The sultan’s pavilion, Aya Sofya, Istanbul
During my annual visits to Turkey over the past fifteen years, I have taken a great interest in the country’s development. My wife was born in the southern town of Iskenderun, and most of her relatives still live either there or in Izmir or Istanbul. I have seen how many of those relatives have prospered economically over the past ten years having struggled greatly before that, and also how they have grown increasingly frustrated with the government that has helped create that prosperity.
I should say that most of those I have spoken to about Turkey’s progress (or in some areas lack of it) live on the coasts, where secularism is strong and where people value highly the freedoms Westernisation, since the time of Ataturk, has brought them. I have also had long conversations with Kurdish students, but very little dialogue with the religious conservatives from the interior who form the bulk of the governing AK Party’s support. Despite this deficit, however, I have usually found myself arguing in favour of the AKP’s record in often heated discussions with the secular liberals with whom I spend most of my time. My support was based primarily on economic arguments – and I accept that money isn’t everything, but it’s pretty important if, like too many Turks in the early 2000s, you are struggling to put food on the table – and I was also unconvinced by the secularists’ prediction that under AKP rule Turkey would soon become a new Iran.
The recent unrest, although predictable, has forced me to question my stance. While it is true that Turkey is nothing like Iran and that those fears have not been borne out, the heavy handed response to the protests by the police and the brittle reaction from the prime minister Tayyip Erdogan are indications that the government has taken an authoritarian turn. The decision to ban alcohol purchases in shops at night also seemed needlessly provocative (you can still buy drinks in bars) in a country where a significant minority of the population is convinced that it is on its way to theocracy.
I will be visiting Istanbul next month for a wedding, and have been told to expect an ear-bashing from my secular friends, many of whom have joined in the protests. So I thought I’d better arm myself – and work out whether my praise of Erdogan was misplaced – by gathering some data on how the country has done since he came to power in 2003. I looked at the economy, quality of life indicators such as health, education and equality, and the controversial topics of freedom of speech and corruption which fuel much of the criticism of the prime minister. I relied on the most recent available data from the World Bank, Freedom House and Transparency International. My research didn’t cover the harder to measure impacts of events such as the PKK ceasefire, Turkey’s support for the Syrian rebels, the reduction in influence of the military, or the jailing of army generals in the Ergenekon affair. I hope I haven’t been too selective with the indicators I’ve chosen, but here’s what I found:
- Per capita incomes have almost trebled since Erdogan came to power, rising from $3790 in 2003 to $10410 in 2011. On a purchasing power parity basis (at current US$), they have almost doubled, from $8700 to $16940.
- The poverty rate has fallen from 28% in 2003 to 18% in 2009.
- Turkey has risen slowly up the UN’s Human Development Index (which incorporates measures of life expectancy, education and income) from 96th place to 90th.
- Turkey has made slow progress in reducing income equality, its Gini Index score falling from 43 in 2002 to 40 in 2010 (lower is good). The share of income earned by the highest 10% of the population fell from 34% to 30%, and that of the top 20% from 49% to 46%.
- On gender equality, women’s labor force participation rate has barely shifted, from 27% in 2003 to 28% in 2010.
- The ratio of females to males enrolling in secondary education has increased from 73:100 to 92:100.
- The proportion of parliamentary seats held by women has risen from 4% to 14%.
- Life expectancy at birth has increased from 71 years in 2003 to 74 years in 2011 (for comparison, the global increase was from 68 years to 70 years).
- Immunization rates for DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) have increased from 68% of 12-23 month old children to 97%.
- The infant mortality rate has fallen from 22 children per 1,000 live births in 2003 to 12 children per 1,000 in 2011.
- Under-5 mortality has fallen from 28 children per 1,000 live births to 15.
- The share of pregnant women receiving prenatal care rose from 81% in 2003 to 95% in 2009.
- Net primary school enrolment is up from 95% to 99%, net secondary enrolment from 71% to 79%.
- Gross tertiary school enrolment is up from 28% to 55% (Mr Erdogan may be regretting this particular success…)
Freedom of speech:
- Freedom House rated Turkey a “partly free country” in terms of freedom of speech in 2003, and that assessment has not changed today. Scores on press freedom, civil liberties and political rights have shown no improvement, but nor have they declined. However, Turkey’s civil liberties score was downgraded from 3 to 4 in 2012 – back to its 2003 level – due to what Freedom House describes as ‘the pretrial detention of thousands of individuals—including Kurdish activists, journalists, union leaders, students, and military officers—in campaigns that many believe to be politically motivated.’
- In 2003 Turkey ranked 77th on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. In 2012 it had improved to 54th.
So take your pick. If the past is a guide to the future, those Turks who support the AK Party will seize on improvements in incomes, corruption, health care, education and poverty reduction, while those involved in the recent protests will point to recent declines in freedom of speech, limited advances in reducing income inequality, mixed results on gender inequality, and Turkey’s rather sluggish rise up the Human Development Index, which compares Turkey’s progress with that of other countries. To me, although there is clearly much work to be done, the balance still looks favourable. It is to be hoped that the protests will act as a constraint on Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian side and inspire him, with the help of all Turks, to make even stronger efforts to advance the country’s development. In the meantime, I shall be taking a flak jacket along with my gas mask when I visit next month.
June 5, 2013 at 7:26 pm | More on Conflict and security, Economics and development, Europe and Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa | 1 Comment
Sunday’s El País carried a surprising article detailing the increase in immigration from Africa to Spain in the past two years.
