Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Sunday, October 31, 2010

No First Amendment in Russia, but there is a 31st Article

Sign of an illiberal democracy? I don't think the term "illiberal democracy," apparently coined by Fareed Zakaria, is a useful term or helpful in understanding regimes. (Journalists regularly use terms in ways very different from the ways political scientists use them.) However, it gets used frequently in different ways. I think this description of events in Moscow illustrates a feature that Zakaria intended to emphasize.

2,000 Rally in Moscow, Demand Freedom of Assembly
Nearly 2,000 people gathered in central Moscow on Sunday demanding freedom of assembly in a rare sanctioned rally.

The Russian opposition protests on the 31st day of each month are a nod to the 31st Article of the Russian constitution, which guarantees the right of assembly…

Uncharacteristically for such protests, there were no reports of police violence.

Popular support for vocal opposition groups is minimal in Russia, and their activities have been thwarted in regions like Moscow, where authorities ban their rallies and police regularly break up their gatherings.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Stable job, good benefits

While the rich entrepreneurs get lots of press, the competition for government jobs in China is fierce. What is so attractive about becoming a bureaucrat? And how is this system similar to or different from the old Confucian civil service exam system?

China's civil servants exam attracts 1.3 mln applicants
More than 1.3 million people have been accepted to sit China's 2011 national service examination to select government officials after online registration closed…

They included 327,000 applicants competing for posts in central government and provincial-level organizations, said a statement on the website of the State Administration of Civil Service (SACS)…

Another 794,000 were for vacancies at institutions of county-level or below, with 57.2 percent of them new college graduates…

The annual nationwide test, sat by 927,000 people last year, continues to be seen as a route to a stable job and enviable benefits in China, where every year 6 million college graduates join the labor force.

The central government plans to recruit more than 16,000 public servants next year, 1,000 more than in 2010…

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

None of that talk here, please

The Central Committee met, drew up a new 5-year plan, and anointed the next leaders. Did they also chastise Premier Wen behind those closed doors?

Chinese Article Seems to Chide Leader
China’s main Communist Party newspaper bluntly rejected calls for speedier political reform on Wednesday, publishing a front-page commentary that said any changes in China’s political system should not emulate Western democracies, but “consolidate the party’s leadership so that the party commands the overall situation.”

The opinion article in People’s Daily, signed with what appeared to be a pseudonym, appeared at least obliquely aimed at Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. He has argued in speeches and media interviews that China’s economic progress threatens to stall without systemic reforms, including an independent judiciary, greater oversight of government by the press and improvements in China’s sharply limited form of elections...

Wednesday’s commentary, which closely followed the ruling party’s annual planning session, ran to 1,800 words and delved into topics only occasionally discussed in the state media. The article emphatically repeated past declarations that changes modeled on American or European political systems were inappropriate for China. It also appeared to directly reject Mr. Wen’s warning that economic progress and political reforms were inseparably linked…
See also

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Zoning as a bigger issue

"Zoning" in Nigeria refers to the ruling political party's agreement about sharing power between northerners and southerners. But, as Solomonsydelle writes in Nigerian Curiosity, in reality, it's more than that.

Nigeria's ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), decided to adopt zoning as a policy. As such, the party agreed that Presidential power would rotate between the north and the south of the country. With former President Yar'Adua's death, the PDP was rocked by tension with northern members insisting that the zoning agreement be observed and many southern members advocating that then-Vice president and now-President, Goodluck Jonathan be allowed to run for the presidency even though he is a southerner. Although many, including the United States government, insisted that this zoning matter was a PDP and not a national matter, the reality is that zoning has permeated the fabric of Nigerian society. It is encouraging a divisiveness along tribal lines that serves to weaken and not strengthen the Nigerian union…

But the more talk of zoning there was, the more resistance there was in the public, particularly in the southern part of the country. In a survey released by NOI Polls,  66% said they were against zoning as the primary factor of selecting a President…

Four northern presidential aspirants, a former Vice president that was implicated in a US corruption case, Atiku, former military dictator Buhari, current Kwara State governor, Bukola Saraki and Babangida, revealed that they would concede from the contest if a consensus candidate is selected amongst them...

As political figures continue to trade jabs and make moves and counter moves in the zoning/tribal saga, the only loser at the end of the day are Nigerian citizens… One can only hope that Nigeria, which has survived several an upheaval, will manage to power through whatever else is to come out of the zoning fiasco...

