Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Pope of the Poor – An Impossible Dream ?

by Roger Williamson

The new Pope says he wants a “poor church, for the poor”.  Will he get it? The old saying comes to mind “be careful what you wish for….” 

For those committed to improving the lot of the poor, marginalized and vulnerable and also to development specialists and practitioners (not necessarily the same thing, I know), this is an important question. Development specialists are waking up to the importance of faith communities – but understanding them is a really complex challenge. Speaking as a practising Christian, I have to say that in terms of social involvement, religious organisations need very careful study – much of the record is destructive, alienating and problematic – but at its best faith commitment can lead to an identification  with the poor which is very profound and positive. None of the simple answers are adequate ( e.g. “religion =  wonderful/ the real thing”; “religion = alienating, oppressive, bad” or Alistair Campbell’s spin doctor comment on Tony Blair’s administration – “We don’t do God”). Any serious social scientist has to “do religion”  - there are a lot of religious believers. You have to take them seriously, but not believe everything they say. So let’s take the Pope seriously and see what he is saying on behalf of his flock of one billion plus.

Former President of the World Bank James Wolfensohn and former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey,  launched an initiative (the World Faiths Development Dialogue) on this subject 15 years ago – I remember being involved in the planning process.

Wolfensohn correctly argued that there is a place of worship in practically every village on the planet, and that if religious organisations could consistently advocate development at every level, huge progress could be made.

In many religions, parts of the tradition have a positive evaluation of voluntary poverty and generosity towards the poor. But, as Asian Catholic theologian Aloysius Pieris points out in An Asian Theology of Liberation (Orbis, Maryknoll 1988), there is all the difference in the world between voluntary poverty and enforced poverty.  He stresses that a large percentage of the population of Asia are religious and poor, and argues that they should be freed from enforced poverty. He looks for an interfaith (Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, etc.) alliance of people of faith who choose poverty and reject acquisitiveness, in order to oppose the structures in society which create enforced poverty and suffering.

So what could it mean if the Pope is serious?  I suggest three criteria for whether he means it.

Personal integrity from the top.
The complicity of much of the leadership of the Argentine Catholic church with the successive military juntas in Argentina is well documented. (See Emilio F Mignone, Witness to the Truth : The Complicity of Church and Dictatorship in Argentina Orbis, Maryknoll, 1986.) There are allegations that the new Pope (as head of the Jesuits in Argentina ) and Cardinal Arumburu effectively  withdrew church protection from two Jesuits who were working in the slums of Buenos Aires – they were subsequently taken by the military and held for months in inhumane  conditions, and badly mistreated. (See also  Tony Allen-Mills and John Pollain, “Man on a Mission” Sunday Times, 17.03.13 pp. 23-5) The Vatican has waved away questions by saying these are old questions. That’s not the point – the issue is what actually happened? Are the well documented and long-standing allegations true? I can well understand being scared of the Argentine military. To have someone who betrayed his colleagues as a church leader is not in itself the problem (if that is what he did) – Peter denied Christ. So to have someone who failed and is restored to a position of trust could be a sign of hope for the throne of St Peter. But the Pope has to come clean about the Dirty War and his role in it – the leadership of the Catholic church in Argentina  (with a few brave exceptions ) either kept quiet or offered ideological support as thirty thousand people were tortured, disappeared, killed and thrown out of helicopters into the River Plate. It is not enough to know whether the new Pope is a man who cooked his own meals and refused to use the Cardinal’s residence. We need to know what he and his church did in the Dirty War.

Beyond charity
Catholics give huge amounts of money to charitable organizations – much of it for poorer parts of the Catholic Church as emergency response, famine relief, and other charitable causes. But we have also had the unedifying spectacle of the Vatican lining up with Iran and a conservative US administration at the 1994 UN Population Conference because of its position on birth control.

There are also many progressive Catholic organisations – even at high level in the Catholic Church (like Justice and Peace). In the UK CAFOD, the development agency of the Bishops’ Conference, has gone well beyond charity and emergency relief, to work for long-term development. 

Commitment to justice for the poor

The advocates of a socially-engaged Catholicism provide many inspiring examples in recent decades, exemplified by:
  • liberation theology and the protests against military dictatorship in Latin America,
  • opposition to the murderous civil wars in Central America (the murdered Jesuit academic Ignacio Ellacuria talked of “crucified peoples” )
  • and opposition to apartheid in South Africa ( eg  the Kairos Document) or
  • and mobilization against repression in the Philippines under Marcos – where nuns and lay people were particularly active.
As a Brazilian activist said, if you don’t have structural change, you end up with “different parrots at the top of the same trees”.  

