Browsing articles from "January, 2010"
Jan 31, 2010

Lawless Places, Yemen Edition

Barak and I end up talking quite a bit about the misperception that states such as Somalia and Afghanistan are failed.  As Barak likes to point out, the problem isn’t that there is NO governance, but rather that it is not the Westphalian statehood model of governance we have all grown accustomed to in the US.  Here, now, almost as it was written just for us, is a blog post about similar ‘ungoverned’ areas of Yemen.  According to the authors, the correct term is ‘alternatively governed’, which I agree with, although it is close enough to late ’90s PC terminology to make me giggle.

Jan 30, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

What if the Taliban says no?

This week, there was a big conference on Afghanistan in London. President Karzai made clear that he intends to reach out to the Taliban. The US and other governments involved in Afghanistan seem to agree (to varying extents) that a political solution with the Taliban is the only viable way to end the insurgency.

How’s that policy working out? It would appear not too well. The Washington Post reports that Taliban leaders deny meeting with Kai Eide, the outgoing head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, even though Eide reported he met with them. Ron Moreau’s recent article in Newsweek makes the Taliban’s claim credible:

The London conference was a futile exercise. Once again Washington and its allies are looking for solutions that don’t exist: a new Karzai, bribing the Taliban, negotiating with the Taliban. No Taliban leader of any stature seems to have entered into negotiations thus far. U.N. special envoy Kai Eide reportedly met in Dubai on Jan. 6 with Afghans who claimed to represent the Taliban and said they could pass messages to the Quetta Shura, but it’s unlikely that their mission was actually sanctioned by anyone in the senior leadership.

I think it’s important to ask what’s plan B? Suppose the Taliban view Karzai’s willingness to negotiate as a sign of weakness? Perhaps the Taliban think they can win, so have no incentive to negotiate. The US government has already said that there is no military solution, only a political one. The assumption here seems to be that the Taliban want to talk. I hope someone has verified this because we seem to be heading in a very dangerous direction in Afghanistan. What if the Taliban don’t want to negotiate, but want to keep fighting? What then? Do we keep fighting a war we say we cannot win? Does anybody know if the Taliban wants to negotiate?

At this point many of you may be saying “Barak, there is no such thing as the Taliban, it’s highly decentralized.” Good point. But I wasn’t the one who brought up the idea of negotiating with them. I don’t want to be overly critical, but if the Taliban does not exist as a centralized, hierarchical organization, this makes negotiations even more difficult. If it’s a decentralzied organization, Karzai will need to strike deals with lots and lots of “Taliban” who may be little more than local strongmen. Moreover, do we keep fighting those who do not want to negotiate? This would seem to require some nimble policy choices and public relations management: the US isn’t fighting the Taliban, just the bad Taliban. That will probably go over as well as New Coke.

Jan 30, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

4 minutes and 52 seconds of (near) fame

Russia Today interviewed me about Afghanistan a few days ago. I think I need to brush up on my TV interview skills.

Jan 30, 2010

Yet another post about how technology will solve all of our problems (with a cartoon!)

Actually, no this post isn’t, but there is a post at Gartner that makes the claim: the iPad is better than OLPC.

Having never even seen an iPad, I can’t say that the premise – that it is easier to use than the XO (which is pretty easy to use) will help bridge the digital divide with the elderly.

The ‘digital divide’ is the general term for the gap between those writing blog posts about the digital divide and those who won’t or can’t as easily adopt every new technology. Common reasons include price, education level, applicability of services, and lack of support infrastructure. Andrea DiMaio, the post’s author, makes an excellent point that the digital divide has an element of usability, not just availability.

What is intriguing about the iPad is not only the friendly user interface and the great Internet surfing experience, but also the likely usage patterns and the unlikely users. Many commented that this device will be carried around in the home (also depending on what accessories will be available to ruggedize it). But I would argue, it could be used by people who would never use a computer.

Continue reading »

Jan 29, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Zero dollar bill

Michael Allen at Democracy Digest picks up on a emerging wave of grass-roots protest against corruption: the zero currency note. The idea behind it is when officials ask for bribes, people should offer zero-currency notes. In particular, it’s having a lot of success in India. Why does it work?

…a number of factors contribute to the success of the zero rupee notes in fighting corruption in India. First, bribery is a crime in India punishable with jail time. Corrupt officials seldom encounter resistance by ordinary people that they become scared when people have the courage to show their zero rupee notes, effectively making a strong statement condemning bribery. In addition, officials want to keep their jobs and are fearful about setting off disciplinary proceedings, not to mention risking going to jail. More importantly…the success of the notes lies in the willingness of the people to use them. People are willing to stand up against the practice that has become so commonplace because they are no longer afraid: first, they have nothing to lose, and secondly, they know that this initiative is being backed up by an organization—that is, they are not alone in this fight.

This last point—people knowing that they are not alone in the fight—seems to be the biggest hurdle when it comes to transforming norms vis-à-vis corruption. For people to speak up against corruption that has become institutionalized within society, they must know that there are others who are just as fed up and frustrated with the system. Once they realize that they are not alone, they also realize that this battle is not unbeatable. Then, a path opens up—a path that can pave the way for relatively simple ideas like the zero rupee notes to turn into a powerful social statement against petty corruption.

This is a great way to solve the collective action problem in fighting corruption. Since it’s typically easier and cheaper for a person to pay a bribe then spending the time and money to fight the practice, self-interest deters people from fighting corruption even though most people hate it. Zero currency has notes for every country in the world.

Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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