Globalization And Its Discontents

I have just read Joseph Stiglitz’s Globalization and Its Discontents (2002).

Stiglitz was the Chief Economist at the World Bank and Chairman of President Clinton’s Council for Economic Advisors. He won the Nobel prize for Economics in 2001.

He has formidable expertise and experience and has succeeded in writing a book about economics that is both readable and compelling.

His basic argument runs that the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the international economic institution responsible for supporting countries facing economic crisis, was largely responsible for the failure of globalization in the 1990s.

The IMF, states Stiglitz, continuously adopted an out-dated and dogmatic adherence to market fundamentalism – the belief in letting the free market deliver economic stability and growth. Their policy to achieve this, in East Asia and Russia, was incoherent and went against the basic tenets of Keynesian economics.

The IMF’s failed policy prescriptions included fiscal austerity, high interest rates, rapid trade liberalization, liberalizing capital markets and privatization.The IMF’s institutional “fear of default” also comes in for criticism.

I enjoyed this book though I found the focus a little too narrow; it rarely deviates from its specific critique of the IMF. Surely other players should come into consideration if you intend to address the failings of a phenomenon as broad as globalization? Only the World Trade Organization, the U.S. Government and the World Bank, are addressed in this context.

The “behind the scenes” actions of corporations and foreign governments in influencing policy are ignored. Here Stiglitz misses an important trick. I would also have liked to see more analysis of how poor economic decisions directly affected people in these developing countries; the repercussions of, for example, liberalization policies were often enumerated only very vaguely.

Stiglitz undoubtedly succeeds in revealing the impudence and irresponsibility of the IMF’s interventions in developing countries. But I wonder how else it could operate? The “international bureaucrats” to which he so often refers must work according to very tight timelines. Sometimes these seemingly mundane factors help to explain their lack of flexibility or foresight.

But it’s nevertheless shocking to learn how much the IMF is governed by the narrow interests of the Western financial community, whose investments are recouped via the multi-billion dollar cash injections into these developing economies, while their poor lose their jobs and livelihoods and the middle classes foot the tax bill that ensues.


Stuffed and Starved

I have just finished reading Raj Patel’s ‘Stuffed & Starved’ (1st edition, 2008). In this brilliant polemic, he addresses most of the key factors underpinning the world food system.

Patel argues convincingly that the large food corporations are socially pernicious. His range is of research is really impressive. I also liked the tone he uses; he never speaks from a position of authority. He uses vignettes to paint the bigger picture. He lets others talk. And some of his ideas and insights are so illuminating.

Though Patel  seems to steer clear of any major political or structural analysis. Government policies and the role of global governance institutions, outside of the WTO, are barely addressed.  I got the impression that Patel implies that it is these corporations who are responsible for the ‘starved’; that they are leaving populations destitute. I would have liked a clearer argument on food security here. I think the responsibility for food security lies more with the governments within these countries than foreign corporations. But the role of government lies largely outside of Patel’s narrative.

In any case, this is, as Naomi Klein described it, a “dazzling” book and well worth a read.

Ethiopia: The Last Two Frontiers

John Markakis’s latest book, ‘Ethiopia: The last two frontiers’, presents a political history of Ethiopia covering the period 1916 to 2010. Focusing on the transformation of a multicultural empire into a modern nation state, Markakis continuously leans on the “centre/periphery” dynamic as a method of analysis. In the vein of subaltern studies, he seeks to give agency to “peripheral” peoples in the state-building process.  Using a vast range of historical, political and anthropological sources, Markakis describes Ethiopia’s northern and central regions as comprising the “centre”. The “last two frontiers” are the two peripheries: the “highland periphery”, essentially the Oromo-dominated southern highlands, and the “lowland periphery”, inhabited by the Oromo but also by major pastoralist groups such as the Afar and the Somali, as well many other smaller ethnic groups.

Split into five parts, the book begins with a discussion of the main peripheral peoples, followed by a history of the modern Ethiopian empire from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, under Emperors Menelik II (1844–1913) and Haile Selassie (1916–74). During this period, Amharic became the lingua franca, excluding non-speakers from power. Both highland and lowland peripheries were subjugated: exploited for labour, taxes and tribute. Markakis then assesses the period of Dergue rule after the deposition of Haile Selassie, in 1974, in which the Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam succeeded in expanding the state apparatus until his overthrow in 1991. The fourth part describes how the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), led by Meles Zenawi, sought a state and national identity that would encapsulate Ethiopia’s diversity, empowering the three-quarters of the population that were not Amhara. Subsequently re-formed into the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), their brand of government has blended leftist nationalist ideology with a pragmatic drive to commercialize agriculture in the south. The final part of the book assesses the impacts of federalism on the diverse ethnic groups populating the southern regions.

