15 oktober 2005

Stay the course (The Flemish Beerdrinker)

For those who still believe that poverty and inequality is the cause of terrorism, here is a shocker. Poverty is lowest in the most fertile region of terrorism in the developing world: the Middle-East and North-Africa. The Poverty Head Count of $1 a Day is only 2,0%. In Latin-America it’s 14,9%. In Sub-Saharan Africa it’s 42,2%! The same is true for inequality. Only in parts of Asia is inequality lower. But in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin-America inequality is much higher. So if terrorism is caused by poverty and inequality why don’t we see almost much more terrorism coming from Latin-America or South-Africa?

Other explanations seem to be more promising. Although poverty and inequality are low, unemployment is high, especially among young people. Furthermore, the labour market has a dual structure, whith many young muslims waiting in line for better paying jobs in the overprotected public sector, but having to settle for less amenable working conditions in the informal sector. The result is resentment and social grievances.

However, one should not underestimate the role of governance. There are essentialy two kinds of regimes to deal with terror and violence. The one is a totalitarian dictatorship where any kind of violence is repressed. Of course this does not mean there is no violence. We have to settle here for terror from above. The other is a liberal democracy with a vibrant private sector creating jobs and with a political system where the "frustrated" can voice their grievances with peacefull means. Now we don’t have to accept the solution of a totalitarian dictatorship. But we do have to accept the fact that the transition from a dictatorship towards a full-blown democracy can be very bloody. Indeed, nations in transition are the most vulnerable for terrorism and conflict. Look what’s happening in Iraq, but we had an earlier example in Algeria:

After the fall in oil prices in the mid-1980s, the country experienced severe macroeconomic imbalances and negative output growth. These shocks took place just as the country’s youth population was reaching its peak after growing rapidly in the 1980s by about 3.8 percent a year. Large numbers of young cohorts were entering the labor force, putting labor markets under tremendous stress. Unemployment rose from 16 percent in 1980 to 24 percent in 1992, and for youth, unemployment reached close to 40 percent. The Algerian government was in the middle of implementing moderate political reforms. In 1992, the country was poised to initiate open parliamentary elections. The Islamists, buoyed by the political support of a frustrated young population, seized the day, and the government reacted by canceling the election results. The state’s reserved application of democratic reforms backfired, setting the spark to a conflict that has yet to come to an end

The hesitating transation towards democracy gave Islamists the opportunity and the means to express their frustrations in a violent way. Unfortunately this lead to the cancellation of democratic reforms and the return of dictatorship. However, this did not end the violence. What is the lesson for Iraq? The lesson is i think that we should stay the course. Ultimately, we can only beat the terrorists by making Iraq a democracy. It will be their final defeat. But in the meantime, be prepared that they will do everything to prevent that. However, Algeria has learned that it’s not a solution to give in and abandon the quest for democracy and liberalization.

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