A short note on Ethiopia and the African continent

Introduction

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. He is the 12th winner from Africa. The Nobel Committee stated that Abiy had been awarded the Nobel for his efforts towards resolving the border conflict with Eritrea (in September 2018, Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki signed a peace deal in Jeddah).

A border war in the years between 1998 and 2000 had resulted in the deaths of 100,000 people, and was responsible for the displacement of over one million people and the splintering of many families. The agreement has helped in reducing tensions between both countries and has led to a number of other important steps; it has paved the way for air connectivity (Ethiopian Airlines resumed its flight from Addis Abbaba to Asmara, the capital of Eritrea after two decades), resumption of communications between both countries (telephone lines had been disconnected in 1998), reduction of military hostilities, and most importantly reuniting of families.

Abiy’s reaction

While reacting to the Nobel Committee’s decision, the Ethiopian Prime Minister said that this reward was not merely for Ethiopia, but the whole of Africa, and hoped that leaders in the region would work towards peace-building.

Said the Ethiopian PM:

…It is a prize given to Africa, given to Ethiopia, and I can imagine how the rest of Africa’s leaders will take it positively to work on the peace-building process in our continent.

It would be pertinent to point out that, in recent years, the outside world has begun to take note of Ethiopia for its economic progress – in spite of numerous political challenges.

In recent years — almost a decade — the country’s economic growth has been a whopping 10% according to International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates. In 2018, Ethiopia’s growth was estimated at well over 8% (8.5), and was the fastest growing economy in Africa. One of the key factors for Ethiopia’s impressive economic performance has been the shift from the agricultural sector to the industry & service sector and favourable demographics.

Reforms introduced by Abiy Ahmed: Political Sphere

Abiy’s election has generated immense hope, as he has seemed genuine in his commitment to political and economic reforms. During his tenure, a number of political prisoners have been released. There is also a reasonable amount of press freedom. There have been no arrests of journalists ever since he has taken over (2018 was the first year since 2004 when not a single journalist was arrested).

Abiy’s reforms – both political and economic – are significant because in many countries which have made economic progress, leaders have exhibited authoritarian tendencies. In many countries with economic promise, leaders have also failed to bite the bullet, as far as big bang economic reforms are concerned. Abiy, on the other hand, has reiterated his commitment to reforms.

Reforms introduced by Abiy Ahmed: Economic Sphere

In September 2019, Abiy unveiled his vision for economic reform titled ‘Home-Grown Economic Reform,’ which focuses on drawing greater public sector participation, reducing debts, and enhancing foreign exchange reserves. While speaking on the occasion of the launch of the roll out of his government’s agenda, Abiy emphasized on the fact that this approach is holistic: pro-job, pro-growth, and pro-inclusivity.

Privatization of a number of state run enterprises, such as Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, and the sole telecom provider, EthioTelecom, has also been high on the agenda of Abiy ever since he has taken over.

Challenges

This is not to say that all is well in Ethiopia. In June 2019, Ethiopia faced two attacks, one in the Amhara regional capital of Bahir Dar and the other in the federal capital of Addis Ababa. While Abiy has made efforts towards reducing acrimony in the country’s polity, there are still numerous ethnic divisions, and a large number of political players are seeking to cash in on these schisms.

Expectations from Abiy are sky high, and the country faces numerous debts. While his agenda for reforms is well-intentioned, and does represent a significant break from the past, it is rather ambitious and it remains to be seen whether stakeholders involved in the implementation will be in sync with the PM.

Africa no longer the Dark Continent

For very long, many Western commentators have consistently adopted a patronizing approach towards Africa. The Nobel Award to the Ethiopian PM comes at an interesting time. At a time when the whole world is becoming insular, 54 African countries have signed the AfCTA (African Continental Free Trade Area) agreement. AfCTA. This is the world’s largest free trade agreement since the World Trade Organisation).

AfCTA is a crucial step towards strengthening intra-regional trade linkages and overall connectivity. AfCTA has the potential of connecting over 1 billion people, creating a bloc worth over an estimated $3 billion and pushing intra-Africa trade by up to 15-25% by 2040 (as of 2018, intra-regional trade was less than 20%).

