Tag Archives: civil society

Kenya’s Democratic Experiment in Devolution

A member of one of Kenya's new county assemblies sets up an office in an open-air market outside of Nairobi. (Photo: VOA News)

A member of one of Kenya’s new county assemblies sets up an office in an open-air market outside of Nairobi. (Photo: VOA News)

One way to improve democratic governance is to devolve more responsibilities to local and regional governments — but only if those governments have the capacity take on such responsibilities and a willingness to listen to input from their constituents. This is the challenge Kenya faces as it implements the devolution outlined in its new constitution.

On April 9th, Chief Executive Officer of CIPE partner in Kenya Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) Kwame Owino gave a presentation at the National Endowment for Democracy on the status of the country’s constitutional reforms. Owino explained the contentious transition that has been occurring in Kenya since the March 2013 elections, which transferred some key powers from the central government to 47 newly-created counties.

Owino cited many roadblocks in the way of quick, successful decentralization, including power struggles between newly-established governors and county senators, a highly centralized government bureaucracy reluctant in some cases to relinquish power after an institutional life of 50 years, and an economy weakened by poor policies and widespread corruption.

To address the uncertainty regarding the strength of the devolution movement, Owino stated that accountability was the answer, arguing that Kenyan civil society organizations had a place as “protectors of devolution,” and that they must put pressure on the government to stay the course of decentralization. For devolution to succeed, the constitution needs to be followed exactly, and not be avoided or ignored as it is in many instances to maintain some of the employment and power institutionalized in the old bureaucracy.  

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The Energy Source of the Future

energy-source-future

“Scientists have discovered an enormous energy source for the world…located in the poorest countries in the world,” announced  Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) President John Hamre recently. “If we tap it, this energy source will double or triple GDP growth in those countries.”

The resource Hamre was discussing is not a fossil fuel like coal or oil and is not a new form of renewable energy.  His remarks were a reference to the 1.8 billion young people in the world between the ages of 10 and 24.  This youth population is the largest the world has ever seen and their contributions to society have drastic implications for the development of emerging markets and fragile states.  If youth become productive civic and economic participants in their communities, the benefits are immense. However, when young people are forced to the fringes of society and do not have sufficient opportunities to participate in society the consequences can be devastating.

In order to help policy, society, and business leaders better understand how to ensure that young people are best positioned to be drivers of growth and development, CSIS recently developed the Global Youth Wellbeing Index in partnership with the International Youth Foundation and Hilton Worldwide.

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Egyptian Civil Society: The Legacy of the Past and the Challenges of the Present

egyptian flag

Egypt has been in the process of rapid change since the fall of Mubarak in 2011. So far, the conservative Military and Muslim Brothers, in addition to an ineffective opposition, have failed to agree on a plan to transition to democracy. Moreover, democracy has been limited to episodes of conflict over the ballot box while disregarding its other essential components, such as freedom of association and the independence of civil society, which are inseparable from democracy.

According to the 2012 constitution, “Citizens have the right to form associations and parties only by notification, and they shall have a legal personality and said entities or their boards of directors may not be dissolved except by a judicial order.” Observers consider this article to be a breakthrough in the relationship between state and society in Egypt. Conversely, the new draft NGO law discussed by the Shura Council in April 2013 empowers the government to impose restrictions on civil society.

Before discussing the major concerns about this draft law, it is important to highlight the nature of the relationship between state and society in Egypt. Middle East observers need to be aware that the state-society order in the region is different than in established democracies. In Egypt, the society is trying to emerge out of a state and not vice versa. In other words, the state remains the dominant institution, not society.

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The Need to Prioritize Economic Development in Egypt

A market in Egypt (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A market in Egypt (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Sally Roshdy is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS  Fellow serving at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) .

In Egypt, my home country, the rulers and the political elite are immersed in a struggle for power and have forgotten the simplest principles of good governance: to deliver economic opportunities to their citizens.

Given the current economic crisis in Egypt, a new approach that prioritizes economic development should be adopted. By supporting small enterprises, the government can build a stronger economy and empower people in need to be productive. This way, those in need of assistance are more than just aid recipients; they are contributors to the overall economic growth.

New and well-planned initiatives must be created to improve Egypt’s economic and social conditions. These initiatives should involve all three sectors – the government,  private sector, and civil society.  

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What Will Happen to Egyptian Civil Society if the New NGO Law is Implemented?

Civil society organizations have been instrumental in the evolution of Egypt's revolution since 2011.

Civil society organizations have been instrumental in the evolution of Egypt’s revolution since 2011. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

By Sally Roshdy, a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS  Fellow serving at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)

Revolutions do not erupt out of the blue – they are the result of citizens’ accumulated disappointments and their disapproval with the status quo over time. In January 2010, this is precisely what happened in Egypt. Our revolution took place because many people – especially those in the civil society – wanted to do something about their political and economic frustrations.

