Edition 2016 - What future for democracy?

For a long time, liberal democracy has been perceived as an indicator of social welfare. At present, however, democracy is at a crossroads. Not only are there several authoritarian states quite efficient at promoting economic growth, there are also quite a few western democracies challenged from within due to rising populism and from outside because of technocratic and non-democratic institutions.

Likewise, many democracies seem to lose their appetite when it comes to promoting their model abroad. Instead, they prefer security and stability. Against this background, how should we understand the future of democracy? What are its challenges? And what are its main weaknesses? These and several other questions will be addressed during this Debating Development series.

Tuesday 18 October - Foreign funding for civil society: enhancing or undermining democracy?

Jonas Wolff (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt)
Pieter-Jan Hamels (11.11.11)
Moderator: Filip Reyntjens (UAntwerpen)

Presentation by Jonas Wolff (click here)

In many countries, civil society organizations (CSOs) involved in peacebuilding and democracy promotion rely on foreign funds from bilateral donors, NGOs, or multilateral agencies such as the UNDP to support their programs. However, over the past decade many governments have pushed back, resulting in a “closing space” for democracy promotion. Governments have curtailed foreign funding, either by outright prohibition (e.g. Eritrea) or by enacting onerous requirements or restrictions (e.g. India, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Russia, Hungary, Kenya) that severely limit foreign funding to domestic CSOs. Scholars, activists, and practitioners have warned of the adverse effect this has on democracy since it enables authoritarian or oppressive governments to curtail human rights advocacy and civic activism. However, others have pointed out that there are valid reasons for governments to eschew foreign funds: historically, development assistance has often included opportunistic intervention and economic exploitation. Foreign funding can thus represent an extension of neo-colonial power, or the imposition of particular Western values and normative ideas of democracy, thus undermining national sovereignty and the right to collective self-determination. 

Jonas Wolff is head of the research department "Governance and Societal Peace" at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF) and member of PRIF's executive board. He teaches at Goethe University Frankfurt and Kassel University, and is a frequent contributor to EDP Wire, the blog for the External Democracy Promotion network.



Pieter-Jan Hamels is currently the Policy Officer for Central Africa at 11.11.11, a coalition of NGOs, unions, movements and various solidarity groups in Flanders, where his current work focuses on Burundi. Previously he was a project manager for the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims. Twitter: @PJHamels


Filip Reyntjens is Emeritus Professor of African Law and Politics at the Institute of Development Policy and Management, University of Antwerp. His most recent books are The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996–2006 (2009) and Political Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda (2013). Professor Reyntjens has also written hundreds of scholarly articles on law and politics in Sub-Sahara Africa, with a particular interest in the Great Lakes Region.
Twitter: @freyntje

Tuesday 25 October - The role of education in peacebuilding and democratization processes

Simone Datzberger (University of Amsterdam)
Marielle Le Mat (University of Amsterdam)
Moderator: Line Kuppens (KU Leuven and University of Antwerp)

Presentation by Simone Datzberger


Datzberger, S., Smith, A., & McCully, A.M. (2016) The Integration of Education and Peacebuilding – Synthesis report on findings from Myanmar, Pakistan, South Africa and Uganda. Ulster University. 

Bush, K.D., Saltarelli, D. (eds.) (2000) “Chapter 2: The Two Faces of Education” in The Two Faces of Education in Ethnic Conflict: Towards a Peacebuilding Education for Children. UNICEF 

The role of education in peacebuilding and democratization processes
Education plays a major role in development frameworks, especially in conflict-ridden societies working toward peacebuilding and democracy. Education and schooling create opportunities and foster a sense of citizenship while equipping students with important skills and instilling tolerance for diversity. However, there can be negative impacts as well: in conflict zones working toward national peace, the curricula may portray only the victor’s version of history, stoking conflict between ethnic or religious groups. The use of one national language for schools can ease inter-ethnic tension by providing a shared means of communication, but it can also foster exclusion and repression of those who do not speak the dominant language. What lessons can the development community learn from diverse contexts about using education to promote, rather than hinder, peacebuilding and democracy?

Simone Datzberger is a Marie-Curie Research Fellow at the University of Amsterdam, Department of Human Geography, Planning and International Development (GPIO), where she focuses on the role of education in increasing civil agency and voice in the sub-Saharan Africa context. Previously she was part of a research consortium in partnership with UNICEF on Education and Peacebuilding, where she was the lead researcher for the case study on Uganda.
Twitter: @SimoneDatzberge


Marielle Le Mat works as junior researcher/lecturer in the Education & International Development research group at the University of Amsterdam. She has a Research Master’s degree in Educational Sciences (University of Amsterdam). Her main research interests include the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) through formal and non-formal education, critical discussions of gender and education in its broadest sense, in relation to social justice, globalisation, and inclusive development. She also lectures in the minor International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam.

