Two Egyptian bloggers reflect on events:
‘I’m not sure how long the general Egyptian public can maintain the bizarre idea that the army is so great. This is the army that took power in a coup in 1952 and ended political pluralism, lost tons of wars after that and continued to justify its predation on the national budget despite not having had to fight anyone since 1973.’ Reality check from blogger Issandr El Amrani.
“In that moment, I could feel the joy, relief, and release of every Egyptian in the world that had followed the revolution. In that moment, I cried with the people in Alexandria. In that moment, I laughed with the people in Suez. In that moment, I sang Egypt’s national anthem with the people in Meydan Tahrir. It is something that I never thought I would see.” Sophia Azeb [h/t Texas in Africa]
“A recent initiative gauging progress on the millennium development goals ranks Tunisia as joint first among 137 countries, while Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Iran are ranked joint third.” Alasdair McWilliam wonders why if the Muslim tigers are apparently doing so well on human development, their peoples are so dissatisfied – what are the MDGs missing?
“If you don’t have a toilet at home, you might not get a bride in India. In a silent revolution of sorts, Indian women across the country, especially in rural and semi-urban areas, have a single condition before they agree to a match – the groom must have a toilet in his home.”
After years of planning, fundraising and consultations, U.N. Women was officially launched by its Executive Director, former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet. Formally known as the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, U.N. Women combines four pre-existing U.N. agencies into one. So what should it do? Oxfam released a report called the ‘Blueprint for U.N. Women’, based on a comprehensive survey of grassroots women’s groups, leaders and activists from over 25 countries. An overwhelming majority of women believe that ending violence against women must be the first and most urgent priority of U.N. Women. Anyone listening? [h/t Bert Maerten]
“Imagine a green wall – 15km wide, and up to 8,000km long – a living green wall of trees and bushes, full of birds and other animals. Imagine it just south of the Sahara, from Djibouti in the Horn of Africa in the east, all the way across the continent to Dakar, Senegal, in the west. The wall envisioned by 11 African countries on the southern border of the Sahara, and their international partners, is aimed at limiting the desertification of the Sahel zone” Green geoengineering anyone?
And a little light relief: Gaddafi as fashion icon (or not), c/o Vanity Fair. (doubtless politically incorrect, but it’s OK, humour is always in the frontline against oppression). [h/t Ian Bray]
The Washington-based Center for Global Development is great at spotting opportunities for influence, not least by dusting off and recycling previous work in response to events – a key, and often under-used, way of getting research into policy (academics are often too caught up with their next project, and NGOs with their next campaign, to spot opportunities in this way).
The Korean government wants an international ‘Climate Vulnerability Index’ to steer allocation of funding for adaptation? Here’s one the CGD’s David Wheeler made earlier. Any views?
Political Climate also looks at how the UK is running to stand still on carbon emissions: ‘As energy efficiency increases, we use part of the savings we make to consume more energy, and overall the impacts of energy efficiency are much less than we think. Despite the fact that the UK economy is almost two and half times bigger than it was in 1970, the UK now uses almost exactly the same amount of energy in total as it did then.’
Any contradiction between those two posts? Discuss.
Finally, it may be entirely irrelevant (at least to international development), but because it’s Friday, a decidedly ‘ah, sweet’ VW ad [h/t Global Dashboard’s Alex Evans, who seems to spend even more time on youtube than I do]
It’s not the best Darth Vader youtube though – that honour belongs to the legendary lego version of Eddie Izzard’s Darth Vader in the Death Star canteen sketch. Click here to start the weekend in a good mood.
Most of the discussion around the renewed food price spike is conducted in terms of world prices, dollar denominated. But people buy food in local currencies, which may or may not follow the dollar trend. UNICEF has a helpful new (30 page) paper out which looks at local food prices across 58 developing countries in 2010 and fills in some of the gaps in our knowledge. Here are some highlights:
“Our analysis shows that, on average, local food price indices in developing countries trail the global food price index closely, with a lag time of roughly one month in the current price run-up.”
