FDI in Large-Scale Agriculture in Africa

​In 2019 Atkeyelsh Persson published "Foreign Direct Investment in Large-Scale Agriculture in Africa: Economic, Social and Environmental Sustainability in Ethiopia". The book (presumably) draws on doctoral work done at UCT (finished in 2016) and most of the data / findings presented come from 2014 or before. The book offers unique insight into environmental and sustainability impacts. The case studies are valuable references for readers and researchers. Unfortunately the book sells for US$155.00.

That said, the book is frustrating to read. For example, the author states that large-scale land acquisitions are/were concentrated in Gambella and Benishangul Gumuz regions, with one in SNNP that was excluded (and was listed as not operational in 2014). The reason this is confusing is that the author cites Rahmato's (2011) work (Land to the Investors), which lists 22 agricultural investments above 5,000 hectares outside of these regions, as well as many others in Gambella and Benishangul Gumuz. There is no source listed for the data that is presented (e.g. in Figure 7.2, page 71), that are used to arrive at these conclusions. It can take years to publish a book, but what is stated was not the case in 2014 (when data collection seems to have stopped) nor in 2016 (when the dissertation was defended). In 2011, Rahmato had shown that Oromia was the region with the most foreign investment occurring, but Oromia does not appear anywhere in the study (raising questions about data and how the conclusions were drawn). The policy changes that took place in 2013 (well before the dissertation was submitted) are not included, which seems a critical omission given that foreign, large-scale, agricultural investment effectively stopped from that point forward. With many interviews conducted in 2014, it is unclear how this did not factor into the study. There is no mention that one of the case studies (Karuturi) was cancelled in 2015, by the Government of Ethiopia (nor all the legal proceedings that followed). Many questions.

Global Social Policy in the Making

​Deacon's (2013) "Global Social Policy in the Making: The Foundations of the Social Protection Floor" outlines how the ILO was able to obtain agreement on the social protection floor, when previous efforts to have global social policy encountered barriers. In a sense, this is a history of the initiative. The author focuses on four key influences that enabled the success, namely the adopt of it by ILO, UN and G20, which are: contextual changes (global shifts), procedural changes (within the involved parties and intergovernmental institutions), actions of specific actors (institutions and individuals), and broader discourse / expectation shifts about social protection. For those interested in the 'how change' happens literature, specifically in the policy realm, this provides a rich history from which ideas and experiences can be draw.

Reading that should be more common...

Amin, S. (1976) Unequal Development 

Smith, L. T. (1999) Decolonizing Methodologies 

Biko, S. (1978) I Write What I Like 

Thiong'o, N. (1981) Decolonizing the Mind 

Fanon, F. (1963) The Wretched of the Earth 

Fanon, F. (1952) Black Skin, White Masks 

Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed 

Mbembe, A. (2019, English translation) Necropolitics 

Mbembe, A. (2017, English translation) Critique of Black Reason 

Cabral, A. (2016, translation) Resistance and Decolonization 

Chang, H-J. (2002) Kicking Away the Ladder 

Memmi, A. (1965) The Colonizer and the Colonized 

Ibn Khaldun (2015 translation, 1377 original) Al Muqaddimah 

Rodney, W. (1972) How Europe Underdeveloped Africa 

Abu-Lughod (2013) Do Muslim Women Need Saving? 

Said (1978) Orientalism 

Taiaiake, A. (2005) Wasase 

Kiros, T. (2005) Zera Yacob

Asad, T. (2003) Formations of the Secular

Asad, T. (2018) Secular Translations

On the Commodity Trail

Alison Hulme's "On the Commodity Trail: The Journey of a Bargain Store Product from East to West" (2015) tracks the geographies that products move within. Starting with an inquiry in Bargain Stores, Hulme begins in the dump in Shanghai, then to factories, over seas in containers and via global ports, back to the bargain store, and projecting the likely return to the dump. I picked up the book looking for an ethnography I might use to teach an introductory undergraduate course. This did not fit that purpose, but is interesting nonetheless. Unfortunately for the author, the commodities spaces change so rapidly that this 2015 publication could be read as a history, as these geographies and processes have changed so rapidly. The book is easy to read and is well suited to lower level undergraduate courses.

Human Rights in Africa

Bonny Ibhawoh's (2018) "Human Rights in Africa" is a long overdue contribution to the human rights discourse. This is not only a critical assessment of the dominant narrative about the origins of human rights as known today, but also a call for revival of knowing histories that are not well known, prioritized or taught. The book outlines the "complicated story of progression and regression, inclusion and exclusion" (p. 119) of human rights across the continent and over time. The book is accessible, which makes it recommended reading across audiences.

