Monday, October 31, 2005

El otro lado de Chávez

The New York Review of Books has a couple of interesting articles on Hugo Chávez; ones that focus on the aspects of his rule that I am definitely uncomfortable with. And I thought I'd link to them (here and here) as a counterpoint to the favourable interview/article from Mother Jones that I linked to below.

One of these days I’ll write more about this but for now I’ll restrict myself to three comments:

1. Chávez’s indirect media repression is definitely worrying; but in a country where almost all of the private media is controlled by his opponents (and when his opponents are by in large – but not entirely – the same ruling class who have plundered Venezuela’s wealth and kept the vast majority of the country in poverty; and when these same opponents have shown, via 2001’s coup, that their commitment to democracy is significantly less than Chávez’s) – it isn’t really fair to say that he is impeding the free press in Venezuela: the press was never free there anyhow. This, of course, begs the question: what is worse, media controlled by business elites who don’t give a toss about the poor, or media controlled by a strongman (albeit a democratically elected strongman) who does seem to care about the poor?

2. Chávez’s behaviour about ‘La Lista’ and his harassment of his opponents is (if true) very troubling . It’s undemocratic and it could be the start of a slide towards more totalitarian behaviour. Of course, as I mentioned above, his opponents have shown themselves to be a whole heap less democratic – but that doesn’t excuse Chávez his behaviour (although I’m sure it has contributed to it). So once again we have a devil’s choice for Venezuela: is it better to be ruled by an increasingly authoritarian (but democratically elected) strongman who is actively working to improve the lives of his country’s poor; or to be ruled by a not entirely democratic opposition who did very little for the poor?

3. For a book review, the reviewer pays scant attention to the books being reviewed. Richard Gott’s book (which we can assume is going to be favourable to Chávez) is mentioned once in the review and once in the footnotes. Twice in an almost 5000 word article. To be fair the review has a sub-heading “books mentioned in this article”; as opposed to “books reviewed”. Still it is the New York Review of Books, and they do list the books at the beginning of the article (like any other review) so it strikes me as strange that so little is said…

Hat tip Martha Bridegam via Harry’s Place.


History is full of famous authors who were deluged with rejection letters before they became published writers, so the example below isn’t anything new; but there is something about it (probably the detail it goes into in the course of being rude) that made me want to stick it up on my blog.

The letter was sent to Ursula Le Guin (it’s addressed to her agent); Le Guin went on to become one of the World’s most famous (and critically respected) science fiction authors. She also wrote “The Dispossessed” which is one of my favourite books. The letter follows:

Dear Miss Kidd,

Ursula K. Le Guin writes extremely well, but I'm sorry to have to say that on the basis of that one highly distinguishing quality alone I cannot make you an offer for the novel. The book is so endlessly complicated by details of reference and information, the interim legends become so much of a nuisance despite their relevance, that the very action of the story seems to be to become hopelessly bogged down and the book, eventually, unreadable. The whole is so dry and airless, so lacking in pace, that whatever drama and excitement the novel might have had is entirely dissipated by what does seem, a great deal of the time, to be extraneous material. My thanks nonetheless for having thought of us. The manuscript of The Left Hand of Darkness is returned herewith. Yours sincerely,

The Editor

21 June, 1968

You can read it yourself here on Ursula Le Guin’s very cool website.

If I ever meet Ms Le Guin, I will be sure to ask her whether the pain of receiving such a letter was ultimately offset by the dang tootin’ satisfaction of, many years later, getting to publish it on your website.

Oh, by the way, the Left Hand of Darkness, went on to win both the Hugo and the Nebula awards…

Hat Tip (for Le Guin's website at least): Martha Bridegam

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Madness of Queen Muriel?

Tragically, it appears that the near demolition of the ACT party in last month’s elections and her own ejection from parliament have had an unhinging effect on Muriel Newman. Or, at least, I hope that her recently espoused views on New Zealand's history are the product of a temporary, defeat inspired, malaise. If they’re not, then we will all have to accept the rather chilling reality that New Zealand’s parliament was home to someone not only lacking any knowledge of New Zealand history but who also believes in the zaniest of conspiracy theories.