Although Spain is in the midst of a debilitating economic crisis, with an unemployment rate of over 27%, the number of would-be migrants crossing the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco in the first quarter of 2013 has quadrupled compared with the corresponding period in 2012. Alarmingly, the proportion using inflatable rubber dinghies – the kind your kids play on at the beach – has risen from 15% to 90% in the past year. These dinghies are designed to be used by two people, but in the Strait they are often intercepted with up to ten on board (Spain’s coastguard has yet to hear of one that has completed the fourteen kilometre journey – the lucky ones are rescued before they sink). In Morocco, the market in these vessels is thriving – a 2-3 metre boat that can be had for €300 in the Spanish beach resorts will set you back over €600 in Tangiers.
This continued flow of migrants from Africa to Europe gives the lie to the “Africa Rising” story peddled by some Western media outlets of late. Although GDP is growing in many parts of the continent, most Africans see nothing of this. The millions who have migrated from villages to cities in search of a better life too often end up with nothing to do, and in their desperation are forced to look further afield, to Europe, for a way out of poverty (as the chief prosecutor in the Spanish port town of Algeciras noted, ‘many people would love to have our crisis’).
While researching my new book, The Ringtone and the Drum: Travels in the World’s Poorest Countries, which as well as analysing the great social upheavals the developing world is going through as it modernises is an attempt to give voice to the people experiencing these changes on the ground, I observed this frustration at first hand. The population of Bissau, the capital of the tiny West African nation of Guinea-Bissau which was the first stop on my trip, has quadrupled in the past thirty years. Whole villages in the interior have emptied out as the land has become too crowded to farm and the lure of modernity entices people to the cities. My wife Ebru and I spent a few weeks in one of Bissau’s poorest districts, where, as the excerpt below shows, urbanisation’s losers face a constant dilemma over whether they too should undertake the perilous journey to the West:
Since there is no power and the heat quickly rots anything perishable, Bissau’s residents must lay in a new supply of food each day. Every morning, therefore, we walk down the paved but potholed road that leads from our bairro to Bissau’s main market at Bandim. The market is a labyrinth, its narrow dark lanes winding between rickety wooden stalls whose tin roofs jut out threateningly at throat height. A press of brightly-dressed shoppers haggles noisily over tomatoes, onions, smoked fish and meat. The vendors know their customers – you can buy individual eggs, teabags, cigarettes, sugar lumps and chilli peppers; bread sellers will cut a baguette in half if that is all you can afford; potatoes are divided into groups of three, tomatoes into pyramids of four; matches are sold in bundles of ten, along with a piece of the striking surface torn from the box. In the days leading up to Christmas and New Year, which all Guineans celebrate regardless of their religious persuasion, the market is crowded and chaotic, but after the turn of the year, when all the money has been spent, it is empty and silent.
Only the alcohol sellers do a year-round trade. On a half-mile stretch of the paved road there are thirteen bars or liquor stores. They sell cheap Portuguese red wine, bottled lager, palm wine and cana, a strong rum made with cashew apples. Bissau has a drink problem. Its inhabitants’ love of alcohol is well-known throughout West Africa. Back in Senegal, a fellow passenger on one of our bush taxi rides had warned us that Guineans ‘like to drink and party but they don’t like to work.’ Later in our trip, on hearing we had spent time here, Sierra Leoneans would talk in awed tones of Guineans’ capacity for alcohol consumption. The liquor stores near our bairro are busy at all hours of the day and night. Christians and animists quaff openly, Muslims more discreetly.
For there is little to do but drink. When the hordes of wide-eyed villagers arrive in the capital, there is nothing here – no neon lights, no buzzing shopping malls, very few private cars or motorbikes. All they see is poverty, filth and a jumble of crowded neighbourhoods that bear an alarming resemblance to what they have left behind. Nor is there any work. The aid jobs have been colonised by foreigners, government is in the hands of a small clique of elders, and the few public sector positions in a city with scant public services are handed out to the friends and relatives of the powerful, not to humble, uneducated peasants. The new arrivals are too late – there are too many people and not enough jobs; the threadbare urban economy, like the villages they have forsaken, has no room for them.
The only option available to them is commerce. But how can they lower themselves to hawking in the markets? These are people used to real work: hard physical labour in the fields, hunting, fishing, work for which you need strength, determination, patience, where you are judged by the size of the yams you produce, the sacks of rice you harvest. A man’s work. Commerce is for women and for Fulas, those flighty Muslims from the east who are too lazy, too eager for a fast buck, to bend their backs in the fields. Bandim market is dominated by women, Fula men and foreigners. Coffee sellers from Guinea-Conakry, medicine men from Niger and pale-skinned Mauritanian shopkeepers compete for business with Senegalese, Gambians and Malians. Even if they could put aside their hauteur, Guineans would not easily find a niche – the foreigners and Fulani are well ensconced; they have taken the prized pitches, honed the sharpest sales techniques, cornered the best customers. Here again the villagers are crowded out, here again they have arrived too late.
So instead they idle. They drink, play chequers, or brew green tea. Many survive on one meal a day – they call it “um tiro”, one shot. The well-connected crowd into small houses with relatives or friends, six or seven sharing a room; those without contacts must sneak into the market at night to sleep under the tables. I ask a local headmaster, Carlito, if he thinks the migrants would be better off staying in the villages. He replies without hesitation: ‘If I could afford a tractor, I’d go back to the village myself.’
