The BRICS Summit: Innovative China and the Others

Another year, another month, another big summit: with the Doha-Round of the World Trade Organization a failure, and many Western economies stumbling from one financial crisis to another, the multi-polarization of the globe is gathering pace. One case in point is Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – the BRICS.

The 5th BRICS Summit recently took place in Durban, South Africa. Commentary on the BRICS and their summit often took contrarian positions. Some cheered the group’s existence and plan for a development bank, arguing it is high time for the emerging world to create its own institutions to replace the Western-dominated World Bank and IMF. Others reiterated their doubts whether the BRICS can be a coherent group at all. Some also tried to explain why and how the summit’s hosts, South Africa, a small and sluggishly performing economy compared to the others, came to be a member and how the country may end up being the 35th province of China.

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AlumniWatch: Innovating India from the Inside

In the first of a new series featuring illustrious alumni, we ask Dr. Lina Sonne to share her insights and impressions of the working world. Now based in Mumbai, she speaks of the city’s energy and optimism, as well as the challenges of breaking through years of patriarchy and bureaucracy.

It’s an exciting time to be living and working in India, not only to witness the massive social transformation but also to play a role in the whirlwind of top-down and bottom-up development. Change is now being spurred on several fronts, and academia is no exception. In particular, the setting up of new universities allows more students to follow tertiary education while improving home-grown research.

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Do We All Now Live in Fragile States?

Guinea-Bissau is a small country in West Africa, which rarely catches the eye of the global media. But it is a classic ‘fragile state’, presenting many of the problems of state fragility that so bedevils development. It is a coup-prone country. According to the New York Times, “In the last three years alone, there have been at least six political assassinations, including of the president and the army chief of staff in 2009, and three attempted coups”.

Despite its small size, and apparent insignificance, the troubles in Guinea-Bissau do not end at its borders. As with most fragile states neighbours and the rest of world pay a price. In the case of Guinea-Bissau, it is one of Africa’s most notorious narco-states. It is estimated that at least 50 tons of cocaine is shipped through Guinea-Bissau each year from Latin America to Europe, and that the military-led government is the main beneficiary.

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Pink Slippers and Platinum: Governance Failure and the Decline of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in South Africa

South Africa’s national defence force was once perhaps highly rated; recently it is facing ridicule and concern. Ridicule, as a Lieutenant-Colonel was seen sporting pink slippers with her official uniform in public. According to the UK’s Guardian Newspaper, “It is not an image of top guns defending African skies that is likely to deter would-be foreign invaders”. Concern, as an officer borrowed an air force plane for personal use to visit a friend in neighbouring Botswana.

South Africa’s platinum mines were also once highly rated. Until the Marikana Massacre of 16 August 2012 when the South African Police killed 34 striking workers, apparently shooting many in the back, interfering with evidence after the shootings, and charging the mine workers (the victims) with the deaths of their fellows. While it is the police, and not the mines that are now facing an inquiry, the context of South African mining remains problematic, despite a decade of the longest commodity boom in recent history.

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Toilets Save Lives: Call for Teaching Tools

Remember that scene from Slumdog Millionaire? That’s what most people in developing country slums have as toilets. Yet at the same time there are thousands of abandoned or barely used household toilets in India and in Africa. Abandoned because they are poorly built, because of a lack of water, or for a lack of maintenance or demand.

Many low-cost toilets become deadly points of environmental contamination. So there is a real need to make sure we build QUALITY toilets – which will be used and appreciated en masse – while working towards the MDG of improving access to safe sanitation.

So what’s the problem? There are plenty of books on sanitation in the market. There’s plenty of information on the internet on sanitation. There are costly workshops that policy makers can attend to learn about this subject, as well as simpler workshops given to masons and field supervisors under less glamorous settings.

There are plenty of training programmes, but what is retained of such programmes? We simply don’t know! The problem is there are no tools to assess people’s knowledge of sanitation.

Representing UNU-MERIT (NL) and FIN (India), I aim to create a tool that will help people who are driving sanitation efforts work out what their team members know or don’t know – and how to rectify this.

