Collier’s Take on War, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places

Browsing Times Online today, one article caught my eye, for two reasons:

Firstly, it was about Africa – and anything involving Africa interests me these days, as the date for my departure from the UK and entry to this fascinating continent looms ever nearer.

51yu45sobcl_sl160_Secondly, it mentioned Paul Collier – the author of The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. The Bottom Billion is an excellent book I read last year and one I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in the causes and consequences of the many factors afflicting African nations; the effects of civil war and aid and the problems of democracy in low-income and resource-rich societies. He not only identifies these as the four primary factors impeding development for the world’s poorest, the bottom billion who live on less than a dollar a day, but proposes solutions which if realised could greatly change the lives of so many.

The article in Times Online is about Collier’s latest book: Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places. I don’t doubt this will be another excellent analysis, dissecting the violence and poverty found in developing countries (which is not specific to Africa, it’s just that many African countries fit the criteria) and using this to offer long-term solutions for peace and stability, of which the benefits would extend far beyond the borders of the countries affected.

Until I get a chance to read this book myself, I’d like to hear what others think of Collier’s latest or even his preceding book.


Paul Collier is Professor of Economics at Oxford University Economics Department

3 Responses to “ Collier’s Take on War, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places ”

  1. i haven’t ready the book yet, but since i’m from Africa i say something, it’s awesome in the 21st centtury to hear about millions who live under $1. There is several factors which including culture& beliefe, western foreigne policies, etc.

    All this prblems can be eradicated if one can give the close exmine, i hope the time you will be cycling here you will research on more and you will have something to write.

  2. New research shows that African elections far from promoting democracy on the continent, retard progress and reverse development gains registered in poor countries.

    The new ground-breaking research that refers to case studies in countries such as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda and Ivory Coast demonstrates that elections held in Africa have the opposite effect; they heighten political violence, ethnic tensions, electoral bribery, imprisonment of formidable opposition candidates, divert from national economic programmes and lead to irresponsible public spending, among a catalogue of ills cited.

    Nothing terribly new about Africa, you would think, but Oxford University economics professor, Paul Collier, in his 2010 best seller, War, Guns & Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places presents findings from thorough empirical research conducted in Africa and other countries of the ‘bottom billion’ over a number of years.

    It is one of the few pieces of work which presents hard economic and political data that shows a relationship between African elections and a reversal in socio-economic progress.

    In Nigeria, it is shown that the economic reforms that country was pursuing leading up to the election that ushered in late President Yar’Adua were stayed, a year before the 2007 election, as the Obasanjo government set its’ sights on winning the upcoming election. African Finance Ministers and reformers who are known for their fiscal discipline are usually fired around election time in favour of free-spending door mats.

    War, Guns & Votes also shows, perhaps unsurprisingly, that voting decisions in African countries are based on ethnic voting blocks and not on government performance as is the case in the west. A case study of two Nigerian state governors is shown. One, Harvard alumni, focuses on winning re- election through his performance as governor while the other focuses on pandering to ethnic loyalties. The governor who bets his re-election chances on performance lost the election while ethnic posturing won the day. Further evidence that Barrack Obama could never win an African election.
    Besides, quality information on governmental performance in Africa is scanty and hard to come by and is therefore scarcely a basis of voter choice as compared to ethnic identity and loyalty.

    Intriguing cases are shown of countries which were once peaceful under iron rule but broke out into civil anarchy even with the introduction of democracy. Think here of Iraq under Saddam Hussein and today’s dysfunctional Iragi democracy. Is electoral democracy an enemy of peace in poor countries? Ethnic violence in Kenya is usually rife during elections such as those in 2002 and 2007. Many observers contend that ethnic and even religious rivalries are deliberately fanned by local politicians in the lead up to elections.

    Interestingly, the rough and tumble of African elections discourages decent African candidates from vying for political office and instead encourages some not-so- well suited candidates. Elections in poor countries, for instance, tend to attract candidates with criminal records (and Uganda is not short of examples in this regard). After all winning an election in Africa can mean immunity from persecution and he who controls the reins of state power controls the judicial machinery as well.

    Collier also presents research by Pedro Vicente in Sao Tome and Principe islands which found that candidates who bribed voters (in districts where they were not restrained) won as compared to those who didn’t bribe. It is an empirical fact that bribery wins elections in poor countries! After all African voters don’t expect that the competing politicians will deliver on their promises and elections are their only chance to cash in. Some politicians will actually be seen again four years later at the next election!
    Collier and Pedro, during the 2007 Nigerian election, were also able to determine that electoral bribery and vote miscounting are complementary strategies for winning elections in poor countries, especially by the incumbent party.
    War, Guns & Votes is an insightful read into how electoral democracy has had the opposite effect in African countries.

  3. […] the programme I came across a talk by Paul Collier – and having read his best-selling book ‘The Bottom Billion‘ a couple of years ago, I knew I had to hear his […]

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