Links & Contents I Liked 377

Hi all,

Did you have enough Zoom meetings this week? Yeah, me too...

Before I'm logging off for the weekend I'm happy to share some great #globaldev readings, as always!

Enjoy & stay healthy!

My quotes of the week
Earlier this year I moved on from covering Syria after eight years of reporting on the conflict and am haunted by those stories I never told. Journalists know that not all reporting can make it onto the printed page but those untold stories can feel like an unpaid debt.
Underlying this guilt is the overwhelming sense of failure that even those that made it onto the printed page have done little to change the course of the conflict or even alleviate the suffering.But war is about more than stories of loss. Like the absurdity and moments of black humor that perhaps surprisingly punctuate warzones but don’t usually get relayed because it might seem disrespectful. Or remembering those who helped us reporters do our jobs in a country that has been one of the most inhospitable to journalists: smuggling us in and out of the country, shepherding us along frontlines and hosting us in their homes.
(Untold Stories)

“Some charity imagery or reportage photography depicts the developing world as this place, this other that’s inherently troubled, that’s disease-ridden or exotic in some form or another,” he said. “There’s an important emphasis sometimes on crisis and instability, but there’s also this sense that we see the people caught up in those issues, as a group, as a collective, rather than individuals with agency or autonomy.”
(Charity images 'not doing enough' to humanise world's poor)
New from aidnography
People in Glass Houses (book review)
People in Glass Houses is such a timely reminder that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Neither can Organization staff afford to throw stones of being superior beings working for the ‘greater good’ out of their offices overlooking the East River, nor can we caste stones on ‘those bureaucrats’ as we venture into our own offices, complain about our own growing bureaucratic requirements and talk in the break room about Stephen being unfairly promoted or the local shopping opportunities during our next trip abroad.
I am so glad that I discovered Shirley Hazzard’s book that sits uncomfortably between the most accurate reportage from inside the UN and a vivid fictionalized satire of a bureaucratic organization that we claim is overblown and yet so familiar whenever we step into the arena of global development and politics.

Development news
Why the UN’s 75th general assembly could be worse than the world’s worst Zoom meeting

It is called the “general debate” but, unlike a Zoom meeting, there will be no discussion – just a week-long procession of pre-recorded video messages from the world’s leaders, stating their positions, very much with their domestic audience in mind.

(...)

All the worst parts of UN events will be on display, the endless speechifying first among them, but none of what normally makes the general assembly indispensable - the opportunities from face-to-face meetings and impromptu conversations.“I think part of what will be lost is that when people are speaking inside the general assembly hall, they’re speaking to other world leaders. But with these recorded speeches, they will be targeting their domestic audience,”

Julian Borger for the Guardian; there was very little coverage of the GA outside the 'UN bubble' of experts & analysts; it sounds a bit like many academic conferences where boring papers are presented & everybody claims they attend only the networking in the coffee break...

The Dos and Don’ts of Digital Diplomacy in the Covid-19 World

The first-ever virtual General Assembly session has been full of both challenges and opportunities: the risks of technical problems were high (and some have happened), but the opportunities for global leaders to stand out individually in their pre-recorded video speeches turned out to be greater than speaking in the cavernous General Assembly Hall. While some leaders seized the digital moment to innovate and project themselves in a personal way, others did not rise to the occasion.
Here are PassBlue’s dos and don’ts in the Covid-19-era of diplomacy, as demonstrated in the general debates of the United Nations’ 75th session so far this week and related events.
Stéphanie Fillion & the team at Pass Blue paid attention to the GA details and offer a more nuanced summary of the speeches.

'It's a power struggle': UNICEF, WFP clash over wasting treatment reform
“You need centralized accountability more than anything. I cannot hide behind the failures of another agency to explain why certain things are not being done. … Right now, the shared responsibility creates the conditions for that to happen, so we need to close that loophole,” Guerrero said.
(...)
“What we are proposing is having a division of labor that will be articulated around the comparative strengths and expertise of each agency. We do believe, in the most fragile settings in humanitarian operations, we are better placed than UNICEF to deliver the goods and services to … the most remote communities, the ones that cannot be reached by the existing health facilities or health system,” Joannic said. “This is what we have replied to UNICEF.”
Teresa Welsh for DevEx on a rather technical UN agency turf war over who is supposed to treat certain people in difficult situations...