Muriel, you see has got herself a website. And in this website, amongst the predictable ranting against the evils of the welfare state, is this opinion piece on the state of race relations in New Zealand. Once again, most of it is predictable enough in an Act-ista kind-of way, but buried in there amongst the one-law-for all bluster is this worrying little nugget:

The Maori Party’s strategy is based on indoctrinating the public - starting in the schools and imposing their propaganda on the public service. But some argue there are fatal flaws in the fundamental basis of their claims and dispute whether they are indeed the tangata whenua. They point to Moriori pre-dating Maori and a body of evidence suggesting the existence of people before them.

The first worrying aspect of this quote has to do with the troubling presence of the Moriori; and the significance of their presence to the debate on race relations in New Zealand. By “the troubling presence of the Moriori” I don’t mean, of course, their presence in the Chatham Islands, nor am I alluding to the thoroughly debunked myth that the Moriori predated the Maori in New Zealand. What troubles me is the presence of this myth in the commentary of a former New Zealand politician (and an aspiring pundit). As Russell Brown notes this is pretty convincing evidence that she hasn’t picked up any history texts in the last 30 or so years. Even more disturbing, however, is the allusion to a body of evidence that “suggesting the existence of people before them [the Moriori].” When Ms Newman starts alluding to the presence of people in New Zealand prior to the Moriori (or Maori) she is moving beyond the realm of once widely believed but now discredited nonsense and into the parallel universe of conspiracy theory lunacy. To guide us through this universe Ms Newman helpfully provides a box of quotes from some gentleman called Matin Doutre. Mr Doutre informs us that:

“I continue to write articles about the Patu-paiarehe people who were here before the Polynesian / Melanesian Maori (described by Maori as kiri-puwhero and uru-kehu, which means light complexion, reddish tint skin and reddish tinged, blondish hair). It's only in the past thirty years or so that this, once, regionally accepted fact has been muted and removed from our more modern history books or any honourable mention in conversation (due to the ushering in of political correctness & racial sensitivity issues).”
Which is not only nuts but also starts to sound just a little bit like people who claim that the holocaust is a myth and has been inserted into “our more modern history books”. To be clear, I am in no way implying that Mr Doutre is a holocaust denier, but his language and paranoid conspiracies about re-written history certainly shares a methodology with holocaust deniers, if not an intent.

Still, I was somewhat intrigued, so I decided to follow a link provided by Mr Doutre to a website called CelticNZ (the link is on Ms Newman’s website, so presumably she approves). At CelticNZ I was regaled by ‘evidence’ that the first settlers in New Zealand were not actually Maori (nor even Moriori) but actually Celts. And, among other ‘evidence’ there were some nifty photos of ‘Celtic Stone Circles’. Right Here! In New Zealand! I’ve pasted in a couple of these photos in below:

These photos and others can be found here.

And for comparison’s sake I’ve also inserted a shots of Stone Henge (a genuine British Stone Circles) (photo copyright; source here; also photos of Avebury another stone circle - take a look.)

The similarities are – how shall we put it – rather underwhelming. No? At least, in my opinion; but you be the judge and I’ll restrict myself to one final comment.

If this is the sort of ‘history’ that Muriel Newman has to resort to, to justify her political beliefs I feel very, very sorry for her.

Hat Tip: Russell Brown

Monday, October 24, 2005

How Rich Are You...

Been feeling a bit under-paid recently. Have a look at this website, it ought to cheer you up (or maybe not). You simply enter your salary in the box (remember to choose the most appropriate currency for where you live), click on the button, and presto! find your position on the World's rich list. I can almost guarantee that it will be a sobering experience.

(By the way, $1 NZ is worth approximately $0.7 US - so to convert your New Zealand salary multiply it by 0.7)

Hat Tip: Melissa

Labour Day

Norightturn has a great post reminding us of the significance of Labour Day. Read it here.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Chuckle chuckle...

I stumbled across this cartoon in Richard Layard's excellent new book 'Happiness'. I'll try and review the book at a later date; but for now, the cartoon.

cartoon is copyright Charles Barsotti - for more info refer here

Friday, October 21, 2005


Apparently Winston Peters is to be the minister in charge of Overseas Development Assistance.

This is the same man who suggested that the most humane thing to do for Somali refugees was to send them back to Somalia.

He is the head of the same political party who couldn't even be bothered to respond to the Council of International Development's questionaire on development priorities (link to PDF).

We'll just have to hope that he completely ignores ODA and lets NZAID get on with thier excellent work. Otherwise, I get a funny feeling we'll be seeing a change in development focus, probably towards Tauraunga. That's if the bridge is anything to go by (link to PDF).