But the new arrivals have their pride. While they were back home toiling in the fields, those who came from the city to visit were the ones who had prospered, who had made it (the others, who did not come back, were presumed to be too busy to take time out from their soaring new careers). With them these pioneers brought not just mobile phones and sports shoes, but an aura of glory, of achievement, of success. Can those who followed them now go back as failures? Can they give up their dreams of betterment and return – forever – to a life of drudgery? Of course, they cannot. It is too late for that, as well. Their aspirations have left the fields behind. The village is the past, not the future. In their minds they have moved on, and turning back is impossible to countenance.
Next to the mission in a small, whitewashed one-room building, a young Christian convert named Tino has a shop. He built it with his own hands, having saved enough money as a hawker to buy bricks, cement and a plot of land. From behind the metal grid that fronts it he sells basic provisions – washing powder, sachets of water, tinned sardines, pencils, exercise books and other sundries. The shelves are only thinly stocked, however, and since he opened up a few months ago business has been quiet. He spends most of the day sitting on the raised platform out front, reading the Bible or playing chequers with his friend, Joka. I sometimes join them in the sultry late afternoons after buying teabags and eggs from the shop for the next day’s breakfast. Tino without fail gives me his plastic chair and pulls up a less comfortable wooden stool for himself. Small children run around squealing in the street below us as we talk.
Neither of them is happy. Joka, tall and languid, sprawls across his plastic chair like an octopus. He is often asleep when I pass, his head lolling pendulously over the back of the chair, a living image of Orwell’s ‘boredom which is inseparable from poverty; the times when you have nothing to do and, being underfed, can interest yourself in nothing.’ He came to Bissau as a child from a village in the north. Although he completed several years of schooling and speaks three languages, he cannot find a job. He complains about the lack of opportunities for young people in the city. ‘The government does nothing for us,’ he spits, his general air of sloth betraying an angry streak that I have encountered before among young men in more combustible parts of West Africa. ‘All they do is stuff their pockets. The only people who can find jobs here are the family and friends of politicians. They live in big houses and drive big cars. Nobody else has a chance.’ Tino, smaller and more compact than his friend and with a less cynical demeanour, nevertheless concurs. ‘People in the countryside think conditions are good here in Bissau,’ he says, ‘but they are wrong. There is nothing here.’
Their resentment is trained on the older generation. The heroes of the war of independence have reneged on their promises. Instead of development they brought impoverishment; since the colonists departed, incomes have plummeted. Although a handful of the country’s leaders have prospered, the wealth has not been shared. The elders allowed – encouraged! – the spread of corruption, and excluded the next generation from prosperity and power.
Until recently the young have kept quiet, mindful that Africa expects deference towards its elders. But look around Bissau and you see signs of change. In the shade of an abandoned Portuguese building in the old town is a stall selling cheap replica football shirts. They are in blue and white stripes or green and white hoops – the colours of Porto FC, or Sporting Lisbon. Some are in the deep red of the Portuguese national team. Teenage boys wear T-shirts emblazoned with photos of Deco or Ronaldo, the modern heroes of Portuguese football. Most young Guineans do not want Ghana or the Ivory Coast to win the upcoming World Cup; they are supporting their old colonial masters. To the dismay of the elders, their children and grandchildren do not despise but look up to Portugal. Tino and Joka are among numerous young people who talk of “taking the boat to Europe,” where you can get ahead through merit and hard work rather than deceit and nepotism. The journey, they know, is dangerous and often fatal, claiming thousands of West African lives each year, but their patience is running out.
The Ringtone and the Drum, which is available as a paperback and e-book, was reviewed by Claire Melamed here on Global Dashboard in January. I will post a second instalment on responses to modernisation later this month.
May 7, 2013 at 10:21 am | More on Africa, Economics and development | Comments Off
Unlike many of those who were still in their childhood or teens through most of her reign, I don’t have a very strong view about Margaret Thatcher. I wasn’t interested in politics at the time, and although generally viewing her in a negative light for what she did to the miners have never been sure that she wasn’t beneficial overall for the British economy.
I don’t intend to start spouting my opinions now, but since many others are doing so I thought I’d put forward a few statistics to help guide the discussion. What, I asked myself, would I have wanted to see happen during an eleven-year reign? I discarded foreign policy as it’s too vague an area for concrete data (Twitterites can’t even agree on whether or not she called Nelson Mandela a terrorist), and limited myself to the Iron Lady’s impact on quality of life in Britain. Where possible, I compared Britain’s progress between 1979 and 1990 with Europe’s and the world’s. I realise that some of her structural reforms might not be expected to bear fruit for many years, but 1990, when she stepped down, is the only clear and indisputable time threshold available, so 1990 is what I stuck with. I also didn’t have much time, so limited my search to five key quality of life indicators. Here’s the rub:
- Life expectancy at birth: Rose in the UK from 72.9 years to 75 years, a 2.8% increase. This compares with a European increase of 2.4% and a world increase of 4.8%. (Source: UN Population Division)
- GDP per capita (at constant 2005 international $): Rose in the UK from $18153 in 1980 to $23348 in 1990, a 29% increase. This compares with a European increase of 23% and a world increase of 15%. (Source: World Bank)
- Unemployment: Rose in the UK from 5.4% to 6.4%, and in the European Union from 5% to 8% (Source: Office for National Statistics)
- Poverty: Rose in the UK from 13.4% to 22.2% (Source: Institute for Fiscal Studies report)
- Crime: Hard to find concrete data, but this British Crime Survey report shows a rise in crime during the 1980s, at a rate slightly faster than population growth.