In partnership with Gita Balakrishnan of ETHOS (India) and Valentin Post of WASTE (NL), I’m organizing a call for contributions to a ‘Sanitation Question-Answer Bank’ under the aegis of the FINISH programme for sanitation coverage in India.

What does this call for contributions to Sanitation Question-Answer Bank mean? It means if you can think of an interesting question (along with a photo) on how to promote safe sanitation – and can also explain the answer – we want to hear from you!

Expert judges will select 1000 winning entries, each of which will be awarded Rs 75 each (or you can contribute this to repair of toilets!). The concept paper giving detailed explanations about the contest and the answer sheet format is available at Ethos India.

All interesting entries will be acknowledged with the name of the contributor clearly mentioned. These will be compiled into an e-book and put in the creative commons – to be used by any agency teaching about sanitation or anyone who wants to test and improve their knowledge on this subject.

by Shyama Ramani, Professorial Fellow at UNU-MERIT. Image: Flickr / Waterdotorg (Tamil Nadu, India)

Fragile States: Critical Questions

What states do, or do not do, matters for development and the wellbeing of their citizens. States have the responsibility to protect their citizens and to progressively promote their material and non-material welfare. Many states cannot or will not live up to this responsibility.

States like these have been labelled ‘fragile’ states, suggesting that the essence of statehood, such as the provision of leadership, public services and infrastructure, safety and security and justice are close to breaking point.

Kate Holt / IRIN: Zimbabwe IDPsWhen it breaks, states fail. For instance, at the time of writing ‘Children have been killed by beating, sniper fire and shelling from Government’ in Syria; while in Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s government (whose Gukurahundi massacres of the 1980s have been classified as genocide by Genocide Watch) has been preying on its own citizens while concluding a ‘defence’ co-operation agreement with Iran.

There are unfortunately many more fragile and failed states than Syria and Zimbabwe. The OECD identifies 45 fragile states. These include Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Iraq – countries that like Syria and Zimbabwe are characterized by conflict, civil strife, poverty, and hunger. These are four countries receiving the most foreign aid in the world – almost US$ 18 billion in 2010.

The OECD list also includes small island states such as the Solomon Islands and Kiribati – who receive little aid, have not fortunately seen much mass conflict, but nevertheless struggle to protect their citizens from external threats.

The government of Kiribati is reportedly considering purchasing 20 square kilometers of land on the nearby island of Fiji (another fragile state where a military government is in charge) to relocate its 113,000 citizens in light of climate-induced sea-level rise.

In another fragile small island state, Haiti, only 5 per cent of the rubble from the January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people has been cleared after one year; more than a million people are still homeless, and thousands have died from cholera.

A positive trend in the development discourse over the past decade has been the recognition that state fragility and state failure is at the heart of many global development dilemmas – including conflict, poverty, terrorism, crime, food insecurity, adaptation to climate change and vulnerability in the face of natural hazards.

The scholarly debate on fragile states has similarly progressed – at the beginning of the 2000s the term was hardly known outside security circles – today many hundreds of documents are available. Many donors are now prioritizing fragile states – for instance the Dutch government reduced its development partnership countries from over 30 to 15, the latter consisting almost exclusively of fragile states – and increasing efforts to harmonize aid to these states.

Furthermore, in November 2011 a group of 19 fragile states (the g7+) and partner countries announced a ‘new deal’ to further state-building and peace-building. In light of the challenges that fragile states pose for global development the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER) launched in 2006 a project on Fragility and Development that I co-directed.

Naude / Fragile States

This project has resulted in a number of scholarly outputs – the most recent a book I co-edited with Amelia Santos-Paulino and Mark McGillivray entitled ‘Fragile States: Causes Costs and Responses’ (published by Oxford University Press, Aug. 2011).  The book was formally launched at a function at the University of Oxford on 19 March 2012.

In my presentation (watch it here), I summarized the essence of the book: (i) the identification – and prediction – of fragile states are important (for instance the OECD did not include Egypt or Syria in its 2011 list of fragile states); (ii) state fragility is a cause but also a consequence of conflict, and it is characterized by a loss of authority, legitimacy and/or capacity of a state; (iii) fragile states cast significant external costs on their neighbours and the rest of the world, often to the extent that outside intervention is required – not only in ending conflict but also in making peace agreements stick; (iv) in addition to direct international intervention, aid is required in fragile states and can make a difference – but the right aid modalities are important, and more is needed to be learned and done in terms of private sector development in fragile states.