This week marks the 33rd anniversary of the murder of Archbishop Romero of El Salvador, gunned down while saying Mass. His conversion by the poor people of his country led him to make some extraordinary statements indicating the depth of his commitment: “Brothers and sisters, I’m glad that the Church is being persecuted. In a country where so many horrendous murders are occurring, it would be very sad to think that there were no priests among the victims. Their deaths are a symbol that the Church has incarnated itself among the poor.” (See Oscar Romero: Memories in Mosaic p. 9).

Archbishop Romero, in one of his last lectures (at the University of Leuven) radicalized the statement of the early church theologian St  Irenaeus (2nd century) “gloria dei homo vivens” (the living human being is the glory of God) by making it “gloria dei  pauper vivens” – the living poor person is the glory of God.
Jon Sobrino was the one survivor of his Jesuit community in El Salvador in 1989 – he was abroad when his fellow Jesuits, their housekeeper and her young daughter were massacred. He was a close theological associate of Romero and has said – “the poor are those who are close to death.”

So “Church of the poor” – does the new Pope mean it?
The Roman Catholic Church did have a Church of the Poor, most obviously in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. The Pope’s two predecessors did their best to dismantle it by censuring or silencing priests and theologians who worked out the full implications of solidarity with the poor and oppressed, by making difficulties for bishops who reformed their dioceses in service of the poor, for example by breaking up the Archdiocese of Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns  in Sao Paulo. A word about Arns - when I visited the Archbishop’s Palace in 1983, human rights groups were protected by being housed there; he ensured that the funeral of one secular, leftist Jewish  journalist was held in the cathedral and accused the military by saying that the people who killed Vladimir Herzog were worse than the executioners of Jesus – who at least gave the body back.

Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger (his successor Pope Benedict) have sought to ensure through appointment of conservative bishops and rigorous ideological policing of liberation theology that the next generation of church leaders would be more conservative and compliant.

Dutch sociologist Mady Thung has written of the church as a “precarious institution”. However, the biblical record, the life and death of Jesus and parts of the Christian tradition contain many subversive memories which resurface and serve as the stimulus for the church as a movement of the poor. At the same time, particularly since the collusion between the church and the Roman empire solidified and gave us the established church. Major churches as institutions have always tended to compromise with, or actively support, the powerful.

There was a significant movement of the “the church of the poor” in Latin and Central America – as documented by Penny Lernoux in her book  Cry of the People. Hundreds of its members were murdered by military dictatorships for their stand on social justice and their defence of poor people.

As Jesus said, it is as hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven as for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.  If it is that hard for one rich person – how hard would it be for a church of over a billion people?

So – the big question remains: taking the name Francis - after the poor man, St Francis of Assisi, is an exercise in “rebranding the papacy”. Does it mean an end to secrecy, collusion with power, cover ups and corruption? Does the new Pope really mean it? will the Vatican now be committed to the defence of the poorest people on the planet? First, let’s hear the full truth about the Pope’s  role in the Dirty War, then let’s see some tangible evidence of commitment to the poor – not as charity, but as justice. There are many in the Catholic Church who want it. That is the Christian tradition of Romero, Ita Ford, Ellacuria, the housekeeper of the six Jesuits murdered , the unknown peasants repressed in the 1970s and 1980s – and that is just a short list for El Salvador.

Following Jesus in being on the side of the poor sets you against rich, powerful and dangerous people and can get you killed. For the true church of the poor that is not an argument to stop.
The church of the poor should defend the poor and dismantle the structures which make and keep people poor. If that is what the Pope means – excellent. An institution of a billion people (many of them poor, many already committed) working on that agenda  will make a big difference. If it is not what he  means, then it is just “re-branding” in the worst possible sense.

Pope Francis, human rights and the church of the poor: an addendum
Since writing the piece above, I have made every effort to discover more on the record of the Pope and the Argentine Catholic Church on human rights under the Argentine military dictatorship. This has caused me to feel the need to add to the above account.

In summary, the following are my conclusions:
In the early coverage of appointment of Pope Francis, there was considerable comment on the case of two Jesuit priests working in the slums of Buenos Aires who were captured by the military, then tortured and eventually released after five months imprisonment in 1976. The two priests (Fr Yorio and Fr Jalics) were, in all likelihood, taken because of their association with Monica Quinteiro, a catechist who has been described as a sympathizer of the Montoneros. The military junta which took over in 1976 quickly engaged in a massive effort to round up anyone who was involved in the Monteneros  and ERP guerrilla movements. In order to ensure that they captured as many as possible of movements’ leaders, they also picked up and “disappeared” many who knew those in the movements,  who had no direct personal involvement, who were “friends of friends”, who were involved in social work in the slums, or who were cases of “mistaken identity”.

