Syndicate content

Universal principles in revolutionary times

Nicholas van Praag's picture

 

   Demonstrating for the right to rights

I remember a Russian diplomat in Geneva in the 1980s telling me that his country believed strongly in the centrality of human rights. It was just that back in the USSR the hierarchy was different from countries on the other side of the iron curtain: individual rights mattered, but less than people’s collective rights to health, education, jobs and so on.

I was not much impressed; and the collapse of the Soviet Union soon gave the lie to that regime’s paternalistic take on the relative significance of different categories of rights – political, social and economic.  

 

The medium and its message: how new media is changing the dynamic of dissent

Nicholas van Praag's picture

 

    Grand old man of the medium Photo: Reckon, Chris Weige

The role of cell phones and new media in mobilizing people on the streets of Egypt and Tunisia has evinced as much interest in some quarters as the grievances that lie behind the unrest.

Some commentators dismiss this fascination as a cliché driven by the born-in America phenomena of Twitter and Facebook. But make no mistake: these new types of media are flattening the hierarchical media environments long held in the iron grip of governments and elite owners of the means of communication.

Their grip on these levers of control remains strong, as we have seen in Egypt these past few days, but the advent of new media threatens the continued dominance of top-down communication.

That’s a big change; one that empowers ordinary people in a potentially revolutionary way. According to Jason Liebman, co-founder of Movements.org, “these technologies not only shrink the world by allowing us to communicate with more people than ever—but they enable every person to be an activist for peace and human rights”.

His organization provides a go-to site for movements around the world where they can find how-to guides, case studies, and blog posts about digital activism.

Elections and their limits

Nicholas van Praag's picture

We have heard many calls this past week for free and fair elections to create order, or at least legitimacy, out of frustration and rage. But elections may not always do the trick -- or the many tricks -- that people expect of them. In this interview, Professor Jack Goldstone of George Mason University, who authored a paper for the WDR on Representational Models and Democratic Transitions in Fragile and Post-Conflict States, discusses the limits of the ballot box as a tool of reconciliation and the conditions necessary for elections to play their part in complex transitions.

WATCH:

Democracy and the foundations of legitimacy

Nicholas van Praag's picture

This post is part of a series of interviews with members of the WDR 2011 Advisory Council.

With the ongoing protests and calls for democratic reform in Egypt -- and in other parts of the Arab world -- there is a lot of interest in the grievances and aspirations that lie behind the unrest. In this interview, Mr. Louis Michel, a member of the WDR 2011 Advisory Council and member of the European Parliament, discusses the role of the state and the foundations of legitimacy.

WATCH:


South Sudan: the dangers within

Nicholas van Praag's picture

 

300
    Rational exuberance? Photo: RRS

With a large majority in favor of independence in South Sudan, according to preliminary results from the independent poll body in Juba, the threat of conflict with the North is receding. The main challenges the country faces going forward are likely to come from within.

As we have seen, from Timor-Leste to Liberia, it takes time, strong national leadership and appropriate international support to escape the kind of violent conflict South Sudan has known for more than half of the past 60 years.

We also know there are many false dawns. Fragile states are wracked by repeated cycles of violence that come in a dizzying array of forms—with civil war often coexisting with criminal or gang-related violence.

How to stop these cycles of violent conflict is the focus of the 2011 WDR. Its central thesis is that resilient institutions are the best available antidote to the economic, political and security stress factors that overwhelm fragile states and trap them in repetitive violence.

But before you can start bolstering institutions with any likelihood of success, you need to win public confidence. In most places this means instilling a sense that things will change for the better.

That’s hard when hopes have been dashed many times over. Finding the right narrative and taking actions that will persuade people to suspend their disbelief is a huge challenge for leaders trying to prevent further violence.

From finger pointing to building confidence in Haiti

Nicholas van Praag's picture

 

   

Waiting for a signal. Photo: Haiti's Tent City. Edyta Materka.

The first anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake has seen a lot of finger pointing. The country's Prime Minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, faults the donors for failing to open the tap on promised funds. Others blame his government and the legions of NGOs and aid workers for not getting their act together.

As the recriminations reverberate, the bottom line is that ordinary Haitians—with 800,000 of them still living in temporary shelters—don’t see much improvement in their lives. Many, it is reported, feel abandoned by both their government and the international community.

The Prime Minister recognizes things need to move faster and blames the donors who, he says, insist on funding things like education, infrastructure and transport. If the government had its way, the focus would be on clearing the rubble that still dominates the cityscape in the capital Port au Prince and other parts of the country, he says.

