IPPR Blog
  • About IPPR

    Founded at UCL’s School of Public Policy, the International Public Policy Review provides a forum for debate, discussion and online networking in the emerging fields of Global Governance and International Public Policy. As a rigorous student-led academic journal, it publishes both original research and innovative commentary from within the School of Public Policy's postgraduate community.
  • The conundrum of democratisation

    By Claire McNear, on 7 May 2014

    By Fei Xue

    Taking even a glance at the news this spring, one would quickly notice the great amount of public attention devoted to the massive protests and political conflicts taking place in Venezuela and Ukraine. Although both countries nominally have democratically elected leaders, the lack of checks and balances on executive power, the manipulation of elections, and the oppression of dissenting opinions mean that neither country truly embraces democratic principles. As a result, Venezuela and Ukraine are suffering from acute class antagonism and ethnic division, and the angry voices of citizens cannot be expressed through democratic channels, but rather in massive protests and violent resistance. Thus, despite the geographical distance and the historical, ethnic, and cultural disparities, both nations follow a farcical brand of democratic design that, with these recent uprisings, has revealed the flaws of the universal and immediate democracy approach wielded by several major players in global politics.

    This paradox between the constituents and the conditions of democracy has been troubling political theorists and democracy advocates for centuries. After what Samuel P. Huntington termed the three waves of global democratisation – which occurred first in the 19th century, second after World War II, and third starting from the democratic transition of Latin American countries in the 1980s and leading into the collapse of Soviet Union – only developed Western states and a limited number of examples in Asia and Latin America have managed to maintain stable and sustainable democratic regimes.

    Looking retrospectively at other democratic experiments, the story is replete with frustration and distress. Since their liberation from colonial conquistadors and the establishment of political institutions designed to emulate their big neighbour to the north, Latin American states have rarely succeeded in escaping from the vicious struggle between elected politicians and authoritarian dictators; caudillismo and military intervention have become emblematic patterns of the region’s politics. The democratic regime in South Africa was initially deemed to be an example for other African countries, only to find itself all too often falling back to apartheid and political and societal polarisation. More recently, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, though successful in ousting brutal dictatorial regimes, failed to fulfill their promise of a stable, harmonious society and a more secure and decent life for Iraqis and Afghans. Those wars have seen the emergence of two states suffering from ceaseless tribal conflicts, burgeoning terrorist networks, and chaotic politics manipulated by corrupt politicians. From this perspective, the turmoil in Venezuela and Ukraine is just another resurrection of this nightmare of democracy.

    Lessons should have been learned from these tragedies. Even when displaying the principal constituents of democracy – namely a publicly elected government leader, a representative parliament system, and a constitution based on democratic principles – a sustainable and well-operated democratic regime cannot be established overnight while lacking the more important conditions of democracy. Elements like checks and balances on power, an actively participatory civil society where citizens have the willingness and adequate venues to express their opinions, and the ability to hold the government accountable through an independent judiciary as well as a free and active press, all deserve more attention and efforts from any designer or founder of a new democratic polity. For instance, the democratisers of Taiwan, which has a stable and relatively well-educated population, took advantage of a long period of international and domestic stability, and gradually introduced a balance mechanism among the three governmental branches to enhance monitoring and prohibit the expansion of executive power. The result is a successful democracy enjoyed by its population.

    Therefore, anyone confronted with the task of bringing a democratic regime into a non-democratic state should lay great emphasis on the issue of sequencing. In addition, one must not ignore the significant impact of social stability, economic growth, and cultural adaptation on the process of democratisation. After all, only with the effective collaboration of both the conditions and the constituents could a stable and sustainable democracy be established and the miseries of Venezuela and Ukraine be avoided.

    Rwanda’s legacy – implications for the Central African Republic

    By Lucy Phillips, on 17 April 2014

    By Lara Macdonald

    Christian militia in the CAR

    Christian militia in the CAR

    The 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide has been marked by a series of remembrance events worldwide, the most significant of which took place in the country’s capital, Kigali. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the event in Kigali, told the crowd, “We must not be left to utter the words ‘never again’, again and again”. His statement was a poignant and indeed, telling, reference to Clinton’s 1998 speech in Rwanda, where he declared “Never again must we be shy in the face of evidence.”

