Mar
29

Small State, Big Politics

Professor of Government at Georgetown University in Qatar, Mehran Kamrava, penned one of the most read / taught books on Qatar in 2013 (with a 2015 adding an updated Preface): Qatar: Small State, Big Politics. Having read a few books on Qatar, this is one of the best, although increasingly dated (the content essentially up to 2012). Nonetheless, this is a good primer, and for those interested in the country, worth a read. A few notes:

Context on book: "The emergence of Qatar as an influential powerbroker in the Middle East and beyond over the past decade has puzzled students and observers of the region alike. How can a small stake, with little previous history of diplomatic engagement regionally or globally, have emerged as such an influential and significant player in shaping unfolding events across the Middle East and elsewhere? This is the central question to which this book is devoted." (p. 1)

"Ascendance is not without its risks, and many deep-seated structural limitations impede, or altogether threaten, the meteoric rise of the Middle East's newest heavyweights. I argue that in many ways Qatar is immune to many of these risks and limitations, and, insofar as its international profile and power-projection abilities are concerned, it has therefore been able to stand above the rest of the pack so far. The unique rise of Qatar is facilitated by a combination of factors that are both structural and contextual, in relation to its neighbours, and agency related - that is, its own resources and its employment of those resources and its agendas for purposes of power projection." (p. 18)

"Hedging may be defined as "a behavior in which a country seeks to offset risks by pursuing multiple policy options that are intended to produce mutually counteracting effects, under the situation of high-uncertainties and high-stakes." Hedging stresses engagement and integration mechanisms, on the one hand, and realist-style balancing and external security cooperation, on the other... It is a carefully calibrated policy in which the state takes big bets one way - for example, in Qatar's case opting for the US security umbrella - while it also takes smaller bets the other way, as in maintaining friendly ties with Iran and regional Islamists." (p. 51-52)

"A second, rather distinctive, branding strategy that Qatar employs is through proactive attempts at regional conflict resolution. Over the past decade, Qatar has become one of the world's most active mediators in international conflicts across the Middle East and parts of Africa, and in the process it has actively cultivated an image of itself as an honest broker interested in peace and stability. These have included mediation efforts in Yemen, Palestine, Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea, and, most notably, in Lebanon." (p. 93) Since the book was written, probably even more notable is the brokering efforts in Afghanistan. 

  21 Hits
21 Hits
Aug
11

Food Aid in Sudan

Darfur has received food aid for one of the longest running periods anywhere. Decades has passed and the crisis of insecurity and malnutrition continue. Long-time humanitarian practitioner, turned academic, Susanne Jaspars, authored "Food Aid in Sudan: A History of Power, Politics and Profit" in 2018 to distill the complex story. The book is readable and presents clear cases for moving beyond the technical approach to humanitarian assistance. One limitation is the reliance upon qualitative data (which is valuable, undoubtedly), however readers might be interested to see some more quantitative data (and from a variety of sources). Nonetheless, well worth reading for those interested in the topic area and/or Darfur. Some notes:

"Food aid can address food shortages and malnutrition but also has intended and unintended political effects. These political effects range from the geopolitical functions of food aid during the Cold War and – more recently – the War on Terror (WoT) to support countries friendly to the West, to the manipulation of food aid in internal conflict. Despite aims of doing the opposite, food aid tends to support the more powerful and exclude the weak amongst crisis-affected populations." (p. 9)

"According to government officials, the Sudanisation of aid began as early as 1988, following the 'invasion' of international NGOs during the 1985 famine, with the aim of handing over the distribution of relief to local NGOs (Informants 17 and 22, 2012). This was formalised in the first half of 1990, when the Sudan government issued a policy paper on the future of INGOs in the country, which introduced the concept of twinning them with local NGOS. [sic]" (p. 98)

"President Al-Bashir announced that aid would be Sudanised. National NGOs took over much of the work of the expelled NGOs. In North Darfur, for example, the food distribution previously carried out by Action Contre La Faim (as WFP's implementing partner) was taken over by the Sudan Red Crescent and Africa Humanitarian Action (an African NGO). German Agro Action entered into new arrangements with local NGOs. Key elements of Sudanisation appear to be the requirements that INGOs should employ mainly Sudanese staff and work with local partners. When interviewed in 2014, the Director-General of HAC explained that he saw Sudanisation as Sudanese taking the initiative for intervention and responsibility for end delivery, while international staff could monitor." (p. 98)

"The establishment of the national strategic grain reserve has been an essential component of the Sudanisation of food aid. A local strategic grain reserve was first attempted in the late 1980s in response to the Western-dominated relief operation in 1985; this was managed by the Agricultural Bank of Sudan and had the aim of action as a buffer against crop failures and stabilising the market. It was a direct response to dependence on Western food aid." (p. 99)

"In the early 1990s, the government resisted emergency food aid because it conflicted with the self-sufficiency aims of the Islamist regime, causing a stand-off between the government and aid agencies during the 1991 famine." (p. 104)

