22 December 2014

Map of the day: the rise of military spending in Africa


Global military spending is on the decline (largely thanks to the massive US budget falling). While spending in Europe flat-lined and the US goes down, the rest of the world is spending more each year. The map from the Economist shows changes in spending in African countries over the past decade.

I will allow smarter people than I to analyze what is happening and what it means. There are a few unexpected countries that are dark, at least to me.

19 December 2014

Should I still support/watch the NFL?

Andrew Forbes explains why he gave up on the NFL this year. This essay captures a lot of my feelings about the state of NFL and football as a sport. I have not forsaken it quite yet, but draw closer.
It’s a small, unimportant thing, the game of football, but for a long, long time, it was a large part of my life. Which inherently means that this exercise has been an inquiry into self, too; an effort to eliminate something dear from my life and gauge the results of its absence. Piecemeal self-negation, if you will. A slow removal of certain Jenga blocks in order to see how many can be taken away before I topple altogether.

But maybe it’s even more than that. Maybe I’m asking the question: Is it right for me to watch the NFL? Maybe it’s just reassuring to know that it’s okay to ask such questions.

There is no clear answer here, and that doesn’t much concern me; some things can’t or shouldn’t be clear, or definite. I can’t adequately define love, but I couldn’t live in a universe devoid of it. Perhaps the point of such self-inquiry is to silently arrive at greater awareness, and then to assimilate that knowledge without proselytizing to our fellow citizens. For each of us to arrive at these things independently, in our own private darknesses. I guess that’s possible. If so, I have to accept the possibility that by broadcasting my journey into self-discovery here, you might deem my inquiry to have been a futile one.

And that’s fine by me.

15 December 2014

Weigh in: UNICEF's South Sudan campaign and videogamers

UNICEF has a new campaign video showing it presenting a "game" about a South Sudanese refugee girl at a big gamer conference. People get upset, some walk out and new people learn about the hardship faced by people displaced due to conflict. It is an interesting idea, but does it work? My feelings are mixed, but take a look and tweet at me (@viewfromthecave) with your thoughts.

Provocative visuals touch on the humanitarian sector

A series of rather provocative images by Spanish artist Luis Quiles were recently featured on Elite Daily (a new site to me, too). They offer various social commentary, with a fair bit of sexuality in many of the prints. Two of the ones highlighted stood out for crossing over into depictions of Africa. Here they are and the accompanying descriptions from Quiles:


This work is a critic about religious establishment who use religion all around they find misery to get more believers. This people don't need a holy book, don't need a fake God, don't need a fake hope. This people need a real hope, a real education, they need schools, FOOD, medicines, preservatives...They need a real future, not a fake truth.
Kid soldier (no description included)

14 December 2014

When Wall Street and philanthropy went on a date

ProPublica keeps taking a bite out of the wider charitable sector. This time, it turns to donor-advised funds. As a young person with not much money to kick around, this is a new concept to me. Here is their set up of the problem:
For about 40 years, charitable giving held steady at about 2 percent of gross domestic product, while donations from individuals have stayed at around 2 percent of disposable personal income, according to Ray D. Madoff, a Boston College law professor and frequent critic of donor-advised funds.

Over the last few years, the donor-advised funds have grabbed significant market share. The total amount of assets under management at donor-advised funds rose to $54 billion in 2013, up 20 percent from $45 billion a year earlier. Fidelity's alone have skyrocketed to $13.2 billion.

Contributions to donor-advised funds rose 24 percent in 2013, compared with the previous year, to $17 billion. They only gave out less than $10 billion, so money is building up in them. And the amount paid out each year declined in each of the last three years through 2013, according to Alan Cantor, who runs a philanthropy consultancy and is a frequent critic of donor-advised funds.
The decline in money available is certainly concerning, but that is based on a lot of assumptions. Chief among them is that all money is well spent. There are some worrisome incentives here and an issue of witholding money that can generate long term impact, but spending is not the biggest problem when it comes to creating impact. At least that is in my estimation.

Anyway, the story is worth reading in full.

03 December 2014

New campaign tells the stories of Ebola survivors

A new campaign shares the stories of the West Africans who survived Ebola. While stories have talked about the survivors, the stigma they face and the important role they play in the response due to their acquired immunity, the stories of their experiences are lacking. #ISurvivedEbola just released its first video as a part of its transmedia campaign to share the stories of the survivors. In this video, we meet William and his son Patrick. The Liberians describe their experience with Ebola and how it has claimed the lives of 14 family members, including William's wife. See more stories here.



HT GlobalVoices

02 December 2014

Is development policy futile? A good argument for yes

I tend to place myself in the category of a tempered skeptic when it comes to international development and aid. Both are quite different, I know, but I remain optimistic that there are things the world can do to help reduce suffering and improve the lives of the world's poorest people. With all of that said, enter Marc Bellemare with a smart blog post describing why he thinks development policy is futile. He makes a good case.

So in sum, even if you know with certainty what kind of policy intervention a city, region, or country needs to develop in the foreseeable future (and that is a big if considering that there is generally a trade-off between internal validity — credible estimates of causal effect — and external validity — how widely those estimates apply — and considering the complex environment in which development policy is implemented), on a long enough timeline, that policy intervention will no longer be the right thing to do.

This wouldn’t be so bad if development policy could be changed seamlessly, but in a world of finite resources, adopting new development policies usually means letting entire industries die off because other countries are much better at it than you are, and supporting them would be like keeping a terminally ill patient who is suffering on life support indefinitely. People in the industries that have to be let go of will typically fight tooth and nail to keep their subsidies, benefits, and what they have come to see as entitlements.

So what are development wonks to do? “Nothing” does not seem like an option, especially given that chronic economic underdevelopment is, at least in theory, the result of multiple market failures which have to be overcome simultaneously, and that coordination failures often prevent us from doing that. So the right solution might well be to build enough flexibility in development policy, and codify that flexibility into whatever law allocates subsidies and benefits to specific industries. The kind of flexibility I have in mind would mean that subsidies and benefits would be terminated by law when it becomes obvious that an industry has outlived its usefulness. But codifying that kind of flexibility into specific economic rules and regulations has to be industry-specific, and therefore extremely difficult. All of this points to the futility of development policy.

