Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, December 30, 2013

An election in Nigeria

How trusting should we be of the reporting or the official results?

Nigerian opposition win despite Islamic uprising
The opposition All Progressives Congress swept every seat in peaceful local government elections in Nigeria’s northeast state of Yobe, officials said, defying Islamic extremists opposed to democracy and the ruling party’s insistence it was too insecure to campaign…
Yobe state, Nigeria
The [Peoples Democratic Party] boycotted Saturday’s elections for 178 councilors and 17 chairmen, saying it was not safe to campaign. They had not been expected to win seats in the traditional opposition stronghold.

The [PDP] disputed the Yobe electoral commission’s figures showing nearly 80 percent of 1.2 million registered voters cast ballots. Some reporters had noted a low turnout and the figure was surprising in a region where tens of thousands of people have been forced from their homes by a 4-year-old Islamic uprising…

Chairman Mohammed Jauro Abdu of the Yobe State Independent Electoral Commission said, ‘‘Our elections went on smoothly without any case of violence or breach of peace. This is a pointer and a signal for the government at the center that the state is safe to hold elections even in 2015, insha'Allah (God willing).’’ He spoke Sunday night when he announced the results.

Some politicians in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north have suggested southern Christian politicians want to prolong the state of emergency to prevent 2015 voting in areas where they are unpopular…

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Pronunciation: \-ˈmi-tənt\
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin intermittent-, intermittens, present participle of intermittere
Date: 1601 :

coming and going at intervals : not continuous ; also : occasional — in·ter·mit·tent·ly adverb 

Source: Mirriam-Webster Online Dictionary http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Intermittent Retrieved 2 December 2010

The last time I suggested that blog entries might be less than regular, big ideas kept falling in my lap and Internet access was more available than I thought it would be.

This time, I'm pretty sure I'll be distracted and otherwise engaged in things non-academic. I hope you will be as well.

For the next couple weeks, you're on your own. But then most of you won't be in class.

Happy new year.

If you find a bit of information that might be useful for teaching comparative politics, post it at Sharing Comparative or send me a note with the information.  
Remember, nearly all the 3,000 entries here are indexed here and at the delicio.us index. There are 78 categories and you can use.

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COMING SOON: Just the Facts, a short and quick review for Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, December 23, 2013

Inside Chinese politics

Arguing in favor of implementing a nation-state's constitution wouldn't seem to be a controversial position. The people in power in China know better.

Last summer and fall, the country prepared for the installation of new top leaders and the Communist Party cracked down on Bo Xilai and his "left-wing" Chongqing system promoting Mao-style Communist values. Bo and others argued for full implementation of the PRC's constitution, which contains many elements of idealistic Communism.

Since Bo's conviction and jailing, some journalists have continued to argue for "constitutionalism." Most of them are in jail themselves.

Now comes the re-education. And it doesn't involve learning to serve the people or protecting political rights.

Chinese journalists face Marxist ideology exam
Chinese journalists will have to pass a new ideology exam early next year to keep their press cards, in what reporters say is another example of the ruling Communist party's increasing control over the media under President Xi Jinping.

It is the first time reporters have been required to take such a test en masse… The exam will be based on a 700-page manual peppered with directives such as "it is absolutely not permitted for published reports to feature any comments that go against the party line", and "the relationship between the party and the news media is one of leader and the led"…

China has also intensified efforts to curb the work of foreign news organisations. The New York Times Company and Bloomberg News have not been given new journalist visas for more than a year after they published stories about the wealth of relatives of the former premier Wen Jiabao and Xi…

Traditionally, Chinese state media has been the key vehicle for party propaganda. But reforms over the past decade that have allowed greater media commercialisation and limited increases in editorial independence, combined with the rise of social media, have weakened government control, according to academics…

Journalists will have to do a minimum 18 hours of training on topics including Marxist news values and socialism with Chinese characteristics, as well as journalism ethics, before sitting the exam in January or February. Reporters who fail the test will have to resit the exam and undergo the training again. It is not clear what happens to reporters who refuse to take it…

Reporters had little doubt about the aim of the exam. "The purpose of this kind of control is just to wear you down, to make you feel like political control is inescapable," said a reporter for a newspaper in the booming southern city of Guangzhou.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Hogwarts for peers?

The British House of Lords is rarely a topic of serious political discussion except when it comes to reforms. It's probably worth the few minutes it takes to read Stephen Castle's report in The New York Times.

Growth Spurt Creates Alarm Over the House of (Many) Lords
Well-attended Lords session
It seems unlikely that the members of the House of Lords would refer to their assembly as the world’s greatest deliberative body, as United States senators do, or used to anyway. The British are more given to self-deprecation. But there is a superlative that does apply, one that Britain’s politicians have been trying to shed: the world’s largest legislative body outside China, and growing.

An explosion of numbers is causing alarm in the assembly’s richly decorated, red-carpeted corridors, occupied by members who these days are less likely to be aristocrats with country estates than political hacks or ex-ministers.

After the latest influx this summer, the House of Lords has 836 members… 781 have the right to revise or delay legislation, question ministers and take part in debates…

Because the Lords can delay or amend legislation… governments tend to add new members, or peers, to create a majority. The prime minister can alter the political balance by nominating more candidates than other party leaders. (Nominees go through an appointments panel before being appointed by the queen.)

