Skip Navigation

Globalization and the Deepening of Democracy

By Sandra F. Joireman, Wheaton College

Prepared for the Workshop on Globalization and Human Security in Africa
May 29, 2002


Summary: Globalization has had significant and ambivalent effects on all developing countries. Africa has more countries than any other continent that are 1) highly indebted 2) very poor and 3) have civil unrest or war within their borders. Thus, Africa has greater human security concerns than any other continent. Globalization has had predominantly negative effects in the economic realm and positive effects in terms of the deepening of democracy through the development of civil society, both international and domestic. In the first part of this paper I will describe a few specific effects of globalization and in the second part of the paper I will address the issue of whether the effects of globalization contribute or inhibit the consolidation of democracy in Africa.

Before I do so, I would like to clarify my position on the economic effects of globalization lest it be misconstrued. In the neoliberal tradition, I believe that trade leads to growth and growth leads to the elimination of poverty. However, after a decade of globalization, the hopes of growth and the alleviation of poverty have not been realized. Foreign direct investment in Africa has not increased significantly with globalization. Integration into the global market has not led to growth and has led to a greater exposure to volatile international markets. Free trade, particularly in the agricultural goods in which many African states have a comparative advantage, remains a future hope impeded by the tremendous agricultural subsidies awarded by the US and EU governments to their farmers. Thus, I think the economic effects of globalization have not realized the potential for good that many of us had expected.

Section I Political Effects of Globalization

A. Positive
While globalization has been economically disappointing, politically, its effects have been generally positive, leading to a heightened awareness of issues around the world and action on those issues both domestically and internationally.


1) Information and Consciousness Raising

Globalization has led to a greater exchange of information. This has had positive effects in Africa as a range of ideas which would never have made it onto the international agenda previously, are now discussed in the popular press and in educational institutions of a variety of levels. Issues as wide


ranging as female genital mutilation, wildlife preservation, deforestation and even civil wars are becoming international issues rather than national ones. Internationalizing these issues makes it more likely that action will be taken and solutions sought.

Example: Debt Relief Movement
The global debt relief movement is a great example of the effect of a global information exchange. There has been an odd coalition of characters involved in the global debt relief movement. In May of 2002 Bono, the lead singer of the rock group U2 went to Africa with the US Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O'Neill in order to publicize the Global Debt Relief movement. The Jubilee 2000 movement, began within the Catholic Church and resulted in a tremendous consciousness raising among American Catholics regarding the effects of third world debt. Beginning in the late 1990s local Catholic parishes began educating their congregations on the importance of global debt relief as a Catholic issue regarding the sanctity of life. The framing of this issue in such a way is new and given the large number of voting Catholics in the US, it is very important. Debt relief is an example of the way in which globalization has led to the adoption of issues of concern for Africa by a wider community.

2) Transnational Advocacy Networks and Human Rights Accountability

Transnational advocacy networks have been critical to publicizing human rights abuses in Africa and making the existence of these abuses impossible for other states to ignore. Transnational advocacy networks build linkages among states, intergovernmental organizations, individuals and civil society groups within countries. They have been increasingly efficient in publicizing the imprisonment of political prisoners, journalists and other citizens, as well as digging out other politically useful information and distributing that information to the people and organizations that can best utilize it.

Technology has played a large role in enabling transnational advocacy networks to do their job. Listservers and bulletin boards link people within Africa to the diaspora communities in the United States and in Europe, where freedom of expression is protected and advocacy may occur without risk to personal freedom or security. As individuals interested in Africa we can all witness this effect on a nearly daily basis. In a single week I received notice of three different human rights issues in Africa via three different sources, all utilizing some form of technology. One came via my institution1, one from a news service (IRIN) to which I subscribe2, and the last from a listserver regarding the release of Taye Woldesemiat from prison in Ethiopia.


1There is a Wheaton College graduate by the name of Pius Wakatana who has been imprisoned in Zimbabawe for reporting on land seizures by the government. Some alumni who attended school with Mr. Wakatana have been advocating on his behalf.
2I was notified by Africa Rights (a UK based advocacy group) that the Ugandan army had launched a major offensive against the Lord’s Resistance Army which was adversely effecting the civilian population in southern Sudan.


Dr. Taye Woldesemiat.

An example of the effectiveness of human rights advocacy can be found in the case of Dr. Taye Woldesemiat. Dr. Taye is the President of the Ethiopian Teacher’s Association. He was jailed in Ethiopia in 1996 and subsequently tried and found guilty of armed conspiracy in spite of the fact that he was never known to have advocated violence. He was known to have been a critic of the government, particularly of its educational policies and regional decentralization. Dr. Taye's case was widely publicized and kept on the front burner by the Ethiopian expatriate community. Their efforts involved citizens of other countries who had met Dr. Taye. When his imminent release was made public in early May of 2002 his advocacy network began a great public rejoicing. It became clear that those supporting Dr. Taye's case were: 1) Ethiopian expatriates, 2) international supporters of the Teacher's Association 3) friends and acquaintances of Dr. Taye's from his time here in the United States and even 4) a class of second graders in Mendota, Illinois who had a teacher who knew Dr. Taye when he was in the US and had been using his imprisonment as an educative tool for her class.

