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What We Are Reading 11/05/2013

May 11, 2013

1. Leaked Development Reports and Land Grabbing in Mozambique

2. Is it crazy to think we can eradicate poverty?

3. Why Bill Gates Think Ending Polio is Worth It

4. Alex de Waal reviews The Fate of Sudan: The Origins and Consequences of a Flawed Peace Process

5. World Bank: Structural Adjustment Programmes Worked in Africa

6. Why Making Money Off the Poor is a Good Thing

Why States Failed in Late-Century Africa?

May 7, 2013

If one looks at the period 1975-1990 and counts the number of civil wars episodes every year across countries in Sub-Saharan African one notices one striking feature: as the time passes by the number of civil war episodes increases, in other words more and more countries are drawn into civil wars. In his book When Things Fell Apart professor Robert Bates asks why states in late-century Africa fell apart. He does so by centering his research on one argument: political stability is not a given, it is on the contrary an equilibrium which produces itself under given circumstances. If one is interested in finding out the roots of the prevalence of political mayhem over political stability one has to identify (from the theory) the circumstances which supports stability and then assess whether or not these circumstances prevailed in the period under examination. By doing so, Bates weaves a compelling argument which trumps previous (more simplistic)  explanations which focused on narrower factors (states collapsed because they were ethnically heterogeneous  or because they were cursed with too many resources etc).

When Does Political Stability Prevail?  Political order is defined as an equilibrium in which those who govern and who hold the power of means of violence (specialists in violence) refrain from preying upon their citizens and on the other hand offer protection to them. Similarly, for political stability to prevail the citizens must be content with the specialist of violence and pay taxes for the service (protection) they receive. The opposite scenario is one where the specialists in violence use their force to extract surplus from their citizens and/or citizens prey upon other citizens or revolt against those who govern. In the first case the specialist in violence content themselves with tax payments from the citizens, in the second they will devote themselves to predation. The next step then is to ask under what circumstances the first scenario will prevail. Bates identifies three factors under which specialists in violence refrain from violence:

1. if tax payments are high to a point that discourage predation

2. if they are not tempted to predate i.e. the expected rewards from predation are low enough

3. if the specialists in violence value the future against the present i.e. they are not impatient, greedy or insecure

Falling Apart (source cartoonstock.com)

In Late-Century Africa. If one looks at how these conditions evolved over the studied period one observes that they changed in way that vied political mayhem. As for the first condition, the crisis in OECD countries contracted the export of African goods to those market and thus cut the trade revenues (the bulk of African states’s public revenues) accruing to the specialists in violence. As they saw the level of tax revenues go down specialists in violence were tempted to abandon their role of guardian and turn to predation. This predation, and this is the second condition, was made only more tempting by the easy access to resources such as oil and diamonds. Lastly, the end of the Cold War and the pressure of African citizens unleashed a wave of political liberalization which swept the continent. Military and one-single party governments were replaced by multiparty democracies. This dynamic had according the argument one specific effect: specialist in violence faced with the prospect of being dethroned became more impatient and greedy and turn toward predation in the present in the expectation of loss of power in the future. In sum states in late-century Africa (in particular after 1990) fell apart because the three conditions which incentivize actors (specialists in violence and citizens) to opt for political stability did not exist.

Prospects for Political Stability in Africa Today. If one is wondering what are the odds for political stability to prevail in Africa today one can then look at the circumstances for political stability today. At a very macro level, public revenues are set to increase as African countries have displaced impressive growth rates over the past decade. Real GDP rose by 4.0 percent a year from 2000 through 2008, more than twice its pace in the 1980s and 1990s: politicians have therefore incentives to act as guardians and to pocket their protection money (i.e. taxes) rather than devoting to pillage. As for temptation to predate, one could argue that natural resources are there and with it the temptation to exploit them. The statistical findings of When Things Fell Apart however suggest that resource endowment fail to account for political order and play a role only when other factors are in place. In other words presidents will revert to diamonds exploitation only if public revenues are depleted. As for the discount rate, one needs to make a careful distinction: political liberalization contributed to political disorder insofar as incumbent leaders saw their prospect to stay in power reduced overnight. The decisive factor was the change in the expectation over how long they could access public revenues, it was not the political liberalization itself. As democracies become the norm across the continent, politicians are readjusting their temporal horizons to the new democratic realities: political alternation is not going to continue to feed into increased discount rates. This goes against the possible argument that democracy feeds by itself political instability. According to Bates’ argument in fact, the variable is discount rate (which in some case can be proxied as change towards multiparty regimes) and not the type of regime itself.