Marielle is involved in several project partnerships, including the Research Consortium on Education and Peacebuilding and the IS Academy Education & International Development, as junior researcher and as junior project manager.

Line Kuppens is a research fellow at the Centre for Research on Peace and Development at KU Leuven, and holds a VLADOC PhD fellowship from the Flemish Interuniversity Council-University Development Cooperation (VLIR-UOS) at the IOB. Her research focuses on the role of education as a peace-building tool in post-conflict countries.
Twitter: @LineKuppens 

Tuesday 8 November - The struggle for democracy after the Arab Spring

Christopher Lamont (Osaka University and University of Groningen)
Paul Aarts (University of Amsterdam)
Moderator: Pieter Stockmans (MO* Magazine)

Presentation Lamont

Aarts, P. (2012). From Resilience to Revolt–Making Sense of the Arab Spring (Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, Department of Political Science, WODC).

The Arab Spring brought an end to the region’s prevailing governance systems, as multiple dictatorships got overthrown. Although the democracy fever spread intensively, about five years later the situation in these countries is possibly even worse as citizens are confronted with civil war, strife and the rise of jihadism. It is clear that countries with weak institutions and without any tradition of democracy cannot change into thriving democratic societies overnight. But what will the future bring for these countries? What are exactly the key challenges that have to be overcome to develop into a stable democracy? And what happened to the support for democracy among the citizens?

Dr. Christopher Lamont is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and specially appointed professor at Osaka University in Japan. At the research institute of Globalization studies in Groningen, prof. dr. Lamont is also Co-Chair of Research in Ethics and Globalization. His areas of expertise are transitional justice and human rights in North Africa and the former Yugoslavia.  Before, he conducted research on transitional justice in Tunisia at the Centre for Maghreb Studies in Tunis. He worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Transitional Justice Institute at the University of Ulster and as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Zagreb in Croatia.


Paul Aarts’ areas of expertise are International Relations in general and in Politics and Economics of the Middle East in particular. Until recently, he was a senior lecturer in International Relations at the Department of Political Science (University of Amsterdam).  He co-founded a Dutch magazine on North Africa, the Middle East and Islam, called ‘ZemZem’. He also established the 'Zeytun Academic Exchange' program with academic institutes in a number of Middle Eastern countries. The Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia in particular is his area of focus. He has undertaken consultancy work on the Middle East for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Security and Justice, the European Commission and other institutions. For the Dutch television program ‘Universiteit van Nederland’ (University of The Netherlands), he gave 5 lectures on the ‘Arab Spring’. Furthermore, the regularly participates in public debates on matters related to the Middle East.

Pieter Stockmans is a research journalist working for MO* magazine. He holds a degree in law, international relations and journalism. He has published for Knack, De Standaard, MO*, Middle East Eye and Al Jazeera English. Since years he is travels across North Africa and the Middle East. He did on-the-ground research on the radicalization of all warring parties in the Middle East. He lived embedded with Syrian refugees in the neighboring countries of Syria and on their way to Europe, with the Kurds in Syria, with Hezbollah in Lebanon, with the inhabitants of Egyptian slums, with Islamic and secular protest movements in Jordan, and with many Israelis and Palestinians. He is the co-founder of the journalistic project ‘Between Freedom and Happiness’, bringing the human stories behind the Arab uprisings. He is also the co-author of “De Jihadkaravaan.


Tuesday 22 November - How to combat terrorism while upholding democracy?

Judith Large (Conflict Analysis Research Centre - UK)
Belgin San-Akca (Koç University Istanbul)
Moderator: Jens Franssen (VRT News)

Presentation of Judith Large
Text by Judith Large (2005)

Today, democratic governments face acute dilemmas in how to react to terrorism and the increasing feeling of risk and insecurity. Securing the safety and protection of their citizens and upholding law are essential tasks of a democratic government. Overreaction, however, can be detrimental for its legitimacy as rights and freedoms could be narrowed by certain security measures. Social and human rights organizations are concerned about the way the war against terrorism is and will be conducted. But how can we combat and prevent terrorism without restricting the foundations of a democratic society?

