Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Sunday, November 30, 2008

More conflict in Plateau state of Nigeria

It's easiest for journalists to describe these conflicts as inter-religious conflicts, but there's much more to them. As hinted at the end of this Boston Globe article, there are ethnic and cultural cleavages as well. In addition, we have to consider desertification (global warming?) and the growing population to understand why pastoralists from the north are coming into conflict with subsistence farmers.

How well could your students identify all the cleavages involved if they examined several accounts of this recurring violence?

Death tolls rises in Nigerian sectarian violence

"Feuding Muslim and Christian mobs burned homes, churches and mosques Saturday as the death toll rose to 35 in Nigeria's worst sectarian violence in years...

"The Plateau State government said on state radio that an around-the-clock curfew had been ordered for the hardest-hit parts of Jos...

"The fighting began as clashes between supporters of the region's two main political parties following the first local election in the town of Jos in more than a decade. But the violence expanded along ethnic and religious fault lines, with Hausa Muslim northerners doing battle with members of Christian ethnic groups...

"Jos has a long history of community violence that has made it difficult to organize voting...

"Violence has flared in the past in Plateau State, where Muslim Hausa herdsmen mix daily with Christian farmers, causing friction over land rights and religion. Those divides mirror troubles in Nigerian society at large, and crises in what is known as Nigeria's middle belt can spread to cities across both the Muslim north and Christian south..."

From ThisDay (Lagos)

Dozens Killed in Jos LG Election Riot

"Dozens of people were feared dead yesterday owing to skirmishes in the Jos North Local Government Area of Plateau State over the result of the council polls widely believed to have been won by the candidate of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), Barrister Timothy Gyang Buba...

"Eyewitnesses said supporters of the All Nigerian People's Party (ANPP) allegedly became violent following speculations that their candidate, whom they said was leading the PDP candidate, was about to be 'declared the loser.'..."

From the BBC

Poll riots erupt in Nigerian city

"At least 20 people, including one policeman, have been killed in riots in the Nigerian city of Jos after local elections, aid workers say...

"In 2001, more than 1,000 people died in religious clashes in the city...

"The protests started overnight with singing and burning of tyres on the roads by groups of youths over reports of election rigging...

"Local journalist Senan Murray told the BBC's Hausa Service that Muslims in the city tend to support the ANPP and Christians the PDP...

"Correspondents say communal violence in Nigeria is complex, but it often boils down to competition for resources such as land between those that see themselves as the true 'indigenes' of an area, and those that are considered to be more recent 'settlers'.

"In Plateau State, Christians are regarded as the indigenes and Hausa-speaking Muslims the settlers."

From the New York Times

Death Toll in Nigeria Clashes Rises to Around 400

"Residents delivered more bodies to the main mosque in the central Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday, bringing the death toll from two days of clashes between Muslim and Christian gangs to around 400 people...

"The overall toll was expected to be higher..

"Nigeria's 140 million people are roughly equally split between Muslims and Christians and the two communities generally live peacefully side by side.

"But ethnic and religious tensions in the country's central "Middle Belt" have bubbled for years, rooted in resentment from indigenous minority groups, mostly Christian or animist, towards migrants and settlers from the Hausa-speaking Muslim north...

"Hundreds were killed in ethnic-religious fighting in Jos, the capital of Plateau state, in 2001. Hundreds more died in 2004 in clashes in Yelwa..."

From Vanguard (Lagos)

Jos Riot Escalates

"THE violence in Jos, Plateau State capital, continued, yesterday, with reprisal attacks leading to more deaths and loss of property, forcing the state government to extend the curfew in some areas to 24 hours.

"This happened as Governor Jonah Jang was said to have been summoned to Abuja by President Umar Yar'Adua on the crisis while an Assistant Inspector-General was reportedly sent to the state to oversee police efforts to combat the crisis..."

See also:

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving (U.S.)


hi·a·tus /haɪˈeɪtəs/ Pronunciation[hahy-ey-tuhs]
–noun, plural -tus·es, -tus.

  1. a break or interruption in the continuity of a work, series, action, etc.

  2. a missing part; gap or lacuna: Scholars attempted to account for the hiatus in the medieval manuscript.

  3. any gap or opening.

  4. Grammar, Prosody. the coming together, with or without break or slight pause, and without contraction, of two vowels in successive words or syllables, as in see easily.

  5. Anatomy. a natural fissure, cleft, or foramen in a bone or other structure.

  6. a period of a couple days during which the primary contributor to this blog sits down with family and friends and contemplates the extraordinary good fortune heaped on his plate of life.

[Origin: 1555–65; < L hiātus opening, gap, equiv. to hiā(re) to gape, open + -tus suffix of v. action]

Source: hiatus. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved July 15, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hiatus

Our flamingo has dressed for Thanksgiving in hopes that we really will eat the other big bird (and I don't mean the bald eagle). We will, and we'll be thankful too.