Thursday, October 20, 2005

World Watch

Hhhhmmmm.........was I saying nice things about the UN yesterday .... sigh .... this report on sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers has certainly taken some of the gloss of my UN love-fest. I sincerely think that, in a globalising world, the UN is essential; yet, as it exists at present, it is a troubled organisation (kind of like the World it represents really). It definitely needs meaningful reform (as opposed to John Bolton style reforms). One of the main problems that the UN faces is that it is very hard for it to be more than merely the sum of its member organisations.

The Times writes (quoting Prince Zeid the author of one of the reports on the abuse):

"The entire responsibility for this mess is with the member states," he said, adding that meetings he had scheduled after his report was published were only sparsely attended.
Meanwhile the Independent has this sobering report on the environmental consequences of China’s economic development. A couple of worthy extracts:

Because of their increasing reliance on coal-fired power stations to provide their energy, the Chinese are firmly on course to overtake the Americans as the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, and thus become the biggest contributors to global warming and the destabilisation of the climate. If they remain uncontrolled, the growth of China's carbon dioxide emissions over the next 20 years will dwarf any cuts in CO2 that the rest of the world can make…

The ecological damage that China's breakneck industrialisation is having on the country itself has been widely recognised. In an interview earlier this year, China's deputy environment minister, Pan Yue, said five of the 10 most polluted cities worldwide are in China; acid rain is falling on one-third of the country; half of the water in its seven largest rivers is "completely useless"; a quarter of China's citizens lack access to clean drinking water; one-third of the urban population is breathing polluted air; and less than a fifth of the rubbish in cities is treated and processed in an environmentally sustainable way.
And meanwhile lawmakers in the US state of Georgia are trying to impose a poll tax of sorts. The consequence of which will be disenfranchisement of poorer voters (and you can guess what race they will be - predominantly). The New York Times writes in an editorial:

Critics of Georgia's new voter-identification law, which forces many citizens to pay $20 or more for the documentation necessary to vote, have called it a modern-day poll tax, intended to keep blacks and poor people from voting...Georgia Republicans, who get few votes from African-American voters, pushed a bill through the Legislature this year imposing the nation's toughest voter-identification requirements…Under the new law, voters with driver's licenses were not inconvenienced. But it put up huge obstacles for voters without licenses, who are disproportionately poor and black. Most of them would have to get official state picture-identification cards and pay processing fees of $20 or more. Incredibly - beyond the cost imposed on such voters - there was not a single office in Atlanta where the identification cards were for sale.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


What’s this? The head of a morality think tank admitting to a moral lapse? Well I never…

Meanwhile, at a somewhat chagrined the Christchurch Press, the idea that Maxim might have had an agenda or that newspapers ought to fact-check are novel ones apparently. The Press’s editor is quoted:

The Press's editor, Paul Thompson, said Logan's actions had severely damaged, if not destroyed, Maxim's reputation as a credible commentator.

"I suspect few editors would now touch them with a barge pole," he said. "While this looks like an extreme example of what can go wrong, it does show how vulnerable newspapers are to this type of bad faith from contributing writers.

"It is no longer enough for newspapers to accept that their material is sound. Our checking systems will need to be vastly improved."
Also of interest, the Maxim institute have named their journal Evidence … this, presumably, is an attempt at irony.

For the blog story which led to all this see here (three cheers for the Fundy Post).

(P.S. Unfortunately, the links above to will break in a few days. PPS. For an explanation of Schadenblogging – and a good example of it - see here)

Africa, Bullets and Ballots

Today’s Guardian has a good article about the current presidential elections in Liberia. After the brutal civil war that this country has been through these elections are surely a sign of hope. Among the interesting snippets in the article a couple of things are worth noting.

The first is that the two front runners in the elections are retired AC Milan striker George Weah, 39, and Harvard-educated economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, 66. If Ms Johnson-sirleaf wins she will be Africa’s first female president. Mr Weah on the other hand seems like a promising candidate too: someone committed to his country, with a history of philanthropy and who has worked as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.

The second point of note is one of the sadder ironies of Liberia’s history. The country was formed by freed slaves from the USA yet:

The freed slaves who founded Liberia in 1847 lorded it over the indigenous people, who made up the majority of the population. The indigenous were treated harshly by the educated elite, who emphasised their difference by walking about in morning coats despite the blistering West African heat. They practised a system of forced labour that was tantamount to slavery.