"…despite the efforts of international agencies in the 1980s and 1990s, most people in Darfur received little or no food aid and instead had to rely on their own strategies and became further impoverished. Government food aid was limited and prioritised government staff or those whose support it needed. Food aid in the livelihoods regime of practices, however, did produce a highly trained group of Sudanese aid professionals, who represented and lobbied on behalf of drought- and famine-affected populations, aiming to improve both government and donor responses. Other than training of Sudanese aid professionals, and government initiatives to provide and control food aid, it appears that the main effect of international food aid in the 1980s and 1990s in Sudan was the economic benefits for central government, traders and transporters" (p. 128)

"Government representatives always referred to international food aid as a political tool that provides support to rebel movements, threatens the government's sovereignty and makes the country dependent on food imports… Government officials also linked the politicisation to more subtle ways of undermining the Sudan government. Humanitarian intervention was twice referred to as a Trojan horse, first during OLS and later during the Darfur crisis. Food aid was perceived as a means of infiltration that allowed the enemy, Western governments, to weaken Sudan's government." (p. 159)

  194 Hits
194 Hits
Jul
05

When Victims Become Killers

Mahmoud Mamdani should be on every essential reading list, whether that is African Studies (with When Victims Become Killers), colonialism and colonization (with Citizen and Subject) or political science (with Good Muslim, Bad Muslim). For anyone interested in Rwanda, the genocide, colonization and identity, When Victims Become Killers (2001) is required reading. A detailed history presents a different picture than what was common until this work, which broadened our vision to politics and identity (adding to what was tend a discourse largely focused upon culture and economics). The book can be heavy reading for those not familiar with the country, or not ready to take a deep historical dive. The weight of the arguments rest in this detail.

I will not attempt a review of the book. Parts of it are available via Google Books and a chapter-by-chapter summary is availableA few notes:

In terms of motivations and context, Mamdani explains his "growing discontent with the methodological underpinnings of area studies. The area studies enterprise is underpinned by two core methodological claims. The first sees state boundaries as boundaries of knowledge, thereby turning political into epistemological boundaries. Even when radical area studies linked developments in the colony to those in imperial centers, it did not cross boundaries between colonies. It soon became clear to me that just because the genocide took place within the boundaries of Rwanda, it did not mean that either the dynamics that led to it or the dynamics it unleashed in turn were confined to Rwanda." (p. xii)

On politics: "If Rwanda was the genocide that happened, then South Africa was the genocide that didn't. The contrast was marked by two defining events in the first half of 1994: just as a tidal wave of genocidal violence engulfed Rwanda, South Africa held elections marking the transition to a postapartheid era. More than any other, these twin developments marked the end of innocence for the African intelligentsia. For if some seer had told us in the late 1980s that there would be a genocide in one of these two places, I wonder how many among us would have managed to identify correctly its location. Yet, this failure would also be testimony to the creative - and not just the destructive - side of politics." (p. 185)

On the Church: "Herein lies the clue as to why the violence was marked by a greater fury in the Church than in any other institution in Rwandan society. The Church was the original ethnographer of Rwanda. It was the original author of the Hamitic hypothesis. The Church provided the lay personnel that permeated every local community and helped distinguish Hutu from Tutsi in every neighbourhood: without the Church, there would have been no 'racial' census in Rwanda. At the same time, the Church was the womb that nurtured the leadership of the insurgent Hutu movement. It provided the intellectual and organizational backup for this movement, from talent as ghostwriters to funding for the cooperative movement which oiled the tentacles that ran through Rwandan society like so many arteries through a body politic." (p. 232)

On nation-state solutions: "Those who still think consistently along "nation-state" lines call for a separation of present-day Rwanda into two political entities, one a Hutuland, the other a Tutsiland - or some version of this proposal. The proposal will not solve the problem of a minority in the context of a nation-state. It will only ensure a balance by reproducing the problem. Since it will produce two states out of one - a Hutuland with a Tutsi minority and a Tutsiland with a Hutu minority - it will allow each identity to be a permanent majority in one state while being held hostage as a permanent minority in the other. The idea is that the majority which wishes fair treatment for its cultural brethren who are a minority in another state will have no choice but to treat fairly cultural others who are a minority within its own borders. By institutionalizing Hutu and Tutsi as political identities in the state, the solution makes permanent the civil war between them." (p. 264)

  235 Hits
235 Hits
Mar
14

The Art of the Impossible

I do not have a background in the arts or theatre, and have not done enough reading in my own time to know much of it, which is probably one of the reasons why I kept hearing of Vaclav Havel, but not knowing much of his works. Recently, I came across Havel as he has greatly influenced the current Prime Minister of Ethiopia, and Nobel Peace Laureate, Dr. Abiy Ahmed. I also crossed Havel re-listening to the TED Talk by Bryan Stevenson. While I have not read his plays, I did get a copy of "The Art of the Impossible" (1997), which is a collection of his speeches (largely translated by Paul Wilson). The translator of the book provided a Forward, which states "The pages of this book trace another journey, even more remarkable: the inner, personal journey of an artist and intellectual whose ideas germinated under totalitarianism, grew in the post-Stalinist thaw of the 1960s, toughened in the hard years after the Soviet invasion, matured during his four years in prison, and finally bore fruit in the Velvet Revolution of 1989." (p. xiii). Some quotes from throughout the book (in order, which is also chronological, as the speeches are organized in that way, as Havel did when gave collections of speeches away):

