Things have gone from bad to worse in the Central African Republic. Nine months after a rebel alliance known as Seleka seized control of Bangui, the country's riverside capital, and forced President François Bozizé into exile, CAR is quickly descending into chaos. The country could be "on the verge of genocide," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned last month, echoing John Ging, the director of the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who in mid-November reported being "concerned that the seeds of a genocide are being sown." According to U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, "the population is enduring suffering beyond imagination."
In a country that has endured five coups in as many decades, instability has been one of the few predictable elements of daily life. But since the Seleka rebels began their campaign against the government in December of last year, the state has all but collapsed. Following the ouster of Bozizé and his replacement with rebel leader Michel Djotodia, the Seleka alliance turned on itself. In September, Djotodia officially disbanded the predominantly Muslim rebel movement that propelled him into office, leaving battle hardened fighters, many of them foreign mercenaries from Chad and Sudan, to prey indiscriminately on the population. What ensued was rape, pillage, and blood-letting on a massive scale -- as well as the formation of predominantly Christian militias, known as anti-balaka ("anti-machete"), that have carried out their own atrocities against the country's Muslim population.
"The resulting tit-for-tat spiral of violence [between Muslims and Christians] is creating the foundation of a religious conflict that will be very difficult to stop," Lawrence D. Wohlers, the recently departed U.S. ambassador to CAR, told Foreign Policy. "Although it is the Christian population that has suffered the most until now, the Muslim population is a distinct minority and may suffer far more as Seleka's power declines," he said, adding that the country could be headed for "religious-inspired, murderous anarchy" in "which no one will be safe."
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In 1926, Vartoohi Galezian -- a 15-year-old refugee from the genocide in Armenia -- arrived at the White House to pay a visit to President Calvin Coolidge. She had come to view the rug she and 1,400 other orphans living in Ghazir -- then part of mandate Syria, now in Lebanon -- had woven as a gift to the United States in thanks for the humanitarian assistance provided to the refugees of the ethnic cleansing of Armenians during World War I. In June 1995, the Ghazir rug, a huge, beautiful work exemplary of the Middle East's legendary weaving traditions, was shown once more to Galezian and her family, but it's now been more than 17 years since the White House has displayed what has come to be known as the Armenian orphan rug. Now it is unclear when the rug will ever be shown again.
That rug, seen in the photo above, is now caught in a tug-of-war with historians and Armenian advocates on one side pulling for the rug to be displayed and the White House on the other, which seems reticent to release the rug for an exhibit. Many suspect the White House of kowtowing to Turkey, which refuses to describe the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians as a genocide and objects to the display of Armenian artifacts -- and the implicit acknowledgement of Turkey's responsibility in the 20th century's first large-scale ethnic cleansing. But the rug has powerful supporters, who are now pushing a White House loathe to antagonise Turkey to put the rug on display.
As strange as it sounds, the memory of a nearly century-old genocide is now being litigated over the future fate of a rug.
Armenian Cultural Foundation
More than a week after Super Typhoon Haiyan killed nearly 4,000 people and displaced another 4 million, relief efforts remain hampered by poor roadways, congested airports, and a host of other logistical nightmares. While the Red Cross says they have more than enough emergency supplies for devastated regions, the government's slow response and a lack of infrastructure have made it difficult to quickly reach affected areas. But what dry goods have been dispersed by the national government are being frequently diverted by local politicians who waste valuable hours or even days repackaging relief items to bear their names, campaign slogans, or party colors. It all adds up to an ugly introduction to the personality-centered world of Philippine politics, one marked by feuding dynasties, rampant cronyism, and, above all, dysfunction.
The storm struck just as some of the country's uglier political practices were being exposed -- and with the spotlight on the Philippines in the aftermath of the storm, those practices have become impossible to ignore. An unfolding corruption scandal that began in July implicated 18 senators in the misuse or embezzlement of at least $25.5 million, money that had been intended for local development projects. Another exposed 97 local officials who plundered up to $20 million earmarked for relief and rehabilitation efforts following the 2009 typhoons Ketsana and Parma, which also killed thousands. Now, in Haiyan's wake, many worry that relief funds will, again, end up padding the pockets of shameless politicians. Churches and civil society groups have been quick to point out that the sheer scope of the devastation -- exacerbated by substandard housing and woefully undeveloped disaster response systems -- is evidence of endemic political pilfering.
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In October, China's massive, state-of-the-art hospital ship, the Peace Ark, completed a four-month deployment to eight countries, coordinating goodwill medical missions and running emergency response exercises with other navies. The ship is one of just a handful of floating hospitals in the world and boasts 300 beds, 20 ICUs and 8 operating theatres, treating patients in Myanmar, Djibouti and Cuba. Yet it remains berthed in Shanghai in the face of unfolding devastation wrought by Super Typhoon Haiyan.
According to the latest government figures, at least 3,361 people were killed by the storm surge that flattened parts of the Philippines last Friday, while 12,487 others were injured. Medical teams on the ground are struggling to handle the crisis, particularly as a lack of clean water and sanitation has fueled the spread of diseases like cholera, hepatitis, typhoid, dysentery and leptospirosis. In an outpouring of humanitarian assistance, Britain has sent its largest helicopter carrier, the Illustrious, to the country, loaded with medical supplies and a promise of $32 million in aid. The U.S., for its part, has dispatched two Navy ships, an aircraft carrier, 5,000 troops and is also preparing to deploy the USN Mercy, a hospital ship currently berthed in San Diego.
