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Explainer: what is going on in Mali?

23 November 2015

Paul JacksonPaul Jacksonis a political economist working predominantly on conflict and post-conflict reconstruction. A core area of interest is decentralisation and governance and it was his extensive experience in Sierra Leone immediately following the war that led him into the area of conflict analysis and security sector reform.

After a week in which Europe was rocked by terrorism on the streets of Paris, gunmen entered the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, the capital of Mali. A hostage situation unfolded and French and Malian security forces battled for control of the building. It is a hotel that is known to be frequented by foreigners and represents an escalation of violence that has been building in Mali during 2015.

Islamist attacks have been concentrated in Mali’s north, but spread during 2015 to the centre of the country – and then to the south and the borders with Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. On March 6, there was a terrorist attack on the restaurant La Terrasse in Bamako, in the south-west of the country. Five people were killed and nine were injured.

On June 10, there was an attack by armed men on Malian security forces in the town of Misseni, near the border with Ivory Coast. And on August 7, armed men attacked the town of Sévare in the Mopti region, north-east of Bamako. The attack lasted several hours, including a siege at a local hotel. Twelve people died, including two foreign nationals.

Coup, rebellion, intervention

The current cycle of violence in Mali, a former French colony, began in 2012 when Tuareg soldiers returned to northern Mali after fighting in the Libyan civil war. Forming the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), they fought against the Malian government to win independence for the northern region of Azawad.

This conflict led to a coup that removed the president, Amadou Toumani Touré and the suspension of the constitution of Mali. Following this, the MNLA took control of three cities in the north and proclaimed Azawad’s independence from Mali in April 2012.

Taking advantage of this conflict, several Islamist groups moved in to intervene. Ansar Dine – which is Arabic for Defenders of Faith – and two other jihadist groups, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), were originally allied to the MNLA, but escalating violence led to international intervention by a French and African force that effectively destroyed the organisational structure of these groups.

The French government deployed its air force and 3,000 troops in 2013 to secure the north of the country at the request of the newly installed president, Dioncounda Traoré. Known as Operation Serval, the intervention lasted until July 2014 when the troops were redeployed as part of a wider offensive to combat unrest in the Sahel region.

A UN force, MINUMSA, has been on the ground since April 2013 with the aim of securing the north of the country – and, as of the end of June 2015, had just over 10,000 personnel in Mali.

Tuareg nationalists and Islamists struggled to reconcile their conflicting views for the newly independent region and, after several clashes, the MNLA renounced their claim of independence for Azawad and engaged with the Malian government in negotiations on its future status in 2014.

Despite talks resulting in in June 2015 in a UN-brokered peace between the main factions on both sides, the continuing violence illustrates the differences between the Tuareg nationalist and Islamist groups, but also the difficulties in maintaining peace in the country.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), several armed groups have increased violence against civilians accused of supporting French and UN troops deployed in the country. Small groups of Islamists and some Tuareg groups wedded to independence have managed to remain active and carried out occasional attacks in the desert.

HRW says that continuing criminal violence by these groups, as well as widespread abuses by the security forces, represents a serious threat to the population of Mali. HRW regards these two elements as fuelling discontent among the general population that could lead to increased recruitment to both Islamist and Tuareg groups and a threat to the gains made since the Franco-African intervention in 2013.

Localised terror

The similarity of the violence to other Islamist attacks should not, however, lead to us regard Mali as part of a monolithic Islamist threat. While there are several Islamist groups in Mali, such as the group Al Mourabitoune, they do not all share the same values or represent a global view of Islam. Much like the Nigerian Islamists of Boko Haram, the Islamists of Mali are products of very localised conditions, specifically decades of neglect and marginalisation in the north of the country.

Many of the Malian Islamists have been openly split on the question of affiliation with AQIM. MUJAO, for example, has defined itself specifically as a regional group with a local West African agenda rather than a globalised aim. Ansar Dine, one of the biggest groups in Mali, was sufficiently divided as to form a splinter group, the Islamic Movement for the Azawad and has been ambivalent towards both engagement with the government and also rejecting “all forms of extremism”.