Thanks to all of you, too. I'll be posting things again next week.

What's an autocratic government to do?

Make it difficult for companies to fire workers, for one.

Chinese Officials Fear Unrest Over Job Losses

"A top Chinese official on Thursday described the country's employment outlook as 'grim' and said he will expedite a new system to mediate employment disputes as China seeks to head off social unrest amid a weakening economy.

"Speaking at a news conference, Minister of Human Resources and Social Security Yin Wenmin warned of a rise in the number of newly jobless workers... Yin warned that China's urban unemployment rate could rise to 4.5 percent by the end of the year, up from 4 percent...

"Job creation and economic growth in China are considered crucial to maintaining the Communist Party's hold on power. With factory workers losing their jobs and taking to the streets in protest, the government has moved quickly this fall to quell dissent, in some cases handing out cash to laid-off workers to keep the demonstrations from growing.

"'This is not just an economic issue, but a social issue,' said Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology. 'China's social security system is imperfect -- no job means no food. Rising unemployment could lead to serious social unrest.'...

"Some local governments are taking their own steps to protect their constituents' jobs. Businesses in coastal Shandong province, for example, must now apply for government permission to lay off more than 40 workers. Companies in central China's Hubei province that want to lay off more than 50 workers will also have to give the government 30 days' notice..."

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Advanced Placement exam readers wanted

The College Board has sent out a second solicitation for exam readers. Readers are wanted for Comparative Government and Politics.

AP teachers of the course and people who teach undergrad intro courses are eligible for round-trip air fare, an early June 8-day week in Florida with room and board, a stipend, and time to play golf in the late afternoons.

See the AP web site: http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/homepage/4137.html

Readers are also wanted for AP exams in
  • U.S. Government and Politics
  • Chinese Language and Culture
  • Japanese Language and Culture
  • Environmental Science
  • Music Theory
  • European History
  • Spanish Language
  • Spanish Literature
  • United States History
  • Human Geography and
  • World History
if you know anyone interested.

Some of these readings are held in Florida, others in Colorado, Nebraska, and Texas.

Details at the web site.


One thing at a time this time

There are still lofty sentiments and fine words about amending the Nigerian constitution. Whether there's more political will than before remains to be seen.

For some people the fact that the constitution was promulgated by a military government, without public input is the issue. Others see flaws in the centralized federalism. Still others see the regime as a guarantee of political dominance by northerners. And others feel cheated in the distribution of oil income. But they all fear losing what they have and granting benefits to their political opponents.

We'll see.

From Daily Trust (Abuja)

Constitution - States, Elections, Immunity Top List

"Revenue allocation, federalism, immunity clause, systems of local government, state creation, electoral system and separation of powers should be some of the priority areas of the National Assembly's Joint Constitution Review Committee (JCRC), Senate President David Mark [left] said while inaugurating the committee in Abuja yesterday...

"While advising on incremental amendments to the constitution, Senator Mark said 'the previous attempt failed because that report proposed in one fell swoop a basket of 120 amendments.'...

"While calling on all Nigerians to jettison any illusion that the constitution can be amended holistically, Mark said 'the past history of our attempts at constitutional democracy has been a checkered one, marked by miss-steps, brutal interruptions, and long periods of military authoritarian rules. The result is that our nation so richly blessed in human and material resources continued to stagnate and to abdicate its rightful place in the comity of the greatest nations of the world.'

"He said the 1999 constitution was neither the product of a plebiscite, referendum, nor a national conference but was bequeathed to us by the departing military and promulgated into law by military fiat.

"On his part, Speaker of the House of Representatives Dimeji Bankole [right]... reminded [the JCRC] of the historical significance of the assignment before them, saying 'I would also go further to remind members of the committee that posterity would not judge us kindly if we miss the present opportunity to right the wrongs that have created distrust, instability and stunted growth in our country.'...

"The [JCRC] which is expected to commence work immediately has eighty (88) members drawn from both the Senate and the House of Representatives, with each chamber producing 44 members..."

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Soft power: domestic and global policies

Yulin Zhuang, an American living in Beijing, wrote the the Hypermondern (a Beijing-based blog) about Chinese soft power. (Thanks to Dan Harris at China Law Blog for the reference.)

How would your students describe the intersection of domestic and foreign policy and the global political environment that creates the opportunity for China to exercise its soft power? How would they describe changes that could threaten China's soft power? Would such changes affect policies, the government, or the regime?

The Loss of Soft Power

"'My family, at the dinner table [in Beijing], will talk about how terrible it is. The conversation goes something like this: 'See? This is what happens when you interfere with other countries’ internal affairs.'... And finally the smug suggestion: 'America should learn from China. China makes friends wherever it goes, not enemies. That’s because we don’t try to tell them what to do.'

