Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

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

Iran’s Embattled Women

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, September 27, 2012
Schoolgirls attend the Iranian parliament in Tehran on November 15, 2009 (Morteza Nikoubazl/Courtesy Reuters). Schoolgirls attend the Iranian parliament in Tehran on November 15, 2009 (Morteza Nikoubazl/Courtesy Reuters).

In his speech at the UN General Assembly this week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tried to scale the blustery heights achieved in previous years–with predictable swipes at the European Union, Israel and the United States. Instead, he came across as a has-been bloviator, unable to escape his lame duck status and myriad problems at home, where he has his hands full with a deteriorating economy (hurt in no small part by tightened international sanctions), persistent internal political divisions, and continuing public disaffection, particularly among women. Read more »

International Leadership for Women in Business and Politics

by Isobel Coleman Wednesday, September 26, 2012
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the launch of the Equal Futures Partnership at the InterContinental Hotel in New York on September 24, 2012 (Andrew Kelly/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the launch of the Equal Futures Partnership at the InterContinental Hotel in New York on September 24, 2012 (Andrew Kelly/Courtesy Reuters).

New York is a busy place this week, as heads of state and other notables converge on the UN for the General Assembly meetings and the de rigueur Clinton Global Initiative. Despite a schedule packed with sessions mostly focused on the challenging situation in the Middle East, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made time to announce a new initiative, the Equal Futures Partnership—yet another effort to promote the role of women in the world. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Africa’s Mobile Explosion, Competing Aid Approaches, and More

by Isobel Coleman Monday, September 24, 2012
Used mobile telephone cards are stringed together at a roadside call centre in the district of Obalende in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, March 8, 2012 (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters). Used mobile telephone cards are stringed together at a roadside call centre in the district of Obalende in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, March 8, 2012 (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow covers items on Africa, India, foreign aid, and the world’s wealthy in this installment of Missing Pieces. I hope you enjoy the reading.

  • Africa’s Mobile Explosion: “A little over a decade ago,” a CNN piece says, “there were about 100,000 phone lines in Nigeria, mostly landlines.” Today there are almost 100 million mobile lines, a story mirrored across Africa. The article explores several impacts of mobile phones on the continent. Mobile money is a crucial service in a region where “only one in five adults own bank accounts.” Phones are promoting action against autocrats and transparency around elections. In education, phones are “gain[ing] ground as tools for delivering teaching content.” Mobile entertainment, including music, movies, social networking, and more, is booming. In disasters, mobile phones help the displaced find their relatives and bolster “emergency reporting and relief systems.” In agriculture, farmers are getting mobile information about weather, crop prices, insurance, and animal husbandry. And in health, mobile applications are identifying counterfeit medicines and distributing information and tips, among other things. Isobel Coleman has been chronicling mobile technology’s impact on development regularly, most recently last week. Read more »

Mobile Technology, Internet Connectivity, and Development in Africa

by Isobel Coleman Friday, September 21, 2012
A delegate checks a blackberry handset at an exhibition stand during the West & Central Africa Com conference in Nigeria's capital Abuja, June 18, 2009 (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters). A delegate checks a Blackberry handset at an exhibition stand during the West & Central Africa Com conference in Nigeria's capital Abuja on June 18, 2009 (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters).

Earlier this week, I participated in Time magazine’s “The Future of Mobility” panel, which focused on the implications of mobile technology for the developing world. As I’ve previously noted, certain advances in mobile technology in places like Kenya could leapfrog those in the United States. Perhaps the best example of this is mobile money, which is taking off in Africa but still struggling to get traction in the U.S. As Kiva CEO and co-founder Matt Flannery remarked during the panel, “Mobile money in Africa is a solution to a problem, whereas in the United States, mobile payments are a solution looking for a problem.” Satisfied with widely accepted credit cards and easily accessible online checking accounts, people in advanced economies have less need to adopt mobile phone-based banking; in Kenya, where access to traditional banking is far more limited, some 40 percent of the adult population now uses mobile money. Read more »

The Economics of the Protests in Cairo

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Protesters destroy an American flag pulled down from the U.S. embassy in Cairo on September 11, 2012 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). Protesters destroy an American flag pulled down from the U.S. embassy in Cairo on September 11, 2012 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Egypt’s President Morsi is discovering just how expensive was his decidedly mixed response to last week’s assault on the U.S. embassy in Cairo–it took the new leader more than 48 hours to condemn the attacks. Yesterday, U.S. officials announced that talks underway to forgive approximately $1 billion in debt and to facilitate other economic aid to Egypt have been suspended–and will likely not resume until after the U.S. election in November. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Cash for the Congo, Health Shocks, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, September 14, 2012
A woman carries a gardening tool on her head while heading to work in the fields at Bukima, just north of the eastern Congolese city of Goma, August 19, 2010 (Finbarr O'Reilly/Courtesy Reuters). A woman carries a gardening tool on her head while heading to work in the fields at Bukima, just north of the eastern Congolese city of Goma, August 19, 2010 (Finbarr O'Reilly/Courtesy Reuters).

