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Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

Digital technology means development is now happening outside the system
The Guardian
I recently spent an evening at the University of Sussex talking to students interested in a career in the international development and non-profit sectors. That might not sound particularly interesting at first, except that I've never had a job in either. There's a general assumption – and not an unreasonable one – that if you want a career helping solve some of the bigger challenges facing people and the planet that you reach out and volunteer, intern and work at some of the largest institutions taking on those problems. But there is another way. A few decades ago, if you wanted a career in development you'd have to be a teacher, doctor or build dams. The spread of the internet and the march of the mobile phone have changed all that. Now, anyone with a computer and internet connection can build an app in their bedroom that helps to improve the lives of millions of people around the world, or develop an idea which goes viral. And I speak from experience, developing text messaging platform FrontlineSMS a few years ago with little funding or resources, which now is driving thousands of social change projects in more than 170 countries.

Studies Show: People Want Democracy to Deliver the Goods
Foreign Policy
Does the average person consider governance when they think about the things that affect their everyday lives? In a new Overseas Development Institute (ODI) paper that assesses views on governance based on survey data from around the world, we find that they do. But governance has many aspects, and there are some that are more important to people than others. In general, people seem to be concerned first and foremost about state performance and the ability of governments to deliver on key needs and expectations in areas including economic management, growth stimulation, job creation, health, education, or a more equitable distribution of goods and services. Corruption is a central part of this story, since it has such a big impact on people's satisfaction with their governments and their perceptions of its performance overall.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

Behind a Pattern of Global Unrest, a Middle Class in Revolt
Bloomberg BusinessWeek
For months now, protestors have gathered in the capitals of many developing nations—Turkey, Ukraine, Thailand, Venezuela, Malaysia, and Cambodia, among others—in demonstrations united by some key features. In nearly all these places, protestors are pushing to oust presidents or prime ministers they claim are venal, authoritarian, and unresponsive to popular opinion. Nearly all these governments, no matter how corrupt, brutal, and autocratic, actually won election in relatively free polls. And in nearly all these countries the vast majority of demonstrators hail from cosmopolitan areas: Kiev, Bangkok, Caracas, Istanbul, and other cities. The streets seem to be filled with the very people one might expect to support democracy rather than put more nails in its coffin.

Where Did Press Freedom Suffer Most in 2013? Online.
PBS Media Shift
This month the Committee to Protect Journalists released its annual analysis of Attacks on the Press, including a “Risk List” of the places where press freedom suffered most in 2013. As you might expect, conflict areas filled much of the list — Syria, Egypt, Turkey — but the place on the top of the list was not a country. It was cyberspace. In the past, the list has focused on highlighting nations where freedom of the press are under attack, but this year CPJ wrote, “We chose to add the supranational platform of cyberspace to the list because of the profound erosion of freedom on the Internet a critical sphere for journalists worldwide.” Including cyberspace is a recognition that, at least in terms of press freedom and freedom of expression, the web is not virtual reality, it is reality.

How's Your Inner Autocrat Doing These Days?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

One of the things I find endlessly fascinating about human beings is the gap between our avowed values and our behavior when we come under pressure. I have come to believe that your values are the ones that shape your conduct when you are dealing with a tough, high pressure situation or a life crisis, not the values you spout when you are showing off at the dinner table. Pieties are all too easy. What do you do when the going gets tough? What values truly underpin your conduct? I notice this most often when people claim to be profoundly devout, and they want you to know it. They claim an aura of sanctity. I have learned not to argue with them. I wait until they have to deal with complexity and then see what they do. You’d be amazed what some of these people get up to. More often than not, piety flies out of the window.

Look around you today. We are all supposed to be democrats these days. We love openness, inclusiveness, and transparency— everybody counts, every voice matters. But what do we do when the going gets tough? Let’s reflect on a few current situations around the world.

10 Killer Facts on Democracy and Elections

Duncan Green's picture

Ok this is a bit weird, but I want to turn an infographic into a blogpost. The ODI, which just seems to get better and better, has just put out a 10 killer facts on elections and democracy infographic by Alina Rocha Menocal, and it’s great. Here’s a summary:

Hurling Elections at Complexity

Sina Odugbemi's picture

It keeps happening, this pell-mell rush to elections. A country is struggling to come out of conflict we insist on elections straightaway. A country has just survived decades of colonial or authoritarian rule, we insist on elections immediately. The elections happen in some often ramshackle, rough and ready manner then we claim that a new democracy has been born.  And we pile on all the expectations of ‘democratic governance’.

