"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

5.31.2010

decoration day

It's Memorial Day here in the states, so I'll keep things quiet in memory of all those who've lost their lives in armed conflict, soldiers and civilians alike. I'll especially be thinking of my friend Ken, who died seven years ago this week and whose grave at Arlington is pictured above. Ken was not the type of soldier who considered war a sport; he understood the very serious social, economic, and security consequences of armed conflict for the populations affected by war.

As always, we hope for peace...

5.29.2010

this & that

5.28.2010

ch-ch-ch-changes

The UN Security Council is set to vote today or early next week on a new mandate for MONUC. Jason has a nice summary of the draft resolution's key provisions. The most significant of these include the withdrawal of 2,000 peacekeepers and a change in the mission's name to MONUSCO.

MONUSCO is the French acronym for United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Congo. This name is deliberately designed to emphasize the role of UN peacekeepers as supporters of the Congolese armed forces. In other words, it's not MONUSCO's job to substitute for the state in the security arena. MONUSCO's first priority will be civilian protection.

Kabila did not get the full withdrawal of peacekeeping troops he's been wanting for quite some time now, but the reduction in troop strength lets him save face with respect to some of his pre-election posturing. His administration claims they can control the east, but everyone else - particularly Kivutian civilians - knows that's incorrect. The Security Council will be wise to pass a resolution that includes the draft's provisions that require Kinshasa to meet benchmarks as a precondition for the withdrawal of more peacekeepers.

The idea that MONUSCO can both protect civilians and support the FARDC is more than a little bit questionable. We know that the FARDC has been responsible for a huge percentage of the human rights violations in the east. That seems unlikely to change in the short time, particularly if there are fewer peacekeepers in the country available to keep an eye on the FARDC.

This shift means that what we've all been saying for years is more true than ever: professionalizing the security forces has to be a top priority for MONUSCO and every international actor involved in the region. It also means that the DRC needs to detain FARDC leaders who are responsible for human rights violations and send them for prosecution at the ICC. Otherwise, the new mandate will prove to be little more than a shift in semantics.

5.27.2010

this week in badvocacy

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5.26.2010

completely predictable

You knew this was coming:
EU observers have criticised Ethiopia's election, as Prime Minister Meles Zenawi held a victory rally attended by tens of thousands of people.

There was an "uneven playing field", said chief EU observer Thijs Berman.

The governing party has won 499 of 536 seats declared but the opposition has complained of vote-rigging.
Yep.

5.25.2010

the problem of a single story



"Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice -- and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding."

5.24.2010

shameful

I just finished my first year as an assistant professor. That's a story for another time, but suffice it to say that one of the more interesting experiences associated with having this job is watching people's faces when they find out that I am an African politics professor at an historically black college.

Since starting this job, on occasion I've met a person or two, who, presumably because he is white and I am white and therefore he thinks I will agree with him, says, "Oh, that's interesting," and proceeds to launch into a diatribe about all the black welfare queens in his hometown and their propensity to have baby after baby who grow up to commit crimes, all in a grand scheme to take more and more taxpayer dollars, which justifies shutting down the public school system since those children will never amount to anything anyway.

In response to this nonsense, I usually just say, "You know, the welfare system has changed quite a bit in the last fifteen years" and walk away without bothering to argue with idiocy.

I say all this as a way of offering a brief comment on The Kristof's latest column, which not only presents the case of one family in one village in one country as representative of the entire African continent, but also manages to condescend to the people he purports to "understand" by stereotyping every poor man on the continent as a lazy drunk.

Sean and Siddhartha have already covered most of the problems with this insane exercise in stereotyping. I won't add to it, except to say that while of course there are poor parents with misplaced priorities who neglect their children in Africa, there are also neglectful parents in Paris and Tokyo and Lima and Bangalore and Des Moines and Oslo and even the Upper West Side. I daresay there might even be a big-time columnist or two who has gotten drunk rather than seen to a child's pressing needs.

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5.22.2010

this & that

5.21.2010

china/africa

From J.R. Wu in the Wall Street Journal:
Economic activity in Africa has surged in recent years, with Beijing becoming an important investor, creditor and donor for many African nations. But with the rise of China's influence upon the continent, concerns persist that Beijing is preying on the continent's resources to feed the Chinese economy, contributing little significant improvement to African livelihoods.

Amid such criticism—and as China asserts that its presence in Africa is increasingly being shaped by nongovernment actors—Beijing has put in place some mechanisms to deal with issues surrounding its investment and trade on the resource-rich continent.

"China's presence in Africa is becoming more and more market driven, the actors operating there are diverse, there are many models, and the areas they are in are broad," said Fu Ziying, the vice commerce minister, in a recent interview. "The Chinese government is more and more aware that as the economic and trade cooperation between China and Africa evolves, there need to be some laws and protections in place."
My question for Minister Fu: driven by whose market and for whose benefit? His defense of China's role on the continent was clearly a response to concerns about China's preference to not tie aid to conditionality.

What the story doesn't discuss in great detail, however, is the growing resentment among the populations of most of the African states in which China is investing, particularly with respect to employment issues. When China invests in an African infrastructure or development project, they typically bring their own citizens to provide labor. In countries that face upwards of 50% unemployment in the formal sector, this breeds resentment and anger.

