Taksim, Tayyip and Turkey – a balance sheet

The sultan's pavilion, Aya Sofya, Istanbul

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:

The economy:

  • 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.

Greenpeace on shale. Really?

I have long been bemused by the politics of shale gas in the UK. It’s hard to understand why a Conservative-led government is not trying to get the stuff out of the ground as quickly as possible – there’s potential tax revenue for a cash-strapped Treasury and most believe that George Osborne’s environmental credentials are little more than skin deep (if that).

It’s easier to see why green groups have focused on peripheral issues such as water pollution or earthquakes, rather than climate impacts – it sexes things up for the public – but the addiction to cheap campaigning stunts has obscured the only really important issue:  will pumping out more domestic gas make carbon emissions harder or easier to reduce?

Look at what a mess Greenpeace has got itself into over the issue. It is resolutely opposed to fracking, of course, but, at the same time is determined to maintain that Britain has little, if any, unconventional gas that can be removed at market prices. This is absurd. If there ain’t any gas, why worry about it?

You see how boxed in Greenpeace has become in its most recent press release:

Every analyst, from Poyry, to Ernst and Young and even Cuadrilla says UK shale will have little or no impact on bills.

“MP’s [sic] voting tomorrow on the decarbonisation of the power sector should remember that sending drilling rigs into our rural villages in a desperate hunt for gas could cost them votes. They should instead vote for clean, renewable energy that will bring bills down over time.”

This borders on the mendacious. Every analyst? Play around with Google for a few minutes and you’ll find that this claim is far from the truth. And that includes those analysts Greenpeace mentions by name. Take Poyry. It argues that just Lancashire shale could provide a fifth of the UK’s gas by 2030, reducing wholesale gas prices by £8bn a year between 2014 and 2035, and wholesale electricity prices by 2-4%.  Sounds a big deal to me.

Then there’s Ernst and Young. In a 2011 report, its analysts argued that shale gas would bring undeniable economic benefits to European countries, including by exerting downward pressure on prices (although not as dramatically as in the United States, primarily due to the prevalence of long-term gas contracts in the European market). Ernst and Young is cautious about the prospects for the UK’s shale gas, but still sees the emergent industry as a threat to higher-priced renewables, “combin[ing] the prospect of substantial financial reward for prospectors with carbon gains for regulators if coal is substituted out of the energy equation.”

As for Cuadrilla, it claims that “natural gas from shale has the potential to boost the UK’s gas production, reduce the UK’s dependency on expensive foreign energy sources and to lower gas prices.” It has also been excoriated by – yes – Greenpeace for funding a report by the Institute of Directors which argues that “growing shale gas production could play a key role in reducing potential upwards pressure on gas prices from rising demand in rapidly developing countries such as China and India.”

So that’s three out of three sources that are significantly misrepresented by Greenpeace’s claims. Now I am no geologist, but I suspect that British shale gas is worth worrying about it because there’s quite a lot that can be brought out of the ground, and at a price that will drop as extraction methods improve.

If I’m right, that’s forms part of a much bigger fossil fuel renaissance that has been driven by high energy prices since 2008. We live in a world where a LOT of ‘new carbon’ is being brought into play, just as damage to the world’s climate begins to reach critical levels. Pretending this isn’t happening may garner Greenpeace a few newspaper headlines, but – in the long term – it ain’t going to help.

Power and Politics in Pakistan: A Limited Access Order

Pakistan Political Economy Foreign Aid

The Limited Access Order (LAO) conceptual framework is an excellent way to understand why developing countries work the way they do, analyze their political and economic dynamics, and formulate policy ideas appropriate to their context. Its focus on power, violence, rents, and elite bargains provides far greater explanatory and predictive power than the standard template that uses developed countries as a model for how countries ought to work. As such, everyone in the development field working in a policymaking role should make use of it.

Created by Nobel Prize winner Douglass North, John Wallis, Steven Webb, and Barry Weingast, the LAO framework argues that:

No one, including the state, has a monopoly on violence . . . An LAO reduces violence by forming a dominant coalition containing all individuals and groups with sufficient access to violence . . . The dominant coalition creates cooperation and order by limiting access to valuable resources – land, labor, and capital – or access [to] and control of valuable activities – such as contract enforcement, property right enforcement, trade, worship, and education – to elite groups . . . The creation and distribution of rents therefore secures elite loyalty to the system, which in turn protects rents, limits violence, and prevents disorder most of the time. Continue reading

Brazil – can she be everybody’s friend?

Brazil’s diplomats must be quietly pleased with their week’s work.

