Jul
17

Kinship, State Formation and Governance in the Arab Gulf States

Compared to other regions, there are few books about the GCC, and specifically Qatar. I try to track new publications and I came across "Kinship, State Formation and Governance in the Arab Gulf States" by Scott J. Weiner (2022), which was published by Edinburgh University Press. The book is covers Kuwait, Oman and Qatar (the latter less so compared the others) and is the author's doctoral work. The conclusion (somewhat disjointedly) adds Somaliland and Iran. The basis of the book is fifty interviews. At several points the book is repetitive. The audience is not for experts of those moderately familiar with the region, much of the context is basic socio-cultural introduction for each country (as a PhD thesis, expected, as an academic press book, less so). The book does pose an interesting question about comparative state building in the GCC, but it largely presents descriptions rather than an answer. One quote:

"This book theorises a path-dependent process of state building that occurs in three stages. In stage one, the rule builds or expands physical and bureaucratic infrastructure. In stage two, it uses this infrastructure to extend the bureaucratic authority from the urban center to non-urban areas. In stage three, the state creates a nationalist idiom which underpins a narrative of the state's heritage and political origins." (p. 46-47) 

Jul
12

The Fourth Turning is Here

Neil Howe's "The Fourth Turning is Here: What the Seasons of History Tell Us About How and When This Crisis Will End" offers a generational approach to understanding history, and predicting the future. He argues that generations move through cycles, more-or-less in 100 year periods, often marked by key events or experiences that leave imprints on each generation within it. This is not an academic book (for example, not well referenced). However, the historical analysis presents an interesting way to think about cycles of history. What is not clear from the book is its methodology - for example, why some events are catalyzing and not others? Without this defined methodology, crafting is easier to impose on history than draw from it per se. Nonetheless, the book is fascinating book (the earlier book The Fourth Turning" was also a best seller) and worth a read. A few notes:

"At the start of each turning, people change how they feel about themselves, the culture, the nation, and the future. Turnings come in cycles of four. Each cycle spans the length of a long human life, roughly eighty to one hundred years, a unit of time the ancients called the saeculum. Together, the four turnings of the saeculum comprise history's periodic rhythm, in which the seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter correspond to eras of rebirth, growth, entropy, and (finally) creative destruction: The First Turning is a High, an upbeat era of strengthening institutions and weakening individualism, when a new civic order implants and the old values regime decays. The Second Turning is an Awakening, a passionate era of spiritual upheaval, when the civic order comes under attack from a new values regime. The Third Turning is an Unraveling, a downcast era of strengthening individualism and weakening institutions, when the old civic order decays and the new values regime implants. The Fourth Turning is a Crisis, a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one." (p. 12)

"What typically occurs early in a Fourth Turning - the initial catalyzing event, the deepening loss of civic trust, the galvanizing of partisanship, the rise of creedal passions, and the scramble to reconstruct national priorities and policies - all this has already happened. The later and more eventful stages of a Fourth Turning still lie ahead. Every Fourth Turning unleashes social forces that push the nation, before the era is over, into a great national challenge: a single urgent test or threat that will draw all other problems into it and require the extraordinary mobilization of most Americans. Historically, it has nearly always been connected to the outcome of a major war either between American and foreign powers, or between different groups within America, or both." (p. 23)

"To be sure, this global saeculum is not yet, literally, global. We can still identify regions where it is not yet fully active, either because the inhabitants are not yet fully modern or because they have fallen into a somewhat different generational rhythm. The latter possibility may describe the Muslim majority societies of Africa and the greater Middle East. Most of these did not experience their most recent regime founding Fourth Turning in the 1930s and '40s but rather (with full national independence) in the 1950s and early '60s. As we might expect, their second turning also came later. Their "Muslim Awakening" suddenly exploded in 1979 (in Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia) and raged until well passed the year 2000. The awakening triggered violence and crackdowns throughout the region - and ghastly Jihadist terror episodes throughout the world. The youthful prophet archetype that spearheaded this awakening was certainly younger than its counterpart in the West. Most of its members were born in the 1960s and '70s (Osama Bin Laden, born in 1957, counts as one of its very oldest members). Yet even these Muslim awakeners have by now moved well into midlife - which, they are finding, presents its own surprises. In their youth, they angrily rebelled against their own civic minded parents, who had once joined secular socialist parties like the Baathists (Arab nationalists). Today they often skirmish with their own children, whom they find more materialistic and libertarian than they were at the same age. This emerging Prophet-Nomad friction is likely to shape the politics of the Arab, Turkic, and Persian Middle East well into the 2030s." (p. 180-181)