And the final interesting point is that, whoever wins the election, they will actually have little say over how the country is run, as the Guardian notes:

Ultimately, whoever the next president of Liberia is, they will have limited freedom to act. A Liberian army is being rebuilt from scratch, but in the meantime there are 15,000 UN troops keeping the peace. Western donor countries insist on intrusive financial measures to ensure that aid money is not squandered.

Liberia has quietly become a trusteeship for the international community. Under an economic management plan known by the acronym GEMAP, foreign experts will be inserted into key arms of the state with co-signature authority on government spending.

This isn’t a bad thing per se. Yet I’ll be interested in what limitations our foreign ‘experts’ place on spending in the country: if it’s just controls on corruption and military spending that’s great; if, on the other hand, it’s another austerity programme – then don’t hold your breath waiting for Liberia’s recovery.

Meanwhile, The Human Security Centre has just released the Human Security Report 2005 and the good news is that – globally – conflict is on the decline. One major reason for this, according to the report’s press release:

Analyzing the causes of the improvement in global security since the early 1990s, the Report argues that the UN played a critically important role in spearheading a huge upsurge of international conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peace building activities.

Although marred by much-publicized failures, these efforts have been the major driver of the reduction in war numbers around the world. The Report examines alternative explanations for the decline and finds them wanting.

Something that all you ‘aid is no good and the UN no use’ conservatives might want to consider sticking in your pipe and smoking…

While UN peacekeepers and those people who work in peace-building can take some credit for decreased conflict, Johann Hari in a splendid column on the arms trade gives us a few pointers as to who shouldn’t be taking the credit for the reduction in conflict:

Emmanuel Jal first held an AK47 when he was seven years old, and he first killed a man when he was 10. When I met him in London this week - now in his mid-20s - he spoke with a quiet, brittle calm about his life as a child soldier…But he stressed that this is not just another African horror story. This is a parable - and the lesson is for us. "Every single one of those guns was supplied by the outside world. Nobody in Sudan manufactured them."

They came - directly or indirectly - from the five countries that make up the permanent members of the UN Security Council: the US, China, France, Russia and - yes - Britain. "Why did the world make it possible for children to kill children with your guns and your bullets?" Emmanuel asks. "Why are you still doing it?"

Hari continues:

In a sane world, we would be turning off the tap of weaponry to the poorest people in the world, and trying to slowly disarm tyrannies and non-state militias. Instead, the Big Five economies are ramping it up, pumping out another 8 million small arms every year, along with enough bullets to shoot every single person in the world twice. Of the 14 countries in Africa where there is a conflict, Britain has sold arms to 10 of them…The problem is not simply that we allow arms suppliers to the poor and tyrannical to operate in this country; it is much worse. The [English] Government actively lavishes cash and political energy on them. Arms suppliers receive subsidies topping £990m per year from your taxes - enough to build 10 hospitals.

All of this is worth bearing in mind when you consider today’s news that conflict is on the rise again in Sudan.

If all this compels you to action, have a look at the following websites:

Monday, October 17, 2005

Ever Get the Feeling That You've...

post missing

Of Patents and Bird Flu

Oh my god, sometimes the insanity of medical patenting and patent laws just can't be captured with words. This below is from the blog Maxspeak - something to think about when your are gurgling your last pneumonic breaths a few months from now...

One of the key issues is whether the government should be stockpiling large quantities of Tamiflu, the drug deemed most effective in combating Avian Flu. The major obstacle to large-scale stockpiling is that the drug is under patent by Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical company. Roche has limited manufacturing capacity for Tamiflu, and would charge a high price in any case. Roche has been pressured to license the manufacture of Tamiflu to other companies, but has thus far resisted this pressure. Roche, with the support of the pharmaceutical industry, has claimed that forcing it to license Tamiflu would reduce incentives to develop new drugs. It has also claimed that the manufacturing process is so complex that it would take 2 years for other companies to get facilities up and running in any case.

It turns out that the claim on manufacturing complexity is not accurate. The Indian drug manufacturer, Cipla, determined how to reverse engineer the drug in two weeks and is now prepared to begin making a generic version of the drug available in January. (For those not familiar with Cipla, it is one of the world’s largest producers of generic drugs and its products routinely meet the highest safety standards.) So, we are left with the prospect that millions of people in the United States could risk death because our government does not want to infringe on Roche’s patent monopoly.


The Left Business Observer pillories Jeffrey Sachs.


