A Closer Look at Journalism and NGOs

Karen Rothmyer has a “terrific and necessary” piece in the Columbia Journalism Review headlined “Hiding the Real Africa; why NGOs prefer bad news” about stereotyped images of Africans in poverty in the U.S. media and the influence of NGOs working on aid projects on this coverage (with comments from Jina Moore and I so far).  Linked is the full research paper for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center.

Also at CJR is a review of Rebecca Hamilton’s Fighting for DarfurPublic Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide.

In The Star Andrea Bohnstedt explains that “Kibera Slum is Now the face of Kenya Abroad.”

In “Good News is No News, and that’s Bad News”, Terrance Wood writes at the Development Policy Blog that the media cover aid failures and problems, rather than success stories, and that this gives a misleadingly negative impression about the effectiveness of aid.

“Social media and the Uganda election 2011”

Watching Jon Stewart in Khartoum

“Sudan Protests spark 113 arrests and one death,”  Pambazuka covers the January 30 movement.

[Update:  Sudan Tribune story covering the protests and repression, and Human Rights Watch statement condemning excessive force.]

In many respects Khartoum was the most oppressive place I worked in or visited during my time in East Africa.  At the same time, it seemed vaguely surreal to turn on the television in my (Malaysian) hotel room and see Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show in the fall of 2007.  This was definitely one of those “we are not in the Cold War any more, Toto” moments.  This is perhaps worth an essay I just don’t have time to write at the moment, but it certainly struck me that this was one reason that “public diplomacy” seemed dead–global communications had moved on.  On one hand I was cringing about what Stewart might say, and noting the difference between laughing at ourselves at home and others laughing at us; on the other, what greater symbol of America’s exceptional freedom than that you could still go on television in the midst of the war in Iraq and the “Global War on Terror” and the associated restrictions on civil liberties, and put down the government?

Around the corner on a wall was a poster from an African-American evangelist, part of the way to the Greek Orthodox church.  I was there to participate in a seminar to encourage the empowerment of Muslim women at a grassroots level, courtesy of the U.S. State Department through IRI. [Note:  “International Republican Institute”, not “Islamic Republic of Iran”]  I think it was a good program, led by my colleague who was an empowered Kenyan Muslim woman of Nubian ancestry.  We had representatives of various local groups from various places around the country (the North)–women, although perhaps a small majority of the local leaders were men who were interested in a more active role for women.

I almost got arrested once for taking an innocuous  picture of a sign on a building, and was rescued by a good Samaritan who intervened on my behalf.

I am sure that I learned a lot more than I taught, but I do think that as people in the new Sudan (the North) seek a better future, there will be some who will appreciate knowing that the American taxpayers were willing to take some note of and interest in them as citizens, as well as simply the grand geopolitical calculations.

U.S. Department of State, on FlickrSecretary Clinton Shakes Hands With Sudanese Foreign Minister Karti

“Secretary Clinton Shakes Hands With Sudanese Foreign Minister Ahmen Ali Karti”   Jan. 26, 2011


Dancing with the Data We Have

Daniel Kaufmann draws lessons from the events in the Middle East:

‘Tunisia, Egypt and Beyond:  Fewer Predictions, More Data and Aid Reform Needed,’ The Kauffmann Governance Post

The Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI), which has been compiled since the mid-1990s, measure six components of governance. One very important component is Voice and Democratic Accountability (V&A). The V&A indicator measures not only whether countries hold elections, but also whether these are truly contested, legitimate, free and fair, whether the government is accountable to its citizens, and whether there are basic freedoms of expression and association, including protection of media freedoms, of civil society, and against human rights abuses.The sobering reality is that in terms of Voice and Democratic Accountability, the Middle East has rated very poorly relative to the rest of the world for many years. With very few exceptions, there is little variation on this indicator across the region. Worse, even though the region began the past decade underperforming on V&A, most every country in the region has deteriorated since and ended the decade at even lower levels of V&A.

Figure 1 below shows the extent to which the Middle East has been afflicted by a severe deficit in accountability. In fact, all Middle East countries, with the exception of Israel, rank in the bottom half of the world on V&A. Within the Arab world, Lebanon and Kuwait are above the rest, but still remain in the bottom third globally. The remaining Middle East countries perform even worse, in the bottom quartile (25th percentile or below) in the V&A component, including Tunisia and Egypt (both underperformed rather similarly). Countries like Iran, (North) Sudan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Libya rank among the very bottom (10th percentile or below).

