Thursday, July 30, 2009

US Health Care in Comparison

Commentators much more capable than myself are weighing in on the important health care debate taking place in Washington D.C. However, given the historic magnitude of the Obama Administration's push for health care reform I have decided to diverge from my usual focus to humbly remind my readers exactly why the American system needs fixing. Let's put it in perspective.

According to the OECD Health Data 2009 the United States' performance is comparatively lacking on all fronts. The OECD is comprised of the world's wealthiest nations with the highest living standards. Unfortunately, for citizens of the United States, our system spends much more and covers less people.

Spending More
"Total health spending accounted for 16.0% of GDP in the United States in 2007, by far the highest share in the OECD. Following the United States were France, Switzerland and Germany, which allocated respectively 11.0%, 10.8% and 10.4% of their GDP to health. The OECD average was 8.9% in 2007."

Covering Less
"For this amount of expenditure in the United States, government provides insurance coverage only for the elderly and disabled (through Medicare, which primarily insures persons aged 65 and over and people with disabilities) and some of the poor (through Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, SCHIP), whereas in most other OECD countries this is enough for government to provide universal primary health insurance."
The United States has fewer doctors per-capita than any other OECD country. We also lag behind world leaders in increasing life expectancy and declining infant mortality rates. This is all despite being the world's wealthiest country. The reason? Unlike most other industrialized OECD nations, the US does not have a universal health care system. Even the current reforms being advocated by President Obama fall short of providing universal quality care for every American. Furthermore, the administration left the single-payer option off the table which would have been the most efficient cost cutting mechanism. As a country that prides its self on being the "best" in the world, health care should offer every American a powerful dose humility.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Pro-Poor Approach to Reducing Carbon Emissions

This post is one in a series of debates between myself and Alexander Hurst of the Hurst Critique. In this first post I explain that while carbon emission cuts in the long-term are necessary, developing countries should be prioritizing poverty eradication and sustainable economic growth with their public investment dollars.

Environmentalists and political commentators in the US recently went into a tizzy when India’s Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, told the United States’ Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, that he refused to submit to pressure from the U.S. to lower carbon emissions.The United States is among a host of other rich countries that want to see a coordinated strategy to cut global greenhouse gasses that are contributing to the un-natural warming of our planet. India, like China believes that any significant reduction would impede their attempts at high-speed economic growth---a necessary aspect of poverty eradication.

Of course there is indisputable evidence that global warming is a threat to all countries rich or poor, but scientists agree that the impact of climate change will not be shared equally among actors. Poorer developing countries will bare the larger brunt of a warming process that was almost exclusively generated by pollution in richer nations over the last 200 years. It is unrealistic for industrialized countries to expect poor nations to commit to excessively broad carbon emissions reduction proposals. In this part of the world it is poverty eradication, not an impending environmental catastrophe that is the spending priority for governments.

Global Poverty is the Planets Greatest Catastrophe

The future catastrophic effects of global warming have gotten prime time coverage in the western press, and rightly so. Even though there remain a few skeptics on the lunatic fringes, the majority of political actors in the US, Europe, Japan and Australia accept the consensus of scientists that an epic environmental crisis lies ahead.

There is however, a tinge of euro-centrism among many environmental advocates and politicians that is troubling. There is virtually no political action or debate about the silent killers of poverty, hunger, and disease that kill millions of people right now, (not some uknown date in the distant future). The massive amount of death taking place in the poorest regions of the planet are lucky to gain any public audience in the dominant media.
  • 25,000 children die every day around the world.
  • 10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (same as children population in France, Germany, Greece and Italy)
  • 2.2 million children die each year because they are not immunized
  • 1.4 million die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation
  • Each year, more than 8 million people around the world die because they are too poor to stay alive.
  • Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities: Africa accounts for 90 percent of malarial deaths and African children account for over 80 percent of malaria victims worldwide.
  • Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation. (source)
These are just a few statics that underscore the catastrophic effects of global poverty around the world. What these numbers do not highlight however is that it was the rapid economic growth of the United States and Europe over the last two centuries that contributed to massive improvements of social services and living standards. For example the life expectancy of a US male at the beginning of the 20th century was 48 years old. By the end of the century, that number had increased to 74.

