Noted: AidData has updates

Update: AidData has a rejoinder to Brautigam. Available here and worth the read: http://blog.aiddata.org/2013/05/a-rejoinder-to-rubbery-numbers-on.html

An email I received yesterday has the following highlights:

Updated AidData Database: AidData

New China Aid Database: china.aiddata.org

However, Deborah Brautigam has some very, very important critiques of this database: “Rubbery Numbers on Chinese Aid”. For instance, she comments one of AidData’s papers based on their new data:

Table 2 in the paper provides a good example of the problems. It contains 20 Chinese “megadeals” totaling over US$38 billion. But only 6 of these 20 projects — less than a third — reflect actual deals (Ghana $3 bn CDB credit; Equatorial Guinea $2 bn credit; Angola Phase 1 $1.5 bn, CDB loan to Angola for agriculture $1.2 bn; Cameroon Memve’ele Dam $674 million; Nigeria light rail $673 million). That’s around $9 billion.

That said, I appreciate what AidData is trying to do here. Hopefully, they clean some of this up. My own sense is that each iteration of their general database gets better.

Here is their email:

Dear Colleague:

My name is Brad Parks. I am the Co-Executive Director of AidData, a research and innovation lab that tracks more than $5.5 trillion dollars from 90 donor agencies, creates decision support tools for development finance institutions, undertakes cutting-edge research on aid distribution and impact, and oversees efforts to geocode and crowdsource aid information.

Given some of your previous work, I thought you might be interested in a new dataset that AidData will soon release. At 4PM Eastern Standard Time on April 29th, at an event hosted by the Center for Global Development (CGD), AidData will release a dataset that tracks the known universe of Chinese official development finance flows to Africa from 2000 to 2011. The dataset relies on an innovative media-based data collection (MBDC) methodology, which has helped uncover nearly 1,700 Chinese-backed projects amounting to over $75 billion in official commitments. Our hope is that that publication of the data will provide a stronger empirical foundation for analyzing the nature, distribution, and impact of China’s overseas development finance activities in Africa. Along with the methodology and the dataset, several AidData and CGD staff and faculty affiliates are releasing a CGD Working Paper entitled China’s Development Finance to Africa: A Media-Based Approach to Data Collection.

Additionally, in the next 24 hours, we will launch a live, interactive database platform at china.aiddata.org that is accessible to journalists, researchers, policymakers, development practitioners, and the general public. The online interface not only makes it possible to filter, manipulate, and visualize the data, but also provides tools that enable users to vet and help improve the data. To enhance the accuracy of project-level data, the china.aiddata.org platform allows users to provide additional information about specific projects, such as media reports, documents, videos, and photographs, as well as suggest new projects not previously identified.

Please feel free to spread the word to colleagues who might be interested in this work. Also, if you would like to do something interesting with the data and blog your findings on The First Tranche (http://blog.aiddata.org/), let me know. We’d like to get as many people as possible to use — and potentially help us improve — the data.

Finally, if you are in the DC area on Monday afternoon and you are interested in attending the event at CGD, please register here.  It starts at 4PM. I hope to see you there.

Best,
Brad

Brad Parks
Executive Director, AidData
The College of William and Mary
bcpark@wm.edu; bparks@aiddata.org

The ICC’s impacts

There is an interesting discussion at the Monkey Cage on the impacts of the ICC. This should interest some of my International Law and Africa in World Politics students.

“How is the ICC supposed to work?” (James Fearon)

To me it looks like a well-intentioned but not fully thought out institutional experiment that will tend to be used primarily as a way to make rich countries feel better about cases whether they aren’t willing to intervene, while the institution itself sometimes has consequences that contradict its avowed purpose.

“The ICC, Deterrence, and Amnesty” (Erik Voeten)

My own tentative view is that the ICC likely has little meaningful effect on deterring or encouraging the worst forms of human rights abuses but may have a marginally positive effect at reducing abuses in countries where “mid-level” human rights abuses occur; not unlike the international human rights regime more generally.

Africa Notes: Africa and the WTO

Regardless of the Doha Round’s continued stumbles, the WTO is alive and relevant. In fact, its dispute settlement system handled more new disputes in 2012 than in a decade or more (World Trade Law).

