Noted: The Facebook Empire

The Economist has an interesting chart up over at their website which they say demonstrates that Facebook connections mirror old empires. They have images for the former British, French, Spanish and Portuguese empires. They really seem to hold-up for the Africa examples. Of course, China blocks Facebook, which means that we can’t really test this for the possibility that those new connections are rising. (h/t to Walter Russell Mead).

Too Awesome: Obama’s Nominee for World Bank President

Update: There is more out there on this guy and I just had to add it in…

This must be seen! I think Obama’s choice just might be a stroke of genius.

Obama Nominates Dartmouth’s Own Rapping Spaceman to Head World Bank > Dartmouth, Jim Yong Kim, world bank | IvyGate.

And, from Business Insider’s “10 Reasons… [Kim] is the coolest guy in the world”

Go to the second minute for the good bits.

He comes in at about 1:30 or so.

Africa Notes: Black Star Surf Shop

Surfing in Africa
The Economist, has this story on the “Beach Rush”. I don’t think the numbers of surfers going to Africa are all that substantial, but there are some cool scenes and great possibilities. In the story the mention the Black Star Surf Camp, which is run by theBlack Star Surf Shop at Busua Beach.

The story behind this outfit is pretty neat, involving some help form a couple former Peace Corps Volunteers in the mid-2000s. A brief documentary on their effort is available here:

Personally, I think the sign of their greatest success–or Ghana’s, at any rate–will be when local demand for their services consistently outweighs foreign demand.

Research Resources: KOF Index of Globalization

KOF Index of Globalization.

This might be useful. They describe their data:

The KOF Index of Globalization measures the three main dimensions of globalization:

  • economic
  • social
  • and political.

In addition to three indices measuring these dimensions, we calculate an overall index of globalization and sub-indices referring to

  • actual economic flows
  • economic restrictions
  • data on information flows
  • data on personal contact
  • and data on cultural proximity.

Data are available on a yearly basis for 208 countries over the period 1970 – 2009.

KOF Index of Globalization

Africa Notes: Top Stories from West Africa

Violence and War

In Court: Kiobel, Shell and Nigeria

  • The US Supreme Court decided to hear new arguments in the Kiobel case, about Shell’s complicity in the torture of Nigerians in the Niger Delta. (For more on this case see my previous post).
  • I had a chance to meet Justice Scalia when he was at our campus this past Thursday but he was tight-lipped on this active case. He did seem to suggest that he already knew what the outcome would be. And he didn’t seem too unhappy. So that could be a sign that we are about to see a more restricted interpretation of the Alien Tort Statute very soon. Also, I overheard him talking about the Citizens United decision and his view on the freedom of speech. From that I take it that he, at least, doesn’t see that decision really bearing much weight on the broader question of whether corporations are citizens.
  • Knox at Opinio Juris seems to agree that we should be pessimistic about future use of the ATS to implement human rights law.

Elections and Democracy

Africa Notes: Boko Haram and a failed special forces rescue attempt

Boko Haram is increasingly capturing the media’s attention. Its members have engaged in an unfortunately consistent set of attacks on the Nigerian population over the last two years. As Richard Dowden says in a blog post today (“Boko Haram – More Complicated Than You Think”), this group began as a somewhat peaceful group. For Dowden, it was after their leader was tortured to death in 2009 that violence became part of their agenda. (See also Alex Thurston: “Boko Haram in National Perspective”.)

This group has raised a number of significant challenges for the Nigerian government, which still deals with instability in the Niger Delta. They have tried to ramp up their security, to try them in courts, and to engage in dialogue. It is still not entirely clear what they want (see Dickinson on “What Boko Haram Wants”and Anzalone’s discussion of this), but it is clear that their primary focus is on Nigeria-specific issues. So while their tactics and “jihadi” framing (and perhaps funding?) might tie them to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), they haven’t yet emphasized that other group’s global agenda.

The impacts of these events are happening at multiple levels. Within Nigeria, there is the obvious political instability that such terrorism breeds. A report last Friday said that 10,000 people had fled Northern Nigeria for Niger and Chad (two of the very poorest countries in the world and not the first place I would go if I were escaping a calamity!). A recent report from Executive Analysis, Ltd at African Arguments, factors in Boko Haram’s activities in considering Nigeria’s “risks of a coup or civil war.” There are also important economic effects within Nigeria. Alex, at SahelBlog, also notes this (and is a great source for information on Boko Haram in general). Chikjioke Ohuocha reported recently for Reuters that the insurgency is “forcing extra spending on security…diverting money away from needed infrastructure spending and could be costing as much as 2 percent of the country’s economic output.” He also cited an investment analyst as saying that the scale and location of the attacks (far from the major commercial hubs) have meant that so far “foreign investors are prepared to live with the threat”.

