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What we choose to believe…

In the reports, speeches, PR, and literature of the international development world, we often take informational truth for granted. We have ministerial aid programs, World Bank project syntheses, and project cycle charts thrown in our faces ad nausea. This overload of analysis can be overwhelming and often misleading. Given these statements, I’d like to point out a recent finding and some food for thought to back them up.

It may seem trivial, to point out a contextual misunderstanding of academic literature by a UNESCO report that I was recently reading, however there are more than a few reasons why I believe otherwise. The report is a thematic study titled, “Applying New Technologies and Cost-Effective Delivery Systems in Basic Education”. It attempts to comment on the potential benefits of ICT in Education, however is tainted due to a misguided approach to research.

For example, the authors make the claim, on page 19 of their report, that, “The global context can act as a powerful site for the ‘recognition of, and support for, cultural difference’ and for the assertion or protection of differences on the part of both parties in the exchange (Giddens, 1990, p. 7). In this, school linking appears to hold particular significance.” The report, a non-academic paper, uses the academic work of Anthony Giddens in this case to support its argument. Most, would simply accept this use of literature to support the UNESCO stance as accurate and move on. However, after some digging into the work of Giddens, and the use of The Consequences of Modernity in their citation, a few things appear questionable.

Most importantly, The Consequences of Modernity by Anthony Giddens calls into question modernity as a positive force. In fact, page 7 of Gidden’s masterpiece of sociological thought never mentions the phrase UNESCO includes in their quotations, ‘recognition of, and support for, cultural difference’. Nevertheless, the authors of this paper on ICTs in Education use it and additionally come to much different conclusions about technological use than Giddens.

In reality, on page 7, Giddens spends all of his time talking about modernity as a “double edged phenomenon”, where certain opportunities for the expansion of a rewarding existence have grown through modernisation, but how there is also an incredibly destructive and sombre side to modernity, often brought along by new technology in previously unknown spaces. Giddens follows this by page after page of critical analysis of new technology and systematically proves its destructive capability. He follows much of this analysis with discussions of the role of modern institutions (including new technologies) in changes in value orders and unitended consequences in the development process across societies, all of these points left out by the UNESCO authors.

And surprise, surprise! The authors of the UNESCO paper go on to conclude that, “There are demonstrable successes in broadcasting and in the use of distance education, and important potential in the use of computer based technologies.” This argument was in large part set up by the misuse of the Giddens literature that provided the supposed theoretical basis to legitimize the later claims in the report. Ironically, this misuse of a well respected set of theories calls into question the legitimacy of this entire piece of research by a supposedly well-respected development actor. It is another example of how we trust large institutions and they let us down time and time again with broad-based assumptions and academic misconduct. Was UNESO simply being careless and lazy, seeking to add another source to their list of citations? Or were they seeking to give legitimacy to biased and pre-meditated conclusions about IT for Education based on their current support and funding of such initiatives? I leave the final conclusions up to you, but shame on you UNESCO!

What are your thoughts on the integrity of development literature, its relevance, and the industry of thought in this confusing and often contradictory field?


Long, Long Way From Home

I find the idea of migration-for-development pretty intriguing owing to the fact that it has the potential for wide-reaching effects, even if it’s often not practically never very popular in receiving countries.

The idea is simple—that wage and productivity differentials between the developing and developed worlds are large enough to benefit those who move from the former to the latter—but the mechanics are not, of course.

For example, the demand for skilled migrant labor in developed nations is typically higher than that of unskilled demand.  This is good in the sense that it provides incentives for workers to invest in their own skills in order to reap the benefits of migration.  But it’s also negative in that it isolates the poorest who lack resources to improve their human capital in the first place.

Temporary movement of persons (TMP) schemes can fix this problem by targeting the poorest and allowing them to work abroad for short durations.  This runs into a number of issues—what if they overstay their visas or become victims of exploitation?  Or what if, in the end, the durations are just too short to provide much benefit at all?  In a recent analysis of a program in New Zealand, these problems never manifested and program participants received much larger gains in annual income than did beneficiaries of other traditional types of interventions (more here).  Whether similar results could hold elsewhere remains to be seen.

Success will hinge on the development of the scheme itself—whether costs borne by migrants are low enough to justify their stay as well as whether migrants have repeated opportunities to work in foreign labor markets.  Equally important are the incentives behind labor demand, particularly regarding worker skill level.  Private sector demands should drive the migrant quotas so as not to undermine the receiving economy’s labor demand and supply disparities.

There’s more to the story, particularly in the implementation process.  But basically, much of this boils down to an incentive compatibility issue, i.e. how to ensure that everybody behaves as they should honestly or ‘truthfully’ behave.  And of course, that’s not so easy, is it?

Still, the success in New Zealand allows me some not-entirely-baseless optimism.  For some more on migration for development, check here for starters.

Risky Business

Though I have much love for Professor Collier, he was deservedly taken down a peg for his suggestion that the international community encourage a coup in Cote d’Ivoire.

Of course, when an alternative is the much less sexy sounding idea that a declaration of non-transferability on contracts can force Gbagbo into a financial bind, maybe we can’t blame him. (Nope…actually we still can.)

This suggestion was recently blogged by Todd Moss at CGD.  Translation?  It’s the idea that Gbagbo needs cash (to pay the military) so no one should loan it to him.  Why?  Because he ain’t gonna pay it and whoever comes to power next will have to pay those leftover debts.  And, if anyone is in fact willing to give him money, this is pretty risky which means the reflected interest rates on that debt will be high.  Basically, this is a way of saying that the next administration shouldn’t be punished for Gbagbo’s irresponsible borrowing today, while Gbagbo will come under pressure when he doesn’t pay up to residents or foreigners.

The key issue here is that maybe this is unnecessary because no one will loan money anyways since the risk is too high and any contracts would be widely recognized as unenforceable.  Or, squeezing Gbagbo’s pocketbooks might have negative effects on the general population depending upon how long this standstill holds out.   EU assets are already frozen but Gbagbo has struck back by getting his cash via other means—seizing the central bank.

On top of this, his rival, Outtara, is urging cocoa importers to boycott Ivorian cocoa in order to cut off Gbagbo’s financial lifelines.  Though this may be damaging to Gbagbo, it will alternatively hurt the livelihoods of farmers and encourage cocoa smuggling to neighboring countries.

Just like everyone else, we’ll be waiting to see what happens next.

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.


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)

Policy with balls please! The Common Fisheries Policy

Fish: our tasty, slimy, and nutritious friends are disappearing. Fast. Since the rapid industrialization of the fisheries industry is hardly regulated, a lack of enforcement mechanisms means marine ecosystems are being scoured freely to keep up with the global demand for fish. Overfishing and bottom trawling by large, heavily industrialized fleets is destroying the physical environments of fish and preventing marine ecosystems from replenishing keystone species, essential to the food chains relevant to all marine life. Ironically, the large-scale fishing industries are not benefiting from their own greedy practices, as they are destructive beyond the rate of replacement necessary for their own profit in a given area. Entire coastal areas are rendered lifeless as large vessels fly flags of convenience from countries with few fisheries regulations and avoid legal recourse. Yet even these massive industrialized fishing fleets, able to move freely with their flags of convenience and exploit new waters are experiencing increasingly lower catch levels, caused by their own harmful practices. As a response to this growing worldwide ecosystemic crisis, the European Union has been debating the terms of future changes to its Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Realizing that such destructive vessels exist within the sovereign waters of EU countries is disturbing. However, realizing that many times that number of vessels operate internationally is absolutely terrifying. This is particularly pronounced in countries with weak capacities for enforcing environmental laws. The Environmental Justice Foundation has an excellent short documentary on the topic with particular relevance to the developing country context.

Data gathered in 2009 by the European Commission show that 88% of the catches exploited in EU waters exceed their stock’s renewal capacity because of trawling techniques. The same data also show there are 15,744 vessels (18% of the EU fleet) using trawling as their primary method of harvesting. If even the EU, among the strictest of environmental enforcers, is unable to prevent the decimation of their fish stocks, how can the international community expect to tackle the issue at a global scale?

European Commission 2008,

Bitching and complaining has indeed been rampant about the failure of quota proposals for overfished species. At the same time, those in the UK seem obsessed over the idea of regional policy management and a general reduction in overall fishing. Unfortunately, NGOs and European policy makers have failed to propose measures that strike at the heart of the ecosystemic issues I just highlighted. In addition to its current suggestions an effective CFP must set a bold global example by:

– Outlawing bottom trawling and industrialized vessels over 75 meters in length in all cases

– Going beyond the promotion of eco-labeling and create EU-wide policies that prevent any unsustainably caught fish from legally entering European markets

– Supporting the growth of small-scale, locally sourced and operated fisheries and markets

– Actively lobbying outside of the EU for municipalities, national governments, and intergovernmental organizations to recognize that, regardless of the short-term profitability, the global demand and supply for fish must decrease due to changes in policy, consumption ethics and a decrease in fishing practice, not an industry status quo through “free market” liberalization, deregulation, or a primarily economic focus