Their final paragraph is particularly of note:

We're back to Sachs's enormous ego, which exposes almost anything he does to the suspicion that he's in it mostly for the attention. But while his work in Russia, though it drew attention, was mostly destructive - something he still can't admit to - his concerns today are a lot more admirable. His criticisms of American warmongering and Western indifference to the poverty of a billion or two of our fellow humans are mostly on the side of the angels. Maybe the best summing up of the latest incarnation of Jeffrey Sachs comes from David Ellerman: "I hope he gets what he wants, but that he doesn't get any credit for it."

The Liberal Case for the War

Johann Hari (one of the pro-war left) has been brave enough to publish, on his website, two hostile reviews of a book that he contributed a chapter to. The book is called:

A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq

And the reviews are here. Both are great reviews and well worth a read.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Hugo Chavez

Mother Jones magazine has a good article on Hugo Chavez. To be honest there are aspects of Chavez's rule that I am still uncomfortable with. But, god only knows, he is doing a better job (for now) than Lula (my orginal reformer of preference) at tackling issues of social justice in Latin America.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Democracy Gains Ground

I stumbled across this graph in the 2005 Human Development Report; and it provides cause for optimism: democracy is infinitely preferable to tyranny; and so its rise is a very positive trend.

And yet when it comes to democratic governance there is still much cause for concern in the world. For a start, in many parts of the world (Latin American being a good example) the switch to democracy, while bringing human rights benefits, has not yet brought economic benefits to the poor in a way that might be hoped. Likewise, in many countries democracy is a relatively shallow phenomenon, and what is still lacking is substantial participation from all sectors of society in the decision making process. Furthermore, there is some evidence that the globalisation of financial capital flows has limited the scope, at a national level, for alternative economic policies. Finally, democracies are only as good as their information flows, and with media consolidation and the rise of Murdoch-news, in many countries it appears that the information flows are getting worse.

In some ways this could be described as the democracy paradox - as the number of countries with democratic governments is increasing, the 'depth' of democracy world-wide is decreasing.

More on what could be done about this in a later post.

Monday, October 10, 2005

HIV and Human Development in Africa

I stumbled across this today on the Earth Institute's website. It's a pretty stark illustration of what HIV has done to life expectancy in Africa.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Four Fallacies of African Development

Someone called Chris has placed a comment below my last little piece on aid and conditionality and, as is sometimes the case when he resists his impulse to troll, he has made some almost-sensible points. Or at least, points that have had much currency in the mainstream media and debates about international development. So I thought I’d take the time to discuss them here.

In his post Chris wrote:

...the fact remains, Africa's problems are by and large internal…True, agricultural subsidies must be lifted by the US and the EU, but simply throwing aid money at the problem will ultimately come to no good. After all, even when African countries do possess sources of great wealth--diamonds in Sierra Leone and oil in Nigeria, for instance--those resources often end up being a curse on95% of the respective country's populace. On the other hand, a few nations have done better through internal improvements; Botswana is often cited as an example of this, but their 40% Aids rate--definitely attributable to rampant sexual activity--is impossible to overlook.

Encapsulated in this spiel are what could be termed ‘the four great fallacies of the Africa Debate’. I’ll attend to each of these in turn.

Fallacy 1 - Africa’s problems are by in large internal

There’s no denying that some of Africa’s problems are internal but the claim that they are entirely (or even by in large internal) is demonstrably false: it ignores history and turns a blind eye to the interconnected world that we live in.

For a start, many of Africa’s current problems stem from the colonial epoch; and colonialism was hardly an internal process. Instead, an external force (that’s us – the Europeans) plundered Africa’s natural and human resources and set in place tools of governance (involving an extractive local elite) that still haunt the continent today. The example that Chris uses above of Botswana is illustrative in this case. One of the reasons that Botswana did relatively well after colonialism was that it benefited from a policy of benign neglect during the colonial epoch. Because Botswana lacked strategic significance and extractable resources (that were known about at the time) the ruling colonial power in the country (the British I think) intervened in Botswana much less than they did in other countries. This is one of the major reasons for Botswana’s post colonial success (it’s not the only reason mind you).

