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Contending Visions of Development in India, more Political than Economic

Posted in Democratic Development, Education, South Asia with tags on July 30, 2013 by michaelkeating


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

As India’s general elections will take place in less than a year to elect a new government in New Delhi, political parties with support from noted economists have ratcheted up rival visions of development. Though this trend could be visible in all general elections, the forthcoming election has witnessed an unprecedented uptick of participation by noted economists.

Intense debates about India’s growth are not something new as such debates have taken place since independence. While India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru called industries as ‘temples of modern India,’ his political mentor Mahatma Gandhi was against industrialization and believed in village swaraj (self-rule). Post-independence India had witnessed the influence of Gandhi’s ideas. Nehru followed a middle path, called ‘mixed economy,’ under which heavy industries remained under state control, while small scale industries were left to private initiatives. The impact of Soviet five-year plans was evident on Indian economic strategy in those years. The preamble to India’s constitution also proclaimed India to be a ‘socialist’ country. Nehru’s thinking led to the establishment of many heavy industries and particularly under the second five-year plan, also called the Mohalanobis model, many heavy industries were established in different parts of India.

This mixed economy model was largely pursued till the late 1980s. Both India and China followed socialist models of growth. China’s opening of its economy for private sector and foreign investment in late 1970s under Deng Xiaoping led it to grow at a faster rate, while India’s economic growth tottered at a lower single digit level with slogans such as ‘garibi hatao’ (eliminate poverty) occupying center stage in policy making.

It was only in the early 1990s when India underwent an acute financial crisis that it opened its economy. It was under the stewardship of then Finance Minister, currently Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh that India invited foreign capital, provided incentives to private sectors, ended quota-permit raj, and as a result in a span of one decade India’s growth story was not only India’s story, but also a story of a rising power with Indian companies like Tata, Reliance, Bharti, etc making names and investments around the world. While in 1991 India’s foreign exchange reserves stood at $1.2 billion, in 2013 the number was more than $280 billion. India’s growth story, however, was blighted by massive corruption, indecisiveness of its leaders and internal problems.

Ahead of the forthcoming elections noted economists have argued about the most appropriate model for the country and hence have deliberately or inadvertently are linked themselves to the ideology of one or the other political party. Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate and professor at Harvard University, argued in his book Development as Freedom that development does not merely imply the building of industries or foreign exchange reserves but also the penetration of fruits of development to all layers of society including the poor and marginalized. He further argued that unless human capabilities are developed, a state cannot attain levels of just and fair growth. His academic rivals Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya, professors at Columbia University, may not disagree with Sen on this point, but they sharply disagree as to how to achieve such a goal.

The debate between the noted economists can be characterized by the dilemma as to which came first, egg or chick? The Bhagwati-Pangariya duo would argue that investment in industries, infrastructure, etc. would propel growth with positive impact on the government’s welfare activities, as growth in these sectors will have its trickle down effect. Sen would argue that without development of capabilities in terms of education, health, and the alleviation of poverty, development will not be just and fair. It will lead to asymmetrical development with the rich becoming richer, and poor becoming poorer. Bhagwati and Panagariya have a different view on this. While Sen termed India’s recent growth story as ‘uncertain,’ as reflected in the title of his recent co-authored book Uncertain Glory, an indirect reference to India’s growth story, the Columbia University professors have taken a positive approach to India’s growth story in their recent book Why Growth Matters: How Economic Growth in India Reduced Poverty and the Lessons for Other Developing Countries. (see

The intellectual debates are politicized or are being appropriated by political parties. The current debate between these two rival groups is about the efficacy of the ‘Bihar model’ (with which Sen has sympathies) and ‘Gujarat model’ (with which Bhagwati and Panagariya have sympathies). Both Indian states have witnessed growth. But, it is not the question of which model of development that has raised the debate to such a charged atmosphere; rather it is the political implications of these debates and their likely impact on electorates. Bihar the north Indian state is ruled by a regional political party called Janata Dal Untied (JD- U), and led by Nitish Kumar, while Gujarat the west Indian state, ruled by a national party called Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The state is led by Narendra Modi. Both JD-U and BJP were allies for the last 17 years till June this year. At present Kumar is a strong critic of Modi and criticizes his secular credentials for the Gujarat riots of 2002 that led to killing of more than a thousand Muslims. Interestingly, Kumar praised Modi’s leadership in 2003 in a speech, within a year of the riots. (see

Times have changed with changing aspirations. Both Kumar and Modi are now aspiring to play pivotal roles in Indian politics beyond their states. While Modi is seen as prime ministerial candidate of the BJP in forthcoming elections, Kumar has kept his political cards close to his chest though his aspirations are not hidden. The current ruling party in India , the Indian National Congress (INC) is an arch-rival of BJP; hence it has welcomed the separation of JD-U from BJP. While the economists have raised fruitful debates about India’s growth, the politicization of these debates have actually tapered much of intellectual stamina of these debates.

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also a fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy in the same university.

Game Changing Global Education

Posted in Africa, Democratic Development, Education with tags , on June 5, 2013 by michaelkeating





Conzolo Migliozzi

Think of students around the world who have limited exposure to the Internet as passengers on a captainless ship. They have no idea where they are going, and they’re unaware of the  perils that lie around them.

Then think of the most recent version of free college courseware, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), as Knowledge Islands. Not only are they safe places to land and learn, but they also point you toward other Knowledge Islands – resources like gapminder, khanacademy, free statistics software, free ebooks, and soon they’ll even grant you access to copyrighted textbooks. After visiting enough of these islands, the passenger understands how to navigate the sea, transforming from passenger to captain.

Sounds nice, but the infrastructure needed to take a MOOC doesn’t exist in the places where these courses could be most beneficial (i.e. least developed countries). You can’t take online courses with inconsistent electricity, unreliable or non-existent hardware, slow or no Internet access. The students are on leaky rafts, not ships.