"… this is still not the main problem. The worst thing is that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We fell morally ill because we got used to saying something different from what we thought. We learned not to believe in anything, to ignore each other, to care only for ourselves. Concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility, and forgiveness lost their depth and dimensions." (p. 4)

"At the deepest core of this feeling there was, ultimately, a sensation of the absurd: what Sisyphus might have felt if one fine day his boulder stopped, rested on the hilltop, and failed to roll back down. It was the sensation of a Sisyphus mentally unprepared for the possibility that his efforts might succeed, a Sisyphus whose life had lost its old purpose and hadn't yet developed a new one." (p. 49)

"We were very good at being persecuted and at losing. That may be why we are so flustered by our victories and so disconcerted that no one is persecuting us. Now and then I even encounter indications of nostalgia for the time when life flowed between banks that, true, were very narrow, but that were unchanging and apparent to everyone. Today we don't know where the banks lie and are slightly shocked by it. We are like prisoners who have grown used to their prisons and, suddenly given their longed-for freedom, do not know what to do with it, and are made desperate by the constant need to think for themselves." (p. 52)

"In the subconscious of haters there slumbers a perverse feeling that they alone possess the truth, that they are some kind of superhuman or even god, and thus deserve the world's complete recognition, even its complete submissiveness and loyalty, if not its blind obedience. They want to be the centre of the world and are constantly frustrated and irritated because the world does not accept and recognize them as such: indeed, it may not pay any attention to them, and perhaps it even ridicules them." (p. 56)

"… the ability to generalize is a fragile gift that has to be handled with great care. A less perceptive soul can easily overlook the hidden seeds of injustice that may lie in the act of generalization. We have all made observations or expressed opinions of one kind or another about various peoples. We may say that the French, the English, or Russians are like this or that; we don't mean ill by it, we are only trying, through our generalizations, to see reality better. But there is a grave danger hidden in this kind of generalization. A group of people defined in a certain way in this case ethnically is, in a sense, subtly deprived of individual spirits and individual responsibilities, and we endow it with an abstract, collective sense of responsibility. Clearly, this is a wonderful starting point for collective hatred. Individuals become a priori bad or evil simply because of their origin. The evil of racism, one of the worst evils in the world today, depends among other things directly on this type of careless generalization." (p. 61)

"We are beginning, inadvertently but dangerously, to resemble in some ways our contemptible precursors. It bothers us, it upsets us, but we are discovering that we simply can't, or don't know how to, put a stop to it." (p. 71)

"For years I criticized practical politics as no more than a technique in the struggle for power, as a purely pragmatic activity whose aim was not to serve people selflessly and responsibly in harmony with one's conscience, but merely to win their favor through a variety of techniques, with a view to staying in power or gaining more." (p. 82)

"There was, in fact, something communistic in my patience to renew democracy. Or, in more general terms, something of a rationally enlightened nature. I wanted to nudge history forward in the way a child would when wishing to make a flower grow more quickly: by tugging at it. I think the art of waiting is something that has to be learned. We must patiently plant the seeds and water the grounds well, and give the plants exactly the amount of time they need to mature. Just as we cannot fool a plant, we cannot fool history." (p. 107)

"Democracy is a system based on trust in the human sense of responsibility, which it ought to awaken and cultivate. Democracy and civil society are thus two sides of the same coin. Today, when our very planetary civilization is endangered by human irresponsibility, I see no other way to save it than through a general awakening and cultivation of the sense of responsibility people have for the affairs of the world." (p. 145)

"The main task of the present generation of politicians is not, I think, to ingratiate themselves with the public through the decisions they take or their smiles on television. It is not to go on winning elections and ensuring themselves a place in the sun till the end of their days. Their role is something quite different: to assume their share of responsibility for the long-­range prospects of our world and thus to set an example for the public in whose sight they work. Their responsibility is to think ahead boldly, not to fear the disfavor of the crowd, to imbue their actions with a spiritual dimension (which of course is not the same thing as ostentatious attendance at religious services), to explain again and again ­ both to the public and to their colleagues ­– that politics must do far more than reflect the interests of particular groups or lobbies. After all, politics is a matter of servicing the community, which means that it is morality in practice, and how better to serve the community and practice morality than by seeking in the midst of the global (and globally threatened) civilization their own global political responsibility: that is, their responsibility for the very survival of the human race?" (p. 223)

  235 Hits
235 Hits
Subscribe to receive new blog posts via email