Research Journal #12

This week I spent some time reading Brinks and Coppedge’s article “Diffusion is no illusion,” which provided a broader approach to understanding the diffusion theory.  Though many of the past works I’ve read regarding the diffusion theory have articulated the role of neighboring countries, this article took a much broader approach, arguing that international bodies, as well as regions in general, can affect the possibility of democracy failing or succeeding.  As I continue with my initial rough draft, I have realized that the diffusion theory does in fact apply to Gambia – wherein previously I didn’t think it had in this most recent election – due to the role of ECOWAS, and the spread of democracy within Eastern Africa within the most recent years.  The article also highlights the importance of strong historical ties to neighboring countries, dictating which countries play the largest role in affecting democratic change.  Additionally, the authors point to various factors which come into play, namely development levels, presidentialism (e.g., the overall type of existing government), and regional difference.  Once again, I will need to take into account these factors within Gambia, particularly the regional difference, in ultimately explaining why the diffusion theory allowed for Gambia’s recent elections to be enforced.  This article provides several impacting factors which I had not considered, and provides specific details to include in my argument.

Snyder and Pepinksy – 4/17

Finishing Bermeo’s book truly impressed on me how polarization can occur within different political arenas: it is when these numerous arenas collapse that democracies do as well.  This polarization tends to be a pretty lengthy process, as the polarized groups need time to grow and formalize themselves.  Economic and military factors may contribute, but ultimately, it comes down to the political elite misreading the will of the people and thinking that the most extreme are representative of the population at large (when in fact, they’re not).  Here, I wish to turn to the situations presented by Snyder and Pepinsky.

Snyder’s piece reminded me of the violent rise of past dictators: I pictured Hitler and Mussolini as I read the passages.  Students tend to attribute the success of these authoritarian regimes to the will of the masses, when in reality – as Bermeo outlines – both ascended to power through the complacency and even support of the governments of the time.  Additionally, Snyder’s articulation that this presumed dictator begins eliminating his opposition reminded me of “The Dictator’s Handbook,” wherein totalitarian rulers replace most of the political elite with their own allies so as to have the entire system “wrapped around their fingers.”

Pepinsky provides a somewhat less violent picture of authoritarianism, one wherein most citizens are still relatively free to live their own lives.  I also find his postscript rather intriguing: he mentions that the factors which cause citizens to oppose authoritarianism, “corruption, cronyism, inequality, and unfairness” are present in democracies as well.  Indeed, Pepinsky highlights the slow erasure of democratic norms that can lead to authoritarianism, which also reminded me of Bermeo’s discussion of polarization occurring across different arenas over a vast period of time.  It seemed to me a very “frog in the boiling pot of water” analogy, one which I think is more likely to occur.  As political elites continue to exist in a sphere seen as separate from the masses, the danger appears to come from their misunderstanding of the will of the people, particularly through the media’s tendency to focus on the extreme.  Of the two scenarios presented, I see Pepinksy’s slow erosion of the political system to be the more realistic, and possible, of the two.

Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times

The first chapter of Bermeo’s book discuss the often cited claim that the masses are responsible for disrupting politics, backing outsiders and becoming overly involved in politics.  The second chapter of her book however, underscores the reality that the influence of ordinary citizens, while it may play a small, contributing role to overturning a democracy, is hardly most responsible: the upheaval in the European countries she mentions occurred largely at the hands of the political elite or military.

Turning to the case of the United States and its current political climate, I would argue that populism was responsible for Trump’s election.   A majority of voters wanted an “outsider,” someone who wasn’t too connected to Washington politics.  While the Republicans pitched Trump, the Democrats chose Clinton, who had had a long career in the American political arena: many Democrats additionally argue that this was part of why she lost the race, and that had Bernie Sanders been chosen as the Democratic candidate, he would have won.  In the backlash against Trump’s election, we additionally see the common “masses” of the American people becoming involved in politics on a much larger scale: protests soared immediately after the election, and though they have largely died down, Americans continue to find new ways to get involved with politics on a day-to-day basis.  Additionally, I would agree that the country has become “polarized,” as media sources are increasingly labeled according to the political position they take, with Republicans and Democrats alike watching and reading media that caters to their sensitivities.  It remains to be seen whether the bridge between the two parties, as it continues to widen, can be breached again in the future.

Research Journal #11

After my meeting with Dr. Kendhammer this morning, there are a number of steps for me to take as I continue writing my paper.