“If we get larger and larger, we look really stupid and the case for reform becomes greater and greater,” said George Foulkes, a peer and former minister from the opposition Labour Party who wants to restrict numbers to 450…

Other concerns, he said, include cramped office space, limited travel budgets for official trips, restricted speaking time and occasional difficulties cramming into a chamber built for 500.

“People complain that you can’t book a table in the restaurant,” said John Monks, a Labour peer from Manchester, referring to the Lords’ grand dining hall with waiter service. Mr. Monks, who was once the country’s top trade union boss, says he happily eats in the self-service cafeteria.

It is little wonder people like it here. The House of Lords provides a public platform without the inconvenience of elections. The position is unsalaried, but peers can claim up to 300 pounds a day, nearly $500, tax free for attending (while holding other jobs). They get a title, a desk in a historic palace, free parking in central London and access to the Bishops’ Bar, a members-only, wood-paneled establishment…

[W]hatever government is in power finds the House of Lords to be an enormous convenience, whether for political payoffs or for the publicity value of appointing a particularly popular or deserving commoner. In the absence of measures to restrain its growth, the numbers are going to grow.

“We are on the path to escalation,” added Olly Grender, a new peer and former spin doctor for the Liberal Democrats. “It is pretty obvious that it must be possible to run a revising chamber without having more than 700 people to do it.”…

But he described his first impression, when he arrived and was shown his official coat peg at the entrance, as a “Hogwarts moment,” reminiscent of the Harry Potter series. “It’s the only place I come where I am younger than the average age,” added Mr. Monks, 68.

'Half of Lords' clock in to claim expenses
Half the members of the House of Lords clock in and out of Parliament for a few minutes a day in order to claim a £300 daily attendance allowance, a former Conservative peer has said.

Lord Hanningfield made the claim when challenged to explain his own attendance record.

The Daily Mirror alleges on 11 of 19 occasions he attended the Lords in July he spent less than 40 minutes there...
He said he spent half of the £300 daily fee on expenses and so did not really make any profit. He was a full-time peer who needed the money to pay his electricity bills and buy food, he said...
Lord Hanningfield, a former leader of Essex County Council, claimed £5,700 in total for his 19 days of attendance during July and the Mirror reports his shortest attendance that month was 21 minutes...

There are currently 779 "eligible" members of the House of Lords. More than 40 other peers have taken a "leave of absence" for health or professional reasons, meaning they cannot attend.

In 2011, Lord Hanningfield served nine weeks of a nine-month sentence for parliamentary expenses fraud totalling nearly £14,000...

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Thursday, December 19, 2013


Pay no attention to those beggars on the sidewalk or to those poor peasants in the countryside. Maybe if you offer shiny gold and jewels, people won't remember his ideas.

Mao’s Birth Commemorated in Gold and Gem-Encrusted Statue
Mao Zedong, the Communist revolutionary who rhapsodized the Chinese people as “poor and blank” has received the birthday present he probably never dreamed of. He has been commemorated in a manner befitting the excesses of modern-day capitalist China: a statue covered in gold and inlaid with gems that is said to be worth about 100 million renminbi, or $16.5 million…

[A]pparently China’s foremost revolutionary can be a spectacle of bling. The statue of a seated Mao went on display on Friday in Shenzhen, a commercial city in southern China better known for its raucous nightlife than its spartan revolutionary spirit.

China National Radio said on its website that the figure of Mao — appearing unnervingly slim — was covered in gold, jade and other gemstones, and was the work of more than 20 master craftsmen over eight months…

The statue went on display at an art and handicrafts show in Shenzhen, but will find a permanent home in Mao’s birthplace, Shaoshan, in Hunan Province.

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Keep your civil society groups within The Party

The Communist Party of China goes to great lengths to keep civil society activity within the Party. Here's an example.

China indicts law activist who founded civic group
A prominent Chinese legal activist who founded a group that organized small, peaceful protests and dinners to discuss politics was indicted Friday by Beijing prosecutors and will likely stand trial soon…

Xu Zhiyong
[C]ity prosecutors… formally charged Xu Zhiyong on Friday…

Xu founded the New Citizens Movement, a loose network of activists who have gathered in various cities around the country for political discussions over dinner and have held small street rallies to urge officials to disclose their assets.

His arrest in late August highlighted a wide-ranging crackdown by the authoritarian government on peaceful expression and underscored how unnerved the country’s leaders are by independent collective action.

[P]rosecutors were likely to pursue charges of ‘‘organizing a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.’’…

The vaguely worded charge has been used in many recent cases by authorities to prosecute activists who have staged small demonstrations to air critical views. Xu’s supporters say it’s a trumped-up charge aimed at putting away a moderate voice perceived by the Communist Party as a threat because of his public appeal and ability to mobilize…

Chen Min, a close friend of Xu's, said Xu’s prosecution reflects the contradictions the party faces in wanting to protect one-party rule while appearing to be responding to public demands for greater government accountability and a fairer legal system.

‘‘No matter how they struggle, they are in a dilemma,’’ Chen, a journalist… said in a recent opinion piece. ‘‘They want the dictatorship, but they want to be seen as having the rule of law. They care about their image while they desire to persecute. They want everything, but that’s a mission impossible.’’…

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Nigerian political landscape changes again

The Fourth Republic has not seen divided government until today.

Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan loses parliament majority
Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has lost his majority in the House of Representatives after 37 MPs defected to a new opposition party.

The MPs said in a letter to the speaker of the 360-seat lower chamber that they had joined the All Progressives Congress (APC) party.

Jonathan wearing his party colors
This is the first time a president has lost his majority in the chamber since military rule ended in 1999…

The defection of the MPs is the latest blow to Mr Jonathan and his governing People's Democratic Party (PDP), and will make it extremely difficult for them to implement their legislative programme, correspondents say.

The PDP, which still controls the upper chamber, the Senate, has won every national election since the end of military rule…

This came several weeks after a powerful faction of state governors broke away to join the APC.

The PDP now has fewer governors supporting it than the opposition.

The APC was formed in February following the merger of four opposition parties to challenge the PDP in the 2015 election…

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Major change in Mexico

Privatization might not seem a big deal in other countries, but in Mexico and concerning petroleum, it is.

Mexico moves to open oil resources to foreigners
Mexico's Senate has approved a measure to open the state-run oil fields to foreign investment for the first time in 75 years.

The measure would let private firms explore and extract oil and gas with state-run firm Pemex, and take a share of the profits.

It now moves to the lower house to be voted on, where it is expected to pass.

President Enrique Pena Nieto wrote on Twitter that it was "a significant decision for Mexico".

Mr Pena Nieto said it was necessary to modernise Mexico's energy sector and increase oil production, which has dropped from 3.4 million barrels per day in 2004 to the current rate of 2.5 million barrels per day.

However, the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party said it was a submission to US oil companies, and protesters set up camp outside the Senate…

They say the move strikes at the heart of Mexico's identity.

Lower House in Mexico approves oil reform measure
The lower chamber of Mexico's Congress followed the lead of the Senate... by approving an energy reform bill that would open the country's nationalized oil and gas industry to foreign investment.

The bill… passed on a 354-134 vote, clearing the two-thirds vote hurdle necessary for passage…

As a change to the Mexican constitution, the proposal also must be approved by a majority of state legislatures. They are expected to do so, though opposition to the measure in some quarters remains fierce…

Mexico: Energy reform clears final hurdle of state approval
Mexico’s sweeping energy reform cleared its final legal hurdle Monday when San Luis Potosi became the 17th state legislature to give rapid-fire approval to constitutional changes that will allow foreign investment into what has been a 75-year-old state monopoly...

Because measures in the bill require changing the constitution, a majority of states also had to give their OK. That happened over the weekend and early Monday, when 17 of 31 states voted in favor of the bill, even as leftist demonstrators protested and surrounded some state legislatures in hopes of discouraging approval.

But passage was never really in doubt because most state governments are controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of President Enrique Peña Nieto, for whom overhauling state oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) has been a major goal of his year-old administration. Along with the PRI, the conservative National Action Party also lent crucial support...

See also: Mexico moves to open oil resources to foreigners

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Watching for signs of political divisions

Here's one sign of the political divisions within the ruling elite in Iran.

Military Chief in Iran Scolds a Top Official
The highest commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran lashed out at the country’s foreign minister on Wednesday, telling him to stick to diplomacy and stay out of military business.

Mohammad Ali Jafari
The commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, responded to statements by the foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was reported to have said a week ago that the United States military could take out Iran’s defenses with “just a couple of bombs.” Mr. Zarif later said he had been misquoted.

Mr. Jafari, who developed Iran’s military doctrine of employing guerrilla tactics against powerful enemies, said that even “thousands of bombs” could not destroy the corps’ capabilities…

The remarks reveal growing tensions in Iran between the moderate government of President Hassan Rouhani, which is trying to reach a lasting nuclear deal with world powers in exchange for sanctions relief, and hard-liners like Mr. Jafari, who are openly skeptical that a deal can be reached.

Commenting on the temporary nuclear agreement negotiated last month with the world powers, Mr. Jafari said that Iran had “given the maximum and received the minimum… ”

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Talking about corruption

A government minister talks to a bunch of high powered executives about the disaster of corruption in Nigeria. What will she do? What will the executives do? How does anyone approach a problem that is so endemic?

Corruption Destroying Our Economy – Okonjo-Iweala
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala
Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala yesterday said corruption was destroying the nation’s economy and called on the nation’s private sector to support the federal government in its war against corruption and other areas of economy where wastages occur.

The minister who made the appeal during a Breakfast Dialogue with the Private sector organised by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Lagos, said the problem of corruption, theft and wastages has constituted an albatross to the country’s rapid development…

“Corruption is a serious issue for us because it is destroying our country, eating deep into the fabrics of the economy, we can’t have infrastructure and development with these level of corruption,” [the minister said.]

“We are not helpless, but we need your help to grow the economy and it will begin with the private sector joining hands to help government fight corruption, mismanagement and waste in government.