    Ban Ki-moon made a quick visit to the Central African Republic (CAR) on his way to the ceremony in Rwanda, a visit that has no doubt highlighted the parallels between the two countries. In his address to the CAR, Ban Ki-moon reassured the citizens of “the heart of Africa” that they were not forgotten, and that their strife is the first thing that crosses his mind when he wakes up. If, as Ban Ki-moon insisted, the words ‘never again’ are more than empty rhetoric, the commemoration of the Rwanda genocide must underscore the importance of not shying away from the atrocities that continue to plague the CAR.

    In the past week, the UN announced plans to deploy 12,000 troops to the CAR in order to fulfill the primary task of protecting civilians. Moreover, the US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, announced that the US has committed an additional $22 million in humanitarian aid to the CAR to address the most pressing issues facing citizens, including healthcare, food distribution, water sanitation and security. Both statements demonstrate an encouraging interest and commitment on the part of the UN to the desperate situation in the CAR. However, the fact that the citizens of the CAR will have waited 17 months by the time the UN peace-keeping force finally arrives, compels us to question the speed with which the UN acts when faced with irrefutable evidence of human rights abuses.

    Whilst the CAR has been marked by political instability since it gained independence from France in 1960, the last nine months have witnessed a state collapse of epic proportion. The most recent and bloody bout of civil conflict was sparked by the Seleka militia, a group led by Micahel Djotodia, the CAR’s former interim President. In March they seized the capital Bangui and ousted then-President François Bozizé. The arbitrary nature of Seleka’s abuses has brought sectarian tension and hostility to the fore.

    Ongoing conflict in the CAR

    Ongoing conflict in the CAR

    Whilst the majority of the CAR’s population, including President Bozizé, are Christian, the Selekas are predominantly Muslim. This, combined with the recent emergence of the Christian-based ‘anti-balaka’ militia in response to Seleka’s actions, has given violence a disturbingly religious edge.

    Catherine Samba-Panza, previously Mayor of the capital Bangui, was elected as the interim leader of the CAR in January of this year. Samba-Panza follows in the footsteps of fellow female African Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Joyce Banda of Malawi. These leaders were both successful in rebuilding their countries politically and economically in the wake of conflict, and they serve as important role-models for Samba-Panza.

    Whilst the dominant narrative in mainstream coverage of the CAR crisis has been one of a conflict driven by religious tension, Samba-Panza has been anxious to quash this ‘myth’. According to Caesar Nyeko Poblicks, Projects Manager for East and Central Africa at Conciliation Resources, the focus on ‘religion’ is an oversimplification. He argues that while the violence in the CAR has taken place along religious lines, the causes and motivations behind it are in fact political and economic. His diagnosis supports claims by Samba-Panza that the conflict is instead rooted in bad governance, corrupt institutions and poverty.

    Whilst this oversimplification is at best ‘lazy diagnosis’, at worst, it paves the way for future tension and conflict. There is a very real risk that the creation of a false dichotomy by the global media will only serve to exacerbate existing divisions. On top of this, it risks provoking the international community into a response that is based on wrong-headed objectives.

    The temptation on the part of the international community and the global media to reduce the complexity of the situation in the CAR to a binary, religious conflict is seemingly irresistible. However, at the same time, if we view the CAR through the lens of the Rwandan genocide, there also exists a real desperation to avoid yet another ‘misinterpretation’ of a civil conflict. The conflict which erupted in 1994 in Rwanda was quite clearly driven by ethnic motivations, yet the international community, most specifically Western powers, refused to call it a genocide. Perhaps the tragic legacy of the international community’s silence in Rwanda has led to the hasty categorization of the situation in the CAR as a religious conflict. If this is the case, a more nuanced approach is needed if we are to successfully bring this catastrophe to a halt.

    Today, the CAR stares into an abyss of dreadful proportions. The primary objective must be to quickly restore security, whilst beyond that, the paralysed state needs to be revived, the institutions built from scratch. This process calls for a tailored, country-specific approach, not one modelled on the recycled lessons from other African conflicts. If the legacy of Rwanda is to be a constructive one, the actions of the international community can no longer be clouded by their guilt.