  1. I plan to find more articles discussing the diffusion theory in depth, as well as increase the length discussing this theory and its possible application to the Gambian elections.  I will attempt to approach this topic from a broader perspective, looking at not only the potential effect from Senegal, but from other neighboring countries and ECOWAS as well.
  2. In structuring my paper, I will need to broach several potential explanations for Gambia’s election results as my findings ultimately find that the diffusion theory is or isn’t applicable to the situation.  In order to do so, I will move my use of Eva Bellin’s article to the “further explanations” portion of my paper.
  3. Finally, I need to explore other aspects of democracy promotion (included in my “further explanations” portion), including an exploration of the diaspora community in affecting the outcome of the election.  This will require some research on the community’s influence and impact, especially the Gambian community located within the United States.
  4. Overall, my paper seemed pretty well structured, though I need to ensure that there are direct parallels between the theories I introduce and their applications to the case study.


CCP’s Civil Society (Blog Post for 4/3)

The readings for Monday discuss the CCP’s attempt to offer a limited degree of civil society options and public goods while maintaining a strict level of control.  I wish here to focus on the civil society aspect of the book, examining whether the CCP is or isn’t effective in delivering these options.

As the book mentions, the CCP has approached the topic of civil society inconsistently, welcoming the help of some groups while continuing to be wary of NGO’s ultimate goals, many of which interfere with the CCP’s need to maintain control (97).  Of course, much of the discourse revolves around the possibility of citizens organizing into political groups that can challenge government authorities, of which the CCP is wary.  However, the book also mentions that there has been an increase in other types of civic associations, including “neighborhood groups, social organizations, philanthropic and faith-based organizations” (124), many of which pose no threat to the CCP, and instead improve the lives of those involved (aka, “noncritical” groups). Here, the nature of the Chinese state comes into play: though the central government continues to exert strong control, there is a division between central and local leadership.  Groups that stay at a more local level aren’t seen as a threat as much as those that operate on a larger scale.  Additionally, NGO’s that are large enough to offer the possibility of a threat differ in the treatment received: if the groups align with central leadership and aid them in state goals (e.g., disaster relief NGO’s), they are allowed to operate, especially as they may offer an important source of revenue for the state.  As for NGO’s that may prove potentially threatening, the CCP may channel certain needs into their main stream policies, reframing the issue in a way which doesn’t threaten the state (the book mentions gay rights being refocused into eradicating HIV: the first isn’t supported by the central leadership, while the second is).

Ultimately, the CCP walks a fine line when it comes to issues of civic society.  Many of the groups are benign, offering recreational and community needs, which the CCP doesn’t view as threatening.  However, NGO’s must be carefully monitored, choosing to either work with the CCP or having their issues reframed for the CCP’s goals.  Though there continues to be a threat from certain groups, the CCP has managed to maintain them in check for now.  It remains to be seen whether this will continue or not.

Research Journal #10

After getting feedback from my group on my research paper, I have realized a number of ways in which I need to rework my paper.  To begin, it’s been pointed out that my research question needs to be clarified.  I was still gathering some of my sources and finding a general approach to take with my research when I was typing up my rough draft, so I believe I need to clarify that my research question is ultimately whether the diffusion theory was applicable to the case of Gambia’s recent election.  Secondly, I overlooked the need to explain that the diffusion and contagion theory are two names for the same idea, as well as providing a slightly more in-depth examination of the theory itself before turning to its application in the literature.  I additionally plan to underscore the reason for ECOWAS’s need to involve itself in the Gambian election, investigating whether it simply took action out of a sense of duty based on the organization’s general mission or whether there were other compelling factors.  Alissa pointed me in the direction of O’Donnell and Schmitter to further examine the military’s role in allowing Jammeh to be removed from office, and in the direction of Levitsky and Way to explore the possibility of the authoritarian cycle continuing in the Gambia in the near future.  Overall, I feel as though I’m headed in the right direction and have a majority of the research I need to properly finish writing this paper.

Research Journal #9

Putting together a rough draft of my research definitely caused me to spend more time looking for the information I was still missing, and re-read some of my older pieces in order to locate any information I had previously been missing.  As my original research was based on the question of whether or not Gambia had been affected by the contagion effect in the most recent elections, I took a second look at Abdoulaye Saine’s “The Gambia’s ‘Elected Autocrat Poverty, Peripherality, and Political Instability,’ 1994-2006,” in which Saine argues that Jammeh’s initial support after his bloodless coup was partially due to the contagion effect, though that of the Strasser-led coup in Sierra Leone (455).  It is therefore interesting to note that the contagion effect did originally occur in Gambia, though not in the form of a Senegalese effect.  Furthermore, the fact that the Gambia did in fact experience the contagion effect, though much earlier in its history, allows me to conclude that my original hypothesis was incorrect, and turn to other contributing factors to explain the reason for the intervention of outside forces in upholding the recent election results.