Yet despite the forward step granting fragile states their due attention, one may ask whether or not two steps have been taken backward over the same period – especially since the 2008 global financial crisis? Consider for instance that the share of people living in extreme poverty in fragile states doubled from 20 to 40 per cent between 2005 and 2010.

The number of fragile states has not noticeably shrunk – there were UN peacekeepers in the DRC in the 1960s, they are still there. The World Bank asks in its 2011 World Development Report ‘How is it that almost a decade after renewed international engagement with Afghanistan the prospects of peace seem distant?’ Despite economic growth between 2001 and 2008, and a commodity boom that saw historically high growth rates in Africa and other developing countries, many states remain fragile – even some middle income states.

The global financial crisis, the recession in the USA and some European countries, and the ‘Arab Spring’ has turned the attention away from Sub-Saharan Africa, the location of most fragile states. There, crises in Sudan, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Kenya, Senegal, Central African Republic, Madagascar and most recently Mali, have flared up. The practical failure to make progress against fragile states, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, may be seen as a step backward.Aubrey Graham / IRIN: IDP camp in DRC

Another setback is the position adopted recently by some BRIC countries – particularly Russia and China – complicating adherence to the UN’s responsibility to protect (R2P) principle. For example these countries vetoed a UN Security Resolution against Syria on 4 February 2012.

China remains one of the staunchest supporters of the Mugabe regime, supplying it with weapons (including a recent shipment of 21,000 handcuffs) and cash; and Russia remains one of the world’s major arms exporters. If the international community is to make progress in overcoming state fragility in the near future, getting the all the BRICS on board, and dealing with their own fragilities, much of which stems from economic challenges, may be essential.

In an earlier blog I wrote that ‘while the international community may be slow to assist the people of Syria due to the obstructive behaviour of China and Russia, international intervention was important in 2011 to protect civilians in fragile states including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Somalia,  Sudan and Côte d’Ivoire’.

At the Oxford book launch of ‘Fragile States’, Paul Collier discussed the lessons from the international interventions in 2011 in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya. One lesson is that a combination of financial pressure and moderate military resistance can topple a regime, even one with a strong army, quite quickly. Economics can unlock a political mess.

In the case of Côte d’Ivoire’s Laurent Gbagbo, refusing to accept defeat in his country’s 2010 presidential elections, a financial embargo meant for his army that they may not get paid. As Paul Collier pointed out, Gbagbo’s opponent Alassane Ouattara is after all an economist, and as a former deputy head of the IMF was very aware of how constricting financial sanctions could be. He was right – the Gbagbo army consequently refused to put up strong resistance; in April 2011 Gbagbo was captured. He now faces four charges of crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

A broadly similar pattern repeated itself in Libya. In both cases the fact that the UN Security Council was not blocked by China or Russia or any other nation (the Security Council was quick to recognize Ouattara as winner of the presidential elections in December 2010) may have been important.

Will the pattern repeat itself in the case of Syria or in other countries where dictatorial regimes fail in their responsibility to protect? Can financial and military pressures be effectively applied without support or consent from China and Russia? And can economic conditions be created in China and Russia, both elite-dominated societies, so that the R2P principle is perhaps not seen as a threat to them?

Along with the need to create jobs and develop the private sector in fragile states, these are among the critical questions facing the international community.

Wim Naudé, Professorial Fellow at UNU-MERIT and the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance

Tinpots, Crackpots and BRICS: Whatever happened to the ‘Responsibility to Protect’?

Media focus on the BRICS[1] in February 2012 was anything but flattering. As the Syrian regime increased the campaign of violence against its own people, China and Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution on 4 February (not for the first time).

Days later they were again out of step with the rest of the world, in the company of North Korea, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, when they voted against a UN General Assembly resolution on 16 February condemning the human rights violations in Syria.

Just three days earlier Navi Pillay, UN High Flickr / Yunchung LeeCommissioner for Human Rights, outlined to the General Assembly in shocking detail human rights abuses in Syria, including a harrowing report that “Children have not been spared. Children have been killed by beating, sniper fire and shelling from Government security forces … As of the end of January security forces have killed more than 400 children”.