African leaders might consider this resentment when making deals with the Chinese in the years to come. Accepting aid and investment only on Chinese terms could backfire on some African leaders come election time, especially in places where the perceived general benefit of infrastructure improvement or development activities is low.

There are also opportunities for change in the way China views its relationship with the continent. The Chinese government is very aware that its bilateral relationships with African states are two-way streets. As these relationships have evolved, Beijing has moved away from its initial "one-size-fits-all" approach to a more nuanced understanding of the differences between Africa's states. There is room to reimagine the nature of these agreements while still satisfying China's need to expand its markets in a way that also benefits African markets.

Instead of allowing China to source all of its materials and labor force from home, African leaders might work to find ways for the projects to benefit communities while they are in process as well as when they are over. Contracts could be negotiated to set a minimum number of local employees on a project (for example, half the employees building a road might have to be national employees, while the other half would be Chinese). Some management positions should be reserved for African leaders, thus building the capacity of local construction managers, health care professionals, and engineers. Materials could be sourced locally when possible and from China when not. The possibilities are endless.

5.20.2010

highly recommended



When you've got some extra time, be sure to listen to this World Bank Praxis Discussion Series panel about natural disasters in developing countries. The panelists cover a wide variety of topics, including disaster risk assessment and prevention policies, recovery strategies, and child protection issues. My friend Amalia Fawcett of PLAN International Australia speaks in particular to the child protection issue, reminding us that, "Children are the most photographed and least listened-to survivors of disasters." Her main points are that it's important to remember that children are resilient and that children can participate in the recovery process.

On a related note, Linda Raftree has a wonderful primer on the basics of child protection with lots of useful links. She plays particular attention to issues related to children in the media. If you're a reporter and have struggled with questions of when to name a child or how to ensure full protection, it's well worth a read.

5.19.2010

connectivity & child protection

There's been an interesting Twitter conversations going on about child protection lately, some of which led to a revisiting of the "Kristof identified a child rape victim" debacle from this past winter. Kristof, you may recall, published a half-hearted apology/excuse blog post in which he said that it really didn't matter that he has printed a nine-year-old's face and name in one of the most widely read newspapers in the world. The reason it didn't matter, he argued, is that she lives in such a remote area that it's unlikely she or anyone she knows will have access to the internet, find the story, and use it as a basis for retaliation.

I was thinking about all of these issues when the team over at Africa is a Country posted this map of internet connectivity juxtaposed against population on the continent. As you can see, while the DRC is not among the top five connected countries on the continent, it is one of the most populous, and there seems to be a connection between population and higher levels of connectivity.

Is Kristof right that this child will never be in danger because she lives in a remote area in one of the least connected places on the planet? I think it's a really important question, one that sits at the core of determining how to handle difficult stories like this one.

Kristof said that the village in which the child lives is a four-hour hike from the road, which is some distance away from Bukavu, the nearest city in which internet access, mobile phone connectivity, and semi-reliable electricity are available. Fine. I think he's probably right that for today, she is safe. It's extremely unlikely that anyone in her village will use the internet this year, much less find the pictures of her face or read a story written about her (in English).

But I'm much less certain that this will be true in the years to come. If and when the Kivus ever stabilize, the mobile phone networks that sprung up almost overnight will move into the forests, making it easier and easier for people to get online. In fact, they already have a much wider network than you might imagine. One of the interesting side effects of state collapse is that the lack of regulation makes for a totally free market. This means that, while places like the eastern DRC can be a miserable place to live for most of its residents, there are often better products and services available there than in much more stable countries. Witness the quality and variety of goods available in Goma's markets on a weekday morning. Rwandans cross the border by the hundreds to shop every day. But Goma's residents don't look to Gisenyi's well-regulated, clean market stalls for their needs.

Likewise, internet access in Goma was for years far better than anything one could find in Rwanda. Goma doesn't have a functioning postal system, but high-speed satellite connections (while expensive) were readily available in 2005, and access has only improved as knowledge and equipment spreads. It's almost become a cliche to talk about the extensiveness and quality of Somalia's cell phone networks.

In other words, the DRC is not a desolate outpost of civilization. Access to information is more widely available than ever before, and I don't see that access decreasing anytime soon. Which brings us back to the number one rule of protecting children who are victims of violent crime: there is never, ever any reason to publish or share a child victim's identifying details with members of the general public. Even with informed consent. Even if telling the story might bring more awareness or more donations or more fame for the reporter. There's just no excuse.

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5.18.2010

a losing strategy

So much for academic freedom in Rwanda:
Students say the universities are crawling with spies. In the last year, at least 10 students have been arrested for a wide range of verbal slurs and provocative writing. Six students were arrested last May for damaging a genocide survivor’s clothes. A professor at a college in the east was sentenced to five years in prison last month after one of his students alerted the police that he had insulted Mr. Kagame during class.

...According to the law, once a student is convicted of genocide ideology, the student can face jail time and will not be readmitted to school, a policy that has students keeping their opinions to themselves.

The ban on genocide ideology also encompasses accusations that the Tutsi rebels killed civilians in 1994, despite the finding by a United Nations research team that the rebels killed up to 45,000 people. A mention of those killings can land a jail term. The genocide, the law says, was committed only against the Tutsis.