For anyone not living through that terror, it is hard to imagine what it was like for those involved and for those trying to help them. Iain Guest in his 1990 book on the disappeared writes about the group of friends including Monica Quinteiro, Monica Mignone and others who knew the priests and worked with them in their church activities. In total, seven young women in that group were abducted and never released.(Guest, pp. 34 ff.)

Monica Mignone’s father, Emilio, wrote an early (1986), critical book on the Catholic church and human rights. He was subsequently active in the human rights movement and was president of CELS, the Centre for Legal and Social Studies. He comments on the case of the priests, the alleged withdrawal of church protection for them after they were told  to discontinue their work in the slum as well as their connection with his daughter and Monica Quinteiro in his book, Witness to the Truth 98, 134, 148

The priests were held in the notorious ESMA, a training centre of the Argentine navy. There has been a long-standing effort to prosecute the naval officers involved in the abductions, torture and murders – of whom perhaps the most notorious is Alfredo Astiz – found guilty for the murder of, among others, two French nuns, Alice Domon and Leonie Duquet and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2011. Ultimately the chain of command went up to Admiral Massera –  the head of the navy and one of the original Junta leaders, with whom Bergoglio interceded on behalf of Yorio and Jalics. There are two recent statements by Fr Jalics on the website of the German Jesuits which make it clear that he does not think that Bergoglio was responsible for them being taken by the military. Although he was critical of his superior (Bergoglio) at the time, he is now fully reconciled to what transpired. Yorio is deceased, but members of his family remain critical.

The Pope’s official biographer Sergio Rubin details other cases in which Bergoglio intervened to save or protect people in danger in his book El Jesuita.  There is a huge volume of comment on these issues which can be accessed on line, including film parts of Borgoglio’s testimony in the 2010 hearings in the ESMA case. Thus, in spite of the difficult earlier pastoral relationship with Yorio and Jalics, Bergoglio intervened at high level (with Junta leaders Videla and Massera) and was eventually successful in getting the priests released.

The story of the silence and/or complicity of the majority of the Catholic hierarchy during the time of the military dictatorship would merit a full and careful study. Much of the information has emerged, piece by piece, through the work of the human rights organisations, the national commission on the disappeared and the various trials and attempts at trials over the past three decades. According to Mignone, only four Bishops publicly protested, at great personal risk – Bishop Angelelli of La Rioja (who was killed in what was made to look like a car accident), Jaime de Nevares of Neuquen, Miguel Hesayne of Vielma and Jorge Novak of Quilmes. In contrast, “Bishop Tortolo and Cardinals Aramburu and Primatesta, who in 1976 made up the Executive Commission of the bishops’ conference, closed their doors to the victims’ families; only in rare cases did they meet with them.” Mignone, pp 19-20.

It is also necessary to be aware that there are serious divergences of view in the human rights movement.  It is understandable that people who have lost relatives – perhaps particularly in the cases where women killed and their babies given to other families are particularly harsh in their judgments and feel that more could and should have been done by the church and other organisations.

It is a consistent account that Bergoglio used possibilities which he had to intervene behind the scenes and is still reluctant to talk about this – the exceptions so far have been his testimony in the trial (2010) and his interview for the official biography.  Where then does the critique come from?  Initially the priests (Yorio and Jalics) themselves, then Mignone who met Yorio immediately on his release to try to find out about his daughter and her friends, then, more recently and in more vehement form by Horacio Verbitsky, author of a book El Silencio (The Silence) on the relations of the church with ESMA, and other examinations of the human rights abuses. Various versions of his thesis – in longer or shorter form – have been presented in the media.  His writings and interviews are the source of much of the most negative criticisms of Bergoglio. He article by Buchet gives a judicious evaluation of these accusations and has been helpful in analyzing the internal political context of the critique of Bergoglio – as emanating primarily from  allies of President Kirchner.

The new Pope is conservative on doctrine and sexual issues, but with a strong social conscience. According to Rubin, he has a genuine concern for the poor, but is not an advocate of liberation theology. He has had major confrontations with the current Kirchner government on social policy, but the Argentine president has been quick to seek a rapprochement with him on his elevation to the Papacy.

Obviously, had I known then what I know now, I would have written my original piece in a different way. I have chosen to redress the matter in this way, rather than simply withdrawing the piece. This serves as a salutary warning both about the ideologically polarized nature of Argentine political discussion, and also how information primarily from one source (i.e. Verbitsky) - effectively deployed - can still exercise an excessive influence on interpretations of news stories.