State media in China have urged the government to deploy Peace Ark in the wake of Haiyan, but the ship, which is well-positioned to respond quickly and effectively to disasters like this one, is unmoved.
China's underwhelming response to the developing crisis has become a point of contention in the region. Its perceived stinginess made headlines again on Thursday, when it became clear that Ikea -- the Swedish furniture company -- had donated more money to Haiyan relief efforts than the world's second largest economy. Experts attribute China's lukewarm attitude to its longstanding maritime dispute with the Philippines, as well as to the U.S. military's effective posturing in the region.
But as the death toll climbs and the crisis worsens, the Peace Ark's stillness grows more unnerving.
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As climate talks continue to grind along in Doha, food security would seem to be a major concern (especially as the U.N. issues warnings about the increasingly desperate food situation in Syria). However, the question of how farmers will feed the world's booming population while adjusting to changing weather patterns appears to have been sidelined even as this year's crippling drought in the U.S. sent grain prices to record highs.
That doesn't mean, however, that the race for food security hasn't already begun. As the authors of the recently released book The Global Farms Race argue, cash-rich but resource-poor governments have been quietly making controversial bids for the arable fields of foreign lands to shore up their own food security. Since the 2008 global food crisis, these "land grabs" -- considered an economic lifeline by supporters and neocolonialism by critics -- have been booming. The editors of the book note a 2011 Oxfam study that claimed nearly 230 million hectares of land have been sold or leased since 2001, mostly after 2008 (that's about the size of Western Europe). In one of the most publicized deals, the South Korean company Daewoo Logistics leased 3.2 million acres in Madagascar in 2008 to grow corn and palm oil so that the company could "ensure our food security." The deal, which was eventually canceled, was so unpopular domestically that it contributed to an uprising that helped to oust Madagascar's President Marc Ravalomanana.
While that deal fell apart, countless others have gone through, sparking debates over the economic, environmental, and political implications of exporting crops from food-insecure countries. As Michael Kugelman, co-editor of the book with Susan L. Levenstein, said at a book launch event at the Wilson Center on Tuesday, this development marks "a new phase of the global food crisis" -- one that may help countries importing food, but has grave implications for the countries hosting the crops. One of the disaster scenarios of these large-scale investments is that they will recreate scenes straight out of the Irish Potato Famine, during which crops were shipped out of the starving nation to feed wealthy foreigners. But equally urgent are the day-to-day economic, environmental, and political ramifications of the deals, from the effects of clearing forest to make way for new farmland to the implications of replacing food crops with biofuels.
Defenders of this type of direct foreign investment often tout the willingness of investors to share technology -- such as seeds for drought-resistant plants and satellite monitoring for crops -- with the host nation. However, corrupt governments willing to offer deals that don't benefit their own populations compromise these promises of development. (Unlike the land-grabs of yore, host governments solicit many of these deals. According to Kugelman, Pakistan offered a 100,000-strong security detail to protect the property of foreign investors and other countries have offered "fire sales" on land in the form of tax write-offs).
As the book acknowledges, these deals are most likely here to stay, so the focus is on minimizing the potential conflict over the contentious real estate. Many of the policy recommendations provided by the book lean toward community supported agriculture programs: Wealthy nations contracting directly with small-scale farmers to meet food needs while also providing them with the technology and capital to improve their yields. While that's all well and good, the willingness and ability of foreign investors to abide by these recommendations seems doubtful, especially given the difficulty of enforcing even well-established international economic rules.
The inability of the current multilateral climate talks to make meaningful headway on even a single key issue highlights the inherent problem with these arrangements. "You can have all the rules and regulations for land rights," contributor Derek Byerlee, the World Bank's former Rural Strategy advisor, said on Tuesday, "But you have to be able to implement them."
A year after an earthquake shook the small island-nation of Haiti, a mere 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared. Not even half of the donor money pledged has arrived. The government has failed to show leadership, and international NGOs are not helping -- circumventing the Haitian authorities to write their own rules. Perhaps most biting, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) chaired by Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has so far "failed" to deliver its mandate for reconstruction, plagued instead by "contradictory policies and priorities."
These are the findings of a new report released today by the British-based charity Oxfam International. It's a damning read out on the last year of reconstruction -- or as the paper makes clear, lack thereof. While the emergency response is lauded for saving millions of people with vital supplies, services, and shelters, "neither the Haitian state nor the international community is making significant progress in reconstruction."
What went wrong? The report paints a picture of an international effort entirely divorced from the needs and wishes of the Haitian people -- not to mention the Haitian government. The original Action Plan meant to be put into place by the IHRC was favored by a mere 17.5 percent of Haitians, according to an Oxfam poll cited in the report. In implementation, the commission failed to include government ministers, for example consulting them in a tardy fashion -- and providing documents for review often only in English (the Haitian government operates in French). Individual NGOs and aid organizations actually carrying out the relief effort have done no better. "Many aid agencies continue to bypass local and national authorities in the delivery of assistanc," the report claims.