And who is the ‘we’ above? That strange creature known as the international community, that’s what.

That this business of hurling ‘elections’ at complexity often ends in tears has not deterred the international community, has not led to a reconsideration of the formula. Each time the effort breaks down in a particular country what is the new cry? Fresh elections of course, as soon as possible!

There are enormous problems bedeviling this approach. The main one is that it resolutely ignores the fact that you cannot build a stable constitutional democracy (more about the formal features in a moment) unless certain structural factors are in place. For instance, one of the things that I find upsetting is how people fail to realize that if you simply rush to elections in a country run until that point as a well-developed authoritarian state, especially if these are winners-take-all elections, what the victors inherit is not a democratic state. What they inherit is an authoritarian state. What do you think the victors are going to do? They are going to use the powers, tools and habits of the authoritarian state to serve their own interests and crush their opponents.  And they will claim to be able to do so in the name of something called democracy. That is what happened in post-colonial states in places like Africa and eventually led to all manner of civil wars.

Media (R)evolutions: Change in Percentage Internet Users and Democracy Scores, 2002-2011

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very differently from today's, and will have very little resemblance to yesterday's.

This week's Media (R)evolutions: Change in Percentage Internet Users and Democracy Scores, 2002-2011.

Note: "On the vertical axis is the change in percent of a country's population online over the last decade.  The horizontal axis reflects any change in the democratization score- any slide toward authoritarianism is represented by a negative number."

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.

ICT Works
The Choice Between Facebook and Running Water Isn’t Obvious

"Over the past several years two seemingly independent ideas have been gaining traction:

  1. New technology allows developing nations to leapfrog over traditional growth patterns (M-PESA, long-range wi-fi).
  2. The increasing move towards “convenience models” may be pointing the US’ tech sector away from innovation (Peter Thiel’s “they promised us flying cars but instead we got 140 characters”).

In a recent working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, economist Robert J. Gordon writes that the US’ current wave of innovation is less of a step forward and more of a lateral move, merely finding novel ways to use innovations made 20 years ago, sitting him squarely alongside Thiel. To illustrate, Gordon asks the following hypothetical question between two options, A and B:

With option A you are allowed to keep 2002 electronic technology, including your Windows 98 laptop accessing Amazon, and you can keep running water and indoor toilets; but you can’t use anything invented since 2002. Option B is that you get everything invented in the past decade right up to Facebook, Twitter, and the iPad, but you have to give up running water and indoor toilets. You have to haul the water into your dwelling and carry out the waste. Even at 3am on a rainy night, your only toilet option is a wet and perhaps muddy walk to the outhouse. Which option do you choose?" READ MORE

What are the Ingredients of Democratic Breakthroughs?

Duncan Green's picture

The United States Institute of Peace has a very interesting paper out on ‘Democratic Breakthroughs: the Ingredients of Successful Revolts.’ It's a bit reductionist, but identifies some potentially informative patterns. This from the summary:

The cases of successful breakthrough examined in this study are the Soviet Union in 1991 and Russia in 1993, Poland in 1989, Serbia in 2000, Ukraine in 2004, Indonesia by 1999, Chile in 1988, and South Africa by 1996. Cases of failed and then ultimately successful democratic transition are Ghana by 2000, Mexico by 2000, South Korea by 1987, and Turkey by 1983. Finally, the cases of failed transition examined are Algeria in 1991, Iran in 1979, China in 1989, and Azerbaijan in 2005.

Twitter vs. Facebook: Bringing Transparency to the Middle East

Tanya Gupta's picture

Think about it:

  • Twitter limits all "conversations" to 140 words
  • Twitter allows privacy whereas Facebook is based on discovery of relationships
  • Twitter relationships can be one way, the way real relationships often are (we all “know” President Obama but he knows very few of us) whereas Facebook is always a two way street

 

Wherever democracy is absent or weak, for example in a dictatorship or a monarchy, there could be a high price to pay for any open expressed dissension.  Twitter allows anonymity for those who push for transparency and democracy.  Although one can exist without the other, studies show that the two are highly linked.

A 2011 study from the University of Washington entitled “Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?” showed that social media, via Twitter, played a vital role during the revolutionary movements in Tunisia and Egypt.  The authors said “for the first time we have evidence confirming social media’s critical role in the Arab Spring”.  The project created a database of information collected from Twitter, analyzing more than 3 million Tweets based on keywords used, and tracking which countries thousands of individuals tweeted from during the revolutions.

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