Browsing articles from "November, 2011"
Nov 29, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Clarity Needed

Since the other day we entertained ourselves briefly with Herman Cain’s… er… ideas on Libya and Pakistan, I thought it was my duty to post here his complete vision on US foreign relations.  I am personally relieved to know that Brazil is considered a “friend”. Not as much as Mexico, of course, who not only is a “friend and partner” but also a friend in need. Russia, on the other hand, should worry. So should China and Syria. Libya, for now, does not need to have concerns. Cain maintains that what is needed is “clarification” there. But I think Egypt will become a favorite for comments. It was “a friend under Mubarak”, who as we know was “shoved out by Arab Spring protests” and now “could be a nightmare unfolding”. Is is still politically correct to defend Mubarak at this point? One that can rest assured is, of course, Israel, who Cain “will not let fall” as a result of the Arab Spring. Phew.

from the Cain campaign website


Nov 28, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Is Mugabe Really That Lonely?

Pop culture artifacts are a great way to gauge the zeitgeist of an era. With that said, I introduce you to this commercial from Nando’s (an awesome peri peri chain with locations in the DC area):

Yes, that’s Robert Mugabe having a supersoaker fight with Qadaffi, singing karaoke with Mao, making sand angels with Saddam, swinging with P.W. Botha, and ghost riding the whip with Idi Amin.

Do we really have “less” dictators “than we used to”? Or is the nature of oppression just shifting from the traditional strongman dictator to something less opaque (and less colorful)?

Via Joshua Keating of Foreign Policy’s Passport.

Nov 22, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Because we wanted an excuse to use helicopters

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, has adopted the “oh f- it, I don’t even care anymore. Let’s just throw laptops out of a freaking helicopter.” theory of development.

“The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has devised a bizarre plan for deploying its new XO-3 tablet. The organization plans to drop the touchscreen computers from helicopters near remote villages in developing countries. The devices will then be abandoned and left for the villagers to find, distribute, support, and use on their own.

OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte is optimistic that the portable devices—which will be stocked with electronic books—will empower children to learn to read without any external support or instruction. The strange scheme reflects the OLPC project’s roots in constructivist education theory, which emphasizes self-directed learning.”

There are so many problems with this idea, I don’t know where to begin.  For starters, I’m wondering how the tablets won’t break when falling out of a helicopter.  I suppose the local kids could just order new parts online with their tabl – oh wait.

Now I could be wrong, this plan could turn out to be a great success.  Of course, we will never know, because its implementers (shockingly) don’t seem to have any plan to really measure progress.

“We’ll take tablets and drop them out of helicopters into villages that have no electricity and school, then go back a year later and see if the kids can read,” Negroponte told The Register. He reportedly cited Professor Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall experiment as the basis for his belief that dropping the tablets will encourage self-directed literacy.

I know not every intervention can be measured by Randomized Control Trials, but shouldn’t there be any attempt to develop some sort of way to observe a causal mechanism? (Okay, where the tablets land may be “random”, but that doesn’t count).  Seeing what a society is like one year later is about the worst way one can evaluate any program.  Are they worried about spillover effects, or the other billion variables that exist in a society that might have some impact on literary during the year? How would they know what an increase in literacy looks like if they aren’t willing to measure a baseline sample?  It’s true that the villagers may find the tablets to “distribute, support, and use on their own.”  It’s also true that the tablets might start a civil war  Maybe the parents will be so busy playing Angry Birds, they will fall short on their other duties, and agricultural output will decrease, leading to mass death.  None of these scenarios are likely, but neither is making everybody literate by chucking electronics out a window.   So, what if OLCP comes back and they find that everybody in the village is dead? Would they be willing to attribute that to the computers? If not, they shouldn’t assume the same causality they are willing to claim if the kids can read.

With that being said, if OLPC is looking for part-time help, I would be more than willing to fly the helicopter.

Nov 21, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Fascists also care a lot about health and safety

Watching the police break up protests throughout the US due to concerns about health and safety is making my blood boil. The First Amendment doesn’t contain provisions that limit freedom of speech on the basis these concerns (except when people use freedom of speech to deliberately call for harming others or to put others in harm’s way). It reminds me of the South African Government under Apartheid. They often cited concerns for health and safety when they wanted to bulldoze the neighborhoods of Africans who didn’t sufficiently appreciate the benefits of the Apartheid system.

Nov 18, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

World Bank Announces Civil Society Facility

The World Bank announced this week that it expects to launch a website in December outlining its plan to create a “civil society support facility” with global outreach. The Bank hosted the SID-Washington Civil Society Workgroup on November 26th in a session entitled, “The World bank’s Proposed Civil Society Initiative: Where did it originate and what is its Purpose?” John Garrison, the Bank’s Senior Civil Society Specialist, did not announce the location of the facility except to confirm that it will not be housed within the Bank’s sprawling Washington complexes (thankfully, since Bank entry points are now more cumbersome than Homeland Security screenings at Dulles).

Garrison provided the most compelling argument in support of this facility, noting that it will give notice to finance ministries around the world that consulting and engaging civil society should be the modus operandi. Mary McNeil, Senior Operations Officer, announced that the facility will have two primary roles: (a) to serve as a knowledge platform/exchange facility and (b) to provide “long term core funding” for civil society organizations for a period of 5 – 7 years. She also noted that the Bank’s goal is not to duplicate existing regional or country-level efforts or those funded by multi- and bi-laterals. Garrison and McNeil agreed that the Bank’s unique role allows it to create an “enabling environment” for CSOs to engage in evidence-backed advocacy work, particularly focused on transparent and accountable budgeting in government.

Garrison and McNeil acknowledged a series of procedural challenges that will determine the success of the overall effort:  Who will review and select grant recipients? How will funding mechanisms deal with governments that have restrictive or bias NGO registration laws/regulations? What level of participation should members of government and civil society have on the proposal review committees? How close/distant should in-country governments be in the grant selection process? How will countries participate or not participate – can governments just not object, or will they have to opt out or opt in for CSOs in their countries to receive funding?

As the Bank grapples with these issues, it must seriously consider the implication of this funding mechanism in countries with weak civil society capacity and heavy government oversight and regulation of NGO activities. If governments are involved in the selection of NGOs that will receive core funding for 5 – 7 years, the Bank could facilitate a parallel structure that in fact strengthens governments’ abilities to regulate civil society activities even further in countries like Angola, Ethiopia, and Egypt. Government officials benefit by supporting particular NGOs and excluding others, while the chosen few NGOs benefit by tamping down legitimate criticism of government to receive extended funding. In the end, the cycle of citizen exclusion continues as it did before – just funded and authorized by the Bank under the banner of “civil society engagement” instead of by the country government.

How the Bank establishes and implements procedures governing the facility and the dissemination of funds will determine whether this effort is a revolutionary step forward or merely a new funding mechanism for non-democratic governments to manipulate for their own benefit.   


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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