Archive for the ‘ International Relations ’ Category

Who said what? Round One: Sir Alex Ferguson vs Comrade Nikita Khrushchev

“Dissent is for losers”, apparently: an outlook that Sir Alex Ferguson happens to share with Nikita Khrushchev, former First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party.  And it’s not the only one. Couple that with their beautiful mugs, and it can be hard to tell them apart. So, who said it, Fergie or Nikita?

1) “We have to swallow this bitter pill… The weak complain against the strong; the strong pay no attention and continue their insolent action” – Fergie, upset at Thierry Henry’s 90th minute winner in a 2007 league game OR Nikita, after the Soviets failed to shoot down a US spy plane?

2) “He could start a row in an empty house.” – Nikita on Lyndon Johnson, OR Fergie, on Dennis Wise?

3) “He was certainly full of it, calling me “Boss” and “Big Man” when we had [a] drink… But it would help if his greetings were accompanied by a decent glass of wine. What he gave me was paint-stripper.” – Fergie on José Mourinho after a Champions League game, OR Nikita, after a landmark meeting with Dwight Eisenhower at Camp David?

4) “We will bury you” – Nikita, referring to agents of international imperialism, OR Fergie, referring to Roberto Mancini’s Man City?

5) “If you start throwing hedgehogs under me, I shall throw a couple of porcupines under you” – Fergie, speaking to the media, OR Nikita, speaking to the media?

6) “Sometimes you look in a field and you see a cow and you think it’s a better cow than the one you’ve got in your own field. It’s a fact. Right? And it never really works out that way.” – Nikita, in reference to why East Germany would regret reunification with its seemingly more prosperous neighbours, OR Fergie, in reference to Wayne Rooney?

7) “[This] question has stuck like a dead rat in the throat of some people – they are disgusted with it and yet they can’t spit it out” – Fergie, when asked about the BBC’s allegations about his son Jason, OR Nikita, when asked about Soviet intervention in Hungary?

8) “Though you are a fiery young man and I am no longer young, I can still compete with you” – Nikita to an American talk show host OR Fergie in a touch-line encounter with Andre Villas-Boas?

9) “[so] I decided to add a little more heat. I took off my shoe and pounded it…” – Fergie, in reference to David Beckham’s forehead, or Nikita, as he made a point about General Franco?

10) “They are the inventors of the smokescreen.” – Nikita, in reference to Americans, OR Fergie, in reference to Italians?

11) “He’s not [x], he’s a piece of shit” – Fergie, (missing words “the Great One,”) in reference to Jose Mourinho, OR Nikita (missing words “the foreign minister”) referring to the Soviet foreign minister?

12) “He’s a bully, a fucking big-time Charlie”. Nikita, referring to John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, or Fergie, referring to Paul Ince?

13) “Could that come under the description ‘desperation?’ I’ve got plenty of ammunition, don’t worry. They can try.” Fergie, speaking figuratively in reference to Carlos Tevez playing again for Man City, or Nikita, speaking literally about a possible NATO-led military solution to the Berlin question?

14) “What am I going to do without work? How am I going to live?” Nikita after his very real, enforced retirement OR Fergie musing on his potential, always-imminent but never arriving theoretical retirement?

15) ‘It’s getting tickly now – squeaky-bum time, I call it.’ Fergie, in reference to the tension of the end of the season, or Nikita, in reference to the tension of the potentially world-ending Cuban Missile Crisis?

Answers in the comment below…


Abandoning the 0.7% aid target – is it wise?

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee today recommended to the government that they should drop the 0.7% GNI target for aid, citing that how money is spent, rather than how much money is spent, is what should determine policy. Their point about aid effectiveness is well taken, and that they want value for money is quite hard to argue with. No-one can take particular issue with with it, in the way that no-one ever lost an election by saying that they were going to make cuts to “waste”, as if there were billions of pounds floating around going to literally no use at all (see issue 9, p3).