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No more outside ideas

The Iranian establishment doesn't want foreign ideas in their country, except those of nuclear physicists. And don't even think about studying political science!

Iran restricts social sciences seen as 'Western'
Iran has imposed new restrictions on 12 university social sciences deemed to be based on Western schools of thought and therefore incompatible with Islamic teachings, state radio reported…

The list includes law, philosophy, management, psychology, political science and the two subjects that appear to cause the most concern among Iran's conservative leadership -- women's studies and human rights.

"The content of the current courses in the 12 subjects is not in harmony with religious fundamentals and they are based on Western schools of thought," senior education official Abolfazl Hassani told state radio.

Hassani said the restrictions prevent universities from opening new departments in these subjects. The government will also revise the content of current programs…

In 2006, dozens of liberal university professors and teachers were sent into retirement, drawing strong protests from students. Liberal and secular professors teach at universities around the country, but they are a minority. Most are politically passive and do not identify with either the hard-liners or the liberal camp...

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Communist Party as rock concert producer

The motives of the Communist leadership might be mixed, but the results are amazing. Rock concerts might not be political, but they are providing opportunities for masses of people to share experiences — not unlike the rallies of the Cultural Revolution. Still, I can't help but think that the cadres who approve and organize these rowdy affairs have some nightmares about the consequences of giving young people some freedom of expression, even if it's not overtly political.

The New York Times article is accompanied by a 4-minute video of scenes from contemporary rock concerts. It would be a good counter point to the video from the Cultural Revolution that follows the article.

Pierced Fans, Stiff Cadres and Hip Rock
A curious thing happened this month at the Midi Music Festival, China’s oldest and boldest agglomeration of rock, funk, punk and electronica. Performers took musical potshots at the country’s leaders, tattooed college students sold antigovernment T-shirts and an unruly crowd of heavy metal fans giddily torched a Japanese flag that had been emblazoned with expletives.

Curious, because the event, a four-day free-for-all of Budweiser, crowd-surfing and camping, was sponsored by the local Communist Party…

The more permissive atmosphere for indie music is a contrast to heightened Internet censorship and the crackdown on vocal advocates of political change. Skeptics say the government is simply trying to co-opt youth culture, but others view the spread of festivals as an encouraging sign that rock, punk and heavy metal might finally have a stage free from the financial and political shackles that have constrained them…

But Yang Haisong of P.K.14 could not help but feel cynical as he looked around at the Modern Sky Music Festival in Beijing going on at the same time as the others. To his right was a Jägermeister tent; to his left, an enormous line of well-dressed people waiting for free Converse tote bags. Asked if he thought Chinese youth culture might be on the brink of a tectonic breakthrough, Mr. Yang smiled and shook his head.
“The government used to see us as dangerous,” he said. “Now they see us as a market.”
China's New Wave Music Festivals (from the New York Times (about 3 minutes)

The Red Guards Song (about 1 minute)

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Xi Jinping and guanxi

“Guanxi” literally means "relationships"… in China it is the right "Guanxi" that makes all the difference…

Much is made of the importance of guanxi in China. As this profile of the future Party Secretary and President makes clear, guanxi can lead to being "sent down" or even to prison as well as to great success.

Xi Jinping: A princeling and future king
As Xi Jinping rose through the ranks of the Communist Party of China, he has often been defined – and sometimes derided – as a “princeling,” one of a clutch of rising party stars who owe at least some of their success to the fact they are children of revolutionary heroes…

But don't confuse Mr. Xi with Kim Jong-un, the 27-year-old tabbed inherit power from his ailing father in neighbouring North Korea. Unlike the Kim family, it wasn't always a political asset to be the son of Xi Zhongxun.

Mr. Xi was 10 years old when his father, a former comrade-in-arms of Mao Zedong's and a hero of the fabled Long March who rose to be a vice-premier, was suddenly denounced and jailed as an enemy of the revolution. As a teenager, Mr. Xi himself was sent to a rural commune in Shaanxi province to work as a labourer, deemed a “reactionary student” largely because of who his father was. He was jailed four times and publicly humiliated…

After Mao died and Deng Xiaoping rose to replace him, Xi Zhongxun was rehabilitated and entrusted with the key post of governor of the southeastern province of Guangdong…

But a decade later, Xi Zhongxun was again a political pariah after speaking out publicly against Mr. Deng's decision to use the army to crush pro-democracy demonstrations on Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989…