In this edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow reviews stories on Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, and Mongolia, as well as a scholarly paper on health. Enjoy and have a great weekend.

Cash for the Congo: Starting in 2007, the Tuungane program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo “funded classrooms, clinics, and other investments in 1,250 villages,” which had to form elected committees to plan and execute projects in consultation with villagers. More recently, in what the Financial Times calls “an acid test of whether Tuungane had helped to promote effective village institutions,” an evaluation project gave cash to Tuungane and non-Tuungane villages and examined their process for spending it. Tuungane’s impact on improving governance appears minimal. In both groups, almost equal proportions of villages used elections to choose committees to spend the funds. The average amount of money that went missing was “nearly identical in treatment and control areas” as well. But even if Tuungane’s effects on governance were limited, it is heartening that the UK’s Department for International Development, which funded Tuungane, has allowed such a rigorous study of its work. Read more »

Mobile Phones and Business in Africa

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, September 13, 2012
A man uses his mobile phone as he walks past a Zain customer care shop in Nairobi on February 15, 2010 (Thomas Mukoya/Courtesy Reuters). A man uses his mobile phone as he walks past a Zain customer care shop in Nairobi on February 15, 2010 (Thomas Mukoya/Courtesy Reuters).

There are so many new applications of mobile technology in developing economies that it is hard to keep abreast of them. From time to time, I try to highlight a few that I think are particularly innovative and promising. In July, I wrote briefly about a non-profit, Zidisha, that makes it possible for anyone with an Internet connection and an online payment method to make a loan to an entrepreneur in Kenya or Senegal, among other countries. Would-be lenders can view entrepreneurs’ projects online and make a loan to a project of their choosing; Zidisha then transfers the money directly to the borrower. In Kenya, Zidisha takes the direct payment concept even further, sending a loan over Kenya’s mobile money system through a borrower’s cell phone. Read more »

Violence and Freedom of Speech in Egypt and Libya

by Isobel Coleman Wednesday, September 12, 2012
An interior view of the U.S. consulate, which was attacked and set on fire by gunmen yesterday, in Benghazi on September 12, 2012 (Esam Al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters). An interior view of the U.S. consulate, which was attacked and set on fire by gunmen yesterday, in Benghazi on September 12, 2012 (Esam Al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters).

In the past 24 hours, protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and militants orchestrated a brutal attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. In a video today on CFR.org (below and here), I discuss the protests in Egypt and the deplorable terrorist act in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Though the uproar in both places is ostensibly linked to an incendiary film that disparages Islam, the underlying causes in each place are considerably different. Religious sentiment and tensions fueled the fairly peaceful protests in Egypt, but in Libya a heavily-armed terrorist group supportive of al-Qaeda executed what seemed to be a well-planned attack perhaps timed to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary. The protests against the film were likely an additional subterfuge. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Global Poverty, Manmohan Singh’s Woes, and More

by Isobel Coleman Monday, September 10, 2012
A slum dweller washes his clothes in stagnant water at Nonadanga in Kolkata, India, April 20, 2012 (Rupak De Chowdhuri/Courtesy Reuters). A slum dweller washes his clothes in stagnant water at Nonadanga in Kolkata, India, April 20, 2012 (Rupak De Chowdhuri/Courtesy Reuters).

In this edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow highlights work on poverty, global economic trends, and aid, as well as developments in India. Enjoy!

Global Poverty: The Economist explores a debate over “the geography of poverty”—where the world’s poor are, and will be, concentrated. As the piece notes, one scholar writes that some four-fifths of people living on less than $2 per day live not in poor countries but in middle-income ones. This is because countries like China and India have achieved middle-income status while many of their people remain poor. Meanwhile, two other researchers contend that poverty’s main locus in the coming years will be “fragile states,” where birthrates are often high. These accounts can be partially “squared,” the Economist says, because some countries are both middle-income and fragile: the “MIFFS (middle-income fragile or failed states),” which include Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Yemen. In any case, the data point to an increasing need for donors to focus on boosting both governance in fragile countries and equity in middle-income ones. Read more »

Update on the Pakistani Blasphemy Case

by Isobel Coleman Friday, September 7, 2012
A family rides past the locked house of Rimsha Masih, a Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy, on the outskirts of Islamabad on August 23, 2012 (Faisal Mahmood/Courtesy Reuters). A family rides past the locked house of Rimsha Masih, a Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy, on the outskirts of Islamabad on August 23, 2012 (Faisal Mahmood/Courtesy Reuters).

Yesterday, when I wrote about the blasphemy charges against Rimsha Masih–a young Christian girl in Pakistan who apparently is developmentally disabled–she was in police custody. Today, in a surprise development, the judge in the case allowed her to be released on bail, and in theory, Masih should leave jail at some point soon. Read more »