Putting a Price on Democracy in Africa
WESTERN aid money can nurture pro-democracy movements in Africa, say Western and African diplomats, donor officials, and others. But there is no consensus on how to use the "carrot" of Western aid to get authoritarian governments to adopt democratic reforms. United States State Department and World Bank officials see three approaches emerging out of the current debate:
*-Cutting off aid to nondemocratic countries;
*-Rewarding with increased foreign aid those states moving toward democracy and improved human rights;
*-Avoiding the issue of democracy directly and rewarding countries deemed more efficient and accountable with public funds.
These various approaches are being discussed as nearly half the countries of Africa have adopted or announced within the past year plans to adopt multiparty politics - indicating a marked switch from authoritarian rule.
"I feel international financial bodies, like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Western European Countries, the US, should really support this [pro-democracy] movement," says Nigerian Joe Garba, former president of the United Nations General Assembly. But Mr. Garba cautions that there is no simple formula for the West to encourage democracy in Africa.
The US "has been a great supporter of dictators" in Africa, says Georges Nzongola, professor of African studies at Howard University. Cutting off aid to such governments could spur democratic reforms by forcing leaders to "account to their people why they're not getting that assistance," he says.
Privately, one senior US official says pushing Africa too hard on democratic reforms at a time when about 30 nations are under-going economic reforms may cause instability. He suggests the push should come in two to three years.
Last year, the US Congress passed legislation that withheld assistance to Zaire because of charges of corruption and human rights abuses, and some aid to Kenya was withheld because of alleged human rights abuses. Now there is talk in Congress of cutting off nonhumanitarian aid to countries whose governments are not freely elected.
It is too early to tell whether this criterion will end up in the next foreign aid bill. But a senior State Department official, who asked not to be named, says, "If not this year, next year, Congress might start to say 'no aid' to nondemocratic governments." The State Department, he says, prefers, instead of punishing nondemocratic nations, to "reward countries that follow the democratic path."
But both approaches may amount to the same thing: With a limited foreign aid budget, rewarding democratic nations with more aid is likely to leave less for the nondemocratic ones.
The US has sent mixed signals over the issue of multiparty democracy versus democratic reforms in a one-party state. In a 1989 interview, Herman Cohen, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, said in Africa Report, published by the African-American Institute in New York, "The time has come to tell Africans frankly that the one-party state has outlived its usefulness...." But in Kenya last year, both Mr. Cohen and US Ambassador Smith Hempstone stressed that the US was not trying to dictate t e
rms to Kenya. Instead of calling for multiparty politics in Kenya, they simply encouraged an expansion of democracy.
LINKING aid to democracy has some drawbacks, however, says Carol Lancaster, a former US deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa.
Cutting off some African nations from aid would diminish US influence in those countries, she says. But failure to cut them off would undermine the credibility of any policy to link US aid to democratic reforms, Ms. Lancaster says, in an issue earlier this year of CSIS Africa Notes, published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington.
The World Bank, meanwhile, bound by its charter not to link aid to political reforms, is encouraging economic reforms and what it calls "good governance."
In a recent paper, senior World Bank officials Ismail Serageldin and Pierre Landell-Mills spelled out their view of good governance: political accountability, freedom of association and participation, a sound judicial system, and freedom of information and expression.