Definitely read the full thing. I am curious to hear from others what they think about Marc's ideas.

25 November 2014

The cycle of failure to bring water to one Tanzania village


In part two of our reporting on water in Tanzania, Jacob takes us to Lupeta where a cycle of failed water access continued until NGO WaterAid stepped in to fix a recently broken water source. It also comes with a, if I do say so myself, pretty sweet interactive map from the Broad Street Maps team (capture seen above). Read an excerpt below and the full story here.
When residents learned in 2004 they were slated to receive a brand new system — a WSDP pilot project — they were wary. But they rejoiced when the project successfully brought a source of water directly to the village.

“People were so happy they were dancing,” says Msumu. The new system delivered water right to the center of the village — reducing dozens of hours each family spent fetching water every week.

“That (extra) time we used for people to farm, for children to attend school instead of fetching the water,” says Msumu. “Children go to school for many more hours now, many more days.”

The water flowed for six, fruitful years. But then it slowed. “The place where they were building a new intake, the water was not enough,” says Msumu. Seven years after the system was built, the water stopped altogether.

“We had no water for nine months,” says Msumu. For the third interval since Tanzania’s independence, the residents of Lupeta “were going to another village, 10 kilometers (away), with a bucket on their heads.”

Msumu tried to raise money to build a new water intake, which an assessment by water engineers estimated would cost $92,000. The small fee of 20 shillings (about 1.2 cents) that community leaders had been collecting for each bucket of water consumed was not nearly enough.

He was unsuccessful in getting the Tanzanian government to make up the difference. At last, the private water relief NGO WaterAid answered the call, furnishing a $92,000 gift to build a new intake and replacing some of the old pipes.

24 November 2014

A deep dive into Tanzania's failed $1 billion water project


Today marks the publication of the first of a four part investigation into Tanzania's World Bank-backed endeavor to increase access to clean water, by myself and Jacob Kushner. It is the culmination of now more than a year looking into why it took more than 5 years for the project to start showing meaningful results and why the gains are tenuous in the long term. The story begins with the scene depicted in the above image I took while reporting from Tanzania last fall. Mary Slosson, then of GOOD, and I were curious why the pump located at the nearby school was not working.

Here is a clip from part one. You can expect the second and third parts to publish this week and the finishing part next week.
To date the drive has attracted more than $1.42 billion in funding from various donors and the Tanzanian government, an incredible sum for a single project in a small country like Tanzania. The initial goal was ambitious: to bring improved access to water to 65 percent of rural Tanzanians and 90 percent of urbanites by 2010, and continue until each and every citizen had safe drinking water.

By all metrics, the project has failed categorically: When the project began, only 54 percent of Tanzanians had access to what is called an improved water source — a water point, like a well or water pump, that is protected from contamination. Seven years into the project, that figure has actually decreased — now at 53 percent, according to the latest World Bank Data. Coupled with Tanzania’s rising population, today 3.8 million more Tanzanians lack access to improved water than did before the project began.

The Tanzanian government and the World Bank admit that only 20 to 30 percent of rural water projects that were due to be completed by this summer were actually built. Although the pace of the program has picked up over the past year, with 28,246 rural water points either built or rehabilitated, there is no accountability mechanism to ensure that these sources will remain operational in the years ahead.

Already, some of the earliest water points created under the program’s pilot initiative are no longer being maintained and have stopped working. Others are at immediate risk of failing as communities find themselves unable to raise the money to fix and maintain them. Experts across Tanzania’s water industry say the program is failing to address the fundamental challenges that have plagued Tanzania’s water sector for decades.

“They are only trying to intervene for a short time — ‘let’s keep the system working for a couple years,’” says Herbert Kashillilah, chair of Water Witness Tanzania. “If I am from the World Bank, it is easier to count new projects than try to ensure people are running their own systems.”
The World Bank defends the program, arguing that despite its slow start and the likelihood that some water points will stop working, it is better than doing nothing.

“The problem of providing rural water around the world hasn’t been cracked,” said Philippe Dongier, World Bank country director for Tanzania. “You could say, ‘if that’s not going to be sustainable, why should we build it?’ But that could be said all over the world.”
Read part one here

Creating a culture of reading to ICTs and Libraries

This video shows how Bhutan is supporting the growth of literacy through libraries and ICT initiatives. While not descriptive in respect to the how, it is neat to see how newer technologies and long-standing practices are working together on the same issue.

21 November 2014

An uncoordinated Ebola response

A rather damning article from Donald McNeil for the NY Times on the problematic Ebola response in Liberia.
American military helicopters ferrying doctors to remote areas were forbidden to fly back not only patients but even blood samples; recently samples from a village had to be walked to a road four hours away. At Monday’s meeting, according to the minutes, Dr. De Cock called this “unacceptable,” adding, “This has to change this week.”

Dr. Hans Rosling, a Swedish epidemiologist and consultant to Liberia’s Health Ministry, said that the helicopter order came “from somewhere in America.” In an interview, he cited problems not listed in the minutes: one Asian and two European donor countries are insisting on building new Ebola field hospitals in Monrovia, where hospitals have empty beds, rather than in remote counties where beds are desperately needed; they insisted because they announced those plans two months ago, he said. The national case count was not reported for two days recently because the government employee compiling it went unpaid and stopped working. The minutes of the Incident Management System were made available along with PowerPoint files and other documents by an expert who said the disorganization of the Ebola effort should be made public.
Read the full story here, it is well worth it. 

19 November 2014

The Jaden and Willow Smith interview: wisdom or nonsense?

An interview of Jaden and Willow Smith, the teenage children of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett- Smith, is garnering a lot of attention and mixed reactions. Here is an excerpt from their discussion with the New York Times Magazine:
What are some of the themes that recur in your work?