Syria is a fragile (and failed) state – the type of state that has since 9/11 risen to the top of the international development agenda – both for security and development concerns. For as the World Bank states in its 2011 World Development Report, no fragile state is in line to meet a single of the Millennium Development Goals; fragile states cast strong negative economic spillovers onto their neighbours – “Countries lose an estimated 0.7 per cent of their annual GDP for each neighbour involved in civil war”.

The international community therefore has to deal with such states; they cannot be left to themselves to disintegrate into their own murderous chaos. Such intervention can take various forms – from the relatively mild censure to strong forms such as sanctions or even military intervention.

In a recent book on Fragile States that I co-edited (and which will be launched at the University of Oxford on 19 March 2012), Lisa Chauvet, Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler estimate the costs of failing states to be around US$276 billion per annum. These costs may justify their national sovereignty to be overridden by international intervention.

As shown by the conflict in Syria, other recent conflicts in fragile states, as well as an increasing number of debates on global public goods (including climate change), the limits to national sovereignty is one of the most difficult and sensitive matters in international development. It is particularly so as the idea of national sovereignty may be outdated.

Somalian mother and child

Jurgen Brauer and Robert Haywood, writing in the UNU-WIDER Angle state bluntly that ‘Problems of local or global governance, including violent conflict within and between states, can be ascribed not merely to the faulty exercise of state sovereignty but to its very existence’. Hence, while the international community may be slow to assist the people of Syria due to the obstructive behaviour of China and Russia, international intervention was important in 2011 to protect civilians in fragile states including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Somalia,  Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire.

In light of this another of the BRICS – South Africa – has not had the most flattering coverage in the media. For some inexplicable reason the country is a haven for crackpots. A tragic example in its recent past was when the country became a favourite of AIDS dissidents whose ideas were supported by then president Thabo Mbeki. The consequences were dire: a “genocide by sloth” that according to Nicoli Nattrass lead to around 343,000 avoidable AIDS deaths and 171,000 infections between 1999 and 2007.

In recent weeks the country entertained another crackpot of sorts. At the country’s Mining Indaba held in Cape Town on 6 February the keynote speech was delivered by a climate change skeptic who has been reported to have described climate change as “nothing but a ruse to create a massive global bureaucracy that will rule the world with impunity” (incidentally the same week that other BRICS – China, India and Russia – objected to the EU’s carbon tax on airlines).

The country’s mining sector had perhaps hoped for more leadership and less conspiracy theorizing from the summit because it is a sector under pressure. On 16 February police had to use rubber bullets and water cannon against thousands of mine workers who protested against the retrenchment of 17,000 co-workers at one of the world’s largest platinum mines.

It may seem on the face of it a puzzle why a country with South Africa’s mineral resources has been able to achieve only mediocre economic growth during the greatest ever commodity boom, not to mention losing thousands of mining jobs. What is going on? The influence of crackpot ideas again? Perhaps: the mining sector has been threatened by nationalization. The handling of mineral rights, regulation of the sector by political interests, and nepotism has strangled investment in this sector.

An irony of the past two weeks is a public speech Mbeki made on 16 February condemning international intervention in fragile states, particularly those in Africa. He is reported to have described these (including NATOs role in Libya and the French intervention that helped arrest Gbagbo in Cote d’Ivoire in 2011) as ‘racism’.

Fortunately Mbeki’s opinions are not necessarily shared by the South African government. Still, it is ironic that they are made in a BRICS country at a time when other BRICS have been instrumental in limiting the world’s intervention in Syria.

The irony is especially rich as it comes almost exactly 10 years after the United Nations’ ‘International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty Report’. This report laid down the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Its intellectual father was an African – the Sudanese diplomat Frances Deng.

Ideas are clearly important in international development. Hence the question now is: how can the world deal with fragile states in future given that the BRICS seem to prefer the idea of sovereignty to the idea of the Responsibility to Protect?

Wim Naudé, Professorial Fellow at UNU-MERIT and the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance.



[1] BRICS is the acronym for the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.