Seeing the current increase in terrorist attacks in Mali as just another tentacle of globalised Islamic terrorism therefore misses the point. The mixture of groups within Mali are primarily the product of local historical conditions, not an externally imposed ideology.

Tensions between approaches to local issues and international, globalised aims and methods have themselves led to factionalism within both the Tuareg–nationalist groups and the Islamists.

Marginalisation of the Tuareg over decades, coupled with the alienating approach of successive southern-led governments in Bamako have led to the creation of ripe recruiting grounds for those who seek to perpetrate violence. By portraying the issue as an all-encompassing global Islamist threat, the international community fails to engage with the underlying structural issues of governance that produce these groups and escalate the threats in places like Mali.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Scientists at work: tracing the path to peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina

23 October 2015
Louis Monroy SantanderLouis Monroy Santander is currently studying a PhD degree at the University of Birmingham, focusing on issues of reconciliation, post-conflict peace-building and social reconstruction in the Western Balkans (Bosnia and Kosovo). He has worked in conflict and development research for organizations in the United Kingdom and Colombia and as well in the field of education both at school and university level.

One of the walls in my office in the town of Sanski Most, northwest Bosnia-Herzegovina, is covered with posters. Each depicts a different answer to the question “What is peace?” They range from the intellectual and practical, to the personal and provisional.

One proposes “harmony and unity in public and private relations”, while a second describes peace as “living free from injustice, inequality and pain”. Another suggests that “peace can be found within”, while another still describes a rather more mundane solution that doubtless many can relate to, identifying peace as “when my brother is far away from me”. These posters are a daily reminder that defining peace is hard enough, without then having to make it happen.

Here in Sanski Most, I’m seeking to understand how reconciliation emerges from conflict. My workplace is an organisation called Centar za Izgradnju Mira (CIM) – the Center for Peace Building. The organisation’s slogan is Našput je mir: “Our way is peace”.

My role is to investigate the issues that have made post-conflict reconstruction in Bosnia so difficult, looking at the political system, the state of the economy, the role played by international organisations and the processes of justice and reconciliation.

Writing on the wall

Writing on the wall. Photo credit: author.

Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war erupted out of the political struggle that followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia. It was one of the first violent conflicts of the post-Cold War era.

The war was fought along ethnic lines, dividing the country into its three main groups: Bosniaks (Bosnian-Muslims), Bosnian-Serbs and Bosnian-Croats. There was ethnic cleansing and genocide, mainly against the Bosniak population, and concentration camps were established around the country.

The violence was ended by the 1995 Dayton Accords. It was decreed that the Bosnian State would be rebuilt as two entities – the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska) and the Bosniak/Croat Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Sticking points

As I investigate Bosnia’s contemporary problems two decades after the war, however, many disturbing problems remain. There is talk, for example, of young people being vulnerable to radicalisation.

Mistrust and ethnic hatred are often passed from generation to generation. That seems to be true here in Bosnia, a country that has yet to come to terms with its violent past. Young people have only known a Bosnia defined by ethnic divisions and often develop hardened views about other groups, adopting attitudes that may risk a renewal of ethnic-based violence.

A memorial in Sanski Most

A memorial in Sanski Most. Photo credit: author.

Particularly disturbing is talk of Bosnian foreign fighters joining Islamic State in Syria. Islamic State has targeted Bosniaks, focusing particularly on those from deprived and marginalised backgrounds. For these youths, who often face unemployment and poverty in Bosnia, offers of housing and better economic prospects overseas are a great incentive to leave.

Many of the people that I have met also say that they are disillusioned with politics and the ethnic rhetoric spouted during electoral campaigns. Some believe that politicians seek to frustrate ethnic divisions and the partition, promoting fear and mistrust to bolster their own positions.

State activity grinds to a halt in the process as ethnic politics hinder national decision-making. One side vetoes the other and the result is stalemate. This situation also fosters corruption and instability as parties and public officials often rely on nepotism and clientelism, establishing self-serving ethnic networks at various levels of government.

Starting with the young

The education system and media don’t always help. Instead of being tools for reconciliation, both have become channels for spreading political rhetoric and fostering ethnic divisions.