To address these issues, local government and aid agencies should support MOOC initiatives. There are many ways this could take shape. For example, existing colleges could create blended courses – use MOOCs to supplement courses already being taught. This model would allow instructors to adapt the MOOC to the local context and use the college’s computer labs and technical support. Retention, which is at less than 10% for MOOCs overall, should improve because students would have an instructor to engage with and keep them on track. And students could earn college credit.

Alternatively, by-pass the traditional college model and create workforce investment boards to analyze trends in the local job market, develop certification exams based on skills sets local businesses request, and recommend MOOC courses for applicants to prepare for the exams.  Add an internship program, a computer lab with someone to assist with technical issues, and you have a mini-MOOC university.

Either approach, or a combination of the two, would allow more people to build strong educational foundations, develop problem solving skills, and access research that pushes on the edge of human knowledge. Ultimately the goal isn’t just to go from passenger to captain, but all the way to Knowledge Island creator.


Conzolo Migliozzi is an international education consultant. He is a Center Fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development and a graduate of the M.A. degree program in international relations at UMass Boston.

A Perilous Peace in Sri Lanka

Posted in Conflict Resolution, Democratic Development, Disarmament, Human Rights, South Asia, Sri Lanka with tags , , on April 28, 2013 by michaelkeating


Mukesh Chandra Baral

March was a muddled month for Sri Lanka. In the capital, Colombo, a Sinhalese Buddhist mob was filmed hooting and clapping around a destroyed clothing warehouse owned by a Tamil Muslim. The mob pelted stones on a vehicle while policemen stood by. After a week, in Kilinochchi, reportedly a mob damaged the party office of Tamil National Alliance and smashed vehicles belonging to the party. The party accused the police of not taking any initiative to quell the attacks.

The lawlessness in the country trails the three-decade long civil war that ended in May 2009. Thousands of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) fighters, along with their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, were killed. The death toll is estimated to be eighty to one hundred thousands. The civilian casualty is believed to be around forty thousands. The civilian death has been the most contentious issue since the beginning of the war.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, at the 22nd session of United Nations Human Rights Commission, which ended on 22 March 2013, world powers were pressing Sri Lanka for accountability. They wanted an investigation of horror and the atrocities allegedly carried by the government forces against Tamils during the Civil War. The session concluded with a US-sponsored resolution on human rights seeking an adequate progress in investigating killings and disappearances, mainly the brutal months at the end of the Civil War. The government spent most of March denying the past atrocities and legitimizing the ongoing mobocracy.

The call for accountability is not new for Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakshya. The UN resolution in 2012 had asked him to investigate and prosecute the violators. He had also agreed to implement the findings of Report of the Secretary- General’s Panel, which had found the allegations against the Sri Lankan Army and the government credible. But, ‘accountability’ does not look like a priority for President Rajapaksa.

His response towards any report on human rights violation by his administration has been ‘denial’. ‘Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC) focusing on restorative justice, did just that. The Commission formed by the government started the investigation but quickly cleared the military from the allegation of deliberate attack on the civilians. Other human rights group pointed out that the investigation was flawed but the LLRC took no further steps.

Accountability peddlers

The United Nations is not the only one asking Sri Lankan Government for meaningful action. EU has long joined United Nations for accountability. United States, India, Canada, and Britain are some other powers on board. While speaking during the UN resolution, the Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated US’s demand for accountability. The resolution was backed by India, one of Sri Lanka’s close neighbors, exerting further pressure on Sri Lanka. Indian government seems very concerned. It has historical reasons to be reluctant. But, it is constantly pushing Sri Lankan government for accountability.

The Commonwealth Summit scheduled to take place in Sri Lanka in November 2013 has become another headache for Sri Lanka. David Miliband, a powerful MP from the British Labor Party, is lobbying publicly to shift the venue of 23rd Commonwealth Summit. Canada is one of the toughest Sri Lankan critics among the Commonwealth nations. It has been demanding independent investigation of the atrocities since 2011.

There are other organizations like International Monetary Fund which have demanded accountability on part of the Rajapakshya administration. Sri Lanka needs to show results along the line of accountability, unless it wants to stick with countries like China for all support. No doubt, the issue has turned into an agony for Sri Lanka

Dictator in the making

The Daily Mirror, one of the prominent newspapers of Sri Lanka, in March printed pictures of an inauguration of a memorial museum by the president. The museum restored a bus and depicted monks killed by LTTE. The pictures published were disturbing and provoking. Above all, the pictures were approving the Civil-War narration of the Sinhalese majority, the victor. One could only imagine the mass impact of the museum in the long run. The war is over, but the conflict, it seems, still exists. Three decades of war has solidified an enemy image that needs to be addressed. But instead, the president himself is inaugurating the sites of one-sided narrations. That is not only intensifying the injuries but also creating further divisions between Sinhalese and Tamils.

But, president does not seem concerned about it. Probably, he is paying back for the landslide victory of 2010. Thanks to the election, his party holds clear majority in the parliament. His close relatives who constantly conform his moves are in power. His older brother Chamal Rajapaksa is the Speaker in the parliament. His younger brother Basil Rajapaksa is the Minster for Economic Development. Another brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is the defense secretary. His niece Nirupama Rajapaksa is the Minister for Water Supply. He has already a 24-year-old son in the parliament. No wonder, he is blamed for promoting nepotism in the country.

Analyzing the power distribution and the chain of events, it can be argued that he is seeking more power. This January, Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayke was impeached and forcefully removed from office. The Supreme Court later ruled the Parliamentary Select Committee’s presiding unconstitutional. But the president did not appear to be concerned about the ruling. He appointed his legal advisor Mohan Peiris as the new Chief Justice, in the midst of the Bar Association protest. The Parliament has long removed the presidential term limits. All these developments suggest that he is going for the third term. But, does he have a plan to remain in power even after? In other words, is there a dictator in the making? Well, the developments suggest, the probability is high.