JADEN: The P.C.H. being one of them; the melancholiness of the ocean; the melancholiness of everything else.

WILLOW: And the feeling of being like, this is a fragment of a holographic reality that a higher consciousness made.

JADEN: [bursts into laughter] As soon as me and Willow started releasing music, that’s one thing that the whole world took away is, okay, they unlocked another step of honesty. If these guys can be honest about everything, then we can be more honest.
I have no opinion to offer here, other than just amazement at the conversation. I am curious what others think. 

Neat interactive tracking of actions by Ebola response donors from ONE

The ONE Campaign took their initial research on how donors are faring when it comes to funding the Ebola response to the next level. Today saw the release of the interactive Ebola Tracker. Here is how donor countries compare:


Sorry that it is really small. The UK comes out on top for pledged money as a percentage of GNI. Here is how the US is doing:


Go play around with it here.

17 November 2014

Blur/Gorillaz frontman on the problems with Band Aid and frames of Africa


"It starts to feel like it's a process where if you give money, you solve a problem. And really, sometimes giving money creates another problem," says Damon Albarn.

13 November 2014

Mapped: the trans-African highways

Usual caveats apply when it comes to things like this passed around the internet, but it is pretty neat. As someone who likes road trips, this is full of enticing opportunities.

via Ben Nwomeh

Alex de Waal sharply criticizes the use of military in global health

This week saw the launch of the first US Ebola hospital in West Africa. There was plenty of debate over the use of the US military to respond to the crisis. Now Alex de Waal of Tufts University weighs in for the Boston Review. In short, he is not a fan of the idea:

The only rationale for sending the troops is that they and their equipment are available and already paid for, and would be doing nothing of significance otherwise. And, as a supplementary justification, that the U.S. Congress and taxpayers are ready to spend vast amounts of money on the military over modest amounts on global health.

This argument has a dreadful circularity; we are in this trap because we have paid for a bloated military and a threadbare global health system. It would be sickeningly wrong for the army’s role in responding to Ebola—inefficient, largely ineffective, but nonetheless better than nothing—to become a justification for why the Pentagon should continue to consume limitless resources. Soldiers can perform some useful tasks in West Africa. But their role should be brief, limited, barely visible, and subordinate to civilian control.

Militarizing public health is a strategic error. Security and public health experts know this and have tried to steer global health and security policies in a direction that is informed by the best evidence and analysis. But somehow, the beguiling metaphor of sending soldiers to fight pathogens still wins out, fueled by our deepest fears of disease, and by our uncritical acclaim for soldiery. It is time to discard misleading military metaphors and spend real money on real global public health.

11 November 2014

New campaign wants a better UN Secretary General

Who will replace this guy in 2016?
The time is now to end the backroom deals that produce the Secretary General of the UN, says a group of NGOs and the UN association of the UK. The coalition launched a new campaign, called 1 for 7 Billion, with an open letter addressed to UN member states to reform the selection process.

The term for current UN SG Ban ki-Moon comes to an end in 2016. With more than a year until the next election, now is the time to initiate reform, says the letter.
The importance and complexity of the office has changed radically during the last 69 years, as have the threats and challenges to the entire UN system. The leadership of successive UN Secretaries-General – as chief administrative officers, diplomats, mediators, and representatives of the UN purposes and principles –has been fundamental in shaping the work of the United Nations. They have provided a critical public international voice on key issues of peace and security, development, and human rights.
Signatories include leaders from Amnesty International, CIVICUS, and the World Federation of UN Associations. They say that the last time reform efforts targeted the UN it was too late, hence the present launch of the campaign. They outline their reform recommendations in a press release:

  • A process that aims to produce the best possible candidate
  • Formal selection criteria that reflect best practice in equality and diversity
  • Greater transparency, including a clear timetable and official shortlist
  • Open sessions that enable all states, and other stakeholders, to interact with nominees and have input in the process
  • Candidates to submit vision statements and to undertake not to make promises on specific appointments prior to their confirmation
  • More than one candidate to be put forward by the Security Council
  • A single term of office to help the Secretary-General pursue longer-term aims without the disruption of re-election campaigning
The basic ideas set forward seem pretty reasonable. Will the campaign succeed in initiating reform ahead of the next SG elections?

Also see the Guardian's report on the campaign.

06 November 2014

UNICEF brings in the tiny reinforcements to dispel Ebola myths

A new UNICEF video uses kids to help explain why Ebola is bad and what can be done to stop it. The premise is to make it so simple that even a five year-old can understand. The humorous approach is an interesting way to both attempt to raise money for the Ebola response and knock down some myths about Ebola that seem to be spreading across the US.

There are definitely a few funny parts in the conversation. What I appreciate here is an attempt to be creative with providing information and reaching new audiences. Simply telling people facts about Ebola is not working. Just look at the reactions across the US to children and teachers traveling to non-endemic African countries. Reason is not necessarily winning out, so new ways to reach people are necessary.

05 November 2014

A helpful Ebola map for people who think Africa is a country

Recently traveled from a non Ebola endemic country in Africa? Use this map to quickly dispel the fears of people who still think Africa is a country:


Map by Anthony England.

04 November 2014

Meet Liberia's Ebola responders and survivors

Daniel Berehulak photographed people involved in and affected by the Ebola crisis in Liberia. The photo essay published in the New York Times provides a glimpse into the lives of the people on the frontlines and their experiences with Ebola. It is short, visually striking and filled with hope. I am personally a fan because it brings a diverse group of mostly Liberians to the forefront.


The Pippa Middleton of development advice

The latest edition of the Core Humanitarian Standards looks a lot like the kind of advice one would find in Pippa Midleton's book. That is not a good thing. Sandrine Tiller, Humanitarian Advisor for MSF UK and Arjan Hehenkamp, MSF Director discuss the problems in a recent blog post.

