Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

Missing Pieces: Russia, India, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, September 30, 2011

Russia's President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin walk at the residence in Zavidovo in the Tver region, September 24, 2011 (Sergei Karpukhin/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow presents another wide range of stories in this week’s edition of Missing Pieces. I look forward to your views. Enjoy!

Maternal Health in Afghanistan

by Isobel Coleman Friday, September 30, 2011

A woman walks past children playing in a village in Kunar province, Afghanistan, September 22, 2011 (Erik de Castro/Courtesy Reuters).

This week, my colleague Gayle Lemmon and I published a new Council on Foreign Relations report, “Maternal Health in Afghanistan.” With all the bad news coming out of that country, it was refreshing for us to write about glimmers of hope on the maternal health front. Yes, the statistics are still grim: one out of eleven Afghan women is likely to die in childbirth during her lifetime; Afghan women are 200 times more likely to die giving birth than by a bomb or bullet. Not surprisingly, Save the Children this year ranked Afghanistan the worst country in the world to be a mother. Yet, there are some positive signs. Over the past decade, the international community has made some important investments to improve maternal care that are now just beginning to pay off. Read more »

Women’s Rights Advance in Saudi Arabia

by Isobel Coleman Monday, September 26, 2011

Saudi women celebrate the country's National Day in Riyadh two days before King Abdullah announced women will vote in the 2015 elections (Fahad Shadeed/Courtesy Reuters).

Congratulations to Saudi women. They just took a big step forward in their quest to become full citizens of their country. King Abdullah announced yesterday that, starting in the next 12-18 months, women will be able to join the consultative Shura Council, and be allowed to run as candidates and vote in the country’s municipal elections. That delayed time frame means women will miss out on this week’s elections, and conveniently, the next election cycle is not scheduled to take place until 2015. But since the decision to exclude women from the upcoming vote had been made long ago, yesterday’s announcement was greeted mostly with excitement and satisfaction by Saudi women activists. Journalist and women’s rights leader Sabria Jawhar says on her blog that calling the decree a “historic moment would be an understatement.” Hatoon Al-Fassi, a women’s rights activist and professor at King Saud University in Riyadh, describes it as “the first step in our long struggle to get our rights.” However, Wajeha Al-Huwaider, another notable activist, expresses disappointment over the delay. “We don’t really think now that we’ve been promised a real right because it’s been postponed,” she says. Noting that the next elections are years away, she warns that “whatever can be given can be taken.” Read more »

Missing Pieces: IMF Projections, Mobile Money, and More

by Isobel Coleman Monday, September 26, 2011

Finance ministers and central bank governors of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa attend the BRICs news conference during the annual International Monetary Fund-World Bank meetings in Washington, September 22, 2011 (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters).

In this week’s Missing Pieces, Charles Landow highlights the latest economic projections from the IMF as well as interesting stories from Africa and the Middle East. We look forward to your thoughts as always. Enjoy!

  • The IMF’s New Projections: The IMF last week released its latest World Economic Outlook. The title is grim: “Slowing Growth, Rising Risks.” With troubles in the United States and Europe, natural disaster in Japan, and unrest in the oil-rich Middle East, “the global economy is in a dangerous new phase.” Unsurprisingly, the good news is reserved for certain emerging markets. China is projected to maintain blistering growth, with India trailing somewhat but still robust. (India does face far higher, though declining, inflation.) In Latin America the picture is split between booming South American economies, such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Peru, and their northerly neighbors harder hit by the struggling United States. Growth in both Brazil and Mexico is projected to drop but remain respectable. In sub-Saharan Africa, low-income countries, largely detached from the global economy and therefore spared from the recent crisis, are expected to grow strongly. Africa’s middle-income countries (including South Africa) have felt the global slowdown more, but the IMF still projects solid average growth. The continent’s major oil exporters, such as Nigeria and Angola, are expected to continue robust expansion. Finally, in the Middle East, the outlook is unclear given political events and global uncertainty. Oil exporters are projected to grow strongly for the most part, with Qatar leading the way and Iran lagging behind. Oil importers, by contrast, are projected to achieve only slow growth. This group includes Egypt, which faces growth prospects of under 2 percent and inflation of more than 11 percent–a difficult environment in which to manage surging post-revolution expectations. Read more »

Agricultural Innovations for Global Food Security

by Isobel Coleman Friday, September 23, 2011

A worker displays a handful of rice at a market in Hefei, Anhui province (Jianan Yu/Courtesy Reuters).

