Browsing articles from "December, 2010"
Dec 31, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

2010 in Review

Once again, we’ve spent the year expanding D&S.   We have new contributors, including David, Elizabeth and Imara, D&S is now on Facebook, we published the Spring 2010 issue, with the Fall issue on the way, the complete archives are now available, we added a page of special reports from the CDACS and DG staff and students and we continued to provide quality snark and commentary on foreign affairs and international development.

Here’s a brief review to ring out the old year.

Top Posts

On Facebook

On the Blog

Returning from last year, Why Do People Protest still lands in the Top 5 posts on the blog.  The other Top 5 posts are:

Most Commented

Another of last year’s posts (Obama Needs a Vision Check) continues to be one of the most commented posts.  The others include:

Thank You

We’d like to say thank you to all of our Fans, Friends and followers, and in particular, to the following for ReTweeting, linking, and generally loving our stuff!

Happy New Year from all of us at D&S and Georgetown CDACS!

Dec 31, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Foreign Policy, Public Diplomacy & Human Rights

In line with my last post on relationships between development and diplomacy,I feel compelled to discuss the relationship between human rights and foreign aid. Studying any of the Social Sciences, eventually one ends up tangled in the question of why people allow so many obviously horrible things to happen to other people?  We tend to pursue this question of human rights with such a measure of outrage, blended with bewildered naiveté, that by the time one stumbles into foreign policy it’s hard not to expect the worst to happen.  Yet governments around the world continue to discuss human rights as a central issue of international relations regardless of how unlikely it might seem based on policy.  As in so many other policy areas, the issue of human rights is clearly one of words vs. actions.

If one relied on press releases, official remarks and speeches alone for their information, it might seem only a matter of time until human rights violations are a thing of the past.  Human rights is perhaps one of the best examples of the divide between public diplomacy and changes in policy.  Particularly in the more influential nations of the world, human rights tend to conflict with many of more noteworthy policy concerns like economics and security.

In a way, stable yet less-powerful nations have the ability to be more sincere in their support of human rights, as obviously do non-government organizations.  From the European Parliament to Human Rights Watch, Freedom House to the government of Ecuador, strong commentary on human rights should be expected.  It’s easy enough to express outrage over government support of violent repressive groups, or state support of cultural or ethnic prejudice, but until powerful nations decide to shift from words to actions we shouldn’t be surprised by the current state of affairs.

Dec 30, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Comoros staggers forward

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Woodlouse

Cote d’Ivoire is capturing headlines for all the wrong reasons, but there is another African nation that finds itself in a tense post-election environment.

Ikililou Dhoinine on Sunday won the second round of presidential elections in the Comoros islands. Dhoinine captured 61 percent of the vote while his main competitor, Mohamed Said Fazul, took 33 percent. Fazul, however, has promised demonstrations against the results, claiming there were instances of ballot box stuffing and intimidation. The government has responded by placing a ban on rallies, which will be in effect until the Constitutional Court officially declares a winner on January 15. So far there are no reports of major violence, which is good, but the whole situation really underscores the difficulty Comoros has had in finding an election and governing system that works for it.

Comoros is an archipelago island nation located off the coast of Mozambique. The country is comprised of three main islands, which have earned the unfortunate reputation of being terribly coup-prone. In fact, they have endured more than 20 such attempts since their independence from France in 1975. In order to prevent such events from happening even more frequently, the islands devised a complex electoral and governing system in 2001, one that consumed four-fifths of the country’s GDP. That’s a pretty big chunk of money, and it led voters to approve a referendum last year, which reduced the islands’ autonomy in an effort to streamline the government and save cash.

The presidency of the Comoros rotates every four years among the country’s three main islands. One island holds the first round among their own, and chooses the three candidates who will compete in the second round. The second round then takes place among the entire country. Given that there are then three candidates, the one who receives the most votes in the second round, even if not an absolute majority, will become president. This election was the first cycle where the island of Moheli chose the candidates in the first round. Despite all of its troubles, Comoros has had peaceful transfers of power in the past, so hopefully this will be resolved without violence.

Dec 27, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Human Rights, Media Manipulation & Technological Attacks

Image courtesy of

So, in the wake of the most recent WikiLeaks scandal, the diplomatic cabletastrophy, the MasterCard “cyber attacks” and the attack on the Iranian nuclear program lots of new language has been added to the media vocabulary.  Until just a few weeks ago the vast majority of Americans had no clue what a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, nor certainly viewed internet crime as any sort of national security issue.  Now it seems politically motivated cyber attacks are all the rage, and though these are the newest forms of political attacks popularized in news media, they’ve been a popular  weapons against human rights organizations for ages.

Yet, not surprisingly, one rarely if ever hears about cyber attacks on human rights organizations and sources of independent media.  Perhaps at least in part because excluding major efforts of governments and the like, they tend not to actually be that big of a deal.  Contrary to the sea of tweets and TV news stories, cyber attacks, while certainly pretty fierce and frightening displays of political beliefs, tend not to cause earth shattering meltdowns.  As with more traditional political attacks, these recent attacks have had an impressive impact in bringing public attention to a host of differing political ideologies.

If not for sharp manipulation of mainstream media sources, WikiLeaks probably never would’ve stood out among the sea of nerdy political sites.  Whatever the WikiLeaks scandals amount to in history, the organization certainly will have had a profound impact on the US populace and international community in bringing the influence of technology into the public eye.

Dec 26, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

I can’t believe these people govern us

Imara had a great post on Republican rhetoric about cutting foreign aid when they take control of the House of Representatives in January 2011. He didn’t point out a gem of a quote from Kay Granger (R-TX) who is seeking to become the chair of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee:

I want to be sure that we aren’t increasing foreign aid at the expense of our troops.

I think this is notable (in a very sad way) for two reasons.

First, there is no tradeoff between spending money on foreign aid and defense because the budget is not a fixed sum.*

Second, for someone on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee and State and Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee, she sure seems confused about the relative levels of spending on each. Below I’ve got a helpful chart that shows these expenditures from the fiscal 2011 budget. In case you are not a math whiz, the graph shows that foreign aid expenditures are about 5% of defense expenditures. Beyond that, most US foreign aid these days goes to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.** (I wonder why that is?)

I hope the chart reassures Rep. Granger that the US Government currently doesn’t seem to be facing a tradeoff between spending lots and lots on defense and not very much on foreign aid.


*Let me be more clear. Talking about a tradeoff between aid and defense makes as much sense as a tradeoff between: (1) defense spending versus and spending on the postal service; (2) more defense and larger budget deficits; or (3) more defense and higher taxes. Granger makes it seem as if there is a fixed line item in the budget for “defense and other overseas stuff.” This simply makes no sense.

**Plus Egypt and Israel.

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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