Ok, so the international community has been ignoring the Haitian government and just plowing ahead according to their own plan. Maybe that sounds like a good idea -- indeed, the government lacks much of the capacity to run the country's services and infrastructure today. It's incredibly tempting as an aid operation to want to cut corners, forget to do a bit of paperwork, or just fail to consult the local government -- so that your program can start helping people a few days or hours sooner. But the fact that Haiti's government is seen as inept is precisely the point. The Haitian authorities will never have that capacity to run Haiti if the international community cuts them out. So unless the international community plans on staying and running Haiti forever (something that Haitians would never -- and should never -- stand for), this is a disaster of an approach.
Ironically, these are the very same principles that the IHRC itself recognizes and has nominally committed to. One of its founding precepts was to empower Haitian authorities and help build up expertise in the local ministries. But like rebuilding a country, it seems this is easier said than done.
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People are taking to the streets in the Haitian city of Saint Marc to protest the construction of a cholera clinic by Doctors Without Borders. Around 300 students and other people gathered to complain (and throw rocks), voicing fears that the clinic would bring more of the disease into the area. More than 280 people have died from cholera so far in the recent outbreak, according to U.N. figures.
Presumably, a well-regarded aid organization like Doctors Without Borders knows what it is doing and wouldn't contribute to the spread of cholera in Haiti by misplacing a medical clinic. As the Al Jazeera correspondent in Port au Prince said, the anger is primarily due to a lack of public education about the disease. That may be true, but I think there are probably other issues here. Haitians' suspicions of the clinic might have as much to do with their general condition as it does with the building itself.
It was more than nine months ago that a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, killing a quarter of a million people, leveling the capital, and setting back the country's infrastructure and economic development for years. More than 100 countries pledged about $15 billion to repair Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake. But so far Haitians have seen little improvement in their conditions. There are still 1.3 million people living in displaced persons camps, where hunger, rape, malnutrition, and now cholera are common. So far only $300 million of the $1.15 billion the United States appropriated to Haiti has reached the country.
Earlier this month Haitian protesters blocked off the area around the U.N. military installation in Port au Prince and carried banners that said "Down With the Occupation." In Mirabelais people are protesting that Nepalese U.N. forces nearby are contaminating the river with sewage. As long as reconstruction continues at such a slow pace, Haitians won't see the U.N. forces and international organizations as there to help. Some of that anger might even be taken out against much-needed medical clinics.
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Back in January, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade offered free land to Haitians displaced by their country's disastrous earthquake. The plan was eventually scaled back to free housing and today, the first group of Haitian students took him up on the offer:
The 163 students will also be offered scholarships in a nation where the campus of Senegal's largest university is frequently paralyzed by strikes because scholarships are paid late.
The students were greeted upon arrival in Dakar by dancers and traditional praise singers. Dozens of Senegalese students also held up signs that said: "Welcome to the home of your ancestors." They were led onto tour buses that drove them through the neighborhood of Almadies, the westernmost point of Africa which juts out into the Atlantic.
The bus climbed a hill overlooking the ocean, and let them out at the feet of an enormous statue pointing West in the direction where they had come from.
"Your ancestors left here by physical force," Wade told the students. "You have returned through moral force ... When the slaves embarked on the ships, this is the last piece of African earth they saw ... Dear students, it is on this point of land that sticks out farthest into the Atlantic that we have chosen to receive you," he said. "You are neither strangers nor refugees. You are members of our family."
The project has gotten mixed reviews at home, where university scholarships are often hard to come by and thousands of Senegalese try to immigrate to Europe every year in search of economic opportunity. But there is a strong case to be made that allowing Haitians to migrate, even to a country that's struggling itself, is a more effective way of helping the country than sending aid. The octagenerian Wade's offer may be a vanity project meant to cement his legacy as an international statesman, but it's a more productive one than some his others.
Writing in FP earlier this summer, former U.S. ambassador on global HIV/AIDS, Jack Chow, offered a glimpse into China's policy on the epidemic: When it comes to aid money, give a bit, recieve lots and lots. At the time of writing the piece, China's contribution to the global pool of donor money to fight HIV/AIDS, the Global Fund, was $2 million over eight years. Meanwhile, the country won an $1 billion in grants. For a country with $2.5 trillion in foreign currency reserves, this seemed a bit out of whack.
Perhaps they got the message. Because at the replenishment conference that took place earlier this week -- a gathering in which countries, foundations, and other donors pledge their committments for the coming three years -- China upped the ante. From $2 million annually, China's contribution rose to approximately $4.6 million, or $14 million over the next three years. That's still not terribly impressive (especially considering that Nigeria offered a not-dissimilar $10 million for the fund.)
Still, the pressure was clearly on. Prior to the conference, six U.S. senators urged China to give its fair share. The Global Fund itself has also been pushing in this regard, urging the rising powers to slowly transition from recipient to donor. "China, Brazil and India should remain net beneficiaries the Global Fund," Kazatchkine told AFP. "[A]t the same time, they have to be contributors." That was one of President Barack Obama's administration's big goals in the replenishment as well: to get other donors to take up a fair share of the burden, particularly amid difficult financial times.