Even given that it was done through destructive fossil fuels, Sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction in richer nations saved millions of lives over the last century. This same trend is taking place in emerging countries today. Public resources should be used to continue this progress and sustain it by reducing dependence on fossil fuels responsibly and in phases. More on this later on.

Global Poverty Worsens the Impact of Climate Change

Keep in mind that scientists agree that even if we were to act today to curb carbon emissions, the damage we have done so far is already irreversible. Developing countries are suffering the effects of climate change including increasing cases of drought, water scarcity, desertification and flooding right now. Poverty leaves millions of people vulnerable to these changes and they are more likely to see their livelihoods threatened by the effects. The political, and social turmoil caused by these environmental shocks could destabilize entire countries or significant regions. Global warming has increased the costs of being poor like never before and now for countries like India, lifting people out of poverty is vital to protecting them from its impacts. The spending priorities in developing countries must work toward containing the human suffering caused by climate change using public resources to reduce poverty and protect poor families particularly in rural areas.

Research and Development Takes Time

Today, there are thousands of new technologies being developed which would replace the carbon emitters we rely on. However, these replacements are far from being capable of supplanting current energy technologies. Countries like India and China are making key investments in alternative sources of energy that will allow them to continue reducing poverty over the long-term including solar, hydro, nuclear, and wind. But like in the United States this process will take time and money, both of which put poor developing countries at a disadvantage. Developing countries face a host of financial constraints that mean that they must use the public resources that they do have wisely. While research and development is essential, a responsible strategy to sustain poverty reduction and growth while phasing out carbon emitters is more viable. This was one of the major concerns of the Indian government in consultations with the US.

A Pro-Poor Strategy to Fight Global Warming

There are good intentions why the US would like to see developing countries commit to a broad declaration in support of carbon reductions over a period of decades. If developing countries follow the same path as the western world and Japan, we would need several additional planet earths to contain all of the waste. However, there are a series of challenges facing poor countries today that absolutely cannot be put off---these include the effects of western generated climate changes. The most important question in my opinion is where the governments in developing countries can get the highest-value return for their public investment dollars? The US would be wise to assist developing countries in reaching those spending priorities to free up resources in places like India, China or South Africa to phase out dirty energy altogether. As cleaner technologies and capabilities emerge, poorer countries are likely to make the switch---Brazil and China have already become leaders in the field of alternative energy. What we do know for sure, is that millions of people will die in the years to come if we do nothing to reverse the scourge of global poverty in the world. But don't count on the dominant media or the politicians to admit it.

The New Radical Humanitarian Interventionists

The United Nations General Assembly has begun debate on a proposal to adopt the controversial Responsibility to Protect, which would allow nations to use military force to prevent genocide and other humanitarian crimes against vulnerable populations. In reaction, several political and civil leaders are raising concerns that "R2P" will inevitably favor western influential nations like the United States, who could use the cover of humanitarian intervention to further their own geopolitical ends in developing nations. American historian Noam Chomsky and Kenyan author Ngugi Wa Thiong'o were two of several panelists who presented their opposition to R2P at a recent press hearing in the UN. You can watch a video of the panel discussion here.

The UN debate is mostly focusing on the use of military force in cases where a genocide or war crimes are taking place. But there is no question that in the west there is a growing chorus of actors who would like to see the authority apply to an ever expanding definition of humanitarian crises. Some of these thoughts verge on revolutionary attacks against 20th century ideals of national sovereignty in the developing world in the name of assisting the world's poor.

A two-sided debate about intervention and development is in this months issue of the Boston Review as a part of a new forum in the magazine. Below are just a few descriptions of what the pro-interventionist believe the world would look like if richer countries did have such a right to intervene when necessary. The discussion is instructive for people considering the merits of "R2P".

Use Military Force to Oppose a Stolen Election

Peter Collier-
"So what could we do about a stolen election in Guinea-Bissau? The most radical suggestion is to use the provision of security as an incentive for accountability....To deter an incumbent from stealing an election, the consequences would need to be potent because the incumbent has so much to gain. We can reasonably assume that merely linking assessments of the conduct of the election to aid would not be sufficient. The president might genuinely despair a reduction in aid, but he will be more concerned for his own power. A link to security may, then, be more effective."