The official narrative, students say, amounts to a kind of denial of history. Or as ...a 21-year-old Tutsi economics student describes it, “pretend and move on.”
Meanwhile, something is still very much amiss in Kigali:
Two grenade blasts in Rwanda's capital Kigali have killed one person and wounded at least 28 people, the latest of a series of attacks, police and medics said on Sunday.

The explosions happened within an hour of each other on Saturday evening. Witnesses said men in civilian clothes threw the first grenade from a moving car at a busy market area at around 7 p.m. The second grenade was thrown at a bus park in Kigali's Nyabugogo district.
Who's responsible for the increasingly brazen grenade attacks? Only the guilty know. Given Rwanda's lack of open political space, there's no question that tensions will only get higher as the elections approach. By forcing Rwandans to pretend that ethnicity doesn't matter to them, not allowing free and honest discussion about crimes committed in every direction during and after the genocide, and prohibiting free speech about current political issues, Kagame is playing with fire.

5.17.2010

processes vs. institutions

Remind me again why we think this is going to work with the Congo's conflict minerals:
The KP review mission recently found that diamonds in eastern Zimbabwe are mined under conditions of serious human rights abuses, with endemic smuggling and rampant corruption, in breach of the standards set by the organization. But little can be done about it because the KP works by consensus. Because its members include Namibia, Russia and South Africa, which support President Robert Mugabe, the group decided in November 2009 not to suspend Zimbabwe or ban the sale of its stones.

The group's weak excuse was a technicality in the KP mandate that defines blood diamonds as those mined by abusive rebel groups, not abusive governments. Clearly, it should not matter who carries out the abuses. The Kimberley Process did urge Zimbabwe to remove its military from the diamond fields and make other crucial reforms, but the situation in the Marange diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe remains largely unchanged.

Despite Zimbabwean claims that the army was withdrawing, for the most part the diamond fields remain under firm military control, with smuggling, abuses and corruption unchecked. Blood diamonds from Marange continue to find their way into jewelry stores worldwide. The stones often get smuggled into world markets via unregistered traders in neighboring countries such as Mozambique or South Africa. These countries either do not or cannot certify the origin and flow of the stones, which then become intermingled with legitimate gems.
Eight years on, it's increasingly clear that certification schemes like the Kimberley Process only work in states that have strong, functioning institutions, or that are, at the very least, taking steps to establish those institutions. This is why I'm so skeptical about the potential effectiveness of the efforts to establish conflict mineral oversight processes in the DR Congo. (Jason Stearns summarizes those initiatives here.) It just won't work unless the country's basic security, legal, and border control mechanisms are functional. We are a long way from attaining those goals.

5.15.2010

this & that

5.14.2010

oh, right

There's been a lot going on in the Great Lakes lately:
  • Rwanda's government is so mad about all the bad press it's been getting of late that the Friends of Rwanda hired a London-based consultancy to run a fact-check site for them. Too bad the "facts" are all government press releases and New Times articles.
  • Speaking of facts, KigaliWire has a nice analysis of the breathtakingly naive Michael Fairbanks HuffPo piece, in which Fairbanks seems to accuse anyone who criticizes Rwanda's government of being racist.
  • Speaking of naivite, the New Times ran an op-ed entitled, "Accuracy is Fundamental to Journalism," apparently without intending to be ironic.
  • Nkunda's lawyer accuses Kigali of stalling his client's case. Ya think?
  • Andrew Mwenda considers the prospects for a Kagame retirement in 2017.
  • Reporters without Borders named Rwanda to its list of predators of freedom. State newspaper The New Times will not stand for this kind of fact-based judgment calling.
  • The New York Times ran a big set of stories on Rwanda's prison/reeducation camp at Iwawa Island. Two things to say about this: 1) I give Gettleman a lot of grief for his exoticization of Africa and Africans, but he did a great job on this piece, including by getting video and photos of the pitiful conditions. 2) I haven't commented on this because I've spent the last two weeks trying to figure out why on earth the RPF let a New York Times reporter on to the island. Do they really believe they've done nothing wrong by summarily arresting homeless and poor people and rounding them up on an island without choice? Did they think he wouldn't find out about the minors who are housed alongside petty criminals? Or were they looking for a reason to ban Gettleman from coming back to cover the August 9 elections? Stay tuned.
  • The whole Iwawa incident prompted letters to the editor, one from Rwanda's Minister of Youth, who said, "It's all good" and another from an expert on the country who replied, "No, it isn't."
  • Meanwhile, a prosecutor in Rwanda said that two FDLR members confessed to terrorism and confirmed the existence of a connection between the FDLR and opposition leader Victoire Ingabire. Ingabire denies it. There's almost no independent information with which to validate this claims, so there you have it.
  • In some good news, Rwandan coffee is now widely available in the states, which is great for local producers in the country. In fact, I'm enjoying a cup as I type this at a coffeehouse overlooking the Chattahoochee River.
  • Moving on to the DRC, Human Rights Watch senior researcher Anneke van Woudenberg (who knows more than anyone - including most Congolese - about the atrocities committed in the country) calls for a new approach to MONUC's peacekeeping, one that focuses on keeping troops in rural areas as well as the cities. I could not agree more.
  • A Congolese court handed down a death sentence to three people convicted in the murder of Radio Okapi journalist Didace Namujimbo.
  • The leader of the rebellion in Equateur province was captured last week. It remains to be seen if this will help to stabilize the situation.
  • Want to help victims of violence in the DRC? Jina Moore recommends sending cash to Heal Africa, which will give that cash to women who are leaving their facilities to start their lives again. I second that. Heal Africa is a fantastic, community-based organization that will ensure your donations are spent as you intend.
  • Even Papa Wemba is openly criticizing Kabila. I would say this doesn't bode well for Kabila's re-election prospects next year, but the lack of a credible opposition candidate who could draw even enough of the vote to force it to a runoff means that Kabila's likely to hold on to power for another five years.
  • Rachel Strohm ponders the social norms of bribery in the DRC. One important point: people consider some of those payments "bribes" and others "taxes." Outrage arises over bribes, but everyone understands that the government employees who don't get paid salaries by the state have to earn money somehow.

