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: Mexico’s Prospects, Measuring the MDGs, and More

by Isobel Coleman
December 3, 2012

Planes fly in formation over the Mexican national flag during a military parade in celebration of the 102nd anniversary of the Mexican Revolution on Zocalo Square in Mexico City, November 20, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters).


In this edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow features stories on Mexico, India, Africa, and the Millennium Development Goals. I hope you enjoy the selection.

Mexico’s Prospects: The Economist features a largely sanguine report on Mexico. “Many of the things the world thinks it knows about Mexico are no longer true,” it says. Economic growth is strong as higher global shipping costs and rising Chinese wages boost Mexico’s manufacturing competitiveness. Social services are expanding; as the report says, “free universal health care became more or less a reality this year.” Education spending is also up, though opaque teachers unions seem to swallow much of the money. Perhaps the darkest cloud is governance. The report says Mexico’s ban on reelection makes politicians more accountable to “party bosses” than to voters, and some of the country’s states remain hotbeds of corruption. On her blog, CFR’s Shannon O’Neil weighs the record of President Felipe Calderon, who left office on Saturday; she also wrote on Mexico last week in USA Today.

Measuring the MDGs: As the debate over what should succeed the Millennium Development Goals heats up, a World Development article considers how progress against the MDGs should be measured. Evaluations of progress by the UN and others, the authors write, focus on “absolute achievement” while ignoring the question of whether the MDGs have driven any faster progress than was happening before. To rectify this, the authors offer a new approach that asks “whether the pace of progress has improved since the 2000 commitments.” On only five of twenty-four indicators is this the case for the majority of countries. In other words, “there is no convincing evidence” that global development progress has accelerated since the MDGs came along. Interestingly, though, progress has sped up in many African countries, with Nigeria, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Uganda, and Rwanda leading the way. The post-2015 debate has featured recently on CFR’s Development Channel, including in posts by Yanzhong Huang and Terra Lawson-Remer.

Protecting India’s Prostitutes: Cellphones are the ultimate double-edged sword for India’s prostitutes, the New York Times reports. By allowing prostitutes to meet clients on their own and not in brothels, phones allow them to “get the full cash in my hand,” as one says in the piece. But in so doing, phones make “prostitutes far harder for government and safe-sex counselors to trace.” And this means higher rates of HIV. As brothels in Mumbai and Delhi decline, India’s successful approach to HIV/AIDS, which focused on red-light districts, is faltering. “Experts say it is too early to identify how much HIV infections might rise,” the piece reports.

African Issues: Two recent pieces analyze two African woes: tribal politics and bad statistics. First, Harvard professor Calestous Juma calls tribalism—”the use of identity politics to promote narrow tribal interests”—a major threat to African democracy. For many leaders, he writes, “tribal politics is a zero-sum game, so they are prone to using hate speech and inciting violence.” What is needed are “modern political parties and associated think tanks” to fuel debate over policies, not identity. Meanwhile, Morten Jerven of Canada’s Simon Fraser University writes that many African countries cannot accurately calculate their GDPs. They use rarely updated “base years” to make estimates for subsequent years, potentially leading to wild inaccuracies. Nigeria has not updated its base year since 1990, Jerven writes; when it changes to 2008 as planned, its GDP figure could double. Jerven urges efforts to boost countries’ statistical abilities. Today’s data generate “more confusion than enlightenment,” he says.

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