From a broader global perspective, Egypt’s percentile rank, at a lowly 15.6 (out of a maximum of 100) in 2009 (meaning that over 170 countries around the world rated above Egypt) compares extremely poorly with countries like South Africa (67th percentile), Brazil (62), Ghana (61) and Indonesia (49). By the end of the decade, Egypt rated similarly in V&A to countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Angola and Congo.

So here we have a comparison of the Voice and Accountability measure from the World Governance Indicators for the five countries of the East African Community, plus Sudan and Ethiopia, along with Tunisia and Egypt (for 2009, the most recent):

Tanzania–43.6

Kenya–37.4

Uganda–33.2

Burundi–28

Egypt–15.2

Ethiopia–12.3

Rwanda–10.9

Sudan–6.2

Libya–2.8

To prepare for the Uganda election February 18, here is the full Uganda Country Report for the World Governance Indicators with links to the sources of the original data.

Dr. Kaufmann goes to look at aid spending:

. .  .  .  Let us look specifically at how donors have responded to the democratic deficit in the Middle East over the past decade.

On aggregate, as Figure 2 indicates, donors have been oblivious to poor democratic governance in the region. In fact, while Voice and Accountability have deteriorated over the past decade, aid increased significantly, even when excluding the ‘special case’ of Iraq from this sample (from US $6.2 billion to $10.5 billion). In fact, almost all of donor development aid is channeled to Middle East countries that have low democratic accountability by the standards of other developing countries.

Are we doing any better in East Africa or are we ‘oblivious’ as well?  Simply looking at the “Voice and Democratic Accountability” scores raises obvious questions . . . .

Sudan Referendum Voting Comes to Successful Conclusion, Results Next Month

A late AFP report in the Sunday Nation on-line gives some indication of the magnitude of secession sentiment at the polls, and turnout has by all accounts been high:

Voters in Southern Sudan opted, overwhelmingly, to create the world’s newest state, partial results posted outside polling stations in Juba showed on Sunday.

There was no way of knowing how representative the results from the city’s larger polling stations were of the vote around Juba, let alone of Southern Sudan as a whole, in the landmark week-long referendum, which ended on Saturday.

The final result, which will determine whether the south breaks away to become the world’s 193rd UN member state in July is not expected before next month.

But loudspeaker trucks criss-crossed Juba urging south Sudanese to turn out en masse for a huge party to celebrate the expected secession.

Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir yesterday joined worshippers at Juba’s Roman Catholic cathedral Mass in praying for the nation-in-waiting.

“We offer a prayer of gratitude for the peaceful voting in the referendum,” the priest told the congregation.

“We present these votes to God who will bring change through His people.”

Outside a polling station set up in memory of veteran rebel leader John Garang, policeman John Gadet read the partial results and proclaimed: “We have done it, we have won, we are free!”

The results posted for the station’s D section recorded 3,066 votes for secession to just 25 for continued union with the north.

Juba University polling station recorded 2,663 votes for independence to 69 for unity. A station set up in a school in the city’s Hay Malakal neighbourhood reported 1,809 votes for secession to just 75 for unity.

The school is almost alone in Juba in still teaching in Arabic, the language of the Khartoum government, as the region has gradually switched to English as its language of instruction.

“Secession. Secession. Secession,” the polling station’s returning officer had repeatedly intoned into the night as he carefully unfolded each ballot paper cast.

The count was conducted by torchlight, creating an almost religious atmosphere in the small classroom.

Each vote was passed for checking to two other polling station staff and shown to domestic and international observers. There were a dozen at Hay Malakal.

The referendum commission’s chairman, Mr Mohammed Ibrahim Khalil, hailed the “most peaceful” election he had ever seen in Sudan.  .  .  .  .

Certainly another hopeful step forward toward fulfilling the 2005 CPA and a milestone for the concept of diplomacy and negotiation to settle conflict.  The Protocol of Machakos of July 2002 recognized the ultimate right of Southern Sudanese self-determination and now the ballots have been cast.

Looking to Sudan’s Referendum Sunday

The Financial Times covers a new report from Global Witness that concludes that a new oil revenue sharing agreement is needed to prevent Sudan from returning to war:

The Khartoum government has yet to make good on an agreement on sharing oil wealth with southern Sudan, potentially jeopardising the fragile peace as the south’s population votes on whether to split the country in two, according to a report by Global Witness, the UK-based resource lobbyists.