There were a few other interesting funding committments that stand out from the conference as well. The United States offered $4 billion over three years -- an increase from past funding but still not enough to please activists. Perhaps more interesting, however was the massive $300 million committment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That number dwarfs almost all country donors -- including countries known for giving a relatively high proportion of their GDPs to aid, Norway, Denmark and Australia. What a new world it is where the richest foundation in the United States can outspend the world's most generous national donors.
It's a not-very-well-known fact that China, the world's second largest economy which holds $2.5 trillion in foreign reserves, still gets about $2.5 billion in foreign government aid every year. (Jack Chow recently explored how this plays out that the Global Fund for AIDS in an FP piece.)
What's even more surprising, given this month's events, is who the biggest source of that aid -- accounting for nearly half -- is:
Today's aid adds up to $1.2 billion a year from Japan, followed by Germany at about half that amount, then France and Britain. ...
Japan's generosity has historically been driven at least in part by a desire to make amends for its invasion of China in the 1930s. But in recent years Japanese lawmakers and officials have repeatedly questioned whether the money flow should continue, pointing to China's emergence as a donor to African countries.
It's pretty hard to see how this will continue to be tenable in the current Japanese political climate, particularly with China arresting Japanese workers sent to clean up World War II sites.
Iraq is still paying the world back for Saddam's actions -- literally. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the Iraqi government has agreed to pay $400 million to American citizens who claimed to have been tortured or traumatized by the Iraqi regime following Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. With a 15-30 percent unemployment rate, ubiquitous violence, and a still lacking infrastructure, why is the new Iraqi regime paying so much money to American citizens when it was all Saddam's fault? Because the payment may help Iraq's case to end U.N. sanctions that have lasted since Saddam Hussein's rule:
Settling the claims, which were brought by American citizens, has been seen as a key requirement for Washington to be willing to push for an end to the UN sanctions.
"There was a lot of pressure on the Iraqi government to do something that gets Congress off their back," says one senior Iraqi official, adding that the settlement cleared the way for US efforts to bring Iraq out from under the UN sanctions.
That's right, Saddam is long gone but sanctions on the still rebuilding country aren't. In fact, Iraq has already paid Kuwait $27.6 billion in reparations and continues to devote five percent of its oil revenues in accordance with the U.N. sanctions resulting from Saddam's invasion. While many countries have cancelled a lot or all of Iraq's debt to them, Kuwait continues to support Iraqi reparations -- regardless of the $22 billion Kuwaiti budget surplus for the last fiscal year.
So if U.S. citizens get paid by the Iraqi government for Saddam's "traumatizing" from 20 years ago, what will the United States pay the families of Iraqi citizens that are actually killed by U.S. forces? Well, the U.S. government is trying to find ways for Iraq to pay for that too.
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The Charities Aid Foundation has launched the World Giving Index, an interesting tool for measuring generosity. The index uses Gallup survey data on the percentage of a population that has given money or time to charity or helped a stranger to rank countries by charitability. The countries in the top 5 -- Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Switzerland, and the United States, are not all that shocking, but there are some surprises in the top 20 including Sri Lanka, Laos, Sierra Leone, and Turkmenistan. The people of Turkmenistan turn out to be the most generous with their time -- though you have to wonder about the reliability of survey data in a country with a government as authoritarian as Turkmenistan's -- while Liberians are most likely to have helped a stranger.
Overall, the study concludes, generosity seems to be correlated more strongly with measures general well-being than with GDP. (Sierra Leone, which has one of Gallup's lowest well-being scores is the major exception.) The numbers also don't seem to be that closely correlated with governmental foreign aid. The people of Sweden, who have the world's most generous government by far, are a relatively lowly 45th on the Giving Index.
On the stingy end of the scale are some countries that can probably be excused -- Madagascar, Burundi -- as well as a few that should probably be embarrassed. Rising power China is seventh from the bottom. Greece, which just received a second installment of emergency EU loans worth $11.4 billion and loses more than $20 billion per year to tax evasion, is fifth from the bottom.
Imagine for a moment that you're a government minister in a poor or fairly poor country. You've got a limited budget and you've also got a lot of work to do -- children are undernourished, you need to increase the numbers of them that go to school, and maternal mortality is leaving behind ranks of young orphans. Let's also say that, like most countries in the world, yours is a bit unequal. So here's the question: If you want to cut poverty rates, who should you target? The lower middle class -- the "low-hanging fruit" that doesn't have far to go? Or the most destitute of the population?
For years, the answer has been the former. It seems logical: If you can only spend so much, why not help the category that is closest to overcoming poverty? Surely, the most destitute have too far to go to benefit from the limited aid available. This is the approach that countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan, and Vietnam have taken in recent years. And they have made some progress.
But you'd be wrong, according to a new study released today by UNICEF. Based on rigorous data tests from 15 countries, the researchers found that the best way to reduce poverty is to start at the bottom, not in the middle. And the difference is a lot. For every $1 million spent on anti-poverty measures, you would "avert 60 percent more deaths" if you help the poorest first, according to the study. The reason for this is simple: if you're destitute, and you recieve a bit of aid, say a cash transfer of $100 a month, that will boost your income by a massively larger percentage than if you are middle-income. Put in another context, if you are a women with no access to healthcare during childbirth, a trained midwife will mean much more to you than it would to a woman with basic care already.
