Monday, April 22, 2013

NEVIS Review 15, Section II, Ref# 15.2

NEVIS Review 15
Section II
Ref# 15.2
April 22, 2013


Adjustments, Multinational plunder and Coup d’états in Africa:
Bearings on fledgling democratic experiments
(Summary of a published article )
By Costantinos BT Costantinos, PhD


More than a hundred and ten successful coup d’états and counter coups have taken been recorded in Africa since the independence efforts in the 60s. On March 21, 2012, young military officers protesting the government’s handling of a Tuareg-led rebellion staged a coup against Mali’s President; while Structural Adjustments and rising ethnic tensions, in addition to the lack of political will that has contributed to the bourgeoning illegal exploitation of natural resources have characterised the coup d’états that haunt much of Africa. Historically, the illegal exploitation of natural resources has played a key role in triggering and financing conflict in many parts of the Great Lakes Region. This article, published by the author with the Pan African lawyers Union (PALU), the research delves into the political transition process in Africa since independence, military coups that haunted the continent and presents the analytical limitations in current perspectives of the transition to sustainable democracy and development in Africa; with the distinction between concepts and processes of political openness and political participation. Using qualitative methods, it draws conceptual distinction between political openness and democracy and the political agencies and ideologies at play; distinguishing between strategic and processual dimensions of the political change. The nuclear thesis of the paper bases its question on is the endowment of institutions in civil society and state conducive to democratic transition? (Costantinos, BT., 1996:342-355)
Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) and rising ethnic tensions characterised the eighties in much of Africa. These tendencies interact causally. Africa's growing debt burden and the nature of the SAPs have generated authoritarian responses to popular anger. The linkage between SAP and rising ethnic tensions is manifested in the distribution of power, wealth and ethnicity, especially under conditions of increasing scarcity, needs to be reconsidered. There are a number of reasons why ethnic and regional tensions are exacerbated by debts, economic crisis and SAPs; a core contention is that political tensions are rising as part of the general resistance against both SAP, because of its pauperising impact, and against the state, which is seen coercive and negligent of its basic welfare responsibilities.
On the arrearage side, within a life span of something like two millennia, the African state has exhibited an enhanced degree of coercive power, resulting in a pervasive military ethos leading to the emergence of self-labelled “Developmental” and “Socialist” military oligarchies through a long and painful process of ideological schooling. A major obstacle to efforts to install and consolidate democratic system in Africa is the all powerful, highly centralised and hierarchical bureaucratic structure; further exacerbated by economic adjustment programme and coups and counter coups, which antedated the democratisation process by almost a decade. The organisational imperative of the massive bureaucratic machine is to command and control and is preoccupied with its own survival and enrichment. It is unlikely that the powerful bureaucracy will abandon its control of the state apparatus to elected leaders or respect the institutional restraints of democratic rule without struggle. The lack of political culture also imposes serious threats to democratic development in the continent. Practices such as free elections, the formatting of political parties, free and open discourse on public issues are all foreign concepts that need to be installed in the minds of the majority of the populace. While a host of other African countries set themselves to attain the institutions and practices that have been the basic ingredients of the Western liberal democratic model; ethnicity have come to be espoused as principal sources of political partisanship.

Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda and Zanzibar have experienced multiple coups and counter coups.( Wrong, Michela, 2001, Ibhawoh, B., 2002, HRW, 2010, Omnia El Shakry, 2012 & J. Bayo Adekanye, 2008)
Nonetheless, the discussion and analyses of transition to democracy in Africa generally are marked by several limitations. The first set of limitations relate to a tendency to narrow democratic thought and practice to the terms and categories of immediate, not very well considered, political and social action, a naive realism, as it were. Secondly, the limitations arise from inattention to problems of articulation or production of democratic systems and process within African politics rather than simply as formal or abstract possibilities. Thirdly, it is the ambiguity as to whether civil society is the agent or object of democratic change and concerning the role of the state. Finally, it is a nearly exclusive concern in certain institutional perspectives on democratisation in Africa with generic attributes and characteristics of political organisations and consequent neglect of analysis in terms of specific strategies and performances of organisations in processes of transition. In addition, we have the inadequate treatment of the role of international agencies and the relations between global and indigenous aspects or dimensions of democratisation in Africa. Let us look at each of these analytical limitations more closely. (Costantinos, BT., 1996:341)
Intervention by international organisations disrupts transitions to the extent that it is perceived as partisan. Multinational, multilateral, bilateral and non-governmental external agencies have, in recent years, taken a large number of initiatives aimed directly or indirectly at helping Africa ‘democratise’ its way out of economic chaos and political instability. In doing so, they rely on a wide variety of programmes, institutional mechanisms and policies. Indeed, growing external involvement in African projects of democratisation and economic recovery has resulted in increasingly challenging problems of conceptualising the role and function of international agencies that seem in marked contrast to the limited effort exerted to put the interventions in coherent theoretical or strategic perspective. Insofar as these activities are not understood and engaged in, their democratic (and developmental) impact may diminish with their proliferation. This can mean little more than a weakly coordinated multiplication of programmes and projects which have immediately recognisable or measurable effects in limited areas, but which seem to suspend rather than serve their ultimate goals.

