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Saturday, 31 July 2010

African Democracy Ratings ( A Response to Comments)

The EIU Democracy Ratings  map has certainly sparked some passions. Most of them usually important but a few unnecessarily insulting.  We are here to discuss and learn from one another. To label this website and those who question aspects of Zambia's poor governance as fuelled by some perverse form of cadre mentality does no great good to our country. This website is founded on the great belief that two people with opposing views can disagree without suspicion or calling each other names and through that help exchange knowledge to all of our betterment. By and large you all maintain this credo. Indeed you all know that if you substantially disagree and want to make a detailed point you have the Right to Reply.  So there's really no need for insults. Where such takes place, these comments are deleted because they add no value to our country and serve only to perpetuate a Neanderthal culture.

A number of you are rightly troubled by Zambia's poor score. In my original post, I too hinted at the strange score and was lost for an immediate explanation without access to the data. I went on to speculate that this may be something to do with recent decline in "press freedom" in Zambia, hoping that other readers will take it upon themselves to research this matter further and come back with meaningful contributions. Instead apart from a few, what I had was some pro-MMD commentators accusing this website of distortions. I say to those : stop practising intellectual prostitution and begin to gird up your loins! Why can't you simply go and dig deeper and explain the flaws of the index instead of  spewing unnecessary verbose? I welcome full and honesty criticism (email them to but I have no time for those unable to think through issues.

Now some of our readers have genuinely asked me to look into why the index has produced this score. So here is my explanation. The results are taken from a report that is not yet published. The EIU Index is published every two years.  The last report was The EIU Index of Democracy Index 2008. This is the latest publicly available report. That report updated an earlier report for 2006.  Later this year (in September / October) we are going to see the 2010 report. The Economist appear to have drawn results from this upcoming report.

Now this is where it gets painful for some. In the 2008 report Zambia performed better than Nigeria. We were classed as a  "hybrid", while Nigeria was regarded as an "authoritarian" regime.  Evidently this has not changed in the unpublished 2010 report but Nigeria has become better (freedom is on the march as Obama says) - or may be the data has improved (we must wait to see it published).

So, all things being equal, the next logical  question is why Zambia allegedly continues to perform poorly.  The Index focuses on five key indicators of democracy: electoral process and pluralism; functioning of government; political participation; political culture; and civil liberties. According to the  EIU the rationale is as follows :
"Index embodies a wider concept than is the case with some other measures of democracy. Free and fair elections and civil liberties are necessary conditions for democracy, but they are unlikely to be sufficient for a full and consolidated democracy if unaccompanied by transparent and at least minimally efficient government, sufficient political participation and a supportive democratic political culture".
Out of the five measures, Zambia suffers mostly on "political participation" - 33% to the ideal.  It also scores poorly on "functioning of government" - 44% to the ideal. I take from this that Zambia's system of government is not participatory (bringing in the wider population, not decentralised enough and is run along cadre lines). It is also the case that it functions poorly (not enough information to the people, not enough competition for civil service, etc).  The message of course is also that while other countries have been moving, no progress appears to have been made since 2008. We must wait to see the full report to be definitive about this.

Hope the above is useful to those who have raised questions. Those interested can also see a previous related post - has Mwanawasa performed so far? In general, we should of course never take any index as "gospel", but they are useful pointers for areas of national introspection. So rather than become defensive, we should ask what they teach us about areas we can improve. The comparative nature though demeaning to our people (to be ranked lower than Nigeria) should instil in us a sense of realism. We may not be as democratic as we think. We have previously talked about the Soft bigotry of low expectations. International comparisons helps to certainly eliminate those! 

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