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Quote of the Week: David Brooks

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"Too many of our images of Africa are derived from nature documentaries, fund-raising appeals and mission trips.”

- David Brooks – a columnist for the New York Times Op-Ed section and a commentator on the PBS NewsHour.  He is the author of "Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There," “On Paradise Drive : How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense,” and most recently “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement,” published in March 2011.

Is Advocacy Only Feasible in Formal Democracies? Lessons from 6 Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives in Vietnam

Duncan Green's picture

Andrew Wells-Dang (right) and Pham Quang Tu (left) on how multi-stakeholder initiatives can flourish even in relatively closed political systems such as Vietnam

How can NGOs be effective advocates in restrictive political settings? Global comparative research (such as this study by CIVICUS on ‘enabling environments’) often concludes that at least a modest degree of formal democracy is necessary for civil society to flourish…including, but not limited to NGOs. Yet our experiences in Vietnam, which is commonly thought to be one of those restrictive settings, have shown that there is somewhat more space to carry out advocacy than appears at first blush – if advocates have a clear understanding of the national context and appropriate advocacy strategies.

We’ve seen effective advocacy take place around environmental and health issues through the initiatives of networks of formal and informal actors. At times, such as the disputes over bauxite mining in the Central Highlands (see here and here), networks have gone beyond the ‘invited spaces’ of embedded advocacy to boundary-stretching strategies of blogging, petitions and media campaigns. These actions defy the standard state-society dichotomy, bringing together activists and officials, intellectuals and community groups from around the country. At base is a realisation that social and policy problems are too big and chaotic to be resolved by state or non-state actors alone.

How to Fix Fragile States? The OECD Reckons it’s All Down to Tax Systems.

Duncan Green's picture

‘Over-generous tax exemptions awarded to multinational enterprises often deprive fragile states of potential revenues that could be used to fund their most pressing needs.’ Another broadside from rent-a-mob? Nope, it’s the ultra respectable OECD in its Fragile States 2014 report.

After years of growth, aid to fragile states started to fall in 2011, so the report centres around an urgent call for OECD member states to help their more fragile cousins find a post-aid arrangement that funds essential state functions and builds the ‘social contract’ with citizens.

The key is a shift from aid dependence to ‘domestic resource mobilization’ (taxes and natural resource royalties), currently averaging a feeble 14% of GDP across fragile states and far too dependent on royalties from oil, gas and mineral extraction. Foreign direct investment (factories, farms etc) is generally low in volume and volatile.

Can Aid Donors Really 'Think and Work Politically'? Plus the Dangers of 'Big Man' Thinking, and the Horrors of Political Science-Speak

Duncan Green's picture

Spent an enjoyable couple of days last week with the ‘thinking and working politically’ (TWP) crew, first at a follow up to the Delhi meeting (nothing earth shattering to report, but a research agenda is on the way – I’ll keep you posted), and then at a very moving memorial conference for the late Adrian Leftwich (right), who is something of a founding father to this current of thought.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of this line of thinking: understanding and engaging with the underlying issues of power and politics should be the heart of any serious work on development.

But based on last weeks exchanges, I’ve got some concerns too – here are some reflections:

First some choice quotes:
 

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 for what? The usefulness of publicly available budget information in African countries 
ODI

“Advocacy and civil society groups around the world are increasing their calls for governments to publish budgets and expenditure reports, not least in Africa, where budget transparency remains low by global standards. However, while governments are often praised internationally for the number and type of budget documents they release, less attention is given to the content of these documents and whether they allow for meaningful budget analysis. This note considers whether the budget documents released by African governments are sufficiently comprehensive to answer basic questions about budget policy and performance.”  READ MORE

Five steps to more meaningful youth engagement 
Global Development Professionals Network Partner Zone 

“Today's young leaders are taking on a variety of meaningful and dynamic roles in development organisations. As board members, lobbyists, activists, entrepreneurs, designers, experts, trainers, and researchers, youth are driving their own destinies by taking part in decisions that affect them and their communities. For example, Restless Development, an international youth-led development agency, supports a project in which local young people lead action research aimed at finding solutions to complex challenges in the turbulent Karamoja region of Northern Uganda. These young researchers have produced several excellent products, including Strength, Creativity, and Livelihoods of Karimojong Youth.”  READ MORE
 

Poor Countries are Losing $1 Trillion a Year to Illicit Capital Flows - 7 Times the Volume of Aid