"Rising political passions, aligned as they now are with behaviors and lifestyles, are pushing like-minded tribal members to seek out geographic cohesion. Life is just easier that way. Surveys show that political differences now outrank all other differences, including those of income or religion or race, in day-to-day encounters that people wish to avoid. One way to avoid such counters is to choose a new church, club, or employer whose views match your own. An even better way is to choose a new neighborhood. Geographic sorting, in turn, itself tends to intensify political polarization: Partisan intensity grows strongest, and voting rates and political donation rates rise fastest, in neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of people who think the same way." (p. 237) 

Jul
07

From Black Gold to Frozen Gas

In 2023, Tusiani and Johnson wrote "From Black Gold to Frozen Gas: How Qatar Became an Energy Superpower", published by Columbia University Press, in the Center on Global Energy Policy Series. The book provides a unique and detailed look into the deal, actors, contracts of the development of the energy sector in Qatar, often interwoven with geopolitics. The first 13 chapters covers historical content, which has been presented elsewhere, while the final chapters are the main contribution of the work. The first author was personally involved from 1977 onward, which is why these chapters are particularly insightful. The role of Japan is often noted in passing, whereas this book details how important Japan was for the development of LNG in the 1990s (as an example). As a reference book, it is rather frustrating as many points are not referenced making it impossible to know the source or follow-up on the data or history being presented (for a university press, this is somewhat unexpected). A few notes:

"In a major blow to Qatargas, founding partner BP announced in early 1992 that it was withdrawing from the joint venture company formed with QGPC and Total in 1984 after so many years of effort. Citing inadequate economics returns from the LNG project, where the estimated price tag was trending upward, the British major said Qatargas just did not stack up against other projects in BP's worldwide portfolio that offered better returns." (p. 268)

"When the Qataris had trouble paying for port development work at Ras Laffan, including the berths for the LNG vessels and other related infrastructure crucial to Qatargas, the Export-Import Bank of Japan stepped in with an unsecured $200 million loan to the government." (p. 298)

"The following year Hamad acquired the British Broadcasting Corporation's Arabic-language news channel lock, stock, and barrel. This came after BBC Arabic Television's Saudi backers, who had established the service with the BBC in 1994, pulled the plug following a Panorama documentary on Islamic law in Saudi Arabia that showed the beheading of a convicted criminal. The core news team— about 150 Arab reporters, editors, presenters, producers, and technicians—moved to Doha and the channel was relaunched as Al Jazeera with a loan of QR 500 million ($137 million) from the amir underwriting its first five years." (p. 320)

"If Qatar is assiduously reducing the role of foreign companies in its domestic oil and gas sector, the same cannot be said for its expanding footprint abroad. QP has been on a buying spree, acquiring exploration and production assets with oil company partners in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Congo, Cyprus, Egypt, Guyana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Oman, and South Africa." (p. 379) 

Jun
03

Nationalisation in Saudi Arabia

Some books are available in book shops globally and others only in local or regional markets. The Doha International Book Fair is a great place where regional publishers come together, and where the local and regional books are available. One example was "Nationalisation and Labour Market Policies in Saudi Arabia" (2023) by Abdullah Al Fozan, published by Obekan (Saudi publisher). Under 200 pages, the book is a brief summary of the nationalization efforts undertaken over the last decade. A few notes on the challenges and unique approaches:

"The failure of the Saudistation programme to reduce unemployment among Saudi nationals led the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD) to introduce the Nitaqat programme as a re-implementation policy in 2011. Nitaqat programme imposes penalties on non-compliant companies and provides incentives for those who comply to advance the Saudistation goals." (p. 21)

