The Nigerien city of Gaya is booming. Sitting on the banks of the Niger River not far from the borders of Benin and Nigeria, Gaya has grown from a quiet village to a hopping new hub. Its population is five times what it was just a few decades ago. So what has Gaya on the go?
To some extent, it's a trade story. Price differences across its nearby borders, helped by a ban on imports of second-hand clothes in Nigeria, and an avoidance of tax collection by customs officials have all been important factors in explaining the boom of trade in the region. Yet, combining these with an analysis of the development of transnational networks gives a more complete picture.
This is where Social Network Analysis sheds new light on the story of Gaya, by looking at these interactions to help improve our understanding of the dynamics involved.
“Economically speaking, I profited handsomely from the destruction of the media as we knew it. The rest of the world did not make out so well, and society certainly got the worse end of the bargain.”
Sean Parker, an American entrepreneur who cofounded Napster and served as the first president of Facebook
As quoted in the Financial Times, June 28, 2013, Napster Co-founder Attacks Online Media Jackals
Does the state of public opinion on a public policy issue create obligations for political leaders, obligations they ignore at their peril? This is an issue being debated in the United States right now about a specific public policy controversy – gun control – but the core issue applies everywhere. In the specific case of the United States, many readers will know that there was an attempt to pass legislation requiring background checks before you can buy guns online or at gun shows. The legislation was blocked in the US Senate in spite of the fact that opinion polls say again and again that 90 per cent of Americans polled support the measure. So, the question is being asked and debated: how can 90% of the people support a measure and it does not become law? Very often the question is asked with real heat. Now, we are not going to get into the Byzantine complexities of American politics. What I am interested in is bringing to your attention what professional political scientists who blog have been saying about the core, universally relevant issue: does the state of public opinion create unavoidable obligations for political leaders?
In a couple of blog posts Jonathan Bernstein (he writes the excellent A Plain Blog about Politics) offers the following insights:
In a previous blog post, I wrote about a small airfare tax that’s been implemented in a number of countries to help fight three of the world’s deadliest diseases. The idea behind the initiative (UNITAID) is to raise funds by applying a small levy on domestic and international flights; a levy so small that most people do not even take notice. It’s interesting what the success of this method says about us and human behavior. Let’s say, had a traveler been given the option to donate $1 before purchasing the air ticket, the outcome of UNITAID would probably have been very different. While studies show that there’s a strong connection between giving and the level of happiness, most people opt out. Why?
David Brooks of The New York Times points out that “we spend trillions of dollars putting policies and practices into place, but most of these efforts are based on the crudest possible psychological guesswork.” Understanding behavioral sciences is important. As he points out, sometimes “behavioral research leads us to completely change how we think about an issue,” and result in new policy approaches. He’s referring to one well-known example, which has to do with default settings: “Roughly 98 percent of people take part in organ donor programs in European countries where you have to check a box to opt out. Only 10 percent or 20 percent take part in neighboring countries where you have to check a box to opt in.” There’s something magical about the check box!
My neighbor, who is 44, just suffered a heart attack and underwent triple bypass surgery. His wife, with two young children, was understandably in a state of shock. We rallied around with home-cooked heart-healthy meals and helped with exercise. My family stepped up because we knew that our neighbors, without close relatives locally, could use our help and support.
So I felt a sense of connection when I read Mark Hyman’s recent article in the Huffington Post on how communities are often the best medicine for change. He pointed out that the secret of an effective model for treating drug resistant TB and AIDS in Haiti lay not in new drugs or medical centers, but in the community. He notes, “Recruiting and training over 11,000 community health workers across the world…proved that the sickest, poorest patients with the most difficult to treat diseases in the world could be successfully treated. The community was the treatment…”
In a Washington Post article that Dr. Qasem and I wrote entitled “The Arab Spring of Higher Education,” we spoke of the Amazon model and the eBay model of higher education. Here we elaborate on these two models and talk about what education will look like in the future.
First, let’s look at some US trends in higher education:
- Tuition costs are becoming increasingly unaffordable for college students. President Obama in his Michigan address asked colleges to think of ways to make education cheaper and more accessible. Large capital investments and fixed costs make it difficult for colleges to cut their expenses drastically
- College degrees are unaffordable for many and even so, do not guarantee a job. There is a demand for many prospective students is to learn materials and skills that would help them get a job
- Free availability of multimedia tools, broadband access, differentiated student base, demand for flexibility and modularized education, and technologically empowered end-users has created an environment where a demand for 24/7 education can be fulfilled by individuals or groups of individuals
A few weeks ago, the Economist provided an interesting take on social media, the Arab Spring, and the Reformation era. The article, How Luther Went Viral, claims that centuries before Facebook and the Arab Spring, social media helped bring about the Reformation era. Led by Martin Luther, the Reformation was a period of religious revolt that led to the division of Western Christianity and the start of Protestantism. The developments of this period were propelled by the advent of the printing press, which the article describes in rich detail. But it begins by making an interesting claim about how Luther and his allies promoted the message of religious reform with the social media of their day—pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts. So basically, the central argument of the piece states that what happened in the Arab Spring is what happened in the Reformation era: a new form of media provided the opponents of an authoritarian regime an opportunity to voice their concerns, affirm their discontent, and mobilize their actions.
Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2011
Originally published on September 6, 2011
Most of those who have been riveted to the breaking news in North Africa and the Middle East during the so-called “Arab Spring” and the recent grimmer months this summer have been focused on predicting the actions of the various heads of state—of Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Assad. But many academics have been trying to figure out who have been the prime movers of the grassroots unrest sweeping the region.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Daily News and Analysis India
Join the Fight Against Corruption
"'Today, I take oath that if unfortunately my father is corrupt, I will see that he comes out of corruption by way of life.' This was the oath taken by hundreds of school and college students as former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam prepared the young minds to tackle one of the grim issues facing India today _ corruption. Kalam was speaking at a ceremony to give away awards to winners of IGNITE-11 atRJ Mathai Auditorium of IIMA. In all, 21 young innovators were awarded at the function.
Kalam urged students to fight corruption by adopting the mantra of giving. "You should go to your father and say, 'Dear Father, if this car is purchased with corruption money, I shall not drive it'," he told kids present in the hall. He said that all kids are ambassadors in the fight against corruption." READ MORE