The sharing of oil income, which accounts for half of state revenues in the north of Sudan and 98 per cent in the south, is among the thorniest issues as predominately Christian southerners prepare to vote on independence on Sunday. The south is widely expected to secede and emerge as Africa’s newest country.

. . . .

“Far less data is being published by the Sudanese government now than it was in 2008 and the first half of 2009, which even then was insufficient to be able to verify the oil revenue sharing,” said the report.

Yesterday, the US hailed the latest overtures from the Bashir government to indicate that it was prepared to allow the rerendum, and succession, to proceed peacefully:

The United States has led pressure on the Khartoum government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir not to impede the secession vote. Carson said Washington was “extraordinarily pleased” by Bashir’s statements on a trip to the south Sudan capital of Juba on Tuesday that Khartoum was ready to let the south go.

“We hope that the north … will live up to those very promising statements,” Carson said.

Bashir’s visit is the latest sign that the referendum, which many analysts earlier said threatened to spark a return to war between the north and the south, may unfold peacefully.

Key issues including borders, citizenship and the fate of the oil-rich region of Abyei remain to be decided, making the six-month transition period following the secession vote a potentially dangerous period.

U.S. officials are already working on a development plan for an independent south Sudan, which accounts for 70 percent of Sudan’s overall oil production.

The United States is ready to recognize the new government quickly and appoint an ambassador to help lead efforts to improve basic infrastructure, healthcare, and education as well as trade and investment, officials said.

“We anticipate ramping this up very quickly after the referendum,” said Larry Garber, the deputy administrator for Africa at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

A senior U.S. official, speaking on background, denied suggestions the United States was motivated primarily by a interest in south Sudan’s oil, which remains a key sticking point in dealings between Khartoum and Juba and which has been largely off limits to western oil companies thanks to U.S. sanctions imposed on Sudan in 1997.

US officials also expressed confidence that political agreement would be reached on oil revenue and other economic issues and that the status of Abeyei is “longer a potential flashpoint for war,” such that they do not expect further “major violence”.

Here is this week’s roundup “As vote nears, Sudan’s south anticipates independence and problems” from Jeffrey Fleishman in the Los Angeles Times. And here is Rebecca Hamilton’s “Sudan Dispatch” in The New Republic.

China to send observers to Sudan Referendum–what will they look for? [Updated Jan. 6]

The link to the Reuters report from Beijing is here.

China will send observers to Sudan when the south holds an independence referendum on January 9, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

“At the invitation of both the north and the south, China will send observers to participate in the referendum,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular news conference.

“China is willing, together with the international community, to continue to play a proactive and constructive role for the sake of Sudan’s peace and stability,” Hong said.

Hmm. Will these be people who have observed an election before, much less participated in one? If China is serious about peace and stability within the parameters of a democratic process then great and welcome to the community, but if they are just protecting their own interests irrespective then what are they adding?

This is surely a clear example of a diplomatic observation rather than an assistance effort–no indication that China has an interest in improving democratic elections abroad.

Radio France International has an interesting take on the Chinese diplomatic strategy:

Beshir’s more reconciliatory tone is however a diplomatic advantage for China, which is a long-time ally of Beshir and a major investor in the country’s oil industry, which is mainly based in the south.

“China is working very hard to in effect play both sides of the border,” says David Shinn, the former deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Khartoum. “It wants to maintain its very close relationship with the Beshir government and it wants to maintain as close a tie as possible to the southerners if they secede.”

China has a consulate in Juba and has been providing some assistance to southerners over the last year, but Shinn says it will still have to work hard to create a good relationship with the south, should it become independent.

“They certainly will have an uphill climb in that they are well known to have been very strong military backers of the northern government and those feelings will not disappear quickly,” says Shinn. “On the other hand, the Chinese have shown great propensity over the years to be able to make the switch to the new rulers in town”.

Chinese financial resources will give it an advantage, especially as it is almost alone in having a state sector that is willing to make investments. The Chinese government also backs several banks in Africa, which able to provide low interest loans fast.

Shinn says China has enough invested in the north to want to maintain a good relationship with the north even though most of Sudan’s resources come from the south. Beshir’s diplomatic approach has given China a chance to work with the south without upsetting the Khartoum government.

“Who knows, behind the scenes maybe China has even been encouraging that,” says Shinn.