"The United States... has made many enemies throughout the world, and alienated many of its friends. What sets my nerves on edge, however, is the sense that the People’s Republic will never face the same problems...

"Before... 1972... China had no interests overseas. It maintained diplomatic relations with only a few countries and was focused entirely on itself. China was self-sufficient but hopelessly backwards. With Deng’s reforms and the opening of the market came an increase in the amount of international trade and the rise of consumerism... China’s entry into the WTO in 2001 integrated it into the world economy, making it vulnerable to many of the problems of globalization...

"As China grows increasingly dependent on foreign sources for critical resources, it will increasingly invest in the global market. Already Chinese companies have made many moves to achieve better supply security, especially in oil... Chinese investment means Chinese nationals abroad. China is investing heavily in third world countries, competing with Western nations in order to be the first to exploit those resources. China’s lack of an imperialist history and its status as the world’s largest developing nation gives it a lot of influence with these countries. One of the cornerstones of Chinese foreign policy is the idea of noninterference, and Chinese aid comes with none of the demands for transparency, accountability, and political reform that Western aid comes with. For the moment, China truly is making a great number of friends in the third world.

"This trend, however, cannot last forever... As China develops, it falls into the classic pattern of developed nations -- importing raw materials from underdeveloped nations, exporting the finished products back to them, and pocketing the difference... China comes first...

"The developing world is an unsafe place. The Chinese promise noninterference, but as its assets in the developing world increase, so does the risk of losing them. China has shown itself to be committed to regional stability, preferring multilateral talks to action. However, if war breaks out, it will have to choose between protecting its citizens and investments or losing both...

"[T]he case of Darfur. Ethnic violence on the scale of genocide has been occurring for several years, and the UN has done nothing even to censure the Sudanese government for its actions because China has made it clear that it will use its veto to shoot down any 'interference' with Sudanese domestic policies. The reason for this is the heavy Chinese reliance on Sudanese oil fields... While this kind of covert support wins them friends now, in the future, it will perhaps make them just as many enemies...

"It would be naive of China to feel that its place as the champion of the developing world is secure... It would be a good idea for Chinese citizens to not be complacent in the knowledge that a Chinese passport makes one a low-profile target in most countries, but to realize that it will take careful maneuvering by the government and China’s companies in order to maintain the current status quo."

See also teaching comparative's previous entries about soft power.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Mummies and national unity

The disputes about the Chinese nature of Tibet are well known, but the questions about how Chinese the Xinjiang region is are less visible. Archaeologists have found some evidence that the Chinese government is not happy about.

What policies has the government followed in the face of scientific evidence? Why is it such a big deal?

The Dead Tell a Tale China Doesn’t Care to Listen To

"An exhibit on the first floor of the museum [in Urumqi] gives the government’s unambiguous take on the history of this border region: 'Xinjiang has been an inalienable part of the territory of China,' says one prominent sign.

"But walk upstairs to the second floor, and the ancient corpses on display seem to tell a different story...

"[M]ore than 200 remarkably well-preserved mummies [have been] discovered in the western deserts here over the last few decades. The ancient bodies have become protagonists in a very contemporary political dispute over who should control the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

"The Chinese authorities here face an intermittent separatist movement of nationalist Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people who number nine million in Xinjiang.

"At the heart of the matter lie these questions: Who first settled this inhospitable part of western China? And for how long has the oil-rich region been part of the Chinese empire?...

"The Tarim mummies seem to indicate that the very first people to settle the area came from the west — down from the steppes of Central Asia and even farther afield — and not from the fertile plains and river valleys of the Chinese interior. The oldest, like the Loulan Beauty, date back 3,800 years...

"By [the] official account, Zhang Qian, a general of the Han dynasty, led a military expedition to Xinjiang in the second century B.C. His presence is often cited by the ethnic Han Chinese when making historical claims to the region.

"The mummies show, though, that humans entered the region thousands of years earlier, and almost certainly from the west...

"Of the hundreds of mummies discovered, there are some that are East Asian, but they are not as ancient as the Loulan Beauty or the Cherchen Man.

"The most prominent Chinese grave sites were discovered at a place called Astana, believed to be a former military outpost. The findings at the site span the Jin to the Han dynasties, from the third to the 10th centuries.

"Further clouding the picture, a mummy from the Lop Nur area, the 2,000-year-old Yingpan Man, was unearthed with artifacts associated with an entirely different part of the globe. He was wearing a hemp death mask with gold foil and a red robe decorated with naked angelic figures and antelopes — all hallmarks of a Hellenistic civilization..."

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Civil unrest in China

Perceived injustices, rising expectations, and an economic slowdown all seem to contribute to the kind of unrest feared by the political elite.

Thousands riot in northwest China over a city center's demolition

"An angry crowd of 2,000 people rioted in northwest China's Gansu province over a government plan to demolish a downtown area, torching cars and attacking a local Communist Party office, injuring 60 officials, state-run media reported Tuesday...