No Clear Path to Suu Kyi Victory

Posted in Burma, Democratic Development with tags , on April 1, 2013 by michaelkeating



By Aung Tun
After having been ruled by successive despotic military regimes for nearly five decades Burma is in a democratic transition.  After elections in 2010 the government now led by President Thein Sein, a former military commander.  There are many challenges to the process lying ahead for pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party who entered parliament in small numbers through by-elections held last April.

With new general elections set for 2015, many believe Suu Kyi and the NLD will win in a landslide against the now ruling military-aligned United Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) if the polls are held freely and fairly. The NLD overwhelmingly won elections held in 1990, taking 80% of the seats, but the military annulled the results and maintained its iron-clad grip on power.

Suu Kyi has stated her desire to become president in 2015. But there are still three big obstacles to that be outcome. First, how can she overcome the constitutional provision that bars any Myanmar citizen whose spouse or children have foreign citizenship from assuming the presidency (Suu Kyi’s late husband was a British citizen)? Second, how would the military, which has yet to be reformed and harbors suspicions about the transition to democracy, respond to Suu Kyi’s civilian leadership? Third, will Suu Kyi be able to convince other military-linked candidates, including incumbent President Thein Sein and Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann, to pave the way for her to contest the 2015 polls?

Thein Sein stated at the Asia Society in New York during his trip to the United Nations General Assembly in late 2012 that he would consider serving a second term if the people wanted him to stay. He had previously said that he would serve only one five-year term due to health reasons. He now uses a pacemaker and presumably his health has significantly improved. At the same time, he indicated that Suu Kyi could take the presidency if the people elect her.

Thein Sein will no doubt campaign on his reform credentials, including his government’s negotiations towards ceasefires with various ethnic minority rebel groups, successful outreach to the wider world, especially the West, after decades of international isolation, and economic policies that have increased government salaries, reduced mobile phone costs and outlined plans for poverty reduction. A mass of people recently gathered at Yangon international airport to welcome Thein Sein home after a recent foreign tour, proof to some of the president’s rising grass roots popularity.

Constitutional challenge
Suu Kyi’s more pressing political challenge, however, will be to amend the 2008 constitution in a way that allows her to assume the presidency before the 2015 polls. There are signs that the military-dominated parliament may consider certain amendments, though not necessarily the current restrictions on the presidency. On March 15, both houses of parliament unanimously agreed to establish a commission to recommend changes to bring the much-criticized charter more in-line with the democratic reform process.

It is still unclear where Thein Sein and Shwe Mann, both presidential hopefuls in 2015, stand on the potential constitutional amendments. The USDP is by far the largest party in parliament with control over more than half of the upper and lower houses’ 664 seats and is fortified by the 25% of seats reserved outright for uniformed military officials. Any constitutional amendments must be approved by more than 75% of parliament, meaning the military can block any proposed changes.

Thein Sein recently handed over the USDP’s chairman to Shwe Mann, thereby giving the Lower House Speaker authority over any proposed constitutional changes. The handover of the party’s reins also means that Suu Kyi must work with Shwe Mann rather than Thein Sein to achieve changes to allow her to run for the presidency in 2015. Media speculated earlier that Suu Kyi had fallen out with Thein Sein after a period of engagement and is now on better working terms with parliamentary leader Shwe Mann.

Still, many political observers doubt Shwe Mann, currently locked in a power struggle with Thein Sein, would be willing to implement changes that undercut his own electoral chances for the presidency. Suu Kyi will need to convince both leaders that constitutional change is necessary for the country’s further democratization and development, a view Western governments and donors will no doubt support. The drive to reform the constitution will pit her idealism against the USDP’s and military’s power politics and show how far the military is willing to go towards genuine democratization.

The jockeying for presidential position has already begun. During a recent trip to observe the conflict and peace process in Kachin State, Shwe Mann said repeatedly, “I’m not a dictator”, in conversations with local people. Observers say the comments are consistent with his attempts to distance himself from the previous military junta he served as a high-ranking officer and associate himself with the country’s new democratic direction.

Even if the charter is changed in a way that allows Suu Kyi to run for president, it is not clear how the military would ultimately respond to her civilian leadership. In recent statements Suu Kyi has bid to put the military’s fears at ease, including in a BBC press interview where she expressed her long-time “fondness” for the army. More significantly, her parliamentary committee’s recommendation to continue with a controversial military-invested copper mine despite land seizures from villagers indicated a willingness to protect military commercial interests in the face of grass roots resistance. She notably referred to the need for “national reconciliation” in her committee’s recommendations.

Indeed, some political observers doubt the military will allow free and fair elections to be held in 2015 if Suu Kyi and the NLD are clearly poised to win. Whether Suu Kyi can negotiate the constitutional changes she and her party now seek and convince potential spoilers of her benign intentions will animate Myanmar’s politics in the weeks and months ahead.

Aung Tun has worked as a journalist inside Myanmar for several years and is currently based in Boston in the United States.  He is a graduate student in the International Relations program at UMass Boston.


Globalization and Social Equality

Posted in Democratic Development, Globalization, Income Equality with tags , on December 10, 2012 by michaelkeating


Rebecca Schiel

The Economist published a special report on inequality and the new progressivism and it highlighted some very interesting and counterintuitive trends in inequity in the global environment.

The report claims that while the largest inequality gaps have occurred in emerging states, the sharpest declines in inequality have also taken place there. This reversed pattern of growth in the past few decades (from richer countries to poorer ones) has narrowed global inequality while at the same time increasing inequality within individual states.  Aside from the market forces at work in emerging economies, governments have taken notice of growing social unrest and attention paid to gross inequality.

From the Arab Spring to the banking bailouts in the US the evidence of popular unrest over inequality is mounting. Governments are forced to take notice not only because inequality can cause wastefulness, but also because the poor masses will not stay dispossessed for long. And while different parts of the world view and measure inequality differently, the primary objective is to raise all boats. The report provides case studies of states/regions and their specific efforts within education and government sponsored programs aimed at eliminating inequality. Asia (China and India) and Latin America (Brazil) and their varying degrees of success and the areas of their failures are reported on below.

