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). Continue reading
Migration is a notoriously divisive issue. Maybe David Goodhart, writing in the Guardian last week, should be commended for trying to say something new on the subject. But alas, his attempt to marry fairly standard right-wing anti-immigrant views with pro-welfare liberalism results in an article that is, to put it kindly, a little confused. Others have written well about the fact that he’s wrong on the evidence about the impact of immigration on the UK, and about how immigration policy is made. But he also makes some wild assertions about migration and development, which is what I know about, so let me start there.
First, he attributes some pretty extraordinary views to people like me who work in development and live in the UK. Apparently we think that UK policy should be just as much about people in Burundi as people in Birmingham (loving that alliteration, David). But, oh dear, he then tells us that in the UK, the apparent home of this hotbed of internationalist liberalism, we spend 25 times more every year on the NHS than on development aid. And, er, that most people see this as a ‘perfectly natural reflection of our layered obligations’ although ‘to a true universalist it must seem like a crime’. Spot the straw man. I have been working among these strange ‘universalist’ creatures for nearly 15 years now, and I have never met anyone, not one single person, who would argue to cut the NHS budget to spend more on overseas aid.
Tempting to say that there is no argument here since the people to whom the article is addressed do not exist, and the point of view he is rebutting is not one that anyone actually holds. Tempting to stop right there. But let’s plough on. Continue reading
Political theorists have for the most part focused on the state when thinking about how to make countries work better for their populations. This has naturally led to a concern with state-society relations, how governments are chosen and run, and institutions. There is wide consensus that social contracts play the central role in state building.
This thinking has heavily influenced how the international community approaches fragile states, post-conflict situations, and transitions as well as development in general. As the OECD/DAC explained in Concepts and Dilemmas of State Building in Fragile Situations:
Fragility arises primarily from weaknesses in the dynamic political process through which citizens’ expectations of the state and state expectations of citizens are reconciled and brought into equilibrium with the state’s capacity to deliver services. Reaching equilibrium in this negotiation over the social contract is the critical if not sole determinant of resilience, and disequilibrium the determinant of fragility. [page 7]
This focus on the state shapes responses to crises in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan, compelling the international community to prioritize the establishment of a transitional regime and fast track elections under the belief that this is the sole way to create legitimacy no matter the circumstances or the context.
But many of these countries have deeply-entrenched problems that a focus on the state cannot solve. Different religious, ethnic, and clan groups do not work together well, and see any competition for power as a zero sum game for exclusive control of the state. Government is weakly institutionalized, and unable to act as an independent, equitable arbitrator between different interests. Judges and officials are beholden to personal relationships, power politics, or money (and sometimes all three). In such places, winners of elections rarely see it as their duty to serve all their people, and often define their rights as whatever they can get away with—negating whatever social contract the process was supposed to establish. Continue reading
Honestly, the Westminster village can be so up itself in its sheer self-referentiality. More or less every piece I’ve read today on why David Miliband might have taken the job running the International Rescue Committee in New York has taken it as a given that his motivation must of course be rooted in Westminster factors, above all the “permanent pantomime” of his relationship with his brother Ed.
No doubt that will have been a factor, but it’s still astonishing that so little of today’s coverage stops to think about how Miliband’s decision might also have been influenced by a calculation about the politics of New York rather than Westminster.
- Since 2007, the senior UN post that has been informally regarded as ‘belonging’ to Britain is that of… why, Under Secretary General (USG) for Humanitarian Affairs. (The current postholder is my former boss Valerie Amos; before her it was career FCO diplomat John Holmes.) When Ban Ki-moon and his team finish their term, in 2016, David Miliband will have impeccable credentials on emergency relief and foreign policy and management of international organisations.
- Britain also has a pretty strong claim to an alternative, more senior USG post - or even to an additional one. Until recently, Britain had two USG posts (the other being the low profile but important role of running Safety and Security). Prior to 2005, Britain had a 12 year track record of filling the crucial post of USG for Political Affairs - the UN’s equivalent of Foreign Secretary (so another post that Miliband would be obviously qualified to fill). And for a little while, we fielded the post of Deputy Secretary-General too, in the form of Mark Malloch Brown. Who knows what Britain might end up with in 2016 if the government decided to make a strong push. And on that note…
- …when these jobs come up again in 2016, there’s a substantial chance that the government taking the decision on who to nominate for which post will led by one… Ed Miliband. Even if the Conservatives were still in power after the next election, the widespread respect for David Miliband on all sides of the Commons and in the Foreign Office (including William Hague himself) would still give him a strong shot at nomination.
Obviously the domestic political context will have been a factor in his decision. But David Miliband is far too experienced a foreign policy operator not to be competely aware of all the points above. And remember that he’ll still be only be 51 when Ban Ki-moon’s administration wraps up…