This isn't wonky. It's big -- really big -- not least because it is something of a rethink of the way that governments, including the United States, have been doing development. One of the biggest focuses of the Obama administration's $63 billion Global Health Initiative, for example, is to build up health "systems" -- training healthcare workers, improving facilities, etc. This study says, that kind of thing is great -- but it's also not the most efficient solution. Health systems are usually not accessible to the poorest of the poor because of cultural barriers, poor transportation, or a pure and simple lack of information. Healthcare has to come directly to the communities.
This is, by the way, useful for another another global problem that has arisen in recent years: massive inequality. The world has lifted millions out of poverty (thanks to China and India mostly, but they weren't alone.) But those who remained poor have gotten poorer, and those who were rich have gotten richer. How great would it be if the way to tackle absolute poverty (the numbers of poor) and relative poverty (the inequality factor) was actually the same? Pretty great. As UNICEF Exectuive Director Anthony Lake put it today, "We have an extraordinary opportunity to do not only the right thing but the most practical thing."
Now, to convince the politicians...
Editors note: I am in New York this week on a generous fellowship from the United Nations Foundation, covering the lead-up to the Millennium Development Goals Summit at the U.N. General Assembly starting on Sept. 20.
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Maybe it was all the excitement with the Russian spies last week, but somehow we missed one of the more intriguing things to grace the Wall Street Journal's letters page in a while: A full-throated defense of Hamid Karzai's brother, Mahmood Karzai, written by Gerald Posner. Posner, you may recall, was an investigative reporter for the Daily Beast until February, when he resigned after being caught plagiarizing from the Miami Herald and other news sources. In the letter -- which concerns an unflattering recent story about Karzai ferrying cash out of Afghanistan -- Posner identifies himself as "Gerald Posner, Attorney at Law," and refers to Karzai as "my client." Huh?
FP spoke this afternoon with Posner (above left), who says he isn't just representing Mahmood Karzai (above right), but also the other two Afghan presidential siblings, Hamid's younger half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai and older brother Qayum Karzai. It's an odd twist on the disgraced plagiarist-fabulist rehabilitation story, which often involves a legal career but not usually in the service of a beleaguered Central Asian ruling family. "They are really proud of the reputations that they have earned," Posner says of the Karzais, "and sort of in shock that they are viewed with such disdain in a country that is their ally in this process."
Christopher Bierlein (L), Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images (R)
Muammar Qaddafi has eradicated and restructured the Libyan calendar, publicly supported international terrorism and then called the Security Council the "terror council," ordered an entourage of virgin bodyguards and a Saharan camel to accompany him to public events, and even demanded that the U.N. abolish Switzerland.
So what's the next move from the maniacal megalomaniac? The most shocking of all: a random act of kindness. Colonel Qaddafi has personally procured a plan to save a fledgling Italian town, ostensibly harboring no motivation in the project aside from altruism and affection.
The fateful meeting between Qaddafi and his newly adopted medieval mountain town was love at first sight. Last year, while traveling to the G8 Summit, Qaddafi feared the recent 6.3 magnitude earthquake had weakened the infrastructure in central Italy and demanded his caravan take a detour. The new route took Qaddafi through the financially struggling town of Antrodoco, where the 2,800-person population showed him such warmth and hospitality that he reportedly declared, "You have entered my heart and I won't forget you." Promptly after his return home, Qaddafi sent his Roman ambassador and various other envoys to the village with promises of building luxury hotels, clean-water manufacturing plants, and a sports complex, and a general commitment to facilitating improvements in tourism and employment rates. A week-long conference to discuss the plans is now in the works.
It's a bit difficult to imagine Qaddafi and his motorway pulling around a mountain bend somewhere in Italy, the Libyan leader emerging from the depths of his flashy limousine -- decked out in his floor-length cape and Miami Vice-inspired G8 Summit suit, no less -- as Antrodoco's knight in shining armor. Then again, it was difficult to imagine him inviting five-hundred models to an evening out on the town, only to give each a personal copy of the Koran and attempt to convert them to Islam. Touché, Colonel -- you've surprised us again.
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To summarize, David and I are discussing whether debt relief for Haiti is A) a good thing and B) should be a priority -- we agree on A (yes) and disagree somewhat on B. David argues that debt payments aren't going to be an issue in the foreseeable future, and that countries like Venezuela shouldn't get points for relieving relatively small sums of debt -- particularly if they aren't also providing significant aid, which is more important in the near and medium term. I say there's a short window in which to ask for countries to throw in the kitchen sink, so why not, particularly given debt's historical choke-hold on Haiti and given that three or ten years from now, Haiti will still be poor and in debt. Lots of others have good commentary on the subject, including Daniel Altman and Alex Tabarrok.
Ultimately, I still believe there's room and reason to ask for debt forgiveness -- if not now, then when? But it made me wonder about aid effectiveness -- if you're giving x dollars of aid, what provides the maximum benefit: debt forgiveness, direct governmental grants, funding specific programs, ending agricultural subsidies?
