An interregnum, the period of discontinuity between an incumbent government or social order and the next, provides an interesting study of the social effects attributable to the loss of order. In societies where political power is heavily centralised, a smooth succession has been perceived as imperative for the maintenance of the polity. The potential for social instability, political division or military weakness in relation to external polities are substantially heightened during the transition of power and must in this regard be properly managed.
An interesting example of a modern interregnum would be the period lasting from February 1990 to May 1994 in South Africa. This was the timeframe in which some of the most significant and publicised political events took place that would change the state from one being ruled by a mono-racial minority to a multi-racial majority. Most notably the release of Nelson Mandela on the 11th February 1990 and his assumption of the office of South African President on the 10th May 1994. Below is a time series of recorded political fatalities on a monthly basis from January 1985 to December 1996. Data is available for a 61 month period preceding the interregnum and a 31 month period succeeding it. During the pre-interregnum average casualties reached 92 per month, during the interregnum an average monthly rate of 288 was recorded, an increase of 214%. During the post-interregnum period monthly casualties dropped to 81, a rate lower than the one recorded during minority rule. However when combining the pre-and post periods and comparing it with the interregnum one notices that during the transition period political casualties increased by 227% or 200 persons more per month. Prolonged interregnums clearly carry high social costs and efforts should be made in ensuring a rapid and stable succession.
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What strikes the outside observer when contemplating Africa’s recent economic past is the constant relative decline in relation to that of advanced industrial economies. A random sample of five former British colonies testifies to this negative trend. Interestingly, their economies in relative terms to that of their imperial master were not in a dire shape in the 1960s – early 70s.
- One Dollar (Rhodesia, 1970)
Taking Rhodesia/Zimbabwe as an example, the Rhodesian GDP per Capita remained steady at the interval 15-20% of the UK equivalent despite sanctions from the mid-60s due to their unilateral declaration of independence. The insurgency clearly took it’s toll from the mid-70s and upon transition to Mugabe’s ZANU PF’s rule from 1980 saw a brief comeback due to international aid. However from the mid-80s until today the economy is in complete shambles, with the average Zimbabwean being 100 times poorer in GDP per Capita terms to that of the average UK citizen. This compares with the 1960-70s when the average Rhodesian only was five times poorer, comparable to that of the average Mexican vs Briton today.
- One Hundred Trillion Dollars (Zimbabwe, 2008)
The chart illustrates that economic conditions were on average, in relative terms, better prior to independence for these African countries. There are complex reasons for how this has come about, but misgovernment resulting in the weakening of institutions and instability has been leading proximate causes in both Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone. Another has been the reliance on a poorly diversified portfolio of export commodities in tandem with falling international demand.
(Source: NationMaster.com GDP per Capita Data 1960-2006)..
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Is there a relationship between a society’s level of socio-economic development and it’s level of violence? There is, as this chart seem to suggest.
I used the parameters murder rate per 1000 citizens and GDP per Capita (2006) and charted it in a scatterplot. What is interesting is that the murder rate (as a proxy for violence) increases exponentially when the GDP per Capita falls below ca: $10,000/year. This is however not a necessary outcome as per the other relatively poor countries where the murder rate remains at the level of the richer countries. The economic development level might be said to represent the watershed where a society reaches a critical mass of institutions. It would be an interesting study to compare and contrast these countries to discover the reasons for their low murder rate, despite their low income level. One must read the GDP per Capita variable as a proxy for overall development, it is fair to presume that high income countries have a highly functioning state apparatus, lower levels of corruption etc than the low income countries.
What, however, this data does suggest is that “every day violence” and socio-economic development are closely related, it is a near universal phenomenon. Over the years fanciful explanations for Africa’s high levels of violence have been put forward by academics, linking it to globalisation, media or “Africans’ inherently violent nature.” By extrapolating the violence to socio-economic development trend to these polities exhibiting low development levels, high levels of violence are easily predicted, especially when keeping in mind the exponential nature of the trend line.
One can fairly conclude that violence rises exponentially in a society that lies below the watershed representing the critical mass of institutional development, but once this level is reached it would be readily presumed that violence will subside as a result of the self-reinforcing effect of socio-economic progression.
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