    Reclaiming ‘Nationhood’: The story of the Rwandan Genocide

    By Lucy Phillips, on 8 April 2014

    By Tania Mitra

    RwandaThe harrowing accounts which arise from the Rwandan genocide of 1994 are hard to come to terms with – it is shocking to consider the atrocities that such an avoidable conflict has brought about. Between the months of April and June in 1994, close to 800,000 people were killed in what is now regarded as the worst episode of ethnic cleansing in the second half of the twentieth century.

    Tracing the conflict back to its roots in 1916, a tumultuous relationship between two tribes, the Hutus and the Tutsis, was engineered by the Belgians. Through their process of identification, intended to facilitate a policy of ‘divide and rule,’ the Belgians elevated the status of the otherwise culturally similar Tutsis to a position of superiority over the Hutus. Such favouring has given way to a history replete with distrust and violence, compounded by unequal access to resources. This fractured relationship erupted in mass murder in 1994. It was triggered when the plane of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down. Whilst in 2010, a report revealed that it was in fact Hutus that were responsible for the assassination, at the time, blame fell quickly on the Tutsis. Media propaganda helped catalyse this mayhem as Pascal Simbikangwa, an Intelligence Officer and key shareholder in state radio “des Mille Collines”, used it to mobilise the Hutus against the Tutsis.  This resulted in the systematic murder of hundreds and thousands of Tutsis, as well as more moderate Hutus. Besides mass murder, rape was systematically used as a weapon to perpetrate fear and pain of the worst kind. During the crisis, an attempt was made by the UN Peacekeeping Mission to contain the violence, but it was withdrawn soon after 10 Belgian Peacekeepers were killed in the conflict. Following this incident, the UN reduced its presence in Rwanda, and the International community took a back-seat.

    Two decades on, the spotlight falls back on Rwanda – On 14 March, A French court convicted Pascal Simbikangwa, the former Rwandan Intelligence Officer, of complicity in genocide and in crimes against humanity. During the trial, the remorseless former spy chief, who uses a wheelchair, claimed he had not seen a single dead body. His conviction marks the termination of 6 weeks of trial where 20 psychoanalysts, historians, journalists and former United Nations employees were questioned, and 53 witnesses were brought to the stand, some of whom had travelled all the way from Rwanda to testify against Simbikangwa.

    Whilst undoubtedly a step in the right direction, what is unsettling is the delayed and ‘compromised’ nature of justice which has been delivered 20 years after the ethnic pogrom. Despite being one of the chief accused in the instigation of the organised genocide, the limited availability of ‘proof’ tempered Simbikangwa’s role to being merely ‘complicit’ in the crime. Consequently, the sentence stands at only 25 years in prison.

    Not only is the international community largely to blame for its inaction during the crisis itself, the response in the aftermath of the massacre, particularly that of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), has been far too slow. Such a slow response, as argued by Woods, has allowed the death toll to rise, whilst also making it harder to make prosecutions on such ‘historic’ crimes. Woods also reminds us that the scale of disaster in terms of human casualty, torture and devastation to property, can only be pronounced by those who survive such an enormous tragedy – it is thus the responsibility of those who survive, including the international community, to seek justice on behalf of those victims.

    It is tragic to note that the history of violence carries with it certain historical, political and cultural undertones that are oft repeated. Key elements such as majoritarianism, minority rights, economic inequality, propaganda and the inability of the state to protect its people underlie conflict time and time again. Contrary to the ideas of communal fraternity and consensus suggested in Benedict Anderson’s concept of imagined communities, Woods notes that genocide advocating nationalists draw upon the relationship between genocide and nationalism to invoke self-determination and the assertion of rights – however, they do this in ways that significantly undermines the ability of minorities to exercise their rights and freedom. As Kedourie argues, nationalism can be seen as the ‘fanaticism of the will’ – it is often a cause of disorder and destruction, and the ideal of self-determination always leads to oppression.