In spite of the problems with what I wrote and its (it now seems to me) unfair comments on the role of the Pope, the central points remain
  • The Argentine Roman Catholic Church – with certain notable exceptions, fell well short, through complicity and silence, of what should have happened in defence of human rights.
  • Pope Benedict, at the 1999 meeting of the Latin American Bishops’ conferences, CELAM , announced the death of liberation theology. The collapse of communism “turned out to be a kind of twilight of the gods for that theology of redeeming political practice” (Linden p. 152.) Linden’s own reading of the preferential option for the poor and the structural challenge it implies is different. His hopeful conclusion is as follows: “News of the death of liberation theology was greatly exaggerated. Liberation theology was disposable, not an end in itself. The preferential option for the poor and its redeeming-pastoral practice were not. These had long since entered the bloodstream of the Church and migrated around the world … The life of the Church in Latin America, and arguably the universal Church, had been irrevocably changed.” ( p. 152-3)  
  • A huge amount is at stake – the promise of a church of the poor is inspirational. Even in a less ideologically charged environment (post-Cold War) it will not prove easy.  Given the polarized national context from which the Pope has emerged, and given the difficulty of thoroughly reforming Catholic church (as Catholics as different as Martin Luther and Pope John XXIIII – the architect of Vatican II – have discovered), time will tell.  One should be encouraged by the initially positive, though not starry-eyed,  evaluations of figures such as Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel,, the Jesuit Jon Sobrino – who worked closely with Archbishop Romero and Brazilian liberation theologian, Leonardo Boff. It is too early to say whether the Pope will succeed in re-orienting the Catholic church  to be a church of the poor and whether the name of St Francis has been rightly invoked as the hallmark of this Papacy.  Or, as Jesus said – “by their fruits will you know them.”

For further reading
  • Tina Beattie, Eve’s Pilgrimage: A Woman’s Quest for the City of God, Burns and Oates, London and New York, 2002 – critical history of the history and theology of the Roman Catholic Church by a feminist theologian
  • Leonardo Boff, Good News to the Poor, Burns and Oates, London, 1992 – one of the Brazilian theologians who has had trouble with the Vatican
  • Penny Lernoux,  Cry of the People, Penguin, London, 1982 – detailed history of the work of the Catholic church in Latin America with the poor and in support of human rights
  • Ian Linden, Global Catholicism: Diversity and Change since Vatican II, Hurst & Co, London, 2009 – excellent overview.
  • Emilio Mignone, Witness to the Truth: The Complicity of Church and Military Dictatorship in Argentina, Orbis, Maryknoll, 1988 – examination of the Church and the “Dirty War”
  • Albert Nolan, Jesus before Christianity, Orbis, Maryknoll, 1978 – South African Dominican monk, who has also written God in South Africa and helped to coordinate and write the Kairos document mobilizing the churches against apartheid.
  • Aloysius Pieris, An Asian Theology of Liberation. Orbis, Maryknoll, 1988 – Sri Lankan Jesuit writing from an Asian interfaith perspective
  • Tracey Rowland, Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI , Oxford University Press, 2008 – a careful study of Ratzinger’s theology
  • Julio de Santa Ana, Good News to the Poor, Separation without Hope, Towards a Church of the Poor, World Council of Churches , Geneva, 1977, 78, 79 (3 volumes) – three studies on the Biblical basis for the church of the poor, historical examples and the implications.
  • Jon Sobrino, The True Church and the Poor, SCM, London, 1985 – the one survivor of the massacre of the Jesuits in El Salvador.
  • Maria Lopez Vigil,  Oscar Romero, Memories in Mosaic, EPICA, CAFOD, Darton, Longman and Todd, 2000 – a full study of people who knew Romero
  • Derek Winter, Hope in Captivity: The Prophetic Church in Latin America, Epworth, 1977 – a profile of the leading figures in liberation theology. The book was too interesting and well written to submit as post-graduate thesis.

Can Social Protection Floors guarantee food security?

Stephen Devereux
by Stephen Devereux 
The ILO Recommendation Concerning National Floors of Social Protection, unanimously adopted at the 101st International Labour Conference in June 2012, is a significant achievement, to be applauded by everyone who has campaigned for social protection over the past 10-15 years. But is this also a victory for those who campaign for food security and the human right to adequate food for all? In my opinion, it is not.

In 2012, I was involved in producing a report by the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) for the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) titled ‘Social Protection for Food Security’. Our report argued that the Social Protection Floor does not guarantee national, household or individual food security, and we argued for a complementary ‘Food Security Floor’. The ILO disagreed.

“The ILO recommendation guides member states towards building social protection systems, with the objective that over the life-cycle all individuals have access to adequate goods and services to achieve income security, which would include food security. In other words, the Social Protection Floor will be sufficient to achieve the right to food for all. The ILO recommendation therefore adequately addresses the concerns raised in the HLPE report.”
Author’s notes from the 39th CFS meeting in October 2012; not a direct quotation from an official document of the ILO.