Thousands of unidentified Zimbabweans lie in secret mass graves – and I want to find them
My research has brought me full circle and taken me back to those dangerous playgrounds which I drifted in and out of as a child. I wanted to use my skills as a forensic investigator to find the secret mass graves, the clandestine burial spots. I wanted to know where “the missing” were being hidden. I realised that no systematic forensic investigation of that kind had ever been undertaken.
I was interested in forensic identification, exhumation and the cultural aspects of burial. I interviewed over 60 witnesses – including current and former MPs, human rights defenders and victim family members. I had to keep the identity of my witness a secret to protect them, as many were in fear of their lives. Speaking out can be fatal in Zimbabwe.
Some of what I discovered during my journey was startling. The sheer scale of the killing was shocking – so were the methods of torture. Some burial locations seemed to be selected at random, some were opportunistic interment while others took forethought and planning. The burial methods were dependent on which arm of the state had done the killing and when. Despite this, my research was able to uncover the tactics used by the state to hide thousands of bodies. Tactics including, stacking multiple bodies on top of each other at cemeteries, dumping bodies in mortuaries and burying them in forests, near schools, hospitals and in disused mine shafts.
Keith Silika for the Conversation on his quest to employ his academic skills to uncover a dark chapter in Zimbabwe's violent history.

Chad halts lake's world heritage status request over oil exploration
Chad has asked to suspend an application for world heritage site status for Lake Chad to explore oil and mining opportunities in the region, it can be revealed.
In a letter leaked to the Guardian, Chad’s tourism and culture minister wrote to Unesco, the body which awards the world heritage designation, asking to “postpone the process of registering Lake Chad on the world heritage list”.
The letter says the government “has signed production-sharing agreements with certain oil companies whose allocated blocks affect the area of the nominated property”.
The nature of the agreements and the identity of the companies have not been made public.
Mélanie Gouby for the Guardian with bad news from Chad.

Rio Tinto expected to destroy 124 more Aboriginal sites, inquiry told
“I don’t see a single thing that would stop Juukan from happening again,” he said. “This is Western Australia. The mining industry is powerful. It’s a very good force for the country and for WA but when you bring it up against Aboriginal people and this remarkable heritage we have … you guys know as well as I know who is going to come out on top.”
Calla Wahlquist also for the Guardian, also with bad natural resources-related news-this time from Australia.

How weak corporate governance and internal controls in the palm oil industry allow abuse of foreign and local workers and how ESG investment fails to recognise these issues
We spent several years interviewing workers and speaking to local experts and organizations to discover the nature and extent of forced labour conditions on palm oil plantations and the culture that sustains them. From debt bondage and wage theft to the threat of physical assault and gender violence, alleged abuse is rife at every stage of employment. We concluded that a long and deeply ingrained history of exploitative practices, and a failure to deal with them at a corporate risk management level, has allowed such treatment to continue with – so far – few consequences for anyone but the labourers themselves. In fact, the vulnerability of workers is often taken advantage of, in order to control and exploit them further.
Duncan Jepson for Liberty Shared; the usual claims for 'better systems' and so on...for extractive industries like palm oil exploitation is a feature, not a bug that can be 'fixed'...

How the Hero of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Fell Into a Vengeful Strongman’s Trap
Not long ago Mr. Rusesabagina, 66, was the toast of America, feted by Oprah Winfrey, awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and earning large fees for his speeches around the world — a human rights icon who warned about the horrors of genocide and offered a living example of standing up to it.
Now he finds himself in a country he vowed never to return to, at the mercy of a president who pursued him for 13 years, and preparing to stand trial for murder, arson and terrorism.
“How I got here — now that is a surprise,” he said with a wry smile, in a jailhouse interview this past week, with two Rwandan government officials in the room. “I was actually not coming here.”
Abdi Latif Dahir, Declan Walsh, Matina Stevis-Gridneff & Ruth Maclean for the New York Times; great long-read with lots of background on Rwanda & the often celebrated, yet deeply autocratic regime of Paul Kagame.