China experienced growth at break-neck speeds over the last 30 years and with that came unprecedented levels of inequality. Part of this trend toward unparalleled inequality has had to do with the urbanization of the workforce and the ensuing prosperity that has come to those leaving agriculture. China has taken notice that the focus of globalization on technology and innovation will primarily benefit the skilled and educated workforce and as such they have chosen to educate their urban populations. However, China is still experiencing inequality at higher levels than most other places. One of the main reasons for this inequity is the rampant cronyism in the Chinese government.  The other problem adding to inequality in China is the outdated Hokou system. Those registered as rural rather than urban are at a huge disadvantage in education, housing, and employment opportunities.

In the case of India, one is able to see not just the rampant inequality but also the great strides made in bridging the gap. The juxtaposition of these descriptions makes clear the relative quality of iniquity; sometimes the difference between a mud house and a brick house makes all the difference. The Indian government has taken up a program of rural employment whereby a wage floor is guaranteed and unemployment is being tackled. While incomes for average Indians have doubled in the last two decades, inequality has also grown. Additionally, India has experienced increased social mobility that has come from government sponsored education and infrastructure, two areas that are notoriously lacking in the slums of India. Not only has absolute mobility increased in India but so has relative mobility. In other words, parents’ economic standing has a lesser effect on the opportunities of their children. However, there are still stumbling blocks for India; among them are a lack of infrastructure, lack of basic education and attendance, and government programs that are effectively working against the poor (such as resource subsidies).

Brazil paints a much more positive picture. As the report points out Latin America traditionally had the most unequal societies but recently that trend has changed. Over the last 10 years, incomes in Latin America have exploded which has helped the poor to catch up with the rich thus bridging the inequality gap somewhat. And even though Latin America did not experience the same rapid growth of Asia (Latin America experienced growth at about ½ the rate of Asia) its poverty rate fell by almost 1/3 in the same time span. The success is largely due to government programs aimed at lessening the wage gaps for the poorest and a focus on education has created more literate and mid-skilled workers. Furthermore, an emphasis on rule of law in formerly lawless slums has created growth and prosperity where some never thought possible.

Looking at these case studies in a more general way one can discern very obvious patterns leading to both the successes and failures in facilitating growth and either widening or narrowing the inequality gaps. China and India have both focused on education thus creating a skilled workforce capable of meeting the demands of global workplace. Government programs in China, India, and Brazil have focused on the inequality problem at hand and created programs designed to spread the wealth through social spending. Brazil targeted crime in the slums and created an environment where both employment and education were possible. However, government intervention can often create negative effects. Energy subsidies in both India and China benefit only the most well-connected and effectively further impoverishes the already vulnerable. Furthermore, government wealth redistribution may be having the adverse effects on competition and the entrepreneurial spirit. While the effects of globalization may be working to undermine some of the social gains of the 20th century it may also be working to bridge the gap between the richest and poorest by way of education, increased social spending due, and an interconnected global workforce.

 Rebecca Schiel is a graduate student in the International Relations Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

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Liberia’s Efforts to Avoid the Resource Curse

Posted in Africa, Democratic Development, Education, Foreign Direct Investment, Liberia. Oil Industry, Rule of Law with tags , , , on December 10, 2012 by michaelkeating





Tara Conklin

Earlier this month, Robert Sirleaf, son of Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf, came forward to defend his appointment as head of Liberia’s nascent oil industry. Admonishing critics for their charges of nepotism and corruption, Robert declared that he has the competence and experience necessary for him to serve as Chairman of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), adding, “I owe Liberia me.”

If it seems suspect to you that President Sirleaf could find no other competent, experienced individual to serve as NOCAL Chairman, (perhaps someone less related to her?) you are not alone. The appointment of her son has raised eyebrows in Liberia and throughout the international community. She no doubt exacerbated the situation by appointing to another top NOCAL spot someone currently being prosecuted for fraudulent transactions of $2.5 million USD.

These recent appointments are just the tip of the iceberg. Liberia’s oil industry has been plagued by charges of bribery, corruption, and fraud since its inception, with companies paying off legislators and their staff for votes on oil contracts. Since these allegations were brought by Liberia’s main auditing and watchdog organization, the General Auditing Commision (GAC), no one has been prosecuted, no bribes were returned, and the deals that the GAC recommended be invalidated have remained in place. (Read details about the allegations here.) Just last month, amidst the appointment of a controversial new Auditor General, NOCAL has become embroiled in a scandal at GAC, where massive layoffs have just taken place. Allegedly, NOCAL played an instrumental role in the dismissal of GAC staff in an attempt to thwart the ongoing audit of the oil sector.

While these reports are disconcerting, it is important to note that the Sirleaf administration has been ostensibly dedicated to fighting corruption and improving accountability, vowing to improve life in the country currently ranked 182 out of 187 by increasing greater transparency. By some accounts, the administration’s anti-corruption policy stance has been widely successful. This apparent contradiction hints at the complex history of Liberia, and begs the question: how did things get this way? Perhaps more importantly, what are the steps to making the oil industry translate to development in Liberia?

Liberian citizens and officials are well aware of the “resource curse”, the paradox through which countries with an abundance of natural resources tend to do worse economically and developmentally than countries without natural resources. Discussions on how to avoid becoming the “next Nigeria”, where oil has caused conflict and stagnated development, take place often in government circles. However, it is immensely difficult to overcome a past history of corruption, resource dependence, and conflict. With natural resources including iron ore, gold, diamonds rubber, and timber, Liberia’s economy is already lacking diversification and is too heavily reliant on these resources, none of which have led to development. Under the presidency of William V.S. Tubman (1944-1971), the iron ore industry propelled Liberia to being one of the fastest growing economies in the world. This growth, rivaled at the time only by Japan, was purported to be a miracle, but in reality it did little for the vast majority of Liberian citizens. In fact, this growth without development set the stage for continued political and social instability, contributing to a bloody 14-year civil war that ended in 2003.(1) The timber trade is said to have helped finance Charles Taylor’s regime, and in recent months, renewed reports of corruption and mismanagement with the country’s timber industry have sparked environmental, economic, and governmental concerns.

