Mubarak is gone, and the African Union is MIA

This coming Monday there will be a Foundation Laying Ceremony for the African Union’s new “Peace and Security” Building at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This buidling houses the AU’s efforts to support peace, security, and stability across the Continent. One can only hope that this structural foundation will be more than just material.  The Continent needs ideas, leadership, and resolve. So far, such things have only appeared sporadically in the rhetoric of the institution’s leaders. Nowhere have innovative ideas and leadership been more missing than during the recent string of political crises across Africa.

The events culminating in the departure of Tunisia’s and Egypt’s Presidents have received the most attention from the international media. What is striking is that at the same time these events began to unfold, 25 African leaders were meeting in Ethiopia for their regular AU Summit.  Almost nothing was said about Tunisia and Egypt. When leaders finally said something, it came at the end of the summit and was not part of the formal agenda. Perhaps ironic was what they did instead. The dictator of Equatorial Guinea, President Teodoro Obiang, was chosen as the AU’s leader for the year. Fortunately, this position is largely ceremonial and provides Obiang with little power. Unfortunately, it is symbolic.  Despite all of the efforts that some have made to make the AU a progressive institution, supportive of good governance and capable of efficiently reacting to the needs of its members, the AU is still in many respects a club for African leaders.  The choice of Obiang is not the only controversial choice AU leaders have made in recent months. Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe was called on by the African Union to help find a “democratic solution” in Cote d’Ivoire.

To be fair, the African Union has not remained completely silent on Egypt. As noted above, some comments were made outside the formal agenda regarding events in Egypt and a minor declaration regarding Tunisia became part of the final report. Also the African Union’s record on dealing with “unconstitutional regime changes” includes some positive actions in Togo and Comoros, as Adekeye Adebajo at the University of Cape Town has noted.

Additionally, one could argue that the political events in Tunisia and Egypt are primarily a phenomenon that belongs to the Middle East, that their relevance to African is peripheral. However, this would be wrong for several reasons. First, it would miss historical role that countries such as Libya and Egypt have played in supporting the AU and framing its agenda. Second, it would miss the ways in which the demonstration effects of Tunisia have reverberated in other parts of the continent. Most of the effects have indeed been felt in North Africa.  Northern Sudan has seen protests, and just on the heels of the historic election for secession by South Sudan. Algeria, reportedly, is also feeling the impacts. However, other parts of Africa may be getting picked up in the “contagion”.  Gabon has experienced unrest as well with an opposition leader attempting to claim the presidency, inspired by events in Tunisia and Cote d’Ivoire. Some are trying to find ties between Tunisia’s events and recent events in Zimbabwe.

Many countries in Africa seem to be going through an important period of political transition. It would be great if their Continental body could begin to play an active role in managing these transitions, both for these countries and for the African Union.

The WTO, Summer 2010

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has been central to my research agenda for a long time now. I am currently in the process of completing a book manuscript that examines African participation and influence in global economic governance. I begin with the assumption that they have to work through coalitions, and then proceed to consider how different institutional environments impact their ability to form and maintain such coalitions. I find that those institutional environments can vary in several important ways, including how specific international and regional institutions overlap. For instance, when institutional environments require rule-making to take place across multiple institutions (such as the case of trade-related food safety measures, where rules are made at the WTO, Codex-Alimentarius Commission and elsewhere), then the obstacles to forming and maintaining coalitions increase. And, indeed, we see African states have more difficulties in impacting rule-making in such environments.

Given the centrality of the WTO to most areas of economic governance, I pay close attention to on-going developments in that organization. This past summer, several stories grabbed my attention: the status of the on-going Doha Round of negotiations, Lamy’s attempts to invigorate that round with a “cocktail approach”, and the on-going struggle to reform trade-distorting US domestic cotton support. This post touches on those themes and several others.

Doha Round Status

The Doha Round is not dead, though reports of its demise recur on a regular basis. One needs to remember that multilateral trade negotiating rounds have always taken a long time to conclude (last time, the Uruguay Round began in 1986 and only officially concluded in 1994). Additionally, there are now many more member states and economic power is more diffuse than it was during past rounds. So it should be no surprise that there have been a number of obstacles to concluding the current round of negotiations. Indeed, towards the beginning of the summer, attempts to conclude the Doha Round seemed to take another blow, as the G8 abandoned a pledge to conclude trade negotiations this year. However, some also cautiously report on continued progress, including sources in India (for instance, The Economic Times).

