Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

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

Missing Pieces: Slavery and Development, Mexico’s Politics and Security, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, June 29, 2012
A general view of the gold mine in Marmato province, Caldas, Colombia, October 5, 2010. The Marmato mines have been exploited for more than five centuries (John Vizcaino/Courtesy Reuters). A general view of the gold mine in Marmato province, Caldas, Colombia, October 5, 2010. The Marmato mines have been exploited for more than five centuries (John Vizcaino/Courtesy Reuters).
In this installment of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow highlights popular and scholarly work on Africa and Latin America. Enjoy and have a great weekend.
  • Slavery and Development: In an illustration that development’s drivers apparently run deep, a paper from the National Bureau for Economic Research examines the effects of historical slavery on contemporary outcomes in Colombia. The study, by Daron Acemoglu, Camilo Garcia-Jimeno, and James Robinson, compares areas that contained gold mines during the colonial period with neighboring areas that did not. Gold mining was a top use for slave labor. The differences appear stark. Areas home to slavery in 1843 had poverty rates 13 percentage points higher in 1993 than areas without slaves. Child vaccination rates in 2002 were some 25 percentage points lower. Secondary school enrollment rates, averaged over 1992 to 2002, seem lower as well, though less significantly. In a measure of this legacy over time, the authors find similar, “albeit weaker,” effects of slavery in 1843 on such metrics as school enrollment and vaccination rates in 1918 and literacy in 1938. Read more »

Rio+20’s Unheralded Achievements

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, June 28, 2012
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attends the U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Finance Initiative at the Rio+20 Conference on June 22, 2012 (Paulo Whitaker/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attends the U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Finance Initiative at the Rio+20 Conference on June 22, 2012 (Paulo Whitaker/Courtesy Reuters).

With the conclusion of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (better known as Rio+20) last week, the recriminations have begun. As Reuters put it in a sentence typical of the coverage, “Global leaders on Friday wrap up a United Nations development summit with little to show but a lackluster agreement.” Read more »

Saudi Arabia’s Study Abroad Program

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Secondary school students sit for an exam in Riyadh on June 20, 2010 (Fahad Shadeed/Courtesy Reuters). Secondary school students sit for an exam in Riyadh on June 20, 2010 (Fahad Shadeed/Courtesy Reuters).

Saudi Arabia is the starkest mix of medieval and modern of any country in the world. It is ranked seventeenth in global competitiveness by the World Economic Forum and boasts world-class skyscrapers and infrastructure; but it is ruled by an aging and sclerotic absolute monarchy that kowtows to its deeply conservative religious establishment. Just last week, Saudi Arabia beheaded a man found guilty of “witchcraft and sorcery.” At least two people met a similarly grizzly end last year for sorcery. With one foot in the seventh century and one in the twenty-first, Saudi Arabia’s balancing act seems more improbable every year. Read more »

Missing Pieces: India’s Uncertainty, Aid and Growth, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, June 22, 2012
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (C) speaks with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee (L), as Chief of India's ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi watches, during a function held on the completion of the government's three years in office in New Delhi, May 22, 2012 (B. Mathur/Courtesy Reuters). Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (C) speaks with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee (L), as Chief of India's ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi watches, during a function held on the completion of the government's three years in office in New Delhi, May 22, 2012 (B. Mathur/Courtesy Reuters).
Charles Landow covers news from India and Pakistan, as well as work on state failure and the effects of aid, in this installment of Missing Pieces. Enjoy the selection as always.
  • India’s Uncertainty: Is India, the emerging giant whose GDP growth topped 10 percent in 2010, on the ropes? An article by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the July/August Foreign Affairs says it is. Growth is down while the deficit and inflation are up. “Plans to build a more inclusive nation are in disarray,” with inequality on the rise. Part of the problem is simply overheated expectations, Mehta says. But he largely blames India’s politics. Opaque policymaking, coddling of big businesses at the expense of small ones, inefficiency, and corruption scandals have eroded leaders’ authority. The governing Congress party “is out of touch with grass-roots movements and demands.” And today’s officials must operate under unprecedented scrutiny. But Mehta’s conclusion is upbeat: “Indian politicians have shown a remarkable capacity for reinvention.” Read more »

The Saudi Transition and Women’s Right to Drive

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, June 21, 2012
Female driver Azza Al Shmasani alights from her car after driving in defiance of the ban in Riyadh on June 22, 2011 (Fahad Shadeed/Courtesy Reuters). Female driver Azza Al Shmasani alights from her car after driving in defiance of the ban in Riyadh on June 22, 2011 (Fahad Shadeed/Courtesy Reuters).