5.13.2010

diaspora engagement

Last week I had the privilege of attending a Town Hall meeting hosted by the government of Liberia. Aimed at the large diaspora community in Atlanta, the event was designed as an opportunity for government officials to explain the country's Poverty Reduction Strategy and to take questions from Liberians who live in the area. Speakers included Liberian Ambassador to the United States Nathaniel Barnes, Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs Amara Konneh, the Director General of the Civil Service, Dr. C. William Allen, and Honorary Consul for Georgia Cynthia Blandford Nash.

It was a fascinating process of community engagement. The government hosted several of these events all over the United States in hopes of gaining backing for the PRS and other initiatives from Liberians living here. All of the speakers repeatedly referred to the diaspora as "Liberia's sixteenth province" and Allen noted that no country has successfully rebuilt from state collapse without strong backing from the diaspora.

I can't possibly cover everything that was discussed at the meeting, but here are a few highlights and pieces of information that came out of the meeting:
  • Konneh gave a clear and coherent explanation of the connection between institutional weakness, violence, and economic collapse.
  • Of Liberia's 4,600 teachers, 3,000 have a secondary school education or less. This is just one facet of the country's need for human capital development. Dr. Allen noted the fact that Liberia is rich in natural resources, but that its population by and large lacks the skills to use those resources to their fullest potential.
  • There was a strong focus on asking members of the diaspora to invest in and return to Liberia. All of the speakers noted that the diaspora is Liberia's middle class.
  • There was also much discussion of the problem of centralized power in Monrovia, and an expression of the commitment to decentralization.
  • Using data from the U.S. government's Millennium Challenge Corporation, Konneh noted that corruption is improving in the country. The audience responded with guffaws - clearly everyone in the room had experienced significant issues with corruption and did not believe for a minute that things have improved. Rather than denying the problem, the minister encouraged the diaspora to help think of ways to combat corruption.
  • We also watched a film which included footage of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf discussing development, in which she noted that one of the biggest problems the state faces is donors who refuse to align their priorities with the government's development priorities.
Overall, I found the evening to be a remarkable event. What other African state sends out top-level officials to answer questions from its diaspora population? When is the last time you heard an official in charge of economic issues freely admit that his country has a corruption problem? The situation in Liberia is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I was very impressed by the Johnson Sirleaf administration's transparency, commitment to outreach, and realistic evaluation of its own limitations. I'll be interested to see how the diaspora responds to this effort.

5.12.2010

UNESCO outrage

From Global Witness:
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is set to award a life sciences prize named after and funded by the dictator of Equatorial Guinea, despite pleas from hundreds of outraged individuals and organizations around the world. Human rights and other civil society groups today called for a full investigation into the source of the money in a joint letter to UNESCO.

"UNESCO is allowing itself to be used to burnish the unsavory reputation of a cruel and corrupt despot," said Tutu Alicante of the human rights organization EG Justice. "The prize's US$3 million endowment should be used for the education and welfare of the people of Equatorial Guinea, rather than the glorification of their president."

...The UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences was created in 2008 to recognize "scientific achievements that improve the quality of human life." Yet under the rule of President Obiang-the prize's namesake-the quality of life in the country, sub-Saharan Africa's fourth largest oil producer, remains abysmal.
Let me add my voice to those opposing this decision by UNESCO. Obiang's regime is guilty of massive, well-documented human rights violations against civilians. This is not a situation in which the facts are up for debate; there is universal agreement among observers (excluding those working in the oil industry) that Obiang is among the worst human rights violators in the world.

There is no good reason that a UN agency should validate his "leadership" or honor Mr. Obiang's name in any way. To implicitly claim that Obiang is concerned with improving the life of anyone outside of his own family is insulting to the memory of those innocent civilians who have been tortured and died at the hands of his regime. UNESCO - and any scientist who accepts this award - should be ashamed.

5.11.2010

highly recommended

The relationship between nationality and ethnicity in Africa’s Great Lakes region is much debated – sometimes verbally, but more often violently. And this relationship is also a key component to any discussion on citizenship. Ethnicity is not intrinsically violent, despite media portrayals that suggest otherwise. But its relationship with national dynamics, specifically its position vis a vis national citizenship, has allowed it to become an object of manipulation for political elites and a substantial source of instability. Thus the role of ethnicity within the national arena remains unresolved, and this ambiguity is a critical driver in cycles of violence throughout the region.