Judith Large has more than twenty-five years of experience in the field of conflict analysis and peace building. She is a senior research fellow at the Conflict Analysis Research Centre at the University of Kent (UK). She is also involved within the United Nations Department of Political Affairs (DPA) and the European External Action Services mediation unit. Previously, she worked as an external evaluator for an EU funded program on minority rights in Somalia and Iraq. Her area of expertise are multi-level strategies for the transition from protracted conflicted to just and non-violent outcomes. Therefore, she works together with diverse stakeholders from  NGO’s and community initiatives to national governments. She does several consultancies for the United Nations, among which UNDP, UN Women and UNHCR. Currently, she works on the dynamics of contested governance in Indonesia and Sri-Lanka. The work she has published mainly focuses on human security and governance, gender and war and democracy and terrorism.

Prof. dr. San-Akca is a professor at Koç University in Istanbul. She teaches several subjects among which International Relations and a course on Terrorism, Insurgency and World Politics. As a research assistant and consultant, prof. dr. San-Akca was already active at the University of California, Davis and Berkeley. She also was a visiting scholar at the Center for Middle East Studies at Harvard University. She carries out research on terrorism, the role of ethnic, religious and political identity in inter-state relations and the Middle East Conflict. She published in several important scientific journals such as Journal of Conflict Resolution and International Studies Quarterly. In October (2016), her new book titled “States in Disguise: Material and Ideational Causes of State Support for Rebel Groups” will be released by Oxford University Press.

Jens Franssen has a Master’s degree in History and a postgraduate degree in Business and communication sciences. He is a radio journalist for the Flemish public broadcast (VRT) news service. His area of expertise are conflicts, defense, the Middle East and Arabic World. He did on the ground research and reported from Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, among others. He won several prizes such as the “Pris Bayeux Calvados des Correspondents de Guerre” and the Belfius press’ price, both for one of his reports in Homs (Syria).
Twitter: @JensFranssen   

Tuesday 15 November - Democratization in Africa: the end of an era?

Nicholas Cheeseman (University of Oxford)
Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi (Ghana Center for Democratic Development)
Moderator: Stef Vandeginste (University of Antwerp)

In the early nineties, observers witnessed a remarkable improvement in the level of democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. Multi-party elections entered the fray, executive power was curtailed by binding constitutions and civil society organizations and independent media platforms flourished far and wide. Yet, the widespread optimism that accompanied this post-Cold War democratization process in sub-Saharan Africa was perhaps a far cry from happenings in the real world. With the benefit of hindsight, one can say that many African elections became tools of, rather than answers to, authoritarian control and that constitutions were recurrently bypassed as rulers saw fit. Likewise, many media and civil society organizations had to deal with the constant threat of closure and intimidation by incumbents. This debate questions what is left of this earlier optimism of democratization in sub-Saharan Africa. Will democratization continue on the continent? And should the recent backslide be seen as only temporary, to be reinitialized by the rise of an educated, wealthier middle class, urbanization and technology? Or are we awaiting a new era of authoritarianism, with all the domestic and international challenges it brings along? 

Nicholas Cheeseman is Associate Professor in African Politics at the African Study Centre, University of Oxford. He works in the field of comparative politics and specializes in processes of democratization in sub-Saharan Africa. Prof. Cheeseman recently published a book “Democracy in Africa: Successes, Failures and the Struggle for Political Reform” and is the author of several academic articles on African governance. He is furthermore joint editor of African Affairs and founding editor of the Oxford Dictionary of African Politics and the Oxford Encyclopaedia for African Politics. Nicholas Cheeseman regularly writes columns in the Sunday Nation, a leading newspaper in Eastern Africa, and is founder of the website “Democracy in Africa,” facilitating the dissemination of knowledge on the state of democracy in Africa.
Twitter: @Fromagehomme   

Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi is Professor in Political Science at the University of Ghana and Executive Director of the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) and the Afrobarometer. He has authored several articles in the Journal of Democracy and UNU-Wider. Likewise, he is co-author (together with Michael Bratton and Robert Mattes) of the book Public Opinion, Democracy and Market Reform in Africa, published by Cambridge University Press (2005). Prof. Gyimah-Boadi has consulted extensively on the politics of economic reform, good governance, corruption and democratic development in Africa and is chair of the National Council of Persons with Disability and a member of the Advisory Council of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance.

Stef Vandeginste is lecturer in Governance, Conflict and Development at the Institute of Development Policy and Management (IOB) of the University of Antwerp and a research fellow at the African Studies Centre Leiden. His research interests include political transitions, human rights, transitional justice, power-sharing, post-conflict state-building and contemporary history of Central Africa, with a focus on Burundi. Prof. Vandeginste published articles in several leading academic journals such as African Affairs, the International Journal of Transitional Justice and the Journal of Eastern African Studies.