With pervasive corruption, an institutionalized culture of wealth grabs, and an economy overly reliant on natural resources, it is high time to ensure that the oil industry not follow in the footsteps of the timber and iron ore industries. Entrenched politicians and powerful private interests are key players in the future of the country’s oil business, so strong political will from the top is necessary to curb “business as usual”. President Sirleaf must fulfill her campaign promises and live up to her reputation as a recent Nobel Prize winner by getting tough on corruption. To do this, watchdog organizations like the GAC and the Anti-Corruption Commission must be fully funded and fully staffed. Abuses discovered must be followed up and prosecuted by the judicial branch. The culture of impunity for elected officials must become a thing of the past. Prosecution and conviction of government officials found guilty of corruption would send a powerful message. In addition, a code of conduct for elected officials must be passed into law delineating job descriptions and methods of performance assessment.

Though Liberia is already part of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), reporting is delayed and spotty. Independent audits should be conducted to ensure accountability and revenues from the resource should be put into dedicated funds, perhaps a sovereign wealth fund (like Botswana’s Pula Fund, or perhaps more ideally, Norway’s SWF) to reinvest in other industries in Liberia and encourage diversification in the country’s economy. In addition, Liberia should utilize good judgment when deciding which companies to grant oil concessions. Companies with a reputation of transparency and based in countries that will hold them accountable back home with strong foreign anti-corruption laws are good choices.

Some measures are currently being undertaken. In November, NOCAL put forth a competitive tender for general audit of its operations, seeking a “reputable international firm”, with bids from Deloitte & Touche, Ernest & Young, and Pricewaterhouse Coopers being reported. Dr. Paul Collier, expert on the resource curse and its contribution to a country getting stuck in the “Bottom Billion”, was in Liberia in September, where he observed some promising aspects of Liberia’s oil industry. These rays of hope provide a path for Liberia to break the cycle of corruption, move past its troubled history, and dodge the “resource curse”. The administration and legislature, private sector, and watchdog groups in civil society must remain vigilant if they want Liberia’s oil wealth to make a positive change for the country. There is a way, but it will require political will that we have yet to see. Here’s hoping for a transparent, accountable, and prosperous 2013 in Liberia.

Tara Conklin is a graduate student in International Relations at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The Challenges for Burma’s Icon of Democracy

Posted in Burma, Democratic Development, Education, Ethnic Conflict, Fragile States, Rule of Law with tags , , on October 6, 2012 by michaelkeating

CPDD’s Aung Tun, a journalist and Burmese activist, reflects upon the challenges facing Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s gradual thaw.



Burma’s democracy icon, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has concluded her two weeks visit to the US, her first visit here in over 35 years. Having been released from over 15 years house arrest, she has proven that she deserved the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can give, awarded to her for her consistent leadership of the democratic movement in Burma. She is also the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

We Burmese are very, very proud of Aung San Suu Kyi’s achievement and her courage as well as her decades long leadership of our so long oppressed country’s democratic movement. She is rightly viewed all over the world as a symbol of democracy.

Though Aung San Suu Kyi is free now, and is touring around the world in her new role as a key legislator in the Burmese parliament as well as a symbol of our struggle for democracy, so many important questions about the transition to democracy in Burma, renamed by the military government in 1989 as the Union of the Republic of Myanmar, remain. We have to be able to differentiate between what’s a real transition to democracy in Burma and what’s a faux transition.  We can’t afford a mistake.

Here are some important issues that need to be addressed.

The Constitution:

The Constitution, which was one-sidedly approved by the previous military regime, reserves 25% of the seats for the military.  The holders of these seats are not elected.   This needs to be changed. Though the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has made changing the Constitution a priority, there is currently no way the NLD can change it since her party, though elected, is still not more than 10% of the Parliament.  Changing the Constitution requires approval at least 75% of the members of parliament. For a real democracy to flourish, the Constitution needs to be changed. Will it be possible to change the Constitution before the next election in 2015?  No clue yet.

The Ethnic Issue:

Burma has more than 100 ethnic minorities, most of them speaking their own language and having their own customs. This diversity would be wonderful if Burma was a federal state like the US.   But it is not.  In Burma, the government is highly centralized and the military still has enormous power.   As a result, the government has waged, and is still waging, civil war against many of these ethnic minorities, fighting, for example, against the Karen minority for over 60 years.  Even though a fragile ceasefire has recently been reached with the Karen, intensive fighting is underway in the Kachin state, in the northern part of the nation on the border with China, turning thousands of civilians into refugees. Recently, there has been much publicized ethnic violence in the Arakan state. As long as a reliable federal system cannot be established, ethnic issues will not be resolved, national reconciliation will be hindered, and consequently poverty, social, and economic development issues won’t be solved. Will Burma be able to solve its ethnic problems?  Again, no clue yet.


Burma’s higher education system has fallen apart. Universities and colleges throughout the country are inadequately staffed, have virtually no facilities, do almost no research, and have few qualified teachers. It is almost a waste of time for students in the universities. To solve this problem, Burma needs to change the educational system to allow educational institutions a healthy degree of local autonomy instead of total government control, as is the case now.   Total government interference in educational affairs is disastrous in terms of producing well-trained public service workers and highly needed skilled workers for the private sector.   Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other parliamentarians, most notably Daw Tin Nwe Oo, have proposed important educational reforms, but they have yet to be voted on. Burma needs a thriving group of intellectuals to help build the country’s future. Until meaningful educational reform is enacted, it won’t be easy to build a healthy and lasting democracy. So, will the educational system be reformed?  We will have to wait and see.