Director-General Pascal Lamy’s recent report to the WTO General Council tries to frame the WTO’s Doha Round and “Aid for Trade” as important contributions to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. However, his main strategy for keeping Doha alive seems to be linked to beverages…

“Shaken, Not Stirred.” Cocktail Approaches to Negotiations

My attention has been captured lately by Director-General Pascal Lamy’s new strategy in multilateral negotiations: the cocktail approach. He seems very excited about it. There are three core ingredients to this cocktail: (1) Chair-led consultations, (2) informal bilateral discussions, and (3) consultations with Lamy. He speaks of these dynamics as occurring both horizontally and vertically. The idea, apparently, is that these ingredients are already here, and that what is needed is for us to shake them vigorously (perhaps Lamy has an affinity for Bond, since he says that simply stirring this favorite cocktail of his is not enough).

Generally speaking, his method would involve:“Chair-led processes within the Negotiating Groups, maintaining an overview of the entire negotiating landscape (transparency and inclusiveness), and smaller groups in variable geometry and bilateral contacts remain necessary and essential –moving towards a more horizontal view of the issues (negotiating groups and the TNC remaining the anchor of the negotiating process).”

This is not the first time a cocktail approach has been used to encourage progress in WTO negotiations. The idea goes back at least to Tim Josling and Allan Rae who describe its application to agriculture negotiations back in 1999. The idea, they suggested,was to take current tariff levels and treat each level with a different modality. For instance, states could eliminate tariffs where current levels are below 5%, but for tarriffs that are extremely high (say, 300%) states may agree to simply allow space for bargaining. In their analysis applying the “cocktail” approach did have some benefit for African states. Their approach was embraced by a number of negotiators in the early phases of the Doha Round and continues to be mentioned today.

Looking at the broader negotiation literature, cocktails have had other metaphorical use. Cocktail can refer to a hybrid approach in negotiating tactics by individual actors intent on pushing or securing an advantage (see Matos et al. 1998).


I am also asked, when I speak about the role African states play on the cotton issue, whether they are merely following another state’s lead (Brazil). I always say that this might be the case with dispute settlement, where African states have only acted as third-party supporters of Brazil’s activities. However, African states have clearly been leading players in using cotton as an issue to press for greater advantage in negotiations on agriculture in the Doha Round. If Brazil’s strategy has been to use judicial processes, African states have tried to push for a legislated solution.

This summer it became even clearer that Brazil stands alone on the cotton issue. It seems to have forgotten the rhetoric of how the “South”, including Africa, is hurt by wrong-headed agricultural policies in the industrialized “North”. Indeed, Brazil’s cotton farmers now apparently are being paid US subsidies. In return for not applying WTO-authorised trade sanctions, Brazil has decided to accept payment from the US to its farmers. As the Financial Times notes, this just makes them new stakeholders in the US Farm Bill. This is too bad, as Brazilian sanctions, while generating a number of negative externalities for Brazilian consumers and American exporters, could also have generated positive externalities for Africa’s more needy cotton farmers.

The WTO is not just the Doha Round

While the apparent lack of progress in the Doha Round might seem to signal a lack of commitment by the international community to this organization, it is far from being the case that the WTO’s relevance relies only on that round.

For one thing, the WTO administers a number of international agreements. One of those, which member states do not have to sign, is the Government Procurement Agreement. This agreement tries to encourage transparency and the principle of non-discrimination in government procurement. Signing the agreement ensures formal access to government procurement contracts in other signatory countries. The United States is one of 40 such countries. So, as the Financial Times reported, it is not surprising that China is actively trying to negotiate access to the agreement. Accession requires the consent of the current parties (Article XXIV, 2).

Indeed, the WTO has played a central role in economic disputes between the US and China in recent years. See, for instance, recent US concerns about China’s garments and textiles.

The WTO also plays a central role in many economic disputes between Europe and the United States. Two of those disputes, one about European subsidies for Airbus andanother about tariffs on certain electronic products, both resulted in WTO panel decisions that favored the US, though Europe is appealing at least the Airbus decision.

My colleague, Peter Rutland, has a nice piece in the Financial Times about Russia’s bid to enter the WTO. It is, as he notes, “embarrassing” that Russia is the only major economy not included in the 153-member organization. He notes many of the important obstacles to that bid: some member countries (Georgia) don’t like Russia very much these days, Russian leaders don’t always seem particularly committed to the process, and the United States has raised a number of objections along the way. Rutland’s piece is partly a reminder that some of these and other challenges remain, even as US President Obama announced last month a joint commitment with Russia to see the bid through. I think that much of this analysis is right, but I would add one more obstacle to Russia’s bid: the on-going Doha Round. If Russia were to join, it would also have a major voice in the on-going negotiations (especially if they continue to drag out). Russia is a big enough player that it could upset many of the deals and alliances that have been made over the last decade. That could be both good and bad for progress in the negotiations. But is is unlikely that it would be neutral.