“It begins with you to say I would not pay bribe, not only will I not pay, I will report to authorities, also by supporting those trying to fight corruption, not castigating those trying to fight it, where we are not doing well point it out to us, anywhere you see wastage report to us, we would do something about it,” she added…

“We need to have the courage to start the corruption fight, fighting corruption is not an easy thing, because you risk a lot of things but you must continue to fight it, she declared.”…

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Friday, December 13, 2013

The politics of reporting

Government run news agencies exist in almost every country. Some, like the BBC, have reputations for accuracy and impartiality. Others, like Xinhua, are obvious mouthpieces for the government. It looks like Russia's news agency will be more like the Chinese one. How do news agencies in Mexico, Iran, and Nigeria compare to Russia's? to China's? to the UK's?

Russian news agency RIA Novosti closed down
Russia's President Vladimir Putin has abolished the country's state-owned news agency RIA Novosti.

In a surprise decree published on the Kremlin's website on Monday, Mr Putin announced it would be replaced by a news agency called Russia Today.

Novosti panel
The new agency will be headed by journalist and keen Kremlin supporter Dmitry Kiselev…

Sergey Ivanov, the head of the Kremlin administration, has told journalists in Moscow that the news agency is being restructured in order to make it more economical while increasing its reach, Interfax reports…

For many Kremlin critics in Russia, [this action] suggests this is a sinister move by President Putin, says the BBC's Daniel Sandford in Moscow.

During Mr Putin's time as Russia's leader, RIA Novosti has tried hard to produce balanced coverage for Russian and international audiences, our correspondent says.

Although state-owned, it has reflected the views of the opposition and covered difficult topics for the Kremlin, our correspondent adds.

Mr Kiselev is known for his ultra-conservative views…

Reporting on its own demise, RIA noted in its news report that "the move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia's news landscape, which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector".

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Democracy spreads because of its virtues. Right?

At least one of the editors at The Economist thinks that democracy has spread because it's been imposed. What do you think?

If I ruled the world: Being in charge is hard work, but it has its perks
Americans would be entirely sensible to ask themselves whether taking on the job of being the biggest power in an ungrateful world is worth the effort. Why should they pay to protect shipping in the Strait of Malacca or punish the dictator of some far-off country when they have their own medical bills and the federal deficit to worry about?

To answer that, you need to look at the rules-based system the victors created after the second world war. It still benefits Americans today in lots of ways. It also benefits many other people, whether they like America or loathe it…

Primacy is to geopolitics what a full card is to a game of bingo. As a prize for scoring in all the other sorts of power, a country may get the chance to set the agenda. Primacy makes a state attractive. Other states want to win its favour and to benefit from its goodwill. Their support is a form of consent which gives the system legitimacy…

America has advantages in the primacy game. First is geography… Europeans warily eyeing nearby Russia, or Asians fearful of China, can ask Americans for help, safe in the knowledge that they have a home to go back to on the other side of the world.

Second is history. America built today’s system out of the rubble of the second world war… [F]or Roosevelt and… Truman… the defeated countries had to be turned into democracies and bound into the peace, not shut out. They accomplished this, outside the communist bloc, through a system of open trade, alliances and collective security in which everyone stood to thrive, with America as its guarantor.

America also benefits from its distinctive political ideology and institutions. Founded on Enlightenment ideals rather than a conqueror’s battle lines or a monarch’s bloodlines…

However disconcerting it is to be on the receiving end, this attitude means that America has neither the desire nor the ability to conquer and administer other people’s countries. The hegemon’s necessarily modest ambitions help the system command widespread consent abroad. Reflecting political traditions at home, America has created an embryonic separation of powers for the world at large as well. Instead of running everything from Washington, it set up institutions such as the UN, the WTO and the IMF to spread power.

This international machinery is a forum for its members, not a world government. It is highly imperfect… But it binds the system together, because it gives other states a voice and offers a ready-made mechanism for collaboration when agreement is possible…

America, too, has enjoyed enduring benefits from primacy. It was spared yet another great-power war in either Europe or, after Korea in 1950-53, in Asia. Germany and Japan became markets for the United States and an important part of the defence against communism…

Indeed, the economic and philosophical liberalism that underpins America’s beliefs has become so familiar that, to many in the West, it hardly seems like an ideology at all. After the Soviet collapse a sort of liberal determinism took hold. The idea was that capitalism raised living standards, which paid for education, leading to gains in productivity and, eventually, popular demand for democracy. The promise of this “democratic convergence” was that the international arena would tend to bring peace and prosperity of its own accord…

Yet if you examine the spread of democracy… a different picture emerges. Democracy flourished under British hegemony and then retreated as fascism took root… In 1941 the world contained only a dozen democracies. As Samuel Huntington, a political scientist, has explained, the system then spread in waves, partly because America used its influence to help democracy take root in countries like Taiwan and Poland, and to protect young democracies in countries like Bolivia, South Korea and the Philippines… the fallacy is to think that the liberal order rests on the triumph of its ideals. “International order is not an evolution,” writes Robert Kagan, an American historian, “it is an imposition.”

Americans have many reasons to feel that primacy benefits them. Being able to set the agenda and shape coalitions is an exorbitant privilege…. However, world leadership takes constant maintenance. “Democracy and open markets have spread so widely in part because they have been defended by US aircraft-carriers,” notes Charles Kupchan, an American academic. This is especially true when the balance of power is shifting, as it is today. A number of emerging powers are looking at a system made in Washington to see what is in it for them. Ahead of the pack is China.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Add this to your chapter on Nigerian political parties

An op-ed piece that analyzes the importance of the "new" opposition party in Nigeria. Your textbook won't include any of this.

