Links & Contents I Liked 79

Hello all,

The weekly link review is still a bit off with me getting settled in in Sweden work- and life-wise. So this week's edition comes a bit late/early.

This week's theme is 'Africa' with interesting posts about humanitarian fiction and reality in Somalia, misguided German development communication and a fantastic photo essay on Kampala's youth! In other news, a very optimistic article on UNDP's social media potential, a new book on Bono and his brand of celebrity humanitarianism and a great interview with James 'Anti-Politics machine' Ferguson are some of the highlights. But the value of teaching for community colleges, the value of engineers for development and the value of good conferencing are also interesting posts worth your attention!


New on aidnography
Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit (#MMMM book review)
As Mary-Anne manages to live through the four ‘humanitarian states of being’ (Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic and Misfit) and evolves professionally and personally I was once again glad that I joined the ride in the backseat of the humanitarian-reflection-bandwagon!

Participatory Methods-People working together around the world to generate ideas and action for social change

Welcome to our participatory methods website. This site provides resources on a range of methods for inclusive social development.
It explains what participatory methods are, where and how they have been used, their problems and potentials and the debates about them. The focus is on participatory approaches to strategic analysis and programme design, monitoring and evaluation. It also includes resources on participatory learning, research and communication in organisations, networks and communities.
A new virtual home for the comprehensive knowledge of IDS' Participation Team.

Region in Crisis: Stabilizing Mali and the Sahel

This special collection puts a spotlight on the Mali and the complex regional dynamics across the Sahel.
The crisis in Mali extends throughout the Sahel. Major powers in the neighborhood, such as Nigeria and Algeria, are also feeling the effects. The international community was caught completely off guard. Once regarded as a model democracy, Mali has witnessed a coup, secessionist movement, and the penetration of extremist and criminal groups. It has also seen various forms of engagement by the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, and the United Nations — as well as by French and Chadian forces. The United Nations is establishing a peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, but the road ahead will be challenging. This special edition of Stability puts a spotlight not only on Mali but also on the complex regional dynamics across the broader neighborhood.
Special issue of the online, open-access journal Stability with a spotlight on Mali and the regional dynamics. Very interesting and accessible!

Somalia aid workers risk manipulation as in Afghanistan - expert

There is a risk that the story telling in the case of Somalia might be similar. I think we should be wary of being carried away by rhetoric as was the case in Afghanistan - the rhetoric of post conflict - when in reality conditions for the continuation of conflict were very present on the ground.
You will potentially see some of the same pathologies: the subordination of the humanitarian agenda, the protection agenda, the human rights agenda even, to political objectives.
In a real post-conflict situation, it’s okay for all the arms of the international community to work together. But in a situation like Afghanistan or Somalia, where there’s an active conflict, I think it makes sense to keep the humanitarian people separate from the political agenda as much as possible.
They have to address need wherever it is and try to negotiate access with whoever’s on the ground. If you are seen as being part of a political mission that’s based in one part of the country, you will be seen as having taken sides.
Linked to my review of #MMMM, Antonio Donini shares some reflections on the de-/re-politication in Somalia. In case you are interested in his book, there's a review for that ;)!

The Last Train to Zona Verde by Paul Theroux: How not to write about Africa
A decade after his last African travelogue, Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux picks up where he left off. “What am I doing here?” begins to appear as a refrain. I began asking it, too: “What are you doing here, Paul? Why are you making me rehearse this done-to-death critique of stereotypical versions of Africa?”
As a fan of good book reviews, I can recommend Hedley Twidle's one on Paul Theroux very highly!

Germany’s African “Big Five”

Superimposed on the map of the African continent, the “Big Five”—a lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhino—represent the five goals of the ministry’s work: to reduce poverty, secure natural resources, and promote biodiversity, education, and human rights. The relation between the big five and the five goals? No idea. In order to “justify” the use of wild life on the poster, the ministry cooperated with the WWF. German civil society organizations have already reacted to the campaign and criticized the poster for linking German development policy to colonial safaris—a hunt for exploitable objects—, which suggests a one-sided intervention on the African continent, without regard for its people, to the benefit of the West.
For those who know about German aid politics and its highest political representative, the latest billboard campaign may not be that big of an embarrassing surprise. Yet another example of how development communication in Germany seems to be stuck somewhere in the middle of the last century. Let's see what the ministry will come up with this Christmas...