However, as the more perceptive readers among you will have already realised, there is nothing to suggest that you shouldn’t make these fantastic savings by giving aid where a cost/benefit analysis suggests is efficient, but still giving at 0.7%. They don’t really explain why this isn’t an option.

It may well be that an absence of good reasons for a 0.7% target is reason enough to abandon it. As they point out, no other donor country has honoured their promise, and the reaffirmed commitment to the figure is a relatively recent development. However, if you take the premisses of a) giving aid by results and b) stopping aid when you get results, then over time, you’ll end up spending less and less on aid, even when it is still needed.

Let me explain. I wrote a paper this year motivated by the following quote.

Countries that are not corrupt do not require foreign aid, and foreign aid to corrupt countries entrenches corruption by increasing the gains to corruption.

 The first clause roughly corresponds to premiss b), and the second to premiss a). I say roughly, which is important, because I don’t attribute the views of Posner and Becker to the Economic Affairs Committee or DFID. Posner says he does not believe in giving foreign aid, which you’re unlikely to find Andrew Mitchell saying any time soon. But you can see how the committee’s wariness at giving to corrupt regimes (i.e. not basing giving on results) echoes Posner, and how, in the long run, non-corrupt countries will cease to have a need for aid as DFID fabulously well targeted programmes have the intended development outcomes. So while Posner is wrong to say that non-corrupt countries don’t need aid (levels of corruption and levels of development are different things), the British government may fundamentally agree in this analysis as a long term view of things, insofar as the non-corrupt and successfully developed countries will be the same thing when (if?) the aid programmes work their magic.

In my paper, I argued against the Posner view of aid. So what’s wrong with this view? There is a group of people who remain in a dire condition when the aid dries up. The poorest in the most corrupt countries get cut adrift. Financial transfers to their political leaders isn’t an attractive option, but it’s an absurd straw man to imply that this is the only form of aid available to donors. The House of Lords report also had disappointingly little mention of Technical Assistance. In the Section on “The Impact of Aid”, it is mentioned once:

Some forms of aid are less fungible than others. Technical assistance tends to be the least fungible, simply because it is tied to specific projects that might otherwise not take place. Budget support is the most fungible.

This is true, but they don’t build on this. It isn’t mentioned in the section on corruption, instead:

“… [aid] and corruption always go hand-in-hand, because aid is essentially seen by those entrusted with it as “free money”…”

Michaela Wrong’s insight is valid, but surely at this point the compilers of the report should have joined the dots and realised that aid isn’t seen as free money if it’s given in a non-money, non-fungible form. And perhaps people who read the whole report will join those dots, but when it’s not mentioned in the summary, or the snazzy accompanying video, then one imagines that Technical Assistance will be overlooked by policy makers and DFID too.

How is this related to the 0.7% target? There’s nothing about the figure 0.7% that is intrinsically significant, but I think abandoning a commitment to spend a fixed percentage of GNI on aid risks Britain cutting adrift those very populations that are most in need before time. There are four mooted reasons why reaching the 0.7% is said to be a bad idea: that the government will…

  • Wrongly prioritise the amount spent rather than results achieved
  • Make the achievement of the target more important than the overall effectiveness of the programme
  • Risk reducing the quality, value for money, and accountability of the programme
  • Increase the risk of a corrosive effect on political systems in recipient countries

Of these reasons, the first three don’t necessarily hold (you can still give plenty of money and be mindful of where it goes; they aren’t mutually exclusive), and the last one is avoided by using Technical Assistance rather than money transfers. Because, here’s the kicker: we could just spend that extra money on Technical Assistance. Suppose that giving more money than was optimum after a CBA was carried out really did reduce quality, as the 0.7% caused DFID to lose all discretion in their money transfers to dictators etc etc: even then, we could still spend at a 0.7% level, with the excess going to funding Technical Assistance. This could help governance even in corrupt countries while the optimum level of aid is being spent in non-corrupt countries.

