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The Clinton Administration and the Promotion of Democracy: Practical Imperatives for Theoretical Exploration

  • John W. Harbeson
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Since the end of the Cold War, support for democratization has become a central focus of U.S. foreign policy. Indeed, something bordering on a presumption of democracy’s and capitalism’s inevitable global reach swept up senior Clinton administration policymakers and stimulated a major rebirth of interest in democracy and democratization within the academy. In this context, fundamentally important questions about the interface between external support and domestic demand for democratization have continued to go largely unaddressed: (1) who should set the agenda; and (2) what role should external assistance play in African democratization processes. A key dimension of the thesis of this article is that failure of policymakers and academics alike to pay more attention to these questions has impeded the formation of viable processes of democratic transition and consolidation in Africa, and will continue to do so as long as they remain underaddressed. In fact, one of the crucial roles and responsibilities of those who would provide external assistance for democratization, in Africa and elsewhere, should be to encourage countries to consider seriously these agenda-setting issues in their democratization processes.

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1. The brief nearly all-party conference convened by the new Ethiopian government in 1991, while commendable in gaining unanimous adherence to some key democratic ground rules for the transition, failed to recognize or address basic issues concerning its course. As a result, the consensus broke down almost immediately, leading almost inevitably to the fact that the Ethiopia of today is a single-party bureaucratic authoritarian regime in all but name. The new Ethiopian government initiated constitutional reform, and donors supported it, only after this regrettable outcome had crystallized. I have discussed this most recently in “Is Ethiopia Democratic? A Bureaucratic Authoritarian Regime,” Journal of Democracy 9, no. 4 (1998): 62-70.

2. See, e.g., the late Ake’s, Claude Democracy and Development in Africa (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1996), and his “Rethinking African Democracy,” 2 Journal of Democracy 2, no. 1 (1991): 32-45.

3. By far the greatest such reliance has been on Dahl, Robert, Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971); and Lipset, Seymour Martin, Political Man, rev. ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981).

4. Rustow, Dankwart, “Transitions to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model,” 2 Comparative Politics 2, no. 3 (April 1970): 337363 .

5. Huntington, Samuel, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).

6. Allison, Graham Jr. and Beschel, Robert P. Jr., “Can the United States Promote Democracy?Political Science Quarterly 107, no. 1 (1992): 81101 ; Diamond, Larry, “Promoting Democracy in the 1990: Actors, Instruments, and Issues,” in Democracy’s Victory and Crisis, ed. Hadenius, Alex (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 311371 .

7. See, e.g., Barkan, Joel, “Can Established Democracies Nurture Democracy Abroad? Lessons from Africa,” in Democracy’s Victory and Crisis, ed. Hadenius, Alex (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 371404 ; Carothers, Thomas, “Promoting Democracy in a Postmodern World,” Dissent 43, no. 2 (1996): 3541 .

8. Unless otherwise noted, “Africa” and “Sub-Saharan Africa” in this article, and in the parlance of USAID, include all countries on the African continent except Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia.

9. U.S. Agency for International Development, Congressional Presentation Summary Tables: Fiscal Year 1998.

10. Defined for present purposes as obligations under the DFA, PL 480, Titles 2 and 3, and the Economic Support Fund (ESF). ESF is designed to compensate countries for their outlays in support of U.S. defense facilities on their soil.

11. The data presented in this section and the previous section have been compiled based principally on U.S. Agency for International Development, Congressional Presentation: Statistical Annex, Fiscal Year 1996 (final version).

12. This point is illustrated with particular clarity in Huntington, The Third Wave.

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African Studies Review
  • ISSN: 1548-4505
  • EISSN: -
  • URL: /core/journals/african-studies-review
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