Kampala Rising

Robots in classrooms. Cellphone apps that measure fetal heart rates, propose where to look for cheapest gas or help you argue with a taxi driver. Digital girl power. Business incubators brimming with ambitious youth.
Let's wrap up this short section on Africa with some great images by Ciril Jazbec on the rise of a new generation of entrepreneurs in Uganda's capital!

Holding up half the district

What clicked in Bhageswor when surrounding VDCs still practice Chhaupadi and have made less headway in promoting health and sanitation? The answer comes in a gathering under the village pipal tree. Despite political and class differences one gets the sense of a unity of purpose and in the absence of local elections there is performance-based accountability – both qualities sorely lacking in the national discourse in Kathmandu.
Now that Bhageswor will meet the criteria for Child Friendly Local Governance, the village meeting is charting out a strategy for a higher standard of education, more reliable health care, improved water supply, increasing household income through skills training, better quality latrines where effluent can be used as fertiliser.
“The reason Bhageswor succeeded where others haven’t is that the women here decided to involve the men in changing attitudes,” explains UNICEF’s Manju Wagle, “once the mindset of the men changed there was no problem for the women to take the lead.”
Indeed, at the village meeting the most forceful speakers are women like Sabitri Batala, who as a girl found it hardest to convince her own mother that Chhaupadi was a superstitious practice. “I had to tell her, look, I don’t go to the cow shed when I have periods yet our buffalo hasn’t died, our crops haven’t been raided by wild animals, the gods haven’t punished us,” she tells us. “But I am not satisfied that my village is Chhaupadi-free when women in my parent’s village still practice it.”
Nepal's leading weekly English newspaper reports on positive social change from the rural 'margins'.

Celebrating engineering contributions to development

We’d like to learn more about the improvements that people with technical backgrounds have made in this sector, and how they ended up doing that work. Every now and then, you may hear about the difference an engineer has made in ensuring sustainable water supplies for a community, creating an innovative toilet design, and so on, but what we really wanted is a platform where positive stories can be shared alongside each other for future generations of engineers, operators, and technologists.
That is, we wanted to create a hub that attracts the best and inspires others to improve their contributions to the field of humanitarian engineering. We hope to hear from people, projects, and programmes from every corner of the globe.
That is, we wanted to create a hub that attracts the best and inspires others to improve their contributions to the field of humanitarian engineering. We hope to hear from people, projects, and programmes from every corner of the globe.
This sounds like a great initiative! I have been discussing some of these issues with Engineers Without Borders Germany recently and I hope to get involved more in development communication for non-social scientists!

Opening up - how the UN Development Programme is going digital

UNDP has been spear-heading a significant cultural change within the development community by embracing social media not just as a means to broadcast its own institutional messages but to actively encourage staff members to engage in a two-way conversation with stakeholders, find out what people are talking about and what their needs are.
The benefits and opportunities of using social media to connect with the outside world are much higher than the risk of a staff member ruining UNDP’s reputation by publishing a critical blog post. As a matter of fact, I see the risk that staff members are much more inclined to avoid social media for fear of embarrassment or wrongdoing rather than using it for their own or the organization’s advantage. In the case of UNDP, this would represent a missed opportunity of 8.000 people who can advocate and engage on UNDP’s behalf.
Many of the issues that this very optimistic article points out are true-in theory. However, if you look beyond the surface as my colleague Daniel Esser and I did in our research on the 2010 MDG Summit and the use of social media, there is still a huge discrepancy between traditional UN conferencing and decision-making rituals and the engagement with a digital global civil society.