The opening paragraphs are too good not to share.
When Pippa Middleton’s published her book on entertaining friends and family, it contained gems like: “Make a checklist—it’s otherwise too easy to forget essentials, and it’s useful to have when you arrive home to make sure nothing is missing” and “A really late start warrants brunch, in lieu of lunch.” This kind of painfully obvious advice was mercilessly lampooned on the internet as being plain common sense, sold to a gullible and unquestioning public.[1]

It was Pippa’s advice that came to mind when we read the latest incarnation of the Core Humanitarian Standards. With classics like: “Communities and people affected by crisis receive coordinated, complementary assistance” and “Staff are treated fairly and equitably, and are supported to do their job effectively,” it makes us wonder, with all the major crises happening around the world, is this all we can commit to?
Read their full analysis here.

31 October 2014

Chart of the Day: Major Gaps in Ebola Funding Data

Erin Hohlfelder and Anu Dathan of the ONE Campaign put together this handy scorecard to show donor spending and commitments for the Ebola crisis. What stands out are all the giant question marks for budget sources and additional budget allocations. What does this mean? There needs to be a standard for reporting and recording donor spending.


Hohlfelder and Dathan's analysis:
This is most clearly illustrated in the case of the US. Based on financial commitments alone, the US appears to have given relatively far less than its peers as a share of its GNI. In reality, of course, American military and other in-kind contributions valued at nearly $1 billion, in addition to conventional financial commitments, mean the US has been leading the response. A holistic view—while still to some degree inevitably ‘apples to oranges’—allows us to make different kinds of judgments.

Completing this data is not some dry accounting exercise. If we don’t know what’s really promised, and if it is not adequately coordinated, no one can adequately match the supply of resources to needs on the ground. That means responses cannot be properly resourced, gaps in supply cannot be easily identified, and time lags will result in more lives lost.

30 October 2014

Exposed: USAID watchdog's watered-down audits

So it looks like the report from USAID’s Office of the Inspector General, its internal watchdog, have been significatly edited over the years to not include some of the most critical findings. That is according to a Washington Post report published last week. It hints that the findings, uncovered by the newspaper and the Senate, are behind acting inspector general Michael G. Carroll's decision to withdraw his nomination to be the permanent inspector general, after waiting for 16 months.

Comparing draft versions of audits against what was finally published showed significant edits to negative references.
The Post obtained draft versions of 12 audits by the inspector general’s office, covering projects from the Caribbean to Pakistan to the Republic of Georgia between 2011 and 2013. The drafts are confidential and rarely become public. The Post compared the drafts with the final reports published by the inspector general’s office and interviewed former and current employees. E-mails and other internal records also were reviewed.

The Post tracked changes in the language that auditors used to describe USAID and its mission offices. The analysis found that more than 400 negative references were removed from the audits between the draft and final versions.

In one audit, the number of negative references fell from 113 to 61; in another, from 170 to 13.
One example of this happening comes from Pakistan:
For example, in October 2010, USAID launched a program to reduce waste and fraud in the nearly $1 billion in U.S. assistance to Pakistan. USAID hired three contractors to help monitor the spending and train Pakistanis to manage the money.

In a draft audit of the program written in 2012, auditors found that $32 million of the program’s $44 million budget went to “fringe benefits, consultants and travel.” Auditors also found that one contractor hired to provide training billed the agency $954,000 for “expenses such as salaries, fringe benefits, and travel” but did not train anyone for the 16 months of the contract.

One key section of the audit was titled “Program Is Not Being Efficiently or Effectively Implemented.” The section detailed how the USAID mission office in Pakistan increased spending on the project, even though there were few or no reports documenting whether the program was working.

Those findings and that section were removed from the draft report, along with other negative findings, and placed in a confidential management letter. A finding that the auditors were not provided with detailed records of the spending was also placed in the management letter. It was sent to the USAID mission director in Pakistan on Sept. 30, 2012 — the day the final audit was publicly released by the inspector general’s office.

The inspector general defended the changes, saying in a letter to Coburn that the auditor’s overall assertion that the program was ineffective could not be supported by evidence of “cause, and effect.”
It is worth reading the article in full to understand all the claims made. In the end, there are some serious questions that the USAID’s Office of the Inspector General needs to answer. One good example appears to be the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The more focused watchdog has issued a series of reports outlining various problems with the US-led effort in Afghanistan. Another good example is the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which issues reports scoring programs carried out by the UK's Department for International Development.

29 October 2014

Human Rights Watch gets the documentary treatment

...and it's pretty good.



E-Team follows some of the staff Human Rights Watch deploys for ongoing crises. The teams go to civil-war Syria and Libya to document human rights abuses carried out by the respective regimes and Libyan rebels. The audience meets four HRW staffers to learn about their lives and activism. 

I found it to be a fascinating view into the inner workers of the organization. A lot is not shared about HRW, but a lot is revealed about it and the people who work for the rights body. The people featured come out as heroes, but there are glimpses into the trade-offs they make and challenges to activism. 

It is streaming on Netflix right now and well worth watching if you have an interest in HRW and/or human rights documentation.

28 October 2014

The anti-voluntourism calls just got a bit louder

Just when it seemed like the voluntourism debated stalled, in comes Mark Watson and his organization Tourism Concern. He is the latest to argue the problem with unskilled international volunteering. From his interview with the Independent:
"Volunteers often have unfulfilling and disappointing experiences; volunteer placements can prevent local workers from getting much-needed jobs; hard-pressed institutions waste time looking after them and money upgrading facilities; and abused or abandoned children form emotional attachments to the visitors, who increase their trauma by disappearing back home after a few weeks,” Mr Watson said. 
“We feel that there are many opportunities for people to undertake meaningful volunteering in their own community, where they will receive proper training, support and supervision – without the need to pay a tour operator for the privilege. In the majority of cases people would be far better (and have a more rewarding experience) volunteering at home and spending their money on travelling and staying in places listed in our Ethical Travel Guide,” he added.
I tend to fall in with the group that is mostly pessimistic about voluntourism. However, people want to travel to see the world and do something good in the process. Rather than shun such good intentions, the challenge for the voluntourism industry is to responsibly channel such desires. The challenge for news media is to responsibly cover the industry.