On 18 March 2013, this issue was discussed at a seminar on ‘Social protection as a catalyst for food security and the right to adequate food’, hosted by the ILO in Geneva and co-organised by OxfamFIAN,  and IUF.

At the workshop I argued that, if “income security [does] include food security”, then food security is a subset of income security, and any situation or cause of food insecurity should be amenable to an income transfer. This is not correct: the determinants of food (in)security are more complex.

Standard frameworks for food (and nutrition) security have four components: availability, access, stability and utilisation. The two ‘guarantees’ of the Social Protection Floor – basic income security and access to essential health care for all – can address access to food directly (by providing food transfers or cash transfers that finance food purchases), but they can address food availability, stability and utilisation only indirectly, if at all.

A much wider range of food security and social protection instruments is available that addresses each component of food and nutrition security directly. For example, agricultural input subsidies promote food availability. Various cash and in-kind transfers boost access to food. Stability of food access can be addressed by seasonal employment programmes and strategic management of grain reserves. Effective utilisation of food requires improved feeding and care practices, good public health and sanitation.

Moreover, empirical evidence reveals many reasons why income transfers to a household might not be equitably distributed to all household members so that each achieves food security all the time, even if the transfers are sufficient to meet all their subsistence needs. These reasons include: gendered control over income and food, intra-household discrimination against weaker household members, and the intergenerational transmission of malnutrition. Even an individually targeted income transfer that provides enough food or cash to meet that person’s subsistence needs might not do so if the transfer is ‘diluted’ among several individuals. A well-known example is a social pension that is spent on orphaned grandchildren as well as the pensioner.

A bigger question for social protection generally is whether systemic problems in the food system are better addressed with targeted income transfers that address the consequences of food insecurity, or with structural interventions that address the causes of food insecurity. Market failures and food price variability (inflation, seasonality or price spikes) undermine the purchasing power of cash transfers and compromise their capacity to deliver food security. Is the appropriate response to raise cash transfers as prices rise, or to invest in infrastructure (such as rural roads and communications) that integrates markets and helps to stabilise food supplies and prices?

If we accept the proposition that basic income security and access to essential health care are necessary but not sufficient to realise the right to adequate food for all people at all times, there are (at least) three options for national Social Protection Floors.

  1. Design national Social Protection Floors to address food insecurity: Calibrate and index-link income transfers against local food prices, to guarantee constant access to adequate food at whatever price; or deliver in-kind transfers rather than cash if food prices are variable.
  2. Integrate food security instruments into the Social Protection Floor: Complement income security and access to health care with instruments that operate at the community or sector level (e.g. food price stabilisation) as well as targeted support to individuals and households.
  3. Add food and nutrition security as a ‘third pillar’: Recognising that basic income security and access to health care cannot guarantee the right to adequate food, add ‘food and nutrition security for all’ to the Social Protection Floor as a third ‘guarantee’.

With social protection, food security and nutrition all riding high in the global development policy discourse, this workshop contributed to an emerging dialogue that needs to continue, if the potential synergies between the three overlapping agendas are to be better understood and effectively exploited.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Aid and the social sectors – report on a UNU-WIDER research initiative

By Roger Williamson
Is it true that politicians are “ignorant about trials” (randomized ones, that is – some of them do end up in court) and “weird about evidence”?

If you retire, you can spend more time surfing the web … pretending it’s research. A new on-line favourite of mine is Ben Goldacre – doctor and epidemiologist – scourge of Bad Science.

In an entertaining TED talk, before he gets serious, he provides some examples of how the tabloids deal with evidence – citing reports that housework can prevent breast cancer in women, and the food shop can cause impotence in men. So we see who the Daily Mail thinks should be in charge of the care economy. Coffee both causes and prevents cancer (I never just have one cup – presumably that is now the safest bet….).
But you can also use your retirement to go to places where research is done and communicated. So I left the country and went  to the UNU –WIDER conference at the Swedish SIDA HQ where the research results on Aid and the social sector were communicated.  
Finn Tarp, the Director, set the tone for the day. The questions to be addressed were the important ones – what works, what could work, what is scalable, what is transferable?

The overall project has addressed issues such as growth and employment, governance and  fragility, the social sector, environment and climate, and gender equality. On our day’s agenda were health care, education, water and sanitation, social protection.
Aid has an intrinsic value and an instrumental value for development. The poor consistently refer to health and education as critical channels to escape from poverty. Economic theory strongly associates economic growth with higher and better levels of health and education – i.e. investment in human capital. There is considerable progress to report; since 1990 under 5 mortality has fallen in all world regions.
Miguel Nino-Zarazua gave the facts and figures on aid dependency (higher of course for sub-Saharan Africa than for other regions) with an increasing proportion going to the social sectors.