At the global level, this is impacting international views on both Nigeria and the African continent. IR blogger Walter Russell Mead things Nigeria’s government is “doing little to defuse the threat”. And he uses Boko Haram as an example of how Africa’s problems are still really deep. All of that Afro-optimism that we have been hearing about economic growth across Africa, he suggests, is probably just another “false dawn”.

What happened yesterday: the failed rescue attempt.

British and Nigerian Special Forces failed in a rescue attempt of Italian Franco Lamolinara and British citizen Chris McManus, both of whom were kidnapped by members of Boko Haram. The kidnappers apparently killed the two hostages as retaliation during the rescue attempt. The Italian government is reportedly upset that they were not informed that this action was going to take place.

Alex Thurston at SahelBlog has an important take on these events. Many had said that Boko Haram was not yet engaging in kidnapping but these events suggest we now have clearer evidence to the contrary:

any doubts about whether it really was Boko Haram that kidnapped the Europeans – doubts that stem from the facts that Kebbi is far outside Boko Haram’s normal zone of operations, that Boko Haram never seems to have kidnapped a Westerner before, or that communications from the kidnappers never seemed to fit with the style of either Boko Haram or AQIM – may be swept aside as the narrative takes hold that this kidnapping was a Boko Haram operation, full stop. There are, indeed, many possible explanations that deserve consideration, ranging from the possibility that the kidnappers were opportunistic criminals to the possibility that they were copycats to the possibility that it was Boko Haram itself, or a splinter group. Those complexities, uncertainties, and nuances may now be ignored. Perhaps more importantly, the idea – or the reality (because I really don’t know) – that Boko Haram is kidnapping Westerners will play into larger narratives about what kind of threat the group poses to Nigeria and to the West.

At least some of the kidnappers have been arrested and President Goodluck Jonathan said in a statement “the perpetrators of the murderous act, who have all been arrested, would be made to face the full wrath of the law.”

International Women’s Day

While I “celebrate” International Women’s Day with a lunch and a talk by that famous defender of women’s rights, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, I thought it might be worth taking a moment to think about the broader picture. (Time: “Justice Scalia Mouths Off On Sex Discrimination“)

What does this day mean in the developing world? Duncan Green has a nice post on “what to celebrate, what to condemn“, rounding up much of what the blogosphere has been saying. I think, in short, that we have “come a long way” but there is clearly a long ways to go in ensuring women have equal rights and opportunities. And, of course, we may want to extend this category of rights to other forms of gender discrimination. We can think of the developments and trends at both the global and local levels.

At a global level, there has been the development of treaty law. In my International Law class we cover the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and I have them read Beth Simmons’ interpretation of that convention’s impacts (Mobilizing for Human Rights). She shows that these conventions have had their greatest impacts on countries that are neither strong democracies (who do much of this anyway) nor completely autocratic. The very act of ratification for that large group of countries in the middle enables activists and others in their organization and their ability to place demands on their own governments. In Japan, for instance, she shows it changed the political opportunity structure surrounding government employment practices (they began hiring more women). Last year, Nauru, became the most recent state to ratify CEDAW. (We have not.)

I had a brief view of developments in efforts to improve the opportunities for girls in the late 1990s. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was lucky enough to be a part of a team that helped start a Peace Corps Ghana Gender and Development program and set-up a national girl’s education confence. (Jennifer Miller was really the leader in this, bringing her ideas from a similar program in Niger. Heather Moran rounded out the team.)

Africa Notes: Seeing Kony

Invisible Children is getting a lot of press for its new campaign: Kony 2012. They even have a slick movie (see below), which is something they are particularly good at.

Joseph Kony is clearly a bad guy and no one doubts this. The best piece to read on recent effort to go after Kony is a recent piece in Foreign Affairs by Schomerus et al.: “Obama takes on the LRA”. (h/t Blattman).

What I write about below is the debate about Invisible Children’s efforts and influence on US policy. But it might be worthwhile to note that another news item about the LRA seems to have been lost in the blogosphere. Reuters Africa reports that the “LRA launches new Congo attacks, may be “last gasp”.”

Is Invisible Children Doing a Good Thing Here?

There is an active debate out there about this. As one of my colleagues recently posted on facebook: “My development and academic friends think it’s the worst ever. Many other friends are urging us to watch.” That mirrors what I hear, perhaps amplified by the fact that the ex-boyfriend of a relative of a friend was one of the original filmmakers (and maybe still works with IC). A link in her comments to a Foreign Policy Blog piece by Joshuah Keating, summarizes the main critiques in its title: “Joseph Kony is not in Uganda (and other complicated things).” More generally, the criticisms focus on their tactics, on their knowledge, and on a fear of how the combination of these could lead to less-than-desirable outcomes.