    Unlike ideology-based wars which hinge on winning ‘hearts and ‘minds’ and provide room for power-sharing, Kaufman suggests ‘ethno-nationalism’ works to polarize ethnic identities and propagate ‘exclusionary’ practices. Nationalism thus remains a highly contested concept, with implications that divide, alienate, and in worst cases exterminate the ‘other.’ As Gellner argues, this characteristic ‘othering’ can be explained by a ‘modernization gap’ between the rich and poor, both within and between countries. Markakis draws upon this idea of the ‘modernisation gap’ when he reflects on how in such an impoverished, unequal economy as Rwanda at the time of the genocide, ethnicity became the tool for social and economic differentiation – the two tribes were forced to confront each other in the competition for resources. Stretching this idea of ‘othering’ further, it also implies that revenge over a history of humiliation and repression could take the form of a larger battle to rid the ‘other’ from such privileges, and reclaim the suppressed ‘self’.

    The scale of animosity between Hutus and Tutsis makes it baffling to reflect on the fact that the two ‘groups’ are not culturally dissimilar. In fact, most Hutus and Tutsis belong to the same religion and speak the same language, and kinship through marriage was commonplace. Hence, the transition from communal tension to extreme violence requires further explanation. Woods applies Gagnon’s explanation of the conflict in Bosnia here to underline how large-scale violence requires purposeful and strategic policies – as such, blame is placed on state actors and their propaganda machineries. Political leaders from both the Hutu and Tutsi side exaggerated perceived ‘ethnic differences’ and stirred old grievances using propaganda. For example, Hutu radio presenters often referred to Tutsis as ‘cockroaches’, fuelling anger, and setting in motion the systematic and organised mass murder.

    In the aftermath of the genocide, the cyclical pattern of violence has continued in neighbouring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), where the displaced Hutus and Tutsis from Rwanda have re-grouped to fight once again.  Mass displacement has also put considerable pressure on the neighbouring states of Burundi and Tanzania. Whilst UN agencies have helped mitigate the severity of the situation through relief camps, prosecuting those responsible has proved to be a huge challenge. Such ethnic-based insurgencies have skewed regional relations between Rwanda and its neighbours, and peace still remains a distant prospect in this fractured nation-state.

    To conclude, I feel compelled to mention the most agonising consequence of genocide – the countless victims of child brutality and rape who have witnessed, suffered and survived the ordeal. Today, Rwanda has over 100,000 children living in child headed households (CHHs), and hundreds of overcrowded orphanages. In addition to the traumatic memories of war, thousands of children have to cope with severe disabilities. Their immeasurable pain and suffering continues. It is in this context that Pascal Simbikangwa’s trial becomes relevant. Surely justice delayed is just justice denied?

    Image credit: World Politics Uncovered

    The Ukraine Crisis – The End of the System?

    By Jack Harris, on 8 April 2014

    By Anna Kruglova

    The crisis in Ukraine has thoroughly put an end to Barack Obama’s famous “reset” of relations with Russia. It has revealed a cyclical tendency in Russia’s relations with the US and the West more broadly – much as in the 1990s, a relative thaw in relations has once again given way to tensions. Yet the Ukraine crisis has broader implications for international politics. It has revealed fundamental weaknesses in the international system that emerged from the conferences held in Yalta and Potsdam after the Second World War. State actors have created an environment that has left the system unable to engage with emerging issues and produce constructive responses, and allows problems to deepen and develop into full-blown crises.

    The first problem – a lack of meaningful UN reform – has already been widely debated but bears repeating here. During the Ukraine crisis, the UN, the closest thing we have to a universal international institution, was once again been paralysed by divisions to the point where it was unable to muster any response beyond anodyne verbal condemnations and calls for negotiation. The structure of the Security Council must take most of the blame for this paralysis. The rotating memberships of the Security Council led to the bizarre situation in which countries with no direct stake in the crisis, such as Rwanda and Chad, were involved in the debates over the Ukraine crisis, while Germany, a key leader in the EU and an important partner of Russia, was excluded. As such, what discussions were held were largely useless, and the resolutions they produced were immediately vetoed by Russia. These issues have long been widely acknowledged, even by the Secretary General, but no efforts towards comprehensive reform has been made since 2005. Without reform, the UN will continue to be unable to respond effectively to international crises.