"One of the negative consequences of Nitaqat is "fake Saudistation" in addition to other demerits brought about by the way Nitaqat was implemented or the way it was designed along with its policy. In the same vein. The number of Nitaqat female employees exploded from 77,000 to 202,000, bringing about manipulation and phantom employment of Saudi Nationals who do not show up at the workplace where they are supposed to be. The number of student workers also skyrocketed from about 26,000 to 97,000, which also reflects its inefficiency. Furthermore, some would receive a small salary in return for keeping their names listed on the company's small payroll" (p. 82)

"The MODON Oasis located in Al Ahsa in the east of Saudi Arabia, is the first industrial city in Saudi Arabia to be entirely run by a female labour force. The Oasis operates on an area of about 500,000 square metres. Equally important, it has 80 factories operating in the service and trade sectors. Of note, the Royal Decree issued on 16 September 2017 allows women to drive cars. This means that women will be more involved in the labor force than before. Now, the Saudi women's political participation is gaining momentum, so to speak, and the female representation is a case in point." (p. 118)

May
09

Explaining Successes in Africa

Erin Accampo Hern's "Explaining Success in Africa: Things Don't Always Fall Apart" (2023) is a great teaching book (upper undergraduates or generalist graduate students). The book is easy to read, presents a clear methodology, and integrates theory / variables / data in a most-similar most-different approach. In a class, this could be the foundation, with further readings on the theory and the countries. And, as the author points out, provides an important counter narrative. Recommended, particularly for consideration as a teaching tool. I am also using this as an example for graduate students for thesis ideas. One quote:

"The case comparisons included in this chapter suggest that governments' policy choices have been a key factor distinguishing the countries that have flourished from those that have floundered. Importantly, those policy choices do not exist in a vacuum, but in all cases discussed in this chapter have a clear relationship to the logic of political survival each leader faced. Despite starting with different resources, backgrounds, and timing, Seychelles and Gabon have used policy to nudge investment toward the "next" sector. They both also had political incentives to diversify and distribute government revenue. Neither approach has been perfect, but they have both consistently outperformed their neighbors and other similarly situated countries in both GDP per capita and ­quality-of-life indicators." (Page 41) 

May
03

The Power of Positive Deviance

In 2010 Pascale, Sternin and Sternin published "The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World's Toughest Problems", published by Harvard Business Review. I am not sure how this book landed on my desk, but takes an outlier sampling approach to be utilized in a self-driven learning context for social change (and in one chapter, corporate change). The book is summative and chapters are essentially extended case studies and there is a methodology at the end. A few quotes:

"This book comes from years of hearing "We've tried everything and nothing works". Positive Deviance (PD) is founded on the premise that at least one person in a community, working with the same resources as everyone else, has already licked the problem that confounds others. This individual is an outlier in the statistical sense – an exception, someone whose outcome deviates in a positive way from the norm. In most cases this person does not know he or she is doing anything unusual. Yet once the unique solution is discovered and understood, it can be adopted by the wider community and transform many lives. From the PD perspective, individual difference is regarded as a community resource Community engagement is essential to discovering noteworthy variants in their minds and adapting their practices and strategies" (Page 3)

"The positive deviance process is not suitable for everything. As noted earlier, it is unnecessary when a technical solution (e.g., drought-resistant corn; a vaccine for smallpox) exists. But the process excels over most alternatives when addressing problems that, to repeat, (1) are enmeshed in a complex social system, (2) require social and behavioral change, and (3) entail solutions that are rife with unforeseeable or unintended consequences. It provides an alternative when problems are viewed as intractable (i.e., other solutions haven't worked). It redirects attention from "what's wrong" to "what's right" – observable exceptions that succeed against all odds." (Page 10).

