Good Reads

– A call for true coordination on African policy in the West

This woman is amazing – her honest, intelligent take on life in Liberia and her broader observations are always thought-provoking. Check out her professional site too – I’m a fan.

Easterly on untying official development assistance. Fave quote:

As recently as 2003 a document on the USAID website shamelessly stated: “The principal beneficiary of America’s foreign assistance programs has always been the United States. Close to 80 percent of USAID’s contracts and grants go directly to American firms” (source).

– A great article from the Growth Commission regarding the impact of the financial crisis on the developing world. Excerpt:

One of the major threats to the international system which must be carefully managed would be the increased competition for scarce resources at both the international and national levels. This has already manifested itself in the case of oil and food and is becoming increasingly evident in the competition for water resources. There is also a clash of objectives with respect to environmental issues. The traditional polluters having achieved developed status, are locked in a major controversy with newly emerging countries with respect to the ravages to the environment given their mode of development.

The trade-offs here are very difficult in terms of meaningful compromise as countries like India and China, with huge populations and millions of poor people who are migrating into the cities with prospects of moving into the middle class, will not be denied the trappings of that class such as the ubiquitous motor car. The solution may lie not only in efforts of moral suasion to change consumption patterns in all countries, but also massive efforts in science and technology which are international in scope and based on the open system principle. In short, some of the same principles which fanned the revolution in information technology must be applied to the revolution in environmental science […]

The basis for sustained economic growth and development lies not only in investment, but in the political, administrative and technical capabilities of the nation state and it is leaders in the public and private sectors. The creation and support of institutions and organisations which not only set the framework and agenda for political, social and economic intercourse, but also access, sift and distribute information and knowledge, are essential

– And, to finish off, a couple of links on population movement:

  • The financial crisis’ impact on economic migrants
  • Interesting, timely take on Mexico-US immigration: “The number of people caught trying to sneak into the U.S. along the border with Mexico is at its lowest level since the mid-1970s. While some of the drop-off is the result of stricter border enforcement, the weaker U.S. economy is likely the main deterrent.”
  • Smugglers throw migrants over board in the Gulf of Aden.

Liberians Go Home?

Via African Loft:

Thousands of Liberians living in the United States face deportation at the end of next month. This follows the expiry of the temporary immigration status granted to 14,000 Liberians who fled the civil war in the 1990s. The US government extended their temporary protection status during Charles Taylor’s dictatorship in Liberia. But after he was toppled in 2006, and a new government installed the following year, they were given 18 months to return home. Senator Jack Reed from Rhode Island, which has a large Liberian community, said many of them have become an important part of the community and should be allowed to stay. But Dan Stein, president of an NGO for immigration reform, said it is time for them to go back and rebuild their country.

Here is CNN clip on the story:

I find ludicrous the argument that this is a “mockery” of short term asylum… These Liberian families should be given credit for integrating and contributing to the elaboration of a diverse American society. This is how History happens – people migrate for varied reasons (including war) and establish themselves in new places. Why fight it?!

In addition, on a more pragmatic level, Liberians in Liberia rely on the vital lifeline provided by family members abroad. With 14,000 Liberians in the US, you can be sure that their wealth is spread deep into family circles back home. In fact, remittances from the US to Liberia averaged $6 million/month in 2007. (see previous post for background)

Of course, I’m sure the fact that some (but not all) Liberians in the US have been linked to gang violence and other societal woes is informing the opinions of deportation advocates. But what community doesn’t have its fringe? There are plenty of Liberians in the US who have productive, happy lives, and for who returning to Liberia means leaving schools and healthcare for their children (services they have earned through their hard work and contributions to the IRS). As the CNN report notes, some of these families have children who were born in the US and have US citizenship – we can at least hope that good immigration lawyers will be able to keep these families together.

It’s refreshing to see politicians such as Sen. Jack Reed from Rhode Island take a stand for the Liberians.

First South American thoughts

I somehow ended up taking a work related week long trip to Peru – made the decision thursday, and here I am! This is exciting for me, as I have never been to South America, and I am beyond thrilled to discover this continent (or at least a tiny part of it). Working for CGSGI, I have been researching and writing about poverty in Peru and Colombia (where we work), but this trip will be an opportunity to get a much more holistic and real understanding of the dynamics at play. In Peru, the stats are staggering: over 40% of the population lives in poverty, and that in spite of strong and sustained economic growth – 9% last year, the highest rate among South American countries. In one of the regions we work in, Cajamarca, mining is the economic engine. Nonetheless, nearly half the children under 5 in that region suffer from chronic malnutrition…. Meanwhile, the central government collected nearly $2 billion in tax revenues from mining companies, but this has failed to translate into improved quality of life for impoverished Peruvians.

Anyway — I cannot wait to visit the sites of our project work, and to experience it for myself. It’s 2:20 am, and I am wired! 
In terms of first impressions, the Lima airport at midnight was chock full of American missionaries… There were probably 200 missionaries, mostly middle aged/older people. I have no doubt that they come and do work in good faith here, probably contributing to poverty alleviation in some way or another. Regardless, I have a fundamental issue with aid that is tied to religious proselytizing. Particularly in this part of the world, where Christianity wreaked such havoc. While I was waiting in line at immigration, I kept wondering how the Peruvians perceived this. Perhaps they are despondent, and this is just part of the landscape. Maybe they think Americans are mighty, mighty strange. Who knows. In the mix, we also had an enormous tour group of older Japanese people, most of them wearing those fancy face masks… 
To finish off, a collection of infuriating stories from this past week: 
Firestone and workers’ rights violations in Liberia (and their $30 million Superbowl ad…)
– This isn’t so much infuriating as disappointing – ECOWAS gives $100K to Liberia to fight the invasion of caterpillars which is decimating the country’s agricultural sector. $100K? Seriously? Not that ECOWAS should be giving more, but perhaps more substantial help should be making its way….
– And, of course, another story of refugee abuse. I long for the day when people fleeing tragedy will be treated with dignity and respect.  