Location of Longnan Prefecture (yellow) within Gansu province of China

"The violence, one of the most marked instances of social unrest to grip China in recent months, was sparked by government plans to relocate the city of Longnan's administrative center after May's devastating earthquake, according to the Xinhua news agency.

"State-run press has reported on numerous pickets and demonstrations that have broken out across China in recent weeks...

"Activists warn that tensions over the sudden downturn in the Chinese economy could provoke similar public outbursts, even though police have made efforts not to immediately resort to violence in quelling the riots...

"Chinese economists say that rising wages throughout China have led many laborers to expect better working conditions and residents to demand more accountable government. 'The local government has become the front line of conflict,' said Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology.

"'But there is no channel to allow people to express their will. They lack the right to speak, the right to organize and unionize to represent their interest, therefore they can only use a irrational way by demonstrating or rioting to solve problems.'..."

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Progress or a sign of failings?

The blogger who writes at Grandiose Parlor explained some details behind a recent Nigerian court decision involving elections. It offers some insight into what seems to be an important development in the rule of law. It also suggests there's a long way to go.

Oshiomole vs. Osunbor: Annulment isn’t Enough Deterrent for Electoral Fraud

"When Adams Oshiomole (Action Congress candidate, left) decided to run for office as the Governor of Edo State, he didn’t know that it would take him 19 months to actualize his mandate. During those long and troubling months, the state and the people of Edo sat helplessly under the reign of Oserheimen Osunbor of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, whose 'mandate' came via the manipulation of a weak electoral system.

"On November 11 2008, The Appeal Court affirmed Oshiomole the duly elected governor of Edo State after the April 14, 2007 gubernatorial elections. While this can be seen as a major step in a democratic Nigeria, the fact that Oshiomole has his mandate back is just half of the victory; it is also necessary to address what led to the events during those 19 months...

"Osunbor dictated the affairs of a state he had no business managing, got paid for a job he did not qualify, and enjoyed the trappings of power he did not deserve. And all Osunbor got for usurping power was an order to vacate office within 24 hours after the Appeal court verdict!

"As it is, the Nigerian electoral system permits fraudulent ascension to power and encourages political contestants to bend the rules to the extent possible and with every ounce of impunity they can muster...

"Should the Nigerian electoral system reward fraud and injustice? No it shouldn’t; this is why electoral violations must carry stiffer penalties; annulments aren’t enough deterrent."

Oshiomhole's Victory - Ruling Was an Epoch - Osagie

"Hon. Samson Osagie, a member of PDP representing Uhunwonde/ Orhionwon Local Constituency at the Federal House of Representative, has described as an epoch the ruling of the Appeal Court last Tuesday in Edo Governorship Election petition, which declared Comrade Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress (AC) winner of the 2007 Governorship election.

"In an exclusive interview with Leadership, Hon. Osagie said the ruling was fair and just, and has rekindled the confidence of the people in the judiciary as the last hope of the common man...

"'This is the era of the rule of law, we believe that its courses should be respected for an orderly society to exist, I cannot but congratulate the AC and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole' the honourable said.

"He attributed the PDP's loss in Edo to what he termed 'very serious intra-party acrimony' that was perpetrated by the outgoing Governor and his cohorts immediately after he took over the mantle of leadership..."

See also:

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Political Culture in Latin America

The Economist reports on the latest Latinobarómetro poll taken this fall.

If you assigned your students to seek hypothetical reasons for national differences in preferences for democracy, reported below (or other survey results), what would they propose? How would they attempt to verify their hypotheses? Could they evaluate the hypothesis about Peru in the excerpt below?

Democracy and the downturn

"FIVE years of strong economic growth have prompted a slow but fairly steady rise in support for democracy and its institutions among Latin Americans, although many remain frustrated by the way their political systems work in practice. Most see themselves as politically moderate, but they retain a yearning for strong leaders and expect the state to solve their problems...

"The poll underlines the fact that a small majority of respondents are convinced democrats... In 12 countries, support for democracy has risen since 2001, when the region last suffered an economic recession. But only in five countries is it higher than it was in 1996...

"Uruguayans are by far the most satisfied with how their democracy works (see chart at left). Peruvians are particularly disgruntled. That is paradoxical: Peru’s economy has grown faster than that of any other of the region’s bigger countries both this year and last. Their discontent seems to reflect deep flaws in the political system...

"The relative dissatisfaction owes much to the deep-rooted socioeconomic inequalities in Latin America. Across the region 70% of respondents agreed that governments favour the interests of the privileged few; around half say they would not mind a non-democratic government if it solved economic problems; a similar proportion say democracy has not reduced inequalities; and only 30% think there is equality before the law...

