WASHINGTON — Freedom was on the march downward in 2008, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union, a private democracy watchdog organization reports.
It was the third year in a row that Freedom House found a drop in global freedom, though the pace of the decline slowed, thanks in part to significant improvements in South Asia, including Pakistan.
The group analyzed 193 countries and found 89 were free, representing 46 percent of the global population. That total was one fewer than in 2007; Senegal no longer was a member of the free club.
By comparison, 42 countries earned the "not free" designation. They account for 34 percent of the population — with just one "not free" nation, China, accounting for nearly three-fifths of that total.
"The decline in freedom has coincided with the onset of a forceful reaction against democratic reformers, international assistance to the reformers and the very idea of democracy," wrote Arch Puddington, director of research for Freedom House. The nongovernment organization has promoted the expansion of freedom around the world since 1941.
With the biggest setbacks in sub-Saharan Africa, declines in freedom were noted in Senegal, Mauritania, Congo, Guinea, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. There were gains in Zambia, Comoros, Angola and Ivory Coast.
Puddington said there was no single, identifiable reason for the decline in Africa. "We did, however, see a trend whereby countries in which democratic performance was already poor" got even worse, he said, citing Zimbabwe, Guinea and Equatorial Guinea.
The former Soviet Union was the only region to show consistent decline during the past decade. Among the factors, he said, were the presence of a number of "petro-authoritarian" states in the region, such as Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, the continued authoritarian legacy of the Soviet Union and the strong influence of Russia on its neighbors.
The report said democracy declined significantly in Russia and U.S.-backed Georgia, as well as in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova.
South Asia showed the most progress, the report said.
"South Asia was the bright spot in 2008," Puddington said. "This is especially important because South Asia has experienced so many years of chaos and upheaval."