Relative or universal rights? "The case for an African concept of human rights is essentially an argument for cultural relativism as a counter to the universalist claims of the modern human rights movement. The premise of this position is that culture shapes the articulation and fulfilment of human rights because of its formative influence on human thought and behavior. Human rights principles are therefore culturally relative to different contexts, and culture informs unique conceptions of human rights when grounded in African moral principles and cultural experiences… On the other hand, some proponents of African values in human rights interpretation premise their claim on an affirmation rather than a repudiation of the universalism of human rights. They contend that the core principles that underpin modern human rights are neither exclusive to Western liberal traditions nor alien to African cultural traditions. These are eternal and universal norms. There is nothing essentially Western or bourgeois about the fundamental rights to life, the right to personal and collective dignity or the right to a fair trial. These human rights principles have normative parallels in indigenous African moral principles and political and social practices." (p. 37-38)

On vernacularization: "the African values argument and the cultural legitimacy argument converge in what may be expressed as the vernacularization of universal human rights. The notion of vernacularizing human rights describes the process by which universal human rights norms are grounded in local communities. It requires seeing human rights in specific situation rather than as the application of abstract principles. Vernacularizing human rights is therefore a constructive process that grounds and expands the scope of human rights in different cultural contexts. It is a process whereby global impulses intersect with indigenous ideas to produce new human rights norms and practices that are relevant to local situations. The process of vernacularization connotes critical local engagement with international human rights norms with the goal of investing them with local meaning that can potentially strengthen recognition and enforcement." (p. 52)

Vernacularization (cont.): "The notion of vernacularizing human rights has been used to describe the process by which universal human rights norms become grounded in local communities. It is a constructive process that affirms and delineates the scope of human rights in different cultural contexts. Vernacularizing human rights requires seeing human rights in specific situations rather than as the application of abstract principles. In this sense, vernacularization refers to the interaction between established international human rights principles and local norms to produce hybridized legal and normative frameworks for human rights protection. This should not be confused with the cultural relativist repudiation of universal human rights, which I discuss in the introductory chapter of this book. Rather, vernacularization is a deliberate process of investing universal human rights with local meanings that can potentially strengthen human rights protection and contribute to the normative application of global human rights." (p. 225-226)

Criticism all around: "The same [criticisms of Enlightenment liberalism] can be said of indigenous African notions of human rights. The scope of individual and collective rights was often limited to community members and restricted by ethnicity, caste, gender, power and status. Prioritizing communal solidarity over individual liberties often implied the exclusion of those considered outsiders, minorities and non-conforming members of the community. The emphasis on communal well-being and the contingent relationship between individual rights and duties also meant that rights were ultimately not conferred based on the intrinsic value of each human being but, rather, based on community membership, and social status and obligations." (p. 47)

Questioning rationales: "Antislavery provided an important legitimizing rationale for colonialism and become part of the "inter-imperial repertoire of idiom and imaginaries of colonial rule." Eradicating the slave trade and granting freedom to those enslaved was a declared mission of many early European adventurers, missionaries and colonialists. Atlantic slavery and the movement to abolish it marked the beginning of Europe's conquest and colonization of Africa, provoking what became known as the scramble for Africa and one of the most pernicious land grabs in human history. Here we confront another paradox of rights discourse within antislavery. Nineteenth-century missionary and humanitarian activism that rallied public support against slavery also provided moral justification for colonization, which ultimately denied millions of Africans their right to self-determination." (p. 83-84)

Evaluation Landscape in Africa

​Thousands of evaluations have been conducted across Africa, producing large amounts of knowledge. However, these reports are not often captured and shared nor are they easily accessible, nor are always made available to the public. There is no search platform, like Web of Science for academic publications, for evaluations. Some donors have created their own databases, but none operated sector-wide. CLEAR-AA tried to address this, and developed a platform, which is updated until 2015, the African Evaluation Database. While much more work is needed, this is a good step. Those involved with the project wrote a book to present the trends of what they have seen: Evaluation Landscape in Africa: Context, Methods and Capacity (2019), edited by Mapitsa, Tirivanhu and Pophiwa. The book is an excellent resource for those interested in this type of material and/or work. As far as I know, no similar landscape assessments are available elsewhere, making this quite a unique resource. 

Who Are You and Why Are You Here?

​I have previously noted my interested in the expanded journal version of people recounting their experiences (e.g. this recent book on the Ebola response). The style (and title) of Jacques Claessens "Who are you and why are you here?" (2018), which was originally published in French in 2013 and translated in this version by Nigel G. Spencer, looked appealing. While interesting, I did not as much enjoying the fictionalization of the book. At least for me, this reduced the interest that I typically have of first-hand personal narratives. The book does open some doors and windows into problematic behaviours and decisions in the sector and might be a starting point for discussions, particularly for those unfamiliar with the sector.  