African states continue to stay engaged with the institution. Only one African state is involved in the new disputes. South Africa is a respondent to Brazil’s complaint about SA’s anti-dumping duties on Brazilian chicken(tralac). But Ethiopia is reportedly set to finally join that organization as a member in 2014 (tralac). And African states have put forward two important nominees to head the organization (WTO). John Alan Kyeremanten is Ghana’s nominee and has apparently received some support from the AU. There may be a question about how serious he is about this posting, though, as reports surfaced recently about him making a bid for Ghana’s presidency in 2016 (GBC News). Kenya’s nominee is Amina Mohamed, currently a top UN executive official. Kenya’s decision to put forward its own nominee was controversial at the continental level as it disrupted Ghana’s hope to have their candidate be the sole African candidate (GBN). Indeed, it is possible to think that this will effectively split the African vote and hurt either candidate’s chance at getting the top job. However, there are those who suggest this might be Africa’s “turn” (SAIIA). The candidates are due to be formally introduced to the General Council next week. A final decision by WTO members is due by May 31st.

Some African states may be eyeing Russia as a trade partner with renewed interest following its accession to the WTO last year (ICTSD). Commodities like sugar may do well, and some analysts say small exporters will benefit from the leveled playing field the rules-based system provides.

Many African countries are likely to benefit (or at least receive funds) from the WTO’s Aid for Trade Initiative which has reportedly raised $200bn (not all of that goes to Africa) (mb.com).

Despite all of this engagement and interest, the Doha Round’s failings have had a clear impact on perceptions regarding the ability of the WTO to support a pro-development agenda. One of the more recent signs of this is Oxfam’s decision to drop trade as a core issue in its new “If” campaign, which apparently is replacing its Make Poverty History campaign (Duncan Green).

Ghana’s Election Tomorrow: Ayittey explains their success with democracy

Edit: I initially wrote the elections were today. It was my groggy morning wish that it was really Friday!

One of the more interesting parts of his explanation for their success:

Ghanaian presidents expect to be insulted.

via Opinion: What Ghana can teach the rest of Africa about democracy – CNN.com.

I’m hopeful about this election tomorrow. I’m certain it won’t be perfect. There may even be low-level violence. But I am hopeful that, overall, it will be a good election with a reasonable outcome.

Go Ghana!

Major conflict could become a regional war

Over the past week or so we have all seen a major conflict erupt that includes a devastating human toll. This is a conflict that has a long history and which, despite the efforts of mediators and peacekeepers, has not found a solution. It is a regionalized conflict and threatens to draw those countries and others into a regional war. As I write this, reports are in about the cities and towns being bombed, and about a ground war which has resulted in rebels taking over a city and its airport.

Wait, rebels? airport? Weren’t you talking about Gaza?

I’m talking about Goma, of course, and not Gaza. And Goma has made its way–marginally–into the news. But, as noted at AlertNet (and the Guardian), a key difference between the conflicts is the amount of attention each receives. In both conflicts, war weary residents of the affected areas are suffering. In Israel and Gaza, there is the uncertainty about where the next rocket will land. In Goma, there is the uncertainty of who will control the territory where you live. For the later, it is easier to flee and they have fled but the toll is still there. The LA Times reports a reasonable estimate of 60,000 people fleeing in the past few days. It is definitely reasonable to question the UN’s mandate which, like so often in peacekeeping situations, keeps them from intervening in substantive ways.

For those of you who haven’t heard much about the conflict in Goma, a good resource is the International Crisis Group. One of their recent posts discusses steps needed to avoid a regional war (the DRC and Rwanda are the main state actors, but Uganda, Burundi, and others in the region had direct interests at play.

On twitter, you may want to follow Gabriel Gatehouse (@ggatehouse), a BBC correspondent who is there; and Laura Seay (@texasinafrica), an academic familiar with the region and conflict. Jason Stearns’ blog, Congo Siasa, is another useful source for commentary (http://congosiasa.blogspot.com/).

Africa Notes: Yao-Min vs. the Chinese Government?

I recently posted about Yao-Min’s efforts to combat the ivory trade in Africa. It made for a great photo op.

However, as the NY Times story linked below notes, there may be reason to believe that offiicals in the Chinese government are creating the very economic conditions that make elephant poaching profitable. Can Yao-Min impact this?

A Story Exposes How the Chinese Government is Fueling Elephant Slaughter – NYTimes.com.

Global Elections: the race to be the next leader of the WTO

After 8 years in office, Pascal Lamy, the long-standing, cool-headed leader of the World Trade Organization will step down. Lamy (France, and former EC Commissioner for Trade) was the fifth Director-General of the WTO. Past leaders included Supachai Panitchpakdi (2002-2005, Thailand), Mike Moore (1999-2002, New Zealand), Renato Ruggiero (1995-1999, Italy) and Peter Sutherland (1993-1995, Ireland, also the last leader of the GATT). (WTO)

Lamy has presided over the WTO during some difficult times. Most notably, he has repeatedly tried–and failed–to revive the Doha round of trade talks. This has not been his fault, the D-G has limited power to impact members’ behaviors. And one could say that he has succeeded in fending off the complete death of the negotiations. However, one can wonder whether a fresh face might help revive talks.

