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: India’s Blackout, Kagame’s Fortunes, and More

by Isobel Coleman
August 10, 2012

Vegetable vendors wait for customers at their stall during a power-cut in Kolkata, India, July 31, 2012 (Rupak de Chowdhuri/Courtesy Reuters). Vegetable vendors wait for customers at their stall during a power-cut in Kolkata, India, July 31, 2012 (Rupak de Chowdhuri/Courtesy Reuters).
In this installment of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow covers stories from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Enjoy the post and the weekend.
  • India’s Blackout: India’s late-July blackout, which cut power to more than 600 million, has prompted a flood of analysis. A Businessweek piece notes that “blackouts are everyday occurrences,” partly because India lacks enough coal for its new power plants. A CNN post cites artificially low electricity rates, maintained by politicians in search of votes, as a root cause of the crisis. A Washington Post article says that even when an electricity connection exists, “the poor can’t afford to enjoy it.” Power flows are spotty, bureaucracy thick, and bribe demands legion. On ForeignAffairs.com, two authors argue that a history of state—not national—control over electricity grids has much to do with the crisis. Finally, the Economist concludes that “India’s great blackout is a consequence of rotten governance. Voters need to understand that, and deliver the country’s political class a different kind of electric shock.”
  • Kagame’s Fortunes: A Foreign Policy piece examines changing Western attitudes toward Rwandan president Paul Kagame. Long considered a development star, Kagame faces criticism over accusations of Rwandan support for a Congolese rebel group, which I noted on the blog in July. As the Foreign Policy article explains, the United States has withheld $200,000 in military aid to Rwanda (a small but potent gesture), and a U.S. official warned that Kagame could face war crimes charges over activities in the Congo. An Economist piece considers the “painful dilemma” posed by Kagame’s rule, arguing that donors should withdraw aid. (I explored this same dilemma in the International Herald Tribune in 2010.) Ultimately, the Foreign Policy piece says, Kagame seems unlikely to escape the criticism unscathed, as he has so often before.
  • Brazil in Africa: Much has been written—including recently on CFR’s Development Channel—about China’s aid and investment in Africa. Brazil’s involvement on the continent, the subject of a New York Times article this week, is less known. Trade between Brazil and Africa, according to the piece, leapt from $4.3 billion in 2002 to $27.6 billion last year. Some 55 percent of Brazilian Cooperation Agency spending goes to Africa. As with other emerging giants, Brazil seeks diplomatic influence and business opportunities. And as with China, the Times says, Brazil’s dealings sometimes spark controversy. But on his blog, CFR’s John Campbell calls Brazil’s involvement a “win-win” for economic growth and democracy in Africa.
  • Singapore’s Demographics: The Financial Times reports that Feng Tianwei recently won “Singapore’s first individual Olympic medal in 52 years,” a bronze in women’s table tennis. But many Singaporeans say they are “not proud” of the medal by a “foreign import,” since Feng was born in China and gained Singaporean citizenship only in 2008. The reaction, according to the piece, underscores the country’s discomfort with immigration. Concerns are familiar: jobs, overcrowding, housing costs, and national identity. But Singapore needs people. Its fertility rate, according to the UN, stands at only 1.25 children per woman, leading to some interesting government—and private—efforts to boost births. Demographics, the FT says, could put “the country’s five-decade economic miracle” at risk.

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