What We Are Reading 03/05/2013

May 3, 2013

1. Define and Rule. Native as Political Identity by Mamdani

2. Oil Production and Questions for South Sudan. On the new blog Taft’s Water Buffalo

3. Why are vaccines one of public policy’s “best buys”?

4. Big Pharma in Africa: Weighing Corporate Citizenship and the Bottom Line

5. A Scandalous Food Aid System by The Economist

What We Are Reading 27/04/2013

April 27, 2013

1. Move towards Inclusive Institutions or Iron Law of Oligarchy in Mexico?

2. Why did Cuba become healthier during the economic meltdown of 1990s?

3. End of the Road for Runaway Factories? by Immanuel Wallerstein

4. Coffee for a Cause: What Do Those Feel-Good Labels Deliver? at NPR

5. What Causes What? About Causation and Correlation

Setting Boundaries: Who is Inside the Nation?

April 24, 2013

Identity Today: the Challenge in Somalia . Menkhaus, an expert about Somalia, argues that the biggest challenges that Somalia faces today is the definition of identity and rights in a federal or confederal system (which is often put forth as the alternative to a central nation building project). A federal solution is perceived by many as code for clan-based regions and therefore begs the question of who has the right to live or make full political claims in these entities. If one opts for territorial entities which are also ethnic entities then one opts for an exclusivist view of national identity in which political rights derives from belonging to a particular clan situated in a specific territory: this is called rights by blood. This exclusivist form of identity is adopted in Somaliland and Puntland where members of other clans are treated at best as guests and at worst as foreigners. A homogenous and unique identity, so the argument goes, vies for loyalty to the state institutions and authorities and therefore the formula is one citizenship for one national identity. The alternative to a particularist/exclusionist forms of identity is an identity which is more inclusive and does not collapse a unique national identity into citizenship: from this angle rights are to be given on the basis of citizenship.

The book Colonial Effect analyzes the making of national identity in Jordan and it holds interesting lessons for Somalia. The book describes how Jordan is a country where the idea of Jordanian has been an ever shifting and historically contingent concept. An analysis of the making of national identity in Jordan can help to sketch out the opposition between particularist vs inclusive identities and pinpoint the pros and cons of each form of national identification.

Jordan Today (source fanack.com)

Identity in the Making: Elastic Territories and Demographics. The history of Jordan is punctuated by historical moments which corresponded with the contraction or expansion of the territorial and demographic entity. The first territory known as Jordan was created by the British and the Amir Hijazi ‘Abdullah in 1921: before that date there was no territory, people or nationalist movement known as Jordanian. It encompassed a territory which was to expand and contract with time. In 1948 the occupation of Palestine by the Zionist caused millions of Palestinian to flee to Jordan and the de-facto annexation of the Central Palestine renamed as West Bank. Jordan assimilated the people whose origin was outside the 1921 territorial entity called Transjordan and by so doing it expanded both territorially and demographically. Palestinians became part of Jordan because the king claimed that people from both banks (the West and the East) were the same people. In 1967 the war with Israel cost Jordan the de fact loss of authority over the West Bank thus triggering a de-facto demographic and territorial contraction. In the same period the rise of the PLO and its claim to represent all Palestinian challenged Jordan’s claim to speak on behalf of Palestinian who are now Jordanian. The tension between the Jordanian monarchy and the Palestinian guerrillas which begun to encroach on the state authority inside Jordan culminated with the civil war in 1970 in which Jordan armed forces fought against Palestinian guerrillas. In 1989 and following the first Intifada in Palestine, Jordan severed its ties with the West Bank, disengaged de jure from the West Bank and denationalized the Jordanian population of the West Bank. Every territorial and demographic contraction and expansion was associated with a redefinition of national identity and a redefinition of who was the other against whom define itself.

Identity in Jordan. The other was initially conceived as the British colonial power as the nationalist movement drew on a pan-Arabic identity. Who is Jordanian was therefore defined against the British and it materialized into a struggle to end British occupation after independence. The events in 1948 inaugurated a trend which departed from the pan-Arabian Jordan identity: it was a particularist/exclusivist Jordanian identity. This identity saw the Palestinian Jordanians (i.e. those annexed to Jordan after 1948) as the other against whom define itself. This trend consolidated in the 1960s with the emergence of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) which threatened Jordanian regime claims to represent Palestinian land (West Bank) and the Palestinian people (those who became Jordanian citizen after 1948). This particularist/exclusivist Jordanian identity trend solidified in 1970 when the Jordanian armed forces fought against the Palestinian guerrillas. What ensued the civil war was the switch from an external other, the British, to an internal one, namely, Palestinian Jordanians which continues until today. A switch in other words from an inclusive identity to an exclusivist one.