Last weekend, the country’s President, Dilma Rousseff, fresh from being named the world’s second most powerful woman (after Chancellor Merkel of Germany) by Forbes magazine, was one of the guests of honour at the 50th anniversary summit of the African Union in Ethiopia. A few days later she was playing host to the American Vice-President, Joe Biden, who confirmed Ms Rousseff has been invited to Washington on a state visit in October.

This one week in President Rousseff’s diary demonstrates something significant that has changed without much coverage in the western media – the unique role Brazil has been carving out for itself in world affairs. Brasilia sees itself as the emerging power  that’s uniquely placed to be the intermediary between the established powers in the global North and the global South.

So far, Brazil has played this role with some success in international trade talks and climate change negotiations, but has had less success persuading other countries to support its bid for a permanent seat on a reformed UN Security Council or its ill-fated attempt – along with Turkey – in 2010 to broker a deal between Iran and the West over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

What lies behind this ambition? Continue reading

Early reactions to the High-level Panel Post-2015 report

Below, you can find my summary of the High-level Panel report on what should replace the Millennium Development Goals. Here’s a summary of reaction to its publication.

Ban Ki-Moon is grateful. Sweden has won a great victory. Save the Children – it’s pretty good. Sightsavers: more comprehensive and ambitious than I dared hope. UK – let’s finish the job on poverty. ODI happy disaster risk reduction is in. President Johnson-Sirleaf: “we can be the first generation to eradicate global poverty.”

Oxfam fuming: “The Panel has failed to recognize the growing consensus that high levels of inequality are both morally repugnant and damaging for growth and stability.” “Really HLP? You *don’t* think the world needs to reduce inequality?” One Campaign welcomes specific commitment to ending poverty. Op-ed from John Podesta (plus his 5 minute take on YouTube) – American panelist:

President Barack Obama believes it. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia believes it. I believe it, too: By 2030, we can eradicate extreme poverty.

This is not a hollow platitude. The generations living today are the first in human history that could eliminate extreme deprivation and hunger. It is critical that all nations strive to meet this goal. Not only for our own security, though we know that a more prosperous world is more stable, but because ending extreme poverty is the right thing to do.

UN Foundation: “a particularly significant and bold contribution to the development of a new framework to succeed the Millennium Development Goals.” DFID has a snazzy infographic. Grand Challenges Canada – it’s a smorgasbord. Patricia Espinosa (Mexican panelist): “Además de completar las Metas de Desarrollo del Milenio, la nueva agenda debe crear bases para la prosperidad de las generaciones futuras.”

WaterAid: “delighted that the Panel has heard the call for a goal on universal access to water and sanitation. We will only succeed in ending poverty if ambitious targets are also agreed that by 2030 everyone everywhere has access to water, sanitation and hygiene.” IISD analysis.

BBC leads with end poverty angle, but notes failure to include goal on income inequality:

Among 12 measurable goals set out in the report are an end to child marriage and equal rights for women to open bank accounts and own property. The panel also recommends bringing together development and environmental agendas, with targets for reducing food waste, slowing deforestation and protecting ecosystems.

It also stresses the need for countries to give citizens confidence in their governments by promoting the rule of law, free speech, transparency and cracking down on corruption.

Economist: towards the end of poverty (not always with us). Guardian focuses on lack of inequality:

Nice goals, but the elephant in the post-2015 room is inequality,” said Andy Sumner, a development economist at King’s College London. “We find in our number-crunching that poverty can only be ended if inequality falls so one should ask: where’s the inequality goal? Something resembling that elephant in the room [– on data disaggregation –] is in annex 1 of the report, but will anyone remember an annex note in 2030?

Claire Melamed – missed opportunity on global partnerships:

While getting global agreement on much of this agenda is notoriously difficult and the report can’t change that, the panel could have helped the politics along by linking the most difficult issues to specific outcomes – improved trade rules to job creation and equitable growth, for example, or financing commitments to outcomes in health or education (so, rather than a generic commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid, commitments to provide financing to meet specific objectives in other goals).

WRI – a major breakthrough on sustainability. UNFPA – welcomes goal to end child marriage. WWF: “there is finally recognition that poverty cannot be eradicated and the well-being of people across the globe cannot be secured without addressing the grave pressures on the environment and the natural systems that support human life on this planet.”


Among the recommendations, the 69-page report says large businesses should be obliged to report social and environmental impacts, in addition to their financial accounts.

Mark Leon Goldberg: important proposal for Global Partnership on Development Data. Charles Kenny:

The biggest positive of the report is the example it sets for the formal negotiations on post-2015.  The panel was a group 27 people including three heads of state and numerous others with very close ties to or roles in different national governments.  If they can agree twelve ‘indicative’ goals that are reasonably coherent, somewhat selective, and involve a lot of targets that are important, compelling, time bound and measurable, maybe (maybe) the UN General Assembly can manage something similar.