The graph compares local v global food prices and shows both this lag, and more interestingly, the fact that local prices appear to be stickier – they rose with global prices in the first price spike, but then fell much less, and now are rising less fast as well, at least so far. However, there the good news ends:
“Low-income countries have experienced much larger food price increases than richer, middle-income countries. This trend appears to be consistent over time, becoming magnified during the 2007-08 food crisis and, again, growing pronounced in late 2010. For example, whereas low-income countries were paying an average of 8.3 percent more for foodstuffs in August 2010 compared to middle-income countries, this difference jumped to 12.6 percent as of November 2010.”
The paper examines policy responses to the price spike at both global and national levels using the same three pronged framework: supporting consumers to promote household food security, supporting producers to enhance the food supply and managing/regulating food markets to reduce the volatility of domestic food prices. The global stuff is fairly well known, so I’ll just focus on the national policy responses:
“Supporting consumption: Policy responses included food assistance (e.g. direct food transfers, food stamps/vouchers and school feeding programmes), price subsidies and controls, cash transfers, reduced consumption taxes and food-for-work schemes.
Boosting agricultural production: This mainly focused on providing subsidies and reducing taxes on grain producers, although some countries also offered other types of incentives to spur agricultural output, such as credit programmes for small farmers.
Managing and regulating food markets: Many developing countries tried to lower domestic food prices by encouraging imports and discouraging exports, most commonly by reducing import tariffs and/or introducing different export restrictions. Building up and releasing strategic food reserves was another frequently employed strategy to stabilize local food prices. A number of governments also intervened in food markets by restricting stockholding by private traders, imposing anti-hoarding measures and restricting futures trading of basic foods.
Out of 98 developing country governments, 75 have supported consumers, 57 have promoted agricultural production and 76 have intervened in food markets. Developing countries in Asia appear the most proactive in terms of supporting consumers and managing/regulating food markets when facing higher food prices, while countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are most inclined to foster agricultural production. Using an income lens, poorer countries are, on average, more reactive to higher food prices across all policy categories when compared to wealthier, upper middle-income countries.
Analysis of specific responses to rising commodity prices suggests that food assistance, production subsidies and lower tariffs are the most commonly adopted policies by developing countries… A large proportion of developing countries in our sample have also focused on stocking strategic food reserves in order to stabilize domestic market prices (43 percent).”
See the bar chart for the breakdown.
The paper goes into more detail on such responses, finding that low income countries opted for emergency food aid and universal price subsidies, while middle income countries preferred school feeding programmes. Overall, it found that most responses were (understandably) short-term and argues for a longer-term policy framework that acknowledges that price spikes are here to stay. Unsurprisingly (given that it’s UNICEF) it argues for a greater focus on children in the response.
I spoke at the ‘Warwick Economics Summit’ at the weekend – an annual event meticulously organized by students. The corridor talk was all about jobs and internships – the banks are apparently back and hiring en masse. Well organized? Thinking about jobs? Students have changed since my day…
My talk was on ‘What’s New in Development’. Powerpoint here – feel free to cut and paste. Main points:
- lots of topics haven’t changed and remain central (pro-poor growth; effective aid; universal essential services; gender justice and human rights)
- hunger and resource constraints are a big ‘new-old’ topic
- increasing prominence in development discussions of hitherto ‘northern’ issues – aging, domestic taxation, mental health, disability, obesity/non communicable diseases
- an ever-wider set of global rules and institutions is being born, but no-one is in charge, so it’s chaotic and ad hoc
- as well as new themes, new ways of thinking are emerging – how change happens, what to measure
You can watch me present it here, but to be honest, you’d probably have more fun skipping to ‘Why I don’t have a girlfriend’: a delightfully silly paper by PhD student Peter Backus, written during what he describes as ‘the Great Loneliness’ of 2008. He decided to employ the Drake Equation (used to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy) to calculate the number of potential Backus-compatible girlfriends in the world. He arrived at the number 26. If you think that’s depressing, a gay Canadian came up with a number of less than one…… Not surprisingly, the paper has gone viral, been picked up in the media etc, and Peter rightly fears nothing he writes in the rest of his academic career will ever do as well.