“The world's poorest countries have diverged from the rest of mankind. They will never tap their vast reservoir of frustrated human potential unless the international community provides basic public goods that go beyond the typical aid agenda.”
Nancy Birdsall (Center for Global Development)-
"First, find ways to foster sovereignty of the people instead of the incumbent government. Mo Ibrahim—the Sudanese founder of Celtel, the mobile phone service provider that has swept Africa—gives an annual prize to democratically elected African heads of state who step down (such as Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano) when their terms end. Nicolas van de Walle, an Africa expert at Cornell University, recommends that donors make clear that they will halt aid where heads of state hang on beyond twelve years; that could apply today to Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Uzbekistan. Raghuram Rajan, while Chief Economist at the IMF, suggested that in post-conflict countries, voters might like the option of electing a non-national for one transitional term. For example were Somalia to settle down, Somalis would almost surely elect Nelson Mandela or Kofi Annan over any one of their warlords."

Replace State Sovereignty With International Security/Accountability

Peter Collier-
"Why is outside intervention necessary? The countries of the bottom billion are, paradoxically, too large to be nations, yet too small to be states. They are too large to be nations because, with rare exceptions, too many different peoples, with too many distinct ethnic and religious identities, live in them...If countries of the bottom billion are structurally unable to supply security and accountability, then some form of international supply is required."
"But more commonly, ordinary people are still befuddled by an outdated rhetoric: international pressure for accountability is presented by threatened elites as a return to colonialism. Protected by this conveniently emotive assertion, presidents grandly claim that they are defending national sovereignty. However, since they are usually not accountable to citizens, what they are really defending is presidential sovereignty."
Stephen D. Krasner-
"The only answer—and the one that Collier and others have come to reluctantly—is for external actors to exercise authoritative control over some state functions...Ideally, the assumption of executive authority results from a contractual agreement entered into voluntarily by all relevant parties."

"Political leaders in these states have every reason to horde power, especially when there are natural resources that can be looted. Citizens are rarely in a position to make credible threats of revolt, which might encourage leaders to create more responsive institutions. But, if third parties play a more decisive role—for example, by conditioning aid on good governance—there is some hope."
You can read counter-arguments to the pro-interventionists in the "Development in Dangerous Places" debate in the Boston Review.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Global Development as US National Security Policy

Senators Richard Lugar (R, Indiana) and John Kerry (D, Massachusetts) are introducing a new piece of legislation that they hope will reform US foreign assistance to poor countries. Among other things it will attempt to offer more support to the US Agency for International Development and review the effectiveness of current policies and procedures. So far, so good according to the brief op-ed presented by Senator Lugar to the Center for Global Development. However, I was deeply troubled by Senator Lugar's repeated characterization of US foreign assistance as a tool of US national security objectives.
"In recent years we have seen a welcome renaissance in American foreign assistance, which was starved for funds during the 1990s. Members of both parties have supported new programs and new spending, and American efforts overseas today are helping to fight disease and hunger and end the poverty that can be a seedbed for terrorism. Development, along with defense and diplomacy, is now a pillar of our national security policy."
Rather than a benign gesture of American good-will and a moral commitment to eradicate global poverty, Senator Lugar views development as a "pillar of our national security...along with defense and diplomacy"? There may be circumstances in which US national security interests and developmental needs overlap, but realistically this can not possibly always be the case. To define the US role in assisting poor countries as just another means by which to reach our own security interests seems a bit Machiavellian. There are also pragmatic reasons to be concerned about the convergence between defense and development. The merger risks the creation of a "spaghetti bowl" of overlapping agencies and initiatives that are confusing, ineffective, and actually less efficient in delivering assistance to vulnerable populations.

Senator Lugar's comments are likely connected to a broader paradigm shift in the way the US carries out its development initiatives. The relatively recent change can be understood by considering two entirely new organizations in the US government designed to integrate foreign assistance and grand strategy. In 2004, George Bush established the Millenium Challenge Corporation to promote US standards of good governance, and economic freedom. Unlike other development strategies that target the people who need help the most, the MCC will only distribute assistance on the condition that countries meet a US list of accepted codes of behavior. There is also a new US military-command in Africa called AFRICOM, that officials say will "strengthen governance, improve health care and meet economic development goals". The expansion of the command into Africa is raising concerns that the Pentagon is attempting to use development as a cover for narrower political and economic interests there.