Who is running for office?

According to Reuters, we only have two names at the moment (Reuters). Formal nominations will be made in December

The African Candidate
It is common for regional blocks to put forward their own candidates and the African Union may have the clearers mechanisms for doing this. Several potential African candidates have been mentioned. Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who also was an important candidate for the World Bank’s top job earlier this year, has reportedly expressed no interest in running for the WTO position (PeaceFMOnline). Nigeria’s current trade minister, Olusegun Aganga, has also been mentioned. Another possibility that has been mentioned is South Africa Trade Minister Rob Davies (Reuters). But apparently the AU has decided it will be none of the above. There are a number of reports stating that the African Union has decided that Ghana’s former trade minister, Alan Kyremanten, should hold the post (Ghana Joy Online; AfricaNews.com). Kyerematen currently is the trade advisor at the UN Economic Commission for Africa and head of the African Trade Policy Centre. (thisafrica.com). As Reuters reports, this was a contentious decision. However, if he can get all of Africa’s WTO members to back him, then that would be (a) the first time all of them supported the same candidate and (b) a significant portion of the WTO’s membership, which could go a long way towards getting him elected to the job.

New Zealand Again?
Another likely candidate is New Zealand’s trade minister Tim Groser. However, it has barely been a decade since someone from New Zealand held the post, making his chances unlikely (The New Zealand Herald).

Other possibilities
Reuters mentions a number of possible candidate from Mexico and Costa Rica, with some broader speculation about Brazil’s Ambassador to the WTO, Roberto Azevedo, as a possible Latin American choice.

Bottom Line
It is still way too early to tell what will happen in this competition for the WTO’s top job. But it is clear that the game is afoot.

Africa Notes: Angola’s Election

Reuters reported today the somewhat unsurprising challenge by Angola’s opposition party, UNITA, to the national election results of August 31st (Reuters). The ruling MPLA party, led by President dos Santos, won with 74 percent of the vote (Reuters). This was a legislative election, but the constitution–changed in 2010 under MPLA and Dos Santos direction–stipulates that the party leader should become president for a five-year term. Dos Santos has already served about 33 years.

MPLA’s advantages
The MPLA had key advantages going into the election, in terms of resources and influence over most media. It also is able to claim itself as the choice for peace and stability, given the near decade of peace that it has presided over since the end of the civil war (Reuters-Timeline-Angola). And that past decade has also been prosperous for Angola as a whole. Between 2002 and 2008, growth averaged an astonishing 17 percent per year. To further their case as the party of prosperity, the MPLA announced a platform with a main focus on combating hunger and extreme poverty.

The opposition’s case
The platform of the opposition groups have focussed on limited political and civil rights and–perhaps most directly–the growing economic inequality within Angola. UNITA and other opposition groups are quick to point out that benefits of a decade of economic growth have been unevenly realized (Reuters; Mail&Guardian). They accuse the government of mismanaging oil revenues.

In terms of the election itself, many were concerned about the lack of transparency in electoral rolls. And on the day of election there were reports of some irregularities. Perhaps even more seriously, one relatively new opposition group, CASA-CE, protested the imprisonment of its youth leaders (Global Voices). Finally, many claimed that the National Electoral Commission was biased in its attachment to the ruling MPLA party. The relatively low voter turnout of 57%, some suggest, might have to do with both the fraudulent conduct of the election and voter apathy in the midst of the inevitability of an MPLA win (Global Voices). It will be a little while before we know what types of impacts the opposition’s complaints to the National Electoral Commission will have.

My take on all of this
Many democracy advocates are upset about the conduct of the recent elections and the MPLA’s continued grip on power. And I agree that there are some legitimate grievances here. However, optimist that I am, I think there may be a few reasons to be optimistic about what happened here. First, I think that the practice of voting and participating in contested elections strengthens democracy. This was only the second election since the civil war ended and there was far more enlightened contestation in this one. Second, the MPLA and Dos Santos were forced in this election to consider and respond to the needs of those who feel left out of Angola’s rapid economic rise. I think there is a case to be made for thinking that the fledgling middle class in Angola may be starting to learn its important potential roles in Angolan democracy. Third, opposition groups also learned in this process. And while their challenges may not have much of an impact, the use of the official institutions–as frustrating as the process may be–could have an impact. Finally, there will be another window of opportunity in the next five years, whether from an early retirement by Dos Santos or through a regularly scheduled election, for both sides to take the lessons they are learning and apply them. I’m not optimistic that there will be a major shift in political power in that next election, but perhaps the one after? It take time to build a democracy.