Who can translate this dense DevSpeak?

I have to admit that I gave up pretty quickly when reading about the World Bank's "100% citizen feedback agenda," described by for Integrity Action CEO Fredrik Galtung. His blog post is detailed to the point that it is hard to understand what the World Bank is actually doing. By giving up so early, I missed this gem of a paragraph:
A feedback system that uses the fix-rate as a KPI places the emphasis on being results oriented and delivering solutions, rather than simply identifying or reporting problems. As such, it will contribute to improving service delivery and development outcomes. A rising fix-rate will improve public trust in government and public office holders, improve the effectiveness of public services and assist policy makers in identifying the policy-level changes that both reduce the incidence of problems and further improve fix-rates.
I think Tobias over at Aidnography had it right with his reaction:
Seriously...I can hardly understand this paragraph because it is an assemblage of empty, neoliberal business- and policy-speak. And remember: This only on the program level, so this is obviously not '100%' of what the Bank does-the Bank as institution will hardly become more open or responsive in this process-some managers in some programs may if they have sorted out their type As, Bs & Cs...
I'd appreciate any help in translating the DevSpeak in the selected paragraph and the whole post. The basic idea makes sense, especially when articulated by World Bank president Jim Kim, but the analysis is above my paygrade. 

Some clarity amid the murky Ebola funding/spending numbers

As with any crisis, the question of how much is spent by whom comes to the forefront. It is usually the case that the answers are not immediately apparent. Enter Amanda Glassman of the Center for Global Development. She pulled together what information she could find on how the world is responding to the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

The big discrepancy is what UN OCHA’s Financial Tracking service does not capture. This chart she made shows what is in the OCHA totals and what is not. Her findings:

Glassman uses problematic data to show that this needs to be cleaned up. She writes:
The lack of aid accountability in the aftermath of a crisis is an ongoing problem for the development community. The amount of aid given in the aftermath of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake is still difficult to quantify, and tracing US government funding down to the subcontractor remains next to impossible. A public health emergency such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa faces largely similar risks when inflows of money are difficult to trace. Aid may be allocated inefficiently; contractors and subcontractors will not be held accountable for outcomes. Governments that already face the pressures of managing a developing economy often lack the infrastructure to manage these large inflows of cash. The onus for accountability therefore ought to be on the donors, not the recipient country governments that are in the midst of coping with an evolving emergency.

Releasing comprehensive, regular updates to the OCHA database would be a good first step, and should be considered a priority for all donors—if only to be sure that your press releases are accurate. But the UN OCHA database also needs to provide more detail about the allocation and use of funding to be most useful. Smarter allocation and greater accountability and evaluation are only possible if exact uses, locations, and recipients are known.
See her full post and analysis here

24 October 2014

Quote of the Day: Western hijacking of #BringBackOurGirls

From Nigerian writer Tolu Ogunlesi, in Al Jazeera:
the arrogance behind the actions of many Western do-gooders tends to undermine the significance of local agency; the reality that African problems will never be solved without the active involvement and commitment of Africans themselves, and that external help - in the form of funding or publicity - will only be effective when hitched to expressions of home-grown effort, within the context of a clear understanding of everything that's at stake.

For example, there's a Nigerian Bring Back Our Girls movement that has daily gathered at a public square in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, since the end of April, and have kept up the pressure on the government long after the celebrity hijackers strayed away. Those are the real heroes, and the ones to whom the international celebrity backers should be seeking guidance from as to how to intervene.
Read his entire piece here.

22 October 2014

In Swaziland, "the path to freedom goes through prison"


In Swaziland, freedom of speech does not exist. Criticize the King or expose the government and prison is possible. That is what happened to Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer and Bheki Makhubu, journalist and editor of the Nation magazine, earlier this year. The two soon stand trial to appeal their two year prison sentences. The above video brings attention to the injustice faced by the two men.

"When freedom is taken away, it becomes the onerous and supreme duty of men to reclaim it from the oppressor. For giving up freedom is tantamount to giving away man’s right to dignity. One can have no dignity without his or her freedom. Without our freedom we are a people without a soul," said Maseko in a July 2014 Statement from the Dock.

"The path to freedom goes through prison, but the triumph of justice over evil is inevitable. Nothing this Court can do will shake me from my commitment to simple truth and simple justice."

21 October 2014

San Antonio puts a face on 'overhead'


Nonprofits are hitting back against the overhead fetish. Next year will see a bunch of nonprofit leaders march about overhead from Maine to Massachusetts. Meanwhile, the above video from the San Antonio Nonprofit Council is meant to show why 'overhead' is a necessary investment for nonprofits to operate.

20 October 2014

The Ebola outbreak brings out the worst in people

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa and its importation to parts of the US and Europe has brought back some of the worst conceptions of the continent. Fears of Ebola, misinformation, fear of the other and racism all meld together causing ridiculous results like Syracuse disinviting a reporter from delivering remarks because he was in Liberia. That is one of what is now unfortunately many stories of people facing bans and discrimination due to Ebola.

An AP report from this weekend says "Africa's image takes a hit" because of the outbreak. An excerpt:

"It speaks to a whole discourse about the danger of Africa," said Michael Jennings, a senior lecturer in international development at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

He cited the recent decision of a British school to postpone a visit by a teacher from the West African country of Ghana after parents expressed concern about the Ebola virus. Ghana does not border the hard-hit nations and has not reported any cases of the disease.

Jennings said fearful people don't necessarily react in a rational way and the message of some comments on social media in Britain is: "Why don't we just stop everyone in West Africa from coming?"

