I need to explain how this came about. I was in London recently and I wanted a fabulous example of English prose style to read on the flight back to Washington. I have always believed that the golden age of English prose style is somewhere between the 18th and 19th centuries. So I went to Waterstones, the booksellers, and bought a copy of Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay's (1800-1859) magisterial History of England, specifically the condensed Penguin Classics version of it. As a masterpiece of English prose style it has not disappointed me. The work itself tells the story of how James II, King of England in the late 17th century, lost public support and William of Orange was able to come over from Holland to replace him, almost without firing a shot in anger. The revolution is known as the Glorious Revolution of 1689, and it more or less resulted in the constitutional system that is still the basis of government in the United Kingdom today.
In March, Jeffrey Sachs published his latest book Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet – an urgent plea for societies across the globe to reduce and better manage their impact on the earth’s ecosystems if we want to survive and prosper in an ever more crowded world.
As Sachs warns, continuing ‘business as usual’ will make life on our planet increasingly unsustainable. Air pollution and global warming present the biggest risks. But as humans have come to use almost any natural resource intensively, there are also major risks related to the availability of water and of fertile top-soil. At the same time, Sachs argues that we have the technical tools and the economic means to save the planet and to accommodate a rising global population – as well as increasing global wealth and rising consumption in today’s poorer countries.
If one were to believe all these surveys that ask people about their media use, then people who are found to be “in the know” regarding public affairs are usually those who read newspapers and, to a lesser degree, watch the news. People who primarily consume or self-report a preference for entertainment usually score lower on these political knowledge questions (themselves controversial) than news junkies.
In both the developed and developing world, I've come across people in varying positions of power either hinting or stating in no uncertain terms that I would not receive a government service without "greasing the wheel." Despite wide disparities between low- and high- income country contexts, these experiences left the same bad taste in my mouth. But corrupt practices, including bribery, aren't equal and, in a larger sense, understanding the differences among them puts us in better stead in the global fight against corruption. In a previous post, CommGAP requested feedback on an anti-corruption learning event jointly organized with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. One of the themes of the event will be the role of communication in shifting social norms toward condemning corrupt everyday practices.
My attention has been tickled by the news that at the recent High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra, Ghana, donors apparently agreed to launch an initiative known as the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Under the initiative, according to the DFID press release on the subject, donors have agreed to give:
- Full and detailed information on all aid in each country affected
- Details and costs of individual projects and their aims
- Reliable information on future aid to improve planning by recipient governments.
I hope the initiative will be seriously implemented. But it will not be easy. And the main reason it will not be easy is that the instinct of the technocracy that dominates every aspect of international development is to be non-transparent.
Development communication (or Communication for Development, as it is also known in United Nations circles) is a growing field in the international development context. Every two years the various UN agencies hold a roundtable to share experiences and further promote the adoption of this discipline, or interdisciplinary field.
On a trip to Cambodia a few years ago, I drove underneath a banner spanning a large downtown thoroughfare. In English, it somewhat laboriously spelled out the importance of supporting long-term development. I can't imagine that any of the Cambodians zipping up the street underneath the sign got that much out of it, but I'm sure some donor somewhere felt satisfied that the message had somehow contributed to Cambodia's well being.
“The Missing Link” is out and I am somewhat relieved – it was such a long process.
I started working on this publication more than a year and a half ago. The field research took me to Timor-Leste and Liberia, while a colleague went to Burundi. My goal was to demonstrate the relevance of public sphere dynamics to governance and political stability, particularly in countries emerging out of violent conflict, and to offer practitioners a tool-kit that would help assess and address public sphere capacities and challenges. The unrest that broke out in Timor in spring 2006 had been the trigger to this thinking. I had lived in this country during the transitional period and sensed what had gone wrong: the international community, in its desire to quickly build governance institutions, had forgotten to ensure that these were connected with the people. To the Timorese leadership, used to the hierarchical “closed” communication environment of a military resistance movement, the lack of national dialogue and a culture of “closed” institutions seemed fine. The violence of 2006 proved that they were not; the government and people of Timor paid a high price for this oversight.
|Ten years after the Asian Financial Crisis, Indonesia has re-emerged as a growing and confident middle-income country with increasing regional and global standing.|
The presidential election campaign in the United States is suffocating. You can't escape it anywhere, even when on vacation outside the US. Everyone is absorbed in it, I find. They want to talk about it; they want to watch CNN coverage of it nonstop. Now, for the issues we discuss in this blog the campaign is a good thing, but it is also a bad thing.
The presidential campaign is a good thing because it showcases some of the dynamics that we seek to draw attention to here. First, it shows the importance of public opinion in governance. In a sense, the entire campaign can be seen as an attempt to shape public opinion in rival directions by two well-funded campaigns.