Bosnia’s media is seen as biased, often giving an unhelpful ethnic angle to all kinds of issues. Schools generally remain segregated along ethnic lines, too. Some are mono-ethnic, others split up students in subjects deemed “sensitive”, such as language, religion, history and geography. Programmes such as the “two schools under one roof” system, whereby students attend school in different shifts in order to avoid contact with different ethnic groups, continue.

High levels of unemployment – and particularly youth unemployment – pose another threat to the Bosnian economy and generate a pessimistic view among citizens about their country’s future.

Fresh hope

But it’s not all gloom. All sides feel a need to find a way for their country to open a new, more prosperous chapter, even if they don’t agree on how to get there.

I’ve also been learning about peace-building initiatives that focus on youth and gender issues, transitional justice and creative ways of dealing with the past. There are also forums for inter-ethnic dialogue between Bosniaks, Bosnian-Serbs and Bosnian-Croats.

An example of this is CIM’s Peace Camp: a week-long retreat that brings together young people from various ethnic backgrounds to meet and debate Bosnia’s more sensitive topics.

Although this research has highlighted the many problems faced by modern Bosnia, it is an inspiring place. People have a zest for life which is often reflected in Sanski Most’s embracing environment, the friendly disposition of its inhabitants and during the many refreshing and sunny evenings I have spent by the river Sana. Many people are incredibly friendly and open to receiving researchers like me. I even get a free, one-minute lesson in Bosnian every time I visit my local bakery. It’s the little things that give us hope.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
The Conversation

Understanding Poverty and the Environment: Analytical frameworks and approaches

14 October 2015
Fiona Nunan Fiona Nunan is a Senior Lecturer in Environment and Development and Director of the International Development Department. Her interests and experience focus on natural resource governance and management in developing country settings, particularly within inland fisheries and coastal locations in East and Southern Africa, and on exploring the links between poverty and the environment.

Fiona Nunan explains her motivation for writing a new unique textbook for people studying and researching environment and development, human-environment interactions and sustainable development. The book is published by Routledge.

What was the motivation behind the book?

Researching, teaching and working in projects for many years in the area of environment and development made me frustrated that poor people are often blamed for environmental degradation in a very direct, narrow way. Farmers are accused of clearing trees, pastoralists of grazing too many livestock and fishers of overfishing. Viewing poverty as being in a direct, mutually destructive downward spiral, or ‘vicious circle’, relationship with the environment has led to policies that force farmers to grow unsuitable trees, pastoralists to settle in one place and livelihoods to be harmed.

What is needed is in-depth analysis and understanding of the context and nature of relationships between poverty and the environment. I knew that a wide range of frameworks and approaches exist that have been, or could be, used to investigate poverty-environment relationships, but they hadn’t been brought together in one, accessible place.

Understanding Poverty and the Environment

This accomplished work by one of the leading scholars of human-nature relationships will be of interest to anyone interested in how poverty and the environment affect each other. Drawing from a range of intellectual efforts, Nunan provides an erudite yet accessible book for students and advanced researchers alike. One of the most comprehensive and balanced studies available on the subject.
— Professor Arun Agrawal, School of Natural Resources & Environment, University of Michigan, USA
The relations between poverty and environmental change are important but complex. Understanding Poverty and the Environment is an antidote to simplistic assumptions, and a welcome guide to intelligent thinking.
— Professor Bill Adams, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, UK

What is novel about the book?

There are at least three novel contributions that this book makes. Firstly, no other book brings together the combination of frameworks and approaches that this book does. The chapters introduce:

  • Political ecology
  • Institutional analysis
  • Gender, development and the environment
  • Livelihoods and wellbeing analysis
  • Social network analysis
  • Analysing governance

In introducing these areas of literature, the book is situated within the field of development studies, but the literature and examples used are taken from many parts of the world and disciplines. A note of caution in the final chapter acknowledges that frameworks and approaches within all of these areas may be used with other theory, concepts and frameworks and that there are new adaptations and developments all the time. An introduction to the thinking behind the frameworks and approaches enables readers to better appreciate and critique such adaptations and further developments.