Welcome to a Two-Party State
At the end of November, Nigeria’s political landscape experienced a seismic shift as five governors and a number of members of the House of Representatives and Senators renounced their membership of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and decamped en masse to the increasingly powerful opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).
Citing disgruntlement with the actions of President Goodluck Jonathan and PDP chair Bamanga Tukur, the defected governors and APC released a joint announcement declaring that they had no choice but join forces “in order to rescue our fledgling democracy and the nation.”

In response, the PDP tried to both downplay the merger, with spokesperson Olisa Metuh, remarking that “the defectors have embraced a narrow group of ethnic and religious bigots whose main intention is to unleash a state of anarchy on Nigeria. We remain unperturbed as we are now rid of detractors and distractions."

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the PDP, which has dominated the political scene ever since Nigeria returned multi-party elections in 1999, is facing by far the strongest challenge to its authority in its history…

As president, Jonathan has had to contend with all manner of well-documented economic, structural and security troubles facing Nigeria, but it has probably been the infighting within his own party that has most frequently kept him up at night…

One of the main cleavages in Nigeria is the division between north and south, and to resolve this, the PDP had an unwritten agreement that the presidency would alternate between a northerner and southerner, each holding office for two four-year terms. In addition, any president from the north would have a deputy from the south, and vice versa.

In 2007, after 8 years under southerner Olusegun Obasanjo, northerner Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was elected president… The PDP’s rotational system seemed to be working until in 2010, Yar’Adua died from complications arising from a protracted illness…

However, disgruntlement within the PDP is not all related to north-south politicking. Jonathan has also been accused of running the party undemocratically to shore up his own authority…

The five governors who joined the APC last month… means that the APC has 16 of Nigeria’s 36 governors, while the PDP has 18… and that if you add up voter populations in the states held by the APC as compared to those held by the PDP, the opposition party’s states account for 52% of the electorate.

Although the tide has been turning for some time, the dramatic events of this past year have carved out a new era of Nigerian politics. What this brave new world will look like remains to be seen. The PDP is still reeling from its high-level defections, while the APC has yet to demonstrate whether its ambitions and visions extend beyond just defeating the PDP.

Nevertheless, political analyst Raymond Eyo believes the shift in Nigeria’s political landscape can only be a good thing for democracy. “The defections will benefit the Nigerian people as it deepens democracy and will lead to the enhancement of a two-party system that is more competitive and can be more productive than the present dominant one-party rule,” he says.

Indeed, after nearly 15 years of PDP rule and dominance in which the real decisions over presidents have been made in the party’s corridors of power rather than at the ballot box, many ordinary Nigerians are thirsty for change. Citizens are tired of scandal after scandal revealing high-level corruption, of crucial bills that could reform faltering sectors stagnating in the Senate and House of Representatives, and of political squabbling overshadowing all else in government. Nigeria’s political scene may be in turmoil, but some will be thinking that that’s exactly what was needed.

The author of this analysis is Lagun Akinloye, a British Nigerian who studied Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds. He is particularly interested in the history and politics of West Africa, specifically Nigeria. In addition to his role at Think Africa Press, Lagun is an executive member of the Central Association of Nigerians in the UK.

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The big cleavages in Nigeria

The less-developed, less-educated, poorer, Muslim north of Nigeria differs from the middle belt and the south. How many cleavages can you identify?

Why northerners feel done down
THE roads are thick with traffic and pavements throng with hawkers selling phonecards, sunglasses and leather sandals. At night, street corners are lit up with a red glow from grills cooking spicy meat. But the bustle of Kano, Nigeria’s second-biggest city and the commercial capital of the north, masks an uncomfortable reality: northern Nigeria is in steep decline.

An increasingly bloody insurgency waged by Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group, has sharpened frustration over the disparity between the jobless north and the oil-rich south…

The fear of terrorism continues to cast a long shadow over the city and across the north. Bombings, kidnappings and bloody assaults by Boko Haram, as well as the army’s efforts to keep a lid on the fighting, have deterred investment. Farming, the north’s main source of income, has been hamstrung…

Despite a construction boom across Nigeria, many foreign companies avoid the north…

Unreliable electricity, cheap Chinese imports, smuggling and counterfeit goods have made life hard for local companies… Poor education puts off investors seeking skilled labour. Whereas the literacy rate in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital on the coast, is 92%, in Kano it is 49%. In the north-eastern state of Borno, where Boko Haram got going, it is 15%. Without better education, the region will struggle to attract investment or create jobs…

Northerners habitually complain that politicians have made personal fortunes from the booming oil industry in the south, while failing to share its benefits. Mutterings of a north-south divide have grown louder with the prospect of President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, running for a second term in 2015. Northerners resent what they see as a violation of an unwritten rule that the presidency should rotate every two terms between the largely Muslim north and the mostly Christian south…

[M]any northerners, struggling to make a living, are deciding to leave Kano in search of better prospects—down south. [T]he owner of a big construction company says, “Visible development gives the impression of stability and progress.” But it will not be enough to close the gulf between Nigeria’s two halves. As a result, northerners are increasingly resentful.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Behind the scenes

My usual first thoughts about what's going on behind the scenes involve corruption, self-serving deal making, and political plotting. It turns out that behind the scenes, or at least out of this American's purview, there are other, much better things going on.