What to do to seize the initiative in a country which has known only trauma and deceptions for the past many decades?

There’s no right answer but actions that build confidence would be a big first step. This finding from research for the 2011 WDR—which looks at violence, security and development—certainly resonates in Haiti.

A new beginning for Southern Sudan?

Ian Bannon's picture

 

    A new beginning? Photo: Joseph Kiheri

This weekend we saw people lining up all across southern Sudan to vote in a referendum on whether they should remain part of Sudan or become Africa's newest nation. This vote was a key provision of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which created a framework for a new start after decades of conflict.

Whatever the outcome, the challenges in Southern Sudan are daunting. Some 51 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and more than half are under the age of eighteen. Only 27 percent of the adult population is literate. You can read more about Southern Sudan’s indicators here.

But as this month’s World Bank web story points out, there have been major accomplishments on the ground since the Bank reengaged in the country. There are now roads, schools, and health facilities where there were none before. Security has improved and government capacity has been built up. Yet much more needs to be done.

As we await the referendum results, the World Bank and other partners are committed to lending their support. We need to sustain progress so far and deepen cooperation in support of Southern Sudan’s own emerging development strategy—one which must aim for a future that is less dependent on oil, as our recent Country Economic Memorandum stressed.

This presents an opportunity to try out new ideas in an environment which is open to fresh thinking and new ways of doing business. The Bank's policies on assistance for fragile and conflict-affected states now provide greater room to innovate than in the past.

Whither Côte d’Ivoire?

Nicholas van Praag's picture

 

    Don't assume anything.   Photo source FP.

The stand-off between Messrs Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara in Côte D’Ivoire highlights the new role of regional organizations in dealing with the challenges of irresponsible leadership in their own backyards.

In microeconomics we assume perfect information in the same way we often assume responsible leadership in fragile states. While the former is a convenient analytical artifice, the latter can be downright misleading.  

 

It is important to recognize this because our prescriptions for building public confidence and conflict-resistant institutions are predicated on a view of national leadership that may be the exception rather than the rule.

 

Leaders in violence-prone places are not necessarily thinking of some higher good when they choose a particular course of action. Many see their responsibility in narrow terms; an obligation that goes no further than serving their own self-interest and looking out for their friends.

 

These kinds of behaviors are hard to influence where politics is played as a zero sum game. To change them, the United Nations, the World Bank, and some bilateral agencies have supported programs to foster cooperative leadership and build coalitions. This takes a long time to show results and, of course, there’s no guarantee such a soft approach will work in a high stakes environment.   

 

Another way is to spell out the consequences of things turning sour. The diplomatic and development community tried this in Zimbabwe in the early 2000s by underlining the growing gap in social and economic outcomes between Zimbabwe and its neighbors.

 

The curse of treasure in fragile states

Nicholas van Praag's picture
 
    Bless them.   Photo source Wikipedia.

As people return from the holiday break in early January, the citizens of south Sudan will be voting in a long-awaited referendum.  Polls suggest there will be a big majority in favor of southern independence. Boosting people’s hopes for the new state are its oil reserves worth some $2 billion a year.

Sorting out how the North and South will divvy up the benefits of oil is not clear.  While most of the oil is in the South, the export and refining infrastructure is in the North. Revenues are currently shared roughly 50-50 but there is no agreement yet over the fate of Abyei, a significant oil producing region on the North/South border.

Still, the prospect of oil revenues is central to southern thinking about financing its way to a better future. Assuming the problems with the north are sorted out, are they right to see their natural resource endowment as the basis for future prosperity?

To vote or not to vote

Nicholas van Praag's picture
  

A vote too soon?    Photo © Corbis

The wisdom of elections in fragile places is questioned by those who fear they will exacerbate tensions and provoke the kind of violence we saw in Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti last week.  This poses a big question: whether to plough ahead regardless or to hold-off on elections until conditions are propitious.

While some conflict experts argue it would be better to wait, many citizens are keen to vote. It’s humbling to see the determination of people in fragile countries who put up with threats to their safety and long lines at polling booths, as well as fraud and intimidation.

Is this another example of hope triumphing over experience?  Perhaps, but it also demonstrates people’s desire to have their voices heard and to influence the course of their lives. So we need to think hard before postponing plebiscites.

Electoral politics are always polarizing, no matter where.  I remember watching CNN night after night in my hotel room in Almaty, Kazakhstan during the hanging chad saga that followed the US presidential elections in November 2000.  Even at a distance of 10,000 kilometers, the negative energy was palpable.  After weeks of wrangling, it took US citizens a while to unwind and accept the outcome.

Pages