"But most respondents are convinced that democracy is the only road to development—and 71% say they are personally happy. So why the grumbles? As democracy has come to stay in the region, “people are more conscious of their rights and their expectations are higher”, says Marta Lagos, Latinobarómetro’s director..."

See also:

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Putin's return?

Russian constitution change could lead to Putin comeback as president

"Russian MPs today took the first step in changing the constitution to pave the way for Vladimir Putin to make a comeback as president.

"Putin stepped down in May as he was barred constitutionally from seeking a third successive term as president, and became prime minister. He was succeeded by his protege, Dmitry Medvedev, although Putin, a former head of Russian intelligence, is considered the power behind the throne.

"The Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, voted 388-58 to make changes to the constitution that would extend the presidential term from four to six years. The chamber, dominated by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, also voted to extend its own term to five years from four...

"There is speculation that Medvedev would resign early, allowing Putin to become acting president and pave the way for new elections. If Putin wins the election - and he would be the overwhelming favourite - he could be in office for two six-year terms..."

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

"New" political party in Russia

Russian Liberals Launch Pro - Kremlin Party

"Russian liberals launched a new pro-Kremlin political party on Sunday promising to defend middle class values but rivals said it was just a tool for the authorities to suck support away from genuine opposition groups...

"[T]he Kremlin... may potentially need the Right Cause to cushion itself from anti-government feelings, especially during a global financial crisis which has hit Russia hard...

"The Right Cause is an amalgamation of the opposition Union of Right Forces (SPS) with the broadly pro-Kremlin Democratic Party and Civic Force.

"The SPS -- set up by pro-Western reformers -- won no seats in last year's parliamentary election and did not field a candidate in the presidential election this year..."

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Urbanization and policy

Rural to urban migration. Urban poverty. Slums and shanty towns surrounding fast growing cities. Unemployed and unskilled rural workers migrating to cities.

These problems are faced by most lesser developed countries. Often the reaction of public policy makers is to offer incentives for rural people to stay in rural areas or to make migration difficult or illegal.

The World Bank says, in essence, build more roads and railroads.

If your students look at public policy about urbanization, poverty, and infrastructure in the countries they are studying, what will they find? Will they find that countries following the World Bank recommendations are doing better than those who don't? Are the World Bank recommendations pollyanna-ish and blithely dismissive of large scale suffering? Or are they realistic routes to follow to improve prosperity? What policies should governments take toward urban growth?

Lump together and like it: The problems—and benefits—of urbanisation on a vast scale

"In 2005, more than half the poor countries surveyed by the UN Population Division said they wanted to reduce internal migration to rein in urban growth. The food crisis of the past 18 months has sharpened worries about how to feed the teeming slums...

"Such fears of urban over-concentration are reflected in the policies of many different countries...

"Yet new research published by the World Bank in its annual flagship World Development Report suggests that pessimism over the future of huge cities is wildly overdone. The bank argues that third-world cities grow so big and so fast precisely because they generate vast economic advantages, and that these gains may be increasing. Slowing urbanisation down, or pushing it towards places not linked with world markets, is costly and futile, the bank says. At a time of contagion and bail-outs, the research also reaffirms the unfashionable view that the basic facts of geography—where people live and work, how they get around—matter as much as financial and fiscal policies...

"The bank’s research yields lots of new insights...

"Cities are products of trade... Over the past 50 years world trade has expanded hugely, especially in services, and giant cities have thrived correspondingly. Among the most striking of these urban success stories are cities in southern China that most people outside the region have never heard of because they were collections of villages just 20 years ago...

"What has made such growth possible, argues the bank, is cheap transport. Falling transport costs in the 18th and 19th centuries enabled Britain and Portugal to trade wool and port (as the political economist David Ricardo memorably pointed out). Cheap transport in the past 25 years has produced a second sort of trade revolution. Countries now sell each other not final products like port but intermediate ones...

"In short, the bank suggests a formula: the fragmentation of production lines, plus the clustering together of particular stages in the production line, plus cheap transport, equals higher productivity in the biggest cities.

"If it is so important where economic activity takes place, what should countries do if they lack big cities—perhaps because they are landlocked, or cut off from world markets or have many poor people living in rural areas? These, the bank thinks, are the real problems of urbanisation, not the multiplication of slums or congestion. The answer, in the bank’s view, depends on why people are cut off.

"If they are trapped in underemployment in remote rural areas, the main task is to establish land markets and basic services (schools, streets, sanitation) to help cities grow...

"But countries are all too rarely willing to stand back and let cities grow: Tanzania and Ethiopia, to name just two, are busily trying to slow urbanisation down, despite the fact that three-quarters of their people are stuck in rural poverty.

"Where urbanisation has started but pockets of the population are trapped far away, governments have to focus more on transport and other sorts of infrastructure to connect lagging regions with fast-growing ones...

