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February 2011

Show Me Your I.D., Please!

Johanna Martinsson's picture

If someone were to ask you to identify yourself, you would probably reach into your purse, or pocket, and pull out some form of identification.  Without it, one loses some of the basic benefits of living in a society. You cannot open a bank account, purchase a home, or vote, and so on.  Many countries, however, don’t have a functional identification system.  In India, for example, millions of citizens are unable to benefit from social and financial services because they don’t have proper identification.  Also, current welfare databases are plagued with fake names and duplications, entered by corrupt officials. Thus, the country has embarked on a massive identification project that will be one of the largest citizens’ databases of its kind.

What Role Does Civil Society Play in Economic Development?

Sabina Panth's picture

I recently came across a fascinating initiative where civil society organizations have played a lead role in building public-private partnerships in economic development activities.  The USAID-sponsored Education for Income Generation (EIG) program has brought together local, national and international partners in galvanizing disadvantaged youth to partake in income generating activities toward increasing economic activities and peace building process in post-conflict Nepal. 

Mideast Tremors and Sub-Saharan Africa: Is There a Media Divide?

Hannah Bowen's picture

This week, as mass protests continued to sweep across North Africa and the Middle East, observers keep asking, “Where will be next?”  Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, currently under siege, has campaigned throughout his long tenure for African unity, arguing that the similarities tying the continent together outweigh the differences. The events of the past few weeks have highlighted differences between North and Sub-Saharan Africa, however, including one which may be critical in determining whether long-serving leaders south of the Sahara face the same challenges Qadhafi is now battling: access to media and communication technology.

This issue was strikingly evident in Zimbabwe on Saturday, when police arrested nearly 50 people who had gathered to watch videos of international media coverage of the events unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt. As reported in the New York Times, the gathering “allowed activists who had no Internet access or cable television to see images from the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt” and was intended to start a discussion on the implications of these events for Zimbabwe.

Africa's Evolving Infosystems

Antonio Lambino's picture

Our fascination with information and communication technologies (ICTs) crosses many borders.  The public, private, and nonprofit sectors are all atwitter about it.  The same goes for young and old, rich and poor, and the many groups in between.  For the more affluent, it’s partly about aesthetic coolness and conspicuous consumption.  For geeks, it’s partly about what the newest gadgets can do that previous versions could not.  From a development perspective, it’s partly about more effective and efficient delivery of public and private goods and services.  And for all, it probably has something to do with enhanced opportunities for connections among people who might not have known of each other’s existence otherwise.  So, indeed, our fascination with ICTs crosses many borders.

It was this insight that I took away from a lunchtime seminar jointly organized by CommGAP, infoDev, and the Africa Governance and Anti-Corruption (GAC)-in-Projects Team at the World Bank.  At the event, Prof. Steven Livingston presented findings from his new study published by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies entitled Africa’s Evolving Infosystems: A Pathway to Stability and Development.  Summarizing field research from at least six countries in the region, Livingston reasons that

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

POLIS Journalism and Society (LSE)
After Tunisia and Egypt: towards a new typology of media and networked political change

"Social media did not ’cause’ the revolutions in Tunisia or Egypt. But if I want to find out where the next uprising in the Middle East might occur, that is certainly where I would look. Social media is now a useful indicator, if not predictor, of political change.

And regardless of the causal relationship, social media does seem to be a critical factor in the evolution of a new networked kind of politics.

Of course, the most important pre-conditions for revolution are economic. Both Tunisia and Egypt had recently suffered economic downturns on top of gross income inequality in societies that are relatively developed."

Deconstructing People Power

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

If you're interested in some of the nuts and bolts behind "people power," this short piece on nonviolent resistance is worth checking out. As my colleague Anne noted in her earlier post on coalition building, even the most amorphous-looking of crowds often have a strategy and discipline behind them that is based on core principles and smart organizational strategy. 