Development economists, of course, research this question, well, exhaustively. And the answer? It's now always clear -- or, there's no general rule. Academically, a dollar of debt relief is worth more than a dollar of granted aid. In reality, the level of indebtedness, degree of governmental corruption, relevant economic fundamentals, and the entities doing the lending all matter considerably.
But there's consensus on what other countries can be doing, should be doing, and are doing now. Haiti needs material support (water, batteries, medical supplies, etc.) and cash aid. But the United States, especially, should also think about remittances and immigration. Here, Michael Clemens and Amanda Taub argue for giving Haitians temporary protected status in the States. In the longer term, the United States might consider taking a close look not just at debt, but also at rice.
Not every day does Bill Gates lay the smack down on a sitting premier, but that was the case when the Microsoft founder slammed Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's foreign aid policy. Berlusconi's stolen Italian headlines in the last week (but when is that not the case?) for a post-hair-transplant bald head -- and Gates couldn't resist making a not-so-subtle reference:
And in a clear reference to the notoriously image-conscious Berlusconi, Gates told Süddeutsche Zeitung: "Rich people spend a lot more money on their own problems, like baldness, than they do to fight malaria."
Italy's foreign aid budget was approximately 0.11% of its GDP in 2009, one of the lowest figures among developed countries, and half of what it was even in the prior year. Gates didn't mince words on his views:
"Dear Silvio, I am sorry to make things difficult for you, but you are ignoring the poor people of the world," he told the Frankfurter Rundschau.
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China is denying that the $1.2 billion in aid that Vice President Xi Jinping pledged during a visit to Cambodia yesterday had anything to do with the fact that just hours earlier, the country deported 20 Uighur asylum speakers -- a move that Xi praised during the very same visit:
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman defended the deportations Tuesday, called the handling of the Uighurs an "internal affair" and said there were "no strings attached" to the aid package.
"According to my knowledge, some are suspected of criminal cases," Jiang Yu told a regularly scheduled news briefing. "Public security forces will handle the relevant outlaws. Their whereabouts, I have no information to offer you."
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Yesterday, I wrote about the brief life and presumed death of Rep. David Obey's "war tax," also known as the "Share the Sacrifice Act of 2010." Obey and his cosponsors hoped to make the Afghan war pay-go from here on out, with an income tax surtax (one percent for most earners, and higher for high earners) linked to the cost of war.
I liked the idea precisely because so much of this war (around 40 percent) thus far has been funded with deficit spending during very good economic times, from 2001 to 2006, when high-income Americans certainly could have afforded higher taxes (which were cut by George W. Bush).
Commenters here and elsewhere asked: Why raise taxes during a recession, when the government has been deficit-spending wildly to boost the economy? Tax dollars are tax dollars, not earmarked for one use or another. Raising taxes is raising taxes. Isn't this precisely the time we're supposed to deficit spending?
Well, yes, but not all deficit dollars are created equal, I fear. If we spend an additional $60 billion on the Afghanistan war, it does do some good for the American economy. It goes to American companies to build things like planes and armor, to hiring new soldiers, to American contractors working in Afghanistan to build roads and schools. But, down the road, the United States doesn't get those roads and schools. Soldiers stop fighting in Afghanistan, but continue to collect salaries and benefits. This means the deficit dollar spent in Afghanistan isn't as effective as the deficit dollar spent in, say, Detroit.
For some data on this phenomenon, Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research produced a paper showing that war spending (rather than domestic spending) ultimately costs jobs and GDP.But all of this might be moot. It seems that Congress is considering extending the estate tax, which was due to expire for a year before coming back into force in 2011. The tax only hits estates worth more than $3.5 million. I say extend it, and expand it to include less, erm, ample estates as well. That seems even better than the Obey plan.
A World Bank research paper posted today finds that countries with a high proportion of young males with low levels of secondary education are significantly more conflict-prone. The combination of these "youth bulges" and low rates of secondary education is especially likely to lead to conflict in low- and middle-income countries, the authors also report. The findings focus particularly on Sub-Saharan Africa, as "the continent with the largest youth cohorts and the lowest levels of male secondary education, scoring on average nearly 30 percentage points lower than the world average."
Countries outside of the region also call for concern. In Syria, for example, males 14 years old and younger make up nearly 20 percent of the population. Only 39.1 percent of secondary school-aged students are enrolled in school, making it the 101st lowest-ranking country of 135 surveyed. In the long run, Syria is facing declining oil production and rapid population growth - a recipe for violent unrest.
The policy implications are clear. Programs that focus on primary education, like the U.N.'s Education for All and Millennium Development Goals programs are important (after all, students have to read and write before they can pursue secondary schooling), but there must be more support for programs like the World Bank's own Secondary Education in Africa initiative.
The total cost of a secondary education in Kenya is estimated at $6,865. A 2007 Oxfam report found that on average a "war, civil war, or insurgency shrinks an African economy by 15 percent," and conflict causes the continent to lose about $18 billion a year. You do the math.