How to Make a Difference? First, Understand.

I am a firm believer that in order to be a truly effective advocate on any issue, it’s crucial to really understand the dynamics that you are contending with.

For The Niapele Project this means recognizing that we are in a constant state of learning – as we progress and deepen our involvement with the refugee community of West Africa, we are also attempting to truly understand what the issues are, at their core, so we can better serve the interests of the organizations we work with, and the children they serve.
We are continuously challenged in this extremely complex developing world environment – as a small NGO with limited resources, we try to position ourselves as open, flexible and willing to collaborate as knowledgeable partners.
In Liberia, we are beginning to collaborate with the UNHCR and the Liberian Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (the government agency in charge of coordinating refugee issues) – in spite of our differences with these institutions in the past regarding the way in which Liberian refugees in Ghana were treated, we strongly believe that it will take the collaboration of all key stakeholders to create sustainable strategies for the effective integration of displaced people in Liberia.
(I only wish I was there myself…. sigh… maybe some time down the line!)
In any case, in order to bring deep expertise to the table, The Niapele Project has been working with some of the world’s best universities to develop our research capacity – we just released this study produced by Masters candidates at Sciences Po (my alma mater in Paris), which provides a critical overview of policy options for protracted refugee situations, and we are currently working with the Yale Law School on another study which will outline the international and national legal framework with regards to returning refugee rights in Liberia.
We are really looking forward to 2009 – in spite of the arduous fundraising road ahead, I am full of confidence that The Niapele Project will continue to have a positive impact in the lives of vulnerable refugee children.

Ellen and Nicky Chime in

Here is an amazing article from the IHT. Amazing because you’ll notice that it’s written by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, and Nicky Oppenheimer, the Chairman of DeBeers (HT: Chris Blattman)

I subscribe – mostly – to the views expressed in this piece. The caveat is that for all the lofty rhetoric, the empirical evidence points to the fact that attempts at promoting private sector initiatives in Sub-Saharan Africa are met with a lot of resistance, both in-country and by the development industry.

The opinions put forward in the IHT article rest on the assumption that capitalism = good. I’m not going to challenge this notion, first of all because I think that debate has been taken up a few too many times, but mostly because whether or not we like or agree with this idea, it is the defining paradigm of the way the world works.

Of course, the way the world works is not always the way it should be working. But haven’t we learned that this is a useless point to make in this day and age? Enough futile attempts to dethrone capitalism as the dominant operating paradigm of our time – let’s work within it, make it work for those who need to be lifted out of poverty.

The problem is that if we are going to be functioning with this mindset, the way in which the entire aid/development industry operates needs to be reconsidered. And as my current hero, Elizabeth Pisani, has expressed, this type of industry is not reactive to changes and evolutions in the real world. A mere look at the Millenium Development Goals gives us a pretty good understanding of how aid agencies construe their work. As Andrew Natsios famously pointed out, arguing against the MDGs is like arguing against “motherhood and apple pie” – you simply can’t, because in and of themselves, these goals are desirable and ultimately good. But they do nothing to make developing nations – and particularly the LDCs of this world – become self-sustainable.

Natsios says:

The MDGs are also heavily weighted towards social services… In overemphasising these particular goals, we risk underemphasising the importance of equitable economic growth, good governance, and democracy, without which, we cannot produce the tax revenue to sustain the social services that the MDGs embrace. What is needed is a proper emphasis on economic growth as a necessary condition for social services, instead of vice versa.

One of my biggest issues with the MDGs is the emphasis placed on universal primary education. It did not take countries, schools, and NGOs very long to realize that this goal is essentially pointless if no proposition concerning the quality of education is associated with it. Furthermore, which countries have been able to raise its population out of absolute poverty by having its citizens educated at the 5th grade level? None. And the MDGs make no provision for university education – something which could really spur development.

This is Goal 2:

Goal 2 of the Millennium Development Goals sets out by the year 2015 to:

  • Ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling

I’d like to use this opportunity to invite you to think about a completely different way of approaching aid – one of my favorite topics these days is bottom of the pyramid social entrepreneurship. That’s not the panacea either, but it certainly challenges a lot of dusty misconceptions about what development should be.


Just read this relevant piece from The Washington Post:

Shikwati and others cautiously suggest that the current situation is different. Enormous gaps between rich and poor persist in most sub-Saharan African countries, but there has been a slow trickle-down effect from the growing private sector, as jobs have been created in the cellphone industry, for instance, or tourism or banking.

Maggie Kigozi, executive director of the Uganda Investment Authority, attributes about 63,000 new jobs created in that country this year to growth in the private sector. Uganda has cut extreme poverty in half over the past decade — down to 30 percent of the population living on less than $1 a day — a fact that Kigozi also chalks up to private sector activity.

“We owe our success to that,” she said. “Not to the World Bank, and not to nongovernmental organizations,” she said, referring to aid groups.