Forbes: Wesleyan University is #15

There are lots of college rankings out there. Forbes just released their annual ranking, which is one of the few (the only?) that combines public and private colleges and universities. They claim their index is constructed to focus on the “student’s point of view”. I’m not 100% sure what that means (how do we determine the representative “student” out there?). But one thing I do like about their website (besides Wesleyan’s decent ranking) is that they have a “do-it-yourself” ranking tool that allows you to determine what criteria is important. Unfortunately, there is no way to add in criteria that you might feel is missing.

The spread of norms and the UN vote to make access to water a human right

A friend from my Peace Corps days posted on Facebook the UN press release that the General Assembly has adopted a resolution “Recognizing Access to Clean Water, Sanitation as Human Right, By Recorded Vote of 122 in Favour, None Against, 41 Abstentions.”

This isn’t exactly getting major press coverage. And, indeed, just because the UN General Assembly calls something a human right doesn’t automatically make it so, though it can be important in the development of such a norm. Some, however, have argued that it already is a human right. Since we need water to live, and since a right to life is enshrined in the UN Declaration on Human Rights, then perhaps there is already consensus on this? (See the post by Jennifer Vettel at Columbia’s Earth Institute). But 41 nations did choose to abstain, including (please note with appropriate shock) famed human rights-leading Canada. Of course, the US also abstained. As did, apparently, some developing countries who were concerned about incurring greater legal obligations for providing water to their citizens then they could possibly fulfill (see the Huffington Post on this).

So what is the significance of this General Assembly vote? At this point, it seems to me unclear that much will change if change requires politically costly choices. As Iman Kurdi suggests in his post on, it is unlikely that Israel or Turkey will change or reverse their dam-building, which has infuriated neighbors in the past. So I would expect others interested in building dams (Ethiopia, for instance) are probably proceeding without giving such human rights concerns a second thought. Possibly the biggest impact will be to act as a fundraiser for the UN’s various water and sanitation-related initiatives. As the International Law Observer reports, there is a clear non-binding appeal to states and international organizations to commit resources.

While the impact of the resolution is therefore limited. It does help bring needed publicity and international attention to an important problem. One of my students here at Wesleyan University, Oluwayimika Taiwo-Peters, is tackling this head-on in her home-country of Nigeria this summer. She is visiting local schools as part of a health education program she created, and installing a rainwater catchment system at a local school. Her activities remind me of my old Peace Corps days as a water and sanitation volunteer in Northern Ghana! But the bottom-line is that for many people in Africa — and close to a billion people worldwide — reliable access to safe water and sanitation is an important obstacle to development and happiness. So I will hold out the hope that this norm continues to grow.

And since we are talking about norms, this isn’t a bad place to mention Schrad’s recent book on The Political Power of Bad Ideas, which The Duck of Minerva reviews. The excellent point of the book is to explore how not just good ideas (we need clean water) but also bad ideas (prohibition counts as one of these, in his view) can be spread via advocacy networks. I haven’t read this yet, but Charli Carpenter’s post makes me want to!

Obama, Midterm Elections, and Foreign Policy

I am far from being an expert on American politics and elections. But I do tend to pay attention when they intersect my interests in international relations and I’ve gleaned a few tidbits from my Americanist colleagues: foreign policy preferences can impact voter attitudes (Aldrich et al. 2006); there may be “two presidencies” (domestic and foreign policy), and Presidents have greater control over foreign policy (Wildavsky 1966); and that the President’s party rarely does well in mid-term elections (see Shenkman; in 1991, James Campbell wrote about how the Presidential “surge” is pretty regularly followed by a decline)

So I find it interesting, when procrastinating looking today at the Wall Street Journal’s “POTUS Tracker”, which analyzes how Obama spends his time, that foreign policy and defense seem to be less of a relative priority over the last period as compared with the similar period a year ago (see the images below). The number of such events that engaged Obama’s attention a year ago was apparently 309 and this year for the same period, 265. This, of course, is a crude measure. But it makes me wonder whether Obama is missing an opportunity. While the economy is important, it may be that he should be doing more about foreign policy.

When it comes to his foreign policy record thus far, the reviews are not the greatest. Stephen Walt wrote recently that Obama is “0 for 4” on foreign policy. Richard Haass seems to have a more nuanced perspective but still finds major problems in Obama’s approach to Afghanistan and the Middle East.

