Friday, June 19, 2009

What does "high theory" have to say about Sudan?

Although the CPA established a putative GONU, it is clear that NCP is firmly in control of policy of GOS (e.g. continued military operations by SAF in Darfur, expulsion of aid organizations in Darfur, refusal to cooperate with ICC, refusal to abide by Abyei arbitration). The NCP is the descendant organization of the NIF-military alliance of 1989-1999 which assumed power through overthrow of parliamentary democracy. The NCP maintains rule through control of major media, harassment and imprisonment of opposition figures, corruption, irregular militia forces in rural areas, and elections that are neither free nor fair. After an initial phase of using violence against domestic opposition, the regime has reduced the risks of coups and popular uprisings through multiple patronage networks including privatized state companies, loyal units in the civil service, separate command and control structures for military organizations (army, militias, special armed units), and a complex and shifting array of entangling alliances with neighbors, both states and rebel groups (Eritrea, LRA, Qatar, Iran, Libya, etc.). The regime does not need to resort to massive repression because oil revenues and liberal economic policy have enabled improving economic outcomes for large segments of the population. In particular, urban areas have seen an increasingly prosperous middle class that wants to see continued growth and is unwilling to risk upheaval through political action.

A number of very recent papers on political economy provide the opportunity for some speculative thinking on the likely complex interrelated process of political and economic transformation. Robinson and Torvik (2009), for example, develop a model of an autocracy that can choose to reward voters through patronage and also punish voters through violence. In their model, voters who are less ideologically committed to the regime or its opposition, that is, swing voters, are under many conditions more likely to be the victims of violence. The reasoning is simple: by virtue of being swing voters, they are relatively more expensive to secure to the ruling regime, and so the regime may find it more effective to use violence to exclude the swing voters from the electoral process. A recent working paper by Kasara (2009) finds evidence very much consistent with the model: the post-electoral violence in Kenya, as measured by the outbreaks of fires detected through satellite imagery, was more concentrated in contestable electoral districts, where voters wavered between the ruling party and the opposition. Thinking this through to Sudan, the implications are commonsensical but are worth highlighting. The ruling authorities might decide to use violence not against overt opposition supporters, but rather against marginal and “swing” coalition supporters. The paradox of strategies of violence of the NCP, then, is that they might be more directed against northern opposition voters, in attempts to disenfranchise them, than against the real opposition of the SPLM. Recognizing this, Umma and DUP may hasten to form alliances with NCP rather than with SPLM, to forestall electoral violence against their constituents.

A related model by Brender and Drazen (2009) examines the tradeoff between generating mass support for democracy versus buying off elites who are potential spoilers of a democratic transition. In Sudan, one might think of factions or blocs such as those of Riek Machar and Paulino Matiep in the South, and Khalil Ibrahim, Abdel-Wahid Moh. Nuur, and Hasan al-Turabi in the North, to say nothing of various NCP regime insiders who stand to lose from greater political liberalization and concomitant transparency. The model suggests that greater attention to mass support for democracy increases the likely cost to elite factions of spoiling the democratic transition. Two implications follow directly. The first is that in complementing efforts to consolidate power-sharing “deals” with leaders of elite groups, donors have a role to play in strongly shaping mass expectations of positive results from democracy (i.e. fair elections and then political liberalization). The investments in mass preferences are good on their own, but they have the extra benefit of reducing the inefficient reallocation of rents to buy off elite spoilers. The second is that donors might not look so unfavorably on large increases in public spending leading up to elections. Brender and Drazen suggest that the evidence finds little confirmation that such spending helped incumbents much, while it does likely increase the ordinary persons perception that democracy is redistributive and hence worth defending.

Acemoglu, Egorov and Sonin (2009) offer some modeling results on the very knotty question of the likely dynamics of coalitational authoritarianism, which is especially relevant to Sudan. The NCP ruling coalition suffered one large ejection (of the Hasan al-Turabi faction), and this momentarily increased the perception that the coalition might unravel. The ouster did not however lead to unraveling, contra earlier political science wisdom that coalitional authoritarianism was unsustainable; the view that “juntas always end up as one-person dictatorships.” Acemoglu, Egorov and Sonin show that on the contrary, juntas may be very stable, because attempts by stronger parties to oust weaker parties undermine the subsequent likelihood of stability. Anticipating unraveling, coalition partners try their best to get along. The logical extension of the model would be to ask what happens when one coalition member becomes severely damaged, i.e. as with the ICC arrest warrant against president al-Bashir.

Acemoglu, Daron, Georgy Egorov, and Konstantin Sonin, “Do Juntas Lead to Personal Rule?American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings 2009, 99:2, 298–303.

Brender, Adi, and Allan Drazen. 2009. "Consolidation of New Democracy, Mass Attitudes, and Clientelism." American Economic Review, 99(2): 304–09.

Robinson , James and Ragnar Torvik, 2009. "The Real Swing Voter's Curse," forthcoming in American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings, and NBER Working Papers 14799, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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