There is very little information now about the legislation that will eventually be proposed by Senators Lugar and Kerry out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A hearing took place on Wednesday including testimony from Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Policy Institute. As more info surfaces and the legislation begins to take shape, the development community, both inside and outside the US, should pay close attention. If USAID and its foreign assistance agenda becomes subject to partial strategic calculations, it will mean the death of any disinterested attempt by the richest country in the world to eradicate extreme poverty, hunger, and inequality.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The South African Township Protests in the Images

Protests are spreading in townships throughout South Africa as part of a massive uprising against failed social service delivery. South Africa's black townships have remained in both chronic poverty and unemployment with very little social protection from their local governments. The latest unrest is sure to rock the country to its core until changes are made. There are pictures coming in from around the net. Here are a few images taken Monday at a march directly from the ABAHLALI BASEMJONDOLO movement of the Western Cape where some of the strongest actions have been taking place, as photographed by Sydelle Willow Smith. You can also see more striking images of the protests in the French newspaper Le Monde.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

US Recovery is Anybody's Guess

Most developing countries are rightly criticizing the US for triggering the global recession---or what some are calling the Great Depression Part Two. Regardless, emerging and least developed economies are depending on a rebound in the US economy to continue the pre-crisis flows of aid-assistance and US consumption driven growth they became accustomed to when times were good.

You can imagine, a progress report from the infamous Larry Summers, Director of the National Economic Council would probably gain the up most attention for anyone hoping for so called "green shoots" in the economy that could finally signal the bottom of the recession. The only problem is that many progressive economists aren't buying Summers' optimistic forecast about the future. Read this emotional post by Robert Kuttner in the Huffington Post that practical considers the Obama Administration's predictions semi-delusional.

Corporations are reaping enormous profits this quarter in the US and many consider it yet another sign that the recession is on its way out. But think again, the profit margins this quarter for a few corporations are matched with a trend toward a generally uneven scenario. The Federal Reserve has suggested that the the economic recovery could be coupled with increasingly high unemployment.

Asian countries may be showing signs that their level of dependency on a US recovery may be weakening. While the rest of the world watches for a speedy recovery in the US economy they will likely hedge against the dreaded "W" shaped recovery warned of by skeptical economists. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, has announced China's intentions to spend money from its foreign exchange reserves in order to purchase companies struggling during the economic crisis---not America's troubled financial assets.

Rwanda Breaking the Mold?

Last November I made my first trip to Kigali, Rwanda attending an Appropriate Technology Conference. The tiny east African nation infamously known for a 1994 genocide, which saw the deaths of over 800,000 people, was barely recognizable as such. I left Rwanda with a keen interest in what some have considered a developmental "miracle" and especially its proclaimed leader, President Paul Kagame.

Consider this. Since the genocide, the Rwandan government has managed to bring relative peace to the former civil-war torn nation, passed progressive reforms to empower women and minorities, and also developed a plan to spur high-speed economic growth in the years to come. During our conference we visited among the largest solar panel grids in all of Africa--- just one of many alternative energy projects being supported by the government. Recently, the country's President Paul Kagame gave an excellent interview on CNN's GPS, where he discussed Rwanda's ongoing efforts at reconciliation between Hutu and Tutsi and the nation's goal of becoming a self-reliant economy. The transcript of the interview was re-posted via

Rwanda, like other least developed countries faces a host of gigantic challenges. To be sure, Rwanda is a landlocked country and largely depends on international aid and international market prices of coffee and tea. And despite the progress that has been made on reconciliation between parties, there are local claims that President Kagame is using strong-arm tactics to keep the ethnic Tutsi population in the seat of power (this was brought up by Fareed Zakaria in the GPS interview).