Yet all too often this root cause of conflict is overlooked, with attention focused on the symptoms of conflict. Nowhere is this more the case than in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where discussions of the conflict tend to focus on its many tangible facets, including the role of minerals in exacerbating conflict; high levels of militarisation; and the chronic use of rape and sexual violence. All of these factors are extremely important and need to be addressed. Yet ultimately, they are symptoms of root causes that are driving the conflict. And if those are not addressed, peace and development cannot take root.
That's from Lucy Hovil's post at African Arguments on her and her co-authors' excellent new working paper Who Belongs Where? Conflict, Displacement, Land and Identity in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. It is a must-read if you are working in or thinking about the Great Lakes region. It also provides particularly useful background as to the reasons that most academics studying the area do not consider the fighting there to be a "resource war," despite the myriad of press and advocacy reports that continue to call it such.

5.10.2010

AidData for aid workers

Today I'm pleased to have a guest post from Dan Nielson and Jonathan Chan of AidData. As you probably know by now, AidData is a fantastic new portal offering access to data on development finance. Since I know many readers of this blog are not academics or economists whose hearts go aflutter at the mention of readily available free data on a wide variety of subjects, I asked Nielson and Chan to focus on the ways that practitioners in the aid and development community can use the service. What follows should be of great use to those of you who are involved in the field:

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As long-time readers of the Texas in Africa blog, we were delighted at the invitation to write a guest post about AidData. For those who don’t know, AidData is a new online portal that provides access to the latest data and research on development finance. The data cover approximately $4.2 trillion USD: nearly doubling the amount of development finance tracked by a single source. Along with the International Aid Transparency Initiative, aidinfo, Publish What You Fund, AidWatch, and the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (among others), AidData attempts to make aid as transparent as possible.

The heart of the project is our collection of nearly one million aid activity records that span the last 65 years of development assistance. Although much of the information comes from traditional donors via existing databases, AidData adds its greatest value by improving what is known about loans from the big multilateral donors like the World Bank, the regional development banks, and the International Monetary Fund. AidData also includes often-overlooked heavy hitters like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

So data data data. While that turns nerds like us on, how about a more practical example of how AidData would help someone outside of academia.

Let’s say you’re a project manager tasked to integrate local efforts with national and international development projects in Mauritania. One of the first questions you might want to answer: what has already been done, and by whom? Since AidData includes activities from non-traditional donors, you would now have access to information for more than $226.7 million in development assistance that would have been all but invisible a few months ago.

Using the AidData Purpose and Activity classifications, you could also examine the sectoral and sub-sectoral allocation of aid in Mauritania, finding that over $140 million was committed to the water supply and sanitation sector. Going beyond aggregate figures to looking at individual projects, you would learn that most of this money was allocated towards a massive project begun in 2003 to pump potable water from the Senegal River to Nouakchott, the capital.

The information for four of the donors involved in this project—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, AFESD, and OPEC—have until now not been accessible via any centralized data tracker. In the project detail view, the long descriptions provide information on the location of pumping stations, treatment plants, and reservoirs. A project manager can use this to focus new activities on the areas that will benefit as the supply of potable water expands along the pipeline. The manager can also avoid duplicating water and sanitation efforts. Finally, the keyword search can help identify other projects implemented in and around Nouakchott, including these very specific interventions in health and emergency services funded by Monaco.

AidData is still beta, and we’re continually tinkering with it to make both the website and the underlying information more useful. For example, a small number of countries and agencies provide the name and information of a staff member directly involved in the project, and we’d like to begin publishing that information so that project managers can coordinate directly with one another. Some donors also publish project documents, including planning papers, progress reports, and independent evaluations. Publishing these will allow project planners and implementers to learn directly from previous experiences. We’re also planning to develop country and sectoral dashboards that will generate on the fly graphs and visualizations to quickly understand and communicate a country’s or sector’s aid makeup.

To check out the beta version of our site, go to www.aiddata.org. We love feedback of any kind, so you can also write to us at info@aiddata.org about both what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong. In the end, it’s all about transparency.

Dan Nielson is a principal investigator at AidData, as well as the Director of the Political Economy & Development Lab at Brigham Young University. Jonathan Chan is the Project Manager for Emerging Donors at AidData, and a research associate at The College of William & Mary.

Thanks so much for this interesting and informative post. Have you tried using AidData in your work? Where could you see it being useful?

5.08.2010

this & that

5.07.2010

the stumbling boulder

This week I've been trying to sketch an outline of how Westerners tend to develop and characterize our relationship with Africa and the people who live there, specifically with reference to the international aid and development system. I've argued that the savior mentality is misguided, that Africa is not rightfully ours to save, and that a better way to assist would be through a paradigm of empowerment. The discussion on these posts has been fantastic; if you haven't had the chance to read through the comments, I strongly recommend doing so. Thanks to everyone who contributed.

Today I want to conclude this series by thinking about what is probably the biggest barrier to moving into an empowerment paradigm: the governments that give and receive aid. I really believe that it would be possible to shift our way of thinking about Africa through education and experience at the individual, community, and organizational levels. But I am far less optimistic about the prospects for change at the level at which projects are funded, at least insofar as it involves governments.

Why? Because aid - for donor governments and the governments which receive the bulk of aid - is inherently political. Except in cases involving natural disasters or epidemic disease, donors don't typically give freely to everyone out of the goodness of their intentions. Aid projects are funded at least in part (and sometimes entirely) on the basis of donor priorities. When aid projects take into account the real, expressed needs of recipients (which is, I'm glad to say, increasingly real for most project), they are often structured in such a way as to advantage suppliers or producers in the donor state, or to reward good governance or provide support to an ally.