It would be pertinent to point out that the Ethiopian PM has on repeated occasions reiterated his commitment to Pan-Africanism, and has been one of the most fervent backers of AfCTA.

Africa is also being viewed as the world’s next manufacturing hub (China has already moved in a big way, though of course many countries are looking to other alternatives). Political stability and investor-friendly policies of course are imperative.

Conclusion

One hopes that other leaders in Africa follow Abiy’s footsteps in focusing on economic and political changes which could pave the way for sustainable growth and prosperity.

For long the world’s attention has been driven by a Western narrative, but in recent years Africa along with Asia has begun to draw attention due to high economic growth rates. If Africa can get its act together, and growth in countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam is sustained, we could witness the rise of new Non-Western groupings (consisting of developing countries from different regions). Such groupings will not be driven by geopolitical compulsions, geographic proximity, or sheer size, but by economic consideration and could play a pivotal role in shaping a new narrative, while promoting globalization, connectivity and free trade.

La Destitution présidentielle aux EU: quelques faits et deux opinions.

Les medias francophones, du moins les quelques uns qui m’arrivent en Californie, sont surexcités à l’idée de la destitution prochaine du President Trump. J’ai l’impression que c’est parce qu’ils ne comprennent pas ce qui se passe. Un coup de main.

D’abord, il faut passer au-delà des faux-amis contre lesquels nos profs d’anglais ne cessaient jadis de nous prévenir.

Impeachment” signifie à peu près “accusation,” ou “inculpation,” je crois, pas “destitution.”

La Chambre des représentants est en mesure de décider sur simple vote majoritaire d’accuser le président en exercise de tel ou tel délit, ou d’une liste de délits. Il n’est pas obligatoire que les délits soient des infraction en droit, vis-à-vis de la loi.

En entamant cette simple procédure, la Chambre obtient de vastes pouvoirs d’enquête, y compris sur la correspondance officielle de la branche exécutive.

La Chambre ayant ainsi voté d’inculper, le liste officielle des délits supposés passe au Sénat qui agit alors en tant que jury. Le président est condamné pour tel ou tel délit par une majorité des deux tiers du Sénat.

Au moment ou j’écris (10/14/19) on ne sait pas si la phase inculpation (impeachment) de la procédure de destitution a même commencé. Les Démocrates affirment que oui, sur simple déclaration de la cheffe de la majorité à la Chambre, Nancy Pelosi.

Les Républicains et la Maison Blanche maintiennent que non, en l’absence d’un vote initiatif de la Chambre. La tradition donne raison aux derniers. La Constitution, par son mutisme, donne raison aux premiers.

En fin de compte, un tribunal decidera sûrement de qui a raison, peut- être assez vite.

En attendant, l’administration Trump oppose un mur à toutes les demandes de documents et de comparution de témoins issues de la Chambre.

Maintenant, mes opinions. D’abord, il est presque impossible d’imaginer qu’un nombre suffisant de Républicains au Sénat s’aligne sur les Démocrates pour condamner Mr Trump. La majorité des deux tiers n‘est même pas à l’horizon.

Alors, pourquoi les Démocrates s’obstinent-ils?

C’est un cirque dont l’objectif est de masquer leur incurie et leur panique bien réaliste devant la campagne pour les élections de 2020. Ils n’ont rien de sérieux à proposer, alors ils jettent de la poudre aux yeux. Je crois qu’il y aura des émeutes en Novembre 2020 car les Démocrates auront vraiment trop souffert.

Joker: an evidence-based criminology review (spoilers)

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Last Friday, Joker hit cinemas to much acclaim and some anxiety. Hot takes claim it glamorizes violence while the Slate pitch is that it’s boring. Having seen it over the weekend, I don’t see anything more transgressive about it than the various Batman films to which Joker is a sort of prequel, but it is more entertaining.

 

The film uses both narrative and moral ambiguity driven by the theme of mental illness. We are not quite sure what’s real and what’s not. And what (if anything) is responsible for catastrophic events that turn wannabe standup-comedian Arthur Fleck into the Clown Prince of Crime. This ambiguity is in league with contemporary criminology. Many researchers now suspect that crimes are typically the result of multiple, incremental causes (little things going wrong) that together add up to sometimes catastrophic outcomes.