Last Sunday, June 17, marked the first anniversary of the Saudi Women2Drive campaign. Activists had planned another driving demonstration to mark the anniversary, calling on Saudi women with international driver’s licenses to take to the roads and to flood the traffic department with applications. They also called on men to support their wives, sisters, and mothers by sitting beside them in the passenger seat as they defied the driving ban. The demonstration was postponed, however, due to the death of Crown Prince Nayef last weekend. As head of the Interior Ministry for decades, Nayef had long taken a hard line on women driving. Although there is no law that specifically prohibits women from driving, Nayef had made clear that they would never gain that right under his watch. After a women’s driving demonstration in 1990 (in which women were arrested, as they were last year), he issued a formal ban on women behind the wheel. Read more »

ICT4Gov: Improving Governance Through Technology

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Students use Aakash, a low-cost tablet computer, in New Delhi, India on October 5, 2011 (Parivartan Sharma/Courtesy Reuters). Students use Aakash, a low-cost tablet computer, in New Delhi, India on October 5, 2011 (Parivartan Sharma/Courtesy Reuters).

A few weeks ago, I hosted a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations with Boris Weber, a senior governance specialist with the World Bank Institute, on how technology can improve governance in developing countries. Weber is the team leader of the World Bank Institute’s Information and Communication Technology for Governance project (ICT4Gov), which aims to increase civic participation and improve government service delivery through technology. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Development’s Drivers, Global Growth Assessment, and More

by Isobel Coleman Monday, June 18, 2012
A view of Nogales, Mexico is seen from Nogales, Arizona, April 28, 2010 (Courtesy Reuters). A view of Nogales, Mexico is seen from Nogales, Arizona, April 28, 2010 (Courtesy Reuters).
Charles Landow highlights two scholarly papers, a World Bank report, and events in Venezuela in this edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy the selection.
  • Development’s Drivers: With researchers looking ever further in time and scope for the ultimate drivers of development, a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) surveys current thinking. It argues that the people who occupy a territory, rather than the physical characteristics of the territory itself, matter most for long-term prosperity. Apparently critical is “genetic distance,” or the degree of relatedness between two populations. At greater genetic distance from the group at the global technological frontier, “differences in values and norms, mistrust,” and other factors stymie the adoption of development-boosting technologies. Faced with these factors, can policy make any difference? The authors give a “cautious” yes: “long-term history, while very important, is not a deterministic straightjacket.” An interesting read on related themes is an NBER paper I reviewed last year arguing that intermediate genetic diversity within populations best propels development. Read more »

Egypt’s Democratic Transition?

by Isobel Coleman Friday, June 15, 2012
Protesters react outside the Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo on June 14, 2012 (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters). Protesters react outside the Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo on June 14, 2012 (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters).

The political environment one day before the presidential runoff election in Egypt is tense and uncertain, to say the least. Two court rulings delivered yesterday have stalled the tentative transition from military to civilian rule. The first ruling dissolved Egypt’s parliament, and the second allowed former Mubarak prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to continue to run in the presidential race. At a press conference yesterday that lasted almost an hour, Shafiq delivered an address that seemed very much like an acceptance speech to an audience packed with former Mubarak officials and supporters. A dark horse in the first round of the presidential elections, Shafiq finished second with 24 percent of the vote behind Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi. Many attribute Shafiq’s unanticipated rise to the revival of Mubarak-era patronage networks to galvanize voters. Read more »

President Joyce Banda and Malawi’s Economic Development

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, June 14, 2012
People on a highway that links Malawi to Zambia on April 21, 2008 (Siphiwe Sibeko/Courtesy Reuters). People on a highway that links Malawi to Zambia on April 21, 2008 (Siphiwe Sibeko/Courtesy Reuters).

Joyce Banda, Malawi’s new president, is off to a great start. I cheered when she assumed the top job in early April after her predecessor, President Bingu wa Mutharika, unfortunately dropped dead from a heart attack. Banda had been expelled from Mutharika’s party in 2010 after clashing with him over his efforts to position his brother as his political heir, but she stayed on as vice president. Some of Mutharika’s loyalists tried to block her from taking office on the weak grounds that she wasn’t a party member, but she (and importantly, the army) held firm. As she told an audience on Tuesday in Washington (speaking at the USAID Frontiers in Development conference): “I just had to get out of bed at 6am and take the job.” Banda became Africa’s second female head of state, following in the footsteps of Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whom she credits with making her life so much easier since today “people don’t doubt women’s leadership.” Read more »

Portents and Promise in Egypt’s Runoff Elections

by Isobel Coleman Wednesday, June 13, 2012
A woman walks past election campaign posters of presidential candidates, Mohamed Mursi and Ahmed Shafiq, in Cairo June 4, 2012 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A woman walks past election campaign posters of presidential candidates, Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, in Cairo June 4, 2012 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

On June 16 and 17, Egyptians are scheduled to vote in a runoff election between the two leading presidential candidates: Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander and civil aviation minister who also served briefly as Mubarak’s last prime minister. I say “scheduled” to vote because legal uncertainties about the legitimacy of Shafiq’s candidacy remain. A boycott campaign has also been gaining ground among the many voters who are disillusioned with these two polarizing candidates. Although almost 50 percent of Egyptians in the general election voted for more moderate contenders (some of who got almost as many votes as the front-runners), they now face the stark choice between voting for Morsi, and further entrenching the Muslim Brotherhood which already dominates parliament, or voting for Shafiq who is widely viewed as the military’s man. While the general election last month was an exciting contest between personalities and competing visions of Egypt’s future, the runoff  has become an increasingly bitter and partisan referendum between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. Read more »