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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Showing posts for "Sub-Saharan Africa"

Democracy Can Still Deliver

by Isobel Coleman
A voter waits to cast his ballot in Bekkersdal, near Johannesburg, May 7, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters)

Democracy is going through a rough patch. Freedom House reports that the number of democracies around the world has retreated in recent years. The frightening turbulence in countries struggling to transition to democracy such as Egypt and Thailand makes clear how difficult that process is. And with economic malaise persisting in many democracies while growth still surges in autocratic China, more than a few people wonder whether it’s even worth bothering with democracy and all its political dysfunctions. Can democracies effectively meet the aspirations of citizens in today’s complex world? Read more »

Beating Boko Haram

by Isobel Coleman
A woman takes part in a protest for the release of the abducted secondary school girls in Abuja, Nigeria, May 12, 2014 (Courtesy Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde). A woman takes part in a protest for the release of the abducted secondary school girls in Abuja, Nigeria, May 12, 2014 (Courtesy Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde).

Earlier today, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau offered to release more than 200 kidnapped school girls in exchange for prisoners. In the video, approximately one hundred girls are seen wearing hijabs and reciting verses from the Quran. Most of the girls are believed to be Christian, but Shekau explains they have been converted to Islam. Meanwhile, the international effort to rescue the girls is ramping up. The United States, the United Kingdom, China, France, and Israel are helping the Nigerian government strategize about how to find the girls and fight the radical Islamic group. Read more »

Looking to the Developing World for a Pope

by Isobel Coleman
A man walks outside the Cathedral of St. Paul of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast on February 11, 2013 (Thierry Gouegnon/Courtesy Reuters). A man walks outside the Cathedral of St. Paul of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast on February 11, 2013 (Thierry Gouegnon/Courtesy Reuters).

Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation is a surprisingly bold move from someone not known as a modernizer. But his recognition that he was no longer up to the challenges of the Catholic Church was a thoroughly modern leadership move—and one that other aging leaders would do well to emulate. The fact that he’s the first pope in nearly 600 years to avail himself of retirement (the last one to resign, Pope Gregory XII, did so in 1415 to end a schism in the Church) is—to say the least—historic. Read more »

Missing Pieces: India’s Cash Transfers, Goals for 2030, and More

by Isobel Coleman
Chief of India's ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi (R) presents the 210 millionth biometric card to Vali (L), a villager residing in the desert Indian state of Rajasthan, during the national launch of a scheme to make direct cash transfers to the poor, at Dudu town in Rajasthan, India, October 20, 2012 (Vinay Joshi/Courtesy Reuters).
In this edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow looks at items on India, Africa, the post-2015 agenda, and economic growth. Enjoy the reading and the weekend.
  • India’s Cash Transfers: The new year brought a new development program in India with revolutionary potential. Under the scheme, Voice of America reports, “245,000 people across 20 districts… are getting pension and scholarship money transferred directly into their bank accounts, instead of having to wait to receive it from post offices or bank officials.” The aim is to eliminate skimming. And the current effort could be just a start. The real test would be using cash transfers to replace India’s massive distribution of subsidized food and fuel. Some analysts enthusiastically support doing so. Others, including Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, caution that food rations tend to benefit families—especially girls—while cash might not. Scaling up cash transfers also requires giving bank accounts and reliable identification to hundreds of millions of Indians, which is no easy task. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Africa’s Outlook, Corruption in India, and More

by Isobel Coleman
Angolan youths play on the beach in the capital Luanda, September 2, 2012 (Siphiwe Sibeko/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow covers stories on Africa, India, and the World Bank in the first Missing Pieces installment of the new year. I hope you enjoy the selection.

