Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

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

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Missing Pieces: Sudan’s Conflicts, Children in Development, and More

by Isobel Coleman
July 20, 2012

A SPLA-N fighter walks in Jebel Kwo village in the rebel-held territory of the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan, Sudan, May 2, 2012 (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters). A SPLA-N fighter walks in Jebel Kwo village in the rebel-held territory of the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan, Sudan, May 2, 2012 (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters).
Charles Landow ranges from Sudan to palm oil in this edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy the selection as always.
  • Sudan’s Conflicts: I have written on the blog about South Sudan’s economic crisis and other post-independence woes. Now comes a New Yorker piece on the violence that continues to plague South Sudan and Sudan, the country from which it split last year. Some contingents of the southern Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) remain in regions that went to the north; they now fight on against Khartoum. Meanwhile, South Sudan, where the SPLA governs, faces tribal conflict. “While those in power enrich themselves and their cronies,” the article says, “the tribes carry out raids and wars against one another.” Prospects all around are grim. As one scholar concludes in the piece, “The best-case scenario will see the territory on both sides of the border unstable for years to come.”
  • Children in Development: Save the Children’s 2012 Child Development Index paints a largely upbeat picture. The index measures under-five mortality and poor nutrition, as well as primary school enrollment. Child welfare has improved around the world in recent years, with developing countries making faster progress than developed ones. Still, “the average child in developing countries is almost eight times worse off than” one born in the industrialized world. Although the lowest-income countries have boosted their rates of primary school enrollment more quickly than the global average, they lag behind in improvements on child mortality and nutrition. Overall, Japan leads the index; the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, and Somalia come in last.
  • Thailand and Turkey: In a Journal of Democracy piece, two scholars compare what they call “unlikely twins:” Thailand and Turkey. In both countries, they write, “an enlightened central power” carefully guided economic and political development, favoring urbanites and disdaining electoral democracy. But this elite-led modernization triggered “new demands from voters and citizens.” Urban-rural divides also blurred thanks to migration and economic growth in the countryside. In the past decade, two charismatic leaders—Thaksin Shinawatra and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—have used the “support of newly empowered groups” to destroy longstanding power structures. The authors conclude that liberal democracy is far from sure to result. CFR’s Joshua Kurlantzick analyzed Thaksin’s rise and Thailand’s democratic breakdown in a Foreign Policy article in May.
  • Palm Oil Controversy: A Reuters piece says “the oil palm… is a food-producing machine with few parallels.” Its abundant oil works for cosmetics and biofuels, too. But as the article explains, a boom in palm oil farms is sparking clashes between global investors and local residents. The piece focuses on a proposed farm in Cameroon that would be “ten times the size of Manhattan,” home of the project’s developer, Herakles Farms. Some residents complain that the project would endanger “traditional small-scale farming, hunting, and fishing.” There is evidence that Herakles made a deal to rent the land for substandard rates and skirt taxes. And there are disputes over the biodiversity of the forest the farm would displace. Herakles, and some Cameroonian supporters, say the project will boost regional food supplies; the company has also promised to create jobs and upgrade local infrastructure. But some remain wary. As one local official says, “we are tired of palms, palms, palms.”

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