Nigeria's Akinwumi Adesina named Forbes African of the Year
Nigerian Agriculture Minister Akinwumi Adesina has been named Forbes African of the Year for his reforms to the country's farming sector.

Akinwumi Adesina
"He is a man on a mission to help Africa feed itself," said Forbes Africa editor Chris Bishop.

Analysts say Nigeria's economy has long been dominated by oil, while agriculture has been ignored, even though it supports far more people.

Mr Adesina said he wanted to help people become rich through farming...

Aliyu Tanko from BBC Hausa says Mr Adesina has introduced more transparency into the supply and distribution of fertiliser, which had previously been marred by massive corruption…

In January, Mr Adesina announced a scheme to hand out 10 million mobile phones to farmers to "drive an agriculture revolution" so they can find out the latest market information.

However, our correspondent says this goal has not yet been achieved, noting there is no mobile network coverage in many rural areas…

Mr Adesina was chosen ahead of some of Africa's most prominent businesspeople: Aliko Dangote and Jim Ovia, also from Nigeria; South Africa's Patrice Motsepe; and Zimbabwe's Strive Masiyiwa…

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Monday, December 09, 2013

Testing the patience of Mexican voters

Richard Fausset, writing in the Los Angeles Times, offers an evaluation of the first year of Peña Nieto's presidency.

After president's first year, Mexico still a mess by many measures
To President Enrique Peña Nieto's supporters, his first year in office has been a time of bold promises kept as he pursues an ambitious agenda of reforms designed, in the long term, to bring peace and economic growth to Mexico…

Peña Nieto
Though he promised to focus on Mexico's economic potential, Peña Nieto has presided over an economy that has hardly grown at all. Though he vowed to reduce the kind of violence that affects innocent citizens, his record has been mixed, with kidnappings and extortion rising nationwide even as the number of homicides drops…

As Peña Nieto marks his first year in office, he has successfully pushed major banking, education, tax and telecommunication reform bills through Congress, and is pursuing changes in the crucial oil industry. Yet the young, confident and telegenic president, who as a candidate promised a "government that delivers," is facing doubts about his ability to do just that.

A poll from El Universal newspaper last month put Peña Nieto's approval at 50% and his disapproval at 37% — his worst numbers so far as president…

It may be a challenge, however, to convince Mexicans that a radical transformation is truly underway. This is a country with a history of passing beautifully constructed laws that often end up doing little to change the real-life status quo. Some critics argue that Peña Nieto and his allies have allowed key elements of their reform package to be watered down and made less effective as they compromised, trying to mollify often raucous special interest groups and opposition political parties who had agreed to a general reform framework in a so-called Pact for Mexico, signed just after Peña Nieto's inauguration…

Peña Nieto has yet to push through the most controversial change of all: a plan to open the bloated and inefficient state oil monopoly, Pemex, to foreign investment. The company supplies a third of the federal government's income, but production is dwindling precipitously, and analysts say Pemex requires injections of foreign expertise and technology to turn itself around. But the constitution mandates that oil is the property of the Mexican people, and the issue touches deep chords of national pride…

On the crime front, federal figures show that homicides for the first 10 months of 2013 were down 16% compared with the same period in 2012, but extortion was up 10% and kidnappings up 33%. Such numbers come with multiple caveats: Prominent critics have charged that the government is manipulating the homicide statistics, while the extortion and kidnapping figures could reflect an increase in the reporting of crimes to authorities…

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Friday, December 06, 2013

Noisy power

A friend of mine who worked for the Nigerian Ministry of Education more than 20 years ago, tried to describe the deafening roar of little generators that came to life whenever there was a power outage. He always claimed his words couldn't really convey the experience. And power outages were daily events.

The irregular availability of electricity is still a major problem. President Jonathan seems to have begun a re-election campaign by promising to dramatically improve the power grid.

Given the history of the problem and the corruption within the system, I'd keep a generator handy, like the people interviewed by the BBC reporter in Lagos in this 2-minute video.

How noisy generators became a way of life
In Nigeria, 60 million people own generators to provide electricity for their homes and businesses.

The country has experienced major power shortages for decades and made daily power blackouts the norm…

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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Democratization: transitional? superficial? illiberal? real?

Whenever I see a bit of analysis like this I want to know what scholarly observers would say. Well, until we get a comparative equivalent of The Monkey Cage, we'll have to go back, read the textbook, and try to extend the analysis to current events.

A Region Totters Toward Democracy, Gathering Momentum
I had just arrived in South Asia after five years in the former Soviet Union, where I saw one leader after another dispensing with truly competitive politics.
South Asia
Elections kept happening, but there was only a glaze of competition; for the most part, the opposition candidates were docile, handpicked characters, because no one else was allowed to run. On the rare occasions when actual rivals were able to take part, as in recent elections in Ukraine and Georgia, the candidates who lost found themselves in court or in prison. The experiment in democracy, born in the euphoria of the 1990s, seemed to be ending.

In South Asia, that experiment is much closer to its beginning.