 

IRIN Africa | SUDAN: What they’re saying about the referendum

IRIN Africa | SUDAN: What they’re saying about the referendum The UN humanitarian news service has a run down of links to major recent reports relating to Sunday’s referendum from the International Crisis Group, the Small Arms Survey, the Enough Project, the US Institute for Peace and the AU High-level Implementation Panel.

“Linkage”–remembering how we got here, from “rules of the game” with the Russians and the “Carter Doctrine” to Al-Queda in East Africa and the Embassy Bombings

A mixed verdict today in the Ghailani trial from the 1998 al-Qaeda bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania led me to pull of the shelf Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Adviser 1977-1981. These were my high school years and I wrote a paper contrasting the views in Brzezinski’s book and Jimmy Carter’s memoir Keeping Faith as an undergrad. Kenya was handed off from Kenyatta to Moi during this time. My children are roughly the age I was then.

So what did Brzezinski have to say, writing in 1983, about U.S. policy in Kenya and Somalia and the Horn of Africa generally? For him it was all about strategic confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, globally and in regard to the Middle East, most importantly Saudi Arabia. “Linkage” was between the Ethiopia-Somalia conflict and the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty negotiations.

The more immediate source of friction between Vance and me was the Soviet-sponsored deployment of the Cuban military in the African Horn. In the summer of 1977, the long-standing territorial disputes in the Horn of Africa were complicated by the dramatic switch in allegiances of the Ethiopians and Somalis. The increasingly extreme leftist government of Ethiopia broke with the West, while the Somalis, who had been aided by Moscow, turned to the United States. The unsettled situation was of serious concern to Egypt, the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and us, because we all had evidence that the Soviets were providing increased aid and using Cuban forces in the already tense border war. Of course, our ability to assist the Somalis was not helped by the fact that they were the nominal aggressors in the Ogaden, having crossed over an established border into territory they claimed belonged to them.
However, in my view the situation between the Ethiopians and the Somalis was more than a border conflict. Coupled with the expansion of Soviet influence and military presence to South Yemen, it posed a potentially grave threat to our position in the Middle East, notably in the Arabian peninsula. It represented a serious setback in our attempts to develop with the Soviets some rules of the game in dealing with turbulence in the Third World. The Soviets had earlier succeeded in sustaining, through the Cubans, their preferred solution in Angola, and they now seemed embarked on a repetition in a region in close proximity to our most sensitive interests.
I was strengthened in my view by the repeated, like-minded expressions of concern by both Giscard and Sadat, leaders with a refined strategic perspective. Both warned Carter on several occasions not to be passive or to underestimate the gravity of an entrenched Soviet military presence so close to weak, vulnerable, yet vitally needed Saudi Arabia. Sadat let it be known that he was afraid the Soviets were seeking to embarrass him specifically by seizing control of territory crucial to Egyptian interests. We had a report from the Shah, who had traveled to Aswan and to Riyadh, that both the Egyptians and the Saudis were increasingly concerned by the increased Soviet activity. In fact, the Shah reported that the Saudis were “petrified” by the prospect of a Soviet presence across the Red Sea. The Sudanese had also expressed to Carter their worries about Soviet activity and U.S. lack of activity. In a personal message the Sudanese President wrote: “We believe that the Soviet Union is pursuing a sinister grand strategy in Africa leading to some definite goals. We are truly alarmed . . .
Yet in spite of such expressions of concern, throughout the late fall of 1977 and much of 1978 I was very much alone in the U.S. government in advocating a stronger response: Vance insisted that this issue was purely a local one, while Brown [Sec. of Defense] was skeptical of the feasibility of any U.S. countermoves. But by the late summer of 1977, intelligence sources provided mounting evidence of growing Soviet-sponsored involvement. As a result, I promoted . . . a recommendation to the President, which he approved, to accelerate our efforts to provide support to the Sudan, to take steps to accelerate our efforts to reassure and strengthen Kenya, and to explore means of getting as many African leaders as possible to react adversely to the Soviet-sponsored Cuban military presence.
. . . . Continue reading

Sudan referendum voter registation begins Monday amid complaints by registrar

The head of Sudan’s voter registation effort blasted the Western donors for funding third parties to work in support of the registation effort for the referendum rather than fund the official agency receiving funds from the Northern/National and Southern governments, reports Reuters.