The article highlights three key ingredients for success: 1) overcoming fear and obedience/apathy; 2) targeted noncooperation; and 3) nonviolent discipline. Of these, the fascinating one to me (from a CommGAP perspective) is the first one: after all, this basically entails engineering a mass (and rapid) shift in public opinion under what must be, by definition, adverse circumstances. How does this occur when the government is able to literally pull the plug on major communication channels? Could it have something to do with the nature or robustness of the public sphere in the country concerned? I suspect it does, but unfortunately we do not yet have the tools or the conceptual frameworks to properly consider this question (from an operationally oriented development perspective rather than an academic standpoint). At the very least, it would be worth exploring how we might develop frameworks and diagnostics that would shed further illumination on these important events.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Transparency International
No Impunity for Corrupt Dictators

“The recent events in Tunisia and Egypt have demonstrated the power of citizens who won’t endure corrupt governments any longer. Their call for accountable and transparent leadership to ensure an equal distribution of public goods was heard around the world.

In France, the UK and Switzerland governments heeded calls to freeze and investigate the assets of ex-president of Tunisia Ben Ali and ex-president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak and their families. There should be no impunity for those who wield power for their own benefit and not for their people.”

Bring in the Hooligans - Lessons in Coalition Building

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

A lesson in coalition building comes to us from Egypt via the New York Times. In an analysis of the build-up to the Egyptian Revolution, two NYT reporters show us how careful planning of events and allies led to one of the most important political events of our time in the region. The coalition that made such an impact consists of young people from Serbia, Tunisia, and Egypt, American and Russian intellectuals (some of them dead), Facebook groups, marketing specialists - and hooligans.

The People versus the Leviathan

Sina Odugbemi's picture

 "Only fools, pure theorists, or apprentices fail to take public opinion into account."

Jacques Necker (1792) finance minister to King Louis XVI of France.
 

Recent events confirm, once again, that public opinion is the basis of power, and the very definition of legitimacy. If it comes to pass that the preponderance of the citizens of a country come to despise or hate their rulers...an event that occurs over a period of time and is the outcome of  experiences, debate and discussion ... that crystallization of public opinion is a serious development, one capable of leading to momentous consequences. The regime in question becomes a hollow leviathan. One can only hope that autocratic leaders as well as the cynical technocrats who advise them are paying attention to the lessons of both recent and ongoing struggles between citizens and a variety of autocracies. 

Polarization and Accountability: An Unlikely Pair?

Antonio Lambino's picture

Listening to at least two sides of an argument is usually a good thing.  But when it comes to sustaining mass public action, this may not be the case.  For most people, the willingness to take a stand in the public arena, despite the risk of injury or death, requires clarity, courage, and the dogged pursuit of a vision shared with like-minded others.  If saddled with the weight of competing considerations, people might just decide to stay home.

Sotto Voce?

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

Recently I read yet another paper advancing the idea that governance reforms should take a back seat to economic development. To which, as I watch the ongoing footage from the Middle East, I must respond: really?
 
If there is nothing else that recent events in Egypt have taught us, it is that people, everywhere, demand a voice. Not all democracy templates are universally applicable. But citizens of any country surely desire the freedom to express themselves, and count themselves heard. It's not merely a human right; it's a human fact. 
 
Many development agencies have been caught off balance by recent developments in the Middle East, and are scrambling to adjust. Why? Because we, the collective development community, still have no real way to think about issues of voice, accountability, representation, politics, and power. Our assessment templates only marginally, if at all, take into account such crucial issues; operationally, we have no established methods of building such issues into our work. Even now, governance remains a road hesitantly trod, skirting the outside of the development mainstream. And yet I challenge anyone who has watched recent global events unfold to argue that governance and politics do not matter in people's everyday lives.

Focal Points and Affairs to Remember

Taeku Lee's picture

What do the ongoing social revolution in Cairo, Egypt and the 1957 movie, An Affair to Remember, have in common? 

The answer: Thomas Schelling

It has been nearly impossible not to watch transfixed to a television or listen raptly by a radio to the unfolding news about the demands of Egyptians from all walks of life for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.  One aspect of this remarkable bottom-up demand for accountability has thus far received little attention: Why Tahrir Square?