Rather than read the article, just skip to the comments section to see what people think. Nigerian journalist Chika Oduah collected some of the reactions to the article. In short, they are terrible and essential affirm the thesis of the AP story. Here are a few of the gems Chika shared via Facebook.
"I won't go near a W. African....nor will I touch them. If the above-named complainers don't like it..TOO BAD! For God's sake..the fear people feel is NOT UNFOUNDED! It is real...it is normal...it is correct...and perfectly acceptable."

"Unfortunately Africa IS a hotbed of disease, poverty and tribal fighting. We DO have aright to protect ourselves."

"[Africa is a ] Horrible third world country."

"Africa has always been viewed as a toilet. So I doubt it's image has been damaged much."

"Africa's image??? Is that some kind of joke? Pick your program; Social reform, education, corruption management, ecological protection, economic reform, medical care,.....You name it and those people have screwed it up. Ebola may be a serious problem but I don't think Africa's image can get any worse than it already is."

"Africa is a basket case. You have to wonder why?"

"The image of Africa I had before hasn't changed... it's still a giant S* hole!"

"Look, Africa is a shait hole and no Libtvrd Media white-wash is ever going to convince most people otherwise. There are NO US interests, strategic military or otherwise, in that blighted region. Moreover, vast areas are Muslim and incubators for white and Christian hating Muslim terror. The Europeans, who F ed up Africa with their Colonialism, are the ones who OWE Africa something, not the USA. Just because we have this 9% minority whose black ancestors came from Africa as much a 300 years ago doesn't give the USA an obligation. Neither does the MISTAKE of electing a half-Kenyan, who's other half is white Libtvrd IDIOT, as US President."

"Oh yeah.. It was Ebola that changed my mind to think Africa is a festering, fly infested steaming pile of feces of a continent."

"I cannot think of any export or anything positive coming out of Africa.Only things I can think of are HIV/AIDs, Ebola, and Obama."

"Africa the backward dark continent that has contributed nothing to society."

"I never got the memo those [African] mud hut dwellers eating bush meat had been elevated."

"OLD stereotypes? They eat bats and monkies right NOW!! Africa IS full of aids and malaria and disentary. That is not a stereotype it is a fact."

"Western Africans were slaves for a reason. Come on - these people are just trash."

"Africa's image? I've always thought that place was a hell hole. Now it's been confirmed."

"Africas image took a hit a long time ago! Over population,AIDS and dirt,filth everywhere. They dont even use toilets. They go where and when they please!"

How much of a problem is inequality in East Africa? How can it be reduced?



A video from Ben Taylor (aka @mtega) shows the distribution of wealth in the three East African countries. It comes at no surprise that the top 1% have a lot and there is little left for everyone else. He ends the video with a series of questions, but it is rather obvious that there are some issues to deal with when the 6 individuals have as much wealth as the bottom 50%.

How can it be dealt with? Not everybody agrees. Claire Melamed of the Overseas Development Institute says the attention has to be placed on the poor in order to reduce inequality. She writes in Aeon:

The mainstream narrative – about the runaway incomes of the richest people in the richest countries, the absurdities of boardroom pay and tax avoidance and so on – might prick our sense of fairness, but it has only a limited amount to offer the analysis and treatment of extreme poverty. The second, lesser known, inequality story is about the things that keep people poor. This story offers fertile ground for the coalitions and policy agendas that can actually address both poverty and inequality.

These stories are, of course, linked. Concentrations of income and opportunity at the very top might well make progress at the very bottom harder, in some cases – for political, economic or social reasons. And more money, generated by taxing the super-rich, would give more options to those governments that do want to act.

But at present too much analysis and attention in the development sector is given to the first story. This has led to a situation where people want to believe that inequality is important, but they don’t quite know why. Answering that question requires us to grapple with the second type of inequality. And that, in turn, requires better information.
At present, the empirical foundations of our inequality debates are far too weak. Perhaps that is the most basic inequality of all: between those of us who are counted, and those of us who are not.
Oxfam's Duncan Green disagrees arguing that both the top and bottom need to be addressed at the same time. He writes:
Recovering and strengthening the sense of social responsibility of the powerful is important, as is attacking the chronic poverty of the people at the bottom of the heap – why can’t they be mutually reinforcing? At the top, the effort includes more and fairer redistribution through taxation, but also thinking about ‘predistribution’ – some economic models pile up inequality by, for example, favouring capital intensive sectors, whereas others generate more benefits to the poor by creating jobs or involving small farmers in value chains. Then there’s the need for constraints on elite power and political capture – when was the last time a development organization talked about the rules governing lobbying or financing political campaigns, North or South? Put them all together and the overall task becomes something like supporting the strengthening of the social contract between (all) citizens and the state.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the chronic poverty agenda is really important (that’s why I’m on the advisory board of the Chronic Poverty Action Network). But I felt their most recent Chronic Poverty report lost the plot a bit on the SDGs: instead of arguing that chronic poverty is what is left when all the relatively easily reducable poverty has been tackled, and should thus be at the core of ‘getting to zero’ in the post 2015 process, the report went off at a tangent about what to do about people who are not chronically poor, but ‘churn’ in and out of poverty over the course of a year. That’s interesting and important, but people who churn are by definition, not the chronic (i.e. permanent) poor.

So within ODI, Claire Melamed (who runs the team on growth, poverty and inequality, but mainly does post 2015 stuff) is advocating putting chronic poverty at the heart of the SDGs, while the actual chronic poverty people are talking about something else. And anyway, I disagree with both of them, because we should be addressing both the top and bottom of the inequality equation. Feels like time for a poll (if only to put Tim Gore out of his misery for getting the ‘wrong’ answer on the last one).
Who is right? I think Duncan makes a good point and am curious to hear if Claire agrees. Where there is no disagreement is on the point that wealth and income inequality is a problem in need of solving.

30 April 2014

Want to Harm your Economy? Restrict Immigration


Yet another push for immigration reform in the US is underway. Lawmakers would be smart to cast aside their personal feelings about the issue and look at the evidence. It was already established that making a humanitarian appeal can lead people to support more relaxed immigration policies.