In fact, in the past a number of observers in the development and aid community have been critical of IC. For instance, over at Metblogs in 2007, they noted that people involved in an IC protest in DC lacked the most basic knowledge about Uganda and the LRA. Of course, that is actually pretty normal for campaigns of any stripe. Participants are rarely well-briefed. However, that does less to excuse their awkward “abduct yourself” campaign back in 2009. Chris Blattman, an expert on the conflict and on child soldiers in Africa, wrote:

There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. It’s often not an accidental choice of words, even if it’s unwitting. It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming. The saving attitude pervades too many aid failures, not to mention military interventions. The list is long.

One consequence, whether it’s IC or Save Darfur, is a lot of dangerously ill-prepared young people embarking on missions to save the children of this or that war zone. At best it’s hubris and egocentric. More often, though, it leads to bad programs, misallocated resources, or ill-conceived military adventures. There’s lots of room for intelligent advocacy.

However, Blattman may be more optimistic about “intelligent advocacy” than I am. Not everyone in the US should be expected to know about Uganda and the LRA, but it could be, in this case, that a little information is better than none. (For even more information, see the recommended sources below the film clip.) Additionally, it is important to think about how we are defining the goals of the Kony 2012 campaign. If the goal is about keeping the public “aware” of the issue, then something is to be said about their tactics. My (somewhat limited) understanding is that there is a solid literature on “Why Millions Can Die and We Don’t Care” (links to Psychology Today). So while I get why it might seem like a bad idea to Mark Kersten to have “a five year-old white boy feature more prominently than any other northern Ugandan…” in the Kony 2012 film, I also get why they did it. And it definitely works at getting people’s attention.

Knowledge: The Situation is More Complicated…

On the recent Kony 2012 Campaign, Stephanie Carvin at Duck of Minerva had this to say:

To put it simply, the situation on the ground in Uganda is complex. Military humanitarian intervention has serious consequences. Ham-fistedly intervening in a conflict of which few have a nuanced understanding of the conditions on the ground, where local actors are already engaged in trying to bring about a peaceful resolution, is not going to help and may in fact serve to make a difficult situation worse. Buying a bracelet from an American run NGO will not change this.

I am increasingly getting the feeling that if this is the future of international politics and humanitarian intervention, there are high-definition troubled waters ahead.

Fear: How this can lead to worse outcomes

Mark Kersten, again:

In the end, ‘Kony 2012′ falls prey to the obfuscating, simplified and wildly erroneous narrative of a legitimate, terror-fighting, innocent partner of the West (the Government of Uganda) seeking to eliminate a band of lunatic, child-thieving, machine-gun wielding mystics (the LRA). The main beneficiary of this narrative is, once again, the Ugandan Government of Yoweri Museveni, whose legitimacy is bolstered and – if the ‘Kony 2012′ campaign is ‘successful’ – will receive more military funding and support from the US.

Final thoughts:

Invisible children have come a ways since 2007 and should be commended in their efforts to learn and communicate more effectively about Uganda. No one can argue that they haven’t tried, for instance, they have funded the LRA Crisis Tracker, something I stumbled upon via the more reputable ReliefWeb website. That said, I think Blattman and others are right that there are other experts to consult besides advocacy groups when deciding on what to do about Kony.

The Kony 2012 Movie:

Recommended sources on Uganda and the LRA:

GEP Course Notes: Climate Change Roundup

This week we are discussing the Montreal Protocol. And why are we discussing it? For the same reason so many others do: we want to know whether there are any lessons from that “success” that can help us resolve the problem of international cooperation on climate change.

So here are some recent posts from around the web on climate change.

  1. Scientific Uncertainty?

    • We often hear about how “industry” is out to debunk the anthropogenic theory of climate change. However, there is at least one industry that disagrees: the Insurance Industry.
      • “From our industry’s perspective, the footprints of climate change are around us and the trend of increasing damage to property and threat to lives is clear,” – Franklin Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America.
    • Meanwhile, Sean Hecht at Legal Planet, has some thoughts about “Climate “skepticisim”, ideology, and sincerity. His take seems to be that the climate naysayers are ideological while those that agree with science are not.
    • However, Hecht is ignoring an important feature of science: it too may be considered an ideology. There is an interesting article over at Philosophy Now on“Is Science an Ideology?”:
      • “The overall conclusion seems to be that all forms of knowledge, including scientific knowledge, are ‘ideological’ in the sense that there is no neutral, objective body of knowledge that is not infected by the purpose-relative concepts of a group of inquirers. This is a meaning of ‘ideology’ that still retains some vestiges of the original Marxist meaning of ‘ideology’ as a mask and cover for vested interests.”
    • Indeed, it is interesting to me that many of those that embrace “science” when it comes to climate change are very quick to question “science” when it seems unable to say that genetically modified foods are dangerous. Just something to think about.
  1. The impacts of climate change.