Markakis believes the EPRDF has overseen an expansion of the state, with more schools and hospitals established in previously neglected regions. Pluralism has been feted. But beyond basic services and symbolic gestures, he argues, the “regime” has kept a “tight reign” and is “lacking in imagination” when it comes to offering real political power to peripheral regions.

‘Ethiopia: The last two frontiers’ reflects Markakis’s immense knowledge and passion for Ethiopia. Although the tone, structure and style could be lighter, readers will nevertheless find much worth in this expansive and original study.


Times Literary Supplement

Interventions – A Life in War and Peace

Kofi Annan’s memoirs narrate his career as a flying peacemaker, working for the United Nations. Interventions: A Life in War and Peace, takes us from one diplomatic precipice to the next. We traverse devastating failures and lasting successes. In the book’s chaotic world, Annan’s unwavering determination and moral conviction is perhaps the one constant.

Interventions is written by Annan with Nader Mousavizadeh, an ex-colleague, and focuses mostly on his efforts to prevent or resolve global conflict. After an opening chapter on his youth, observing the successful independence movement of Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah, and engaging in student politics, we then jump to his career, as head of the UN’s peacekeeping operation, followed by his ten years as Secretary General.

Chapters primarily cover the interventions in all forms of war since the early 1990s. Specific innovations such as the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, the International Criminal Court and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are upheld. UN reform is explained, and UN resolutions are never far away.

The book could be more balanced, addressing Rwanda, Iraq and Afghanistan more, and Israel-Palestine a little less. It could also capture the rich detail of high-level political summits with more verve; at times the content is dry and excessively policy-orientated. Occasionally the language strays into latinate prose: “The impact of the MDGs in providing this coherence has not just secured the de-confliction of certain development paradigms…”

Despite these flaws in style, Interventions engages assiduously with key topics. Annan does not shy away from criticizing the Bush administration for undermining multilateralism over the Iraq war. He is right to point out that in development debates “the spotlight should not be on aid but trade. It should really be on the failures of rich countries to remove international trade regulations that stunt the economic ambitions of developing countries.”

Interventions really comes alive when we read about Annan’s efforts to work alongside difficult personalities such as the former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. These passages reflect Annan’s sensitivity and steeliness, as well as his sense for human psychology. The book’s substance lies somewhere between the personal and the policy-driven – more of the former would have made it more readable, but nevertheless it remains a fascinating account of contemporary statecraft in the post-Cold War era.


Times Literary Supplement

The Lord’s Resistance Army: Myth and Reality

The Lord’s Resistance Army: Myth and Reality

(edited by Tim Allen and Koen Vlassenroot)

This is a fascinating and revealing collection of articles, written largely by academics, that pieces together parts of the complex story that is Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The Lord’s Resistance Army: Myth and Reality seeks to explain the motives surrounding the battles fought across the borders of Uganda, Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for nearly twenty-five years.

As an assortment of texts, covering subjects ranging from the spiritual order of the LRA to NGO involvement in the Juba peace talks, the book lacks the fluency that would come from a single author’s perspective. But the range of opinions is somehow appropriate for a story that has always been open to multiple interpretations.

Post-independence Uganda is a territory divided between the Bantu-speaking kingdoms of the south and the Nilotic- and Sudanic- speaking peoples of the north. The underlying north-south dynamic has continued to frame the conflict between the LRA, made up of northern Acholi, and President Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army, derived from central southerners.

Such analytical frameworks are described with greater nuance by many of the contributors to this book. Certain chapters, such as Mareike Schomerus’s, sharply criticize the Western journalists and editors whose portrayals of the LRA as crazed followers of the Ten Commandments have tended to be both simplistic and ethnocentric.

Kristof Titeca’s chapter on the spiritual order of the LRA provides a functional explanation for LRA violence, emphasizing “the importance of religion and spirituality in Africa as both a ‘cultural practice and as a determinant of social action'”. Given the nature of guerrilla campaigns waged within the bush of northern Uganda and beyond, a spiritual order serves the function of guaranteeing internal cohesion and controlling and motivating the combatants, as well as intimidating outsiders. And the widely held belief among LRA soldiers that Kony is possessed by spirits, is omniscient and can read people’s minds, helps to explain the group’s structures of rule and accountability.

Andrew Mwenda, a renowned Ugandan journalist and the editor of the national news and current affairs magazine The Independent, makes a strong case for illustrating “the political uses of the LRA rebellion” to President Museveni. Mwenda’s chapter argues that under the twin pressures of donor-driven economic reforms and electoral competition, Museveni’s National Resistance Movement party “transformed the conflict in northern Uganda from a threat to political consolidation into an instrument of it”.

