Did the world just get simpler?

Among our many neuroses, we right on development types like to agonise about what words to use to describe countries. Low, middle and high income? Bit technocratic and reductionist for many. ‘Developed’ and ‘developing’? Too value laden for some tastes, and implying that we in, say, Europe, are at some ‘end of history’ type nirvana which others are struggling to emulate. ‘First’ and ‘Third’ worlds? Even more value laden and with some anachronistic Cold War overtones for good measure.

Oh how we worry. But recently I’ve noticed that the one I used to find most annoying – ‘North’ and ‘South’ – seems to be gaining ground on the others[1].  I use it more and more myself (yeah, hypocrite…).  What’s the appeal? It’s suitably vague to not have the overly prescriptive drawbacks of the others, yet there’s just enough in it for people to know (or think they know) what you mean. It’s got more political and less technical implications, which often suits the thing that people are trying to get across more than narrowly economic categories.

Of course it’s ludicrously simplistic, but maybe that’s the point.


[1] Or is it just me?

 

Post-2015: where does sustainability fit in? (Updated)

Climate, scarcity and sustainability are among the most important – and politically challenging – elements of the post-2015 development agenda on what should succeed the Millennium Development Goals.

While sustainability issues did not feature heavily at the recent London meeting of the new UN High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which was focused mainly on household level poverty, they are likely to figure much more prominently at the Panel’s second and third meetings – in Monrovia in February and Bali in March – since these meetings will focus on national and global level issues respectively.

Before these meetings, sustainability advocates have some hard thinking to do: on both their policy objectives and their political tactics, in both the Panel and the post-2015 agenda as a whole. To try to contribute to that thought process, here’s a 6 page think piece. It’s deliberately provocative, and also still a working draft – so feedback is very welcome.

Update: The paper’s now been finalised and published as a Center on International Cooperation think piece; many thanks to everyone who commented.

No power? No computers? No smartphones? No problem. Blogging by blackboard in Liberia

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

“Within five months, they’d hacked Android…”

The experiment is being done in two isolated rural villages with about 20 first-grade-aged children each, about 50 miles from Addis Ababa. One village is called Wonchi, on the rim of a volcanic crater at 11,000 feet; the other is called Wolonchete, in the Great Rift Valley. Children there had never previously seen printed materials, road signs, or even packaging that had words on them, Negroponte said.

Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. “I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, [but] found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”

From Technology Review, via Mark Weston.

Europe and Obama: no miracles ahead

ECFR has just published a brief multi-authored paper looking at what President Obama’s re-election means for Europe (I was one of the contributors).  The paper highlights that there are still many areas – from the Middle East to climate change – on which the US and Europeans differ.  But is a new transatlantic bargain possible?

How should Europe respond to Obama’s re-election? Two basic strategic choices are on offer. The first – and the most tempting – is to imagine that Europe and the US can work together on a common project for the future of the international system at a period of deep change in global politics. According to this vision, Obama and the EU can unite to reinvent the post-1945 liberal order for a multipolar world, fulfilling an agenda that many in the US and EU foresaw in 2008. The president may have strayed from this agenda, the argument goes, but now he is no longer constrained by the need to win a second term and can make up for lost time.

The strategic alternative is to assume that Obama’s highly pragmatic approach to international affairs will not fundamentally change in his second term. On this reading of the president, his tepid commitment to global governance and willingness to use tactics like drone strikes have not been aberrations. Instead, they represent his considered view of the best strategy available to the US at this time. If European leaders want to fit in with this realistic American worldview, they should focus on developing their own power and their outreach, leverage and alliance-building capacities with emerging democratic powers, and in particular managing crises in their own backyard, rather than trying to woo Washington. In fact, the US would welcome a tougher Europe of this kind.

Read the full analysis here.

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