A new study from Rwanda is the latest evidence for just giving people money
“This is one study out of literally hundreds on cash transfers,” Huston told me. “What’s exciting for us is not so much that this is a study that shows you give people money and they buy things they need,” a fact already well established in the literature on cash transfers — but that “the biggest aid program in the world is starting to compare their programs to cash.”
Keep in mind that a cash benchmarking study that finds cash works better on most metrics isn’t a failure. It doesn’t mean USAID is wasting its money, as the training program did genuinely improve lives. It just means that poor people are pretty good at improving their own lives, and we should default there while we strive to find programs that do even better.
We should also keep in mind that we don’t have all the answers. At the 18-month mark, it looks like cash is better than business training on almost all metrics, but the program will be reevaluated again at the three-year-mark for a reason: Some interventions take time to pay dividends, especially educational interventions.
Kelsey Piper for Vox with an update on the C.R.E.A.M. debate (as Wu-Tang fans like to call it ;)!

Cash transfers can help refugees, but they also carry risks. Insights from Kenya
Our analysis reveals that the switch to unrestricted cash transfers had robust positive effects on household asset accumulation and subjective well-being.
Unrestricted cash gave recipients the option to use their assistance on non-food necessities like clothing, cooking fuel, and school equipment for their children. Moreover, refugees could negotiate for more favourable prices with shopkeepers.
Under the restricted programme, refugees could only purchase non-food items by first selling their food for cash, forcing them to sell at below-market prices.
Unrestricted transfers also offered recipients a broader market of retailers from whom to purchase goods. Whereas restricted cash can only be used at a limited number of retailers who have been selected by WFP, the unrestricted cash can be used in any shop.
Finally, recipients of unrestricted cash benefited from a ‘cash-in-hand’ discount: goods purchased with hard cash tend to be cheaper than those purchased with restricted cash.
(...)
For one, refugees indebted to their shopkeepers are forced to turn over their cash transfer technologies as a form of collateral. Shopkeepers therefore withdraw their money on their behalf, and so these customers are unable to access hard cash as intended.
Indebted households are more likely to be food insecure, more likely to be dissatisfied with their circumstances, and less likely to have savings. This leaves them with anxiety, helplessness and fear.
In addition, interviewees revealed that debt subjected women to the coercive strategies of some male shop owners, putting them at risk of sexual harassment and abuse.
Cory Rodgers, Jade Siu & Oliver Sterck for the Conversation with more food for thought on cash-based aid.
Predicting Refugee Movements? There's an App for That
The algorithm is also able to simulate different scenarios. If experts want to assess effects of the corona crisis, for example, they can model what would happen if the economy in a particular country was to plunge by a few percentage points, the government was to lose support or the intensity of conflict was to rise. Once each variable is adjusted, the software calculates a new risk assessment regarding forced displacements."But it is difficult for the software to predict sudden or unprecedented events, such as the Rohingya conflict in 2017 and the mass displacement," Kjærum allows.
Sonja Peteranderl for Spiegel International with an update on the conflict prediction front...

Untold Stories

Earlier this year I moved on from covering Syria after eight years of reporting on the conflict and am haunted by those stories I never told. Journalists know that not all reporting can make it onto the printed page but those untold stories can feel like an unpaid debt.
Underlying this guilt is the overwhelming sense of failure that even those that made it onto the printed page have done little to change the course of the conflict or even alleviate the suffering.
But war is about more than stories of loss. Like the absurdity and moments of black humor that perhaps surprisingly punctuate warzones but don’t usually get relayed because it might seem disrespectful. Or remembering those who helped us reporters do our jobs in a country that has been one of the most inhospitable to journalists: smuggling us in and out of the country, shepherding us along frontlines and hosting us in their homes.
Raja Abdulrahim for the Marie Colvin Journalists' Network on her work in Syria.
Charity images 'not doing enough' to humanise world's poor
Ekow Eshun, the writer, editor and chair of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, said charity photography and reportage could still often misrepresent the people its creators are trying to manufacture empathy for.
“Some charity imagery or reportage photography depicts the developing world as this place, this other that’s inherently troubled, that’s disease-ridden or exotic in some form or another,” he said. “There’s an important emphasis sometimes on crisis and instability, but there’s also this sense that we see the people caught up in those issues, as a group, as a collective, rather than individuals with agency or autonomy.”
Lanre Bankare for the Guardian on an interesting exhibition in London that addresses many debates in #globaldev & humanitarian communication.

