy assistance. During democratic transitions, the central authority weakens and uncertainty about future political commitments and promises among domestic groups increases. Democracy aid decreases the risk of conflict by reducing commitment problems and uncertainty. Using an instrumental variables approach that accounts for potential endogeneity problems in aid allocation, we find empirical support for our argument. We conclude that there is a potential path to democracy that ameliorates the perils of democratization, and democracy assistance programs can play a significant positive role in this process.

  5. Rosemary

    Interesting thoughts about the systemic approach. Four thoughts on the transitional period in terms of people and communities, from some experience in eastern Europe:
    1) recognize that it may take time and effort for people to move from ‘short-term’ thinking to ‘long-term’ thinking. Often, short term thinking is how people have survived inflation and scarcity and it has been a useful survival pattern. It takes time for people to learn to think longer term.
    2) recognize that there may have been a distinction between ‘private’ and ‘public’ life, with many people choosing not to participate in public life and rather to put all their energies into private life.
    3) acknowledge that the richness and depth of public, economic and communications infrastructure that exists in the west often does not exist elsewhere.
    4) recognize that elections can have a dual function that includes ‘job creation’, especially where jobs and money are in short supply for most ordinary people. Focus on organizing elections from the bottom up as well as the top down.