So there you have it – and this is of course far from an exhaustive list. Poverty, unemployment and crime all increased during Thatcher’s time in office, as did GDP per capita and life expectancy. Britain under Thatcher performed better than the European average in terms of life expectancy improvements, GDP per capita growth, and unemployment. I’ll leave it to others to draw conclusions, and would welcome any additional quality of life data to add to the list.
April 8, 2013 at 8:10 pm | More on Economics and development, UK | 9 Comments
The Bijagós Islands, Guinea-Bissau
Rear Admiral Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, who was arrested by US agents in a sting operation in international waters on Tuesday, has had an exciting career.
As head of Guinea-Bissau’s ill equipped navy in the middle of the last decade, he was widely thought to be a key player in facilitating the passage of cocaine from South America to Europe via his country’s Bijagós islands. Perfectly placed to oversee the traffic through the remote, forest-covered archipelago, he gained popularity among ordinary Guineans by being lavish with the rewards that came with his position.
Power, however, went to his head, and in 2008 Bubo was forced to flee the country in fear of his life after a coup he plotted to oust then-president Nino Vieira failed. He went to Gambia, but after two years there, and weary of exile, he took advantage of the assassination of Vieira to return to his homeland. Leaving Gambia in a dugout canoe, he made his way through the waterways and forests of northern Guinea-Bissau and, having evaded numerous checkpoints (one of which snagged me a few days later as checkpoint guards were belatedly put on high alert), walked into the United Nations building in the capital and demanded refugee status. The national government was outraged, but the UN was obliged by its constitution to grant him asylum, and Bubo remained under its protection until a group of renegade soldiers took him under their “protection” a few months later and made him a figurehead in their own coup attempt.
While all this was going on, Bubo had been labelled a “drug kingpin” by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (a well-named agency if ever there was one), but had shrugged off the threat this posed to his business activities by saying he didn’t have enough money to open a bank account in the US. In October 2010, much to the chagrin of European Union officials who had been trying to stamp out the drug trade, he was reinstated as navy chief (Bubo always denied involvement in the trade, challenging his accusers to provide proof).
In December 2011, Bubo was at it again, leading another unsuccessful coup attempt against then-prime minister Carlos Gomes Jr which resulted in his arrest. He was jailed in the town of Mansoa, but freed in June last year after army boss Antonio Indjai decided that it was no longer necessary to keep him in captivity now that Indjai himself had ousted Gomes Jr in another coup. Bubo celebrated his freedom by parading around the capital Bissau in a large black car surrounded by bodyguards.
In October last year it seemed Bubo was on his way back to pre-eminence. He held talks with Antonio Indjai (who many suspect to have been the country’s de facto leader since he seized control of the army in 2010), and it appeared his return from the dead (almost literally – last April I came across a report that claimed he had been shot in the head outside Mansoa jail) was complete.
Now, though, it is all over. Bubo once again overstepped the mark. DEA agents reportedly arrested him after a sting operation in which they posed as drug purchasers. He was, it is claimed, in a boat with four colleagues in international waters. Taken to Cape Verde, he is now on his way to the US to be questioned – the Guinean government has yet to produce an official response to the snatching of one of its citizens.
Bubo’s trial will no doubt shed some light on the murky waters of the West African cocaine trade. Indeed, his arrest is the first proof that senior Guinea-Bissau officials are involved. Some will celebrate his demise, but with European demand for cocaine showing few signs of abating and Western politicians giving no indication that they are willing to stop deflecting onto developing countries the challenge of dealing with the drug trade, there will be plenty queuing up to replace him.
(NB: For much more on Bubo, the West African cocaine trade, and Guinea-Bissau in general, see my new book The Ringtone and the Drum).
April 5, 2013 at 9:20 am | More on Africa, Conflict and security | Comments Off
When I was young, naive and ignorant both of humanity’s complexity and my own limitations, I believed I would one day save the world. Once I reached adulthood, I thought, the willpower and abilities I possessed would be sufficient to wipe out poverty and put an end to conflict.
Then I grew up. I slowly realised that the world was not for saving, much less by one individual, and least of all by me. As I studied history, I realised too that the only people who still believed they could save the world having reached adulthood were dictators or madmen, and that their efforts always ended in failure.
It turns out, however, that I grew cynical too soon, and that in reality it is possible for one man to save the world, or at least a large part of it. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, believes that he has singlehandedly rescued Africa from poverty and underdevelopment. In an article on the Guardian website which must be either a push for a Nobel Prize or a pitch for a job at the UN or World Bank, he argues that all of the recent socio-economic improvements that have taken place in Africa resulted from his own focus on increasing international aid (he has nothing to say about the many African countries that have yet to see any improvement).
The beginning of Africa’s salvation, Blair claims, came at the Gleneagles G8 summit which Britain hosted in 2005. His role in the summit was crucial for Africa. As he reports:
Summits with genuine, long-lasting outcomes are rare. But as we started planning for the Gleneagles G8 meeting in 2005, I saw that it could be one of these rare ones – a summit about changing the world…
I decided to put Africa at the top of the agenda for Gleneagles…And it worked. Today, the positive legacy of that summit is still being felt across Africa: aid was doubled and developing world debt dropped.