There’s a happy ending though – since he wrote the paper, he’s found one of the 26 and they’re doing fine. Mind you, if anything goes wrong, he’s now down to 25…..
Here’s my reaction to a couple of dozen very helpful comments and links on last week’s posts on this blog and the Guardian site, along with a couple of new articles.
There are two main clusters of comments: the most important is probably the one that distinguishes between the drivers of change, and the dynamics of change. Thinking in terms of drivers (as I largely did in my first post) is a bit static, despite the name – you unpack context, institutions, agents and events to get a reasonably comprehensive X-ray of the actors in the drama, but just knowing the cast-list doesn’t tell you much about the play. That’s where the dynamic comes in.
I sometimes use this diagram to show the different kinds of dynamics. Some (on the right hand side) are fairly predictable and linear – if you build more schools, fund education and train more teachers, you can predict improve educational outcomes. Others, like the revolution in Egypt, are much less so. And here the comments from Ben Ramalingam and Chris have focussed on the topic of Complexity (on which Ben is writing a book, by the way). I blogged a while back on this (based on a 2008 paper by Ben) and reckon it’s worth going back to – particularly the comments from Chris Roche, Chris Mowles and others.
Ben sees what has happened in Egypt as an example of dynamic, self-organized, non-violent and entirely unpredictable change, almost completely outside the sphere of ‘usual suspects’ in development – state, NGOs, trade unions, old media etc. The key mechanisms driving such ‘emergent change’ include feedback (e.g. the army failing to repress early protests) and amplification (via social media and others).
To which my reaction is, “is this a purely descriptive exercise, or does it give us useful information either about what is happening in Egypt, or elsewhere? What is the ‘so what’ of this analysis, eg in terms of advocacy and influencing in the post-revolutionary environment?”
The second cluster of comments further refines the breakdown of drivers of change. On the Guardian, Apollo13 asks (and answers) the fascinating question, why did Mohammed Bouazizi’s act of self sacrifice trigger a revolution, when similar previous acts by others caused barely a ripple? Rosemary points to the power of example, in this case learning from peaceful protest movements in Serbia. Cristina and Kate ask what role was played by more ‘formal’ civil society organizations, and all the funding for capacity building and training programmes, whether national or international – anyone got any info? Jennifer points to the importance of ‘power within’ – the lightbulb moment when people lose their fear.
The Economist this week dwells on the generation gap, likening today’s upheavals to 1968 in Europe:
“The frustration of the vast throngs in Cairo and Tunis was directed not so much at the leaders themselves as at what they stood for: paternalistic, unaccountable authority….. [They] echo the upbeat message and youthful promise of the 1960s in the West. Like the Western youth of that era, young people across the Middle East have inherited a world of immensely greater possibilities than the one inhabited by their parents. Even in the tribally conservative, religion-saturated cities of Saudi Arabia, drag-racing, daredevil youths take over quiet boulevards on weekend nights. By internet and text, they exchange jokes about ageing royal princes.
Since the fall of Mr Mubarak, numerous mini-revolutions have taken place across Egypt. Journalists have overthrown their editors, workers their union leaders, professors their university deans. Even the police have returned to the streets, striking to demand the removal of the senior officers they blame for their disgrace.”
Finally, Soren, Ben and others wonder what happens next, in particular what role the army will play. To see the wisdom of whoever warned ‘never make predictions, especially about the future’, have a look at successive weeks’ graphics from the Economist. The first is an attempt at a table of at-risk countries, the second shows what was happening a week later – top marks on Yemen, Egypt and Libya, but what about Bahrain and Tunisia?