Clearly this is a simplification. Corruption isn’t binary, most importantly. But the central point remains. An economic adviser, or an accountant, is harder for corrupt leaders to misuse, and thus a worthwhile constituent of the aid budget. And if we don’t have a level at which we’re ready to commit to spend, and only aid non-corrupt countries where there is a guaranteed return, then we’re just writing off millions of the world’s people with the greatest need.

Energy in Africa; a godsend, a curse or something else?

The past few months have been nothing short of remarkable, in terms of the discovery of natural resources in East Africa. Kenya has found oil, Tanzania and Mozambique have found huge natural gas reserves (which imply there may be oil around as well), all against the backdrop of Uganda’s development of refineries and capacity to begin exporting its own oil reserves.

The nature of resource management in Africa has led to the idea of a “resource curse”. This postulates that the discovery of vast energy reserves in a country will have extremely detrimental effects in the long term, as oil wealth is used by the ruling élite to insulate themselves from the pressures that a tax-base might place on a government, and corruption sees the natural wealth of the country accrue to MNCs and the leaders, rather than trickle down to benefit the country’s population. Moreover, democracy isn’t enough to guarantee economic performance and transparency. Paul Collier has observed that democracy is good for growth in general, but actually underperforms in comparison to autocracy when a country possesses natural resource wealth.

This is the theory, but these new discoveries should be seen as opportunities rather than an albatross destined to drag these countries down. The theory is based on experience, and experience can help inform policy going into the future. Collier also provides a tale of the experience of East Timor, who casted around for a Portuguese-speaking oil-rich country who were managing their resources well, and so rocked up in Luanda, only to run very quickly in the other direction when they learned how the Angolans managed their oil. The point is that Mozambique now can learn from the experience of East Timor, and experiences such as that of Angola can become the exception, and not the norm.

However, an overly optimistic approach might not be warranted either. We may live in a post-Bottom Billion world, and may know more about managing oil and gas reserves in the developing world than we ever did before, but East Timor is still one of the poorest countries in the world. Whatever their leaders’ good intentions, there isn’t a lot to show for it. Moreover, political economy might dictate that the reason natural resources are mismanaged is not necessarily because of precedent or lack thereof but factors on the ground. The precedent of well-managed diamond export in Botswana didn’t translate into a model that was applicable in Sierra Leone, Angola or the DRC. Precedents of good oil management in, for example, Norway, haven’t helped the developing world either, because the Norwegian context is so very different from any faced by an East African country.

I think the events of the last few months have provided a series natural experiments, into which fruitful research will be able to shed further light on how natural wealth affects growth, poverty, and other variables of interest. On the one hand, we will be able to examine how different institutions in say, Tanzania and Mozambique, produce different outcomes given analogous natural reserves. On the other hand, we will be able to see how different types of natural resources (oil as compared to gas) or different stages timings of discovery (Uganda as compared to Kenya) will affect countries, given roughly stable international conditions. And finally, we’ll be able to see how resource wealth affects the region. By way of an example, how is Uganda affected by Kenya’s discovery of oil? Jeff Mbanga has an interesting angle on this question, identifying the problems that this discovery might cause Uganda’s plan to refine its own oil, when Kenyan and Ugandan oil could both be refined in Kenya, while Kenyan oil is unlikely to head away to the coast to Uganda before being exported.

There are interesting differences between these countries, but there are constants which will make comparison a helpful exercise. Moreover, that these countries are undergoing what will be a transformative period at the same time might aid scrutiny. Nick Ericsson, from Focus on Africa, recently tweeted that Wade’s concession of defeat in Senegal was linked to the coup in Mali; he was worried about going against the democratic process. And international pressure on Mali has been intensified by the fact that Senegal has exhibited functioning democratic politics in recent days. As similar dynamic could play out in East Africa regarding oil; perhaps good management in Tanzania will intensify scrutiny on Mozambique, or vice versa. Or perhaps competition will have a detrimental effect; companies looking to invest might want illicit sweeteners, and be better placed to demand them if a neighboring country is an alternative location for energy investment, and willing to provide them to get an edge over their rivals.

