Virtual APSA panel on issues of and responses to Internet governance goes (a bit) viral

Hurricane Isaac won, or so it seemed: this year’s meeting of the American Political Science Association was canceled last-minute, mostly because few participants were able to actually get to New Orleans. However, thanks to the organizational skills of my unweary co-author Tobias Denskus, some of the presenters scheduled for a panel on “Issues of and Responses to Internet Governance” got together virtually instead. JP Singh of George Mason University and Mikkel Flyverbom of Copenhagen Business School presented their research on “Representing Power: Participation and Deliberation in ICT4D Projects and Internet Governance,” and Tobias and I gave our paper on “Do Social Media Reproduce or Challenge Global Development Rituals? A Content Analysis of Blogs and Tweets on the 2010 MDG Summit.” Jane Fountain of UMass Amherst chaired the session, and Irene Wu, Consumer Research Advisor in the Consumer and Governmental Bureau of the Federal Communications and adjunct professor at Georgetown, provided very useful comments. Tobias posted the video of our virtual panel here. The bloggers at Duck of Minerva already shared it as part of their growing collection of virtual APSA 2012 events (#virtualAPSA2012), and so has UT Austin doctoral student Luke Perez on his blog. Who knows, maybe this way we end up mobilizing a larger audience for our work than if we had given a 1.0-style presentation in New Orleans?

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The World Bank needs a strategic arbiter, not a narcissistic insider

Who is going to be the new World Bank President? For one man and his supporters, there is only one viable candidate for this position: he himself. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, he has laid out his unique set of experience and expertise. Those who dare to cast any doubt are either tackled head-on (see, for instance, the evolving debate in The Nation) or ignored (especially noteworthy when the critic is someone who happens to know the Bank much better than the contender). He also pitches himself against Larry Summers, which, in David Korten’s words, is “a rock bottom standard.” Besides, it also is a substantively questionable position since both candidates are actually quite similar. Both started out as academic prodigies who, unable to reflect and learn from mistakes, have since placed their bets on top-level political appointments in order to further their career and attain global fame. Both have thus been, for many years, political insiders who are utterly convinced of their intellectual superiority. Both consider the Bank a vehicle to carry out their visions of how global development should “happen.” And both are U.S. citizens. On the flipside, neither of them has a track record of respecting intellectual diversity, brokering agreements between stakeholders while staying on the sideline, or transforming a global organization in ways that would have won them the respect of those working for and those depending on it. But those are the very qualifications that the new World Bank President should bring to the table in order to lead effectively. And it times of rising regional superpowers such as Brazil, India and China, a hue of humility would probably be quite helpful, too.

DGSG pre-conference in New York City: successful pilot of a new interactive format

On Thursday, February 23rd, a diverse crowd of over 30 professors and graduate students gathered at Bar Basso in midtown Manhattan for the 4th AAG Development Geographies Specialty Group’s Pre-Conference. Seven presenters each delivered a seven-minute policy plea on issues ranging from land use and fair trade certification “on the ground” to the management of e-waste, Vietnam’s recent growth and inequality trajectories, and the practice of development as a political process. The group then met for dinner across the street and spent the next two hours debating and networking. Click here for the complete program. The next DGSG Pre-Conference is planned for 2013 in Los Angeles, CA.

Eric Carter's talk on DDT for malaria control (1)

Eric Carter's talk on DDT for malaria control (2)

Mark Graham's pitch on global inequalities of knowledge production (1)

Mark Graham's pitch on global inequalities of knowledge production (2)

Join for the 2012 AAG Development Geographies Specialty Group Pre-Conference in New York City

Members and guests of the AAG’s Development Geographies Specialty Group (DGSG) will meet on Thursday, February 23, from 5PM until 8PM in midtown Manhattan for the 2012 DGSG Pre-Conference. Click here for the event poster. Drawing from their own research, 7 presenters will each deliver a 7-minute Policy Plea, followed by open discussion in plenary session. We are reaching out to local non-academic audiences and hope to attract a diverse crowd of scholars and practitioners. There is no conference fee and all are welcome; registered members of the Development Geographies Specialty Group will receive an on-site $10 discount toward their food bill. RSVP is requested by Monday, February 20. Please send a brief message with your name and affiliation to dgsgpreconference(at)gmail.com to confirm your attendance.