"These prescriptions have something in common. For poor countries, the key to development is to link up flagging and fast-growing regions. To do that, governments often overemphasise policies targeted on particular places. In practice, there are more powerful instruments of integration than “spatially targeted” efforts—eg, land markets that unify all places, or infrastructure that connects some places to others. Growth, says the bank, is inevitably lumpy. Governments must learn to like it."

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Thursday, November 13, 2008


Xinhua reported that "Zhang Haidi on Thursday was elected as new chairwoman of the China Disabled Persons Federation (CDPF) at the organization's fifth national congress.

"She replaced Deng Pufang, who has in the past decade led the organization that represents nearly 83 million disabled people in China..."

New chairperson of the China Disabled Persons' Federation (CDPF) Zhang Haidi (R) and her predecessor Deng Pufang attend the closing ceremony of the fifth national congress of the China Disabled Persons' Federation (CDPF) in Beijing.

The trivia?

Deng Pufang is the son of Deng Xiaoping.

In 1968, some Red Guards at Beijing University were "confronting" the son of the "confessed" capitalist roader and Deng Pufang fell or was pushed out of a third story window. He's been a paraplegic since.

Deng Pufang and the CDPF oversaw the Summer Paralympics recently in Beijing.

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The beginnings of civil society in China?

The news release makes a big deal of the fact that the announced foundation is a "private" enterprise. But the line between private and public in China is very obscure.

The announcement of this foundation took place in the Great Hall of the People, not a private venue. The founding companies are obviously tied to national and local governments pretty tightly, given their roles in Shenzhen development. And an official from the Ministry of Civil Affairs helped make the announcement.

Civil society? What would your students say?

China's first non-gov't community foundation launched

"China's first non-governmental community foundation, the Arcadia Public Welfare Foundation, was launched at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Saturday.

"The foundation was established with 100 million yuan (about 14.65 million U.S. dollars) donated by Shenzhen Airtown (Eastern) Industrial Co. Ltd. and Shenzhen Arcadia Real Estate Group.

"'In the past, it was largely the government that took care of China's communities, but now social groups are playing a vigorous part,' said Wang Jinhua, an official in charge of community construction of the Ministry of Civil Affairs..."

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Truth in statistics

The Nigerian agency charged with reducing poverty reports success. The article in THISDAY is vague about the evidence, and I'd have to ask where the numbers come from. How would your students analyze the numbers and what questions would they ask?

Poverty Level Now 50 Percent, Says Napep

"National Poverty Alleviation Programme (NAPEP) said yesterday that poverty level in the country is currently at 50 per cent, falling from 54.4 per cent in 2004...

"NAPEP State Coordinators and Secretaries, said the Federal Government had been able to reduce poverty level drastically from 70 per cent in 1999, when the country returned to democratic rule..."

Of course, the NAPEP statistics might be more up-to-date, but the CIA World Factbook has these numbers for Nigeria.
  • GDP - per capita (PPP): $2,100 (2007 est.)
  • GDP - composition (of the economy) by sector:
    • agriculture: 17.7%
    • industry: 52.6%
    • services: 29.8% (2007 est.)

  • Labor force: 50.13 million (2007 est.)
  • Labor force - by occupation:
    • agriculture: 70%
    • industry: 10%
    • services: 20% (1999 est.)

  • Unemployment rate: 4.9% (2007 est.)
  • Population below poverty line: 70% (2007 est.)

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It was 90 years ago today

November 11, 90 years ago, marked the official end of World War I hostilities on the Western Front.

It became a holiday in Britain, France, the U.S., and several other countries originally known as Armistice Day.

After World War II, the name was changed to Veterans Day in the U.S. and to Remembrance Day in the U.K. and other Commonwealth countries. France still notes Armistice Day. Poland celebrates Polish Independence Day. Belgium observes a Day of Peace. Volkstrauertag, or national day of mourning is celebrated in Germany about the same time (two Sundays before the first of Advent on the Catholic and Protestant church calendars, i.e. about 6 weeks before Christmas).

Do your students know why there's no commemoration of these events in China? (China has a holiday on August 1 called "Army's Day.") in Nigeria? in Iran? in Mexico? (Official Mexican holidays include Cinco de Mayo, Navy Day on June 1, and Los Niños Héroes on September 13.) in Russia? (Russia does commemorate May 9th as Victory Day.)

And do you students know what those other holidays commemorate?

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Monday, November 10, 2008

More Chinese talk on human rights

For all the talk and white papers, there doesn't seem to be much action in China on human rights. Have your students read the Chinese constitution to see what rights are protected. Compare them to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.S. Bill of Rights. (it is an enlightening exercise.)

China to outline first national action plan to protect human rights

"China planned to draft its first national action plan to protect human rights, said the State Council Information Office on Tuesday.

"The action plan would cover aspects such as improving government function, expanding democracy, strengthening the rule of law, improving people's livelihood, protecting rights of women, children and ethnic minorities and boosting public awareness of human rights, said a statement of the office...