It is still early days for the natural resources industry in East Africa, and too early to tell whether the resource curse has been lifted or will persist. One thing we do know however; these countries will only get one shot at managing these resources in a way that sets them up well for the future. Let’s hope they get it right.

Reading list, for companies and figures





Kony 2012: Invisible Children’s invisible agenda

In my first post on Kony 2012, I focussed on, shall we say, the demand side equation for intervention in Central Africa to catch Kony, and how Invisible Children’s campaign may be ineffective and misguided, whatever their enthusiasm and good intentions. I deliberately didn’t get embroiled in the supply side motives of Invisible Children themselves, and how dubious they might be. However, if you are interested in that side of things, then Charlie Brooker is a great place to start.

Dag Hammarskjöld, answers at last?

Susan Williams’ new book, Who Killed Hammarskjöld?, doesn’t really purport to having any definitive answers, but the title is provocative enough. I saw her give a talk today where she attempted to explain her findings (summarised, with further context, here), and left unconvinced. Given the time constraints, she gave her talk with a focus on the array of people at Ndola airport on the night he died, but, like any good murder mystery, while you can point to reasons why the British colonial administrator or the Katanga mercenary didn’t like Hammarskjöld, establishing murder is much harder. Not least as all these suspects were at the airport, not flying the purported second plane.

She also had a tough crowd, who knew their stuff. At one point she argued that the plane crash’s only survivor, Harold Julien, had a doctor, Dr Mark Lowenthal, who testified to Julien’s mental capacity when he said there had been an explosion before the crash, and that Julien had basically been left to die by British authorities; Dr Lowenthal being denied the chance to treat him elsewhere. However someone in the audience had in fact been in contact with Dr Lowenthal, who it turned out actually felt great guilt in not doing more for Julien, having underestimated what he treatment he could’ve given him. Dr Lowenthal was not, in other words, forced to treat Julien in substandard conditions, and he took responsibility for his failings there. This undermines that element of the conspiracy; not least as Williams makes Lowenthal out as (one of the few) goodies.

There was a recurrent question though, which came up in different forms at the end. What was the outcome that assassinating Hammarskjöld would assist? For the British, who she said would like Tshombe to run the whole of Congo, how would Dag Hammarskjöld’s death aid this? For the multi-national corporations, who wanted the continued exploitation of Katanga, how could this only come about in a seceded Katanga? Even without Hammarskjöld, the secession failed, and exploitation continued regardless. Its hard to see how they gained.

Some fruitful discussion came out of the talk however, and there are several caveats which make murder a fairly plausible scenario. Firstly, the plethora of people who had an issue with Hammarskjöld needn’t imply a sprawling conspiracy in which everyone is involved. If just one set of people, say mercenaries from Katanga or North Rhodesia, carried it out, then relatively few colonial officials would need to help the cover-up, but it doesn’t imply the order was handed down by MacMillan or Kennedy.

Secondly, particularly if it is supposed that the white supremacist influence of the Rhodesias was heavily involved, then they may not have been playing the short game. Hammarskjöld as Secretary General posed a huge threat to the legitimacy of settler minorities as the elite in Southern Africa. We can’t simply look to an absence of obvious short-term policy outcome and thus discount the chance that he was assassinated.

Looking at discernible outcomes is also a bad idea because of this third factor: the uncertainty of the era, which can’t be underestimated. Britain may not of minded Tshombe heading a federal Congo, but who knew if it was still going to exist by the end of it all? In such a position, various interest groups wanted to emerge from the fallout ahead, and yet were going to make big decisions based on imperfect information. And there was chaos in Congo, with peacekeepers regularly being shot at; shooting at a plane is not so different.

