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Archive for the 'Rule of Law' Category

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.

Mauritania’s Slavery Problem Needs International Attention

Posted in Africa, Education, Humanitarianism, Mauritania, Rule of Law, Slavery with tags , , , on November 19, 2012 by michaelkeating


Titilope Osunkojo

Who would have imagined slavery still existed anywhere in the world in this century?

Why should state sovereignty mask human rights abuses?

We had hoped that mankind had gone beyond this act of bestiality. If anyone, like me thought this aberration had been abolished from society then you are in for a shocker! John D Sutter’s CNN report, ‘Slavery’s Last Stronghold’ shows that this practice still persists in Mauritania.

Mauritania is a West African country bordering the North Atlantic Ocean and a multiethnic society of more than 3 Million citizens of which sadly up to 20% are still said to be slaves. Slave raiding and trading has been a feature of the Mauritanian society since slave trading first occurred with
Europe and America. The descendants of these slaves are still enslaved by the descendants of their forefathers’ masters; the Beydane or white Moors, the ruling caste in Mauritania.

There have been different attempts to abolish slavery in Mauritania since 1905. It was in that year that the Colonial French Administration abolished slavery in Mauritania. Subsequently in 1961, after its independence, the constitution further again declared that slavery had been
abolished. In 2007, the country made slavery criminal with a jail term of 10 years but since then only one person has been successfully prosecuted.

The Mauritanian government denies the presence of slavery within its borders but the testimony of escaped slaves tells a different story altogether. Stories of rape, starvation, poverty, death and degradation flow out of this place.

This horror is not limited to Mauritania; it exists in varying degrees in other places. Take for example, the ‘Osu Caste system’ in the Eastern part of Nigeria which still negatively influences many courtships and marriages. Additionally, in India, especially in the rural areas, violent clashes still occur because of the caste system.

There have been various suggestions to ending human bondage situations:

1. Allowing the international community to carry out a survey of slavery;

2. Rehabilitating freed slaves and

3. Providing legal representation for victims.

All these suggestions are valid but they are dependent on the cooperation of the Mauritanian government who in many parts has denied the existence of slavery within its territory. The doctrine of State sovereignty gives any government the authority to govern itself and
maintain law and order within its territory; it also protects it from invasion from any other state. The few exceptions to the general rule of non-intervention in the affairs of a state include cases of genocide. Should this veil of sovereignty that covers a state not be lifted in situations like this to restore some dignity to these people whose hope has been stolen, and whose fundamental human rights have been violated even though there is no outbreak of violence? The sovereignty of a state presupposes that the sovereign authority will protect the interests and rights of
every citizen. If this duty is not being discharged by the government how can these people be protected without the help of the international community?

I believe this issue in Mauritania falls within the provisions of the Genocide Convention and an intervention from the International Community is needed to put an end to it.

Titilope Osunkojo is a graduate student in the International Relations program at UMass 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 Enters the Conversation

Posted in Democratic Development, Education, Peacebuilding, Rule of Law on February 15, 2012 by michaelkeating

    Welcome to PaxBlog, where we believe that peace, development and democracy are inter-related such that it is hard to achieve one without the other. We also believe that integrated development studies is an emerging discipline that will take greater shape and have a bigger impact through the interaction of social scientists, software engineers, chemists, biologists, economists, physicians, managerial experts, ecologists, poets, philosophers, and artists. Globalization is forcing all development practitioners to examine their own models and practices to deal with a world where the nation-state is eroding as the key actor in development and where global forces outside the control of any particular state actors are shaping lives for rich and poor alike. Our blog will be a platform for many of the voices of development, conflict resolution, and democracy-building at UMass Boston, but we are open to any voices that need to be heard, especially voices from the global south. If you have something to say to us about development, about peace and conflict, about social entrepreneurship, about environmental stewardship, about the role of democracy in shaping new global societies, or about the role that technology can play, please let us know.  Let this be your go-to place for the best thinking about peace and development by helping us build a community of dialogue based on provocative ideas.   Welcome to PaxBlog. With your help, we will soon be a voice to be reckoned with.

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Posted in Democratic Development, Education, Peacebuilding, Rule of Law on February 1, 2012 by blog.admin

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