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. 

Feb
03

Lomathinda

In 2023 I reviewed a series of short books by Ohio University Press. Looking to expand beyond the well known biographies, I came across "Lomathinda: Rose Chibambo Speaks" (2019), by Timwa Lipenga, which is an interview-style book. The text chronologically outlines the personal and political struggles of one of Malawi's leaders. A few notes:

"That's how politics of women started. We never used to look forward to any compensation from anybody or from a reward from anybody. Our aim was to see that our country is free... And we carried on until the whole country was convinced, all the women had joined in every branch in the country, had joined politics. They were joining the main body, at the same time they were now organizing themselves. We had no transport but whenever there is a main body and the delegates are coming from areas, they would see that the women are doing this. It was encouraging. That's how the women's league started." (p. 92-93)

"What pains me more now is that we have taken politics as something whereby one wants to get rich, not as something with which we want to help the needy or the poor people, to bring them to understand things, to understand their own life, how they can live. But not in the way things are moving... I fought in order for things to be better. And when I see things going wrong now, it pains me, because I sometimes feel, was it worth fighting for? Sleeping on the floor in the prisons, for the sake of our country to be free." (p. 201)

"So it's up to you young people: this is the country, we got it for you. I'm speaking, it's Rose here talking. I'm still around I know what this nation was, and where we have brought it from. It is really for you either you destroy it or you save it." (p. 202)

Jan
29

Shariah Law Questions and Answers

In 2017, Mohammad Hashim Kamali, published a collection of crafted questions about Shariah, divided into 17 sections and 190 questions. I have posted on a number of Kamali's books, largely with reference to their use in teaching ethics and integrating more diverse thought traditions into the course. The audience of the book appears geared toward readers unfamiliar with Islamic law, and in that respect the book moves from basic introductions to specific issues. The selected questions appear geared toward addressing commonly raised questions about Shariah, particularly by Western readers. Each chapter concludes with a listing of evidence and legal maxims. One example question from about midway through the book:

"Q97) Is Islamic law compatible with democracy? With political pluralism? What is Shura, and how does it relate to democracy? A) Yes it is for the most part. A democratic system of rule on the whole compatible with Islam Because democracy is about people's participation, a representative by the people and for the people, it is also about fundamental rights and liberties, the rule of law, limitations, on the coercive of the state through checks and balances and equality before the law. Broadly, Islamic law approves of most of these and takes affirmative positions on the protection and realisation of people's welfare and their rights. Islam advocates a consulted and also a limited government that does not impinge on people's rights and liberties, one that is committed to accountability and justice. Islam also envisages a service-oriented system of rule that carries no barriers between ruler and ruled, and shuns pomp and ceremony of the kind that came into vogue with the onset of monarchy and dynastic rule under the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. What is just said here is mainly meant to depict a general picture - let it be said, however, that Islamic history in almost every period and dynasty has also known many good and upright, indeed exemplary, rulers who inspired the confidence of their people and left an impressive legacy of dedication to public service" (p.106) 

Jan
24

Stokely Speaks

Stokely Carmichael, better known as Kwame Ture, gave a number speeches and penned articles and letters, which were gathered in "Stokely Speaks: From Black Power to Pan-Africanism" (1965), with multiple prints and new Forwards added with each new print. A few quotes:

"I wouldn't be the first to point out the American capacity for self-delusion. One of the main reasons for the criticism of American society by the Students for a Democratic Society, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other groups is that our society is exclusive while maintaining that it is inclusive." (p. 9)

"I maintain that every civil rights bill in this country was passed for white people, not for black people. For example, I am black. I know that. I also know that while I am black I am a human being. Therefore I have the right to go into any public place. White people didn't know that. Every time I tried to go into a public place they stopped me. So some boys had to write a bill to tell that white man, "He's a human being; don't stop him." That bill was for the white man, not for me. I knew I could vote all the time and that it wasn't a privilege but my right. Every time I tried I was shot, killed or jailed, beaten or economically deprived. So somebody had to write a bill to tell white people, "When a black man comes to vote, don't bother him." That bill was for white people." (p. 46)

"White Western society has been able to define, and that's why she has been the master. The white youth of my generation in the West today starts off with subconscious racism because he accepts the writings of the West, which have either destroyed, distorted, lied about history. He starts off with a basic assumption of superiority that he doesn't even recognize." (p. 80)