    The second problem is that too many violations of sovereignty and international law have now gone unpunished for verbal condemnations to carry any weight. The invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 were not sanctioned by the UN, while in Libya NATO blatantly disregarded the limits of the mandate granted by resolution 1973, which gave it the authority only to enforce no-fly zones, not to directly interfere in the conflict by bombing ground forces. All of these acts were admitted to be violations of international law and yet went wholly unpunished. With such precedents now firmly established, states will face ever greater temptations to break the rules.

    Thirdly, in place of the common standards provided by international law, double standards are now firmly settled in the system of international relations. Russia has recognised the break-away regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, while denying such recognition to Kosovo, which is recognised by the EU and the US. Debates over which of these new states truly deserved independence and recognition will likely never be conclusively resolved. What is clear, however, is that principles of sovereignty and self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter have become little more than tools deployed in support of concrete foreign policy goals of individual states.

    Finally, one striking feature of the political rhetoric or “propaganda tools” on both sides in this crisis has been the frequent reliance on the trope of an “external enemy”, whether the threatening, mercantile West, aggressive, authoritarian Russia, Middle Eastern autocrats or rising China. Despite the economic interdependence of almost all nations in the modern world and the demise of a bipolar system of international relations, hostile discourses centred on scary “others” still appear to carry great political appeal. In a world in which national economies are tied ever more strongly to one another, such hostile discourses and models of political behaviour create risks that cannot be afforded.

    This combination of factors has left the international system ill and flawed. The crisis in Crimea has provided only further proof of the relevance of these flaws to international relations. Naïve as it may seem to call for sweeping reforms of the international system, a commonly accepted framework for international law has to be found if such incidents are to be avoided in the future. If actors continue to disregard the rules that they themselves have established, we will see more crises like that in Ukraine in the years to come.

    Image credit: Mstyslav Chernov

    IPPR visit to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

    By Lucy Phillips, on 7 April 2014

    By Alice Vincent

    Foreign Office visit

    Foreign Office visit

    On 19 March, Alice Vincent, head of events at IPPR, took 18 SPP students on a visit to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Martin Garrett, Research Analyst in the Americas Directorate and former diplomat at the FCO, welcomed us to their impressive Commonwealth Offices. Sitting on chairs from the original East India Company from the 18th Century, Martin gave us a fascinating talk about the “Development of Diplomacy.” He spoke of a number of interesting facts: The oldest representatives that could be termed as diplomatic envoys were from the Holy See, although the French boast the oldest Foreign Ministry; Charles James Fox was the first British Foreign Minister in 1783. Bringing us back to the present day, he explained there are currently around 4000-6000 people at any one time representing British interests overseas, and the types of activities that embassies engage in has ballooned.

    David Quarrey, Director for the Near East and North Africa Directorate, joined us for an informal Q&A session. Mr. Quarrey is the FCO’s most senior advisor on Middle East policy. Previously, he has worked as private secretary to Prime Minister Tony Blair, and headed up the UK Mission to the United Nations Security Council in New York. The Q&A session covered topics ranging from counterterrorism as a British foreign policy priority in the MENA region, to how British energy dependency in the Middle East shapes its foreign policy decisions.

    Students in active debate

    Students in active debate

    He also tackled the question of whether Britain’s business interests clash with its democratic values and human rights principles, a particularly interesting topic in light of the recent event hosted by UCL’s Institute of Global Governance on “business ethics, supply chains and a living wage.”

    British foreign policy in Syria was also extensively discussed – the necessity of having a united international voice, in particular from the Security Council, was highlighted as an important priority. We noted that such unity could become even more difficult in light of Russia’s recent isolating behaviour in the Crimea. Overall it was agreed that foreign policy is always more successful when support is directed at principles and processes, rather than personalities and parties.

    Freya – the spy

    To conclude our afternoon, Martin Garrett took us on a historic tour around the FCO. We saw some of the impressive staircases and hallways, and we met Chancellor George Osborne’s cat ‘Freya’ who has her own Wikipedia page, and is rumored to be a spy. Whilst meeting Freya the cat might have been the icing on the cake, seeing Foreign Secretary William Hague pass by, really added the cherry.