As we might expect, there is often a contrast between donor goals and what is actually needed in order to improve the material situations of the recipients. (This might explain some of the resistance to solid evaluations of development and aid activities.) An anecdotal example: several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a World Food Programme warehouse in North Kivu. The warehouse was enormous, with pallets of flour stacked ten meters high. Most of the bags of flour were from USAID, stamped with the ubiquitous "From the American people" label.

There is no question that food aid was needed. Millions of people in North Kivu live with chronic food insecurity, and that was a particularly violent year in the province.

But I couldn't help but be struck by the absurdity of it all. There we were, looking at stacks of food that had been shipped 5,000+ miles from the Great Plains of America while we were standing less than 50 kilometers from one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the world. It made no sense whatsoever that money should be wasted on shipping food when that same money could have been used to fund more peacekeepers, who could have stabilized the agricultural region, thus allowing farmers to continue their work, thus providing them with jobs and income while they supply the province with food.

So why does it work that way? Because U.S. food aid functions as a subsidy to American farmers, who vote for the representatives who keep the rules governing food aid in place. It's a form of patronage politics that is part of our foreign policy.

Moreover, despite lots of talk about improving well being for Africans and opening up trade with the continent, the West continues to keep a number of agricultural, immigration, and trade policies in place that make it almost impossible for African businesses to compete in global markets. AGOA, though tied to political conditionalities, was a good first step in moving away from protectionist trade policies that made it impossible for African textile producers to compete, but we need an AGOA for every sector, in every country that uses unfair trade practices while preaching the gospel of market liberalization. We need to play fair.

Is there anything wrong with governments politicizing aid? Shouldn't taxpayers in wealthy states expect that their financial contributions to the state will be used to advance the state's interest? It's a tough question, and not one that I have an answer for. Like Tales from the Hood, I'm not convinced that there's always a win-win outcome to be found in these matters.

(I won't go too far into the question of corrupt recipient governments here, but suffice it to say that there are issues on the recipient side that have just as much to do with politics as those made on the donor side. There are some creative ideas out there about how to sidestep these issues; cash-on-delivery and conditional cash transfers strike me as two of the most interesting.)

The politics of aid make me very cynical about the prospects for movement away from the savior complex. That's sad, because there are a lot of good people working at USAID, DfID, and other agencies who genuinely want to empower Africans and move away from the status quo.

The key to understanding this issue is to remember one thing: aid and development should not be about us. It should not be about Western-conceived preferences and priorities. Rather, it should be the product of collaboration, conversation, and concrete steps toward African ownership of African development.

5.06.2010

people who need people

If we are to move away from the savior mode into an empowerment paradigm when it comes to assistance to Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, what needs to happen? In today's post, I'm going to think about the foreign aid system as it is and as it could be. As I see it, there are four key sets of players in international development and humanitarian relief: donor governments, recipient governments, aid recipients, and development and humanitarian professionals. For today's post, I'd like to think about the latter two groups. We'll talk about the first two tomorrow.

Who receives aid? I can think of three broad categories of recipients:
  • People who need help and have human capital (that is, skills and abilities developed through education and experience).
  • People who need help and can't use their human capital to make a significant difference in their well being. Here I am thinking of children (although I believe children have great contributions to make to community development, most children cannot reasonably be expected to provide for their basic needs), those dying of incurable diseases, and those who have other physical or mental limitations that make it difficult or impossible to provide for their basic needs.
  • People who need help and have human capital, but are limited by their circumstances. Here I am thinking about refugees (who are usually not allowed to work in the countries in which they have taken refuge), war victims whose livelihoods and opportunities are severely restricted by the conflict, or people who live in places where the educational system is so weak or focused on theory rather than practice that they cannot develop their skills to their full potential.
Acknowledging that there are millions of people on the African continent whose live in conditions unthinkable in the West is important here. I believe strongly that Africa has the capacity to solve many of its own problems. To believe this is not to deny that the huge dilemmas of poverty, disease, conflict, and environmental degradation exist. Because these circumstances produce a high degree of human suffering in the form of early death, displacement, being orphaned, and a myriad of other miserable happenings, I don't subscribe to the view that all aid to Africa should end immediately. Too many people would die for no reason.

That said, though, we cannot behave as though the African continent is full of helpless, uneducated people who don't know what their communities need. I cringe every time I hear a white Westerner claim to be a "voice for the voiceless" in Africa or anywhere else. Nobody is voiceless. It is arrogant and naive to assume that someone who lacks a platform for announcing his or her views, dreams, and needs ipso facto lacks those views, dreams, and needs in the first place.

There will always be a need to help the most vulnerable members of society, like children, the elderly, and those who live with illness. That's true in wealthy industrialized states and it's true in Africa. The disconnect with the savior paradigm is not related to the need; it's related to who is delivering the services and to what ends.

Who provides aid? Again, I can think of three broad categories on the basis of motivation for getting involved:
  • The well-intentioned. These are people who want to help out of a sense of altruism or a desire to save the world.
  • The missionaries. These are people who want to help out of a sense of religious obligation or calling.
  • The adventurers. These are people for whom helping is just a job or an adventure.
(See Scott Gilmore's excellent post on the types of people his organization does not like to hire, some of which overlap with these three.)