The Beijing-born Mr. Xi, who studied both chemical engineering and law at Tsinghua University, is in many ways a blank slate whom the various factions within the Communist Party all appear comfortable with, even as he belongs firmly to none of them. He won the top job largely because he was one of the few acceptable to both the supporters of outgoing President Hu Jintao and the loyalists of his predecessor and rival, Jiang Zemin…

Before his rapid ascension, Mr. Xi was best known as the husband of Peng Liyuan, one of China's best-known folk singers and a long-time staple on the televised galas that ring in the Chinese New Year…

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Challenges, challenges

For a state with capacity limited by a number of factors, Nigeria is now challenged with an epidemic.

How well can your students identify the factors that limit the capacity of the Nigerian state to deal with the outbreak of cholera?

Nigeria cholera death toll rises above 1,500: U.N.
Cholera has killed more than 1,500 people in Nigeria this year, more than four times the death toll reported by the government in August, the United Nations said…

Heavy rains and flooding in rural areas where safe drinking water and sanitary facilities are scarce have fueled the outbreak of the disease, which is generally spread through food and water contaminated with bacteria...

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Not Hu; not Wen; but Xi and Li

When the Communist Party Central Committee met in Beijing, they all but announced the order of succession for Party and government leadership.

Chinese Promotion Puts Official on Track for Presidency
Xi Jinping, China’s vice president, was named to an important military position on Monday, continuing his elevation to the top echelons of China’s leadership and reconfirming that the Communist Party had selected him as the successor to President Hu Jintao.

Mr. Xi [above], a provincial governor who emerged as the heir apparent in 2007 when he received a senior rank on the Politburo Standing Committee, was named vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, which oversees the People’s Liberation Army and its branches. The post fills the last remaining gap in Mr. Xi’s résumé and means that he is following the succession track that Mr. Hu took a decade ago on his way to assuming China’s top party, state and military titles.

Barring a major upset, Mr. Xi, 57, is now on track to become Communist Party secretary when Mr. Hu’s term ends in 2012, and president in 2013…

The rise of Mr. Xi has been smoothed by his connections; he is the son of Xi Zhongxun, a onetime revolutionary guerrilla and deputy prime minister who helped Mr. Hu rise through the ranks and shepherded the spectacular success of Shenzhen, China’s first free-market economic zone, 30 years ago…

Senior appointments in China are made by consensus among the political elite, with the elder generation of leaders accorded a prominent say in selecting junior officials they expect to accede to the top posts a decade or more down the road. Elders tend to favor officials in their mid- to late 50s who have a lifetime of obedient service. Blandness — at least to the general public — is not an impediment to promotion…

Why Mr. Xi emerged from relative obscurity to become heir apparent three years ago is a matter of mystery and speculation. Some close observers of Chinese politics say the man considered to be Mr. Hu’s personal top choice as successor, Li Keqiang [below], another provincial leader, failed to win the backing of some members of China’s old guard, headed by the former top leader Jiang Zemin. Mr. Xi was a compromise acceptable to both Mr. Jiang and Mr. Hu, these observers say.
Mr. Li, who sits on the Politburo Standing Committee along with Mr. Xi, is now expected to succeed Prime Minister Wen Jiabao when he retires along with Mr. Hu in 2012...

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Elite politics in the Peoples Republic

The Central Committee has met. Here's what the official Chinese news agency says they did. Details and analysis are sure to follow.

CPC Central Committee closes fifth plenary session

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The politics of belt-tightening

An analysis by Michael Blastland on the BBC web site explains how difficult deficit reduction, the primary promise of the coalition government, is going to be. This comes at the time when defense spending cuts are making big news as well.

Are the pips squeaking yet?
Put it this way: every £1bn is the equivalent of taking away services or money worth £1,000 from one million people, every year.

Which one million people would you have in mind?

And that's just the first billion. There are another 84-ish to go. Which is why the politics of cuts grows nasty. The Chancellor says we are all in it together, invoking a sense of collective sacrifice. Your country needs you, says David Cameron, pointing our way.

But I see no volunteers. Instead, the one collective effort on view is to duck - and point elsewhere. The "middle" points at the "scroungers" at the "bottom". The "bottom" points to the broader shoulders higher up. Both point to the "top". And the "top" says it pays for everything already and should get something back.