However delicate the progress in Rwanda, there are some "green shoots" that I believe followers of African development should watch closely. In a continent riddled with ethnic conflict and political turmoil, Rwanda's destiny could hold a much larger significance for the future of the continent as a whole. You can see an earlier video below of President Kagame at "The State of Africa" round- table discussion at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Mixed Economy, Back for the First Time

A few years ago it felt like it was only "far- left radicals" that rallied against the domination of neoclassical economics over development policy. But now, thanks to the economic crisis, even some of its most devoted proponents are beginning to recognize the inherent contradictions within orthodox economic theory that have brought the entire field of study into question. (see "What Went Wrong With Economics" in the centrist Economist).

Rooted in neoclassical economic theory, developing countries had been reducing direct engagement in the economy, liberalizing their markets, and privatizing state owned enterprises.
Now, as more policy-makers begin to revolt against the basic premises of textbook macro-economics, the fall out could ultimately be a modest return to a mixed economy. In richer countries, the state has already begun taking a bigger role in economic management, especially through economic stimulus packages and bank nationalizations. The crisis has spawned a reasonable expectation that the roles of the state and the market will finally be rebalanced in the developing world as well.

A new United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 2009 report on least developed countries (LDCs), believes that the government in poor countries should play a bigger role in formulating development policies now that the previous market-led models failed. The economic crisis, the report claims, has exposed the failures of the current development paradigm to address poverty and stimulate growth. "The crisis has exposed more than ever the shortcomings of the current development paradigm...least developed countries should seize the crisis as an opportunity for a change," were among an arsenal of attacks against the western-backed anti-state model of development.

There is some evidence that the re-balancing act between state and market goes beyond impassioned rhetoric at Non-Aligned Movement conferences or in written UN reports. Andy Sumner, from the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, UK, summarizes at least 4 things that have changed at the policy- level which indicate observable changes in the political economy of development. These trends include a shift toward new economic policies experimenting with alternative development models--- models that more accurately resemble formulas in Beijing, China than those of Washington D.C.

The spread of a "Beijing Consensus" will most certainly include a dramatically increased role for the state in coordinating economic development activity. The magnitude of the current crisis has also made government-led social protection systems for vulnerable populations, more tenable in countries previously worshiping at the alter of social- service privatization. Developing countries are right to change course. LDCs’ per capita income is lower than 905 dollars per year, and they continue to lag in areas like healthcare, literacy and nutrition. Countries like Ethiopia and Bangladesh are off track reaching the Millineum Development Goals agreed upon by the UN. Though more advanced economies are expected to slowly bounce back from the current crisis, the least developed are expecting years of decline if nothing changes.

To set things right in coming decades, poor countries will struggle together to find a new mix between state and market that breaks the neoliberal status-quo of the last 30 years, but also rejects the top-heavy centralized systems that neoclassical economists criticized in the mid- 20th century. Heterodox economist Mushtaq Khan has frequently discussed the role of the state in economic development, and the risks that greater government intervention pose. His work and similar projects are now more important than ever. The new development policy experiment will further challenge the orthdoxy in the field of economics, but none of us knows exactly what will emerge. All we know is that the mixed economy is back again, for the first time.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Inspired By Guadeloupe

On Monday, I attended a packed meeting hosted by the Inter-Religious Task Force here in Cleveland, OH hosting a main spokesman and labor leader from Guadeloupe. If you don't know about the awesome workers movement which took place there earlier this year, hopefully this post will change that. The event was a reminder of the massive effect everyday people can have on international debates about globalization and development.

The headliner of the event was Elie Domota, who I had a chance to speak with personally after the official program. Elie Domota is the secretary general of the UGTG, the main trade union in Guadeloupe. He is also spokesman of the Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon (LKP), which means the Movement Against Exploitation in creole. The general strike which began January 2009 in Guadeloupe over widespread anger about living standards, brought 100,000 people into the streets in a country of only 400,000.

The strike was met with repression by the French military and police who in 2009 still consider Guadeloupe as a region of France---thousands of miles away. A historian from Guadeloupe also shared a brief history of political events and the workers movement in Guadeloupe. In the midst of the general strike, an uprising occurred in the streets of Guadeloupe pitting protesters against the French authorities and a young man was killed in the chaos. When an agreement was finally reached on increases in the average wage of Guadeloupe, it was named in honor of the fallen protester, Jaques Renee.

