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Imperialist Bastards and Maths

From Andrei Lankov via North Korea Economy Watch

Priceless passage from a North Korean maths textbook:

“During the Fatherland Liberation War (North Korea’s official name for the Korean War) the brave uncles of Korean People’s Army killed 265 American imperialist bastards in the first battle. In the second battle they killed 70 more bastards than they had in the first battle. How many bastards did they kill in the second battle? How many American imperialist bastards did they kill all together?’


Super Cereal

So WFP is now calling Corn Soya Blend “Super Cereal”… sigh.

Me vs Ministry of Livestock

This is an actual conversation I had with a Delegate Ministry of Livestock some months back. The man was either a clearly insane but brilliant Agro-Economist, or clearly insane and someone’s cousin…

Me: Hello, I’m looking for the delegate from the ministry of livestock?
D: This is he.
Me: hi your excellency, I work for Bros Sans Frontiers* and-
D: who?
Me:  I work-
Me:I work for BSF and-
D: ennnh
Me: Yes, I work for BSF and I wanted to know if we could meet to-
Me: yes…that is clear. I’m at BSF- You’re at the Ministry of Livestock
D: You want to talk about what?
Me: The activities of the ministry of livesto–
D: You want to ask me questions?
Me: Yes
D: Questions is what you want to ask?
me: Yes.
D: So would I be correct in saying that you want to ask me questions?
Me: indeed.
D: That is….you want to ask me questions?
Me: yes, about the activities of the ministry of livesto—
me: I’m sorry?
D: CAMELS!!!!!!!!
D: …..camels
Me: I was hop—

*the name of the NGO has been changed. But Bros without Borders can be found here.

Terror in Tunis! The Tribulations of Terrified Tourists!

So Tunisia only makes the news when it affects British holiday plans?

Today’s headlines:

Britons tell of Tunisia Rioting (BBC)

Tunisia: Tourists tells of Chaotic Scene (Telegraph)

Shocked Hol Brits flee bloodbath (The Sun)

and my personal favourite: Holiday Britons’ war zone terror: 3,000 tourists trapped as Tunisia teeters on the brink of civil war (Daily Mail)

Nevermind the fact that an autocratic stalwart of the Maghreb (that lived for decades without any serious criticism from the global north) has fled the country. Only the Guardian and the FT has managed to keep a decent coverage of the actual ousting and the underlying tensions regarding the way forward for Tunisia… although even the Guardain can’t resist bringing Wikileaks into the mix…

(hat tip to Javad Langeroudi)

Price hikes, exports and hunger.

In the wake of rising commodity prices, there’s been quite a bit of talk in the newspapers and blogosphere arguing both sides of the debate. While most of the attention focuses on the negative impact food prices have on the poor, Tim Wiggins, at ODI argues that rising commodity prices can provide an export boon for low-income countries.

Let’s consider five countries: Burkina Faso; Ghana; Indonesia; Kenya; and Nicaragua; then see the likely impact through changes in the value of their trade in 10 of the most commonly traded items – maize, rice, wheat; palm oil; tea, coffee, cocoa; sugar; cotton, and rubber.

When you look at the data and it is clear that all five countries get a large boost to their export revenues – by around 20% in two cases, by 40% in another two, and by more than 100% in Burkina Faso – the latter thanks to it being so heavily dependent on cotton, the price of which has risen dramatically over the past six months.

The argument here is sensible and should be taken into consideration by those seeing the price rises as negative alone. However, this school of thought tends to ignore the real problems of vulnerability created by price hikes.

His solution for those negatively affected by the price rises mirrors others in the same school of thought: target countries with high rates of hunger that are also net importers of cereals.

The problem with this sort of thinking is that it looks at food security as a problem of food production. Today, increasing proportions of the worlds hungry are located in countries without food defecits. In 2008, India was the world’s second largest producer of both wheat and rice. Yet in the same year, it was also home to the world’s largest number of undernourished people.

Likewise, Chad, which only has a 2% food deficit is currently seeing Global Acute Malnutrition rates of 27% in its western provinces.

Food is an issue primarily about distribution. Focusing on deficit producers or net importers alone will hardly be sufficient to address the problem posed by price hikes. To assume that food-deficit countries is to ignore intra-country inequality: generally regarded as a bad move.

Guide to the Sudan Referendum

On your way to a fundraising dinner for George Clooney’s satellite project? Or perhaps hoping to seduce impressionable hipsters at a Snow Patrol concert for Sudan?  Maybe you’re a  gun-toting preacher hell-bent on saving Sudanese orphans…

In any case, you need the right kind of background on the Sudan referendum. Thankfully, the work has already been done for you! The Royal African Society has an excellent guide to the Sudan Referendum here.