Well, it could be worse. Actually, it will be worse. There are bills not yet fully in the equation, like that for long-term care as the population ages…

The squeeze seems to come from every side. Where will the money come from?…

At the root, though, is a simple problem: arithmetic. Eliminating what's known as the structural deficit in the next few years, as the government aims to do, requires cuts or tax rises worth about 12% of total government spending in today's terms… Twelve per cent of government spending is equal to about six per cent of national spending.

It sounds manageable, until you remember that spread in equal proportion across the population, six per cent - for someone on £40,000 - is the equivalent of lost money or services worth nearly £2,400 every year…

So there are three possible - and perhaps obvious - answers to the question: "where will the money come from?"

1. Either it won't, and there'll be lower standards of living for everyone

2. It will come from a decline in services people receive

3. It will come by waiting, and hoping for increased national prosperity in the future will give us back what we've now lost, and we will all share in it

4. Sorry, did I not mention a fourth option? Option four is the most likely - a scenario which combines options one, two and three

A few months ago, I interviewed Howard Glennerster, a professor of social policy, who said that the numbers were unachievable unless the government also took aim at the middle classes.

He predicted precisely the current confrontation: "The challenge is to threaten the interests of the median middle class voter on whom the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats depend. Only by challenging their core vote, it seems to me, can they deliver."
Osborne prepares to unveil cuts
Chancellor George Osborne will shortly reveal the biggest programme of cuts in the UK for decades, in his long-awaited Spending Review.

Average budget reductions of 25% to most Whitehall departments are expected alongside welfare cuts, following months of negotiations with ministers.

Reports suggest nearly 500,000 public sector jobs will go by 2014-15…

Ahead of Wednesday's announcement, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has warned of a "hard road to recovery" for the country.

In a letter to all Lib Dem MPs, he said decisions being taken by the coalition government were "tough" but "right" and he was "determined to ensure it is a road that leads to fairness too"...

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sovereignty and sanctions

If Iran is to maintain its sovereignty, it has to overcome the problems of outside forces trying to get the government to change its policies.

Sanctions begin to bite
SANCTIONS imposed by the United States have long made it a bother to use credit cards in Iran…

That neat trick has now grown trickier. Complying with recently tightened international sanctions, financial regulators in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which includes Dubai, have frozen dozens of Iranian bank accounts and clamped strict controls on currency transfers to the Islamic Republic…

[O]rdinary Iranians are increasingly worried and indeed hurt by sanctions. These now take many forms, from an outright ban on the import of Persian carpets to America that took effect last month to the targeting of individual officials for alleged human-rights abuses, the stopping of Iranian operations by big multinational firms and a growing reluctance by shipping and insurance companies to service Iran-bound cargoes.

Even taken together, the sanctions are unlikely to bring the world’s fifth-biggest crude-oil exporter to its knees. The loopholes remain big enough, and the attraction of Iran’s 75m-strong market strong enough, to keep goods and money flowing…

Yet the sanctions… are inexorably adding to the cost and hassle of doing business…

The sanctions have also stemmed the flow of much-needed foreign investment and skills, particularly to the energy sector that accounts for 80% of Iran’s export earnings…

None of this has dented the exuberance of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, who recently repeated his prediction that capitalism is doomed. Instead he has trumpeted minor achievements...

Perhaps the president is right to believe that foreign challenges are not Iran’s biggest worry. After crushing its reformist opponents, his conservative faction has broken out in increasingly rancorous internal wrangling. The biggest looming issue is Mr Ahmadinejad’s plan to slash consumer subsidies that cost his government $70 billion-100 billion a year, a quarter of GDP. Already lumbered with feeble economic growth and high unemployment, Iranians now face the prospect of sharp rises in prices of food, fuel and transport. The coming winter looks set to be harsh.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Don't pass on the cost increases

The Iranian government, facing fewer economic options, is removing some price controls, offering cash subsidies to some of the poor, and putting heavy pressure on businesses not to raise prices. The bazaaris (merchants), some of the key supporters of the revolution, are not happy.

Iranian Officials Warn of Unrest Tied to Subsidy Cuts
After suppressing the political protests that followed last year’s disputed presidential election, Iran’s security forces are now on the alert for a new kind of domestic threat — strikes and civil unrest provoked by planned cuts in fuel subsidies.