Notes from the Women in International Security Conference in Canada

That cross-pollination is challenging. It is important to recognize that different rules govern the fields of academia, conflict management, and humanitarian practice. From the types of questions we are allowed to ethically ask survivors of violence to the number of promises we can offer after we hear the responses, the roles are different and blurring the lines can be misleading. At a conference, one can speak "off the record" or issue caveats that she is speaking "as a scholar" or "as a practitioner." In the field, though -- in many ways, in real life -- the separation of the identities becomes murkier and it informs both our interactions with survivors and victims of violence and their expectations. If there is a balance, I am still learning it.
The theme of balance reverberated throughout the conference. One of the features of Women in International Security that I most enjoy is the way in which conference organizers intersperse scholarly discussion with mentorship. A recurrent theme in the mentorship conversations and panels were the personal challenges in balancing academia and the rest of life, whether that implies starting or having a family, or travel, or simply personal leisure time. In many ways, these questions feel distant because I have let my love and dedication for the topics I study and explore professionally guide my decisions.
Great reflections by Roxanne Krystalli which, coincidentally, also point out some of the virtues of (academic) conferences beyond the rituals that I frequently criticize.

Bono can't help Africans by stealing their voice

The third thing I discovered is that there's a long history here. In his brilliant and blistering book The Frontman: Bono (in the Name of Power), just released in the UK, the Irish scholar Harry Browne maintains that "for nearly three decades as a public figure, Bono has been … amplifying elite discourses, advocating ineffective solutions, patronising the poor and kissing the arses of the rich and powerful". His approach to Africa is "a slick mix of traditional missionary and commercial colonialism, in which the poor world exists as a task for the rich world to complete".
George Monbiot on Bono, elite discourses and 'speaking for the poor'. Interesting book, by the way, that I hope to review here soon...

Humanity interview with James Ferguson, pt. 1: development as "swarming state power"

As you say, there is an element of play, of make-believe. The historian Steven Pierce wrote a piece on Nigeria called “Looking like a State,” engaging James Scott, which said what is going on Nigeria is not a matter of seeing like a state, it is a matter of looking like a state—that is, of performing the forms of state power in order to adequate to expectations of the sorts of authority you are supposed to project. Meanwhile, the actual mechanisms of authority were much more continuous with older ways of binding rulers and ruled
Great interview with one of the key figures of 'development anthropology', James Ferguson.

The end of the ‘Golden Age’ for university graduates

Demand for highly educated workers in Canada is being dampened by ongoing cuts to public services, the continuing impact of the manufacturing crisis that affects many white-collar workers, overreliance on resource extraction as opposed to higher-value-added activities, and our general failure to foster the growth of a more innovative and knowledge-based economy.
The central issue we need to confront is that our economy, as currently organized, is not generating anywhere near enough good jobs that require a high level of education and skills. That problem is not going to be solved by lecturing students on the need to make better individual choices.
This is a good overview over the challenges that new university graduates are facing that to some extent is applicable to many OECD-contexts.

What if Ph.D. Programs Actually Prepared Students for Community College Jobs?

As it happens, that brings up a dissent from the latest round of blogs. It’s becoming part of the bloggy catechism that brand-spanking-new doctorates are highly prized, but that candidates with teaching experience are considered damaged goods. I can’t speak to most places, but I can say that where I am, some level of teaching experience is preferable to none. Incumbent adjuncts have been a majority of my own full-time faculty hires, and I don’t think I’m freakish in that. This may be a case in which a perspective that’s largely true at the R1 level is falsely attributed to higher ed in general, when in fact, the needs of the teaching-intensive sector are different.
None of these will solve the basic supply-and-demand issue, obviously. And I’d hate to see them become excuses to make doctoral programs in the liberal arts take even longer than they already do. But to the extent that they help some programs focus on the possibilities that actually exist, and thereby prepare their students better for the market that actually exists, I hope they do some good. If nothing else, they might result in better teaching by new hires at community and state colleges; if that’s all it achieves, that’s good in itself.
American community college administrator Suburbdad is making the case for teaching-driven careers and opportunities in higher education once more.


  1. Hi Tobias,
    The review of the Theroux book reminded me of the new HBO show VICE, a first person, reality show travelogue masquerading as some sort of blog journalism with expensive production values. As guilty pleasure/easy targets go, I can't recommend it enough though one does inevitably feel a bit dirty afterwards.


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