Now an increase in aid is not, of course, an end in itself. Large quantities of aid given to Africa over the decades have been squandered on entrenching corrupt elites or padding the overseas bank accounts of dictators, with little impact on the quality of life of ordinary Africans. Gleneagles, however, not only increased the quantity of aid; it apparently dramatically increased its effectiveness. Here is Blair again:
I want to answer the aid sceptics – those who think aid doesn’t work or is all swallowed up in corruption. Look at the facts. In Africa since 2005, the rate of children dying before their fifth birthday has fallen by 18%. The proportion of people in Africa living in extreme poverty is down by nearly 10%.
It is undeniable that the latter two sentences are facts, but Blair offers no evidence that they have anything to do with an increase in aid. That they might have had more to do with increased investment in and trade with Africa by China, remittances and ideas sent from the diaspora, high commodity prices, or anything Africans living in Africa might have done is a possibility Blair is either unaware of or, because it does not fit with his messianic self-image, has no interest in highlighting. He even takes the credit for foreign investment. He writes:
Africa is among the fastest-growing regions in the world. The Gleneagles agreement can claim some credit for this; bilateral aid for trade to sub-Saharan Africa has almost doubled between 2005 and 2011. Foreign direct investment in the continent has increased by 87% in the past 10 years.
Again, no evidence is presented linking aid to fast growth – it is merely hoped that the juxtaposition of the two things will convince the unwary reader. Even Blair’s buddy Bob Geldof doesn’t have the chutzpah to attribute China’s growing influence in the continent to Gleneagles, admitting in an otherwise tub-thumping piece today (in which he refers to Africans as ‘the people you kept alive all those 30 years ago’ and to Africa’s success as ‘Blair’s lasting legacy’) that trade was not discussed at the Scottish summit. Blair, though, is in no doubt. ‘The last decade of development progress was defined by aid,’ he announces.
Blair does admit that despite his efforts Africa is not yet a utopia, and that improvements can still be made. Fortunately, he has the answers for these too. ‘After leaving office,’ he writes, ‘I set up the Africa Governance Initiative to continue my work on that forgotten half.’ The forgotten half refers to ‘the ability of governments in developing countries to get things done.’ In Blair’s world aid alone, or at least the aid he generated, has rescued Africa – the region’s governments have had nothing to do with it and like their people, who have thrived only since he decided to help them, can do little without his assistance.
Blair has one final piece of evidence, in case we remain unpersuaded that he is Africa’s saviour. ‘The very fact that people are still talking about Gleneagles eight years on shows that we were right to be ambitious, to change the debate.’ he writes. We will have to take his word for it that Gleneagles remains the talk of the town, and the argument that noise proves success is at least no flimsier than some of his other contentions. It’s certainly strong enough for the image-conscious Blair, who concludes his article by proclaiming that ‘the journey from Gleneagles to long-lasting development in Africa is not over [there was, it seems, no journey before the summit]. But Africa is on the move and if we keep going on the whole Gleneagles agenda…the continent will be transformed. So I’m proud to say that Gleneagles has turned out to be that rare thing – a summit that matters.’ If anywhere else in the world needs rescuing, they know who to call.
March 4, 2013 at 11:27 am | More on Africa, Economics and development | Comments Off
The ever-reliable Michael Lewis, reviewing a new book by a repentant Goldman Sachs employee, nails the (continuing) financial/political crisis:
February 4, 2013 at 12:34 pm | More on Economics and development, North America | Comments Off
Stop and think once more about what has just happened on Wall Street: its most admired firm conspired to flood the financial system with worthless securities, then set itself up to profit from betting against those very same securities, and in the bargain helped to precipitate a world historic financial crisis that cost millions of people their jobs and convulsed our political system. In other places, or at other times, the firm would be put out of business, and its leaders shamed and jailed and strung from lampposts. (I am not advocating the latter.) Instead Goldman Sachs, like the other too-big-to-fail firms, has been handed tens of billions in government subsidies, on the theory that we cannot live without them. They were then permitted to pay politicians to prevent laws being passed to change their business, and bribe public officials (with the implicit promise of future employment) to neuter the laws that were passed—so that they might continue to behave in more or less the same way that brought ruin on us all.
Matthew Yglesias in Slate has worked out some of what would happen if the United States opened up its borders:
According to Gallup there are 150 million people around the world who say they’d like to move permanently to the United States. Right now the United States has about 89 residents per square mile. Add another 150 million people and we’d be at around 135 people per square mile. How would that stack up in context? Well, France has 303 people per square mile and Germany has 593. Japan has 873. The Dutch have 1,287!
Of course, such a radical move would be anathema to most Americans (including most of those who themselves migrated to the country), but as Yglesias points out, ‘all those places have their share of problems (and so do we) but none of them are exactly post-apocalyptic hellscapes.’ Indeed, there may be large benefits to the US if it worked towards freeing up immigration:
The United States ran an open borders regime throughout the 19th century and we weren’t worse off for it. On the contrary, it laid the foundations for American greatness. Shifting back in that direction—with exceptions for dangerous criminals and other select problem types—over time seems perfectly feasible to me and would substantially increase overall human welfare.