Medical Apartheid

Winner of several awards, Harriet A. Washington's "Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present" (2006) documents a history we tend only to know bits and pieces of. Those familiar with ethics will be aware of the Tuskegee Study, but likely not the bigger story. This is a troubling read, but one that should be read. The book is not published by a university or academic press, and certain quotes and references are not cited, which leaves some potential interesting trails to follow as dead ends. Nonetheless, it is recommended. A few quotes of note:

  • "Use of the term race to denote biologically different types of mankind evolved only in the eighteenth century, when the study of animal breeding gave rise to heightened awareness of animal subspecies and the possibility of breeding animals to encourage desired traits. Not coincidentally, this period coincided with the growth of the slave trade, when the biological distinctiveness of men became economically important. Those who studied the different groups of men were called ethnologists and were the forerunners of anthropologists. Ethnologists applied the classification and the categorization methods of the natural sciences, called taxonomy, to the study of man. Even after the meaning of race came to include subgroupings of man, it had several meanings. By races, some meant biological subspecies of man, analogous to the different breeds of dogs. For example, Swedish natural Carl von Linne - Carolus Linnaeus, the most famous of the taxonomists – categorized Africans (and, by extension, U.S. blacks) as Homo afer, theorizing that black men had different evolutionary forebears and had evolved along a separate evolutionary track from white men." (p. 33)
  • "Sim's silver sutures did help to end a real medical tragedy for many women, and some excuse the abuse of enslaved women on this basis. This essentially utilitarian argument presents an ethical balance sheet, with the savage medical abuse of captive women on one hand and countless women saved from painful invalidism on the other. However, such an argument ignores the ethical concept of social justice, and these experiments violated this essential value because the suffering and the benefits have been distributed in an unfair way, leading to distributive injustice. In this case, the most powerless group, which is also a racially distinct group and a captive group, is the group upon which doctors inflicted harm "for the greater good." Another, privileged group enjoys the benefits but shares neither the pain nor the risks. Thus the more unexpected acceptability is clear." (p. 69)
  • "the decision not to treat these sick men of the Tuskegee Study is a different crime, a crime of omission, and it illustrates several of the important patterns explored in this book. These include the selection of blacks for the riskiest studies; their disproportionate selection for nontherapeutic experimentation; the myth of medical distinctiveness (which held that syphilis was manifested differently in blacks); and the myth of hypersexed blacks as "incorrigible" vectors of sexual disease and dysfunction. The use of men as reservoirs of syphilis reinforce the familiar use of black bodies to generate the profitable wonders of new disease approaches (to which the subjects are rare the privy), and the clinical display of disease in the clinic and in medical journals." (p. 182)
  • "The United States also chose to seek Nazi expertise. In 1945, the U.S. State Department, army intelligence, and the OSS, the immediate forerunner of the CIA, recruited former Third Reich scientist, granting them immunity, jobs, and new identities in a resettlement program for Nazi scientists. It was named Operation Paperclip, for the mode of identifying potential recruits - a simple paper clip placed on each of their dossiers. In exchange, the State Department asked that the scientist resume their old habits - working on secret nonconsensual research projects, many of which exploded patients - but this time throughout the United States." (p. 229)
  • "research into sickle cell disorder, the first identified molecular disease, remains underfunded and the disease still awaits an effective treatment, but effective genetic therapies were mounted within just a few years after the gene for cystic fibrosis was discovered in 1989. Whites are at much higher risk than blacks for cystic fibrosis." (p. 315-316)
  • "This book uses the term race because it is accepted argot, it can be a convenient, commonly used way of designating ethnic groups that are perceived as distinct. We all know what we mean (or think we do) when we denote someone's race as "black" or "white." In our nation, race is inarguably important in discussions of health and disease. However, the Human Genome Project has erased any lingering doubts: Biological race does not exist, because all humans share the same genes. Although the proportions of genes differ, meaning that genetic differences exist, these variations map very poorly on to what we think of as races. This seems to introduce a logical contradiction: If race is not real, how can we speak of race-based therapeutics? The answer is that race is real, but it is not biological: It is social. What correlates very closely to most "racial" differences ns life expectancy, mortality, disease susceptibility, and survival is the race to which one is perceived as belonging." (p. 317)

Getting to Zero: On the Ebola Frontline

  • "It seems very hard to stop this now, but I think we all just have to believe that it is possible." (Norwegian epidemiologist, p. xvii)