3) Establishing of International Norms and Measurements

Globalization has resulted in many different groups serving as watchdogs of African governments, not just in the area of human rights, but also in such diverse and important areas as contract enforcement, rule of law and judicial effectiveness and impartiality. This type of observation and reporting used to be a purely academic exercise, yet there are now groups such as the International Country Research Group and the Economist Intelligence Unit which evaluate the actions of governments not just for academics, but also for investors and business people looking to take advantage of emerging markets.

Additionally, the wave of democratization that swept the African continent in the 1990s led to a process of political education among elites and non-elites in Africa. This political education has led to a situation in which authoritarian rule is simply far less acceptable to the citizens of African countries than it was 15 years ago. The norms of democracy have been fully embraced by populations who stand to benefit form a greater voice in their governance.


B. Negative Effects of Globalization on Democracy

1) National Security: Availability of Arms and Training

The potential for the privatization of the military is one effect of globalization on African countries that is discouraging. With the collapse of the apartheid regime the detritus of the old South African military has made itself available throughout Africa sometimes through legitimate operations like Executive Outcomes and sometimes less transparently. I would argue that the overall


effect of the mobile and non-state military consulting and training that we see now in Africa is negative. Though the record in terms of effect is mixed and private, hired armies have been effective in some instances, I think the development of privatized national security forces is ultimately negative. Hired soldiers are only accountable to those who pay them, not to the population of the state and in the long term they undermine the effort to professionalize the military in the state in which they are hired.

Additionally, globalization has meant even greater availability of small arms in Africa. Since independence on the continent, small arms have been the main tool of political violence. With the end of the Cold War the list of potential sources for the purchase of small arms has grown.


2) International Security
The effects of the War on Terrorism in Africa are not yet entirely clear. However, I have no doubt about the fact that to the extent that the United States views its security globally, as it now does, this will bode ill for Africa. During the Cold War the United States was not particularly concerned about the type of governments that existed in the different African states as long as those governments were on our side. Since Sept 11, 2001, the United States is beginning to return to that same dualistic conception of security; states are with us or against us. Clearly the effects of the new security policy will be uneven and some African states may benefit from the US policy while others will be harmed. Ethiopia stands to benefit from further training of its troops and military assistance, while the conglomeration of political entities that was Somalia will be negatively effected by a US policy that is suspicious of the ability of Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland to effectively police their own borders and keep politically undesirable people out of the country. If the US does, in fact, experience more terrorist attacks, every African state will be categorized as with us or against us.


Section II. Does Globalization inhibit or aid in the consolidation of democracy?

Up until the present time I would say that globalization has aided in the consolidation of democracy because it has strengthened the accountability of the state. African states have become more accountable in two ways. 1) Accountability within the state to the population has improved with globalization and 2) accountability of the state to recognized international norms of human rights has improved.

Accountability of the African state to its citizens has improved with the tremendous growth of civil society. The democratic wave of the 1990s in Africa was augmented by the growth of civil society groups representing everything from religious faith to women’s issues to environmental concerns and


sometimes a combination of these.3 Civil society groups have been encouraged by linkages with other organizations around the world with similar agendas and sometimes even by funding from overseas. This is particularly true for women’s organizations in Africa which in the 1990s became delinked from political parties and in many countries have been staunch advocates of important issues such as land reform, economic liberalization and legal reform (see the work of Aili Tripp). Political pressure from below has often focused on issues such as equality of law and genuine rule of law.

Accountability of the state to recognized norms of human rights has also been aided by globalization through the presence of monitoring groups and transnational advocacy groups that actively publicize norm violations.

Yet, there are elements of globalization, particularly the security issue discussed above, that make the effects of globalization on the deepening of democracy ambivalent. In Africa many states have had trouble in establishing firm civilian control of the military. In the next few years as US national security becomes more globalized, I fear it has the potential to impede the consolidation of African democracies by relapsing to a Cold War type foreign policy that supports our “friends” even if they may be military regimes or other nondemocracies. This would have the effect of easing the intense pressure that African states have been under to democratize and remain democratic.

Since I was given the task of discussing democracy rather than political economy I have tried to stay away from economic issues. However, I want to note that the nascent democracies that exist in Africa would be greatly strengthened by economic growth. Globalization, thus far has not led to that growth and democracy may become harder to sell the longer the hoped for economic growth is absent.


3Wangari Mathii and the Green Belt movement in Kenya was an environmental women’s group that has been viewed as a threat to the Kenyan state due to its ability to mobilize Kenyan women.

To print this page, select "Print" from the File menu of your browser.