Quantitative analysis on the nature and causes of abduction, or an insider’s view of the International Criminal Court’s investigation of the LRA form the basis for other chapters. Perhaps the obvious fact – the brutal and perpetual violence committed by the LRA across the region – is underplayed. The perspectives of the articles vary widely and while the whole story is not coherently told, this book provides ample and comprehensive insights into the tragic and unending saga that is the LRA.

Times Literary Supplement

South Sudan Referendum

Queue in S Sudan

Millions of southern Sudanese took small steps towards their own independence this week as they queued in lines across the region to vote in the historic referendum.


On Saturday 8th January a fleet of a dozen buses packed with Sudanese exiles drove up through Uganda’s dusty roads and crossed the border on Sunday morning to reach Abila, a village that lies at the very south of Sudan.  The buses could have been filled with revellers or football fans after a cup victory. Horns blasted out of the windows. South Sudan flags waved gleefully. On arrival they found and embraced their family members.  In a more solemn mood, they queued and cast their ballot that morning.

“I want to vote for separation so that tomorrow, I’ll be free to do anything” said James, a Sudanese student living in Kampala. He said he would move back to Sudan as soon as he completes his studies. He may have an eye on the business opportunities that independence will offer.

Later that Sunday Abila saw traditional Dinka dances scuffing up the dust, casting golden clouds around us in the late afternoon light. Christians paraded through the town with banners and crosses. Women ululated throughout the day, their shrill cries catalysing the sense of exhilaration.

Dinka dancing

“Home is home” said the student, “being away from home, you’re like a river without a source”.   “Today is a very wonderful day” smiled Santino Garang, a southerner from the Dinka tribe. It was Sunday 9th January, the first day of voting.

The results will be announced next month. The required 60 percent turnout to validate the vote has reportedly been achieved. The vote for secession is assured. Southern Sudan has suffered from deliberate neglect by successive Arab-dominated, Muslim governments. And two north-south civil wars lasting 37 of the 54 years since independence have shattered what little infrastructure existed in the region. Most of those voting were Christian or animist. Should the country remain peaceful, secession will split Africa’s largest country, making South Sudan the world’s youngest country. Africa will become home to 54 states.

The referendum is the culmination of the six-year Comprehensive Peace Agreement that started in January 2005. This deal between President Omar al-Bashir’s ruling party, then called the National Islamic Front, and southern rebel leader John Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) ended a 21-year conflict that resulted in some 2 million deaths and 4 million people – half the population of southern Sudan – becoming displaced.

Santino was one of the homeless. “I was born in 1983, during the war. I grew up in the bush” he said. His childhood was inextricably linked with war. “I became a child soldier. I was taught under the trees” he said.  Eventually Santino moved to a refugee camp in Yei, a town in central Equatoria, southern Sudan. Now he’s in exile, living in Kampala, Uganda. Soon he hopes to return to an independent South Sudan.

“Goodbye Khartoum! Goodbye Khartoum!” ran one of the chants among Sudanese exiles who had travelled from Uganda and gathered outside Abila on the first morning of voting. “Goodbye northern government” a man exclaimed as he dipped his finger into an inkwell to prove his vote at one of the town’s polling stations. The sentiment is clear but opposition to Khartoum may not form an adequate basis for effective national government. Southerners have little experience in governance.

The region is particularly ethnically diverse, with a history of inter-ethnic feuds with the other southern tribes. The Nuer and Shilluk, for example, fought against the Dinka during the second north-south civil war.    The country is landlocked and one of the world’s poorest. South Sudan will inherit 80 percent of the country’s oil, but this could be more of a curse than a blessing for ordinary southerners, with huge potential to create corruption and political instability.

“The Dinka and Nuer will be unified after the referendum” says Juach Deng, a young observer for the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, the political wing of the SPLA. “The oil issue won’t be a problem” said Deng confidently.

It may be for the North. President al-Bashir is under pressure from oppositionists who have long disagreed with his hostile stance to non-Muslims. Many feel he ‘lost’ the south, and with it, significant oil revenue.   “We feel an incredible sadness that a … very loved part of Sudan will separate from us,” said Sara Nuqdullah, a northern opposition Umma Party official.

Leaving aside future worries, fighting threatens to break out between the North and South. Violence blighted the first day of voting with over 30 people dying in clashes between the Massiriya and Ngok Dinka in Abyei, an area which lies on the envisaged border between North and South Sudan. The following day a bus carrying voters in South Khordofan state was ambushed, killing 10 people.

In spite of this, southerners enjoyed their moment, when history finally seemed to be on their side.