The second contribution the book makes is in providing provide a way into diverse and diffuse literature. It can be hard for someone new to a subject to know where to start with journal articles and to grasp the key points and underlying assumptions. The book provides a way into many literatures by bringing out key concepts and characteristics, examples of application and of questions that could be addressed by the frameworks and approaches. Recommended reading draws on published material from the last thirty years as well as key contemporary publications, giving readers a steer towards essential texts and authors within each subject area. Important classics in relevant literature are highlighted such as Ostrom’s Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Leach and Mearns’ The Lie of the Land: Challenging Received Wisdom on the African Environment and Adams’ Green Development: Environment and sustainability in a developing world are highlighted as important texts.

Finally, in addition to reviewing frameworks and approaches, I also identify and reflect on key themes running through the book including power, access, gender, narratives/myths, institutions and scale. This provides the reader with a broader appreciation of these important concepts running through many of the frameworks and approaches.

The book finishes with a brief reflection on key methods for the collection and analysis of data to investigate poverty-environment relationships, suggesting that an ethnographic perspective, mixed-methods and participatory approaches are particularly important for study in this area.

Who is it for?

The book is for anyone studying environment and development, human-environment interactions and sustainable development. Although the book has poverty in the title, the material included will be of interest to anyone studying human-nature interactions. The book includes frameworks and approaches that have been used mainly in countries of the ‘North’, such as Ostrom’s Institutional Analysis and Development framework, and the subsequent Social Ecological Systems framework, and Social Network Analysis. Many of the other frameworks and approaches were initially developed through research in the Global South, such as frameworks to analyse decentralisation of natural resource governance, analysis of formal and informal institutions through critical institutionalism and natural resource-based livelihoods. They have since been widely applied in many countries and have scope to be used in many settings to bring deeper, more nuanced, understanding of people-environment relationships.

Masculinity and sexual violence in India

10 September 2015
Martin Rew is a lecturer in IDD. His reseacrch interests include: combined methods in poverty analysis; political economy, labour migration and globalisation; anthropology of the state; governance, decentralisation and political devolution; rural livelihood sustainability; social movements; donor approaches to political economy analysis; research methods; and minorities and resettlement in China. His recent projects include decentralisation, elites and political devolution in Orissa, rural labour relations and migration in Orissa, and the political economy of mining and protest in eastern India. Martin Rew is a lecturer in IDD. His reseacrch interests include: combined methods in poverty analysis; political economy, labour migration and globalisation; anthropology of the state; governance, decentralisation and political devolution; rural livelihood sustainability; social movements; donor approaches to political economy analysis; research methods; and minorities and resettlement in China. His recent projects focus on decentralisation, elites and political devolution in Orissa, rural labour relations and migration in Orissa, and the political economy of mining and protest in eastern India.

The brutal rape and murder in December 2012 of a 23-year-old student in a Delhi bus has been the catalyst for rapidly evolving activism against sexual violence in India.

The case garnered considerable national and international attention. Indian law forbids the naming of rape victims, so the student became widely known as Nirbhaya – Hindi for ‘the fearless one’, because she fought back against her six attackers as best she could – and she rapidly became a symbol of women’s inequality within the country.

So far, public action and protest has ranged from the rational, such as demands for the speedy resolution of rape cases and the abolition of intrusive medical tests to infer whether women ‘are habituated to sex’ (Baxi, 2013), to the controversial, including demands for mandatory death sentence for rapists (Gangoli, 2012).

I went to Mumbai during June and July this summer, funded by the School of Government and Society and IDD, to explore some of the social and political fallout. I wanted to understand men’s perceptions of and attitudes to the event.

I was particularly interested in the responses of middle class professional men who, some might argue, are least likely to be affected by the case’s legislative or social consequences because of their social and economic status. The perpetrators were ‘working class’ rural migrants, and this has problematically confirmed long-standing middle-class perceptions that rampant sexual violence occurs only among the Indian working class. Meanwhile instances of middle-class sexual violence go largely unchallenged.

After a fair amount of friendly persuasion I managed to conduct a good number of in-depth interviews and returned with two broad observations.

The first is primarily anthropological. It raises questions about perceptions of sexual violence and masculinity in the context of a rapidly globalising India. I think it would be useful to ask to what extent these perceptions are governed by ideas of time, and by conventional understandings of the male lifecycle.