Our digital lives

We can’t rely on any leader to pull us out of the inequality crisis. It’s up to us.
The record of the past on beating inequality, and the emerging movements to confront it today, point to the basis of transformative change being not great rescuers but us, together. We need to overcome the deference that can hold us back from challenging authority; we need to unite across our differences to build power that is strong enough to force change; and we need to craft the story of the society we seek, going beyond individual policies to the deeper moral, emotional, and social frame.
This is not to say that we will beat inequality through organising; it is rather to say that this is the only way that we have in the past, and the only way that gives us a chance now. An old slogan of mobilisers goes: “the people united will never be defeated.” In fact, the people united are often defeated, but the people divided are always defeated.
Ben Phillips for Global Dashboard-looking forward to reading his new book at some point...
Publications
Are Punchlines the New Front Lines of Media Development?
Satirical comedy is uniquely effective in its ability to bolster media development objectives. Through its ability to attract audiences and provide news commentary in an entertaining way, it can be used as an important tool to promote freedom of expression, foster accountability and transparency, counter disinformation, strengthen media literacy, and support more sustainable business models for media outlets. Donor funded satire news and current affairs programs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Kenya, North Macedonia, Nigeria, Serbia, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe demonstrate the format’s ability to advance these objectives, and make the case for greater integration of satire in international media assistance programs.
– By combining the core tenets of professional journalism with comedy, satire news offers a unique avenue for bolstering media literacy and creating demand for independent information.
– In restrictive media environments, satire news can often operate more freely than more traditional independent news outlets due to their overt comedic intent.
– Satire media offer a potential pathway to sustainability for media organizations due to the format’s broad appeal and potential to reach large audiences, including hard to reach news audiences.
Dillon Case & Kevin Bleyer for the Center for International Media Assistance with an interesting new report, well presented on CIMA's website!

Academia
#Failures: When things don’t hold: Anthropologies of failure, breakdown, and dysfunction
In this thematic thread, we draw inspiration from this emergent focus on breakdown but broaden its scope to encompass also failure and dysfunction as additional modalities through which holding becomes contested. By attending to these issues ethnographically in Taiwan (Breen), Tanzania (Haberland), Peru (Ojani), India (Perczel), Russia and Kyrgyzstan (Reeves), Malaysia (Rudge), and the UK (Sartori, Taylor), the contributors reveal their embeddedness in disparate and situated moral, economic, and social frameworks. Some of the overarching questions raised are: What happens when dysfunction becomes the very fabric of everyday life, and how does this impinge upon hopes and expectations? What does failure do, both as discursive category and lived experience, and how do people make sense of and deal with such conditions? How can moments of breakdown operate as productive events with unanticipated effects? In short, what happens when things don’t hold?
Chakad Ojani, Laura Mafizzoli & Rozafa Berisha for the Allergra Lab.

What we were reading 5 years ago
(Link review 166, 11 December 2015)
Microloans Don’t Solve Poverty
The studies find no evidence that borrowers are, on average, hurt by the loans. But they don’t appear to be helped much either. In a paper introducing the six randomized studies, economists Abhijit Banerjee, Dean Karlan and Jonathan Zinman walked through the findings: None of the six studies found statistically significant increases in household income or spending. Four of the six found no change in food consumption; one found a modest increase and the sixth found a significant decrease. Some of the studies did find ancillary benefits. Borrowers got more of their income from their businesses, suggesting that they displaced other sources of income such as wages or government benefits. Those businesses also appear to have become more profitable. But the studies didn’t find any significant increases in school attendance or women’s empowerment in local communities, two commonly cited benefits of microcredit.
Ben Casselman on microloan research. 

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Links & Contents I Liked 378

Links & Contents I Liked 379

Links & Contents I Liked 380