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Hello all!

There are no signs of a pre-holiday slowdown when it comes to interesting stuff on development and academia! If you haven't done yet, I suggest my interview with Kate Flynn on European aid in Cyprus as an addition to your reading list. Brazilian engagement in Mozambique, and almost too detailed ironic take on 'Radi-Aid'; plus new research on how human rights NGOs can tangibly influence policy-making. There's also a nice '2.0' section data journalism in Africa and incubators
. In the academic section more on the eternal quest of who should get a PhD, why and how and an interesting example that science and advocacy don't mix well...


New on aidnography
A consultant speaks out on the donor economy in Cyprus-Interview with Kate Flynn
My interview with Kate Flynn on speaking out as a development consultant on European aid in Cyprus, the power of traditional news media & the challenges for critical academics in the UK.

Aid agencies unite to demand corporate and tax haven transparency

The Guardian’s investigation into offshore secrecy highlights a significant problem that is global in its impact. Developing countries lose vital resources for development through illicit capital flight, to such an extent that Africa is actually a net creditor to the rest of the world. Ending financial secrecy to expose corruption and tax dodging that hurts the poorest countries is a vital step in changing this reality: and that action must be global. We need a new international agreement to end the corporate anonymity and tax haven secrecy you have revealed.
The debate on tax havens and corporations avoiding proper local taxation finally gets some attention from the development community!

Brazilian megaproject in Mozambique set to displace millions of peasants

"The government invited us to participate in a couple of meetings, but all we were presented was a power point presentation, with no chance to raise questions," says Gregorio A. Abudo, the President of the União Provincial das Cooperativas de Nampula. "We want transparency. We want to know the details."
The governments of Mozambique, Brazil and Japan are now ploughing ahead behind closed doors with a Master Plan for the ProSavana project that they intend to finalise by July 2013. Japan will be funding the construction of infrastructure in the Nacala Corridor while a representative of the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC) says that GV Agro has secured "lots and lots of money" for a fund that it is managing that will invest in large-scale farms in the area.
While many developement researchers are thinking about questions on how 'new actors' and their involvement in Africa will shape the future of development, this example from Mozambique is a very tangible example that they seem to have adopted to global capitalist discourses very quickly - especially when valuable resources such as land are involved.

Radiator Aid? No, thanks!

We would like to stress that heat aid aims at satisfying a need that is indeed real, and we appreciate the initiative to giving ordinary Africans a possibility to act in solidarity with Norwegians. Nonetheless, we see Radi-Aid as primarily rooted in an African charity regime where satisfying the donors seems more important than making sure that aid leads to sustainable development among the recipients. Perhaps will the project primarily serve as a door-opener for individuals seeking future top positions in international heat organizations in addition to generating increased sales for concerned artists.
One of the problems appears to be associated to the rigid UN goal of allocating 0.7 per cent of African heat as aid to colder countries. This worked well until a few years ago, when heat from Africa was primarily provided in the form of exotic dances and henna dye. With global warming we may see that the 0.7-percent-goal will lead to a rapid increase in heat aid that is not accompanied by increased capacity to plan and manage the heat flows. In that situation we may see more projects like this, well intended but poor planned. We fear that African heat aid may hinder more long-term, sustainable domestic heat development.
On the one hand, this is a brilliant tongue-in-cheek 'analysis' of the Radi-Aid phenomenon that has gained quite a momentum. On the other hand, I'm a bit concerned that so much time and energy (I get the pun...) is spent on a fake and yes, slightly ironic and amusing 'aid' proposal. It would be interesting to discuss what the real value of ironic fake aid proposal really is in educating people...

Invisible Children: Giving American Youth a Raison D’Etre

In other words, the specific case of conflict in northern Uganda, Joseph Kony, and the LRA is a vehicle through which Invisible Children can address a universal, i.e. a perceived sense of aimlessness, alienation, and disempowerment of American youth. Invisible Children aims to “change the mindset of Western young people to see…that they can do profoundly good things with their life.” One could argue that the ultimate goal of Invisible Children is not to capture Kony or to “End The War” itself – or even to “make the world a better place” – but rather to offer young Americans a one-way ticket out of their social ennui.
Well, yes, another Kony piece...but Ayesha Nibbe's reflections on the cultural phenomenon that is Invisible Children and the Kony 2012 campaign is definitely worth a read. One of the issues that I increasingly find important is to discuss the limits of replicating IC's approach and what it means for campaigning, pop culture and American youths.

