Wars, Guns, and Votes by Paul Collier
Wars, Guns, and Votes by Paul Collier. Other books by Collier I’ve read: The Plundered Planet (2010) and Exodus (2013). I’ve enjoyed this book a lot, hence the 5 stars. I’m interested in politics and economics, but not so much in Africa. Even so, I found the book very interesting. Collier makes comparisons with what happened in Britain after the Romans left or with other countries, so the story is clear and relatable.
There are three parts in the book: Denying Reality, Facing Reality, and Changing Reality.
In the first part of the book, Collier talks about democracy and how efficient can it be in poor African states. He writes a very interesting guide on how to win elections in a society that democracy is too new to be assimilated in a way it is for us.
Options for winning an election in Africa:
1. Turn over a new leaf and become a good government
2. Lie to electors
3. Scapegoat a minority
6. Restrict the field to exclude the strongest candidate
7. Miscount the votes
Each comes with its analysis of pros and cons that make for an interesting read. One advice is genuinely hilarious: “Just remember not to push it too far: not 99%; it should not look like a Soviet election.” It’s fun, thus is easier to remember.
The second part is about guns and wars. It was fascinating to read how and why Kalashnikovs are easy to get by in Africa and why they are cheaper than in other parts of the world.
Also, I found out that aid money finds its way into military spending. For example, aid is payed for something the government would have paid for itself, so, the government has more money to spend on guns. Collier makes a brief calculation. 11% of aid (from their data, at the time when the book was published in 2009) is leaked into the military budget. With the total aid being $34 billion, that means an astonishing $3.7 billion. Sounds like a lot and it is. The total military spending of the bottom billion (African countries) is around $9 billion and that means that 40% of the money spent on the military comes from aid. 40%?! That’s an extraordinary number.
“Economic development is a key remedy to violence.” This is something we all know. I think aid should be about economic development and not about day-to-day things. Besides, Collier makes an analysis of what happened after decolonisation. He and his team didn’t find any evidence that decolonisation had an impact on civil wars. Furthermore, two countries that were not part of a colony had civil wars: Ethiopia and Liberia. Not looking for the real reasons of why this is happening in Africa, is unlikely a viable solution can be found.
There is a short chapter about Cote d’Ivoire. President Felix Houphouet-Boigny was in power when the French grants independence in the 1960. For 30 years Cote d’Ivoire was peaceful and grew economically, under the same president. After his death, in 1993, things started to get messy. The next president, Bedie, was overthrown in a military coup. Guei assumes power. Under pressure, he hols an election and chooses Gbagbo as his opponent, considering that is unlikely he will be elected. Gbagbo is elected though. In 2002 the civil war started, Guei dies in mysterious circumstances. In 2007 an agreement is singed. Gbagbo is still in power, but looses the election, but he tries to retain power, resulting in over 3,000 people dead in the violence. From a country with great prospects, in less than 20 years, it became a country dealing with the aftermaths of war.
Also, this affected its neighbours. The estimates are that a country might lose 0.9 percentage points off its growth if a neighbour is at war.
The last part of the book is dedicated to solutions and Collier offers three.
1. Harnessing Violence for Democracy. Countries would voluntarily adhere to standard for conducting elections, with support (including military) against a coup d’etat. If the country doesn’t respect the standards, the international committee can withdraw its support. The whole proposal is quite long to write, but this is the one I think it would work.
2. Enforcing Probity in Public Spending. When the governments give so much money in aid, they can ask for a few clarifications too.
3. The International Supply of Security.
As with all of Paul Collier’s books, War, Guns, and Votes was an engaging read.
Wars, Guns, and Votes by Paul Collier
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My rating: 5/5 Stars.
Would I recommend it: Yes
Published by: The Bodley Head London
Year it was published: 2009
Genre(s): Non-fiction. Politics
About the author: Sir Paul Collier studied at Oxford University. Between 1998 and 2003 he was the director of the Development Research Group of the World Bank. He is a specialist in the political, economic, and developmental problems faced by poor countries, especially Africa.
Now he is a Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University. Besides, he is a Professorial Fellow of St Antony’s College. In 2014, he received a knighthood for services to promoting research and policy change in Africa.
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