Protests outside the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi. Photo credit: Ramesh Lalwani

Protests outside the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi.
Photo credit: Ramesh Lalwani

Many of my interviewees shared their belief that the rate of globalisation in India was too rapid, in terms of both the proliferation of sexual imagery and its effect on sexual desire. This was seen as having a detrimental effect on sexual maturity, particularly among men. It can also be said that sexuality in India has become increasingly uncoupled from the confines of marriage and is seen progressively in public discourse as a form of pleasure. There is certainly a sense in which this change has unsettled conventional ideas of appropriate male sexual behaviour across generations. Confusion and ambivalence about appropriate sexual behaviour in Indian society particularly intersects with the globalised profusion of pornography available through the internet.

This confusion is illustrated by the recent and very rapid U-turn of the Indian Government which partially lifted its ban on internet pornography at the beginning of August. The ban had sparked widespread debate on censorship and freedom.  Informally, however, and largely among Indian feminists, there continues to be discussion about how pornography might increase and legitimate sexual violence against women.

My second observation was more ‘developmental’. Men’s views on the legal responses to the case explore both the highly punitive and retributional discourses it has produced; interviewees also talk of a ‘failing’ judiciary.  Rape within marriage is not an offence in Indian law, and the lack of such protection for women is perceived as a glaring legal absence in the eyes of most Indian feminists.

Asking men for views on the need to criminalise marital rape, I found interesting parallels with perceptions about how dowry legislation is perceived to have been misused since its introduction in 1961, and perceptions of the possible consequences of criminalising rape. Previous research (Gangoli and Rew, 2014) has explored how dowry law has been used by women to escape unhappy and incompatible marriages rather than because their husband’s family genuinely continue to use threats of abandonment or worse to demand more dowry.  Many of my interviewees felt that similar forms of ‘misuse’ of the law could occur if marital rape was criminalised. This was a particular concern for them in the context of a judicial system that is so often open to corruption.

Gender-based violence and the legislative evolution set in motion by this case will be the focus of a special issue of the Journal of Indian Law and Society, likely to be published at the end of this year and put together by Rukmini Sen and colleagues at Ambedkar University in Delhi. It may even have some policy impact; we will wait and see.

With Dr. Geetanjali Gangoli, I am co-authoring a paper for this special issue about the Indian Law Commission’s report on the Nirbhaya case. We found that while there are many potentially positive aspects to the report, such as proposals for procedures to speed up court responses, the report also reproduces many past mistakes. For instance, it misses the opportunity to criminalise marital rape or to outlaw reference to the sexual history of a woman who alleges rape in judicial judgements.

It is possible that the material I have come back from Mumbai with this summer will feed into those findings and even evolve into stand-alone papers. However, taken all in all, it is clear to me that middle class men In India have been deeply affected by the Nirbhaya case. At the same time, they have diverse attitudes towards how both sexual relations should be promoted and how sexual violence should be policed in the future.

Action against gender-based violence is increasingly an explicit part of the global donor agenda. I would argue that understanding the attitudes of middle-class attitudes Indians towards gender-based violence has become increasingly important, because those attitudes will be a key driver of change. Even so, whether the political will to criminalise marital rape will materialise in India remains to be seen; I think that ultimately it will depend greatly on the strength and effectiveness of the Indian feminist lobby.

Scores killed by bombs and bullets as Boko Haram struggle escalates

8 July 2015

Paul JacksonPaul Jackson is a political economist working predominantly on conflict and post-conflict reconstruction. A core area of interest is decentralisation and governance and it was his extensive experience in Sierra Leone immediately following the war that led him into the area of conflict analysis and security sector reform.

The latest attack ascribed to Boko Haram, a suicide bomb set off in the city of Zaria, has killed at least 25 people. While the group has not yet commented on the bombings, they follow a week of carnage across northern Nigeria – proof that the Boko Haram insurgency around Lake Chad and its long campaign against the Nigerian Government has entered a new phase.

Having been beaten back by a significant regional force led by troops from Chad, Boko Haram no longer holds the vast areas of land it once did, but it is also very clear that the Nigerian government does not control all of these areas either. The security of the people who live there is still anything but assured – that much has now been made clear by some of the worst violence Nigeria has seen for a long time.