So. Anyone fancy doing a drivers of change analysis on Yemen or Libya?
What to follow on the Middle East Crisis? How about a single site with the twitter feeds and Al Jazeera live feed on breaking events across the Arab World? [h/t Wronging Rights] Or a pleasingly splenetic ‘Top Five Myths’ about US media coverage of the crisis? [h/t Chris Blattman]
“The crisis has accelerated the arrival of our future. Even for the winners, this is quite a shock.” Martin Wolf explores the political and economic trends that have been galvanized by the financial crisis.
As the 2015 MDG deadline closes in, Andy Sumner surveys the debate on what comes next – MDGs 2.0 anyone?
Some big news in climate science: we seem to be getting to the point when we can attribute specific disasters (partially) to climate change, with numbers attached. Lawyers everywhere must be licking their lips….
And finally, I have no idea what point about the construction of masculinity this video is making, but watching a 9 year old Tanzanian boy lovingly recall the plot of his favourite Arnold Schwarzenegger movie is strangely riveting. [h/t Alex Evans]
Since he reinvigorated the thinking of the British Left as editor of the pioneering journal Marxism Today back in the 1980s (coining the term ‘Thatcherism’ among other things), Martin Jacques has consistently proved a provocative and original thinker. His passion these days is China, and he has a book out – When China Rules the World: the Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World. Check out this fascinating TED talk on how the West understands China (or fails to). Westerners are ‘arrogant and ignorant – they refuse to address issues of difference’. He specifies three such areas: China is a ‘civilization state’, not a nation state; the unique importance of race; and the particular relationship between state and society. Damn, now I’ll have to add his book to my reading pile.
An edited version of this piece appeared today on the Guardian’s ‘Poverty Matters’ blog.
When interpreting something like the Egyptian upheaval, people tend to project their own passions onto the screen. The twitterati see a social media revolution; the foodies see food price hikes at its core; others see a hunger for democratization; the human rights groups see a backlash against torture and abuse. So I thought I’d try to pull together a more comprehensive overview, using the ‘How Change Happens’ framework from From Poverty to Power.
The diagram sets out a schematic way to analyse the drivers of change, dividing them up (with inevitable overlaps) into the categories of Context, Institutions, Agents and Events.
Context Demographics: an explosive mix of high population growth, leading to a ‘youth bulge’, combined with urbanization, jobless growth, and the rapid expansion of university education has produced what the BBC’s Paul Mason calls ‘a new sociological type, the graduate with no future’. Two thirds of Egypt’s people are under 30 and each year, 700,000 new graduates chase 200,000 new jobs.
Technology: Although I still instinctively share Malcolm Gladwell’s scepticism on this, social media (and new old media like Al Jazeera) have clearly played an important part. Ranil Dissanayake on Aid Thoughts concludes:
‘I think the most important lesson from these demonstrations, the lesson that is spreading with such incredible rapidity across the region, is not of the outcomes: it is far from clear how much Tunisia’s state has changed, and Egypt is far from resolution still. The big message here is that the lowest and weakest sections of society can act independently as a force for change: that popular discontent can work in these societies as long as it is mobilised in great enough numbers and with enough intransigence. And once it happened in one place, the ordinariness of how it starts was quickly made apparent to people across the world through the media but also through social networking (and this could be the real impact of FB and Twitter, rather than any organisational function – they emphasised that demonstration and revolution were being undertaken by ordinary people, demystifying the process).’
Egypt’s Foreign Policy has also been an important factor, divorced from public opinion for many years, particularly on Israel and Palestine. According to Oxfam’s Cairo-based Adam Taylor-Awny this cemented the feeling that the government was a US puppet government and delegitimized it in many eyes.
