New metric of democratization

From Rysazrd Kapuscinski in The Shadow of the Sun, a collection of his travel writing on Africa:

Even if you are far from the capital and, moreover, have not been listening to the radio…the behavior of the policemen and soldiers on guard [at a roadblock] will tell you a lot about the situation within the country.  If, the minute you have come to a stop, and without so much as asking you a single question, they begin shouting and punching, it means that the country is under a dictatorship, or that there is war, but if they walk up to you, smile, extend their hands, and politely say ‘You probably know that we earn very little,’ it means that you are driving through a stable, democratic country, in which elections are free and human rights are observed (p. 156).

Kapuscinski has an eye for official intrigue, and the political articles in Shadow retain their interest, from portraits of Ghana’s post-independence leaders in 1958 to a blow-by-blow account of Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi’s 1966 coup in Nigeria to the Liberian civil war in the early 1990s.  He does less well at social commentary, producing some cringe-worthy statements like “Everything [about the African environment] appears in an inflated, unbridled, hysterically exaggerated form…  From birth till death, the African is on the front line, sparring with his continent’s exceptionally hostile nature, and the mere fact that he is alive…is his greatest triumph” (p. 317).  Skip the sweeping generalizations and it’s worth a read.