World AIDS Day 2012: Getting to Zero Bull****, Guys?
To challenge these simplistic and stereotyping approaches to gender in HIV, IDS and partners from Brazil, India, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda put on a Satellite Session on the opening day of the conference – “Gender and HIV: What Have Men Got to Do with It?”. This highlighted not only men’s importance to the response, but also that the role of men and masculinities in gender oppression and vulnerability is highly complex, institutionally embedded and bound up with homophobia, misogyny, racism and power. This damages men, women and transgendered people alike, and particularly so at the lower rungs of social pecking orders.
However, men’s engagement in the response cannot be limited to a sense of ‘having been left out’ or ‘neglected’ and men certainly don’t need to be given special spaces within women’s feminist movements. The issue here is that, whilst many men indeed do also suffer from patriarchal oppression and our complex relationships to masculinities, we need to use the spaces in society which we already occupy and open them up to make them feminist spaces.
IDS' Jerker Edstrom on some of the challenges around HIV/AIDS in a gendered world.

Human rights NGOs: Just Hot Air?

My recent work with Dursun Peksen, however, indicates that NGOs – and the information they produce – actually does influence foreign policy, even realpolitik decisions about use of force. First, in this forthcoming piece, Dursun and I find that the “shaming” reports of human rights NGOs matter for the use of economic sanctions by major powers – including the US. When a country is shamed more often by human rights NGOs, it is more likely to be on the receiving-end of economic sanctions, even after accounting for the host of other reasons why states sanction. We argue that this has little to do with whether the human rights NGOs are actually calling for economic sanctions or not. The information these organizations produce just starts a process of mobilization where concerned individuals pressure state actors to “do something” for human rights. The finding is completely consistent with the canonical literature – human rights NGOs produce information which then leads more powerful state actors to join in and pressure a state to change their human rights practices. Still, it’s pretty surprising: human right NGOs are capable of influencing economic diplomacy. (Now, just to be clear, when we consider all of the negative effects that sanctions have on human rights, this influence of human rights NGOs may not be a good thing for human rights performance).
Interesting new research on the impact of human rights NGOs in political decision-making.

Documentary-makers join forces to expose the evil of global poverty

Are US billionaires destroying the American Dream? Can large-scale agricultural development have a positive effect in Africa? Are Bono and Bob Geldof actually doing any good? And can the history of human poverty over 10,000 years be told in less than 60 minutes? These and many other questions are being posed in a new series of documentaries and short films entitled Why Poverty? launching on Monday night on BBC1. The series, which will be screened in 180 countries including India, Zimbabwe and Brazil, aims to kick-start a global debate in the hope of addressing a broader question: why, in the 21st century, do a billion people live in poverty?
Great stuff...I just started to watch some of the material on their website.
As digital disruption comes to Africa, investing in data journalism takes on new importance
Here’s an example. We had a boot camp in Kenya. NTV, the national free-to-air station, had been looking into why young girls in a rural area of Kenya did very well academically until the ages of 11 or 12 — and then either dropped off the academic record completely or their academic performance plummeted. The explanation by the authorities and everyone else was that this was simply traditional; it’s tribal. Families are pulling them out of school to do chores and housework, and as a result, they can’t perform.
Irene Choge [a Kenyan boot camp participant who attended data journalism training] started mining the data. She came from that area and knew it wasn’t that [cause]. So she looked into public data. She first assumed it was cholera, so she looked into medical records. Nothing there. She then looked into water records. From water, she started looking into physical infrastructure and public works. She discovered these schools had no sanitation facilities and that the schools with the worst performing academics were those that didn’t have sanitation facilities, specifically toilets. [...] When these girls start menstruating, there’s nowhere for them to go to attend to themselves, other than into the bushes around the school. They were getting harassed and embarrassed. They either stopped going to school completely or they would stop going during that part of their cycle and, as a result, their schoolwork suffered dramatically. She then produced a TV documentary that evoked widespread public outcry and changed policies.
I like long interviews that give both sides space to explore important issues and Justin Arenstein is a great person to talk about building the foundations of 'data journalism' in Africa.

Governance 2.0: Can Social Media Fueled "2.0 Web" Really Improve Governance?

So, when you combine the democratization of the web, mobile technology/falling costs of computing, the decentralized nature – and hence the independence of the Web, with the push technology, it creates the perfect storm for increased transparency. It can be as simple as - every Joe Blow has a cell phone and can tell the world how he or she feels without much fear of exposure, and if every citizen did this, you would have the transparency you wanted, and through it, improved governance.
Oh dear, World Bank. I hope this simplified and decontextualized piece that does nothing for the reader to tell them how 'governance' (whatever that may mean in the first place...) is actually 'improved' (whatever that may mean, too...) is not indicative of how the Bank engages with '2.0' driven development thinking...

State Dept. mulling new rules on employees’ social media, other speech

The department is rewriting its rules on social media, blogging, speeches and other appearances by employees, suggesting that officials get a full two days to review an employee’s proposed tweets and five days to give a yea or nay to a blog post, speech, or remarks prepared for a live event
Yes, 2012 is almost over and large organizations are still scared about the real digital world...

Why do consultants use PowerPoint so much?

As long as people are crappy at distilling complex problems into easy-to-follow, logical recommendations that are easily communicated to executives. . . more billable hours for us consultants.
Last week I included a link to a piece on the role of consultants in advising large organizations. I'm not sure how serious or ironic 'Consultants Mind' is in this piece, but the business school speak on 'Executives are short on time' or 'Executives are visual people' convinces me once again that probably most consultants are not worth their Powerpoints...