An increasingly sclerotic state + aging president have produced a threefold institutional deficit summarized by Sufyan Alissa in a 2007 paper for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as:
“Institutions that influence the work of the bureaucracy, institutions that shape politicians’ behavior by punishing or rewarding certain types of behavior—influencing the accountability and transparency of politicians—and institutions that widen political space and participation for Egyptian citizens.”
That sclerosis both undermined the state’s legitimacy, and made it unable to respond quickly and effectively to the rising tide of protests.
At a more visceral level, the routine and growing presence of torture and corruption became the common enemy that bound protesters together across classes. Heba Morayef, the Human Rights Watch advocate in Egypt is quoted by an excellent analysis in the Observer saying “Prior to that, demonstrations in favour of political reform struck many ordinary Egyptians as somewhat abstract, even if they had vague sympathy with the sentiments being expressed. Police cruelty, however, was something that touched people personally and it inspired a whole new, cross-class section of society to adopt a more combative stance towards the state.”
One institution that has apparently emerged with its reputation enhanced (at least so far) is the army, but will it step down and make way for more open government and if so, under what conditions? In addition, the failure to act of some actors was central: Mubarak’s age and inept response; Washington’s confusion and contradictory messages reduced its influence. In Paul Mason’s view, the ‘War on Terror’ failed to generate a binding threat on a par with the Cold War to make global and national elites come together and block change.
The most celebrated event of the protests (other than the overthrow of two presidents and counting) was of course the catalytic sacrifice of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor whose self-immolation sparked Tunisia’s ‘Jasmine Revolution’, and the ensuing domino effect across the Arab world. Others include the impact of the wikileaks revelations that US diplomats saw Tunisia as a ‘mafia state’ run by President Ben Ali and has hated wife, Leila Trabelsi – did that weaken elite support for Ben Ali?
And how did all these factors interact? What were the pathways and dynamics of change? A few observations:
The most striking aspect is path dependency – how a sequence of events and actions was able to overcome the deep-rooted (and well-justified) fears of potential protesters, getting enough people onto the streets to give them a degree of immunity. Some of this was a domino effect – the revolution in Tunisia clearly inspired protests across the region. In other cases it appears to have been the result of deliberate tactics: In Egypt, small groups put on simultaneous ‘flash mob’ demonstrations in numerous locations, out maneuvering the security forces in a new kind of urban, social media driven guerrilla protest. As Ahmed Salah, one of the protest organizers, told the Observer ‘this time, we were determined to do something different – be multi-polar, fast-moving and too mobile for the security forces, giving us the chance to walk down hundreds of different roads and show normal passers-by that taking to the streets was actually possible.’
And in case you think all this was entirely spontaneous, here’s Al Jazeera’s 25 minute account of 3 years of preparation for the uprising, prior to the Tunisian spark. [h/t Jo Rowlands]
I’m left with lots of questions, of course: what was the level of ‘granularity’ of the protest movement (mass movements are almost never entirely homogeneous, but ‘lumpy’, with smaller, more durable building blocks such as workers’and farmers’organizations, mosques, youth and community groups etc). According to Oxfam’s Ihab El Sakkout:
‘The vast majority of the demonstrators were at quite a distance from any organized activist group. On the other hand, the fact that some of the protestors were parts of organized groups played an important role at critical points. The example that best springs to mind is on 2nd and 3rd of Feb when the protestors were attacked viciously by regime thugs: the Muslim brotherhood and organized football fan groups (not to be equated in their politics with European hooligans!) played a key role in defending the square (principally by being able to convey quick decisions via their groups, showing extreme courage and discipline under attack, quickly building barricades, managing counter-attacks, etc.), which helped to turn those in the square from a mass of individuals into a cohesive group able to defend itself.’
What degree of interaction did the protest movement have with fractions of the political or business elite? How did cross-class and cross-group alliances evolve? What was the gender breakdown of the protests – men seemed to dominate the TV images (Ihab guesstimates the proportion of the women in the protests at 10-15%, though that may well be high by the region’s historical standards), but some interesting blogs are emerging on women’s activism in the protests [h/t Caroline Sweetman].