Photo: SONIA ROLLEY/AFP/Getty Images
Over a million people die unnecessarily from malaria in Africa, according to a survey by ACTWatch. The group released a study of seven countries in Africa today, it found that most people in these countries are obtaining ineffective anti-malarials in the private market, due to the low availability and high prices of the far more successful Artemisinin combination therapy (ACT). ACT costs 20 times more than the older medications to which malaria has developed resistance. At about $11 it's 65 times more than the average daily wage in many of these countries.
Malaria needs to be treated with speed, explained Dr. Desmond Chavasse, speaking from the Pan-African Malaria conference being held in Nairobi. Children must receive medication within 48 hours of displaying malarial symptoms if they are to survive. This is why ACTs must get "out through the marketplace, so they are available at the end of the supply chain, in small shops, at affordable prices."
The study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, is intended to provide baseline information for a program that will subsidize ACT medication.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
After many mumblings of foreign assistance reform in the works, some concrete signs came from today's Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, "The Case for Reform: Foreign Aid and Development in a New Era."
That the Senate is holding such a hearing in the first place cause for applause. Once taboo, critiques of the U.S. aid system are now prolific -- coming from NGOs, academics, observers, and even the U.S. government itself. In fact, FP and Oxfam held a joint event to talk about just this last week. The flurry of discussion is clearly being noticed.
So what's wrong with aid? As Senator John Kerry put it in his statement,
[Experts] agree that too often decision-makers lack basic information about the actual impact of our development programs. They also agree that excessive bureaucracy and regulations and fragmented coordination are hampering our efforts to swiftly and effectively deliver assistance. And they agree that even as we plan for broad, fundamental reform, there are many steps we can take in the interim to dramatically improve the effectiveness of our foreign aid efforts."
Fixing all that is a tall order, especially with big domestic fish to fry (read: healthcare). But Afghanistan and Pakistan -- once again the first fronts on the war on terror -- bring these questions to the fore. There, the U.S. military is desperate to win hearts and minds, and helping out with roads, schools, hospitals -- in addition to security -- is one of the best ways to do just that. As the Counterinsurgency manual puts it, "military operations create temporary breathing space, but... long-term development and stabilization by civilian agencies are required to prevail."
So I, for one, am pleased that there are discussions ongoing -- and hopeful they'll be followed up with action. Read more about what the experts on the ground think needs fixing here.
ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images
In a fascinating feature in the new issue of the Boston Review, Oxford economist (and recent FP contributor) Paul Collier makes a radical proposal: What if instead of trying to find ways to promote economic development politely from afar, international actors considered full scale "interventions" to help poor countries jumpstart their development?
Collier, author of The Bottom Billion and the more recent Wars, Guns and Votes, argues that the two main obstacles for development in the 60 or so poorest countries are institutional inabilities to provide security or government accountability. Rather than keep trying to build these institutions first, Collier proposes that outside actors should supply them for an interim period:
Recall what the United States did last time it got serious about developing another insecure region. Its agenda was radically more ambitious then. The time was 60 years ago, and the insecure region was post-war Europe. The United States got serious because the consequences of Europe falling apart, given the neighboring nuclear Soviet Union, were so alarming. Washington brought the full range of pertinent policies to bear. There was a large aid program, the Marshall Plan. But aid was only a part of the solution. A massive security program, NATO, complemented the aid; more than one hundred thousand American soldiers were stationed in Europe for more than 40 years.
Along with Collier's admittedly provocative piece, the BR has shorter reactions from a host of aid experts: Stephen Krasner, William Easterly, Larry Diamond, Edward Miguel, Mike McGovern, and Nancy Birdsall. Collier then responds.
In contrast to Collier, Obama told allAfrica in an interview that with foreign aid he thinks "what [the U.S.] should be doing is trying to minimize our footprint and maximize the degree to which we're training people to do for themselves."
There is a lot to be said for reforming a system in which billions of U.S. foreign aid dollars go straight to contractors in Washington, but I think Collier has a point. Some countries like Somalia and the DRC are unlikely to put the pieces back together on their own. But while the idea of providing institutional strength for the bottom billion is attractive, it is still difficult to imagine how this could be implemented anytime soon.
Wathiq Khuzaie / Getty Images
Writing in the Financial Times today, Rwandan President Paul Kagame makes a strong case against the "aid regime" as we know it. "The cycle of aid and poverty is durable: as long as poor nations are focused on receiving aid they will not work to improve their economies," he writes. He's piping in on a debate sparked by recent FP contributor Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid, which argues that Africa's prosperity begins when the inflow of aid ends:
"Some of Ms Moyo’s prescriptions, such as ending all aid within five years, are aggressive. But I always thought this was the discussion we should be having: when to end aid and how best to end it."
At first glance, this argument -- coming from Kagame -- strikes me as odd. Rwanda, and the president in particular, has garnered a reputation as a "darling" of Western donors over the last decade. Today, about 50 percent of the country's budget comes from foreign aid. And the number could rise. Last week, the country announced a funding gap of $47.4 million for its 2009/2010 budget, thanks to falling exports amid the global financial crisis. Where will that money come from? "[I]f Rwanda does not receive adequate grants, the ministry said, the balance of payments deficit could widen to $251.5 million," Reuters reports.