For many years, India and Sri Lanka were democracies surrounded by a grab bag of monarchies, dictatorships and military regimes. But then their neighbors began sliding into the democratic column, as if by force of gravity…

A cascade of elections is taking place this year and next, with six out of seven governments in South Asia — Sri Lanka is the exception — likely to change. Many of them have the white-knuckle feeling of an experiment: What happens when elections run into resistance from institutions that took shape over the course of decades?…

As South Asian institutions adjust, its new democracies will have to contend with “the sheer weight of the past,” [Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University] said. “It is going to be a form of ballast, that you are going to have to slowly jettison,” he said. But he rejected the notion that the shift to democracy could reverse itself. “People get a sense of excitement that they can kick out the rascals,” he said. “It’s very difficult to tell them they’re not going to be able to get rid of the next set of rascals.”…

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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Mexican army and a drug cartel

In early November, the Mexican government sent the army in to take over one of Mexico's largest ports. It seems the local drug cartel indirectly ran the place and corrupted the local government. And they had begun mining and shipping iron ore as well as chemicals needed for meth production, marijuana, and cocaine.

Can the army and navy be protected from corruption? Will these actions extend the capacity and legitimacy of the government and the regime?

Mexican army has taken control of major port in effort to combat drug cartel
Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico — This strategic port has been a major moneymaker for the powerful Knights Templar drug gang, which extorts millions from the city’s businesses and smuggles in meth-making chemicals from Asia.

But President Enrique Peña Nieto’s decision this month to deploy troops to Lazaro Cardenas marks a new attempt to sever the cartel’s economic lifeline by putting a stop to its criminal activities here.

By replacing hundreds of local police and customs officials, many suspected of collaborating with drug cartels, and installing soldiers in top port positions and at highway checkpoints, the government hopes to improve the international image of a port that in recent years has become a key transit point for Asian goods heading to the United States…

Over the past decade, cargo business to Lazaro Cardenas, the deepest port in Mexico, has more than doubled… Japanese cars, Chinese clothes and toys, and giant steel beams are shipped in and run by train through Mexico, north to Texas. Ships laden with Mexican oil and minerals motor out to Asia.

But amid that trade, mafias have earned soaring profits from extortion and illicit business, in particular from moving precursor chemicals for methamphetamine, much of which makes its way to the United States.

The Knights Templar, a ­pseudo-religious group… [has] enormous control over Lazaro Cardenas,” said a security official in Michoacán… “They are less involved in drug trafficking than they are in charging for each container that enters.”…

But locals worry that the changes may be more cosmetic than substantive, and that the Knights Templar’s ties to local business and government might be too deep to uproot…

Mexican drug cartels now exporting ore
Mexican drug cartels looking to diversify their businesses long ago moved into oil theft, pirated goods, extortion and kidnapping, consuming an ever larger swath of the country's economy. This month, federal officials confirmed the cartels have even entered the country's lucrative mining industry, exporting iron ore to Chinese mills…

Three Michoacan state detectives were wounded in an ambush earlier this week when they were traveling to investigate a mine taken over by criminals…

The Knights Templar cartel and its predecessor, the La Familia drug gang, have been stealing or extorting shipments of iron ore, or illegally extracting the mineral themselves and selling it through Pacific coast ports…

"This is the terrible thing about this process of (the cartel's) taking control of and reconfiguring the state," said Guillermo Valdes Castellanos, the former head of the country's top domestic intelligence agency. "They managed to impose a Mafia-style control of organized crime, and the different social groups like port authorities, transnational companies and local landowners, had to get in line."…

Government figures show the amount of iron ore being exported to China quadrupled between 2008 and the first half of 2013, rising to 4.6 million tons per year, precisely during the period the La Familia cartel and later the Knights Templar cemented their control over Michoacan.

In 2008, Lazaro Cardenas handled only 1.5 percent of Mexico's iron ore exports to China; by mid-2013, the seaport was shipping out nearly half…

The iron ore, meanwhile, has both swelled the cartels' bankrolls, giving them more money to buy guns and bribe officials, and fed the hunger of Asian steel mills.

And it may be a two-way trade: Precursor chemicals the cartel uses to make methamphetamines often arrive from China at both the Lazaro Cardenas and Manzanillo ports.

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High fashion on Red Square

I was startled in 1990 when I saw a Xerox copy shop and a YSL store on the ground floor of East Berlin's Young Communist League building.

Many Moscovites, were startled to see a Louis Vuitton pop-up store on Red Square. The political upheaval of this symbol of capitalism on Communism's holy ground was too much.

Even as a "Potemkin village" it was too much for politicians to stomach. The high fashion holiday store is coming down before it opens.

Outrage as Russian government rents out Red Square to Louis Vuitton
Vladimir Lenin wanted to be buried beside his mother in his St. Petersburg. But since he isn’t, someone should check whether lying on Red Square beside an oversized Louis Vuitton suitcase does indeed have him spinning in his tomb.

Louis Vuitton pop-up in Red Square
Many Russians – led by Lenin’s heirs in the Communist Party – are stunned by the appearance of a nine-metre-high, 30-metre-long Louis Vuitton trunk on Red Square, a cobblestone plaza more famous for demonstrations against the evils of capitalism and displays of Russian military might.