On June 30, Boko Haram insurgents shot 48 men leaving prayers at a local mosque near Monguno in Borno State. The next day, around 50 gunmen killed 97 villagers near Lake Chad; the day after, two suicide bombers blew themselves up in villages in Borno, killing at least ten.

In a particularly disturbing attack on July 3, around 50 gunmen on motorbikes stormed in to the village of Mussa and killed anyone they found. Then, on July 5, the extremist group attacked a church in the north-eastern city of Potiskum and detonated two bombs in Jos, taking the week’s total of victims to more than 200 – though the isolation of many Boko Haram targets and the opacity of the Nigerian state means that nobody knows how many people were actually killed.


The fact that it also took around 48 hours for news of these atrocities to reach the new military headquarters at Maiduguri, the capital of Borno, speaks volumes about the Nigerian government’s loose grip on the country.

This violence is the worst since Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari came to power with a mandate to destroy the insurgency, which has killed more than 15,000 people. Since he took office the group has taken around 450 lives, launching raids and suicide attacks across the region.

Outside Borno, Boko Haram has recently been linked to a regular upsurge in violence during Ramadan. The suicide bombings in Jos targeted a Muslim restaurant and a mosque in what appeared to be an attempt to assassinate a Muslim cleric – Sani Yahaya of the Jama’atu Izalatul Bidia organisation, which advocates peace between faiths.

This significant spike in violence has led to concerns that Boko Haram and regrouped following the successful military assaults by the regional military force that brings Nigeria together with Chad, Cameroon and Niger to establish real regional military cooperation.

The Chadian intervention has been a real game-changer, forcing Boko Haram back and encouraging the Nigerian military to commit better quality troops and creating a regional military command in Borno.

Chaos and spiralling violence

While this slew of attacks proves Boko Haram is still very much alive, it also heralds a new phase in the saga. This is now a game of hit-and-run coupled with terrorism, rather than a struggle for territory. At the same time, the last week’s slaughter also shines a light on Chad and Nigeria’s sharply contrasting fortunes in their offensives against the group – and on deep underlying issues in both countries.

The Nigerian story is one of recrimination and spiralling violence. The Nigerians themselves have shifted their military headquarters to Maiduguri in Borno, 500 miles away from the capital, Abuja, until the insurgency is resolved. The aim is to centralise operations, cut bureaucracy and speed up decision making, while overcoming a common perception of the senior military personnel being removed from the soldiers on the front line.

The Nigerian military has a history of downplaying complaints of poor equipment and supply by those operating in Borno, even when disillusioned soldiers have refused to fight, or even in one case, shooting their commanding officer.

In keeping with many poorly disciplined and supplied militaries, the Nigerian army’s tactics have become ever more violent. A recent Amnesty International report accused the military of killing some 8,000 civilians, routinely engaging in torture and forcible detention and also accusing several military leaders of crimes against humanity.

Chad steps up

But whereas the situation has led to a great deal of soul-searching within the Nigerian military over its failure and embarrassment in not dealing with the militants, Nigeria’s Chadian counterparts scored a major success when they crushed a terrorist cell in their capital, N’Djamena.

The Chadians have reportedly arrested 75 militants who were planning attacks on their soil, which hosts the regional command centre for the forces combating Boko Haram.

These militants were apparently coordinating weapons and recruit trafficking for the group; among them is a senior and well-known leader, Naana Fanay, alias Mahamat Moustapha. Crucially, the Chadians also arrested a Boko Haram financier, who they believe could well hold further intelligence on Boko Haram’s poorly understood regional operations.

Both sides are escalating the fight – and a new regional fighting force comprising 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin is due to deploy at the end of July. But the dramatic performance gap between Nigeria and Chad, the two pre-eminent military forces in the region, is a serious cause for concern. It remains to be seen if Nigerian military is actually capable of leading the fight against Boko Haram.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. The Conversation
Read the original article.

Prizes for local government: Latin America or England?