Then again, it's both fantastic and unsurprising to hear Kagame promising to wean his country from development aid -- through savy business ventures and smart economic policy. In fact, that's what the president has already started to do, and it's the reason that many consider Rwanda the emerging Singapore of Sub-Saharan Africa. The example is one to follow -- and not just in the developing world.
Either way, Kagame's move is bold. His op-ed in the FT opens his governance and his country up to scrutiny, based on the standard he himself has set:
"No one should pretend that they care about our nations more than we do; or assume that they know what is good for us better than we do ourselves. They should, in fact, respect us for wanting to decide our own fate."
Let's hope he decides well.
PIERRE VERDY/AFP/Getty Images
This has to qualify as the most dangerously stupid swine-flu overreaction yet:
Haitian officials rejected a Mexican aid ship carrying 77 tons of much-needed food aid because of ''unfounded'' swine flu fears, Mexico's ambassador said Wednesday.
The Mexican navy ship El Huasteco was to arrive May 2 in Port-au-Prince carrying rice, fertilizer and emergency food kits to help the impoverished country respond to chronic hunger and devastating tropical storms.
But Mexican Ambassador Zadalinda Gonzalez y Reynero said Haitian officials told her April 29 they would not accept the ship, which was still in Mexican waters near the Yucatan peninsula at the time.
''The crew was in perfect health and there was no risk at all,'' Gonzalez y Reynero told The Associated Press, adding that the cargo and 64 sailors aboard the ship had all been screened in Mexico.
24 percent of children in Haiti suffer from chronic undernutrition. Glad the country has its priorities in order.
The pledged $213 million for Somalia from Donors at a Brussels conference yesterday is a little short on details. Actually, it's devoid of details. The $213 million are meant to improve the country's flailing security apparatus, and boost a beleaguered African Union peacekeeping mission, AMISOM, from its current 4,300 personnel to a larger 8,000.
But all this raises some questions in my mind:
1) How much of the money will actually come? Donors conferences are notorious for over-pledging and under-delivering. Already, $213 million is... peanuts in the scheme of things. For some perspective, the Iraq war was estimated to cost about that much every DAY back in 2006.
2) Who gets the money? Presumably, the pledges will go through the new government, headed by President Sheikh Sharif. Presumably, tracing money through the bare-bones government created just months ago will be something of a challenge.
3) The money is set to be used to build up the existing Somali security force. But does a Somali Security service even exist? Many soldiers abandoned their posts after Ethiopian troops had trained them (but later failed to pay them) last year. So... how many soldiers are left? And will security -- rather than street-power by gun -- be their priority?
4) The money is also meant to boost an African Union peacekeeping force by another 4,000 or so troops. Sounds great, but where do they plan on finding those personnel? Countries in the region have been understandably loathe about sending their soldiers into a situation that carries a death wish.
5) And finally, do the donors really care about anything other than pirates? Off the record of the formal conference conversations, it was piracy on the lips of the diplomats. If that's the case, the Somali government will find it hard to do much else with the money. Even something arguably useful like, say, paying their civil servants.
If we're serious about combatting pirates on land, this package looks a bit ridiculous. Unless, of course, there's something I'm missing. Dear Somalia, please help me out and send details.
In a widely publicized move, the Obama administration is due to finally and officially announce its easing of restrictions to Cuba. U.S. citizens will now be able to travel and send money to the country more easily. (See FP's photo essay on Cuba for more details; and this FP article by Nestor Carbonell for a convincing argument against rushing into engagement.)
The Miami Herald says the announcement, to be made this afternoon, is meant to coincide with the Summit of the Americas, which starts on Friday in Trinidad and is attended by heads-of-state from North and South American countries.
Thankfully -- apparently the pet-poisoning revelation hasn't hurt relations.
2008 was the deadliest year on record for violence against aid workers around the world with 122 deaths:
Most of the violence occurred in three countries — Somalia, where 45 aid workers were killed, up from 7 in 2007; Afghanistan, with 33 deaths; and Sudan, with 19. Local humanitarian workers were most often the victims, accounting for 104 of the deaths. The study also found a significant increase in kidnappings over the past three years.
Hat tip: Chris Blattman
Silvio Burlusconi's appearance with Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi over the weekend seemed to be a historic first: the Italian prime minister formally apologized and agreed to offer financial compensation for decades of colonial occupation. An elaborate ceremony -- complete with the repatriation of an ancient statue of Venus that had been relocated to Rome -- marked the signing of a "friendship and cooperation agreement" between the two countries.
Yet it wasn't a completely altruistic measure for the Italians, who stand to benefit from their "reparations" to the former colony:
“We have written a page in history. Now we will have fewer illegal immigrants leaving from the coast of Libya and coming to us, and more Libyan oil and gas,” declared Mr Berlusconi, according to Italian reports
Indeed, the $5 billion Italy will pay in annual installments of $200 million will largely come in the form of investments in Libyan infrastructure. While the agreement marks the first time a former colonial power offered compensation to an Arab country, special economic ties between former colonies and mother countries are, of course, nothing new.
The question now is whether Italy will follow suit with its other, less resource-rich, former colonies like Ethiopia and Eritrea.
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