I had a look at Freedom House annual Freedom in the World report where political rights and civil liberties are measured on a scale from 1 (most free) to 7 (least free) for all countries. It’s one of the measures I planned on using to keep track of Ouattara’s government’s performance. The latest report is for 2010, so it includes the Ivorian crisis, but not its resolution.
Freedom House writes:
Côte d’Ivoire’s political rights rating declined from 6 to 7 and its civil liberties rating declined from 5 to 6 due to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down or recognize the November 2010 electoral victory of opposition presidential candidate Alassane Ouatarra, as well as political violence that stemmed from the postelection standoff, including state security forces’ targeting of ethnic minority groups that supported Ouatarra.
In the graph below I plotted the average of political rights and civil liberties scores from Freedom House, for some key West African countries from 1972 to 2010:
From this graph we can deduce that there never was a golden age under Houphouet-Boigny, at least not in terms civil rights and political liberties. The Ivory Coast has been pretty bad on these measures all along, but it will be interesting to see what the figures for 2011 show.
As for the other countries one can clearly see the effects of:
- Amadou Toumani Touré’s “good” coup d’etat against military ruler Moussa Traoré in 1991 in Mali
- Sani Abacha’s dictatorial rule 1993-1998 and subsequent return to (somewhat flawed) democracy in Nigeria
- The electoral victory of Abdoulaye Wade and his PDS party in year 2000 ending a 40-year rule of the Socialist party in Senegal
- A stable and repressive dictatorship in Guinea under Sekou Touré (independence – 1984) and Lansana Conté (1984 – 2008), and then the rise and fall of Moussa Dadis Camara
- Jerry Rawling’s first coup in 1979 in Ghana where he handed over to a civilian government, and his second coup in 1981 after which he banned political parties and quelled dissent.
Is anybody noticing what’s happening in West Africa?
The most interesting part of the graph is how it’s going to look like for 2011.
The two least free countries, the Ivory Coast and Guinea are likely to make big improvements. Guinea had a fairly free democratic election this year electing Alpha Condé who seems to be significantly more democratically-minded than previous Guinean presidents, though not necessarily better than the runner up Cellou Dalein Diallo. Nigeria also had a democratic election after the Freedom House data was compiled and seems to be on the right path despite local violence (and other issues).
Senegal which has a strong civil society is likely to make improvements once Wade, who has shown some authoritarian tendencies, is voted out.
Then we have Niger where the military carried out its promise to return the country to civilian rule this year, and elections widely recognised as free and fair were held. Sierra Leone and Liberia are in a positive trend since the end of the wars.
So altogether it’s quite remarkable. West Africa is becoming a region dominated by democracies where citizens enjoy unusually high levels of freedoms in relation to GDP per capita, but also high on absolute terms compared to world averages. And there are network effects with leaders who do respect civil liberties and political rights, taking a stance against the remaining oppressive leaders in the region.
UPDATE: Here are graphs for the other West African countries: