Did you know that Brazil is now exporting political campaign strategists? According to a fascinating profile published in the New York Times, Brazil’s top political campaign consultants are now working on elections in other Latin American countries, and they are even beginning to venture into Africa. Written by Simon Romero, the profile focuses on the work of Joao Santana, apparently a colorful and controversial figure. Key quotes:
In the past year, Mr Santana, a hypercompetitive 60-year-old former lyricist for an avant-garde rock band who refers to elections as “almost bloody combat,” accomplished the uncommon feat of simultaneously running winning campaigns for three presidents: Danilo Medina, in the Dominican Republic; Hugo Chavez, in Venezuela; and Jose Eduardo dos Santos, in Angola.
He [Mr Santana, that is] described politics as an activity involving theater, music and even religious rites since “primordial” times, and, with a dash of humor, said about his field, “Just as psychoanalysts help people to have sex without guilt, we help people to like politics without remorse.’
The nature of the relationship between (elected) political leaders and the elite reporters dedicated to reporting on their activities is insufficiently studied, and its importance is inadequately appreciated. Yet that relationship says a lot about a political community, particularly:
- the public political culture;
- the nature of press/government relations generally;
- some of the strengths of the governance system in that country;
- some of the pathologies bedeviling governance in that country, and so on.
Of the big reports that spew forth from the multilateral system, some break new ground in terms of research or narratives, while others usefully recap the latest thinking on a given issue. The recently launched 2013 Human Development Report, The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World, falls into the latter category, pulling together the evidence for a tectonic North-South shift in global economic and political affairs, summarizing new thinking on inequality, South in the North etc and asking what happens next. If you’re currently sunk in the depths of Europessimism or US political stalemate, you may find such an upbeat story refreshing (or even disturbing). You can read the exec sum online, but it doesn’t seem to allow you to cut and paste (v annoying for lazy bloggers like me).
Some useful numbers to demonstrate the extent of the shift: From 1980 to now, developing countries’ share of global GDP rose from 33% to 45%, their share of world goods trade from 25% to 45%, and South-South trade as a % of the world total rose from 8% to 26%.
This is what a good day visiting an Oxfam programme looks like. I skim the interwebs (and this blog) to put together some thoughts on a given issue from our experience or what others are writing (‘the literature’). Then sit down with local Oxfamistas and partner organizations (who are usually closer to the grassroots than we are) to compare these bullet points with their reality. Last Friday, it was ‘how can NGOs build the accountability of local government.’ My ten minutes covered:
How can states best promote active citizenship, in particular to improve the quality and accountability of state services such as education? This was the topic of a great two hour brainstorm with half a dozen very bright sparks from the secretariat of South Africa’s National Planning Commission yesterday. The NPC, chaired by Trevor Manuel (who gave us a great plug for the South African edition of From Poverty to Power) recently brought out the National Development Plan 2030 (right), and the secretariat is involved with trying to turn it into reality.
I kicked off with some thoughts which should be familiar to regular readers of this blog: the importance of implementation gaps, the shift in working on accountability from supply side (seminars for state officials) to demand side (promote citizen watchdogs to hold the state to account) and the challenge from the ODI-led Africa Power and Politics Programme that accountability work needs to break free of such supply/demand thinking and pursue ‘collective problem-solving in fragmented societies hampered by low levels of trust’, which seems a pretty good description of South Africa, according to the NPC. I gave the example of the Tajikistan Water Supply and Sanitation Network as an example of how this can be done through ‘convening and brokering’.
Once I shut up, it got more interesting (funny how often that happens). Some of the most interesting questions (and responses from me and others).
Recent events bring to mind a phenomenon we witness once in a while: a national leader dies and many citizens of that country - particularly the poor - grieve on an operatic scale. They mass onto the streets and weep openly and uncontrollably. They will not be consoled. It is a though the bottom had fallen out of their lives totally and completely.
To outsiders, these are moving scenes. No matter your views about the leader that has just died you cannot but be struck by the vastness and genuineness of the reaction of the masses of the people. The departed leader must surely have done something to earn such adoration. But you also wonder if the weeping masses believe the leader is irreplaceable; that what he contributed to their lives cannot be done by anybody else; that, above all, he was a fluke, an accident. Do they ask: who is going to look after us now? You even hear some of them say: We have lost our father.
These scenes of monumental grieving remind me of the famous scene in the Bertolt Brecht play 'The Life of Galileo'. Here is the key exchange:
I usually criticize development wonks who come up with yet another ‘if I ruled the world’ plan for reforming everything without thinking through the issues of politics, power and incentives that will determine which (if any) of their grand schemes gets adopted. But it’s been a hard week, and today I’m taking time out from the grind of political realism to rethink aid policy.
Call it a thought experiment. Suppose we started with a blank sheet of paper, and decided which issues to spend aid money on based on two criteria – a) how much death and destruction does a given issue cause in developing countries, and b) do the rich countries actually know how to reduce the damage? That second bit is important – remember Charles Kenny’s book ‘Getting Better‘, which argues powerfully that since we understand how to improve health and education much better than how to generate jobs and growth, aid should concentrate on the former.
This morning I tapped “Baghdad News” into Google and over half of the first 40 results were about bombing and violence. A further 12% of results were political analysis (mostly about bombing and violence). And there was a smattering of more positive news, mostly on Iraqi news channels: three stories on the reinstatement of flights between Baghdad and Kuwait; one story about art; and another about nice pavements. Hardly dynamic, dramatic news and negative news appears to dominate.
In 2012, Pakistan's biggest English language news agency Dawn helped me to conduct a survey, which looked at how people build perceptions of nations. With an academic interest in nation branding, and public diplomacy, I was staggered to see that 83% of respondents drew their perceptions of Iraq from the media. And not surprisingly, these were largely negative.
As the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq draws near, the political pundits swarm and draw their conclusions about Baghdad and Iraq, and Blair and Bush are challenged with the rhetoric of “was it worth it?” Having penned a modest account of “A Better Basra” I too am drawn into the discussion, canvassing my Iraqi friends for their opinion.
"There are three ways to spoil a public man: women, gambling, and listening to experts. The first is the pleasantest, the second is the fastest, but the third is the most certain."
- Georges Pompidou (1911 – 1974). Prime Minister of France from 1962 to 1968, and President of the French Republic from 1969 to 1974.