To Exclude or To Include? A particularist/exclusivist Jordanian identity rejects the criterion of residency as a basis to establish Jordanianness, using instead the idea of origin. By defining as Jordanian only those who originally resided in the 1925 Transjordan territory it questions the Jordanianess of some of today citizens whose geographic origins within living memory are located outside the borders of the nation-state (Syrian-Jordanian, Chechens-Jordanian, Circassian-Jordanian and even some Bedouin tribes). It questions also the identity of those who, given their origin outside the original territorial core, refuse being uniquely Jordanian today (the Palestinian Jordanians who feel Palestinian and Jordanian at the same time). This exclusivist identity advocates for rights by blood or rights by origin and therefore it leaves out those who are outside the original territorial or demographic core, however this core is defined (Transjordan in 1925 in the case of Jordan). If one brings this identity to its logical conclusions one would advocate for a contraction of the nation into smaller and smaller segments and tribes  into a never-ending spiral.

An inclusive Jordanian identity on the other hand substitutes origin with residency: as Colonial Effects explains

“The territorial division was therefore taken as starting point and the system introduced by which citizens exercised their public rights and duties where they took up residence, without regards to gens and tribe”.

As Palestinian Jordanian argues today Jordan is to include all of those who are citizens. This position is epitomized by King Husayn who in 1993 stated his support for the equality of all Jordanians “of all origins and birthplaces”[1] (p.272). From this angle, citizenship does not equal a unique identity and recognizes that also those groups with a diverse identity could be loyal to the state. Kurdish in Turkey today are another good example as they are citizens of a state which defines itself as Turk yet they affirm their Kurdish identity. As the Turkish president put it

The Ottoman Empire may have been a Turkish state but that didn’t mean every single one of its citizens was a Turk.


[1] This dictum is also enshrined in the 1946 Constitution which prohibits discrimination on the basis of “origin, languages, or religion”. Colonial Effects, p.41

What We Are Reading 19/04/2013

April 19, 2013

1. A Q&A with Ghana’s Vaccine King

2. Is the ICC Really Picking on Africa? 

3. The Anatomy of Protests in Egypt and Tunisia: Who Was Protesting?

3. Who Needs the Bahrain Grand Prix?

4. HIV, Hair Salons and Condom: Caution When Applying Impact Evaluation Lessons Across Contexts

From Gift to Achilles’ Heel: Demography and One Child Policy in China

April 15, 2013

The Chinese government is making significant steps towards the abolishment of one of its most contested policies: the one-child policy. The discussion which ensues will lay out what have been the real consequences of the one-policy, it will highlight how the policy was linked to economic growth and will exposes the problems that the one-child policy poses for the Chinese state and society today.

One Child Policy and its Effects. The one-child policy in China is held by many as the decisive igniter of the steep decline in fertility rates – defined as the number of births per woman during her lifetime – in China. Contrary to the common understanding, the one-child policy introduced in 1979 did not precede the fertility transition – i.e. transition from high to low fertility rates – but instead followed its onset by 16 years in urban areas and 10 years in rural areas. Increase in female education attainment, female participation in the labor market and increased age at marriage were other circumstantial factors which ignited the fertility transition in China. The main consequence of the introduction of the one child policy was to hasten – not to spark – the fertility transition thus achieving exceptionally low fertility rates in the Chinese rural population within a very short period[1]. The pace and rapidity of this transition created an economic gift which today is dissipating.

Age Structure and Economic Miracle. China was able to achieve miraculous rates of economic growth because its cohort of working-age population increased at a faster pace that the youth cohort did. This was the economic gift that a hastened fertility transition produced. As the youth dependency burden decreased the growth of per capita income accelerated. In this way less resources were to be spent on dependents such as children. The decisive factor of a rapid demographic transition therefore is that it changes the age profile of a population.

Who Is to Support the Elders? (source ladiesagainstfeminism.com)

Fast and Furious: the Economic Gift Dissipates. The disproportionally high share of working age adults does not last forever however and the economic gift can soon dissipate. When the fertility transition advances to later stages, the ratio of young and elderly population (the dependent population) increased vis-a’-vis the working-age cohort.  In China in particular the number of births dropped in a drastic way in the last 30 years: it took China 20 years to reach an age profile which took Britain 60 years. As the population ages and the number of births declines, the current model of elderly depending on the family fits ill with the current demographic trends and socioeconomic changes. Firstly, with a departure from the model one-family-under-one-roof towards nuclear households, a majority of the elderly is living in different cities from their offspring (the problem is more acute in rural areas than in urban areas). Secondly, as a result of the one-child policy which means one child per couple, the future cohorts of elderly will depend on a smaller number of offspring as compared to the present cohort. Thirdly, as life expectancy is increasing the elders are to be sustained longer by their offspring. The rising ratio of the elders in the Chinese population poses the question of how elders are to be offered financial support. Welfare and pension systems are not in place to fill the void left by shrunken families. A rapidly ageing population poses other problems too: as the number of births dropped, the supply of young, cheap labor is drying up, which in turn poses problem to the prospects of economic growth. China, many analyst say, became old before it became rich.


[1] “Demographic Transition in Asia and Its Consequences”. Hussain, Dyson and Cassen