Tuesday 29 November - Participation vs. representation: the democratic fatigue syndrome

Carsten Berg (European Citizens’ Initiative)
Stefan Rummens (KU Leuven)
Moderator: Stefaan Walgrave (University of Antwerp)

Presentation Berg

Some claim that political representation is facing a crisis. Populism is on the rise in numerous European countries and across the Atlantic. Party membership is declining, voter turnout is low, voter turnover is high and trust in our political representation is at an all-time low. These and other symptoms fall under what has been described as the Democratic Fatigue Syndrome.

Efforts to increase participation of the constituents in the democratic process and to combat the symptoms of the Democratic Fatigue Syndrome have come in many forms. The cities of Antwerp and Paris have recently followed the example of Porto Alegre in Brazil and have implemented participatory budgeting. In Ireland citizens helped draft a new constitution, in Belgium a thousand citizens deliberated about the countries future during the G1000 summit, and across Europe citizens can use the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) right to directly influence European Policies.

During this debate we’ll investigate whether we need to reform our current electoral-representative democracy model to allow for more participation to combat the Democratic Fatigue Syndrome. 


Carsten Berg has  campaigned for participatory and direct democracy at regional, national and transnational levels. In 2002-2003, he worked for the Convention on the Future of Europe (European Constitutional Convention) and successfully campaigned for the inclusion of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) into EU law. The ECI is the first transnational and digital instrument of participatory democracy in world history. Since then he continues to contribute to the emergence of the European Citizens’ Initiative as General Coordinator of the ECI Campaign.



Prof. Dr. Stefan Rummens is a professor of moral and political philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy of KU Leuven. He has published extensively on topics such as deliberative democracy, representation, populism and political extremism. He has also published a book in Dutch with Pelckmans Pro - Wat een theater! Politiek in tijden van populism en technocratie (2016) - in which he develops a philosophical analysis of the problems our democratic system is currently facing.


Prof. Dr. Stefaan Walgrave is professor of political Science at the University of Antwerp. His research interest are social movements, political participation, political communication and elections. He has published on these topics in several journals as American Journal of Political Science, Public Opinion Quarterly and European Journal of Political Research. He currently researches on how political elites process societal information.

Tuesday 6 December - Democracy promotion: an empty shell?

Laurence Whitehead (University of Oxford)
Marie Laure Geoffray (University of Paris III: Sorbonne Nouvelle)
Moderator: Filip Reyntjens (University of Antwerp)

Presentation Whitehead

Billions of dollars are spend every year to promote democracy abroad. The money goes from supporting international (non-)governmental organizations, like Freedom House and the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), to financing national elections and starting war. This debate questions the impact of international democracy promotion. Does democracy promotion really foster democratization in non-democratic countries? And did it play, for instance, an active role in many of the post-Cold War democratic transitions we observed? Or is democracy promotion merely window dressing, capitalizing on endogenous democratization processes, and increasingly being foiled by the renewed self-confidence of (rising) authoritarian powers?

Laurence Whitehead is a Senior Research Fellow in Politics at Nuffield College, Oxford University, and Senior Fellow of the College. During 2005/6 he served as Acting Warden there. In 2011/2 he also served as Senior Proctor of the University. Prof. Whitehead published extensively on studies in comparative democratization and international democracy promotion, both in America and beyond. He is editor of an Oxford University Press series, ‘Studies in Democratization’ and President of the Conseil Scientifique of the Institut des Ameriques in Paris, and belongs to the steering committee of the Red Eurolatinoamericana de Gobernabilidad para el Desarrollo.

Marie Laure Geoffray is lecturer in Political Science and Assistant Director at the Institute for Higher Studies of Latin America (IHEAL, University of Paris III: Sorbonne Nouvelle). Her research interests include, among others, international relations, globalization, inequalities and the public sector and social movements in authoritarian regimes (with a focus on Central America). Marie Laure obtained her PhD from Sciences Po Paris in 2010 on culture, politics and contestation in Cuba (1989 – 2010) and has been a post-doctoral researcher on interdependent inequalities in Latin America (2010 – 2012) at the Free University of Berlin.

Filip Reyntjens is Emeritus Professor of African Law and Politics at the Institute of Development Policy and Management, University of Antwerp. His most recent books are The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996–2006 (2009) and Political Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda (2013). Professor Reyntjens has also written hundreds of scholarly articles on law and politics in Sub-Sahara Africa, with a particular interest in the Great Lakes Region.
Twitter: @freyntje