Arnab Acharya, Jindal Global University, pointed out that health systems are not responsive to the needs of the poor and that it is hard to get significant funds for general strengthening of health systems – too much goes on projects and HIV/AIDS is well funded in comparison with other needs.

Zulfiqar Bhutta (Aga Khan University) stressed that health investments were not always made where the gains were most cost-effective – for example in addressing childhood diarrhoea and measles-related diseases. Tribute was paid at the conference to the community delivery of healthcare by ICDDR in Bangladesh and the lifetime engagement of Richard Cash.
PB Anand (University of Bradford) pointed out that to a visiting Martian it would seem absurd that we are probing the surface of Mars to check for conditions which might support life when 750 million people lack access to improved water, and 2.5 billion lack access to modern sanitation. A constant theme through the day was the importance of national leadership and good governance.

Bob Baulch (RMIT University Vietnam) provided a careful analysis of aid to social sectors with some valuable conclusions, including the findings that multilateral agencies are better at targeting the poorest countries than bilaterals, and that aid for health and population is more progressive than aid to education or other social sectors.
We had a real politician in the room – former government  Minister from Rwanda, Romain Murenzi,  who stressed the importance of what was achieved by the Rwanda Education Strategy Plan in more than doubling the number of children in primary education since the genocide. Yet there is still hesitation by donors to support sector –wide approaches or provide budget support.

It is of course a self-serving occupational hazard that researchers always conclude that more research needs to be done. However, when different methodologies lead to similar results, it is quite possible that the findings are significant and therefore a sound basis for policy.
It is therefore interesting that two of the countries mentioned in this brief report, Rwanda and Bangladesh, were among the top three (along with Nepal) given “star performer” billing in the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2013.

I also picked up some reading hints:
  • Anirudh Krishna’s study  One Illness Away  - on what pushes people into poverty or keeps them poor. 
  • Dayna Brown  (Collaborative Learning Project Stanford) emphasizes that it  is “time to listen“ – especially to those who use the aid programmes. Listening is not a new idea, the original human design features one mouth and twice as many ears. 
  • It is still a good question to ask “Where has all the education gone? Part of the answer, of course, is that investment in education is a longer term commitment.
At the conference, there was some excellent, down-to-earth advice:
  • Abby Riddell (UNESCO) summarized a lifetime of experience and frustration in making education aid work (unlike primary school children, education policymakers are slow learners).
  • Elizabeth Kristjansson (University of Ottawa) stressed some clear “do’s and don’ts” from feeding programmes for school age children. Work with the community, give 40-60% of the daily energy requirements. If the feeding programme is through the home, be realistic that some of the nutrition will be shared out among the family. Don’t disrupt breastfeeding, give the food early in the day (apparently it helps with maths).
  • Armando Barrientos (University of Manchester) outlined the contrasting experiences of Latin American and Africa with tax-financed social protection schemes, emphasizing that additional assistance is needed to reach the extremely vulnerable.
  • Iara Leite (from Brazil) presented some hard but realistic lessons on South-South cooperation – a simplistic approach to sharing best practice doesn't work, but a hard look at similar challenges, developing trust and gaining inspiration from southern partners does.
  • Wrapping up the session, UNU-WIDER Chief Economist Tony Addison drew out some conclusions. There is a good story in child survival when diarrhoea as addressed – as my IDS colleague Lyla Mehta so graphically puts it: “shit matters”. (On another occasion I will tell you about the confusion surrounding the man claiming to be head of the WTO who kept talking about toilets to a perplexed trade specialist – his neighbour on a flight.) See:
  • HIV/AIDS is contained or falling. Primary education enrolment is up. Health systems do not respond enough to the needs of the poor. School feeding programmes help. But development overall is still too project focused. More needs to be done on monitoring and evaluation. Is aid efficiency getting adequate attention? It seems the drive has stalled.
Now – of course – the killer question. If all of the above seems pretty obvious, why don’t policymakers do it? Some old habits die hard – the understandable urge to ”show where our money is going” fuels the continued fixation with projects. Higher profile and more glamorous projects tend to get more attention. It’s still a question of Silverstein’s “Millions for Viagra, Pennies for Diseases of the Poor” (Health warning -  do be careful how you Google that one on the work computer).