Finally, such uncertainty has to be put through the Cold War prism, in which suspicions, relative gains and imperfect information were magnified to an absurd extent. And other people’s affairs were external actors’ business. Hammarskjöld represented the laudable aspect of this; bringing peace. Other actors were more unsavoury. I doubt America or Britain were directly involved in killing Dag Hammarskjöld. Yet I do think he was probably killed. And in the reductive narratives that were going around at the time, this may have be seen a unfortunate but somehow ‘necessary’ by those Westerners who were involved. Its a tragic shame that, even if you’re focussed on the the outcomes, it definitely wasn’t.

Sensible cynicism in the Libyan context

In a good weekend for the New York Times, R2P: RIP, is another excellent article. This one, by David Rieff, attempts to give some context to how interests are undermining the attempts to form a global norm around Responsibility to Protect. Especially admirable is how there is an attempt, if underdeveloped, to demarcate when working with Libya was in the West’s interests, and when it ceased to be. Because often journalism on that front is, shall we say, unclear. My favourite International Relations thought experiment at the moment is as follows.

Firstly, put on a cynical/realist mindset.

Done? Good. Now, Q1. why did the UN pass the resolution to intervene in Libya?

A. Because the powerful western Security Council members wanted oil.

Excellent! Now, Q2, Why did they work happily with Gaddafi previously and why are they not invading in Bahrain?

A. …because the powerful western Security Council members wanted oil?

The problem is, if any action or lack of action can be explained with recourse to a set of cynical motives, blunt and unchanging, then you end up not really explaining anything about what’s actually going on. This is nicely exemplified in a recent article by John Pilger in the New Statesman. It is highly plausible that global powers have a set of cynical plans they carry out to subjugate the rest of the world. But hold on– I’d assumed that the USA didn’t care about the LRA in Uganda because, you know, it wasn’t in their immediate material interests, and they didn’t care about the absolute havoc being wrought upon the people of central Africa. But now that the USA do care, we must automatically assume that the LRA aren’t that bad really (N.B. they are, in fact, very bad indeed), that the USA’s concern for the LRA is but a sideshow to the mission of  US global domination, that the LRA are a mere “distraction” with their “perennial horror stories.” Am I the only one who finds this dismissive approach a little distasteful?

There’s a whole plethora of factors to by considered when thinking about Libya (and indeed further afield); the institutional differences between NATO and the UN, the viability of the rebel force in Libya, in a geographically concentrated area to make “protection of civilians” a meaningful concept, yes, oil, but ideas of legitimacy and the agency of local actors too. This only scrapes the surface. There is scope for nuanced and cynical readings of events in Africa, North and Sub-saharan, at the moment, but their force is magnified, not undermined, by not automatically assuming the worst of every power at every moment. Rieff’s article has the power to convince, whereas one gets the feeling that Pilger is merely preaching to the converted.

Legitimising Intervention: The Responsibility to Protect in Libya and the DRC

Published on Think Africa Press

In 2004 Kofi Annan declared of the Rwandan genocide, “The international community is guilty of sins of omission”. Whatever the merits or otherwise of the NATO intervention in Libya, the international community certainly can’t be accused of committing a sin of omission this time around. Ever since the horrific events in Rwanda, the UN has been seeking a way to effectively protect civilians and prevent genocide. The recent action in Libya is the first UN-sanctioned intervention where the main goal of the mission, from the outset, has been the protection of civilians. It is true that the development of the mandate of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC, now MONUSCO) also placed great priority on the protection of civilians. However, in the case of Libya, the result was a mandate for military intervention against the government whereas in the DRC, UN forces have been expected to support the government, even though in both Libya and the DRC, government forces are guilty of atrocities against their own people. Thus two questions need to be answered. Firstly, how did the protection of civilians (PoC) become the main priority in UN peacekeeping? Secondly, why is the application of the principle so inconsistent when comparing Libya with the DRC? The answers to both these questions hinge on the rise of the norm of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

Protection of Civilians as a central UN priority

Despite the harrowing experience of failure during the Rwandan genocide, the emergence of PoC as the overriding consideration in UN sanctioned interventions was far from inevitable…

Read the rest of the article on Think Africa Press