There have been a variety of alternatives that address both the economic model upon which adjustments are based, and the non-democratic and excessively harsh method by which they were imposed. In 1989, The UN ECA provided a comprehensive and credible alternative. The African Alternative Framework called for ‘adjustment with transformation’ which called for a reduction in the continent's reliance on external trade and financing, the promotion of food self-sufficiency and greater popular participation in economic planning and decision-making.
“Any serious attempt at promoting an agenda of good governance and popular participation in government must start with a more coherent human rights agenda. To begin with, the focus of adjustment reforms must shift from state macroeconomics to the primary social well-being of the individual. Human beings, with all the rights and freedoms that attach to them, should constitute the focus of all economic reforms and development assistance. Policies that actively infringe human rights, no matter the transient economic attractions they hold, are invalid and counterproductive. Economic reforms, if they are to achieve any real improvement in the living conditions of people, must be founded on a specific and clearly defined framework of rights and freedoms which states and IFIs should have a legal and moral obligation to respect. Only by working within coherent human rights agenda can adjusting states ensure the legitimacy of adjustment reforms and the broader participation of social groups in their formulation and implementation.” (Ibid)
Profound commitment is needed to promote regional strategies for the diversification and enhancement of sources of income, competitiveness of productive sectors, rational management of land resources, sustained and sound management of vital regional natural and environmental resources such as aquatic ecosystems, mineral deposits and forests of the Congo Basin, as well as sustainable human settlements. These commitments need reflect the political determination the strategic vision necessary for the articulation of a project aimed at the realisation of the objective of the establishment of an effective regional mechanism for the certification of natural resources. In order to be successful, any attempt to develop a certification scheme must take cognisance of emerging global trends in the conservation, development and management of such resources.
These include a carefully managed devolution of administrative responsibilities to sub-national entities that do not undermine the Certification Scheme and acceptance and use of participatory approaches that highlight the critical need to ensure that all stakeholders recognise and understand the role that certification schemes could play in protecting their resources and contributing towards their quality of life. No certification scheme can realistically hope to be effective unless the private sector recognises the benefits inherent in participation and compliance and establishes effective mechanisms to guarantee the commitment and full participation of producers and traders alike in the natural resources concerned. Effective certification has the potential to improve value addition and improve the earnings and tax revenues from the natural resources that are traded within and between borders.


Democratic Development is a process of rule making in which citizens obtain opportunities for political contestation and political participation. Political contestation refers to open rivalry and competition among diverse political interests. Political participation refers to the entitlement of citizens, considered as political equals, to be involved in choosing governmental leaders and policies. Democracy is a regime in which the authority to exercise power derives from the will of the people. Insofar as existing perspectives on political reform in Africa neglect to pose the problem of articulation of democracy as a relatively autonomous mode of analysis (in which democracy projects impose ideology upon our polities, governments and societies from the outside), democratisation would consist of a set of activities in which universal, mainly Western, concepts and standards of governance are neatly "applied to", as distinct from produced or re-produced in African contexts and conditions. Even at the level of application alone, it is largely overlooked that international models may enter Government and societies in Africa through a proliferation of programmes and mechanisms that hinder the growth of open and effective transition process thus retarding the development of indigenous democratic-system experience and capacity.
Whether democracy in Africa is defined in terms of individual freedom or collective rights, government policy or citizen action, private value or public norm, the upshot of the relative inattention to problems of articulation of open democratic systems and processes in itself makes democracy at once the most concrete of idea systems. Within current projects of political reform, democracy is either conventionalised or sterilised on terrain of theory and often vacuously formalised on the ground of practice. It enters African politics and society in relatively abstract and plain form, yet is expected to land itself to immediate and vital African polity's socio-political experience. It suggests itself, seems within reach only to elude, and appears readily practicable only to resist realisation.
Costantinos, BT., 1996, transition to democracy in Africa: a cross national study. Arusha: GCA/ALF
HRW, 2010, Mali: Coup Leaders Must Respect Rights,, , retrieved Mar 22, 2012
Ibhawoh, B., 2002, Structural Adjustment, Authoritarianism and Human Rights in Africa, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and Middle East, Vol. XIX No. 1,, retrieved Mar 22, 2012
J. Bayo Adekanye, 2008. Structural Adjustment, Democratization and Rising Ethnic Tensions in Africa, Article first published online: 22 OCT 2008, DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7660.1995.tb00556.x, © Institute of Social Studies, Development and Change, Vol 26, Issue 2, pp 355–374, April 1995,, retrieved March 22, 2012
Omnia El Shakry, 2012. Egypt's Three Revolutions: The Force of History behind this Popular Uprising, retrieved from,
Wrong, Michela, 2001, In The Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo. HarperCollins, pp.352
UNECA, 1989. Alternative Framework for Structural Adjustments , Addi s Ababa:UNECA

[Ed’s Note: Costantinos (PhD) is an economist by training and currently teaches Comparative Public Policy at the School of Graduate Studies at the AAU. He can be reached at]