For the people who do not respond to empathy, there is another angle: our collective wallets.

Immigrants play an important role in the US economy and in other countries. Placing heavy restrictions that reduce the flow of migration can be harmful to economic health. That is the lesson from the UK, where economists with the UK-based National Institute of Economic and Social Research projected the impact of halving the nation's immigration rate.

Cutting immigration in the UK by 50%, as proposed by some conservative lawmakers in the country, would result in an aggregate GDP decreases by 11%, by 2060 as compared current projections. That is economics speak for saying that cuts to immigration will hurt the economy.

The damage goes much further that lower GDP growth. With fewer people coming into the UK, there are then fewer tax payers, which means less revenue, meaning fewer people have to bear the burden of taxes (aka higher taxes overall). It is a scenario that nobody really wants to face, but support persists to make cuts to immigration in the UK.

Continue Reading on Humanosphere...

29 April 2014

Prime Time Cable News Ignores HIV/AIDS - Report

When important news about HIV and/or AIDS breaks, do not tune into the evening news on Fox News, MSNBC or CNN. They probably won't report it.

That is the basic lesson of an analysis of coverage of the issue by Media Matters, for 2013 and the first quarter of 2014. Despite some rather notable breakthroughs, developments and announcements that have taken place over the last year, HIV/AIDS is not a priority issue for the leading cable news networks.

cable news HIV


CNN lead the way with a whopping 11 mentions, in 2013. Its more opinion-oriented competitors did worse with only 4 mentions each. To make matters worse, the few mentions did not often involve an actual expert on HIV/AIDS.

This year is not looking all that much better. MSNBC is holding steady with its pace of one story every three months. Fox News and CNN are lagging in their paltry coverage of the topic. It has not been for a lack of stories to cover.

Continue Reading on Humanosphere...

Dani Alvez takes a bit out of racism on the soccer pitch

European soccer (aka football) has struggled the past few years with racism, coming both from the stands and on the field (pitch). International and domestic organizers have sought to stamp out racism in and around soccer, but it continues to rear its ugly head. One insult is throwing a banana in the direction of a player.

Last weekend, FC Barcelona defender Dani Alvez was preparing to take a corner kick against opponent Villarreal when a banana landed in front of him. The Brazilian national immediately walked over, picked it up, quickly peeled it, ate it and took the kick.


"We have suffered this in Spain for some time. You have to take it with a dose of humor," Alves said about it to the BBC.

Continue Reading on Humanosphere...

27 April 2014

This Week in Review (from Idaho)

Articles He Wrote
I am passing through Seattle, San Francisco and LA over the next two weeks. Say hi if you are around.


Good Reads
  • Akex Oareebe says what everyone has been thinking for a long time, it is time for the NY Times to ditch Friedman, Brooks and Dowd from the OpEd pages.
  • Yankees fans are everywhere! An interactive map breaks down baseball fans by zip code.
  • Another 90s has-been is peddling anti-vaccine ideas.
  • The founder of Boston Brewery (aka Sam Adams), Jim Koch, says he has a trick to ward off getting drunk. Anyone try this out?
  • The lasting impacts of a failed Washington career that ended due to a scandal. 
  • Rolling Stone readers love John Hughes. They think Breakfast Club is the best movie of the 80's.
  • After years of rape allegations, the ax might finally fall on one of fashion's most divisive photographers.
  • A very unscientific survey finds that people from Montana and Alaska have the most state pride. Rhode Island and Illinois rate the worst.
Song of the Week
Future Islands - Seasons (Waiting on You)
(Say what you want about the lead singer's dance moves, but there are few performers that are this emotionally invested in what they create)

Development Doings
The Funny Pages
Hover text: "I can't remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you're saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it is not literally illegal to express"

22 April 2014

Week in Review: Styling and stories from the past week

Articles He Wrote
Picture of the Day


The vintage styling of Namibian fashion designer Lourens Gebhardt. See more on his tumblr page.

Good Reads
  • Harrison Ford tells the back story for what led to the iconic sword/gun fight scene in Indian Jones, in a reddit AMA.
  • This map shows the number of executions by US state as of 2014.
  • The NY Times investigates the handling of the Jamies Winston rape investigation, revealing just how terribly law enforcement did in its job.
  • A Raiders cheerleader sues the team for unfair working conditions and paying her below minimum wage. 
  • A Princeton study on US policy finds the rich get what they want and the middle class are left out. America is an oligarchy, they conclude.
  • Supposedly America’s 50 best coffee shops. The few I've been to that are on the list are excellent. 
  • Neat visual and interactive reporting explaining trends in how Americans die. Most of it is good news
  • Africa's many obstacles have allowed for local entrepreneurs to beat the West at reinventing money for the mobile age.
  • How the Africa's many obstacles, from widespread poverty to failed states, allowed African entrepreneurs to beat the West at reinventing money for the mobile age.
  • Washington's remorse over standing by during the genocide 20 years ago is enabling repression today, says Howard French. 
  • Why We Should Be Paying Attention to Elections in Burkina Faso.

16 April 2014

Call for Abstracts: Voice and Matter – Glocal Conference on Communication for Development

Deadline: 23 May 2014, 00:00 (CET)

Voice and Matter is the fourth annual Communication for Development conference arranged by Ørecomm – Centre for Communication and Glocal Change, this year merged with Roskilde University’s biannual scientific conference, Sunrise.

When? 17-20 September 2014
Where? Roskilde University (Denmark) & Malmö University (Sweden)The conference aims to explore the dynamic relationship – and possible convergence – between voice and matter in the context of communication for development theory and practice.

