The challenge of building a nation

Organisers of the historic referendum in Southern Sudan on Thursday announced that the threshold of 60% turnout had been reached: the results of this vote will be valid, and, if news reports are to be believed, the North looks set to accept the result. The looming threat of violence that has galvanised international groups and media into taking action, or at least paying close attention, during the last week seems to be receding. Although localised clashes have still been happening and there is always the chance that next month’s release of the results could spark further fighting, things seem, for now, relatively settled. It would be easy to assume that this means that everything will now be fine. The media coverage of the situation has tended – perhaps for dramatic effect, perhaps because it is difficult to represent complexity within the limitations of a news story – to present the situation as binary: either there will be widespread violence and a return to civil war and it’ll all go to hell, or the referendum will go well and then everything will be sunshine and rainbows in South Sudan forever. In the rush to cover the prospects for violence or peace, commentators have failed to represent just how difficult it is going to be to basically build a nation out of nothing at all. Where the border-lines will be drawn is potentially more contentious than the question of the referendum and is likely to continue to be a flashpoint for violence until the issue is resolved. Some would say that the South Sudanese government has been functioning fine and thus discount the potential for problems but the humanitarian and developmental challenge they now face is one of the most difficult any government has been left with at the creation of a new nation. 51% of people in South Sudan live below the poverty line. Only 27% of the population above the age of 15 is literate. Only 37% of the population above 6 years has...

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Response: The Republicans and Africa

John Stupart’s piece about the role of the republicans on Africa rightly identifies problems in Luyola Ngcuka’s suggestion that changes in US policy direction are something that Africans have the right to be highly critical of simply because we may receive slightly less aid. It could – and perhaps should – be argued, however, that the problem is not just whether the amount of money will decrease but how that money will be spent. A reduction would be sad, because the prioritisation of neglected diseases and good governance was starting to seem promising, but Africa is more than used to foreign governments changing their minds when elections shift policy direction. The greater potential problem with the republican stance on aid is the directions in which they would like the aid that is approved to flow. It was the Republican president’s PEPFAR, for example, that limited millions of dollars of HIV/AIDS funding to abstinence-only initiatives, thereby dramatically undermining the effectiveness of US-funded HIV prevention efforts in many countries and blocking out other funding because who is going to give money for AIDS in Africa when the US is already funding it? The USA’s recent 3D foreign policy approach claims/claimed to be elevating development (aid) to the same level as diplomacy and defence. While most development people were sceptical at the time anyway, republican control of this move is likely to have serious consequences. What this doctrine does in the hands of defence-focused aid-hawks, is to lump all development/aid work in with the defence strategy (again). This has been particularly destructive to the aid industry, for example in Afghanistan, where aid workers aligned with the NATO forces are killed on a more regular basis than those who are perceived as more independent but everyone is more likely to die now that all development/aid activities are increasingly perceived as part of the war efforts. We are already seeing serious problems with aid in Africa being perceived as part of military activity or a way to make money...

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Bad medicine: sweatshops and poverty alleviation

Sep 27, 10 Bad medicine: sweatshops and poverty alleviation

Posted by in Economics

Poverty is a problem. It is particularly problematic for developing country governments in Africa for whom the temptation to seek quick-fix solutions is significant. Resources are limited and pressure from activists and donor governments to fix the problem great. Sweatshops are often presented by Western analysts as just such a quick-fix wonder-drug. Western, urban, individual-centric notions conflating poverty and income poverty (earning little or no cash income) have been prevalent in public policy for years. They are particularly relevant here. If one views poor people as disconnected individuals, each of whom wants nothing more than to earn money so that he/she can buy things, and that the alternative – to be without any income means starvation, deprivation and loss of dignity, it is easy to accept the argument that sweatshops, as bad as they may be, are the lesser of the two options. It is also wrong. Governments would do well to forget the supposed wonder-drugs and focus on supporting sustainable livelihood strategies In reality, most poor people in developing countries (particularly in Africa) are rural or peri-urban subsistence food-growing (family) groups engaged in a variety of livelihood activities. Individuals live with, contribute to, and rely on the group, pooling resources, assets and labour to increases the chances of survival. Groups employ a variety of livelihood strategies to acquire the food and non-food items they need. Income is just one of them. They also attempt to build/acquire tangible and intangible assets in order to move away from the edge of starvation (building away from poverty) and improve their resilience to shocks such as illness, price increases or instability (reducing vulnerability). For sweatshops to be some magic solution, they would need to help poor groups do this. In fact, they have the opposite effect. Sweatshops often pay wages equivalent to other jobs in the area. This is good except that the wages are still extremely low in real terms, so they do not help much, and the hours extremely long, so the employed group members...

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