English saves the day

Martin Davidson, the British Council’s CEO recently wrote a piece in The Guardian, arguing for the potential english language education has to improve governance in a post-referendum Sudan.

English language training is not a “quick fix” for Sudan’s problems but it can encourage development, is relatively cheap and most importantly, sustainable, underpinning other capacity building projects.

Likewise, he argues that English could provide the crucial bridge to keep relations between North and South Sudan smooth. One of his justifications:

In Sudan, there are currently three national armies and two police forces that the British Council is working with. When we asked them what their greatest need was, their responses were unanimous: “English.”

Mind you, little thought is given to the idea that perhaps these Army representatives simply know what to ask donors for. Identifying a donor’s specialty as your “greatest need” is hardly a phenonmenon in the aid world. Of course, it deserves no attention that these security services, plagued with mutinies, unstable salaries, food shortages and disease would identify English as their greatest need.

The call for English as a unifier/ development catalyst mirrors a lot of the talk we heard about Rwanda several years back when the RPF reversed forty years of post-colonial Francophonie by making English the national language. A similar justification of bridge-building was employed here. But the focus was on integrating with East Africa (and perhaps sending a ‘f**k off’ to France). It’s been hoped that an Anglophone population would likewise attract more FDI, much akin to what Davidson argues for the case of English in Sudan.

Rather than open opportunity, the switch to English has created an even greater stratification and inefficiencies in education. When I was last there in 2009, teachers who spoke no English taught nonetheless taught in the language (reading verbatim from textbooks) to an audience of students who were expected to pick up the pace, many of which had never been exposed to the language. Now, the beneficiaries of the switch to English are still urban populations (many of which were born in Uganda or the children of returnees) who already had the lions’ share of the RPF’s pro-urban policies. Education in the rural areas is still predominantly Francophone, even if the official language is English, meaning that rural migrants to urban areas are generally SOL when it comes to job opportunities.

Mind you, this happened in Rwanda, a monolingual darling of the aid community which hardly faces the constraints a new South Sudan might in a few days time. English Education is useful, but if its not provided everywhere, could very well stratifying already unequal societies.

Mossad spy vultures

picture courtesy of

Saudi Police recently picked up a vulture accused of being a spy for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.
This is not the first time Mossad has been accused of conscripting from the Animal Kingdom. Egyptian investigators did not rule out an Israeli role in the December shark attacks.

This brings to mind the goat arrests in Nigeria and DRC. I think we have a common culprit.

Hat-tip to Matthew Rosenblum for the article.

Development, Paternalism and Many-handed gods

It’s hardly a secret that international politics and development suffers from a degree of paternalism. But it would seem that we’ve come a long way from what was acceptable not but a few decades ago. 

I picked up a book about two years ago about a village during the vietnam war written by a USAID refugee officer stationed there. Consequently, I forgot about it and  first cracked it open about ten minutes ago. I noticed that the forward was written by then presidential candidate, Eugene McCarthy. A liberal, anti-war candidate and a fan of international co-operation (keep that in mind as you read the following).

He blessed it with a poem….

We will take our corrugated steel
out of the land of thatched huts

We will take our tanks
out of the land of the water buffalo.

We will take our napalm and flame throwers
out of the land that scarcely knows
the use of matches.

We will take our helicopters
out of the land of colored birds
and butterflies.

We will give back your villages and fields
your small and willing women.

We will leave you your small joys
and smaller troubles

We will trust you to your gods,
some blind, some many handed.



Confused about the myriad of buzzwords dominating the development scene? Let the good folks at Arrested Development help you out!

Informalisation: Using ebonics in the workplace.

Structural Adjustment Programme: A programme undertaken to re-organize the World Bank office’s floor plan.

Global Commodity Chain: A decorative necklace made of manufactured goods from around the world.

Primitive Accumulation: The act of collecting rocks, spears and cave-paintings.

Flexible Labour: Employing contortionists.

Disciplining Capital, Capital Bondage or Capital Penetration: what happens in Washington DC S&M clubs.

Rights-based approach: a development tactic to disenfranchise left-handed people.

Smallholder Agriculture: Work done by farmers with tiny hands.

Dutch Disease: Fear of windmills (Courtesy Natasha Kewalramani)

Gini Coefficient: A measure of how many wishes come true in any given annum/per capita (Courtesy, Tom Oldham)

PPP: Piss Poor Performance (Courtesy, Tom Oldham)

Food Security: Putting it in a fridge (Courtesy: Javad Langeroudi)