The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) wrapped up its star-studded annual meeting yesterday. As a forum to connect corporations interested in social investments, NGOs, and government policy makers working on innovative development solutions, there are few conferences to rival CGI. It attracts numerous heads of state visiting New York for the UN General Assembly meetings (Barack Obama addressed the gathering for the third year in a row); CEOs and social entrepreneurs also attend in droves. This year’s session focused on three themes: creating jobs in the 21st century, promoting sustainable consumption, and scaling up what works to empower women and girls. Read more »

World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Kyrgyzstan's President Roza Otunbayeva, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro laugh during a photo opportunity before the start of the "Women's Political Participation - Making Gender Equality in Politics a Reality" event at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 19, 2011 (Jessica Rinaldi/ Courtesy Reuters).

Every year, the World Bank publishes its World Development Report (WDR) focusing on a specific development challenge. In recent years, the WDR has highlighted issues of climate change, agricultural productivity, urbanization, and the inequality of opportunity within and among nations. Yesterday, the Bank published its World Development Report 2012, which focuses on gender equality.

In many ways, the report is relatively upbeat on trends toward gender equality in the world today. In terms of education, girls have made great strides. Gender gaps in primary education are closing in almost every country. Indeed, a reverse gap is emerging, with girls outnumbering boys in secondary schools in 45 countries and women outnumbering men in universities in 60 countries. Women are living longer than men in all parts of the world, and are pouring into the work force as fertility rates decline steadily in many societies. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Libya’s Transition, Afghanistan’s Police, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, September 16, 2011

France's President Sarkozy; NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil; Mahmoud Jibril, head of NTC executive; and Britain's PM Cameron address a news conference in Tripoli, Libya, September 15, 2011 (Anis Mili/Courtesy Reuters).

In this week’s Missing Pieces, Charles Landow highlights developments from Guatemala to Nigeria, with several stops along the way. Please share your views on these or other stories from the past week. Enjoy!

Missing Pieces: Syria’s Conflict, Latin America’s Cities, and More

by Isobel Coleman Monday, September 12, 2011

Syrian government loyalists hold up placards during a protest outside the U.S. embassy in Damascus, July 11, 2011 (Courtesy Reuters).

In this week’s Missing Pieces, Charles Landow highlights the latest developments in Syria and Pakistan, as well as interesting scholarly work on other regions and issues. I hope you enjoy the selection and look forward to your comments.

  • Syria’s Political Perspectives: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has managed to retain power through six months of rebellion and the fall of three fellow Arab autocrats. The New York Times last week offered a fascinating glimpse at a central reason why: many Damascus elites support Assad’s regime and deny that their country is in upheaval. The piece explores the views of clients at a fancy Damascus salon, where the debate centers not on democracy but on nail polish. Some agree with the government that protesters are seeking to foment division. Others are minorities, such as Christians, who fear life under Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority in a post-Assad era. The article gives a starkly different perspective from most news reports on Syria, making it a valuable read. For a longer but no less worthwhile look at the country’s revolutionary stirrings, see Wendell Steavenson’s “Roads to Freedom” in the August 29 issue of the New Yorker. It offers a nuanced portrait of several leading revolutionaries, ending on an optimistic note for Syria’s future. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Humanitarian Intervention, Egypt’s Economy, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, September 2, 2011

An Afghan girl carries a pail of water fashioned from a U.S. government aid agency can while crossing a busy street in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 26, 2002 (Romeo Ranoco/Courtesy Reuters).

After a two-week hiatus, Charles Landow offers an expanded selection of articles and other materials in this Labor Day version of Missing Pieces. I hope you enjoy the reading and the long weekend. Please let us know what you think, and visit the blog often as CFR begins its new programming year after the holiday. Enjoy!

The Humanitarian Impulse: As the United States and its allies begin to draw down from Afghanistan, Rory Stewart and Gerald Knaus have published a book on a question that is far easier to ask than to answer: Can Intervention Work? Stewart, a British member of parliament famous for his walk across Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion, and Knaus, the chairman of the European Stability Initiative, take a bulldozer to the theoretical underpinnings of humanitarian intervention–the idea that the international community can save lives and transform societies if only it applies the proper resources and plans. The authors criticize Western nation-builders for an inflated sense of their own power and an inadequate appreciation of local actors, and they paint a devastating portrait of Westerners’ isolation and ignorance in Afghanistan. The book does not eschew intervention but recommends a modest approach. Intervention, Stewart and Knaus write, “should aim to provide protection and relief at a specific time and place,” not to remake entire societies. It is a sound premise, though not exactly a revelation after the experiences of recent years. CFR’s Stewart Patrick tackles the related question of when to intervene in a recent ForeignAffairs.com article. He considers the Libya intervention a success for the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, but cautions that the United States and its allies will not–and should not–apply the doctrine universally in the future.

Read more »