Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

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

Missing Pieces: The Resource Curse, the Swelling Middle Class, and More

by Isobel Coleman Monday, April 30, 2012
Afghan Mining Minister Wahidullah Shahrani speaks during a conference on Afghan mining opportunities in London, June 25, 2010 (Paul Hackett/Courtesy Reuters).
In this edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow reviews items on resource wealth, the global middle class, international justice, and demography. Enjoy the selection as always.
  • The Resource Curse: With oil, gas, and minerals being found from Afghanistan to Mozambique to Papua New Guinea, the question of how to make natural resources a blessing instead of a curse remains crucial. CFR’s Terra Lawson-Remer takes it on in a new Policy Innovation Memo. To help countries counter corruption and boost transparency and accountability, she suggests extending the International Finance Corporation’s Sustainability Framework to bilateral as well as World Bank investments, boosting support for civil society in resource-rich countries, “internationaliz[ing] extractive-industry transparency requirements” across the world’s main stock markets, and strengthening monitoring of the Equator Principles for banks. CFR’s Stewart Patrick reviews the memo and the broader context on his blog. Read more »

Egypt’s Presidential Elections

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, April 26, 2012
Posters and banners showing Salafi preacher and barred presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail are seen while his supporters pray in front of the offices of the electoral commission during a sit-in to show their rejection of his disqualification, April 18, 2012 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections are the latest episode in its transition saga. Although elections are less than a month away, the final list of candidates has just been approved today, for now at least. Last week, Egypt’s electoral commission eliminated three of the frontrunners along with seven other candidates for technical violations. Omar Suleiman, the former head of intelligence under Mubarak, was one of the frontrunners and was disqualified on the technical grounds that he had not met the geographic distribution of signatures required by the election law – he was short in one governorate. Read more »

Hernando de Soto and the Roots of the Arab Uprisings

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Yesterday I hosted the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto for a meeting at CFR. De Soto and his Lima-based think tank, the Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD), are well-known for their advocacy of secure property rights as an essential gateway to equitable growth and poverty reduction.

Yesterday’s conversation focused on the Middle East—specifically what de Soto sees as the economic roots of the uprisings that have swept the Arab world. You can watch the meeting video below, or access it on CFR’s YouTube channel.

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Missing Pieces: Global Growth Prospects, East Africa’s Farmers, and More

by Isobel Coleman Monday, April 23, 2012
Trucks unload shipping containers from a cargo ship at Qingdao port in Qingdao, China, September 2, 2011 (Courtesy Reuters).
Charles Landow reviews IMF forecasts, a study on cash transfers, and reports on East Africa and Indonesia in this edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy the selection.
  • Global Growth Prospects: The IMF released a sanguine but sober World Economic Outlook last week. “Weak recovery” should take hold in advanced economies while developing ones “remain relatively solid,” the Fund says. But “recent improvements are very fragile.” The U.S. economy is projected to grow at 2.1 percent this year and 2.4 percent in 2013; the Eurozone is forecast to contract 0.3 percent before resuming growth of 0.9 percent. These figures are all up slightly from the IMF’s previous forecast in January. Asia is set to remain the fastest-growing developing region, with China projected to expand by 8.2 and 8.8 percent this year and next. India should grow by 6.9 and 7.3 percent, lagging the region as a whole. Sub-Saharan Africa is forecast to keep growing at just over 5 percent per year. Read more »

Foreign Aid III: BRICS as Donors

by Isobel Coleman Friday, April 20, 2012
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese President Hu Jintao, and South African President Jacob Zuma wave during a group photo for the BRICS Summit in New Delhi March 29, 2012 (B. Mathur/Courtesy Reuters). Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese President Hu Jintao, and South African President Jacob Zuma wave during a group photo for the BRICS Summit in New Delhi on March 29, 2012 (B. Mathur/Courtesy Reuters).

As I discussed in an earlier post, spending on foreign assistance by developed countries decreased in real terms in 2011, the first such decrease since 1997. Given ongoing economic troubles in the United States, Japan, and Europe, flat-line or declining aid budgets from OECD countries are likely to be the new normal. But foreign assistance from emerging economies is growing fast, albeit from a low starting point. Read more »

Why Nations Fail

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Employees make air-conditioners along a production line at a factory in Hefei, China in July 2011 (Jianan Yu/Courtesy Reuters).