We tend to value the welfare of our fellow countrymen more highly than that of those unlucky enough to be born in other countries (and particularly that of those born in poor countries), so open borders are likely to remain a taboo for now. For those interested in the sum of human wellbeing, though, it’s good to see such arguments getting an airing.
January 28, 2013 at 9:37 am | More on Cooperation and coherence, Global system | 1 Comment
‘We need to be absolutely clear whose fault this is. It is the terrorists who are responsible for this attack and for the loss of life.’ (David Cameron, House of Commons, 18 January)
‘The responsibility for the tragic events of the last two days squarely rests with terrorists.’ (William Hague, Sky News, 18 January)
In the light of the weekend’s tragic events in Algeria, the British government has been firm in its condemnation of the terrorists who carried out the kidnappings. This reaction is understandable. The attacks were conducted by bad, deluded men taking murderous decisions in support of a bad, deluded ideology.
But it is also only a partially correct interpretation. Yes, the immediate event in question can be blamed on a small group of terrorists, but these terrorists did not emerge in a vacuum, and once the dust has settled it is to be hoped that the British and other Western governments will develop a more considered, more nuanced analysis.
You do not have to go too far back down the trail that led to the kidnappings to discover Western actions that made them more likely. Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the mastermind behind the attacks, is probably a fanatic, definitely a murderer. But he rose to prominence in Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s, which had been triggered by the annulling of an election won by Islamists. The French government supported the illegitimate Algerian leadership in that conflict, thereby helping to nurture the generation of violent radicals from which Belmokhtar and other Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leaders sprung.
Nor can Belmokhtar carry out attacks alone. He needs men and arms, and to acquire these he needs money. He and his AQIM cohorts have had two major funding sources. The first is drug trafficking across the Sahara, a trade which would not exist if Europe, instead of deflecting its law and order problems onto Africa, legalised drugs. The second is kidnapping – tens of millions of dollars have been paid to AQIM by European governments in return for the release of hostages. (A third revenue stream is human trafficking, whose extent is unknown but which is rendered possible by Europe’s restrictions on legal migration from Africa).
With the funds from these activities, Belmokhtar can buy arms, including those that scattered across the Sahara after the fall of Gaddafi in Libya. Gaddafi’s demise was hastened by Western military involvement in the conflict, yet Western forces failed to stop large quantities of weapons falling into the hands of AQIM and of the Tuareg fighters who instigated the troubles in Mali to which the Algeria attack was a response. Some of those arms, moreover, are likely to have been sold to Libya by the UK, France and other European powers.
Belmokhtar can also buy men. West Africa is full of unemployed, frustrated young men who see no prospect of achieving their goals through peaceful means. Their governments have been hollowed out, first by Western colonialism (a former British foreign secretary in 1943 likened the granting of independence to ‘giving a child of ten a latch-key, a bank account and a shotgun’), and more recently by corruption. Mali’s pre-coup government is itself widely thought to have been involved in the drug trade, and the corruption this engendered left it ill placed both to invest in the country’s youth and to fend off revolt (it was eventually toppled by a ragtag bunch of junior soldiers). In nearby Nigeria, whose own fundamentalist terror mutation Boko Haram has supplied fighters to the Mali rebels, corruption abetted by Western oil companies has exacerbated northern discontent and made it easier for young northerners to persuade themselves that violence is justified.
This hollowing out of governments leaves young people marooned in the face of greater challenges. The population boom has combined with climate change to render it ever more difficult for them to find work and set up families. Rainfall in the Sahel region has declined by one quarter since 1950, and it is not Africans who have caused the environment to heat up. The population boom was assisted by Western medical advances, but was not accompanied by efforts by the colonial powers to educate their people. Europe enjoyed the same medical and public health advances as West Africa, but the population boom in the former was much less dramatic, and one of the reasons for this is that European women were better educated and therefore better able and more inclined to keep fertility to manageable levels. When Guinea-Bissau gained independence from Portugal in 1975, only one in fifty Guineans could read and write – again, the roots of current events can be traced back to Western actions. West Africa’s burgeoning generation of young men, meanwhile, has become a fertile recruiting pool for Belmokhtar and other jihadis.
I could go on, to discuss how other events with which Western countries had been involved – the colonial powers’ division of the Tuareg homeland, the Mali government’s historic failure to help the Tuareg cope with the effects of climate change, this month’s French intervention in Mali, etc – were all directly or indirectly linked to the disaster in Algeria. But Western policy-makers should be getting the picture by now (if not, they can look to this excellent Observer editorial for an even broader view). Cameron and Hague’s response to the kidnappings is understandable, but in the long-term unhelpful. If the West is to help stop these events happening in the future, a more constructive approach, in a globalising world where repercussions quickly cross borders, would be to examine its own role in making their occurrence more likely.
January 20, 2013 at 5:05 pm | More on Africa, Conflict and security, Cooperation and coherence | 1 Comment
January 10, 2013 at 9:51 am | More on What we're watching | Comments Off
The New Year brings news of a boom in facial hair implants in Istanbul. Follically-challenged men are coming from all corners of the Middle East to bolster their beards and multiply their moustaches. For a cool $2,300, those looking for wives or social advancement can buy themselves a head start at one of the city’s cosmetic surgeries – there are even special hair transplant tour packages, estimated to bring in 50 Arab tourists a day.