"… what separates the PD approach from the alternatives. Unless the community itself spearheads the discovery, it doesn't own the "answers". Unless the community designs and staffs the workshops to practice successful strategies, participants will not successful "act their way into a new way of thinking," nor will the practices be sustainable." (Page 155) 

Feb
23

Travesty in Haiti

I cannot recall where or how I was directed to "Travesty in Haiti: A True Account of Christian Missions, Orphanages, Food Aid, Fraud and Drug Trafficking" (2008) by Timothy Schwartz. The book appears to be self-published, and Paul Farmer is quoted on the back as saying "This book knocks it out of the park" (assuming that is the Paul Farmer, who better to speak on a book about Haiti and the NGO sector?). The author spent ~10 years in Haiti, for graduate school research and then consulting work in the NGO sector. This is an academic book, and closer to a reflective personal history as well as quasi-expose of the aid industry. The personal stories make it an engaging and easy read. There are some errors here and there. For anyone seeking out a reality check on the non-profit sector, this is the book. One lengthy note:

"...beneath the surface it was a fiasco. Massive reforestation projects had consumed millions of dollars but when I investigated they turned out to be decades long failures. Irrigation projects meant for the poor turned out, when I investigated, to be owned by congressmen and senators, doctors and nurses, engineers, and lawyers, some of whom were living in the United States. I could tell about a dike that became a dam and caused flooding and about a dam built at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars but that with the first heavy torrent snapped like a stick. I could tell about roads the NGOs built that became massive gullies. About twenty years and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on BIGs (Bio Intensive Gardens that are small, highly productive vegetable gardens) that the peasants never paid the slightest bit of attention to but into which CARE International went right on pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars of aid. I could tell about a massive seed project in which, despite the fact that the Jean Makout rainy season is only three months, the NGO agronomists distributed long season seed varieties, causing the peasants who accepted and planted the seeds to lose their harvests, to be driven deeper into poverty, and I could then tell how the project was continued for four more years, how the peasants instead of planting the seeds took to soaking them to remove the pesticides and then ate them. I could tell about hundreds of barefoot doctors trained to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars and two years of effort, but when we tried to hire them for the survey, we found only five of whom could accurately take a pulse. I could tell about networks of local agricultural extension agents who are even more poorly trained, about the United Nation's million dollar fishing projects that were flops as well: Smoking pits going unused gran neg (political bosses) commandeering refrigerators and solar panels meant for the storage of lobster, motor powered fiberglass boats that never went to sea for any other reason than joyriding and sightseeing when local and visiting VIP's could afford The US$2 per gallon for gasoline. I could tell about all these failed projects and most bizarre of all I could tell the same stories several times over for they have been repeated in Jean Makout and throughout Haiti for over half a century the same projects, often in the same places, and always with the same result, failure." (p. 70-71) 

Feb
19

Fields of Gold

Focusing on two country studies of the USA and Brazil, Madeleine Fairbairn's "Fields of Gold: Financing the Global Land Rush" (2020) explores the financial side of the global rush for land. This book provides unique perspectives on a widely written about topic (often under the land grab or large-scale land acquisition frame, I've also used the land rush in a book). A downside to the book is that it seems almost all of the interviews were conducted between 2011 and 2015, creating a rather large gap between the data / issues covered and the date of publication. The author has put a full copy of the book on Academia (available here). A few notes:

"In recent years, the financial sector has developed a surprising interest in farms. Institutional investors—pension funds, university endowments, private foundations, and other organizations that manage huge pools of capital—are increasingly incorporating farmland into their investment portfolios. The same is true of those extremely wealthy people who in financial circles are euphemistically termed "high-net-worth individuals." This investor interest has spawned a host of new asset management companies eager to accommodate and encourage investors' newfound passion for soil. Promoting shiny new investment vehicles including farmland-focused private equity funds and real estate investment trusts (REITs), these managers promise to shepherd investor capital safely, and often extremely profitably, into plots of farmland the world over. This book examines why and how this transformation is taking place…" (p. 2)

"In the 1970s, this plodding increase in land prices once again transformed into a mad dash. The US entered another farmland boom, this time lasting from roughly 1972 to 1981. The causes of the boom were many: global droughts in 1972, a huge sale of grain by the US government to the Soviet Union in the same year, the devaluation of the US dollar, a highly inflationary environment that translated into low real interest rates, and a certain amount of ungrounded optimism." (p. 25)

"Perhaps the most fundamental shortcoming of voluntary guidelines, however, is that they take the land deals as a given. They start from the premise that con-version to larger-scale, more capital-intensive agriculture is inevitable—or even necessary for rural development—and then strive to make those investments more environmentally and socially friendly." (p. 138)

"A final approach to re-embedding land markets in the social fabric lies in alternative ownership structures, such as community land trusts (CLTs) and real estate investment cooperatives (REICs). Unlike the previous two approaches, these are not explicit responses to the (financialized) land rush, but rather efforts to address the negative impacts that rentier landownership and real estate speculation, in general, can have on communities. The CLT model is based on the idea that property ownership should not just benefit individual property owners but should instead serve the interests of the entire community, particularly its most disadvantaged members. Under the CLT model, the landowner is a private, nonprofit corporation that is governed by a board largely composed of local community members and homeowners/lessees of the trust. This entity owns the land, while the buildings on the land are available for purchase, and the building owners are granted extremely long-term, inherit-able leases for the property upon which their buildings stand (ninety-nine years is a common lease term)." (p. 142-143) 

Feb
13

The Horn of Africa

One of the Horn of Africa's long-time scholars, Christopher Clapham, wrote "The Horn of Africa: State Formation and Decay" (2017), with Oxford University Press. A lot of the book, expectedly, focuses on Ethiopia. And, unfortunately for Clapham, the world of Ethiopia and the Horn has changed dramatically since. The book is accessible, which is often a nicer way to say this is not a detailed academic book for experts of the area but for students and/or generalists who might be interested to learn about the region. I am sure experts will read this book / have read this book, but may take away comparatively less (that said, a number of leading academics of the region have cited this book). I collected a few notes on ethnicity and on the Somali state, which are below:

"All ethnicities, nonetheless, are to some extent fluid, and this fluidity is encouraged in the societies of the northern highlands by the principle of bilateral descent. Whereas in most African cultures, to which lineage is characteristically extremely important, descent is traced primarily either through the male (patrilineal) or female (matrilineal) line, in this region each enjoyed a broadly equal status, and hereditary rights in land in particular could be claimed either through one's father or one's mother. This made it relatively easy to blur one's identity, by selectively emphasising the most advantageous line." (p. 13)

"The genie of ethnicity, however, once unleashed, could not be put back in its bottle. The assumption, derived from the TPLF's (and especially Meles Zenawi's) ideological commitment to Marxism, that ethnicity was no more than a superstructural phenomenon derived from economic exploitation, which could in turn be neutralised by representation and development, proved utterly inadequate. Instead, predictably enough, ethnic identities have become increasingly entrenched within a system that had been intended to nullify them. A new politics of identity has emerged, despite (and not least within) a hegemonic party that has become decreasingly able to control the forces of proliferation that it did not create (since these were already implicit in the mismatch between the state and its population), but which it had at least sought to manage." (p. 107)

"Somali societies have operated in the absence of formal government institutions in a way that could scarcely be conceived in the agricultural highlands of the Horn, where the breakdown of hierarchical control has been coterminous with violence. Nowhere is this clearer than in the operation of an economy that has functioned with remarkable efficiency despite the lack of overall political control, and has in the process spared many Somalis the levels of destitution that statelessness might have been expected to bring with it." (p. 149) 

Feb
08

A Radical History of Development Studies

In 2005 Uma Kothari published an edited book, "A Radical History of Development Studies: Individuals, Institutions and Ideologies". The ten chapters of the book are clustered in two broad areas (individuals and ideas as well as ideas and ideologies). That two decades have past is quite evident in this text, what was pushing the edge as "radical" in development studies in the early 2000s has change quite a substantially in 2024. The book has many of the "big names" of development studies, who offer historical and reflective chapters. As with many edited books, the shelf life is shorter than a monograph and I am not sure - excepting historical context or specific interest in the authors - there is a strong reason to pick this up in 2024. Nonetheless, it is worth recognizing these steps in the transformation of the field of study, of which Kothari has made several key contributions. It is also a useful marker of reflection regarding the discourses. 

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