"Now we stand clear – self-defense will only maintain the status quo. If Egypt, Syria, and Jordan took a position of self-defense today, they would come out losing because the Israelis still occupy the land. If they want the land back, they must move aggressively against the occupying forces. And as they move aggressively, we have to move aggressively. There is no need to talk about peaceful coexistence; anyone who calls for peaceful co-existence is calling for the status quo to remain the way it is. The only solution is armed revolution! Those who say that we can exist with the imperialist forces are saying that we can exist with things the way they are, we never have to change them. But if we are suffering, we need change; and we must decide how that change is going to come about." (p. 139)

"There are basically two levels on which a colonized people move when they begin to move for their liberation: one is called, for lack of a better term, entertainment, and the second is called education. Both of them are necessary. The entertainment stage is very necessary. The entertainment is what's happening when black people say, "We're going to burn this city down. We can get Whitey. He ain't that bad." It's a sort of entertainment - we're entertaining ourselves because, for the first time, we are publicly saying what we always privately felt but were afraid to say. And while we're saying it - even though we're not powerful enough to do what we say - it's a sort of catharsis, a necessity, because, until we get to the entertainment stage, we are psychologically unequal to our oppressor. After that stage, after we begin to feel psychologically equal to the oppressor, then comes the stage of strategic planning, working out a correct ideology for a cohesive force, and moving on to victory." (p. 146-147) 

Jan
14

Beginning with Heidegger

Millerman draws our attention to Heidegger as a source of key philosophical and political contributions that have shaped thought since his contributions in Beginning with Heidegger (2020). I came across Millerman via Dugin, some of whose books he has translated into English. This book is a slightly modified version of Michael Millerman's 2018 PhD thesis with the University of Toronto (available freely on the university's website). A few notes:

"One of Heidegger's main ideas is that the major concepts from the Western philosophical tradition are historically constituted, rather than universal or timelessly true. Today this appears trivial. But that is in part influence of Heidegger influence. Previously, concepts like "truth" and "right" were regarded as stable, universal, or eternal, and they served to an extent as foundational concepts used to justify social and political orders." (p. xi)

""The mere 'criticizing' from any arbitrary standpoint, the counting up of errors...on the 'basis' of a philosophy that is 'free of standpoint,'" he continues, "is not so much wrong as it is simply childish." Thus, neither the criticisms of an arbitrary standpoint, nor the mere identification and enumeration of errors are required. Rather, the need is for an "essential correspondence" as "confrontation," that is, to test, or to be tested by "the claim of an essence of truth" that a given thinker and we ourselves might stand under, thus to "gain clarity about ourselves" (p. xxix)

"Heidegger never elaborated a "political theory" out of the grounds of inceptual thinking. Despite a few remarks on Germany, Russia, and America, he never constructed a comprehensive "theory of international relations." And although he relates the questioning of being to the question of "who" a people are, his writings are without extended thematic construction of something like an "existential theory of society." By contrast, Dugin extends Heidegger in precisely these directions. Importantly, he extends his criticisms of Nazi "metaphysics," too. The proponents of a political philosophy that leaps into another beginning criticize Nazism as incompatible with inceptual thinking, following Heidegger's own muted theoretical criticisms of Nazism." (p. xliii)

"Heidegger's importance for political theory is immense. but the access to Heidegger required for political theory is not easily obtained. It requires a destruction, or deconstruction, of both post-Heideggerianism, which lies mainly on the political left, and anti-Heideggerianism, which characterizes the political liberal right known for invoking natural right against history. Except for complete indifference to philosophy, perhaps the greatest obstacle blocking access to Heidegger is the view that his philosophy is Nazism or at the very least abets it. While thralldom to certain themes in Heidegger can lend itself to uncritical sympathies for various elements of a Nazistic worldview, non-Nazi political zealotry concerning Heidegger can also lead to philosophical blindness or even to war against philosophical inquiry. Both risks must be avoided, and both the philosophical and political must receive their due. When they do, political theory can become more than an academic discipline and can serve as an invitation to conversations and configurations, transformations and constitutions, turning and events." (p. 214) 

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