That’s what ReCom is all about, and I am sure colleagues there will welcome your insights. So, I suggest you settle down with a cup of coffee in each hand and start downloading the RecCom results. The only exemption is if you are a fundamentalist woman who religiously believes every word in the Daily Mail and you therefore have to do the housework and the shopping. (Or perhaps the men should pop down the shops and get the weekend food, causing  impotence on the way home, and solve the population crisis and resource pressures that way). But surely nowadays no-one wants to waste their time or “get cancer” from reading the tabloids – not when you can find out about real evidence and positive health outcomes in the developing world.
More information can be found below:

Friday, 1 March 2013

A rich man’s game: elections, violence and the urban poor in Nairobi

By Jeremy Lind

Kenyans go to the polls for national elections on Monday March 4th for the first time since a conflagration of violence swept the country following disputed election results in 2008. An estimated 1,300 lives were lost in the violence, which nearly escalated into civil war before an African Union mediation led by Kofi Annan intervened. The capital, Nairobi, was a flashpoint, with 124 fatalities. Officially, over 72,000 were displaced in Nairobi’s informal settlements, not counting the much larger number of displaced who sought refuge in friendly neighbourhoods in other parts of the city or left the city for their rural homes.[i]

Much of the violence was concentrated in the city’s densely populated informal settlements, where an estimated half of its 3-4 million residents live on approximately 1% of the city’s total land area. The violence that rocked Nairobi in 2008 unmasked deeply entrenched inequalities and policing failures. Criminal violence and protection provided through hybrid criminal organisations have become a way of life in the city’s poor neighbourhoods. Vigilante groups mushroomed from the late 1990s in response to worsening security in poor neighbourhoods and ineffectual, corrupt or altogether absent policing of these areas. Some groups were first instigated by community elders in search of safer streets but quickly morphed into more complex outfits that extracted protection money from small-business owners and slum dwellers.[ii] Urban vigilantism has on many occasions spilled into open conflict on Nairobi’s streets. One of the country’s more feared (and outlawed) organisations – the Mungiki – violently challenged gangs that controlled lucrative matatu routes (privately owned public service vehicles). They justified their attacks as necessary means to secure lower commuter fares and ending bribery by the Transport Licensing Board and police officers.

As early as 2002, after appalling acts of violence in Nairobi’s Kariobangi North Estate resulted in 20 deaths in one night, Professor David Anderson warned that there was a danger of vigilante groups becoming political instruments for hire by those with the money to pay. Sure enough, during the 2008 violence, Human Rights Watch reported that the city’s largest slums – Mathare and Kibera – were carved into enclaves where vigilante groups associated with different ethnic groups patrolled ‘their’ areas, demanding to see identity cards, carrying out evictions and attacking the homes and retail premises of members of opposing ethnic groups.[iii] So in demand were these groups by wealthy politicians and businesspeople, and so woeful was protection provided by the state’s security forces, that young men in some neighbourhoods allegedly organised into groups they called ‘Mungiki’ and offered their services, even though they had no formal association with the Mungiki organisation.

Tensions have mounted in the build up to Monday’s elections, with violence flaring in many peripheral areas of the country as well as in the coastal city of Mombasa. The stakes are especially high because Kenyans will be selecting officials for a raft of new offices established under constitutional reforms passed since the last election, including county-level political administrative units, each with their own governor who will command significant resources under the new devolved system of government. Many fear the spectre of all-powerful governors, usurping devolved resources for personal enrichment and to reward their supporters.

So far, Nairobi has been spared the worst of pre-election violence but is likely to be the focus of any post-election tensions. Any violence that does ignite is most likely to be focussed in the city’s poorest neighbourhoods. Problems of violence in these areas enmesh with wider problems of vulnerability resulting from the failure of the state to provide for basic needs in health, education and social care, as well as a lack of work and training opportunities for its young people. The provision of public goods and services and strengthening of access to economic opportunities for an expanding youth population are vital elements of a wider-ranging strategy to address violence and strengthen security for the urban poor in Nairobi.

In practice, there have been efforts such as the Safer Nairobi Initiative, which was endorsed by the Nairobi City Council, that aspire to a more coordinated effort to improve urban security by involving agencies and departments with mandates to deliver public services and create work opportunities. While these have had mixed outcomes, the spirit of such efforts to develop a joined-up approach is essential to improve security for the urban poor. Separately, some public utility companies have sought to improve regulation of services that often come under the control of predatory gangs and cartels in poor neighbourhoods. In Kibera, the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Services Company has sought to better regulate water vending, which has been controlled by gangs in certain areas. Neighbourhood-level efforts to improve the slum environment have also had positive impacts. One of these, Getto Green, works in Huruma, sections of which were leveled by arson attacks during the 2008 violence. Led by a young man who was previously involved in criminal activity, Getto Green’s initiatives include clearing public dumpsites and starting micro-enterprises for youth such as car-washes. The group’s chair explained, “If you are economically stable, your community will be stable. Having money prevents us from needing to steal or from being manipulated by politicians.”

Reducing everyday violence in Nairobi’s poor areas and the likelihood of election-related violence requires expanding access to good and reliable public services as well as providing more opportunities for young people. Community-level efforts by groups such as Getto Green provide concrete examples of what can be achieved but these often go unnoticed. While attention will be fixed on Kenya’s political struggles at the national level in Monday’s elections, ways out of violence are increasingly being found by the urban poor themselves. After any post-election dust has settled, Kenya’s new political and governance structures will be tested quickly to see whether they too can respond to the needs of the poor.