Within development studies literature there is a sub-genre of memoires, biographies and dairies. Some are troubling to read. Not all are well written. Some are extremely informative. Most present aspects of the sector that are invisible for those outside of it. Daily routines. Successes and failures. Lessons. Lived experiences. I enjoy reading these works. "Getting to Zero: A Doctor and a Diplomat on the Ebola Frontline" (2018) by Sinead Walsh and Oliver Johnson falls in this sub-genre and is well worth a read. The book is quite long (422 pages), so I will not attempt a summary. Rather, a few parts that I think are worth sharing:

On training: "The second problem with Ebola trainings was that they fell into the 'training the trainers' trap, another common fault of aid programmes. The logic here was that an expert, often an international consultant flown in for the task, could provide a brief training to a selection of local staff brought together from across the country. These staff would then 'cascade' this training to their colleagues after returning home. Whilst this may be effective in some specific situations, generally a few hours or a few days of classroom-based teaching simply does not give someone enough knowledge or hands-on experience of a complex real-world challenge for them to be able to undertake it independently or teach it to others" (p. 52).

Learning in emergencies: "Key to any process of community engagement is respect. This meant being willing to sit down, listen, and then have a conversation with communities to find compromises between our preferred biomedical strategies and what they felt they could actually do. It took us a long time to get to that. Much of the community engagement in the early months was one-way, telling people what to do rather than understanding the kinds of challenges they faced and what ideas they had for how to protect themselves." (p. 343)

On roles within humanitarian and development activity: "the question of how assertive to be in a situation like this is at the core of the distinction between development and humanitarian approaches to international aid. The development mindset tends to focus on supporting the country to better serve its population over the long term, and therefore recognizes the importance of being led by the government. After all, it is the government that (usually) has the democratic legitimacy to make decisions about the country's future and is therefore best placed to run the services that aid agencies are looking to strengthen. Mutual respect and a collaborative relationship between the government and the aid agency are key in this kind of approach. As a result, timelines are usually slower than if aid agencies implement services directly. A humanitarian approach can sometimes appear to be the exact opposite. The focus in an emergency situation is not on long-term improvements to government systems but on immediate relief for those in need. There is a strong sense of urgency, and aid agencies will sometimes take control, with only a token consultation with the government, so that rapid decisions can be made. Humanitarian budgets can be quite large, allowing the swift hiring of additional staff and the bringing in of supplies for the short-term effort." (p. 66-67)

Pointing fingers: "Paul Farmer has written extensively about the tendency of people in the aid system to over-focus on weak accountability in developing countries, rather than questioning the role of developed countries, either today or historically. This is both about weak accountability within their international aid systems and about how they often contribute to corruption in developing countries." (p. 361)

How Democracies Die

We tend to assume that democratic processes, norms and structures are 'sticky' and rarely 'die'. The cases we might think about are those that ended due to war and conflict, with the emergence of dictatorship in the form of fascism or military rule. In "How Democracies Die" (2018) Levitsky and Ziblatt provide a clear counter-narrative, and one seemingly much more relevant than the war and conflict narrative. In sum, that counter-narrative is: "Since the end of the Cold War, most democratic breakdowns have been caused not by generals and soldiers but by elected governments themselves. Like Chavez in Venezuela, elected leaders have subverted democratic institutions in Georgia, Hungary, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Ukraine. Democratic backsliding today begins at the ballot box" (p. 5). It is democratic processes themselves being used to unravel themselves.

Many commentaries of late have focused on the power of the people, and their vote, as a way to ensure democratic processes reflect what people expect of them. Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that there is more to understanding why democratic governance has been sticky in the American context: political parties, and specifically the gatekeeping involved in those political parties that kept outsiders and radicals out. To be clear, these political party gatekeeping processes were not democratic: "candidates were chosen by a small group of power brokers who were not accountable to the party rank and file, much less to average citizens" (p. 38). Oddly, non-democratic (often elite run and non-transparent) processes are held up as a key source for democratic continuity.

The authors also point out a gradual change of norms: "Democracies work best – and survive longer – where constitutions are reinforced by unwritten democratic norms. Two basic norms have preserved America's checks and balances in ways we have come to take for granted: mutual toleration, or the understanding that competing parties accept one another as legitimate rivals, and forbearance, or the idea that politicians should exercise restraint in deploying their institutional prerogatives" (p. 8-9). They continue, later in the book: "Some polarization is healthy – even necessary – for democracy. And indeed, the historical experience of democracies in Western Europe shows us that norms can be sustained even when parties are separated by considerable ideological differences. But when societies grow so deeply divided that parties become wedded to incompatible worldviews, and especially when their members are so socially segregated that they rarely interact, stable partisan rivalries eventually give way to perceptions of mutual threat. As mutual toleration disappears, politicians grow tempted to abandon forbearance and try to win at all costs. This may encourage the rise of antisystem groups that reject democracy's rules altogether. When that happens, democracy is in trouble." (p. 116)

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