So with spoilers already skulking in the alleyways over the fold, let’s review some of 
Joker’s overlapping narrative alongside some theories of crime (some of which I draw from my forthcoming book chapter on evidence-based policing).

 

Continue reading

Creativity of Hong Kong protesters: Protest Songs

The Hong Kong protests are sometimes called “open-source protests”, “decentralized protests” or “water revolution” due to its leaderless and organic nature. It’s a great example of how order can emerge within a decentralized social organization.

The protests may seem chaotic, but if one looks closer one can easily identify the diversity of roles that protesters and different communication tools are playing – making up an harmonious order. Below, you can find the different groups and tools within the movement that I have been able to identify.

Communication channels LIHKG, Reddit, Twitter, Telegram, Facebook and more… Communication channels with high encryption standards and servers outside of Hong Kong are preferred as to maintain more privacy and to make it harder for the HK government to close down the servers or seize account information of protesters
Protest songs Glory to Hong Kong, We Will Fight for Hong Kong, Sing Hallelujah to the Lord, Do you hear the People sing, Below the Lion Rock, Boundless Oceans Vast Skies, Raise the Umbrellas, Add Oil etc…
Teargas ‘fire fighters’ Fire fighters whose main role in the protests is to extinguish the police’s tear gas
Dunkirk moment When the police shut down the Hong Kong metro system (MTR) after the protests at the HK Airport, most protesters either had to walk home or take the buses back to Hong Kong central. As buses were checked by the police to find, and in many cases arrest, the protesters, some sympathizers of the protests took their cars to HK Airport and give them a ride home
Pro-HK pr Artists mobilize themselves in Telegram groups – some are as large as containing 200+ artists – to create art and other pr material to support the protests
Suppliers and first-aid people Suppliers donate anonymous travel cards, cash, clothes, vouchers, temporary housing etc… The first-aid people give medical care to those injured in the protests. They carry around first-aid kits
Protect the Children group Elderly that come between the police and young protesters during confrontations to give the youngsters time to flee

In this post, I’d like to share some protest songs that have emerged in the past few months. Some songs were specifically created during the protests, while others are older songs that have been adopted to emphasize the spirit of the movement.

Compilation of several Protest Songs

Glory to Hong Kong

We will fight for Hong Kong

Be Water

Do you hear the People sing

Boundless Oceans vast Skies

Fly with You (和你飛)

High Wall and Egg (牆與雞蛋)

This song is based on the following quotation from Haruki Murakami’s Jerusalem Prize acceptance speech in 2009:

If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg. Why? Because each of us is an egg, a unique soul enclosed in a fragile egg. Each of us is confronting a high wall. The high wall is the system which forces us to do the things we would not ordinarily see fit to do as individuals… We are all human beings, individuals, fragile eggs. We have no hope against the wall: it’s too high, too dark, too cold. To fight the wall, we must join our souls together for warmth, strength. We must not let the system control us – create who we are. It is we who created the system.

No Withdrawal, No Surrender, No Retreat (不撤∙不散∙亦不退)

Welcome to the Black Parade

Where to view live videos on the Hong Kong protests?

I’ve been following the Hong Kong protests very closely since it started. Watching the live videos of the protests gives you a better impression of what Hong Kong is really like at the moment.

In this post, I’d like to share a link where you can view live videos of on the spot journalists:

https://ncehk2019.github.io/nce-live/

Declaration of the Establishment of the Provisional Government of Hong Kong

The chief executive of Hong Kong has passed the anti-mask law today, further escalating Hong Kongers’ anger. Large groups of protesters in Hong Kong have now declared the establishment of a provisional government of Hong Kong in several neighborhoods.

The main premise of the declaration is that when a government does not represent the people anymore, the people have the right to establish their own government. The English version of the full declaration is as follows:

In the development of human civilisation it is inevitable for a dysfunctional institution to be abolished and replaced by a better one. This is how progress is made. If a government is not of the people, by the people, for the people, then it is inevitable that the people will establish a government of the people. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government has proved itself to be not of the people, by the people, for the people. We hereby declare the establishment of the Provisional Government of Hong Kong.

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ We have always identified with this inviolable principle of truth. The government and the legislature are established by the people to ensure that their rights will be protected against encroachment. All the powers of the government are derived from the people. If a government violates this principle, then the people have an absolute right to abolish it and establish a new one.