Burma was the richest country in Southeast Asia during the 1930s and 1940s. The country was the world’s biggest rice exporter at that time. Even today, at least 60% of the nearly 60 million people in Burma live in farming households. The previous military regime seized farmland by force and established crony capitalism.  Now, farmers are holding big demonstrations demanding their land back. It is not clear if the current government and the Parliament will be able to solve the problem.   The economy was also hurt by the sanctions imposed against the military government by the international community.  Now the sanctions imposed by the US will be lifted soon with Daw Aung  San Suu Kyi’s approval.  Will lifting the sanctions benefit the people at large? This, too, on the waiting list.

In sum, Burma is a changed place compared with previous years. No one can deny this. However, whether the Burmese people can create a thriving democracy remains to be seen.



Paxblog’s Darren Kew Testifies on Boko Haram

Posted in Africa, Boko Haram, Democratic Development, Fragile States, Human Rights, Humanitarianism, Nigeria, Terrorism with tags , , on July 16, 2012 by michaelkeating

The following is a transcript of Darren Kew’s testimony in front of Congress.

The Crisis in Christian-Muslim Relations in Nigeria

Testimony before the US House Subcommittee on
Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights

July 10, 2012

The recent escalation of violence between Nigeria’s Muslim and Christian communities is not a single conflict between these two great religions.  Rather, the crisis is a series of local and regional struggles, some of which feature religion as a strong motivation for conflict, while others ignite the Muslim-Christian fault line as a secondary or circumstantial matter.  Recently, however, several actors have seen interest in trying to frame these localized conflicts as a single religious contest across the Christian-Muslim divide.  US policy in the region should continue to support efforts to promote religious tolerance and improved governance in Nigeria, while avoiding actions that could feed the perception that the United States is ready to take sides.

A Complex, Explosive Context

With over 150 million people belonging to over 200 nationalities, and nearly evenly divided between Christians and Muslims in a federation of 36 states, Nigeria poses a difficult environment for peace and development under the best of circumstances.  Several contextual factors are particularly important for understanding the recent escalation of violence igniting the religious divide:

Nigeria has undergone a dramatic demographic shift in its number of Christians over the last 20 years.  Heavy Christian proselytizing in the minority-dominated regions of the “Middle Belt,” in the northeast, and in the far Northern regions of the country has won numerous converts in these areas, fueling resentment among some members of Muslim communities.  Some Islamic sects also proselytize in Christian majority regions, but they have been far less successful.  Initially, both religions focused their expansion efforts on practitioners of traditional religions, but now that most of these have been converted, Christians and Muslims have largely turned the proselytizing race on each other.  Ethnic minorities that were once alone and dominated by majority groups, particularly by the largely Muslim Hausa, have found new political power in being part of a larger Christian community, giving them increasing leverage in the struggle over scarce resources.

The leading contenders for the April 2011 presidential elections were President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, and retired Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim, giving the race religious undertones.  Widespread perception among supporters of Gen. Buhari that President Jonathan’s ruling party rigged him the victory led to outbreaks of violence in key cities of the north, particularly Kaduna, which is evenly divided between Muslims and Christians.  The election left enduring frustrations across the north against the Jonathan government.  President Jonathan’s campaign also actively courted Christian minorities across the Middle Belt and northeast, which further framed the contest in religious terms and fueled the growing Christian political awakening in these areas.  These northern frustrations are certain to resurface if President Jonathan runs again for office in 2015, as expected.

Massive poverty amid a conspicuously corrupt political elite on both sides of the religious divide fuels widespread anger at the Nigerian state and increases the attractiveness of radical movements of all types.  Economic growth on average of over 6% annually for the last decade is encouraging, but much of this growth has been concentrated in the south.

Growing militarization in the Middle Belt and northeast is increasing the destructiveness of violence and the pace of escalation.  Christian and Muslim militias across these areas, particularly in Jos/Plateau state, are increasingly well armed, and occasionally benefit from informal relationships with police and military units.  Numerous atrocities are alleged to have been committed by both sides against the other in reciprocal acts of violence.  This spread of loosely organized paramilitary activity has exacerbated an array of local conflicts, with several particularly noteworthy trends:

Pastoralist-farmer conflicts across the region are aggravated by desertification, which is reducing the size of arable land just as Nigeria’s rapid population growth creates greater demand.  In locales where predominantly Christian farmers have moved into traditional grazing lands for Muslim Fulani herders, conflicts have aggravated religious tensions.
Jos/Plateau state remains the main religious flashpoint in the region, where longstanding disputes over control of scarce land and local government resources have sparked numerous bouts of violence over the last 15 years, particularly during local election cycles.  Politicians from local Christian majorities in the state, seeking to build political capital, have often appealed to religion and systematically excluded the local Hausa minority from access to state resources.  Although the Hausa are a minority in Jos, the capital of Plateau state, they are the largest ethnic group in Nigeria overall, fueling fears among the other groups of a Hausa influx and political dominance.
Numerous pockets of internally displaced persons from previous bouts of violence across the region have been largely ignored by the government and forced to fend for themselves.  Youth from both religions living in these desperate conditions have proven to be extremely susceptible to militant activity.
Christian and Muslim clerics in recent years have been preaching hate messages – ranging from the subtle to the blatant – from the pulpit largely unchecked by religious or government authorities.  More decentralized sects such as Pentecostal churches or itinerant imams loosely affiliated with the Izala movement among Muslims have been particularly prone to these messages, which contribute to escalation.

The Boko Haram Challenge

These factors alone have heightened religious tensions across Nigeria, but the recent rise of a militant Islamic movement, known as Boko Haram, has aggravated the entire Christian-Muslim fault line and provoked reprisals from Christian communities.  For most of its existence, Boko Haram was little concerned with Nigeria’s Christians, and focused its attentions on spreading its interpretation of Islam within the nation’s Muslim community, particularly in the northeastern states of Borno and Bauchi.  Its shift to military operations in 2008-09 occurred with a devout Muslim, President Yar’Adua, as head of state, and its primary targets were the Nigerian security forces – the police, military, and the internal intelligence operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) – and the Borno state governor at the time.