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

By The People (America.gov)
Civil Society and Social Media

“The term “civil society” can seem almost as amorphous as the term “social media.”  Yet the two are becoming ever more powerfully linked to the promotion of democracy and human rights in the modern world.

Civil society can encompass any collection of nongovernmental activists, organizations, congregations, writers and/or reporters.  They bring a broad range of opinions to the marketplace of ideas and are considered critical to a vibrant, well-functioning democracy.  Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has described a free civil society as the third critical element to democracy – the other two being a representative government and a well-functioning market.”

Bashing the Bank: Assessing the Efficacy of CSO Advocacy

John Garrison's picture

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have been targeting the World Bank Group for 25 years in an effort to influence its economic, social, and environmental policies.  Many of these advocacy campaigns have been quite contentious and critical over the years, the most visible being the ‘50 Years is Enough' campaign of the 1990s which called for the abolishment of the Bank.  While this particular campaign was obviously not successful, it is clear that some of the most important Bank reforms adopted over the years – environmental safeguards, compliance mechanisms, and access to information – were spearheaded by civil society. 

Development 2.0: Three Things We Could be Doing Better

Tanya Gupta's picture

Recently I blogged about how development institutions are not making effective use of social media for development.  But what can be done about it?  In this blog I suggest three specific actions that development institutions can take to proactively include social media in their projects, and discuss some sectors where Web 2.0 could make a real difference. For the sake of simplicity, I will use the terms interchangeably, however for inquiring minds, Web 2.0 and social media have slightly different meanings.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Full Disclosure: The Aid Transparency Blog (Devex)
Recipient Governments Must Boost Transparency, Too: The Case of India

“‘Watch out, aid wallahs’ and ‘Payback time for corrupt panchayats’ have become catchphrases for a new generation striving for development in India.

The Right to Information Act, originally intended to halt corruption and encourage transparency, has become a tool for poor communities to access and realise their right to development.

Parbati, a soap seller from Kalur in Tamil Nadu, had not received her pension for five years until her grandson heard about the law and they jointly requested information on the delay from their local officials. A week later, Parbati’s new pension book was in her hand.”

Taking What We Don't Know Seriously

Antonio Lambino's picture

There are three criteria for testing hypotheses on why people think and/or act the way they do.  First, there must be covariation.  That is, one phenomenon, such as watching a shampoo ad on TV, must be associated with another phenomenon, such as liking or buying the shampoo being advertised.  Second, there is the criterion called temporal order.  For instance, watching the ad should come before buying the shampoo.  Third, we must make a case against other likely explanations.  Following the shampoo example above, it's likely that a person who is predisposed to buying a product is also likely to pay attention to an ad about it.  Perhaps there's something about the person, such as having particularly thick hair or split ends, that explains both behaviors.  So how do we know that watching the ad causes the purchasing behavior?  We usually don’t know for sure.  But that doesn’t seem to stop intelligent and highly educated marketing and advertising executives from making decisions that lead to a whole lot of advertising. 

Social scientists, including communication scholars, have studied the possible determinants of a host of behaviors -- not just buying products, but also volunteering for community organizations, participating in political activities (e.g., voting), binge drinking, and using condoms.  And empirical research designs range from experiments, with carefully manipulated conditions (attempting to meet the three criteria above) to cross-sectional studies that do not bring us quite as close to being able to say whether a behavioral hypothesis is supported.  There are, of course, pros and cons for various designs and methods, which are standard fare in most introductory methods courses.

Just Because the Revolution Will Not Be Digital Does Not Mean it Will Not Happen

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Much is being made of ICT and social media in the context of public protests. Governments in distress clearly seem to believe in their power, since they continue to try, sometimes successfully, switching off the many-to-many communication channels that protestors use to organize themselves and to distribute information and materials. When new media were truly new and scholars wondered about the phenomenon and its political effects for the first time, the major question was whether ICT could mobilize people that would not otherwise have been politically active or whether it is "merely" a channel for the already active to organize themselves more efficiently.