‘Thick hair is a status symbol,’ one cosmetic surgeon told the Guardian. Another, who is optimistically hoping to expand his operations to smooth-skinned Europe, reported: ‘Both in Turkey and in Arab countries facial hair is associated with masculinity, and its lack can cause social difficulties. Businessmen come to me to get beard and moustache implants, because they say that business partners do not take them seriously if they don’t sport facial hair.’
Global Dashboard readers planning business ventures in the Middle East – male ones anyway – take note.
January 9, 2013 at 11:31 am | More on Middle East and North Africa, Off topic | Comments Off
Michael Clemens and co-authors have just won this year’s Royal Economic Society Prize for a paper on aid’s role in pushing economic growth (ungated version here). It turns out that contrary to previous findings that aid and growth are unrelated, if you allow plenty of time for their results to kick in, certain types of aid do have positive impacts.
With African economies by all accounts booming in the past few years, this got me wondering whether the widely criticised structural adjustment programmes that were imposed on Africa in the 1980s and 1990s in return for World Bank and IMF loans might also come out looking slightly rosier if a time lag were allowed for. With the continent’s recent rise attributed by many to the improvements in macroeconomic policies that structural adjustment aimed to trigger, it may be time for a new look at a policy that most development professionals have written off, and an interesting challenge, too, for economists wanting to win next year’s prize.
December 10, 2012 at 8:58 pm | More on Africa, Economics and development | Comments Off
If you were asked to rank the peoples of the world in terms of their enthusiasm for the things of the 21st century, it is a fair bet that Singaporeans, Japanese, the coastal-dwelling communities of America and perhaps Scandinavians would be near the top of your list. Groups like the Amish, Afghanistan’s Taliban, the nomads of the Sahara and the creationists of the American interior are likely to be somewhat further down.
Compared with the hunter-gatherer Pygmies of the Congo Basin, however, these latter groups are novelty fetishists. Said Pygmies not only spurn such commonplace phenomena of the modern world as farming, villages or towns, and houses; they also get by perfectly well without reading, writing, or ever venturing out of their rainforest home. They are, you could be forgiven for thinking, the Luddite’s Luddites.
But in a paper published last March, the anthropologist Jerome Lewis showed a different side to a people who at first glance appear so stick-in-the-mud. The paper is worth reading in full for its exposé of how it is not just rapacious logging companies but also conservationists who are destroying the Pygmies’ traditional way of life, but its most arresting passages describe how these forest-dwellers have embraced modern technology to combat the threats they face.
Logging tramples on the Pygmies’ sacred sites, destroys their favoured campsite locations, and removes vital hunting and gathering grounds (the fencing off of national parks to protect the forests from the loggers has a similar effect). Rates of malnutrition among Pygmies have increased since African governments, in attempting to alleviate poverty at a national level, made it easier for loggers to strip the forests. ’We who are older notice that all that was in the forest before is getting less,’ complained a Pygmy elder interviewed by Lewis. ‘We used to always find things - yams, pigs and many other things. We thought that would never end. Now when we look we can’t find them any more.’
To counter these blights, the Baka Pygmies of Cameroon and their Mbendjele counterparts in Congo, assisted by a handful of local and international NGOs, have adopted a novel solution. The advent of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology had initially weakened their control over strangers who entered their territory – GPS units with receivers that could work under the forest canopy meant that non-forest people no longer needed Pygmies to guide them. But they are now turning the technology to their advantage. Complaining to the authorities about what was happening to their customary hunting grounds had got them nowhere, but showing forestry officials, conservationists and logging firms maps of how they use the forest and of the trails and places that are important to them has proved much more effective, and in some cases has prompted the abandonment of plans that would have appropriated Pygmy land. The maps, as Jerome Lewis notes, ‘have been able to show in a concise and precise way the hunter-gatherers’ forest use and spiritual values in a format that is easier to incorporate in high level management planning.’
Companies seeking Forest Stewardship Council certification, which promotes responsible forest management by logging firms, have taken the lead in this area and encouraged Pygmy communities to chart their territories using handheld GPS devices. Since users are non-literate, the mapping software contained in the devices relies on icons rather than words or numbers. A man with a spear represents hunting areas, for example, and a group of people symbolises social and religious resources. Jerome Lewis, who helped develop the software, explains how it works:
A woman wishing to protect a sacred tree walks to the tree and presses the touch screen icon of people grouped together. This takes her to a screen showing three community and cultural resource items that people were concerned to protect. She chooses ‘sacred places’ by pressing on the icon of Ejengi, an important forest spirit. This takes her to the third screen where she can choose between the sacred path and the sacred tree. She presses on the icon of the sacred tree and the GPS unit makes a ‘beep’ to inform her that the point has been saved to the hard-drive.
Data was automatically registered with location and type of resource on the hard-drive and could be transferred by blue-tooth or cable to a suitably configured laptop, even deep in the forest, in less than a minute.
The resulting maps, generated by a number of different individuals, are then discussed and agreed on by the community as a whole before being presented to interested parties. The logging firm Congolaise Industrielle du Bois, for example, which operates on Mbendjele territory in northern Congo, integrated the locations geo-referenced by the Pygmies into maps showing the planned cutting schedule. Every resource the Mbendjele wanted to preserve has been removed from the cutting schedule, and marked with paint so that forestry workers know it is to be spared the axe.
