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  • Measuring Democracy and Human Rights in Southern Africa
  • William A. Munro
Measuring Democracy and Human Rights in Southern Africa Henning Melber , comp. Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, 2002 (Discussion Paper no. 18) 49 pp., $15.95 (paper)

In the past fifteen years, a significant number of African countries have taken noteworthy, if sporadic and halting, steps away from authoritarian rule. This is an encouraging trend. But the fragility of these emerging democracies raises serious questions about how to gauge their prospects for democratic consolidation. One crucial question is how firmly committed African citizens themselves are to the development of democratic values and institutions. Recently, a number of empirical studies, spearheaded by the Afrobarometer survey project, have set out to measure African attitudes toward democracy. The essays in this collection contribute to this work.

The essays converge, from different points of entry, on the relationships between violence, democracy, and development in the transitional countries of southern Africa. Each tries to illuminate a particular aspect of African political cultures and its implications for democratic development. The essays are short and, given the paucity of reliable data, exploratory in nature. They are designed to stimulate new, more refined, research questions rather than to draw definitive conclusions. In this endeavor they are quite successful.

The first essay, by Joao Pereira and Yul Derek Davids, examines ordinary Mozambicans' attitudes toward democracy, how they define it, and how satisfied they are with their experience of it. Drawing on national and comparative surveys, Pereira and Davids find that Mozambicans tend to support democracy strongly (74 percent—the highest in the region); that they tend, realistically, to regard Mozambique as "a democracy, but with major problems"; and that they tend to define democracy overwhelmingly in terms of civil liberties and personal freedoms rather than electoral regularity or quality-of-life measures. Placed in a cross-national regional comparative framework, their analysis produces some intriguing findings with important implications for development strategies. For instance, they find substantially stronger support for democracy among Mozambicans than among South Africans (60 percent), even though South Africa has a more developed economy, a more urbanized population, and a larger middle class, all characteristics that analysts generally view as positive for democratic development. The difference is therefore significant. For explanation, Pereira and Davids point toward Mozambique's long and painful civil war, as well as the postindependence government's authoritarian policies. But both countries have long histories of racial oppression and authoritarian rule, and both emerged at much the same time from extended civil conflicts. It turns out that South Africans tend to assess democracy in terms of economic rather than political benefits. What accounts for these different assessments, which surely will affect the ways these countries respond to democratic change? More research is needed.

The second essay, by Christiaan Kuelder and Dirk Spilker, focuses on Namibia and sets out to identify systematic patterns of support for democracy among young citizens (18–32 years old). Surveys suggest that support for democracy in Namibia is not very strong (57 percent), and Keulder and Spilker find that attitudes among youths fall into two clear clusters of "democrats" and "nondemocrats." These clusters break along an urban/rural divide, as well as income and education level (a divide that is particularly strong in rural areas). As Keulder and Spilker note, these findings raise a powerful challenge for the consolidation of democracy in Namibia: the strongholds of democratization are urban, but most young voters are rural and thus live in areas that are less likely to produce democrats. Does this mean that Namibia's nascent democracy is doomed? Much depends on what motivates the splits between democrats and nondemocrats and on how intractable these splits are. Keulder and Spilker do not offer any hints.

In the third essay, Guy Lamb shifts the focus toward the state, comparing the propensity of security forces in Namibia and South Africa to commit human rights violations on the view that the more security forces are able to act with impunity, the less likely a government is to move toward meaningful democracy. In both cases, Lamb finds the state's culture of accountability to be weak. South Africa, however, has a much stronger commitment...


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