We invite researchers, students, practitioners, authors, artists and filmmakers to submit abstracts on the following themes:
  • New Social Actors and ICT for Development. The technocentric concept of ICT4D raises questions on the power over and use of technology. Who are the new social actors and new social movements? How do they pursue their goals using ICTs? This session invites theoretical and empirical reflections, uncovering emerging perspectives on technology, voice and matter
  • ICT4D Without ICT4G? As photos of all-male ICT4D conference panels and technology fairs dominated by men are circulated on social networks, questions about gender issues in ICT4D research and practice are more pressing than ever. This panel invites theoretical reflections andinnovative case studies on gender, power and the future of ICT4D.
  • The Present and Future of Development Journalism International development journalism is exploring new avenues to connect with different audiences and to communicate social change. This panel highlights new innovative approaches as well as discussing the challenges and limitations in an age where ‘everybody is a broadcaster’.
  • Fiction Matters Recent decades have in many parts of the world brought new genres of fiction to critical acclaim. New authors engage with movement, migration and change in ways that are debatedglobally. This panel will explore fiction, that in new ways engage with therelation between the social and the global, and between voice and matter.Histories of Diaspora Nation-states and national mentalities have shaped societies we live in through reductive classifications. New methods now move beyond this logic, allowing for improved understanding of the changing role of the state over time, and for new transcultural encounters. This panel explores methods in approaching the diaspora context in space and time.
Deadlines
  • Submission of abstracts are accepted until 23 May 2014, oo:oo (CET)
  • Accepted abstracts will be announced individually by 6 June 2014
Guidelines
  • Email your abstract of 200-300 words to orecomm@gmail.com with the subject "Voice & Matter Abstract"
  • Abstracts must include the presenter's name, affiliation, email and postal address.
  • Please name your abstract in the following way: name+surname_abstract
Questions? Please feel free to share this call for abstracts with colleagues, partners and friends.

14 April 2014

Kicking off the week by looking at the last one

Sign up for the Newsletter From the Cave (as seen below) to land directly in your already crowded inbox each week, by going here.

Articles He Wrote

Will the US foreign aid budget continue its decline?
Discussions in DC are now taking place over the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and the downward trend of foreign aid spending may resume.

US underfunding crucial global health research and development, warns group
A GHTC report warns that the political wrangling over federal budgets in Washington DC are putting crucial global health research and development at risk.

Income growth is great, just not for reducing child undernutrition
It has been held that improving the economies of developing countries can help reduce undernutrition. New research says that is not actually happening.

Genocide anniversary reignites French-Rwandan political tensions
Comments made by Rwandan President Paul Kagame about France's complicity in the nation's genocide throws cold water on the improving relations between them.

World needs to get its shit together on climate change
Another report from the UN warns about the negative effects of climate change on the world, but will it actually get people to take action?

Gif Me a Break


Stephan Colbert will be replacing David Letterman over at the Late Show next year.

Good Reads

  • Satirical spoilers for the final season of Mad Men that cut close to what could happen.
  • Two-thirds of the neighborhoods in the bottom fourth of the national income distribution in 1980 were still at the bottom in 2008. 
  • You like art (music, paintings, etc) when you believe the artist is eccentric (aka why people like Bjork and Lady Gaga).
  • USA Network is pretty much the anti-AMC, and it's getting the big audience. Here's why.
  • "Upworthy enrolls us in the establishment of our own organized ignorance." 
  • Coffee nerd alert: MIT mapped the neighborhoods served by independent coffee shops in San Francisco and Cambridge.
  • Tracking down the elusive great satirist Tom Lehrer, who continues to be an influence a half century after he suddenly stopped writing music.
  • A new series on Showtime tries to make climate change more interesting by using celebrities. See the first episode in full here.

Song of the Week



tUnE-yArDs - Water Fountain

Development Goodies

  • We "need a new way of thinking about the challenge of international development that goes beyond obsolete divisions of North-South."
  • What should be the role of the NGO?
  • “You’re just not that vulnerable enough” – the situation of urban displacement in Libya.
  • When an aid project goes wrong, who is responsible
  • Tina Rosenberg on the possibility of a green revolution for Africa.
  • Bill Easterly and Owen Barder debated aid, human rights and technocrats. 
  • Remember Sockket, the ball that kids play with and generates electricity? Tiny Spark actually investigates what happens to the much-touted balls. 
  • Twenty years ago, Rwanda descended into the madness of genocide. UN peacekeepers were stretched to breaking point – but one stood out, taking huge risks to save hundreds of lives. His story.

Tweet of the Week

08 April 2014

A belated, but not forgotten, week in review

Articles He Wrote

An AP report reveals that a US-backed program attempted to develop a Twitter-like service with the goal that it would help spark political unrest in Cuba.
USAID unveiled its new innovation lab to some fanfare and concerns about its partnerships with the private sector.
A documentary now in theaters provides an inside look at an oil company operating in Ghana following the discovery of oil.
Hospitals run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have experienced looting and murdered patients, adding to the high concerns for South Sudan.
We have looked previously at visual representations of migration, but these two visuals manage to capture the scale of movement and its impacts.
Gif Me a Break
Good Reads
  • It doesn't matter how smart you know, politics blinds your ability to make reasoned assessments
  • The state of inequality and why it is cause for concern in six charts.
  • Recently discovered skeletons show the Black Death was spread by coughs and sneezes, not rats.
  • Why Shakespeare should be read with an accent closer to Scottish than British English.
  • "But here’s the thing the anti-vaxxers need to know, for the one billionth time: You’re wrong. Really, it’s that simple."
  • Catch up on the ongoing debate between Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic and Jonathan Chait of New Yorker over culture and race.
  • The use of a private debt collector has brought back de facto debtor prisons.
  • Remembering Kurt Cobain 20 years after his death.
  • The abusive behavior of one of the most controversial pastors in America.
  • The UN peacekeeper to saved hundreds of lives during the Rwandan genocide, 20 years ago.
  • It's a lot easier being a white guy, on Twitter.
  • Neil Young's new digital music player has raised more than $5 million on Kicksterter.
Song of the Day

The War on Drugs - Red Eyes

Development Goodies
Picture of the Week
See the rest of the 2014 National Geographic traveler contest photo winners here.

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