Kissinger: when you don’t have a foreign policy, talk about development!

Micah Zenko of CFR has just blogged this transcript of a 1975 telephone call between Henry Kissinger and his long-time aide Winston Lord on the knotty problem of what to say about Africa in an upcoming speech:

KISSINGER: Are you redoing the African thing?

WINSTON LORD: Yes. We had versions which is in the front office and we are redoing it some more. You can look at what you have [or?] wait for what is in the typewriter now. It will not be tremendously different. We gave you a draft about two days which was bounced back.

K: It was not much.

L: We don’t have much of a policy.

K: What would be a policy?

L: That it is, I think, it is sober, restrained…

K: I don’t mind giving them what our intentions are. It is not always possible to do a hell of a lot.

L: Right. It is our lowest priority, but it cannot say that. But it is a fact of life.

K: We can say something about forthcoming aspirations.

L: You mean for development.

K: Right.

According to the full transcript, Kissinger goes on to say: “See if you can give it a little more lift without promising them much more.”  Of course, no policy-maker would ever be so cynical about development policy these days…

Introducing the new Conflict, Stability and Security Fund

There’s some interesting stuff in the latest Spending Round, including the new Conflict, Stability and Security Fund which looks rather interesting (not least because the numbers don’t seem to add up and I  have no idea where the other £217 million comes from). That said…

The Government will provide more than £1 billion in 2015-16 for a new Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). This builds on the success of the Conflict Pool by bringing together existing UK capabilities and resources from across government (including conflict resources worth £683 million in 2014-15) and £100 million of new funding.

The CSSF will fund a broader range of activity to help prevent conflict that affects vulnerable people in the world’s poorest countries, and tackle threats to UK interests from instability overseas. This will include actions the UK delivers directly or through third parties and its contribution to multilateral interventions overseas to help prevent conflict and instability, and support post-conflict stabilisation.

These resources will be used more strategically to deliver better outcomes. Priorities for the Fund will be set by the Government’s National Security Council to ensure a strengthened cross-departmental approach that draws on the most effective combination of defence, diplomacy, development assistance, security and intelligence. This will include funding to ensure the UK can respond quickly to crises. It will also ensure longer term conflict prevention work to tackle the root causes of conflict abroad, such as providing military training and capacity building, human rights training, security and justice sector reform, and facilitating political reconciliation and peace processes.

Interesting because the NSC will now set priorties for the fund rather than the three departments did for the conflict pool (you can read their latest guidance here). Will the Home Office and Intelligence Agencies now have seats at the table – with the MoD, FCO and DFID. And what does this mean for DFID in particular? Other GD folk are much better informed on whats happening at 22 Whitehall but I can’t help feeling that DFID is increasingly part of the national security debate – even if some insiders would rather remain at arms length. This can only be a good thing. There are clear benefits to both the UK and priority countries to have access to DFID’s skills, expertise, and presence in countering terrorism and violent extremism as well as tackling organised crime.  The security and development nexus has always been a sore point and the cause of plenty of arguments between sides – the European Commission, as I type,  is having similar issues – perhaps we have reached a moment when things will really change – for the better.

The African Exodus: A View from the Ground


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.  Continue reading

Wow (updated x2)

UK Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening in a speech today:

“South Africa has made enormous progress over the past two decades, to the extent that it is now the region’s economic powerhouse and Britain’s biggest trading partner in Africa. We are proud of the work the UK has done in partnership with the South African government, helping the country’s transition from apartheid to a flourishing, growing democracy.

“I have agreed with my South African counterparts that South Africa is now in a position to fund its own development. It is right that our relationship changes to one of mutual co-operation and trade, one that is focused on delivering benefits for the people of Britain and South Africa as well as for Africa as a whole.”

Media release from South African Department for International Relations and Cooperation, a few hours later:

UK unilateral decision to terminate Official Development Aid to SA

The South African government has noted with regret the unilateral announcement by the government of the United Kingdom regarding the termination of the Official Development Aid to South Africa as from the year 2015.

This is such a major decision with far reaching implications on the projects that are currently running and it is tantamount to redefining our relationship.

Ordinarily, the UK government should have informed the government of South Africa through official diplomatic channels of their intentions and allowed for proper consultations to take place, and the modalities of the announcement agreed on. We have a SA/UK Bilateral Forum which is scheduled for some time this year and the review of the SA/UK strategy which includes the ODA, would take place there and decisions about how to move forward were expected to be discussed in that forum.

This unilateral announcement no doubt will affect how our bilateral relations going forward will be conducted.

What the hell happened?

Update: the Guardian has this from a DFID press officer:

Today’s announcement comes after months of discussions with the South African government. DfID ministers and senior officials have met with the South African government on many occasions to discuss our decision.

An observation: this looks like a retreat from the original wording of Greening’s speech: calling it “our decision” sounds rather different (read: unilateral) from Greening’s argument that she and her South African counterparts had “agreed” that SA was now in a position to fund its own development.

Update 2: Foreign Secretary William Hague has now entered the fray, intoning magisterially that “I am not going to fling accusations” while making clear – in the same sentence, no less – that the whole kerfuffle is the result of “bureaucratic confusion, perhaps on the South African side”. But here’s the key quote:

“We don’t continue to give aid to countries that are raising their incomes, that have growing economies.”

Surely this bold new doctrine rules out most – or possibly even all – of the countries that DFID spends money on? I love policy made up on the hoof. It’s always such fun.

“Within this Famine Pit lieth the unknown dead.”


At this year’s G8 summit in Loch Erne, Northern Ireland,  world leaders will meet to tackle the causes of global hunger. Sometimes the answer is right beside us. Close to the summit venue, in the grounds of a village church in Ardess, Fermanagh, a stone tribute reads simply “Within this Famine Pit lieth the unknown dead.” Perhaps the leaders should visit. Perhaps, too, they could consider the lessons of that history so they are not condemned to repeat it. Here are just a few:

  1. What is at stake is literally a matter of life and death. The million people who died in the Irish Famine in the Nineteenth Century, or the two million children dying every year from malnutrition globally in 2013, need to be remembered. They should be in leader’s minds when they ask themselves if something is “too difficult” or “will need more time”.
  2. Hunger is what happens when politicians fail. As the British Government acknowledged a century and a half after the Irish Famine,  “those who governed in London at the time failed their people.” As Mo Ibrahim says, “When a child dies of hunger it is first and foremost a responsibility of government.” 
  3. To tackle hunger, politicians need to be bold – in Nineteenth Century Ireland landgrabs by powerful land owners exacerbated poverty and conflict. Now, in developing countries, land the size of London is being bought and sold every six days, and the people living on the land sometimes don’t find out it’s been sold till the bulldozers turn up. It will take courage to take it on such a big issue. But if it’s not taken on now it will only get worse.
  4. Everyone will remember what the politicians do about it. For generations to come people will remember them. Will another apology need to be issued by future leaders for those who failed on hunger in Fermanagh in June 2013? Or will there instead be a celebration of those who that month started us on the road to Hunger Zero?

The end of a colourful career, as former Guinea-Bissau navy chief Bubo Na Tchuto is caught trafficking drugs

The Bijagós Islands, Guinea-Bissau

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

Tony Blair Saves Africa!

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.