And of course, the biggest question of all: what happens next, both in Egypt and elsewhere – are new dominoes about to fall in Bahrain, Libya, Yemen or elsewhere?
That’s it for now. I’d particularly welcome two kinds of comments: what’s missing from this analysis and what do you think of the framework – does it add anything and how can it be improved?
“Today we can see two broad paradigms at work in international development. On the one side are Neo-Newtonian practices – those processes, procedures, roles and behaviour which emphasise standardisation, routines and regularities in response to or assuming predictabilities. On the other side, we can see what I call adaptive pluralism, which demands creativity, invention, improvisation and originality in adapting to and exploiting change.
The diagrams below build suggest some of the ways in which different elements of each paradigm are mutually reinforcing.
Elements in a Paradigm of Neo-Newtonian Practice
Elements in a Paradigm of Adaptive Pluralism
There are two points to make. First, it is not an either-or. These ways of thinking about the world need to co-exist in a much healthier manner than they do currently. Rosalind Eyben has written about how the formal, reductionist side of the aid system often overlays the adaptive side of the system, resulting in cognitive dissonance. It must be possible to get a better, more honest, and realistic, balance between the two.
Second, and to build on this, establishing a better balance needs to be grounded in the challenges we face right now, otherwise it is likely to be abstract and meaningless. Let me ask for suggestions of approaches, things we know that can be done better, where we might attempt paradigmatic win-wins. Maybe it is about furthering the results agenda through participation and local ownership. Perhaps it is developing more socially grounded alternatives to the logical framework. Maybe it is about how large databases and social networks can be developed in tandem in order to enhance aid transparency. Perhaps it is about how uncertainty and context can be better addressed within aid bureaucracies. In the wider world, areas come to mind where bridging the paradigms may be increasingly essential: climate change, urbanisation, HIV-AIDS, and the link between farming and animal health immediately come to mind.
However, here my own prejudices have to come to the fore. There is little doubt in my mind that the neo-Newtonian paradigm has become more and more dominant in development action, if not development thinking. It exerts a powerful influence – for better or for worse – on the way much of the system works. For balance, we need a countervailing pull. For the paradigmatic win-wins which I touched upon earlier to be recognised and acted upon, we need to understand better how adaptive pluralism can add value to development efforts, and how it can be accorded the status it deserves.”
Round and round we go on speculation – is it driving food price volatility or not? Tim Wise disagrees with Paul Krugman (a speculation sceptic – specscep?) Meanwhile, at the snarky end of things, Tim Worstallreally doesn’t think much of the Guardian’s John Vidal and his ‘banks are killing people’ line.
‘Instability will be most felt by those in urban areas – in the form of a disaffected middle and upper class, and a large cohort of the urban poor who, lacking alternative food sources, might be pushed over the brink by price increases’ Edward Carr reckons it may be richer consumers that have the most to lose from price volatility. [h/t Rob Bailey]
Who emits how much CO2? According to new figures “established economies have large – but declining – carbon emissions, while the new economic giants are growing rapidly… China emits more CO2 than the US and Canada put together – up by 171% since the year 2000 [but] the US is still number one in terms of per capita emissions among the big economies – with 18 tonnes emitted per person. China, by contrast, emits under six tonnes per person, India only 1.38.” Oh dear, if memory serves, we need to get down to between 1 and 2 tonnes per person if the planet is not to fry.
This blog is written and maintained by Duncan Green, strategic adviser for Oxfam GB and author of 'From Poverty to Power'. More information on Duncan and the book is available on the From Poverty to Power official website.
It is a personal reflection by the author. It is intended to provoke debate and conversations about development, not as a comprehensive statement of Oxfam's agreed policies - for those, please take a deep breath and read the Oxfam International strategic plan or consult policy papers on a range of development issues.