Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Aid: more about aiding the West than 'the rest'?

Two controversial new books are profiled in this article by Chandler. Both focus on the failure of Western aid to successfully address poverty in Africa, arguably the most important public policy issue in the world today. Both books are authored by former World Bank representatives and both draw on extensive personal experience: these then are not academic theorists but experienced and well-informed officials well able to offer an enlightened and informed perspective.

Both books reflect the frustration well-intentioned people feel when they commit themselves to change a situation, give of themselves their best effort and find that not only was it not enough, there's little sign they made a positive dent in the situation.

The first book by Robert Calderisi suggests that 'the World Bank and IMF were made the fall guys because politically correct Western campaigners and political activists couldn'’t allow that African governments themselves were largely responsible for the mismanagement of their own economies', and argues for a more extensive and overtly political intervention by the World Bank in the future as its solution.

The second book is authored by William Easterly and, in direct contrast, it suggests the problem rests with a profound lack of responsibility in the West for any of its development plans for Africa: programs are announced with great fanfare and propaganda but their goals are largely a rhetorical statement of intent. The ‘grand plans’ developed to ‘save Africa’ are more a reflection of a 'narcissistic and simplistic fantasy view of Africa rather than to Africa as a complex political reality'. Thus, 'while markets and democracy are potentially useful in addressing poverty and aiding development, they cannot be imposed from outside through aid conditionality'.

So one recently retired expert says the problem is not enough overt political intervention. The other says, don't bother, you can't get there from here with that approach.

What they do agree upon is that aid as currently practised is not about Africa for Africans. Africa is a great media backdrop for celebrities, pressure groups, experts without borders of all professions and the professional aid circus. It is also a source of funds for every despot and tyrant on the continent. Simply put, international aid provision today reflects neither genuine interest nor concern for Africa. And not much is going to change until we embrace a genuine political will to assist Africans to empower themselves without our direction, guidance nor values as the sub-text to our "aid". That is, we need to offer aid that benefits Africans but generates little or no political or social celebrity status for its authors. And lest anyone consider this a complete pipedream, I will characterize this as the Albert Schweitzer model for African aid.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Micro Banks and Development

One of the problems with different perspectives on problems and proposing new solutions to long-term issues is that there is no experience to indicate if they will work and tremendous resistance to change that alters existing approaches (even when those approaches are not working). Moreover, when an idea or solution is counter-intuitive to axiomatic constructs, the barriers to their adoption can be huge. It is gratifying then when new solutions are put into place despite "official" scepticism and even more gratifying when those approaches become the new standard for implementation.
One such example is discussed by Llosa, who looks at the success of the Grameen Bank, which has shown a radically different and successful way to move people from the very bottom of the poverty ladder, up a few rungs on their way to development and prosperity.
Contrast this with the fraud perpetrated by the co-opting of the Lonelygirl15 character to hype the stasist perspective on development, poverty reduction and the continued need for bureaucratic intervention in the development process. The good sign is that the power of the internet is such that this type of media exploitation is exposed rapidly and that the majority of web-based information consumers are savvy enough to see through such attempts at manipulation.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Global warming: the chilling effect on free speech

An excellent commentary by Brendan O'Neill on the continued efforts to suppress dialogue and examination of global warming. He notes that 'there is increasingly a pernicious moralism and authoritarianism in the attempts to silence certain individuals and groups.' For some agencies and individuals, those who continue to question the dogma of global warming are themselves a danger to humanity. Consequently, 'there is a knowing authoritarianism in green activism', wherein '‘the task of climate change agencies is not to persuade by rational argument but in effect to develop and nurture a new "“common sense"...[working] in a more shrewd and contemporary way, using subtle techniques of engagement. The "facts"” need to be treated as being so taken-for-granted that they need not be spoken.'

In effect, for those subscribing to this ideology, global warming is the central axiomatic construct of contemporary environmentalism, and any that dare to question this orthodoxy should be dismissed, derided and/or denied their democratic freedom of expression. As O'Neill concludes 'campaigners and officials are using scientific facts -- over which there is still disagreement --– to shut down what ought to be a political debate about what humans need and want'.

That there is still disagreement over the science was made even more evident this week, with release of new research relating to the role of cosmic rays and water vapour in climate change. As Stott suggests, this latest research provides the basis for a profound paradigm shift in the science of climate change and reinforce those who argue in favour of alternate hypotheses for climate which diminish the role of carbon dioxide as the driver of alterations in climate.

Lastly, there are the beginnings of a backlash to those who adopt the 'pernicious moralism and authoritarianism' noted by O'Neill. If one is to preach restraint and conservation, one should be a little more Ghandian in lifestyle, a frugality not many of today's leading exponents of idenvironmentalismnmnetalism are embracing in today's age of globalized communication and travel.

Quote: It is impossible to withhold education from the receptive mind, as it is impossible to force it upon the unreasoning. Agnes Repplier