Within all of the above-listed categories of recipients and providers, there is one further subdivision:
  • People who know what they are doing when it comes to aid and development work.
  • People who don't.
I think it's important for us to recognize this last point especially. There are people providing aid who are doing an absolutely terrible job (working outside of best practices, providing inappropriate aid, creating dependence, etc.). And there are recipients who are perfectly willing to accept aid (or even ask for it) despite solid evidence that the type of assistance they want is inappropriate. Some people have good intentions, some have mixed motives, and some are just in it for the heck of it. This is true on both sides of the aid dynamic.

Yesterday I wrote briefly about the need to empower rather than save those living in poverty. How do we actually make aid and development assistance work to empower people? Here are a few ideas - please add your own in the comments:
  • Build human capital. This is perhaps the most important thing we can do to help Africans who want to stabilize and develop their countries. As commenter Saira pointed out on yesterday's post, too many programs in high-tech and other key fields at African universities are focused on theory rather than practice. This is not due to a lack of intelligence or desire to learn, but rather to the fact that computers, a reliable internet connection, and the latest software may not be available to be used in training.
  • Capacity building. And by "capacity building," I do not mean, "Host a series of workshops at which 100 participants talk for four days and come out with nothing more than a plan for another series of workshops." If we are serious about building human capital, we have to transfer control of concrete resources to those who are in a position to use them well. It's not enough to train the computer science students to use computers; they also need computers on which to work, and jobs in which computers are available, and an electrical grid that can function long enough to get some work done. Which means there needs to be someone who really knows how to maintain an electrical grid.
  • Take advantage of skills and capacities that already exist. One of my favorite programs in the eastern Congo is Mawe Hai, a program affiliated with the Heal Africa Hospital. Mawe Hai was started by several Congolese who have PhD's in agronomy. They spend their days in a plant nursery, figuring out how to grow food in the rocky volcanic soil outside of Goma where traditional farming methods fail. They then teach what they learn about irrigation, plant varieties, etc. to women who are victims of the violence, thus giving them a way to feed themselves and their children. They in turn spread their knowledge to one another, and pretty soon you've got entire neighborhoods that are well-fed. This is a brilliant example of a simple, local program conceived by members of the community who used their skills to make a difference. Rather than trying out the next big trend in development, perhaps we should focus more on funding people who are already doing this sort of work.
  • Create community ownership. Aid programs should be conceived in the communities they are meant to serve. This does not mean that best practices and solid examples of success elsewhere should not be emulated. It does, however, mean that the reality on the ground should be more important than donor priorities.
  • Engage in dialogue. Linda explains her organization's method of engaging in community dialogue in this wonderful post. If communities are truly allowed to be a part of the planning, implementation, and evaluation process, ownership will develop.
  • Develop skills required to compete in the aid market. There is no reason that Africans should not be writing their own grant applications. Aid funding is a game, and we should be training people in the communities that money is supposed to serve how to compete for it.
  • Hire locally. When educational standards are held high, more and more locals will qualify for jobs that are currently filled by international staff. INGO's should move towards hiring more local than international workers and towards paying local employees competitive salaries.
  • Train aid and development workers to work themselves out of a job. True community ownership of programs should always be the goal. The perpetuation of the aid industry and its presence in a given location should not. If we are serious about empowering Africans to solve the continent's most serious problems through education and capacity building, we need to have a plan for leaving it to the Africans.
  • Convince donors that Africans can manage their own affairs. This will be a tough one, especially in the religious sectors. Like it or not, many donors, big and small, expect that a Westerner will be on site to manage, oversee, and direct the use of funds. I don't know how we do it, but it is absolutely essential to move away from the idea that Africans need foreign overseers.
Does all this mean that there's no role for the altruists who genuinely want to help? I don't think so. It's going to take time to build up capacity, and there's a need for sharing knowledge and expertise along the way. Remember, though, that if our goal is really to empower Africans, there must come a time that we outsiders exit the stage. We have to keep reminding ourselves: Africa is not ours to save.

Of course, there's still the problem of donor and recipient governments, who may or may not be interested in aiding, empowering, or even helping aid recipients. We'll discuss that tomorrow. For now, what do you think are good ways to shift the paradigm?

5.05.2010

Yar'Adua confirmed dead

From the AFP:
Nigerian president Umaru Yar'Adua has died, his office confirmed late Wednesday.

"It is true that the president is dead," an official at the office said.
Our thoughts and sympathy are with the people of Nigeria. I know all the readers of this blog join me in hoping for a smooth transition of power and peaceful days ahead.

(HT: @geoffreyyork)

a simple point

Africa is not ours to save. It is the height of arrogance to assume otherwise.

That said, there's a big difference:
  • between saving someone and empowering her.
  • between aiding someone and enabling him.
  • between creating dependency and establishing ownership.
It's that simple. But making it happen is oh, so complicated.

Tomorrow I'll think about how we can empower, enable, and establish positive connections between those who want to help within and outside of Africa while balancing the need for expertise with the need to move away from the "save Africa" paradigm. What do you think are some good ways to do so?

5.04.2010

the savior complex

Where did it come from, this idea that we in the privileged West are supposed to "save Africa?"