Similar schemes are being developed to enable Pygmy communities to monitor illegal logging and poaching, and to maintain their access to national parks. The results often surprise – mapping by Baka communities in two national parks in south-eastern Cameroon showed strong overlap between their traditional forests and areas used by chimpanzees and gorillas. This convinced the government and park managers that Baka customary use is both sustainable and compatible with conservation, and indeed, as Lewis reports, that ‘the main threat to biodiversity is the erosion of traditional practices, top-down planning and commercial bushmeat exploitation by outsiders.’ The World Wildlife Fund has responded to the findings by committing to protect the Baka’s rights in management plans for the parks.
Of course, serious threats remain to the Pygmies’ way of life. Not all logging companies are interested in certification schemes or in forest-dwellers’ rights. Governments, too, remain keener to reap the rewards of logging contracts than to protect a people many see as an anachronistic embarrassment. But in bypassing reading and writing and leapfrogging directly to GPS mapping, the Pygmies have acquired a powerful weapon in their struggle, and shown too that they are not averse to borrowing from the new to preserve the old.
November 26, 2012 at 1:06 pm | More on Africa, Climate and resource scarcity | Comments Off
How a Liberian uses low-tech to solve his community’s information deficit:
Many people in the West African city of Monrovia can’t afford to buy newspapers or electricity to access the internet, so Alfred J Sirleaf had to come up with a way to bring information cheaply to the people. He believes a well-informed people are the key to Liberia’s rebirth so he’s been providing valuable news every day on a huge blackboard in the centre of town. For local news, he relies on a team of volunteer reporters who come to him with stories, while for international events he goes to an internet cafe. Then, in the newsroom, a small wooden shed attached to the back of his blackboard, he updates The Daily Talk with chalk.
Via The New Zealand Herald
November 19, 2012 at 10:29 am | More on Africa, Influence and networks | Comments Off
Oil barrel coffin, Ghana (photo courtesy Flickr user What KT Did)
In The Ringtone and the Drum, my recently published book on West Africa, I described how diamonds have proved a curse rather than a blessing to Sierra Leone:
Once the resource curse falls on a country, like a deadly virus it spreads rapidly, crippling its host’s every organ, paralysing its every function. First to suffer are farming and manufacturing. The profits from diamonds (or oil or gold) far outweigh those achievable through agriculture or industry, and it makes economic sense to allow mineral extraction to become the dominant productive activity. Often it becomes the sole productive activity. Diamonds give a country’s leaders more wealth than they ever dreamed of, so they no longer need to worry about other parts of the economy. Minerals become the only way to make a living; everything else is left to rot. As other, more labour-intensive sectors collapse, the majority of the population has no work (the decline of Sierra Leonean agriculture was swift: twenty years after discovering its precious stones, the country had gone from exporting rice to importing it). A chasm opens up, between the rich few with access to mineral wealth, and the poor masses who are shut out.
The masses have no outlet for their frustrations, no way of redressing the balance. While they are growing rich on diamond exports the leaders of a resource-cursed country do not need to agonise over what their subjects think of them. Governments in countries lacking in valuable minerals depend on taxes to keep them in business; without them, ministers would not be paid and the machinery of government could not function. For taxes to be paid, the state must count on at least some degree of support from its citizens, and is to some degree answerable to them – if it ignores their needs entirely, citizens will use non-payment of tax as a bargaining chip. But in diamond-rich economies, governments need nothing from their people; profits from the gems are more than sufficient to keep the leaders in luxury, and their subjects, lacking any leverage over them, have no way of agitating peacefully for a fair share of the pie.
Sierra Leone’s near-neighbour Ghana, the world’s newest oil producer and one of its fastest growing economies, has so far avoided damage to non-oil sectors, but last week brought a worrying sign that politicians are keen to get their hands on oil revenues. By itself, and even though inflation in the country is running at just 9%, members of parliament awarding themselves a 140% pay rise may not be cause for tremendous alarm – Ghanaian MPs’ monthly salary of $3,800 is still much lower than that of their Kenyan counterparts, for example, who trouser a cool $10,000 a month.
But it is difficult to understand why such a pay rise should be backdated to 2009. Such a ruse means that in January next year, lawmakers will receive a windfall of $109,025 (the $2,225 pay rise multiplied by 49 months). Ordinary Ghanaians who are struggling to make ends meet are unlikely to be aware of the full extent of the politicians’ good fortune, but if they did have time to do the calculation they would receive a nasty shock: it would take a Ghanaian on the minimum wage 121 years to earn what MPs have just gifted themselves.
November 13, 2012 at 5:28 pm | More on Africa, Climate and resource scarcity, Economics and development | Comments Off
News is emerging that an oil tanker has been hijacked off the Nigerian coast. This appears to be part of a growing trend, and one that was predicted in these pages four years ago (even a blind pig sometimes finds a truffle). Back in December 2008 I wrote of the attractions of West Africa as a venue for piracy, suggesting that its coast ‘has many of the elements that make Somalia a good spot for a bit of buccaneering – rank poverty, lots of underemployed young men, unstable governments, endemic corruption and favourable geography.’ If ships start going the long way round the Horn of Africa to avoid the East African coast, I added, ‘they might be in for a nasty surprise when they reach the opposite side of the continent.’
A few months later I posted this map published by the International Maritime Bureau, showing the global distribution of pirate attacks in the first part of 2009:
You need only compare this with the IMB’s latest 2012 map to see how rapidly the industry has expanded in West Africa:
September 5, 2012 at 12:40 pm | More on Africa, Conflict and security | Comments Off