The Egyptian civil society sector is an important part of Egypt’s recent history. Prior to the revolution, they helped build awareness about the need for democratic governance. They also helped spread awareness about various human rights abuses taking place in Egypt. After the revolution, activists and organizations were instrumental in documenting what was happening on the ground, forming fact-finding committees, and seeking the release of the detained young people who participated in demonstrations. Civil society, therefore, played – and is playing – a crucial part during the democratic transition of the country, and is helping bring people to demand their fundamental right to a life of dignity, freedom, and social justice.

Freedom of association is an essential component of democracy. The more a country allows citizens to engage at the civil society level, the more democratic it is going to be. This, however, has not been realized in Egypt even after the country welcomed its first democratically-elected president. In fact, it seems to be reversing given the latest NGO draft law presented by the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs.

This draft has shocked those who were hoping the new government will introduce a new law that will support civil society activities in post-revolution Egypt. Instead of being supportive, the proposed draft law could potentially minimize what activities civil society organizations can engage in. Some activists are calling this draft even worse than the current governing laws for civil society organizations in Egypt. Following are some concerns regarding the proposed NGO law:

  • The bill stipulates the formation of a coordination committee that would oversee all activities done by international NGOs. This committee is supposed to include representatives from Interior Ministry and one from the National Security Agency, which foreshadows a desire of the government to involve security agencies in civil society work. Moreover, the draft gives the administrative representatives the right to arrest anyone for breaking the draft law.
  • The bill will increase the minimum capital needed to establish nonprofits from LE 10,000 (about $1,500 US) to LE 250,000 (more than $37,000 US). This has the potential to deprive the right for young people and less financially-sound qualified individuals from organizing themselves.
  • All associations, foundations, and federations subjected to this proposed law will be under the oversight of an Egyptian Central auditing organization, implying that civil society organizations will be part of a semi-government entity.

Civil society in Egypt may soon be forced to work in such a challenging legal framework. And this is alarming. Limiting freedom of association is a step backwards for Egypt’s democratic transition.

CIPE Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellowship brings talented young professionals with strong research backgrounds to shadow researchers and experts at leading U.S. think tanks for six month. Sally Roshdy is part of the inaugural class, serving at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).

All I Want for Christmas Is… Freedom

Discovering Freedom

Discovering Freedom book cover (image: www.for.org.pl)

While spending this holiday season in my native Poland, I added a new book to my Christmas gift wish list: Odkrywając Wolność – Discovering Freedom - by Leszek Balcerowicz. After 1989 Balcerowicz shaped Poland’s economic transformation from communism to market economy, facing difficult reforms along the way in the context of building young and fragile democratic institutions. The book is not an autobiography detailing his personal account of the transition. Nor is it a technical textbook for fellow economists or political scientists. Instead, the book is meant for every citizen as a foundation of knowledge on political and economic freedom.

As Poland’s Finance Minister in the first post-communist government during the crucial period from 1989 to 1991, then again from 1997 to 2000, and as the Chairman of the National Bank of Poland 2001-2007, Balcerowicz has been one of the most influential policymakers in the country. In recent years, he successfully tried another role – as the head of a new think tank, Civil Development Forum, or FOR (Forum Obywatelskiego Rozwoju). FOR’s stated mission is to protect liberty and promote truth and common sense in public discourse. What the organization believes makes it distinct is effectiveness. In FOR’s own words, “We do not exist to simply publish texts and hold conferences, though we use these tools. We aim to amend existing laws, influence decision-makers considering new laws and to educate the general public, because well informed citizens are the best bulwark against despotism.”

In this spirit of making the principles of liberty easily understandable and accessible to the general public, Discovering Freedom is a extensive compilation (over 1,000 pages!) of writings by the greatest free thinkers, from Adam Smith and Milton Friedman to Karl Popper and Mario Vargas Llosa. Balcerowicz made the selection and wrote the introduction. Many of these texts had not been previously widely known in Poland and the book’s objective is to popularize them because, as Balcerowicz put it, societies must constantly strive for freedom.

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Sustaining Democratic Reform in Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Photo: Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Burma took an unprecedented step toward true, representative democracy during its elections last April. Most notably, the National League for Democracy took the majority of seats in Parliament. The NLD, headed by headed by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, advocates a non-violent movement towards multiparty democracy in Burma, supports human rights (including broad-based freedom of speech), the rule of law, and national reconciliation. This week, Suu Kyi has venured to Washington, DC to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speak at an award ceremony by the National Endowment for Democracy, and receive her long-delayed Congressional Gold Medal, which she was awarded in absentia in 2008 while under house arrest.

Since the April elections, the Burmese government has made all the right gestures and said all the right things about embarking on a new democratic path for the country. What remains to be seen is whether these promises come to fruition. In the latest Economic Reform Feature Service article, CIPE Asia Program Officer John Morrell takes a look at Burma’s institutional environment and discusses what changes are necessary to sustain successful democratic change.

Article at a glance:

  • Burma’s transition to democracy will prove unsustainable without substantive changes to the country’s political, administrative, and economic institutions.
  • Economic growth must be widespread and economic opportunities arise for more than the well-connected few if democracy is to succeed in Burma.
  • The Burmese government and its partners in the international development community must prioritize the development of durable, reliable and politically independent institutions.

Read the full article and an earlier blog post from John Morrell on this topic.