Consequently, Boko Haram’s move to targeting Christian churches and communities over the last two years appears to be largely a tactical shift in its operations in order to take advantage of growing northern frustrations with the Jonathan government, in order to situate itself as the Islamic alternative to the corrupt status quo, and to consolidate its recent gains.  This shift raises several matters of concern:

Boko Haram is a collection of groups, some of which are well armed and organized, particularly the hardliners, and others that are less organized and less interested in using violence to pursue the movement’s goals of establishing an Islamist state in at least the northern half of Nigeria.  Several of the more moderate factions of the movement have sought to initiate peace talks with the government in recent years, some of whom have been killed by hardliners for their efforts.  Initiating a religious conflict with the Christians thus strengthens the position of the hardliners, forcing the moderates to choose sides and possibly creating more sympathizers for the movement when Christian militias counterattack.  In most Boko Haram attacks on churches, the movement has cited previous attacks on Muslims as validation for its acts.  The movement justified its Christmas 2011 church bombings, for instance, as reprisals for Christian militant killings of Muslims during the Eid celebrations earlier in the year.
Given that President Jonathan is a Christian and his supporters appealed to these sentiments in the 2011 campaign in the Middle Belt and northeast, targeting Christians allows Boko Haram to try to situate itself as the protector of northern interests and the embodiment of the region’s frustrations.  Until June 2012, all Nigeria’s military chiefs were southerners, fueling perceptions even further that the Jonathan government was antagonistic to the north.
The conflict in Jos and Plateau state offers an ideal cause for Boko Haram to play to Muslim senses of victimhood, so the movement has actively sought to insert itself in the conflict.  Religiously charged Kaduna, which for the first time in its history now has a Christian governor, poses similar opportunities for Boko Haram, where it has also become more active.
Heavy-handed responses from the Nigerian police and military to Boko Haram attacks in the past have tended to increase local support for the movement, as state security forces often use indiscriminate force resulting in numerous civilian casualties with little effect on Boko Haram itself.

In light of these issues and the general inability of the Nigerian government to stop the movement, Boko Haram currently holds the military initiative and faces an important political choice.  It could continue its military offensive in the unlikely pursuit of total victory, or it could seek to build alliances in order to create its own political movement or some form of parallel party with which it is affiliated or which seeks to capture its message.  The latter is likely preferred by moderates in the movement, some of whom have requested an amnesty process much like that in the Niger Delta.

Implications for US Policy

In June 2012, President Jonathan took an important step toward changing the terms of the struggle with Boko Haram by firing his National Security Advisor and replacing him with retired Col. Sambo Dasuki, a northern Muslim with family ties to the Sultan of Sokoto, the highest traditional ruler in the north to whom the more moderate factions of Boko Haram had appealed for mediation in the past.  Col. Dasuki immediately announced his intention to engage both Boko Haram and the Christian militias, an important first step.

US engagement is particularly complicated by Boko Haram hardliners’ efforts to situate themselves as Nigeria’s Islamic vanguard and protector of northern interests and to portray the Jonathan government as a Christian bulwark.  An invasive US policy presence could be framed by hardliners as the Christian superpower supporting its local affiliates, and hand Boko Haram a useful recruiting tool while further delegitimizing the Jonathan government in the eyes of many northerners.

US policy, therefore, needs a subtle approach that seeks to isolate the hardliners in Boko Haram, strengthen the opportunities for dialogue with the moderates, and support Nigerian government reforms that can address the root causes of conflicts between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria.  Several elements in such a strategy are recommended:

- Encourage the Nigerian government’s new efforts to engage militant factions on both sides of the religious divide, in order to provide moderates in Boko Haram and other militias a clear alternative to the violence promoted by hardliners.  Special effort should be made to encourage the moderates to steer Boko Haram (as well other Christian and Muslim militias) into the political process, where they can pursue their goals in a peaceful fashion with the promise of a broader audience.
- Target anti-terror efforts on key hardliners and factions to isolate them from the rest of the movement and from the moderate Muslim mainstream overall. The Obama administration’s singling out of key Boko Haram hardliners as terrorists rather than the whole movement is a helpful approach in that regard.
- Continue US support for religious tolerance and Muslim-Christian dialogue efforts that engage local religious leaders and communities, building bridges and reducing the acceptability of hate speech.  Where possible, the US government should also encourage Nigeria’s national religious leaders to engage in meaningful dialogue that sends messages of tolerance and accommodation.  In that regard, the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs should be encouraged to restart their interfaith reconciliation efforts.
- Unrest in the north is extremely likely if President Jonathan seeks reelection in 2015.  US policy should continue to insist on further Nigerian election reforms that include the primaries of the ruling party in particular, to increase the likelihood of a fair contest and help to dampen perceptions of rigging by any candidate.  The leader of Nigeria’s political opposition in a race against President Jonathan is likely to be a northerner, and should be engaged by US policymakers as a legitimate opposition leader.
- Encourage the Jonathan administration to undertake a broad-based national development policy and serious anti-corruption efforts that address the underlying conflict drivers of poverty and poor governance.
Encourage the Nigerian federal government to press its state governments to address local religious disputes and to prosecute crimes against humanity.  Plateau state politicians in particular should be investigated for their roles in recent bouts of violence.
- Press the Nigerian government to make police reform a priority and to retool its military for more responsible crisis response capacity.