The HKSAR government, which is controlled by the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party, has turned a blind eye to the demands of the people, deprived the people of their rights, failed to enact laws safeguarding the wellbeing of the people, and taken away the freedoms of the people. Today, against the wishes of the majority of the people, the HKSAR government bypassed the Legislative Council and enacted the Anti-Mask Law in a deliberate attempt to deny people the right of assembly. We believe that the HKSAR government has lost its legitimacy as well as the authorisation from the people. We thereby declare the immediate abolition of the powers of the Chief Executive and the principal officials of the HKSAR government.

The Provisional Government of Hong Kong declares:

  1. The departments of the HKSAR government from now on shall be placed under the authority of the Hong Kong Provisional Government;
  2. The chief executive, the chief secretary, the directors and deputy directors of the bureaus, the heads and deputy heads of the departments shall leave office and the new post holders shall be appointed by the Provisional Government;
  3. All departments shall immediately cease all the new policies promulgated by the HKSAR Government since 2018, and personnel at all levels of personnel shall retain office and maintain the operation of necessary services of the departments until further notice;
  4. The Provisional Government’s term ends in five years or until the formation of a government under a chief executive nominated and elected by universal suffrage (whichever is sooner); the Provisional Government shall prepare for the election within one year of its establishment and complete the election within three years;
  5. The chief executive and the appointed officials of the Provisional Government shall not be eligible for appointment as officials of the government or public organisations once they leave office;
  6. The provisions of the Laws of Hong Kong shall remain in force until new laws are enacted by the Hong Kong Provisional Government;
  7. The Legislative Council shall be dissolved and the Provisional Legislative Council shall be elected within three months and the Legislative Council shall be elected within one year; there shall be 70 seats in the Provisional Legislative Council: 12 seats each for Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon West constituencies, 10 seats for East Kowloon East, and 18 seats each for the New Territories West and New Territories East.

What is clientelism and why we should care about it

In my first post, I would like to share with you part of my work as a scholar of politics.

I study clientelism, which is, in my view, a fundamental but understudied and highly underrated phenomenon in politics. In my book, Clientelism and Economic Policy: Greece and the Crisis (2016), I define clientelism as ‘the distribution of resources by political power through an agreement in which politicians – the patrons – make this allocation dependent on the political support of the beneficiaries – their clients’ (page 12). Clientelism emerges at the intersection of political power with social and economic activity.

Why is this phenomenon important? As Harold Laswell put it, politics is the art and science of ‘who gets what’ in society (1936). This famous phrase epitomizes the nature of politics as a competitive process for power and resources. Because these resources are often excludable and rivalrous, multiple social actors and groups are expected to compete with one another for access to political power and the resources it distributes. In addition, as political power decides how scarce resources are to be allocated, there is competition among political actors who wish to gain power and take control of the distribution mechanism. Either way, participation in political competition is costly and occurs in anticipation of higher benefits for each of the participants. Clientelist exchange occurs when political actors competing to gain political power interact with socioeconomic actors striving to persuade political power to meet their demands and claims.

A ‘political market’ for the allocation of economic resources emerges and has distinct characteristics. On the one hand, it generates informal ‘prices’, for the goods and services provided by the government: there is demand by economic actors for preferential treatment and there is supply by political agents of resources, opportunities and benefits. On the other hand, the terms under which clientelist exchange takes place differ substantially from ordinary market transactions, primarily in terms of bargaining power, the enforcement mechanism, externalities, and selection process.

Power asymmetry characterizes the relations between patrons and clients. Clientelism works as an oligopoly. Few patrons occupy the supply side while myriads of candidate clients inhabit the demand side. Depending on what resources each side trades or possesses for future trade, as well as how long one has been – or expects to be – in a position to trade, power asymmetry can tilt in favor of the patron or the client, as in the case of big donors.

Another distinctive element of clientelism is the fact that, while clientelist exchanges is not legally binding or enforceable before courts, honoring the agreement depends on expectations of reciprocation from each party and, quite often, on fears and threats of retaliation in case one party fails to meet the terms of the agreement. On the part of the political agents involved in clientelist exchange, it is a matter of building trust and reputation over time, which, in the absence of formal sanctions, reduces the perceived risk of breaking the terms of the agreement.