Top police officials have issued a series of warnings this month against the threat of an overflow of tensions following the cuts, which some fear could set off a chain reaction of price increases and economic hardships in a country already stricken by high inflation and widespread unemployment…

Unrest in currency markets coincided with a strike by gold traders at the Tehran bazaar and in a number of cities across the country in reaction to plans to introduce a 3 percent tax on gold transactions. Iran’s influential bazaar merchants have expressed fear that such a tax could herald further government skimming of their profits.

It was the second time this year that bazaar merchants have gone on strike to protest an administration intent on reducing dependence on oil money for government revenue.

In July, large parts of the Tehran bazaar went on strike for 12 days in protest of proposed income-tax increases…

In a sign that Iranian authorities would take a more measured yet still decisive approach to possible disturbances, last Thursday, Tehran’s chief prosecutor said the judiciary would prosecute those who “disturb public order” by closing the bazaar or engaging in speculation. His comments echoed an earlier warning from the Tehran provincial governor, Morteza Tamadon, that the government would be tough on merchants trying to pass on price increases to consumers…

Officials have, over the past several days, announced large-scale stockpiling of essential food products, which, it is hoped, the government will be able to distribute in the event of sudden price increases. Low-income consumers have been promised coupons for cooking oil and rice in a further move intended to allay fears.

But cash reimbursements intended to compensate families faced with higher prices have not yet been made, despite assurances late last month that such reimbursements would be credited to bank accounts well before the onset of price increases. Iranian press reports have estimated that the value of these payments could be as little as $24 per month, meaning that a family of four would receive less than one-third of the government help provided under the current subsidy regime.

I.M.F. analysts say that energy prices could shoot up 4 to 20 times current levels as a result of removing price supports. Government critics have expressed fears that such a “price shock” could reignite inflation which, according to Iran’s Central Bank, fell below 10 percent in May after spending years in double digits.

On Thursday, a labor leader in the unemployment-ravaged western Iranian province of Hamedan warned of protests if the government did not improve the situation of workers in anticipation of the removal of subsidies...

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Look for an announcement

The Communist Party's Central Committee is meeting in Beijing. Keep your eyes open for announcements of decisions they make.

China's leaders meet to plan economic future
China's ruling Communist Party is meeting in Beijing to draw up its next five-year plan for the economy.

The agenda is secret but analysts say that instead of seeking a high rate of economic growth, China's leaders want to close the gap between rich and poor and between coastal and inland areas.

Analysts will also be watching for signs of who will be China's next leader - due to take office in 2012…

There is speculation that political reform will even be on the meeting's agenda, after Premier Wen Jiabao recently issued a call for openness…

Details of the meeting of the 300-member Central Committee are usually only released at its close.

State media said President Hu Jintao and Mr Wen are expected to attend the gathering "to discuss proposals for the nation's next five-year development plan" from 2011 to 2015…

Analysts will also be watching for signs that Vice-President Xi Jinping and Vice-Premier Li Keqiang - the presumed successors to Mr Hu and Mr Wen - will move closer to power in a reshuffle.

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National police only?

An important step in the war against drug cartels? A step away from federalism? Good for Mexico?

Mexican president wants to do away with local police
Amid a bloody war against drug cartels, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said Wednesday that he was sending Congress a plan to overhaul the country's police system by doing away with local forces, long a weak link in law enforcement.

The proposed reform, which would require amending the Mexican Constitution, would eliminate the nation's 2,000 municipal departments, where officers tend to be undertrained and ill-paid and are seen as vulnerable to corruption by criminal groups. Patrol duties in towns and cities would be taken over by the 31 states…

Calderon and aides have argued that the Achilles heel of Mexican law enforcement is at the local level, not the federal. Mexico's 165,000 municipal officers make up more than a third of the country's roughly 425,000 total.

Shabbily trained and ill-equipped local police are no match for potent drug gangs and many officers' frequent attempts to solicit bribes make them widely loathed by the residents they are meant to protect. In addition, more than 400 communities lack a police force…

Some experts have warned that concentrating police authority at the state level could make it easier for criminal organizations to control entire regions by buying off or intimidating state commanders…

Officials have said consolidating police at the state level will make it easier to oversee professionalization and vetting aimed at rooting out graft.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Political humor from Lagos

Sometimes political humor can cast a bright light on political reality. Jeremy Weate, in naijablog passes on these bit of jokes now circulating in Nigeria.

33 Nigerian miners trapped underground
Last night I dreamt that 33 Nigerian Miners were trapped underground and the govt sent a capsule down to rescue them one after the other, but the rescue had to be called off as the trapped miners could not agree amongst themselves on who goes first.