Above and beyond colonialism it is simply naive to say that the actions of the rest of the world aren’t contributing to Africa’s problems. Take the example of Angola above: Chris is right to say that an abundance in natural resources (in this case diamonds) have played a role in Angola’s grief (and who, I might add buys those diamonds Chris? Not other Africans.) Yet, Chris’s formulation ignores the role that the superpowers played in fuelling Angola’s conflict. Likewise, Chris also ignores the role that western business interests have played in more recent African conflicts (Shell and Nigeria being an example). Furthermore, Chris ignores the role that western arms traders have played in perpetuating many African conflicts (go on Chris – who sells them the guns?).On top of this, the ‘Africa’s problems are internal’ claim ignores the role that western multi-laterals have sometimes played in undermining the economic development of African countries. (Joseph Stiglitz in Globalization and its Discontents provides good examples of this). Chris does at least mention the unfair global trading regime that demands that African countries open their economies to exports and then floods them with subsidised agricultural products – yet even this basic point is missing from many of the “Africa’s problems are its own” diatribes.

Finally, the “Africa’s problems are Internal” slogan misses the probable environmental catastrophes that await parts of Africa as a result of global warning. The gas guzzled by American (and New Zealand) SUV’s is a pretty strange example of Africa causing its own grief.

Fallacy 2 – Africa’s problems are the result of poor governance and corruption

According top this fallacy, the primary impediment to Economic Growth in Africa is poor governance and corruption (and at a deeper level institutional problems). Institutional issues are certainly a major problem in Africa (for two very good discussions of the role that institutions play in economic growth see here and here - links to pdf files). Yet Jeffrey Sachs in his book The End of Poverty provides convincing evidence that – while institutions are important – they are not the only issue effecting economic growth: geographical constraints, disease issues, conflict, and the global trading system all matter as well. On top of this Sachs makes the worthwhile point that the relationship between corruption and economic underdevelopment is not simply one way. While corruption does contribute to economic underdevelopment, economic underdevelopment also (through low salaries providing a greater incentive to take bribes) also leads to corruption.

Fallacy 3 – Aid has no role to play in assisting Africa; indeed it only leads to more corruption and less growth

When this claim is made it is often backed up by references to studies by economists such as Paul Bauer and William Easterly which purport to show that aid has an inverse effect on economic growth. Yet makers of this claim fail to note that accompanying such landmark studies such as Bauer’s and Easterly’s are numerous other studies which show that Aid does have positive effect on economic growth. Moreover, across the board claims that aid has a negative impact on economic growth ignore the fact that all aid is not equal. In the past much economic assistance was given for geopolitical reasons, tied to purchases of donor country products, accompanied by poorly advised economic conditionalities, or wasted on ridiculous infrastructure projects. Much other aid was given as famine relief (and so shouldn’t be expected to stimulate economic growth – simply keep people alive), or was spent on education and health projects, which one would expect not to have a short term impact on economic growth but rather a long term impact – the type not easily captured in econometric studies. When studies take these considerations into account (such as this study) the positive relationship between aid and economic growth becomes much stronger. Moreover, when the criteria for successful development assistance are broadened beyond mere economic growth to take into account a variety of other human development indicators there is considerable evidence that aid can be a force for good in Africa. One needs only to look at the results of successful, well designed aid programmes like the campaign against River Blindness to see this.

Finally, the idea that aid fosters corruption is an oversimplification. While there can be no denying that some aid programmes in the past have gone mainly to lining the pockets of corrupt officials, much of this took place as the result of a cold war climate that saw aid money being given regardless of how it was spent simply to ensure that dictators stayed “our dictators”. The statement that aid fosters corruption also ignores the potential that aid can be used to fight corruption by enabling a strong civil society to act as a watchdog on the government. There are already examples of this taking place in Africa.

Fallacy 4 – That HIV in Africa is a result of Sexual Promiscuity

This, our final fallacy, ignores one glaring fact. The glaring fact is that HIV transmission isn’t the result of sex as such but rather the result of un-protected sex. While this may seem trite it is an important point: countries that have been successful in stifling the rise of the AIDS epidemic – such as Thailand – have done so through the promotion of condom use. This isn’t always easy and it can be complimented (in some cases) by campaigns promoting limiting the number of sexual partners that one has – but the safer sex massage is integral to stopping the spread of the disease, at least until medical technology improves. On top of this, glaring omission, there are a few minor misunderstandings that need attending to here as well. The reason why AIDS is rampant in Africa is not entirely (or even primarily) the result of promiscuity. For a start, the disease is most common in Africa because it that is where it came from. Secondly, nutritional factors (or, more specifically, the impact of under-nutrition on peoples’ immune systems) may also play a role in the spread of the disease. Furthermore, the unavailability of treatment drugs (which can – if I recall correctly – make people less infective) aids the spread of the disease. If you really want to understand why HIV is so prevalent in Africa you need to consider these facts – not engage in simplistic formulations which link the illness only to a stereotyped image of African people.