Modern, heavily commercialized Moscow bears little resemblance to its Soviet-era self, but many here remain unconvinced that the luxury brand’s signature wares should be displayed alongside the red-walled Kremlin…

“[Red Square] is a sacred place of the Russian government. There are symbols like this that cannot be trivialized or denigrated, because the future of the government depends on it,” said Sergei Obukhov, a Communist deputy in Russia’s parliament, the Duma…

The giant trunk is actually a building intended to house an advertising display featuring what the company is calling “historical suitcases” and video installations, and labelled L’Ame de Voyage, or the spirit of travel…

The trunk is supposed to help commemorate the 120th anniversary of GUM, a showpiece mall that spent much of the Soviet era as an office building. It now hosts flagship shores for Louis Vuitton and other Western brands…

Giant Louis Vuitton suitcase to leave Moscow's Red Square

"An installation in Moscow's Red Square in the form of a giant Louis Vuitton suitcase is to be dismantled.

"The suitcase, which had been due to house an exhibition about luggage produced by the luxury brand, had caused outrage among some Muscovites.
Some MPs had decried the installation as trivialising a "sacred space" for the Russian state.

"The department store GUM, under whose auspices the case was installed, said on Wednesday that it would be removed...

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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Corruption Perceptions Index 2013

Transparency International has released the results of its latest survey of how nations' levels of corruption are perceived by "experts" in business and politics.

Corruption Perceptions Index 2013
The Corruption Perceptions Index 2013 serves as a reminder that the abuse of power, secret dealings and bribery continue to ravage societies around the world.

The Index scores 177 countries and territories on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). No country has a perfect score, and two-thirds of countries score below 50. This indicates a serious, worldwide corruption problem…

A country or territory’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 - 100, where 0 means that a country is perceived as highly corrupt and 100 means it is perceived as very clean.

CPI rankings for 2013
  • 1. Denmark and New Zealand: 91
  • 14. United Kingdom: 76
  • 80. China: 40
  • 106. Mexico: 34
  • 127. Russia: 28
  • 144. Iran and Nigeria: 25
  • 175. North Korea and Somalia: 8

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Potemkin-Putin Village

I've taught about the Potemkin village metaphor as long as I've taught comparative politics. It just won't go away. But now, maybe we ought to call it the Putin village.

Russia: Fake facades on unkempt homes 'to impress Putin'
A Russian city has wrapped its dilapidated buildings in fake facades ahead of a planned visit by President Vladimir Putin, it's emerged.
The front (left) and back of a house in Suzdal

Local authorities in the historic city of Suzdal draped unkempt traditional wooden houses in banners camouflaged to look like well-tended facades, complete with carved window frames and flowerpots in the windows, according to a blog post by a local journalist. The sprucing-up operation earlier in November came ahead of a national conference of local government leaders that Putin was scheduled to attend.

Media websites - such as Moskovsky Komsomolets - were quick to liken the result to fake villages said to have been erected by Catherine the Great's favourite, Grigory Potemkin, in war-ravaged regions of southern Ukraine in the 18th Century. This was allegedly done in an effort to impress the visiting empress and foreign ambassadors. The window-dressing habit apparently continued in Soviet Russia. Stories abound of regional authorities giving blocks of flats quick licks of paint and stacking fresh goods in usually barren shops ahead of visits by party bigwigs.

n Suzdal's case, the effort seems to have been in vain. Putin never got around to putting in an appearance after all.

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Monday, December 02, 2013

Preparing talking points

Proponents of Scottish independence have published a large White Paper touting the benefits of independence from the UK. Opponents have published estimates of the tax increases in Scotland necessary to maintain the status quo. Let the debating begin.

Scottish independence: Referendum White Paper unveiled
Scottish first minister Alex Salmond has launched his government's independence blueprint, calling it a "mission statement" for the future.

The 649-page White Paper promised a "revolution" in social policy, with childcare at its heart.

The launch came ahead of next September's independence referendum…

Launching the paper - titled Scotland's Future: Your guide to an independent Scotland - in Glasgow, Mr Salmond said: "This is the most comprehensive blueprint for an independent country ever published, not just for Scotland but for any prospective independent nation…

"Our vision is of an independent Scotland regaining its place as an equal member of the family of nations. However, we do not seek independence as an end in itself, but rather as a means to changing Scotland for the better."…

The Scottish government said Scotland's finances were healthier than those of the UK, providing a strong foundation to put the focus of the referendum campaign on Scotland's future.

Mr Salmond said the list of policies would help address what he described as the "damage caused by the vast social disparities which have seen the UK become one of the most unequal societies in the developed world"…

But [Alistair Darling, leader of the campaign to keep the Union], said… "Instead of a credible and costed plan, we have a wish-list of political promises without any answers on how Alex Salmond would pay for them."…

Scottish independence: Treasury claims taxes could rise by £1,000
Taxes in Scotland could rise by £1,000 per person per year if it leaves the UK, a British government minister says.

Danny Alexander said Treasury analysis suggested millions of taxpayers would pay more if Scotland voted for independence in next year's referendum…

The SNP have said Scotland's public finances are in better shape than the UK's as a whole and Scotland has raised more in tax per head of the population than the UK in each of the last 30 years.

"Only independence will give us the chance to change things for the better, creating jobs, boosting growth and delivering a more prosperous and fairer society," the spokesman added.

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