Zoning was suggested but they could not agree on which zone will go first.

Eventually a struggle to all board at the same time… led to the attempt being called off.

Oh dear. Sorry it was only a nightmare. In fact the real problem was that FEC awarded the capsule contract to Ibori* and we are still awaiting delivery 3 mths later.  There is a probe going on to unravel this and retrieve the award sum before we get to the issue of what formula to adopt for the rescue and which miner comes out first. Meanwhile traditional rulers from the miners' towns are paying solidarity visits to the President to thank him for his efforts to rescue the miners.

And the First lady has just invited the wives of the Nigerian miners to Abuja for dinner at the Hilton to honour them! At this meeting, they will pray for the good Lord to rescue the miners. The first lady will lead prayer warriors into battle to attack the devil and enemies of Nigeria, whose wicked acts are constituting an obstacle to the rescue efforts. The first ladies from the 36 states will also be in attendance. All including the wives of the miners will wear the Goodluck for President Ankara**.

CNN reported early this morning that after 10mths underground all the 33 Nigerian miners have died and the Nigerian govt has declared 7 days of mourning during which the Nigerian flag will be flown at half mast.

*James Ibori was a governor of Delta state and suspected of flagrant fraud.

**Ankara is a printed fabric used for stylish women's clothing and it's often used to convey political messages.

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The fight goes on

Thanks to Kevin James who pointed out a bit of the ongoing struggle in Iran that I had missed. I think in most reporting in the West, the arrest of two German journalists overshadowed the latest battle for political power in Tehran.

Iran’s top ayatollah targets university
Iran’s leader issued a decree yesterday paving the way for a state takeover of the country’s largest private university, in a crushing blow to the nation’s moderates.

The Islamic Azad University is the center of power for the Iranian president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatist and key supporter of Iran’s moderates.

The institution, founded in 1982, was a major site for opposition protests against the 2009 disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which opponents say was fraudulent.

The decree of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, declared the university’s endowment, which keeps it financially independent, to be religiously illegitimate and therefore null and void.

The endowment, or vaqf in Farsi, was set up in 2009, shortly after the elections by the university board to keep it independent in the face of the rising power of hard-liners in the ruling system.

The university, with more than one 1.3 million students in more than 350 branches nationwide, allowed opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi free access to its huge resources during his election campaign, allowing his voice to be heard all over Iran.

Ever since, Ahmadinejad and his extremist camp have intensified efforts to strip Rafsanjani of this multibillion dollar power house. The assets of the university are estimated to be around $250 billion...

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Affirmative political action in Nigeria?

In Naijablog, Jeremy Weate points out a provocative proposal by Max Siollun in his blog, Nigerian Village Square. Some form of this action is common in other countries.

Should The Presidency Be Zoned To Women?
Ever since former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua fell ill last year, the word “zoning” has been on everyone’s lips. The talk has been of whether the ruling Peoples Democratic Party’s “zoning” arrangement would be applied to permit the emergence of a new President from the south, the north, the east, the south-south etc etc. Throughout all debate about zoning, no one considered the prospect of zoning the presidency to……..WOMEN…

Previous attempts at making women more prominent in Nigerian politics have failed miserably…

Can the ladies do any worse than the men? Let’s look at what 50 years of uninterrupted rule by men has brought Nigeria: civil war, one million dead bodies in the space of 3 years, systematized corruption, destruction of national morals, ostentatious living, and decadence that would make the ancient Romans blush.

Yet ironically, many of the best performing ministers of recent times have been women. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Obiageli Ezekwesili, Dora Akunyili, and Dizeani Allison-Madueke have all performed admirably as ministers…

Another irony is that women make up a very substantial part of the voting electorate (in rural areas). Old women are known to vote regularly. Yet we refuse to empower a part of the national demographic that votes heavily and which has performed very well in government…

So for next year’s election, let us not zone the presidency to the south, north, east, west, north-central, south-east, north-west, south-south, north-east, south-west, or any other place that a GPS device can find. 
Let us zone it to NIGERIAN WOMEN. It won’t hurt.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fixing statistics

I'm often tempted to look at charts and statistics and assume that numbers from one country are comparable to those from other countries. Turns out I probably wasn't paying enough attention when I was studying statistics. Here's an example.