Yesterday I had the pleasure of hosting MIT economist Daron Acemoglu for an on-the-record meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations to discuss his book, Why Nations Fail, which he recently published with co-author James Robinson. It is enjoying its third week on the New York Times best-seller list (an accomplishment for any book, but especially for one by two economists that clocks in at 462 pages). Why Nations Fail tackles a question that has bedeviled experts for centuries: why are some nations rich while others are poor? Acemoglu and Robinson’s answer is straightforward – it all depends on institutions. Successful nations have good institutions that are “inclusive” and “pluralistic” and create incentives for people to work hard and invest in the future. Unsuccessful states, on the other hand, are characterized by “extractive” or “absolutist” institutions that economically and politically benefit a small group of elites at the expense of everyone else. Read more »

Missing Pieces: World Bank Campaigns, Satisfaction in the BRICS, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, April 13, 2012
Jim Yong Kim arrives for meetings at the World Bank's headquarters in Washington, April 11, 2012 (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters).

In this edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow covers stories from the World Bank to Kenya, with stops in Turkey and the BRICS. Enjoy and have a good weekend.

  • World Bank Campaigns: Jim Yong Kim, José Antonio Ocampo, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala outlined their visions for the World Bank in recent Financial Times op-eds. (Reports today indicate that Ocampo is withdrawing his candidacy in favor of Okonjo-Iweala.) Kim promised to open the Bank to the views of developing countries and pursue “an evidence-based approach” to development. Ocampo emphasized the fight against poverty and inequality, as well as the need to “mitigate and adapt to climate change.” Okonjo-Iweala outlined “three key challenges” that the Bank must address: job creation, “investments in human capital,” and institutions for governance. Ocampo and Okonjo-Iweala also appeared at events sponsored by the Center for Global Development and the Washington Post. The U.S. Treasury Department released Kim’s statement to the Bank’s board. Read more »

Genetically Modified Crops and Africa’s Agricultural Potential

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, April 12, 2012
Different types of plants grow in a greenhouse at a research center in Canberra, Australia, which studies the creation of climate-ready crops, May 2011 (Courtesy Reuters).

Today, I had the opportunity to speak with Calestous Juma, professor of the practice of international development at Harvard. Juma was born and raised in Kenya, and he’s now head of the Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project. He is one of the most innovative thinkers on how to harness new technologies for economic development, especially in Africa. A prolific author, Juma’s latest book is The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa, in which he discusses how Africa’s prosperity depends on the modernization of agriculture through the application of science and technology. Read more »

Joyce Banda, Malawi’s Transition, and Female Leadership in Africa

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Malawian then Vice-President Joyce Banda addressed a media conference in the capital Lilongwe on April 7, 2012, the day before she was sworn in as president (Courtesy Reuters).

This week, Joyce Banda took office in Malawi as Africa’s second female president (Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first). She has her work cut out for her: Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries with almost three-quarters of its population living below the poverty line. It has one of the fastest growing populations in the world – women on average have 5.5 children, and according to UN estimates, the country is tracking toward a population of 40 million by 2040 (up from 15 million today); Banda’s predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika, was a disaster. He became increasingly autocratic during his tenure, and managed to alienate Malawi’s most important donors – the United Kingdom, the United States, and the IMF – which supplied 40 percent of the county’s budget. Read more »

Foreign Aid II: USAID, Development Trends, and the Presidential Campaign

by Isobel Coleman Friday, April 6, 2012

Foreign assistance is a perennial political football, especially when the United States faces economic woes at home. This year’s presidential campaign is no exception. At one extreme is Republican candidate Ron Paul, who has said simply, “I’m against all foreign aid.” Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney has been more nuanced, saying in his campaign’s foreign policy white paper that U.S. foreign assistance efforts are largely squandered by a “balkanized scheme” of Washington bureaucracy. He suggests streamlining agencies and reporting lines to improve planning and implementation. In a debate last October, Romney appeared to endorse foreign aid connected to U.S. strategic objectives while questioning humanitarian assistance. “I happen to think it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid,” he said.

But the U.S. foreign assistance landscape will probably experience significant continuity no matter who wins the White House in November. This is because, first, there’s a broad consensus among policymakers that foreign assistance is an important component of U.S. soft power, and that it can advance strategic priorities. But beyond that, four major trends are already ongoing in the U.S. aid apparatus, led by USAID, and these are likely to endure. In a video on, I discuss these trends and the broader foreign assistance issues that will face the next president:

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