[i] Kenya National Commission for Human Rights (2008): ‘On the Brink of Precipice. A Human Rights Account of Kenya's Post- 2007 Election Violence.’ Nairobi.
[ii] David Anderson (2002): ‘Vigilantes, Violence and the Politics of Public Order in Kenya.’ African Affairs ,101: 531-555.
[iii] Human Rights Watch (2008): ‘Ballots to Bullets. Organized Political Violence and Kenya's Crisis of Governance.’
This blog was first published on African Arguments

When the fragile speak: can they help to build a new vision for development?

By Ricardo Santos

This blog is all about narratives. It is, specially, about a new narrative that keeps on pushing, keeps on making itself heard, even if under the radar. This is a narrative that, as it stands, seeks to break the “development paradigm”, similar to what the BRICS and Rising Powers seem to be seeking. And, yet, as we shall see, some of the same old failures appear to be creeping in.

The narrative is one of hope, that “we can turn potential tragedy into inspirational progress” and comes from the least likely of sources. It comes from a group that embodies that which is well established as the worst case scenario for development. This is the group for which there has been no hope of achieving a single Millennium Development Goal (MDG): the “Fragile States”. That hope, of course, could only have come from a group led by a country that knows desperate causes and got to know that those can actually be won, a nation born after 25 years of an internationally dismissed struggle for independence, Timor-Leste.

The G7+ group of Fragile and Conflict Afflicted Countries, under Timorese leadership, met from the 26th to 28th of February to add their voice in the setting-up of the post-2015 Development Agenda. The Dili International Conference was entitled “Development for All: Stop Conflict, Build States and Eradicate Poverty”. The title, in itself, sought to represent the sequence of steps the G7+ countries determined were needed to reach the MDGs targets. They propose that as pre-requisites to reaching the MDGs, fragile and conflict afflicted countries need, to meet a set of conditions not accounted for when the MDGs were originally conceived.

Last time, as president Xanana Gusmão said in the closing speech, the MDGs were an exercise of goodwill from the “North” towards the “South” but which, as they were being designed, left out the voices of the very countries those goals were intended to help. In the process, the G7+ countries experienced the frustration of being measured against objectives they felt unable to meet before a set of peacebuilding and statebuilding goals (PSGs) were first achieved. These goals were presented in the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States considered as one of the few successes of the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.

The statement of the Dili Consensus, signed yesterday (the 28 of February 2013), brings new challenges, not only to the donor community but to the governments of those that endorsed it. As it proclaims, if it is to address the reality of fragility, the post-2015 agenda needs to “seek to enhance the social contract by promoting integrated action in four major areas not adequately treated in the MDGs: inclusive economic growth, state effectiveness, peace and justice, and climate change and environmental management”. The goals on health, education, women’s empowerment and global partnership “should remain with refinements”. It is not, in itself, a radical derivation from the current objectives. In fact, it undertones the need to address inequality, irrespective of growth, as these are countries where inclusive growth needs to happen.

These should also be seen as commitments the G7+ governments have now made towards important targets of governance, including abiding to “universal principles of respect for human rights, fairness, justice and peace”. In these commitments, they demand the right to be the ones in the driving seat. As they proclaim “[o]ur national development frameworks must reflect our national priorities and circumstances. They should be aligned with, but not subordinate to, global goals.” The legitimate right they proclaim, to determine the priorities of their own development has to come with the responsibility and accountability, towards their own people first, but also towards all those that, for the sake of those same people, may choose to cooperate as Development Partners.

Under a philosophy of development as a path to be shared and reflected by those that are traveling it, not as a gift bestowed by those who have it to those that don’t, the G7+ contributes decisively to a different narrative with may have a powerful influence in changing the paradigms. It is, in itself a new sort of South-South cooperation, quite different to the North-South one that still dominates. It is one, however, very much within the framing of the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action, which has been championed, in statements more that in action, by the OECD-DAC countries.

That is, however, criticized and shunned by the BRICS as a donor-driven set of guidelines. They propose themselves to be the advocates of a different kind of cooperation, a South-South cooperation. It is, however, a sign that old ways are still in place, when we see the BRICS outside of the G7+ process and OECD-DAC countries placing themselves as preferred partners, namely in the fragility assessments already being piloted. Not only have none of the BRICS endorsed the New Deal, but not one of them was represented in the Dili Conference. Failure for these two groups to engage may weaken both in setting-up the “new development paradigm” that both groups are so keen to promote. Yet, there seems to be much more in common between their perspectives than not.