Here are some video links for the session:

Making Sense of the Coup in Mali

Posted in Democratic Development, Education, Human Rights, Mali with tags on March 27, 2012 by michaelkeating
The promises of the Malian coup sound all too reminiscent. The plotters have claimed their actions are based on the incompetency of the present Malian government to address the insecurity in the northern region of the country. In their address to the nation, the coup plotters claimed that their objective was “not in any way aimed to confiscate power”, but “to return power to a democratically elected president as soon as national unity and territorial integrity is established”. But most African nations that have experienced military regimes know too well how these promises are rarely kept. The coup plotters have suspended the Malian constitution and dissolved all democratic institutions in Mali, yet the group refers to themselves as the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State. Is the military in Mali telling its people that it decides how democracy is practiced in Mali? We thought that democracy is about expanding frontiers of freedom and that no one can draw the line and say this is democracy… period.
              In all this mayhem, the most disturbing aspects of these acts act are that: 1) Mali is the longest serving democracy in the West African region and 2) the country was just set to hold an election next Month when the present president, Amadou Toumani Toure, would likely have handed over power to the next elected president of the country. The coup plotters have claimed to address the issue of the insecurity in the northern region in the country; however, we do not see the new military regime achieving that without the impunity and violation of human right  that characterize so many military regimes. The plotters claim seems to suggest that the president doesn’t know how to govern the country as far as the security question in the north goes. In other words, it’s not for the people to determine who can govern Mail but the military. Of course, it is too soon to assume that the coup plotters already have control over the country judging by the ranks of the officers who executed the coup. The actions by these officers are a threat to the Malian armed forces  as many senior army officers  will have to look for new employment should the coup succeed. This will definitely lead to a conflict that might escalate to warring factions within the military in Mali and it is the Malians who will bear much of the impact, both on their security and development.
             Thus, Mali is faced with two bad options: one, having their democratic institutions violated by a small group of persons who, if they succeed, will have their human rights and basic human needs in jeopardy which has generally been the characteristic of  military regimes or, two, ambushed into a violent confrontation within its armed forces that will be fought on the streets of Mali in the midst of ordinary citizens having the most impact on women and children. Either outcome will significantly impact the development in Mali, though Mali is still one of the poorest countries in the world; development has been significant in the region primarily due to the democratic institutions in the country.
Should Mali escape this quagmire this situation highlights the need for African countries to enact better laws to ensure civilian control of the military. There is the need to change people’s mindsets that the army is the major force in Africa and somehow they can just intervene into the internal workings of the legislative bodies.
Afis Alao and Denis Bogere are graduate students in the Dept. of Conflict Resolution, Human Security and Global Governance at UMass Boston.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen : Build It and They Will Spawn

Posted in Democratic Development, Foreign Direct Investment, Middle East, NGO with tags , , on March 12, 2012 by michaelkeating



It isn’t often that romantic comedy and economic sustainability show up on the same screen but that’s what’s on offer in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by the Swedish director Lasse Halstrom.

Here are some thoughts from the perspective of development theory. They are not meant to spoil the fun, which this film truly is, but to just raise a few questions. (Attention! Spoiler alert!)

The project in question is a water management scheme in Yemen that will have the secondary benefit of providing recreation and tourism in the form of fly-fishing for salmon. All of this is the brain-child of a mysterious and fabulously wealthy fly-fishing fanatic with the somewhat unimaginative name of Sheik Muhammed (Amr Wakend). The  Sheik is also something of an Anglophile which might explain the several huge estates he has bought himself in Scotland to pursue his passion, as well as his interest in hiring Fred (Ewan McGregor), a U.K. Government Fisheries expert, and Harriet (Emily Blount) a private investment counselor to bring his brain-child to life.

So far the project is a public-private partnership writ large. The problem is that the Sheik lives in a country that has a lot of people who do not want western influences and probably resent his jet-setting life style. Despite warnings, the sheik pours tens of millions into the project only to see it disappear down the drainage ditch. Literally.

But this is where development theory comes into the script. After the large grandiose project is foiled by local politics, Fred and Harriet, who by this time have predictably become romantically entangled, vow to start over again (presumably with even more of the Sheik’s money) but this time to get ‘local buy-in’ and to get the locals to adopt the project ‘as their own.’ It’s not clear how this trio of idealists is going to overcome the deep political divisions that beset Yemen and it is also unlikely that they are going to get buy-in to a fly-fishing scheme from the well armed crew that upset their plans in the first place but in place of this skepticism, the film, through the words of Sheik Muhammed, asks us to have ‘faith’ that the project will succeed.

Despite the billions he has at his disposal to pursue an over-the-top life-style the Sheik, you see, is a deeply religious and philosophical man. For him fly-fishing is not so much a sport but a grand metaphor for the relation between man and the universe. His faith in the success of the project turns out to be much stronger than the forces aligned against it. Development projects fail not because they are ill conceived but because their authors simply do not have enough faith that they will succeed. In other words, they do not trust the universe.

In addition, we learn early on in the film not to jump to conclusions about specific countries and geographies. When he is presented with the project, Fred’s initial reaction is complete disbelief that it will work ‘because salmon need water and there isn’t any water in the desert!’ But as it turns out, this is a wrong assumption (but one probably shared by 99% of the people in the world when they think about Yemen.) We are told that this particular part of Yemen is different from the rest of the Arabian peninsula because it has a yearly rainy season and many underground water sources. Who knew?

The point that the filmmaker is trying to make is that we need to test our assumptions about people and places because much of what we have in our heads is simply wrong. Point well taken!

One of the other delights of the film is the performance by Kirsten Scott-Thomas as Patricia Maxwell the acerbic, Blackberry addicted  Press Officer for the British Prime Minister. Not interested in the social benefits of the project at all, she views the whole scheme simply as a ‘good story coming out of the Middle East’ that can offset all the dreary news coming from Iraq and Afghanistan. In this view, development assistance on the part of Western countries is simply a public-relations scheme that is intended to keep people’s minds off other things.

Since DFID, the UK’s well funded and very generous development agency, is not mentioned in the film (and as they would likely be involved in such a project in real life) it is fair to say that the film is a bit misleading in how development assistance really works. It is also unfair to the British tax-payer to suggest that their development assistance dollars are paying for little more than infomercials for British political ambitions.

As light entertainment, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen succeeds admirably. As an exploration of how development works in the real world it’s a bit fishy.

Sorry, I was just casting about for slippery end!

Michael Keating