In one sense, the booming interest in Africa and in "doing something" to help people there isn't new. It's been there ever since European colonizers, soldiers, and missionaries figured out how to live on the continent without dying of malaria. Missionaries were the most obvious about it: they went to Africa first and foremost for the purpose of saving souls. The colonizers almost universally justified their merciless exploitation of the continent and its people by declaring that they were there for what the French termed the mission civilisatrice - the "civilizing mission." (They largely chose to ignore the evident and obvious signs of existing civilization all around them.)

Likewise, the Cold War shenanigans of both East and West were intended to bring the influence and culture of both sides onto the continent in hopes of saving Africa from the other side. The number of American Cultural Centers and British High Commission Libraries littering the continent are among the relics of this period. (And the Chinese are busy establishing Confucius Institutes all over the continent today in hopes of developing their cultural hegemony.)

I certainly don't want to fall prey to the parochialism of the present by arguing that we're witnessing something entirely new.

And yet. In recent years, something has without a doubt changed with respect to Western attitudes about Africa, especially from where I sit in the states. When I was a university student in the 1990's, people didn't know much about Africa. And, to be honest, most of the people I knew didn't really care. Africa was far too exotic, unreachable, and of the "other" to be of relevance. When I announced that I was going to study abroad in Nairobi, just about everyone I knew thought I was insane. It took a year to talk my parents into giving the okay.

Fast-forward fifteen years and the picture is quite different. Students flock to the continent for study abroad programs. The declaration that one wants to "save Africa" or "help Africa" is a powerful marketing tool, and there are dozens of organizations dedicated to doing so.

What brought about this shift, which has created an impulse to help the continent on the part of the sorts of people who couldn't be bothered to care just a decade or two ago? I can think of a couple of factors that might have contributed to this shift:
  • Technological change has made it incredibly easy to send and receive information about the continent. When I studied in Nairobi, there were only two or three internet cafes in the entire city, all with miserably slow dial-up connections. There were no cell phone networks. Today, I can chat with a reporter in Johannesburg via mobile phone, Skype with a friend in Mwanza, and exchange Tweets with a contact in Kigali.
  • Increased visibility of African crises developed as a result of these rapid technological changes that allowed . News about African conflicts, disease, and poverty used to be the near-exclusive purview of hardened foreign correspondents who reported in safari vests from exotic locations. Today, anyone with a smart phone and a bit of technological savvy can report real-time information from the continent, which in turn increases visibility of conflicts. It's almost impossible to be a regular reader of a major American newspaper and not be aware of the war in the Congo, the HIV/AIDS crisis in southern Africa, and the mess in Darfur.
  • The worsening of the HIV/AIDS crisis, which became particularly visible in the late 1990's and early 2000's, certainly had something to do with the rise of the savior complex among Westerners. Most people are compassionate, and they want to help when they see something going wrong. For some, that meant taking on the notion that it was our responsibility to save Africa from this disease.
  • For better or for worse, celebrity activism developed as a result of this increased visibility, which draws even more attention to the continent. Unfortunately, the fact that actors and starlets are generally not particularly well-versed on the continent's history and politics means that they often make misguided policy pronouncements, but the increased attention draws in more people who want to get involved.
  • The ease of connecting with ways to help - or creating your own - has really exploded in the past few years. It used to be that if you wanted to "help Africans," you had to get on the mailing list of a charity, mail in a check, and hope the organization used it well. Today, we can evaluate an NGO's use of resources online, make contributions via PayPal, and see pictures of the projects we support on their websites. Anybody with an idea and a few bucks can create a non-profit or a project overnight without having done much research.
Tomorrow I'll discuss why I think the idea that Africa is ours to save is terribly misguided. For now, I'm interested in your thoughts as to from where this idea that we should be "saving Africa" came. What do you think?

5.03.2010

I rest my case.

I was really excited when I saw that The Kristof wrote a column about the good work done by Catholics in Southern Sudan. My research is about how community organizations - including churches - respond to state weakness by providing public goods. I've spent a lot of time with Catholics in Africa who work hard to provide education, health care, democracy education, and other services when governments stop doing so. They ensure that children get educated, help mothers deliver healthy babies, and maintain a sense of order and basic decency in the midst of really difficult situations. "This is great!" I thought. "Kristof's going to tell us about people like that.

Then I read the column.

I should've known better. Of the six Catholics mentioned in Kristof's Sunday column, all are Westerners. Three are American and three are Italian. All of them seem to be white. None of them are from Sudan, although one has lived there for thirty-plus years.

There's not a word in the column about local Catholics, about what they were doing before the missionaries arrived and what they will do after they are gone. Nope. In typical Kristof fashion, the column focuses only on the outsiders who have come to save the poor black Africans.

In the wake of last week's discussions about the 1 Million T-Shirts project, this week, I'm going to focus on an idea that is increasingly prevalent among many Americans. This is the view that Africa needs saving, and that Westerners are the ones to do it. I'll be thinking about where this idea came from, why many Africans react against it while others support the notion, and how we can balance the needs of those giving with those who receive.

As longtime readers of this blog know, my main issue with Kristof's reporting is that he gives an incomplete picture of what life is like in the world's poorest places. Yes, there are many outsiders who selflessly give of themselves on the African continent - and who mostly ignore Vatican shenanigans in favor of caring for those who need help.

But there are also Sudanese, and Congolese, and Kenyans, and Somalis, and people all over the African continent who make extraordinary sacrifices to care for their fellow human beings. They do not need saviors; they need support. And their stories deserve to be told.

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5.01.2010

this & that