Additionally, I was able to locate a new book,  edited by S. F. Jagne, Nation-States and the Challenges of Integration in West Africa, which provides a detailed exploration of the relationship between Senegal and Gambia (finally!!).  The various authors of the book do underscore the similarities in the countries’ two cultures, as well as various issues of contention, which I had previously found mentioned in a number of Gambian newspapers.  The book clarified the Casamance crisis, a low-level conflict between Senegal and the Jola ethnic group, who wish to obtain independence from Senegal, partially due to their differences in religion (the majority of Senegalese are Muslim, whereas the Jola tend to identify as Christian or animist).  As Jammeh had previously allowed the Jola people to come vote in Gambian elections, this no doubt contributed to some of the uneasiness between the two countries.  Additionally, there is the question of a bridge which would connect the two nations (this is another topic that came up multiple times in the Gambian/Senegalese newspapers I had read).  Gambia refuses to build a bridge between the two countries, arguing that in doing so, it would lose its sovereignty; meanwhile, in Senegal, this provides a huge handicap for workers, and they have often protested against the need to take ferries across.  This additionally hurts the Gambian economy (and partially explains why it did so poorly), as Gambia is dependent on Senegal’s economy, not having the possibility of accessing other trade or economic partners nearby.  Finally, there is the question of Senegal’s intervention in the botched 1981 elections, in which Senegal had originally interfered to get Jawara out of office, only to change its mind at the last moment and help Jawara retain his position as President.

The third important piece of evidence I was able to uncover was the reason for ECOWAS’s intervention in the 2016 election.  According to Frederick Cowell (2011), in “The Impact of the ECOWAS Protocol on Good Governance and Democracy,” the body adopted the protocol in 2001, which specifically listed a “trigger mechanism” in which participating states would be suspended in the case of unconstitutional government changes, allowing ECOWAS to intervene (331).  This protocol provides the reason for the body’s enforcement of the 2016 elections, and underscores the importance of international bodies in enforcing democracy.

As my original hypothesis concerning the diffusion theory is proven incorrect, the second half of my paper will discuss the reflection of other democratic theories in the case of the Gambia.  In particular, I hope to call attention to the fact that the downfall of one “hybrid” regime (in my continued reading I can conclude whether this applies to Jawara’s Presidency or not) doesn’t necessarily lead to its replacement by a democratic one, and the road between the two is time-consuming and difficult.  As I had previously mentioned, this additionally provides me with the opportunity of re-stating the importance of international bodies in pressuring countries to maintain certain levels of democracy, or at least democratic components.  The case of the Gambia ultimately provides a perfect case study reinforcing many of the current theories regarding the democratization process within a country.

Electoral Fraud

Campbell and Gist both discuss various ways in which electoral fraud has occurred within the United States.  Campbell provides an in-depth exploration of the 1905 Louisville voter fraud cases, in which John Wallen successfully manipulated and bribed both city officials and local residents to vote in his favor.  Gist examines the case of Adams county, Ohio, in the early 1900’s, in which votes were bought from poor, rural citizens.  Through various practices, including strong-arm tactics enforced through bribed police officers or simply pay-outs, encouraging voters to turn up to the polls, voter fraud prevailed in these communities.  In the case of John Wallen, the stolen election was decried, leading to the reversal of the primary and the replacement of all of the initial winners booted from office.  However, Wallen was able to simply switch strategies, appealing to white supremacy in order to obtain votes.

From reading these two case studies, my initial observations indicate that suppressing an opponent’s total seem the more damaging route, indicating to the voter that his vote does not in fact matter, whereas adding to a candidate’s total simply rigs the election.  Additionally, reading about Wallen’s attempt to pin electoral fraud on the Fusion party reminded me of this most recent election.  As Trump voters decried the supposed attempts at multiple votes undertaken by Clinton voters, it was in fact Trump voters who most often resorted to these actions.  By directing the attention to the opposition and citing their actions as damaging to democracy, a party in turn is able to encourage voters to use these same tactics to combat the initial perceived wrong.  Additionally, suppressing the total number of opposition votes makes the other party seem stronger in comparison, as it wins by a larger margin, possibly discouraging future voters of the opposition party.