A translator assisted Elie as he spoke to the audience about the general strike through his own eyes. A video was also shown as well detailing key movements of the struggle, its highs and lows. The full edited version hasn't been released yet but is expected soon. Alternative media station, Democracy Now, did a good piece earlier this year about the historic protests that you can follow by clicking here.

There was a fairly large and diverse crowd for the event and after all was said and done the audience had the opportunity to ask questions of both Elie and a Haitian labor leader who spoke about the UN's unjust actions in his country. Many consider UN presence in Haiti today nothing short of an occupation including horror stories of rape of young girls and repression of political parties.

There was so much information presented at the event, that there isn't enough space here in this blog to do it justice. What I can say is that if you have not heard about the workers movement in Guadeloupe, it is definitely worth taking a very close look at. In conversations about global development, the Caribbean is often overlooked. However, like Africa and South Asia the region is what with persistent poverty, inequality and populations hungry for social change.

Below are some pictures I took on my camera phone from the event. You can expect to hear much more from me about the ongoing sagas in both Guadeloupe and Haiti.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Joseph Stiglitz's Africa Task Force Meeting, Pretoria, South Africa

Last week the Initiative for Policy Dialogue (IPD) hosted the fourth Africa Task Force meeting in in Pretoria, South Africa. The meeting hosted a number of leading political scientists and economists who discussed the impact and implications of the financial and economic crisis on Africa, agricultural development, climate change and policy innovations to foster social and economic development. The agenda, participants, and papers presented at the event are online for public view.

Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz founded the IPD in 2000, to open up a dialogue with specific developing countries on alternative policies and programs for development. Stiglitz is of course best known for his criticism of the tragic effect dominant economic development paradigms have had on the world's poor. The work of the IPD is a counter to many of the traditional policy perspectives supported by the World Bank or International Monetary Fund. The Africa Task Force meeting in SA highlighted cutting-edge and unconventional approaches to African development. Beyond the obvious criticisms of the failures of neoliberal globalization, the meeting really raised some specific policy recommendations that can have a positive impact on African livelihoods today. This was the kind on meeting that reminds me why development matters.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Why is Obama Recycling Africa's "Good Governance" Myth?

I was originally excited to watch President Obama's first speech in sub-Saharan Africa but after a few sentences of the written transcript I realized any hope of equal partnerships between the administration and African governments on development issues is highly unlikely. In addition to many others, one particular passage caught my eye and I think it summarizes the general attitude and tone of his message. Speaking in regards to his brand of "transformational change" in Africa he commented,
"This progress may lack the drama of 20th century liberation struggles, but make no mistake: It will ultimately be more significant. For just as it is important to emerge from the control of other nations, it is even more important to build one's own nation...This is a new moment of great promise. Only this time, we've learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa's future. Instead, it will be you — the men and women in Ghana's parliament — the people you represent."
Obama's speech to the Ghanaian parliament was clearly designed to counter the growing influence of Chinese investment in Africa via defining America's leadership role in the continent as a mentor for its allied countries around the concept of "good governance". There are several issues surrounding the use of the ambiguous term "good governance", as often thrown around by western governments and NGO's (Tanzanian scholar Issa G. Shivji gives one of the most damaging critiques of the paternalism lying underneath the phrase here) but the elusive definition of the phrase is not the focus of this post.

President Obama's insistence on "good governance" and persistent criticisms of "strongmen" in Africa was sadly misplaced. The reality is sustainable economic growth in the continent is actually stymied by weak leadership, not the inverse. Historical weaknesses of African leadership (and institutions) is one of the lasting legacies of European colonialism in the continent. As discussed in a paper sponsored by the World Bank Commission on Growth and Development, it is the lack of effective, consistent, and visionary leadership in Africa that prevents it from moving beyond its current state in the political economy. Author Benjamin Mkapa laments the political and economic reality that African leaders have often lacked preparation, and financial resources to bring their visions to life, leaving governments weak and incapable of responding to crises.
"I believe that Africa’s trajectory of development would have been very different
and much more positive had the departing colonial powers behaved differently,
including treating Africans with greater respect; helping them to train and build
capacity of independence leaders and administrators; helping to build strong
institutions to deal with the challenges that the new countries faced rather than
trying to perpetuate institutions intended to promote, sustain, and defend
Western economic and political interests; and giving the new governments space
and the wherewithal to realize the vision and dreams they had for their newly
independent countries."
Mkapa also lists 10 issues he believes are essential for leadership in Africa "if the continent is to make greater headway in growth, development, and poverty reduction". There are even some lessons that can be learned from some of Africa's emergent post-colonial leaders like Julius Nyere of Tanzania.

