www.morungexpress.com Oct17. 2013
Pan-Africanism has acted as an umbrella containing diverse attempts to democratise the newly decolonised sub-Saharan continent, whether through the efforts of domestic forces or external aides, albeit with mixed results. Internal pressure groups, as well as transnational forces (especially international donors, banking institutions and multinationals) may help explain the various fates encountered by the single countries on their path to democratisation. Local variables, together with regional trends and international organisations can therefore provide a vaguely reliable model of behaviour for most of the developing countries. But, is democratisation achievable at all latitudes regardless of distinct regional peculiarities?
Mongolia: between two authoritarian states
Landlocked between two champions of authoritarianism like Russia and China, this steppe territory with the Altai mountain range in the West and the Gobi desert in the south detached itself from the Soviet yoke and changed its Constitution in 1992, when it went from being a “people’s Republic” to a multiparty state. The transition was not without issues but, 20 years later, Mongolia still represents an anomaly to scholars of democratisation. The only nation of its region to be ranked as ‘Free’ in Freedom House’s “Freedom in the World 2013 Index”, Mongolia never fell in the autocratic trap the way Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan did and its geostrategic position between two nuclear powers has not posed a real threat in the last two decades. On the other hand, its vast territory (roughly the size of Western Europe) is home for less than three million inhabitants, half of which live in the capital Ulan Bator, while the other half continue living as steppe nomads.
Is future development possible?
So, will everything be OK? Not really. The development undertaken by the country may involve a number of risks, due to the typicality of the predominant economic sector, but more importantly to Mongolia’s demographic and social features. Concerns about the development of the nation may in fact lie in its own peculiar topographic arrangement. Apart from the capital city, no other urban settlement exceeds the 90.000 settlers, with most city centres consisting of an average of 20.000 residents. This, combined with the large distances between one place and the next creates a layout that discourages investments in mobility or transport infrastructures. The question of whether or not Mongolia could further develop once the wealth generated by the big mining projects will start to flow, puzzles analysts and politicians alike.
Strength in economic diversity
In this context, manufacturing and agriculture, already weak and affected by the exodus of labour and capital towards the mining sector, cannot act as a shock absorber, and in the worst cases, the country is bound to experience problems of stagnation. To prevent this situation of ‘quasi-Dutch Disease’ happening, it is clear that the proceeds of the dominant sector should be immediately invested in the industrial diversification of the country. But, the peculiarity of Mongolian economy, one where for instance, even the traditional investment in transport infrastructure such as highways and railways are not a priority, due to low urban density demographic structure and social traditions, limit the value of this form of investment.