My current view is that Obama is doing an OK job with some of this, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Citing success in Iraq–as he has done in recent days–is a good move, but it will take a lot of spinning. He could be bolder on the closing of Guantanamo. (Somehow, I think that Congress would find a way to fund the new domestic facility if he made a realistic threat to close Guantanamo “no matter what”.) Afghanistan may not be an easy sell these days, but Obama should be thinking about other foreign policy opportunities. In particular, I think he needs to find a way to make the US appear as the key leader behind a major successful international initiative. It almost doesn’t matter what it is (environment, human rights, security, trade). But there are several things that would matter here:

  1. This has to be a multilateral initiative
  2. Other states need to seem excited about cooperating with the United States
  3. There needs to be some reasonable chance of success with the initative

I think that if Obama could find this, then he would be fulfilling part of the great hope many Americans had when voting for him. He was supposed to be a game-changer, especially when it came to international affairs. We were to have a President who the international community liked and could get behind. People would like America again. I think such a positive experience with Obama could also change the way he is seen in the upcoming election, though it may already be too late for that.

Or, perhaps I’m wrong. Clinton did well when he focused on the economy. And the world seems to resemble the complicated world that Neustadt (1991) seemed to think that American Presidents would face:

“In a multipolar world, crisscrossed by transnational relations, with economic and environmental issues paramount, and issues of security reshaped on regional lines, our Presidents will less and less have reason to seek solace in foreign relations from the piled-up frustrations of home affairs. Their foreign frustrations will be piled high too.”

From the Wall Street Journal:

Rwanda’s Elections: beginning the habit of democracy

Rwandans will be voting for their President Kagame next week. The overall outcome is not really in much doubt. And it is easy to be disappointed in the lack of real political competition in Rwanda (though Rwanda’s electoral commission claims there is real competition).

Indeed, those of us who were first introduced to Kagame through Philp Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You…, may continue to wish for that more heroic figure to reappear to bring democracy alongside liberation. It is old news to comment on the Gourevitch-Kagame connection and whether a journalist has become too influenced by his source(see here and here). But it remains a question we teachers face. There are still few books as accessible and engaging for undergraduates to read, as a colleague and I discussed just last week (I don’t use the book, but have considered using it).

Texas in Africahas a great roundup of what to expect with the upcoming election. And I think it is right to expect that, at the end of the day, the election won’t have much of an immediate impact. However, it may be that the habit of going to the polls is all that is needed. It has been the habit of democracy in Ghana, arguably, that has contributed to its success. Going to the polls repeatedly, and seeing gradual progress, has been key. And I really think that “habit” is something we as political scientists should not ignore. After all, in his reflections on democracy in the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that our “habits” are a clear contributing factor.

So, in that spirit, I hope the “election” goes smoothly, that many people go to the pools, and that regardless of how their votes translated into outcomes this time around, that the idea of voting begins to become a part of the national psyche.

“France attacked an African camp and killed Muslims”

A little over a week ago, a French raid in Algeria to free an aid worker, Michael Germaneau, failed. He was already dead, and perhaps even dead before they got there.

Global Voices had a nice roundup of some of the African sources on this raid, one of which cited the quote I used for the title here.

Both France’s military and aid programs in Northern Africa has often been contentious (probably an understatement). Just a few years ago, French aid workers were jailed in Chad on child trafficking charges, where France has intervened militarily several times in the past decade. David Leonard has argued that there are reasons for cautious optimism about France’s evolving military role in Africa. At least, he seems to say, both the French military and French civil society seem to be more reflective about the nature of their interventions.

But the question the blogosphere seems to be asking is how fragile French relations with this part of Africa actually is. Were there clear winners or losers in this failed raid? France is clearly not a winner, having failed at getting the hostage, facing allegation that it negotiated with the al Qaida-affiliated group that held Germaneau, and having upset local politicians. One thing I would like to know is the extent to which Algerian muslims are identifying with the al-Qaida-affiliated groups in the region. But other than possibly increasing local opposition to France and the West, it is also unclear what the hostage-takers possibly got out of this. One possible winner? The US military’s counter-terrorism training program in the region seems more important than ever.

Jessica Posner, Wesleyan ’09, wins the top prize!

I definitely recommend that you go to the Huffington Post site (see below) and watch the video of her win.

Congratulations Jessica and Kennedy for all of your success!

The 2010 Do Something Awards ceremony, hosted by actress Jane Lynch, was a star-studded affair, with appearances by Megan Fox, Snoop Dog, the Jonas Brothers, Alyssa Milano, and a bevy of other household names. The biggest name of the night, however, was Jessica Posner, who won the ceremony’s $100,000 grand prize to expand a girls’ school in Kibera, Kenya.

Posner moved to Kenya at age 20 to teach theater to children there. She was shocked by the poverty she saw in Kenya’s largest slum — according to the Denver Post, 1.5 million people live in this area the size of Central Park.

Inspired to change lives in this area, she founded Shining Hope for Communities, a nonprofit that builds tuition-free girls schools.

WATCH Posner win the award on

blog it