Research Journal 8

As our rough drafts are due next week, I spent some time today coming up with an initial outline before I begin writing.  As of the moment, I wish to continue focusing on the relationship between Gambia and Senegal, and as Dr. Kendhammer reminded me, it’s ok if my hypothesis regarding the affect of the contagion theory turns out to be incorrect.  Additionally, I plan to once again search for (newer) scholarly articles and first-person news sources which will provide me with the exact information needed to trace the relationship between Senegal and Gambia under both Presidents Jawara and Jammeh.  I hope to provide a comparative analysis of the two presidents’ differering relationships with Gambia, as well as examining potential factors which could have caused the contagion effect occur or fail to do so.  As of the moment, here is my current outline.

I. Introduction

  • Recent election upheaval in Gambia
  • Country appears to be moving in a democratic direction once again.  Importance in understanding the factors that affect the movement from authoritarian to democratic regimes and vice-versa

II. A brief overview of the historical relationship between the countries of Gambia and Senegal

III. Jawara vs. Jammeh

A. Historical parallels/differences in presidential performance and acceptance by Gambia people

B. Historical parallels/differences in presidential performance and relationship to Senegal’s government

IV. Hypothesis: Contagion Theory may have caused democracy to uproot Jammeh

A. Brief analysis of contagion theory

B. Comparison of Senegalese and Gambian cultures

  • Effects of political Islam in both countries
  • Additional cultural similarities and differences, with a focus on any overlapping ethnic similarities

V. Rejection or Acceptance of hypothesis

VI. Conclusion

  • Other potential factors in causing Senegal to enforce Gambia’s election
  • As Gambia has a history of relatively bloodless political/military coups, could it happen again?

I may reorganize this paper as I begin to write it, and any suggestions on sources or contributing factors to more thoroughly investigate would be much appreciated.

The Dictator’s Handbook

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith begin their book by listing a number of key rules regarding politics as a whole.  Based on the case study of Bell, California, the authors underscore that politics is first and foremost about getting and keeping power, and survival once in office is “best assured by depending on few people to attain and maintain office” (Mesquita & Smith xviii).  Additionally, the competition to be in the winning coalition- to be one of the “essentials,” as nicknamed by the authors – provides fiscal freedom for the current ruler, as “essentials” will continue to back him or her to maintain their position in the coalition.  Finally, the ability to rely on taxation from the nominal selectorate, those deemed “interchangeables,” often results in rulers raising tax rates, as he can continue to safely do so with the support of the “essentials,” the “interchangeables” serving only to fill the state coffers with a small, if any, political voice.  Here, the authors draw one of the most important parallels: what benefits the “essentials” winds up hurting the “interchangeables.”

Between the “interchangeables” and the “essentials” lie the “influential,” or real selectorate.  Mesquita and Smith seem to focus largely on the top and bottom classes, but their examination of the system does reflect the reality of democratic nations allowing for the growth of a real selectorate.  It was a bit unclear to me whether we should consider the real electorate the equivalent of the middle class, as, for the most part, democracies tend to allow and foster the growth of the middle class more than any other democratic system.  This incorporation of the real selectorate into a society means that government must now provide public goods more evenly between the three groups, ensuring even the nominal selectorate have access to basic infrastructure and medical care.

As to the question of making authoritarian regimes more democratic, the easy answer is to attempt to equalize the percentages of people in each of the three selectorates.  As we’ve previously discussed in class, antebellum America’s democracy was able to thrive due to the push and pull for power between the land-owners and the upper classes: as each struggled to gain different rights and powers, one could argue that the system ultimately balanced itself out, resulting in a more stable democracy.  Mesquita and Smith seem to continually return to the ease with which a dictator is able to control a country when only a small portion of the population matters politically: in fact, they list a number of ways in which one can do this.  In order for such a one-sided system to change, a larger portion of the population must matter politically, balancing out the top.  This sounds great in theory, but governments must want to change in order for this to occur.  In the meantime, the international community can encourage authoritarian states to encourage a higher level of education and care for its nominal selectorate, so that they may have the opportunity to make it to the real selectorate and begin to challenge (or at least balance) the winning coalition.

Also, did anyone else feel like becoming a dictator, while occasionally a balancing act, was made to sound an easy act?  In my opinion, the book seemed to suggest that authoritarianism might be an “easier” form of government for the ruler than a democracy, especially as democracies are constantly changing politicians, who have spent years getting elected: dictators, on the other hand, simply have to state their claim and enforce it through coercion and violence. Any thoughts?