19 June 2015

Andrew NicksonAndrew Nickson is Honorary Reader in Public Management and Latin American Studies in IDD, with 30 years’ experience of teaching, research and consultancy on public administration reform, local governance, decentralization and urban water supply. He has particular interests in Sierra Leone, Nepal and Paraguay, countries where he has had long-term work assignments.

Last week I was in Panama City to deliver the inaugural address at the 2nd Latin American seminar on good practices in municipal management. My topic was the challenges of sub-national governance in the region, after thirty years during which local political democracy has gradually become the norm, accompanied by a growing share of fiscal revenue devolved to local government. However, as I pointed out in my address, progress in creating a genuine career system at the municipal level has proceeded at a snail’s pace, mainly due to the opposition of local and national political leaders, for whom the gift of political appointments remains a key tool in winning votes at election time.

I was also a member of a panel to select prize-winners for the ‘best practices’ carried out by local governments. Three things stood out. First, many of the 35 entries from around the region were rather mundane activities (e.g. modernising a municipal records office or a setting up a farmer’s market) that would be considered nothing special in the municipalities of northern Europe. Second, little Uruguay (pop. 3.5 million), won many of the prizes, as it did last time round. There is a simple reason for this. Uruguay has the most educated population, least unequal income distribution, and oldest demographic profile in the region. This combination, leavened with a radical cultural tradition passed on by forefathers from Italy and Spain, has produced one of the highest incidences of ‘active citizenship’ in the world. Finally, and related to this, some of the entries (especially the winners) were extremely innovative in the way that citizens interacted with local government.

Metropolitan Tax Authority (SAT) of Lima, Peru

Metropolitan Tax Authority (SAT) of Lima, Peru

Take for example the entry by the Metropolitan Tax Authority (SAT) of Lima, Peru, which won 2nd prize. In order to deliver council tax bills to householders in dangerous parts of the El Cercado inner city neighbourhood, SAT recruited unemployed, very low-income and older residents of El Cercado, giving special preference to single mothers. After training, these local staff proved to have a much higher success rate on bill delivery than the private firm to which the service had been previously contracted out. Their self-esteem and income rose, they become valued colleagues on the municipal staff, and this ‘social capital’ approach encouraged a higher rate of tax compliance by residents.

So how can there be so much creativity and innovation in local governance when municipal authorities often lack the solid career structures that I was lamenting in my address? Well maybe it is not such a contradiction after all. When an elected mayor has such freedom over appointments, this can be used for good or ill. Some just pack departments with friends and family, often as ghost-workers, and milk the system while in office. But many others, such as those represented at the Panama event, use that freedom to bring on board a team of dynamic, younger professionals, from academia, NGOs and the private sector, in order to spearhead radical change. What is exciting about this is the way that they actually put into practice the concept of ‘local democratic governance’, developed by UNDP, with a genuine passion. These mayors and their advisors get involved in day-to-day initiatives, work out-of-hours, are on first-name terms with junior staff, and are prepared to delegate real power to citizens. One way of getting this moving is through participatory budgets, whereby citizens actually decide municipal investment priorities in their neighbourhoods. These have become commonplace throughout the region.

The end result is that this variant of Latin America’s local government culture gets things done more much more rapidly and in a much more inclusive manner than the cold managerialist culture of English local government, with its silo mentality, nine-to-five approach, and where ‘community involvement’ is purely a tick-box devise used to extract funds from central government or the EU. So aren’t I contradicting myself? On the one hand lamenting the absence of a genuine local career system yet at the same time admiring the ‘passion’ of the personalist mayoral system of Latin America. This is a tricky issue to resolve. Indeed the ‘informality’ of the system does mean that many brilliant initiatives come to a grinding halt when a new mayor is elected, often seeking to distance him/herself from his/her predecessor by simply killing projects, even when they were successful. So this lack of an ‘institutional memory’ does make it more difficult for reforms to bed down. But as shown by the SAT project, which has already survived three periods of office of different mayors, this is not impossible.

Why the UK doesn’t mind if aid boosts military spending

18 June 2015

fisher-jonathan01Jonathan Fisher is a lecturer in IDD. His research is focused on the place and agency of African states in the international system, particularly in the realm of security and conflict. Within this he is interested in the role played by African governments in shaping how they are perceived and engaged with by Western actors. He has a particular interest in eastern Africa and the influence of guerrilla heritage on contemporary patterns of governance, conflict and cooperation across the region. He is also interested in how ‘knowledge’ on African security and conflict is negotiated and constructed in a range of settings.