  • Africa’s Outlook: What are the essential issues affecting Africa in 2013? In the Brookings Institution’s “Foresight Africa” report, scholars offer eight suggestions: employment, “energy poverty,” China-Africa relations, Kenya’s presidential elections, “discordant development,” education, infrastructure, and leveraging Africa’s diaspora. On employment, one essay argues that Africa’s “rapid growth has created few good jobs.” It calls for better education and training, along with more investment in industry. The piece on “discordant development” focuses on “how deepening inequalities and rapid progress juxtaposed with group distress can generate uncertainty and violent conflict.” Sounder governance is a big part of the answer, the piece says. Meanwhile, CFR’s Sebastian Mallaby writes in the Financial Times that Africa’s growth, often deemed unsustainable, is proving enduring. Though commodity prices, demographics, and technology are helping, he says, “better policy has also made a difference,” especially by enabling higher productivity. Read more »

Remarkable Women of 2012

by Isobel Coleman
Pakistani students stand next to a portrait of Malala Yousufzai as they attend a meeting organized by South Asian Women in media to mark "Malala Day" in Lahore, Pakistan, November 10, 2012 (Mohsin Raza/Courtesy Reuters).

Among the many compelling stories of 2012 have been those of remarkable women fighting for rights and opportunities—for themselves, their communities, and their countries. In this post I highlight several such women and their courageous struggles. Read more »

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

by Isobel Coleman
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. Read more »

Missing Pieces: South Africa’s Struggles, India’s Struggles, and More

by Isobel Coleman
Children play in the dump as the Lonmin mine is seen in the background in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa, August 21, 2012 (Siphiwe Sibeko/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow highlights developments in Africa and Asia in this edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy!

  • South Africa’s Struggles: As South Africa’s labor unrest finally seems to abate, two Economist articles (here and here) survey the country’s unsettling scene. “After 18 years of full democracy,” the magazine says, “South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world.” A leading culprit is education. Despite healthy spending, outcomes lag: just 15 percent of 12-year-olds reach minimum proficiency in language, and 12 percent do so in math. Unemployment is officially 25 percent—but 29 percent for blacks against 6 percent for whites. The Economist says that “economic malaise and the chronic failure of government services are an indictment of South Africa’s politicians.” Many view positions with the African National Congress (ANC) as “a ticket for the gravy train.” Officials, generally elected on party-controlled lists, “have little incentive to provide for their voters.” Despite these failings, the magazine reports, the ANC’s dominance is not yet in doubt. Progress might not come until it is. Read more »

Food Insecurity and the Future of the Sahel

by Isobel Coleman
Malians who fled unrest in the rebel-held northeastern cities of Gao and Timbuktu arrive by bus in Mali's capital, Bamako, on April 11, 2012 (Joe Penney/Courtesy Reuters). Malians who fled unrest in the rebel-held northeastern cities of Gao and Timbuktu arrive by bus in Mali's capital, Bamako, on April 11, 2012 (Joe Penney/Courtesy Reuters).

The countries of the Sahel, a semi-arid region of Africa that stretches across the continent below the Sahara desert, rank among the lowest on the Human Development Index and measures of GDP per capita. For more than a year, experts have been warning about mass starvation in the region as an enduring drought and various wars take their toll. But now, finally, some good news: a large humanitarian response to the crisis has helped avoid a disaster. Factors contributing to this success include affected countries’ openness about their food insecurity and effective early interventions to avert the impending crisis. Moreover, greater-than-expected rainfall has mitigated the drought and prevented the worst predictions about crop failure from coming true. Crop yields in some areas should be strong in coming months. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Commitment to Development, Global Inequality, and More

by Isobel Coleman
Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff (R) greets Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt after a meeting during the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 22, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters).
Charles Landow covers topics ranging from foreign aid to corruption and from inequality to governance in this edition of Missing Pieces. I hope you enjoy the selections.
  • Commitment to Development: The Center for Global Development last week released its 2012 Commitment to Development Index. The index measures wealthy countries “on their dedication to policies that benefit the 5.5 billion people living in poorer nations.” These include the quantity and quality of foreign aid, openness to trade and migration, promotion of investment in developing countries, environmental policies, contributions to peacekeeping and other security efforts, and more. Read more »