And Tearfund – making probably the most important point of all: “It’ll be interesting to see how quickly we can work together globally to break the political deadlock which has so far prevented this vision from becoming reality.” Continue reading

After 2015 – the High Level Panel reports

The Secretary General’s High Level Panel has published its report (download here) on the post-2015 development agenda – here’s quick review of what it’s come up with.

The heart of the Panel’s recommendations are easy to grasp. First, it calls for an end to absolute poverty by 2030. This shift from poverty reduction to poverty eradication would be a big deal if taken seriously. It would set a global social floor – placing a powerful obligation on governments and the international community to ensure everyone gains basic rights and economic opportunities.

However, it also creates a huge strategic challenge. It’s already proving heart to get health, education, income etc. to the poorest of the poor, those live in the toughest environments and face the greatest obstacles to a better life for them and their families. Business-as-usual is not going to bring this group out of poverty – nor is the market magically going to ride to the rescue (although it can help).

Delivering zero-based poverty goals (and ones with a great emphasis on quality of outcome as well) requires a fundamental rethink of how development is delivered.

The Panel then adds three more sets of objectives, each of which is more ambitious and complex than the core poverty agenda that dominated the Millennium Development Goals.

It sets out a vision for an economic transformation that would deliver growth that is more widespread and, above all, delivers more and better jobs, especially in regions such as Africa where work forces are growing fastest, but also across a world that is gripped by an endemic jobs crisis.

Then it wants to change the direction of that growth to make it more sustainable – transforming the way we use energy, eat, travel etc. in order to stabilize the climate and protect other natural systems. This is the Rio+20 agenda revisited.

And finally it addresses the enablers needed to support prosperity, arguing that we need to do more to tackle the conflict and insecurity that makes development impossible, while building the robust institutions and governance capable of responding to the challenges of an increasingly complex world.

The nub of the report, however, is in the Panel’s fifth ‘transformative shift’ – building  a global partnership that can deliver change:

A renewed global partnership will require a new spirit from national leaders, but also – no less important – it will require many others to adopt new mind-sets and change their behaviour. These changes will not happen overnight. But we must move beyond business-as-usual – and we must start today.

The new global partnership should encourage everyone to alter their worldview, profoundly and dramatically. It should lead all countries to move willingly towards merging the environmental and development agendas, and tackling poverty’s symptoms and causes in a unified and universal way.

This is easier said than done, of course. On poverty, the way ahead is far from clear, but at least there is the beginning of a debate on what it will take to end poverty by 2030. It’s less clear that we know how to solve the global jobs crisis, that we want to shift to a green growth trajectory, or that outsiders can help build stronger institutions in the world’s weakest states.

The next couple of years will show whether there is political will to crack these conundrums – and what levers the international system has to drive change.

As you thumb through the report, there are two pages to look out for. On page 19, you’ll find the Panel’s estimate of the potential impact of full implementation. Some big numbers are thrown around:

1.2 billion fewer people hungry and in extreme poverty. 100 million more kids alive and 4.4 million women who survive pregnancy and childbirth. 470 million more good jobs. 1.2 billion more people with electricity to 2° C.  Governments more accountable for the $30 trillion they spend.

And then there’s the goals themselves, which can be found in a couple of fat appendices that start on page 29 onwards (yep the main report itself is commendably short). There was a big debate about how specific the Panel should be in proposing concrete goals and targets, and the result is compromise – we get illustrative goals (a dozen of them) and targets (nearly 60) that are intended to act as “as examples that can be used to promote continued deliberation and debate.”

I’d put the chances of anyone listening to that injunction at slightly less than zero, as constituencies howl about areas that have or haven’t been goaled. So here’s the list for you start arguing with:

(1) end poverty; (2) empower girls and women and achieve gender equality; (3) provide quality education and lifelong learning; (4) ensure healthy lives; (5) ensure food security and good nutrition; (6) achieve universal access to water and sanitation; (7) secure sustainable energy; (8) create jobs, sustainable livelihoods and equitable growth; (9) manage natural resources and assets sustainably; (10) ensure good governance and effective institutions; (11) ensure stable and peaceful societies; (12) create a global enabling environment and catalyze long-term finance.

More on the reaction to the report as it rolls in, but I think this is a good start: a clear and simple contribution to a debate that has been dominated by waffle and wishful thinking. Some vision there too.

But remember: this is just the opening shots in a debate that is going to take two years or more to unfold. This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.

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