Duncan Green's picture

I was surprised not to see more coverage of last week’s hard-hitting report from the Global Financial Integrity watchdog. Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries: 2002-2011 has a whole bunch of killer facts about the escalating haemorrhage of wealth from poor countries. Here are some highlights. My additions in square brackets/italics:

“We estimate that illicit financial outflows from the developing world totalled a staggering US$946.7 billion in 2011, with cumulative illicit financial outflows over the decade between 2002 and 2011 of US$5.9 trillion. [By way of comparison, total global aid in 2011 was $134bn (not mn as first printed -thanks to all of you who pointed this out) – 14% of illicit flows - and has fallen since, even as illicit flows keep booming. Want that as a soundbite? ‘For every dollar of aid, the South loses $7 in illicit outflows; developing countries are losing $2.6 bn a day/$108m per hour/$2m per minute/$30,000 per second’.]

This gives further evidence to the notion that illicit financial flows are the most devastating economic issue impacting the global South.  Large as these numbers are, perhaps the most distressing take-away from the study is just how fast illicit financial flows are growing. Adjusted for inflation, illicit financial flows out of developing countries increased by an average of more than 10 percent per year over the decade. Left unabated, one can only expect these numbers to continue an upward trend.

Thinking and Working Politically: An Exciting New Aid Initiative

Duncan Green's picture

Gosh I love my job. Last week I attended a workshop in Delhi to discuss ‘thinking and working politically’. A bunch of donors, academics, NGOs and others (Chatham House rules, alas, so no names or institutions) taking stock on how they can move from talk to walk in applying more politically informed thinking to their work.

That means both trying to do the normal stuff better (eg understanding the politics that determines whether your water or education programme gets anywhere) and in more transformational work trying to shift power from haves to have nots.

The meeting was convened by some very practical (‘what do I do on Monday Morning’) aid people keen to move on from what they see as the overly academic (‘needs more research’) character  of discussions on governance, institutions, state-building and all its obfuscatory language (‘What we don’t need is lots of people talking about isomorphic mimicry, rules of the game and political settlements’).

The purpose of this discussion was to take the growing body of research from the Development Leadership Programme, Tom Carothers, ODI, Matt Andrews, ESID etc and turn it into programme ideas that can be tested on the ground. A giant ‘do tank’ exercise, in fact. Alarmingly, I can’t think of other examples of such an explicit research →hypothesis→test process on governance (unlike drugs research, say).

Some impressions:

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.

Are Women Really Less Corrupt Than Men?
Slate

“Will electing more women to office make governments less corrupt? One new paper suggests in might—but the reason for that is not necessarily encouraging.

Previous research has suggested an association between a politician’s gender and their likelihood to engage in corrupt behavior. A World Bank study from 2001, for instance, found that “one standard deviation increase in [female participation in government] will result in a decline in corruption... of 20 percent of a standard deviation". This perception has been behind some well-publicized campaigns, such as Mexico City’s plan to employ all-female traffic cops in some areas.”  READ MORE

The Idealist: A Brilliant, Gripping, Disturbing Portrait of Jeffrey Sachs

Duncan Green's picture

For The Idealist, Nina Munk, a Vanity Fair journo, stalked Jeffrey Sachs for six years, focusing on his controversial Millennium Villages Project (MVP). She interviewed the man, sat in on his meetings with bigwigs, and hung around the Millennium Villages to find out what happened when the Prof’s entourage moved on.

The result is more subtle than a simple hatchet job. She portrays Sachs as a man of almost pathological drive and egotism, which both leads to big successes (massive victories on distribution of free anti-malarial bednets for example) and to a refusal to listen or learn from criticism. He comes across as a kind of uber-campaigner, devoid of doubt, absolutely refusing to take no for an answer, dismissive (often in highly personal terms) of anyone who disagrees with him.

There are some memorable vignettes, captured by Munk’s unblinking observation. Sachs lecturing Uganda’s bored President Museveni about boosting farm yields with free fertilizer, when all the President wants is his cup of tea, concluding (as he leaves) ‘This is not India or China, Professor. There are no markets. There is no network. No rails. No roads. We have no political cohesion.’

Rich Countries, Poor People: Will Africa’s commodity boom benefit the poor?

Anand Rajaram's picture

Travelling across Africa these days you are likely to run into increasing numbers of mining, oil, and gas industry personnel engaged in exploration, drilling, and extraction across the continent. Although commodity prices are moderating, the discoveries being made in Africa offer the real prospect of significant revenue to many cash-poor, aid-dependent governments in the decade ahead. If you care about development, the question is whether these revenues will catalyze broad economic development and whether they will benefit the poor in Africa.


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