"'As the first of its kind, the plan will leave important effect on the country's human rights development in the future,' said Dong Yunhu, vice president and secretary general of the China Society for Human Rights Studies...

"The Chinese government issued the first white paper describing the country's human rights situation in 1991, officially adopting the concept of 'human rights' in its political strategy.

"Since then, the country has issued 40 such documents on human rights protection but never a state action plan on what it is going to do in this field...

"The plan embodies the government's effort to carry out the country's 'constitutional principle of respecting and safeguarding human rights', which was adopted in 2004, and the development concept of putting people first, Wang Chen, minister in charge of the State Council Information Office said...

"But he did not release the timetable of drafting and when the plan would be implemented."

See also: Global initiative promises to harmonize ICT and human rights

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Political participation

An Iranian "school holiday" and "demonstration."
  • For what causes would students in Russia be "bused in for the occasion?" (Think NASHI.)
  • Would the Chinese government dare to do it? (Remember the response to the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade?)
  • Would such a thing happen in Nigeria? Could it?
  • How about Mexico?
  • Is the British government too staid to take such action?

Just some comparative questions to consider.

Iranians mark '79 seizure of embassy

"Hundreds of Iranian school students bused in for the occasion crowded outside the former US Embassy yesterday [photo from the 2007 demonstration at right], burning American flags and chanting slogans to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the building's seizure by militant Iranian students.

"Equal parts unofficial school holiday and angry demonstration, the commemoration came on the eve of the US presidential election and was marked by anti-US and anti-Israel chants..."

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

National Youth Service Corps (Nigeria)

In the aftermath of Nigeria's civil war, the Gowon military government pursued several policies to reunite the country. One of those was the National Youth Service Corps.

University graduates were enrolled in NYSC and assigned to work in the national interest somewhere away from their home areas. The first part of NYSC service is still an almost-military type boot camp, and university graduates still have to have a certificate of service in NYSC in order to be hired for jobs.

Thirty-five years later, the program, according to the colourful language of Roseline Okere, Joe Adiorho, and Felix Ugwuoke, writing in The Guardian (Lagos), is in need of rethinking, reforming, and rebuilding. Organizations and businesses to which NYSC participants are assigned have been rejecting some assignees. NYSC participants have also been asking organizations to reject them. And, like most big programs, bureaucratic problems are common.

Given the political culture, civil society, economics, and politics of Nigeria, what reforms would your students suggest?

(Thanks to the blogger at Grandiose Parlor for referring me to this article.)

NYSC scheme: A nation's emerging nightmare

"The process has commenced and the debate is on. Apparently worried by the reports of the rejection of corps members by the organizations they were posted for their primary assignments, the House of Representative has put machinery in motion to review the law establishing the scheme.

"Thirty years after, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC ) scheme has joined some of the other lofty programmes that have metamorphosed into nightmares for Nigerian youths. Not only are the monthly allowances not realistically indexed to the realities of today's living, securing a slot for primary assignments has equally become a tall dream.

"The scheme, established in 1973 by the then military regime of General Yakubu Gowon, was scripted to mobilise Nigerian youths graduating from tertiary institutions for national development through sustained mobility of middle level manpower, promotion of social integration and national unity, among others.

"Essentially, the scheme has, over the years, provided succor for university and polytechnic graduates, most of whom could have otherwise experienced immediate pangs of joblessness on graduation, due to current dwindling prospects in the nation's labour market...

"Director of the Lagos Business School, Prof. Pat Utomi, described the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme as moribund, saying the scheme does not serve the present needs of the country...

" Utomi argued that the scheme as it currently operates has lost its importance, as it does not take cognizance of the manpower and industrial development of the country and urged the federal government to overhaul it...

"A Lagos-based legal practitioner, Goddy Uwazuruike regretted that the sheme has lost focus.

"He explained that the aim of NYSC was for the Nigerian graduates to know their country, feel patriotic about their country and provide cheap labour for other areas and so on. 'You must go outside that area you are familiar with. And when you get to that place, you are posted to where your best could be maximized. For instance, if you are a medical doctor, you would be posted to local areas where your services are urgently needed...

"'Virtually, most intending corps members want to serve in Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt and any other city and no corps member wants to serve in the rural area because they believe there is no light, no water, no accommodation and the possible attack of armed robbers. So, with this trend, the purpose for which the scheme was introduced is gradually being defeated,' he lamented.

"He blamed the problem on the government which he said has not done enough to better the lots of corps members in terms of allowances it pays to corps members which he described as pittance...

"'A situation where a corps member who studied History is serving in banks whereas those who studied Account are serving in schools as teachers what type of madness?' he declared.

"'For goodness sake, corps members should be posted to places that have relationship with their course of study.'..."