And – finally – one last point: not only sexually promiscuous people contract HIV. As is witnessed by women in Africa (and other parts of the world) who have stayed entirely faithful to their partners but have contracted the illness as a result of their partner’s infidelity. HIV transmission is there result of a lot of factors not the least of them being the fact that – in many parts of the world – women do not have effective control of their sex lives.

Ok – that’s enough for now. I have to admit that I had had better things planned for my Sunday morning than typing away a blog entry that hardly anyone will read. However, it seemed important to be to have a go at disposing the four great fallacies of development and Africa. After-all only once these mistaken beliefs are put to rest can Africa and the rest of the World begin to move towards creating a happier future for the continent.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Aid, Conditionality and a rather good point

Oxford academic Ngaire Woods has a good book review in Prospect discussing the potential that Aid has for reducing poverty. The article is here although, unfortunately, you'll have to pay to read it.

There is one particular quote in the review that made me chuckle. While discussing conditionality Woods makes the following point about certain countries not always practicing what they preach when it comes to economic policy:

But this objection assumes widespread agreement as to what constitutes competence in economic policy. Many would argue that a government which runs a massive budget deficit, spends a huge proportion of its budget on a non-defensive war, increases subsidies to major sectors such as agriculture and steel before elections, and lives off foreign capital inflows is incompetent, yet economists within the Bush administration make their own case for this.

chuckle chuckle – touché Ms Woods.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Terror and the Left

Sasha Abramsky, writing in Open-democracy, has a good article on the radical left and the “war on terror”. The link is here – because it’s Open Democracy, you may have to register to read the article; it’s free to do so however.

To my mind, Abramsky is a little unfair in the way that he groups different commentators under the same heading (Klein, for example is quite different from Fisk and Pilger). And Abramsky also fails to examine closely enough some of the alternatives to the war on terror that the left have offered. Nevertheless, his central point is a good one. While the radical left is an excellent watchdog on the excesses of our own power, too often it argues as if we (the West) are the only source of evil in the world, and that if we just started behaving ourselves the world would be a much better place. Unfortunately, things – as Abramsky shows – are much more complicated than that. The real challenge for progressive politics is to find ways of defeating deeply regressive movements like Al Qaeda while at the same time preserving those aspects of our own societies that make them better places to live in than theocratic regimes. And, in addition to this, global progressive movements need to work on ways of expanding genuine freedoms (in the sense of Amartya Sen as opposed to neo-con freedoms) across the globe.

No one said it would be easy but, compared to the alternatives, it is crucial.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

John Kennith Galbriath

I've just stumbled across this book review and it is well worth a read:

The book is - John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics. Richard Parker. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005, 820 pp. $35.00

And the reviewer is J. Bradford DeLong who (of all people) gives Galbraith a sympathetic hearing. The review is in Foreign Affairs.

Towards the end DeLong makes the point that Social Democracy is something that goes against what he thinks is America’s self image: individualism and the Horatio Alger dream of upward social mobility. I’m not sure that I agree with this entirely, but I do think that the Alger myth has been a strong tool in American history for the stifling of progressive change. I also think that DeLong makes a sensible additional point that Social Democratic reforms are much easier to implement when memories of a time of crisis (the great depression in this case) are still strong in the public’s mind.

The New York Review of Books also has an excellent review of Parker's book - it can be found here.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Still trying to understand what motivates terrorists...

Sydney Blumthenal has an interesting article on how the Bush administration continues to blunder its war on terror. The whole article is worth a read, however, the thing I thought most interesting, had to do with the motives of terrorists. Blumenthal writes citing a US researcher Robert Pape:

Pape's research debunks the view that suicide terrorism is the natural by product of Islamic fundamentalism or some "Islamo-fascist" ideological train, independent of certain highly specific circumstances.

"Of the key conditions that lead to suicide terrorism in particular, there first must be the presence of foreign combat forces on the territory that the terrorists prize. The second condition is a religious difference between the combat forces and the local community. The religious difference matters in that it enables terrorist leaders to paint foreign forces as being driven by religious goals."