Former coalition defence minister Gerald Howarth has expressed concern that “the UK is effectively subsidising the defence budgets” of its aid recipients.

Drawing on research undertaken by the House of Commons Library, Howarth highlighted that as Britain has increased the aid sent to a range of recipients, including Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the same countries’ defence budgets have swollen.

This was born out by analyses charting defence spending increases since 2012/13. Rises from $330m to $400m in Tanzania and from $430m to $460m in DRC did indeed coincide with injections of UK aid funds into those states. Picking up the story, the media announced with horror that British aid is “paying for foreign armies”. But Howarth’s “discovery” is rather less revelatory than it seems.


As any student of international development knows, all aid is “fungible” –- that is, if you put money into a state, it frees up cash for that state’s government to spend elsewhere.

An international non-governmental organisation that builds a school or hospital in a remote province might well believe it’s to be far removed from the grubby business of funding corrupt or authoritarian regimes.

Their actions, however, mean that these regimes have one less school or hospital to build themselves as few regimes can survive without providing any services to their populations. That releases space in the budget for other items, such as paying soldiers’ wages or purchasing helicopters.

The UK has also directly funded foreign militaries in a range of African states for some time. In recent years, it’s made major contributions to United Nations-sanctioned operations in Somalia, DRC, South Sudan, Mali and elsewhere, providing training, logistical support and sometimes considerably more.

It has also long provided training to many African militaries, police and security services – a strategy Whitehall views (perhaps somewhat optimistically) as a pragmatic attempt to foster professionalism and stability in some of the continent’s most conflict-ridden and violent regions.

Clearly, there are no guarantees in such a complex and risky arena. Given he served as a minister for international security strategy in a department that funds many of these operations, though, Howarth’s outrage at the indirect “subsidising” of militaries by other UK ministries was perhaps somewhat disingenuous.

Security and prosperity

What is perhaps most interesting about this particular controversy was the response provided to Howarth’s critique by the UK’s development arm. The Department for International Development’s spokesperson argued that UK international development investment “helps create more stable, secure and prosperous countries” and that more economically prosperous countries tend to spend more on their militaries.

On the face of it, that’s a slightly strange response. In the cases highlighted in the House of Commons Library research, we can see a rise in defence spending, but rarely a rise in the percentage of GDP spent on defence. Between 2012-2014, the latter has remained constant in DRC, Ethiopia and Cote d’Ivoire and has fallen in Nigeria. In Tanzania, meanwhile, a 20% net rise in defence spending means that now 1.1% of the country’s GDP goes on defence rather than 1%. (By comparison, the UK spends 2% of GDP on defence.)

But of course, “stable, secure and prosperous” states are not necessarily democratic, transparent and accountable.

Many of Africa’s more stable, secure, and economically prosperous countries also trend towards authoritarianism. Many of these states are also major recipients of UK assistance for both developmental and defence, and in several of them, one party has held power for decades. These include Uganda (since 1986), Rwanda (since 1994), Ethiopia (since 1991) and Mozambique (since 1975).

Whether this is coincidental or not is an open question, but plenty of scholars (including me) have argued that it isn’t. Over several decades, a range of semi-authoritarian African states have successfully managed their relationships with Western governments and bureaucracies to their advantage over several decades. That has won them the support and resources they needed to construct the decidedly illiberal structures of rule they now preside over.

The difficult question here is not so much whether Whitehall is aware of its role in all this – it is – but whether it cares.

Over the past decade, the focus of British diplomacy and development policy has moved decisively away from promoting democracy, peace, political space and transparency in Africa and towards stabilisation and security. These days, London’s objective is to help nurture African states that won’t cause populations in the UK too many problems, whether in the form of terrorism, migration or disease.

In one sense, this is only fair; it is after all a government’s job to protect its citizens from harm as far as possible. But doing so at the expense of political freedoms abroad conflicts with some of the fundamental values of British political culture – and authoritarian states make unreliable and unpredictable allies.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation.
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