12 Entrepreneurs Share Advice on Incubators

The outcome of incubators is seeing a vision take shape and become a finished product. It's alluring, but not surprisingly, it involves a lot of hard work. We asked 12 entrepreneurs to share some insight about being an entrepreneur, what lessons they learned and what they wished they knew before going into an incubator program.
You can probably almost guess my could this model be adapted to development-related thinking like social entrepreneurism? And how could you include some field 'testing'? Maybe set-up an incubator in a developing country??

Literary Sudans: A Warscapes Retrospective

This is not to say that there is nothing going on, but simply to posit that rarely does one see a well-rounded, comprehensive or non-ideological approach to the crises that have been transpiring there since the late eighties. In the face of the one-note depiction of Sudan merely as a place of war and atrocities, then, I spent much time over the past months putting together a Warscapes retrospective, “Literary Sudans”. The online retrospective is intended to highlight the two Sudans as sites of literature and culture.
I began by seeking out Leila Aboulela, one of the best known Sudanese writers working today. She was on board from the get-go and provided invaluable contacts and suggestions, especially for writers based in South Sudan. Over the course of a few months, David L. Lukudu, who had been previously published on Warscapes, spread the word about this project and I was flooded with submissions from writers from all over South Sudan who were eager to tell their version of the story and of the conflict. The original retrospective included poets and artists but it became untenable and we narrowed it down to fiction where Sudan emerges as an energetic and complex place filled with people leading lives that range from the ordinary to unique. New fiction that is not anchored in its literary history can feel very rootless.
Looking behind the discourse of war/'war' in Sudan...

So you want to get a Ph.D. to get ahead in DC....

When asked about whether getting a Ph.D. is a good idea, I usually tell men that writing a dissertation is the closest experience they will have to being pregnant -- except that instead of nine months they'll be carrying that sucker for 2-5 years. I then tell women that, of course, writing a dissertation is not remotely close to being pregnant -- but take the most volatile relationship from your past and then multiply that volatility by a factor of fifty. That's what it's like. And I haven't even gotten to the incredible socialization pressures within graduate school to feel like you should pursue an academic career instead of a non-academic one.
Despite these barriers, is it possible to simply "grind out" the Ph.D. without loving the subject matter and the process? Yeah, in theory. I've met one or two extraordinary people in my day who were able to pull that off. But -- and I cannot stress this enough -- I've met far more people who thought they could grind it out and then met their ruin on the shoals of some doctoral program. These are the people who stay in a doctoral program long after everyone else knows that the jig is up. That is the fate I am warning policy wonks away from.
Dan Drezner on the myth that a PhD would be a great addition to your CV to become more competitive in the (DC) policy research and think tank job market.

What I Did Not Know About the Prof Business

In the recent conversations about Policy PhDs and such, one of the frequent assertions was that people going into PhD programs had no idea what they were getting into. Why do we assert such things? All I can say is that I had no clue not just about what was involved in a PhD program, but also what was involved in being a prof. Let me review some of my beliefs and the realities I have experienced over the past two decades
Steve Saideman on learning how to love writing, administrating money, not reading cool books and doing (and not doing) quite a few other things in academia...

Time to rethink peer review

In summary, let us hope for the demise of the wall of anonymity behind which reviewers all too often behave irresponsibly. Let us see a humanization of peer review as open and responsible scholarly dialogue. And let us develop suitable forms of scholarly work with which to foster such exchange.
Murray Dineen on 'Evaluating scholarly work in the Internet age'. To be frank, I found his vision of 'open peer review' interesting, but ultimately a bit naive. Many parts of the academic system are driven by quantifiable indicators and adding a digital layer to it is unlikely to change the system. I agree about the slow and sometimes unsatisfactory system of peer review, but if it's not just about the 'impact factor' some academics will probably start buying Twitter followers, SEOing their blog or bribe newspapers to publish their op-eds...

Science and advocacy do not mix (the “Greenpeace syndrome”?)

It is not the first time that “activists” have turned to dubious and manipulated science to further their cause. And it will not be the last. The peer-review process which is supposed to catch this kind of politically motivated pseudoscience is often not capable of doing so – and certainly not when the purported science is presented in a stage manged PR exercise. Anything published by an advocacy group may – sometimes – contain some science but – and it should be axiomatic – no advocacy report is ever science.
In this case a “scientist” – Gilles-Eric Seralini - who is also a well-known activist campaigning against GM crops managed to get the reputed Elsevier Food and Chemical Toxicology journal to publish some highly dubious results that genetically modified corn caused tumors in rats.
Then again, maybe more 'open peer review' is not such a bad idea when it involves discussing the thin line between scientific work and advocacy...


  1. Peer review gone mad at Elsevier ....


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