President Obama was quite dismissive of the fact that the colonial legacy in Africa is in fact enduring, as newly independent countries like Ghana inherited the political and economic institutions of their former colonizers. For all of their faults, former leaders like Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyere can not be blamed for Africa's lack of growth and poverty reduction today--nor for that matter even corrupt autocrats in 2009.

As in any other continent, democracy is an important goal for every African government to ascribe. However, the rhetoric about democratic governance in Africa overlooks the fact that many of the most authoritarian regimes around the world today post the highest growth- rates and have been more effective in eradicating poverty than so called democratic ones i.e. China. Maybe objective observers should be less concerned about whether they are "good" in some abstract normative sense, so much as they are effective. If the Obama administration's foreign policy resembles anything close to the lecture he gave the government of Ghana you can expect to see more of this.

Mining, Social Movements, and the Resource Curse

During the growing push for nationalization of mining in South Africa, it is worth keeping in mind broader debates about the promises and perils of the mining sector as a development pathway in poor countries like SA. I stumbled upon a paper from the Brooks World Poverty Institute at Manchester University, Contention and Ambiguity: Mining and the Possibilities of Development. You can read the working copy here.

From the abstract,
We review evidence regarding debates on the resource curse and the possibility of an extraction-led pathway to development. We then describe the different types of resistance and social mobilisation that have greeted mineral expansion at a range of geographical scales, and consider how far these protests have changed the relationships between mining and political economic change. The conclusions address how far such protest might contribute to an ’escape‘ from the resource curse, and consider implications for research and policy agendas.

The ANC leadership appears hesitant at best to consider any nationalization of mining despite strong support from trade unions. This reluctance could easily change if even more voices calling for greater regulation, revenue sharing and participatory management of mining demand a reversal of the "resource curse" facing mineral rich countries like South Africa.

The Untold Role of Trade Unions in Development

Labor Unions have long been vibrant forces for change, struggling to improve conditions in their individual workplaces. Increasingly, trade unions are enlarging their agendas to include issues such as national social and economic policy.

For example, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is pressing the South African government to consider nationalisation of mines in the world's largest producer of platinum. The decision is stifly opposed by foreign investors in the country. South Africa's largest trade union is heading up the call for "more equitable ownership, especially collective ownership through the state" in order to empower the nation's poor and redistribute mineral wealth in a vastly unequal economy. Also, a smaller construction union demanded higher wages for workers building the stadiums and rail stations for Africa's first World Cup. The dispute was settled yesterday but the growing direct actions of the labor movement in South Africa is having resonannce throughout the halls of parliament.

In South Korea last year, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), nearly collapsed the conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak over a free-trade deal with the US and organized a series of crippling strikes and street protests that eventually succeeded in stalling government policy on the issue. Earlier this month, despite fears that a wage increase would deter private investment in South Korea, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) joined KCTU in pushing government officials to increase the hourly minimum wage rate. The end result was tripartite agreement between the government, businesses, and unions for an increase in hourly minimum- wage. The two unions, however are expected to demand an even higher increase.

The government of Peru, led by President Alan Garcia, has been facing a series of mass protests and strikes largely promoted by domestic trade unions. In opposition to the perceived pro-business policies of the government that favor foreign investors over the needs of citizens, thousands of Peruvians have taken to the streets led by some of the countries largest trade confederations. The end result of these popular outbursts is unclear, but cabinet shifts by Garcia suggest some changes in economic policy are on the horizon.

We often discuss international donors, private businesses, and government as the most salient actors in development policy. The reality may actually be that oranized labor in many cases is the most significant determinate of development policy outcomes in the global South.
It is interesting to watch the extent to which workers in the global economy can secure fairness and justice not only in their workplaces but on the national stage.