See also:

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Ambiguity and comparative politics

If you've read my book, you know that ambiguity is a theme I pursue. I point out ambiguities in comparisons to emphasize how important it is to compare like things and how hard that is to do.

Here's an example from page 24 of the November 2008 issue of National Geographic.

There's a marvelous chart titled, "Electoral Collage." It displays, in a very informative way, voter turnout in "154 recent presidential or parliamentary elections."

Surprisingly, the USA appears near the top, with a voter turnout of 89%. It seems that the chart maker used the number of registered voters as a base for the percentage turnouts shown. That makes the US turnout look very good. The UK turnout is shown as something over 60%, far below the U.S. turnout. That's not what our textbooks say.

The explanation that accompanies the chart says that "booming immigration after 1970 created a big population that could not vote." Since voter turnout statistics in the US are usually based on the "entire voting age population" (including unregistered voters, and those ineligible to vote), the implication is that the widely publicized low voter turnout in the USA is misleading.

So the chart shows the percentage of registered voters voting. This is misleading in its own way. Why? Because citizens in the US must register themselves. In most countries, voters are automatically registered -- even when they move.

So the turnout in the UK of just under 60% tells us that's how many of the eligible voters voted. To say that 52% of the population over age 18 voted in the US's 2004 presidential election is an accurate figure too. So is the 89% of registered voters who voted in a "recent presidential or parliamentary election..." (the chart doesn't tell us which).

But to compare either US figure (52% or 89%) with the UK figure (around 60%) is misleading. We have to recognize the ambiguity of either of those comparisons. And how should we deal with the reported 95%+ turnout in Russia? Or the 60% turnout in Iran?

If you want to build some research-based teaching plans on this topic, I suggest you go to the "Voter Turnout" section of the web site for the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).

The site introduces itself this way:
The International IDEA Voter Turnout Website contains the most comprehensive global collection of political participation statistics available. Regularly updated voter turnout figures for national presidential and parliamentary elections since 1945 are presented country by country, using both the number of registered voters and voting age population as indicators. Where available, we also include the spoilt ballot rate for each election. Included also are the most recent indicators of literacy and human development, along with the type of electoral system currently used and whether voting is compulsory or not.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A break from politics

Sorry, I couldn't resist this face. And it celebrates the end of the 22-month presidential campaign in the U.S.

Mexico City's 'water monster' nears extinction

"Beneath the tourist gondolas in the remains of a great Aztec lake lives a creature that resembles a monster – and a Muppet – with its slimy tail, plumage-like gills and mouth that curls into an odd smile.

"The axolotl, also known as the “water monster” and the “Mexican walking fish,” was a key part of Aztec legend and diet. Against all odds, it survived until now amid Mexico City's urban sprawl in the polluted canals of Lake Xochimilco, now a Venice-style destination for revelers poled along by Mexican gondoliers, or trajineros, in brightly painted party boats.

"But scientists are racing to save the foot-long salamander from extinction, a victim of the draining of its lake habitat and deteriorating water quality...

"The axolotl's decline began when Spanish conquerors started draining the lakes...

"Meanwhile, the axolotl population is burgeoning in laboratories, where scientists study its amazing traits, including the ability to completely re-grow lost limbs. Axolotls have played key roles in research on regeneration, embryology, fertilization and evolution.

"The salamander has the rare trait of retaining its larval features throughout its adult life, a phenomenon called neoteny. It lives all its life in the water but can breathe both under water with gills or by taking gulps of air from the surface..."

There's even a web site devoted to Axolotls as pets, Axolotls.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Show us the money

Maureen Fen, writing in The Washington Post, finds evidence of continued skepticism and dissatisfaction among Chinese farmers in spite of announced reforms.

In Southeast China, Skepticism on Land Reforms

"More than 1,300 soldiers and riot police massed on a verdant ridge here in southeastern China earlier this month, facing off against a nearly equal number of angry farmers protesting plans to build a massive plastics factory on their land.

"Tens of thousands of such standoffs take place each year in China, and they reflect the Communist Party's greatest fear: social and economic instability. Six days after the demonstration in the village of Hebu, the Chinese government announced reform measures that, at their core, are designed to curb demonstrations of rural unrest...

"But here in the rice-and-corn-growing region of Guangdong province, where tensions are still running high weeks after the protest, farmers say the changes do not address their main grievance: corruption, much of it directed by local party officials far below the radar of the central government in Beijing...

"Guangdong province is where the economic reforms that led to the dismantling of communes first took root during the 1980s. But in the intervening years, the wealth gap has widened between the cities, where a prosperous middle class is taking shape, and the countryside, whose peasants were at the heart of the Chinese revolution...

"Behind the protests is a backdrop of anger shared by many of China's nearly 800 million farmers, who have been bypassed by the country's explosive economic growth. Even with a recent slowdown, growth in China's gross domestic product is at 9 percent, a rate other nations can only envy..."

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