Obama, the Midterms and Africa–some thoughts from the hinterlands

G. Pascal Zachary has a very interesting take at Africa Works on the possible impact of the US midterm elections for Africa: “For Africans, an Obama defeat at polls can bring help”:

For Africa, an Obama presidency has been a disappointment. Rather than pay attention to the sub-Saharan because of his Kenyan heritage, Barack Obama has gone the other way: giving less attention to Africa than any other region of the world. Partly Obama’s inattention to African affairs reflects the crises of his presidency. Urgent problems are elsewhere. But the situation may be about to change and because of an unlikely reason: the defeat of Obama’s Democratic Party allies in Congress.

Next Tuesday’s polls could deliver a big setback to Obama: loss of control by the Democrats of at least one house of Congress. With the Republicans back in command, Obama will face new pressure on his administration to intervene directly in African affairs, and in ways the president has so far avoided.

A glimpse of the future direction of U.S. policy towards Africa can be seen by looking backwards — to the policies of former President George Bush. For complex reasons, the Bush administration engineered an increase in financial assistance to Africa, chiefly in the form of an enormous outlay — an estimated $80 billion over 10 years — to cover the cost of treating Africans with HIV-AIDs. In addition, President Bush engineered a peace deal in Sudan that effectively brought an end to one of the region’s oldest civil wars.

Much of the impetus for Bush’s activism in Africa came from the Christian right, which saw the Sudanese conflict through the prism of religious freedom; the conflict to Republicans was between a militant Islam and a persecuted Christian minority. Evangelicals flocked to the defense of south Sudan and, even now, are among the loudest advocates for legal partition of the country — and a more muscular U.S. role in overseeing a planned election next year that could lead to the creation of Africa’s newest nation.

Obama’s studied restraint towards African issues has permitted him to ignore the liberal wing of his own Democratic party, which would like his administration to push Sudan on the thorny question of the Darfur region as well as the country’s Christian south. With Republicans in control of the House, for instance, pressure for dramatic action will grow.

Nigeria is another large, troubled country that Obama has essentially ignored but his critics say he has done so to the detriment of long-term U.S. interests. Nigeria is the fifth largest source of foreign oil for the U.S., and the country of origin for the largest group of African immigrants in America. As most populous country in Africa, Nigeria has an economic weight that warrants American attention. But the country also contains the largest number of Muslims in any African country. And one of those Muslims last December was caught trying to blow up a plane, raising the profile of militant Islamic groups in Nigeria — and their potential connections with anti-American factions throughout the Muslim world.

President Obama has done little thinking about how to support the progessive in Nigeria. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has repeatedly warned that Nigeria’s government is dangerously derelict, but she’s offered no concrete proposals on aidiing the country, whose presidential election is only months away.

Thus, the possibility exists that Obama will face two African crises — in Sudan and Nigeria — and a Congress who wants his administration to take an active role in engaging the continent. Africans, frustrated privately with the president’s lack of attention to their region, likely will welcome a new approach, even if the approach comes in the wake of Obama’s political retreat.

While what Zachary says is accurate as far as it goes, it seems to me that African expectations for Obama were always misplaced and failed to account for both Obama’s main focus as a politician and the realities of the American political system and the American electorate.

In particular, in Kenya, I never thought that Obama’s decision to make a quick visit to Ghana rather than to Kenya should be seen so much as a criticism of Kenya’s political failings as a reflection of Obama’s needs as President of the US. Obama has been under vigorous, and quite effective, attack since the early part of his campaign from the right in the US for being too “Kenyan” and too much associated with Islam–and of course as actually both Kenyan and Muslim rather than American and Christian. This has only gotten worse as it has crawled out of the e-mail networks and blogosphere and into open discussion by current and former elected officials, the cover of Forbes and Glenn Beck. A state visit to Kenya with a riotous outpouring of welcome from Kenyans has always been the last thing he has needed in America, and has become more and more politically untenable as his popularity has slipped.

Beyond that, while Obama obviously has a personal connection to his African heritage, it has simply not been a big part of his direction as a politician. In general, Obama has been more involved and identified with domestic issues, working as a “community” poverty activist in Chicago and then going to law school to come back to Chicago to go into politics there. He was an American law professor teaching US Constitutional law and a lawyer working in civil rights areas. Aside from having little record in foreign policy in general, he did not chose to spend any length of time visiting, much less living, in Kenya or anywhere else in Africa.

There are a lot of American politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, who have been more engaged over a period of years in African affairs and American policy in Africa. Even though his first foray into politics was in speaking in favor of divestment as a tool against South African apartheid as a student at Columbia this was not a deep engagement or a primary path he followed subsequently. Continue reading