In economic theory, clientelism is linked to the concept of rent seeking. Clientelist exchange is actually a subset of rent seeking. It involves explicit agreements according to which the beneficiary must reciprocate by supporting the agent in the political and administrative authority who has offered them the opportunity to extract a rent.

The conventional approach in economics is to view rent seeking as a distortion of market competition for the externalities it imposes on all other non-participating actors. In the real political economy approach, almost all political decisions distribute benefits and costs. My work focuses on the political implications of clientelism.

The process by which the government distributes clientelist benefits inevitably requires some sort of selection of who would be the beneficiary among a pool of prospective clients. Politicians whose political survival and success depend on getting elected to office have a strong incentive to distribute resources to those who would offer them the most valuable form of political support; not just a single vote, but campaign funding, loyal party membership, activist support or favorable media coverage (Trantidis 2016, 18)

The concept of clientelism is mistakenly reduced to a form of vote-buying. This is a narrow view of a much broader phenomenon. Indeed, clientelism serves politicians as a way to strengthen their chances to win elections but resources for clientelist distribution are scarce and the best way to use these resources is to attract those who could made a campaign contribution. It is difficult to monitor voters’ behavior and it is definitely not economical to use resources indiscriminately to buy individual votes, particularly in advanced economies where voters may be too costly to buy and many may simply refuse to be bought off.

Instead, clientelism works as an indirect way of gaining votes (Trantidis 2016, 19). By allocating benefits strategically to attract the biggest possible campaign contributors, politicians can gain an advantage in campaign resources that would allow them to make a stronger appeal to general voters. In short, clientelism is a strategy for political organization and campaign recruitment that has an indirect effect on voters’ behavior. Resource endowments define the capacity of each party to perform a number of tasks necessary for political survival and growth.

As I explain in the introduction of my 2016 book, the first and typical ‘image’ of clientelism is that of an individual agreement. The second ‘image’ of clientelism is that of a strategy for collective mobilization. Politicians create networks of clients that help them organize a campaign infrastructure with a strong support network.

The second image of clientelism refers to the formation of groups of loyal supporters on a more permanent basis. Clientelism is a way by which politicians and political organizations overcome the famous problem of collective action (Olson, 1965). Collective action does not occur automatically from groups having common concerns or a perception of shared interest. This holds especially if the perceived collective benefit is to be indiscriminately shared by multiple actors in large groups. In that case, there are weak incentives for someone to actively contribute to the collective effort. This logic of collective action applies to political organization too. Political parties need active supporters and campaign resources to be able to compete for votes and, for that purpose, they have to find a way to overcome a free-riding problem. For party leaders, the organization of a coherent and active party basis can be achieved through the distribution of targeted benefits to party members and supporters entering a clientelist network. While it is costly to mobilize political support, available state resources allow political actors to pass this cost on society. In forthcoming posts, I will discuss how this phenomenon could affect the design of public policies.

For the time being, let’s summarize the three key characteristics of clientelism:

  1. Clientelism is a common form of distribution of resources by political power. It stems from the intersection of two competitive processes: a ‘market’ for political support and a ‘market’ for rents and other government granted privileges.
  2. Clientelism is more than vote buying. The practice gives preference to those who can make the highest valued contribution to a politicians’ campaign infrastructure and support network: donors, activists, prominent figures, journalists.
  3. Clientelism generates support networks. It is a way for political agents and organizations to overcome a collective action problem regarding how to mobilize, control and discipline active groups of supporters. This is a valued strategy for political organization that can hardly be eradicated from the political process.

Clientelism is a common, expected and inevitable practice in politics. In the next blogs, I will talk about how this practice should make us reconsider the notions of political participation and representation, rethink how public policies are formulated and reconceptualize democracy as a competitive arena in which authoritarian and democratic governments work to become dominant political forces. Thank you for your attention.

References

Laswell, Harold. 1936. Politics: Who Gets What, When, How. New York: Whittlesey House.

Olson, Mancur. 1965. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Trantidis, Aris. 2016. Clientelism and Economic Policy: Greece and the Crisis: London and New York: Routledge.