Conflict management is at a low point
In today’s post, Rosa Gosch interviews the team responsible for the latest edition of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Transformation Index (BTI), launched in cooperation with Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster
What exactly is the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index, the BTI?
Hauke Hartmann (Senior Project Manager at BTI): The BTI team is interested in observing transformation processes from authoritarian systems to democracies based on rule of law and socially just market economies—and learning from what we see at the global level. To achieve this, the BTI analyzes and assesses the progress being made by 129 developing and transition countries with respect to political and economic transformation and governance quality.
Sabine Donner (Senior Project Manager at BTI): Our Status Index looks at these countries’ current state of development in terms of democracy and the market economy. We believe that we need to examine both the political and the economic transformation to get a complete picture of societal change. Since quality of democracy is more than free and fair elections, our indicators also examine the extent to which citizens can participate politically and freely express their opinions. They also investigate the extent to which an independent justice system provides equality before the law and how parties, interest groups and NGOs act as liaisons between policymakers and society. Of course, a sustainable market economy needs more than growth and fiscal stability; creating and maintaining social balance is essential. So we look into the quality of a country’s social safety nets, its investment in education and the environment, and whether there is a framework that enables economic participation for all people. Our Management Index examines how successful governments are shaping the change towards a democracy based on the rule of law and a socially just market economy. Key aspects of this are whether political players are able to set strategic priorities and implement their policies, whether they are successfully fighting corruption, and whether they are managing to create consensus between all parts of society about the path of transformation.
What are the findings of the newly published BTI 2014?
Robert Schwarz (Project Manager at BTI): We are seeing an increase in protests around the world. These protest movements are by no means limited to underdeveloped and hopelessly mismanaged dictatorships—Chile is a case in point. In many places, a well-connected, self-confident civil society is putting up more resistance against growing social inequality, bad governance, despotism and corruption. Governments need strategies for how to enter into constructive dialogue with protesters and how to moderate their interests without hurting the national transformation process, as appears to be happening in some countries right now.
Is developing such strategies one of the goals of the BTI?
Robert Schwarz: One of the goals of the project is to identify successful strategies from the trove of data and analyses that we have collected on transformation management. And to stimulate a learning process for decision-makers in other countries.
Hauke Hartmann: If there’s anything we’ve learned from the work we’ve been doing during the ten years since the BTI began, it’s that we can only develop those kinds of strategies through dialogue. It only works when we meet with scholars and decision-makers in politics and society to discuss the BTI’s findings.
Sabine Donner: The basic premise of our work on the BTI is that transformation processes can only succeed if there are clear strategies for how to promote social change. And this strategic approach has to take into account that a very broad consensus needs to be reached regarding the direction in which the country is to develop.
What did each of you find to be the most remarkable finding in the BTI 2014?
Hauke Hartmann: I am impressed by how pervasive, intense and numerous the protests against despotism, mismanagement and corruption have been. It’s remarkable that so many people are going to the streets for very similar reasons and saying, “No way! We don’t want this kind of government! We don’t want this kind of system!”
Sabine Donner: We are observing that many governments around the world seem to be helpless, inadequately dealing with these protests. Everywhere, including in Western European democracies, people are obviously asking similar questions, like, “Is this system capable of finding solutions to the burning questions of our time?” In democracies and autocracies alike, no one seems to be able to answer this question with a clear “yes” right now. I don’t exactly find that encouraging, but it does raise other questions, like, “Where can we find new ideas or even old ideas to help strengthen democracy and democratization?”
Does the BTI give answers to those questions?
Hauke Hartmann: The BTI offers suggestions on where one might look for answers. I’m thinking of countries like Benin, Uruguay and Taiwan, which according to our findings are doing a very good job at getting civil society involved in political decision-making processes. In Uruguay they discuss education and security questions in a group that includes decision-makers from civil society. Benin is a very ethnically diverse society but the government keeps the country together by fostering consensus. As a result, Benin has a very clear national identity, unlike many other countries in West Africa.
How are transition countries doing in the realm of conflict management in 2014?
Hauke Hartmann: They are still limited in terms of their ability to moderate and de-escalate. This has always made it more difficult for them to steer transformation processes. But the new BTI shows their conflict management abilities reaching a new low. No other management indicator in the BTI showed a sharper decline. And the countries that take a moderate, balanced approach to dealing with forces that polarize and create conflict are located in regions that are not particularly prone to conflict. In other words, the regions where good conflict management is missing—in the Sahel, North Africa and the Middle East—those are the regions that need it more than ever. That is alarming. Governments feel very helpless right now because there is such extreme mistrust within these societies and everyone is so dug in. The people have experienced too many human rights abuses and crimes to see things differently.
Robert Schwarz: And in those very same regions, which have inadequate conflict management to begin with, the influence of religious dogma on national legal systems and political institutions has increased. When the state is usurped by religious dogmas or fundamentalism, it is even more difficult to enter into dialogue with the opposition.
Hauke Hartmann: In most cases, especially in polarized societies, there are two opposing sides that have a pretty clear idea of what they can gain at the polls, on the streets, and through an escalation of violence. And they often back different positions depending on which side they are on. For example, Thailand’s current government knows very well that it will get all of the “red-shirt” votes from the rural areas and win the next election hands-down. Of course, the opposition in Bangkok won’t play along. On the other hand, the opposition has absolutely no mandate to demand the resignation of a democratically elected government. It’s counting on an escalation and the possibility of military intervention. Neither side has any interest in listening to the other side’s mediation strategy.
Who uses the BTI?
Sabine Donner: To start, other organizations use our data to compile their own indices. The World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators and the Ibrahim Index of African Governance are two examples. Transparency International uses our data to fight corruption in its Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), as does the Basel Anti-Money Laundering Index (AML). In addition, many foreign ministries and development ministries use our data and country reports as an additional source when they assess their partner countries. In particular, the BTI’s qualitative evaluations appear to be helping them by opening the door to political dialogue with governments in developing countries and transition economies. And those countries in turn can use the BTI as an additional, independent source to help them identify areas in which they are doing very well and areas in which they need to improve. We are delighted to see that more and more civil society organizations in developing and transition countries are using the BTI as a way of holding a mirror up to their governments and demanding accountability for social change.
Translated from the German by Douglas Fox
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