DW interview on QDDR: no blueprint for other countries

DW Deutsche Welle (the “German BBC”) recently interviewed me on the State Department’s First Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). Professor James Davis at St. Gallen University, Switzerland and I were asked to comment on whether the mainstreaming of development policy into diplomacy is an approach that other countries should consider as well. What a neat opportunity to share my “concern about the QDDR as a blueprint [since] ‘we know from scores of failures in development policy in the past 30 years that blueprint approaches have never really worked. What have worked are localized approaches. […] Ultimately what distinguished [many] European countries in the global development arena, namely the independence of development policy from foreign policy, is going to be washed out.'” The critical point is that this would likely hamper aid effectiveness provided that the ultimate goal really is to alleviate suffering as opposed to championing particularistic policy agendas.  Read the complete article here.

New OECD Report: “Do No Harm: International Support for Statebuilding”

Despite the best of intentions, donors can inadvertently undermine statebuilding processes. When the resources they deliver or the reforms they advocate weaken rather than strengthen the state’s decision- and policy-making functions, their efforts can do more harm than good. Donors can also do harm by creating a brain drain away from state organizations. When aid is delivered in a way that actually acts as a disincentive to states to consolidate their own revenue base, this can retard the development of the state’s own capacity.

How can donors ensure they do no harm? How can they be sure they intervene constructively in fragile situations? Co-authored by Professors James Putzel, Daniel Esser and a team at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Do No Harm is a new OECD report that provides practical guidance based on the results of research undertaken on behalf of the OECD DAC International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF). It is based on comparative case studies of six countries (Afghanistan, Bolivia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal, Rwanda and Sierra Leone) and a comprehensive literature review. It addresses how the interventions of OECD countries may risk undermining positive statebuilding processes, and makes recommendations as to how this may be avoided in the future.

Politicophobia: How the UN Fails Afghanistan

In a parliamentary democracy with a president at the executive helm, it is one of the former’s most critical prerogatives to review, approve or potentially reject the latter’s cabinet. This is the procedure followed in the U.S. and many other countries in the world. Even the otherwise weak European Parliament in Strasbourg retains the right to vote on cabinet positions. So when the same mechanism was written into the new constitution for Afghanistan, it was conceptually justifiable and indeed, international best practice.

But not if one asks the United Nations. Because the core of democracy, the peaceful settlement of conflicting interests, is way too messy a process for the well-meaning world body. “I think most of us were surprised at how many ministers were not approved by the parliament,” UN head of mission Kai Eide told journalists in Kabul after 70 percent of President Karzai’s nominees had been rejected by the 200 or so delegates. Eide considered this outcome a “setback and it’s a distraction [as it] prolongs the situation without a functioning government, which has lasted since summer. […] It’s particularly worrying in a country in conflict, where you have so many challenges and need to focus attention on urgent reform programmes.”

The UN’s preference for shallow political reforms could not be put more succinctly. “Democracy” (or whatever local politics is officially labeled in a given setting) must not interfere with the real work of “urgent reform programmes.” Development in Afghanistan is thus reinvented as an apolitical enterprise which needs to be protected from political interests expressed by elected representatives of the people. Maybe the UN is embracing a quirky kind of realism: if we cannot even organize free and fair elections, then why worry about the people who get elected? But quite possibly, its position is indicative of something else: that the organization has now completely lost its compass in the country.

In the heyday of Afghanistan’s short-lived recovery, Brynen (2005: 246) warned that it would “be ludicrous, however, if Afghanistan were held to a level of apolitical economic planning that would be alien to most donor countries or UN member states.” But already then, Heffron (2004: 65) could point to the irony of coalitions between “local recidivist forces […] with apolitical, neoliberal” outsiders creating a Central Asian outpost of Home Depots and halal McDonald’s and conveniently forgetting about centuries of tribal conflicts. It seems that the United Nations under Kai Eide’s troubled leadership is still buying into this logic.

The UN’s naive notion of a secular Afghan civil society that balances and checks the power of an internationally propped-up narco-state has completed yet another spin. Not only does politics in Afghanistan have to be free from religious influences; it also needs to be free from politicians. Politicophobia is coming full circle. Once again, we need to rely on Afghans themselves to offer sensible interpretations of the political dynamics. “This outcome was a wake-up call,” said Shukria Barakzai, a parliament member from Kabul. “It means the [parliament members] are thinking differently, and they want real change in the governance of the country.”

The challenge will be to achieve this change despite the UN’s presence.

Brynen, Rex (2005), Donor Assistance: Lessons from Palestine for Afghanistan, in: Junne, Gerd and Willemijn Verkoren (eds.), Postconflict development: meeting new challenges, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, pp. 223-248.

Heffron, John M. (2004), Between reconstruction and restoration: three historical case studies, in: Montgomery, John D. and Dennis A. Rondinelli (eds.), Beyond reconstruction in Afghanistan: lessons from development experience, New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 53-74.