Getting bigger
Mexico's recent accounting revision… involves a big jump. After a new methodology was introduced in 2008, official GDP figures were boosted by nearly 15%. In 2007, the latest year for which both old and new indices are available, income per head was equivalent to $9,694 per year, not $8,445 as the old method suggested.

The old methodology was revised in 1993 but drawn up as long ago as 1980, when Mexico’s economy “was like Russia’s: all oil and corruption,” according to Luis de la Calle, an economist. The new formula gives due importance to services and to trade. It adopts the economic classification system shared by the United States and Canada, breaking the economy down into 750 different activities, rather than 362 as before.

But even the new method may underestimate Mexico’s output…

Other official data suggest Mexicans eat about twice as much meat as they did in 1990, and visit the cinema four times as often, while retail square-footage has more than tripled since 1993. These apparent improvements are not reflected in the statistics. “Who do you think is right: the intellectuals, or Wal-Mart?” asks Mr de la Calle.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Women in politics

Sue Witmer who teaches in Manchester, PA, asked recently about resources for teaching about participation rates of women. Well, this won't specifically address the countries in the Advanced Placement course, but it does offer an opportunity to get students involved in a little research and comparison project. And when that's done, the students could be asked to identify correlations between the rates of participation by women and other parts of political cultures.

At the World Economic Forum site, you can download the rankings in PDF or excel forms.

Nordic Nations Remain Gender-Equality Leaders
Iceland and three other Nordic countries continue to lead the world in gender equality, and the United States made significant progress over the last year in reducing economic and social gaps between women and men, according to a report to be issued Tuesday by the World Economic Forum...
The Global Gender Gap Report 2010.

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Rankings in Africa

Mo Ibrahim has made a pile of money by selling telephones in Africa. He's also created a foundation to improve governance on the continent. The foundation gives out a prize for "Achievement in African Leadership," intended to offer prestige like a Nobel Prize. (The foundation was unable to identify a head of state who deserved the prize in 2009 or 2010.)

The foundation also publishes the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, ranking the performance of 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The rankings for 2010 were released recently. These rankings offer students of comparative politics wonderful opportunities to search for correlations.

African progress threatened by ‘democratic recession’
Africa is making historic gains in health and economic growth, yet this progress is being jeopardized by a dangerous erosion of democratic rights in many countries, according to a new report.

The annual index on African governance, by the respected Mo Ibrahim Foundation, found… [that] most countries are improving their economies and their human development, yet nearly two-thirds are suffering a “democratic recession” – a deterioration in human rights, physical security and the rule of law…

At the top of the African rankings this year, once again, is the small island nation of Mauritius…

Of the 53 nations on the African continent, 30 have declined in their level of human rights and political participation since the previous index, while 35 have declined in the category of safety and rule of law…

South Africa ranks as one of the wealthiest and best-developed countries on the continent. Yet it is racked by crime, and its level of personal safety is one of the worst in Africa, ranking it alongside countries such as Nigeria and Chad in the bottom 10 countries in this category in the index…

See also:Scores and Rankings from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation

Nation Slips in 'Good Governance' Ranking
Nigeria has dropped further in the ranking on governance index among countries in Africa.

The country ranks a distant 40th out of the 53 countries in the continent. She is also ranked 13th out of 16 countries in West Africa…

On performance in the 2010 Index, Nigeria scored 43 for governance quality in 2008/09 and was ranked 40th out of 53 countries.

The country scored lower than the regional average for West Africa, which was 50, and scored lower than the continental average of 49...

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Size of Africa

Thanks to Ed Webb for pointing out this wonderful map. It would be an interesting map to use when introducing the study of Nigeria.

The real size of Africa

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Cleavages among clerics

The existence of deep political divisions among leading Shiite clerics in Iran is often referred to in textbooks, but few of them offer the kind of explanation and example as William Yong's report in The New York Times. You do have to read beyond the Internet censorship in the story to learn the good bits.

In Sign of Discord, Iran Blocks Web Sites of Some Clerics
The web sites of two senior clerics have been blocked by government censors, a possible sign of a hardening political divide at the highest level of Iran’s religious establishment.

The web sites of the clerics, Grand Ayatollah Yusuf Sanei and Grand Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat-Zanjani, who are both “sources of emulation,” the highest clerical rank in Shiite Islam, were first reported blocked by news sites linked with Iran’s political opposition movement... The official site of a third top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali-Mohammad Dastgheib, was reported blocked early last month...

The fresh restrictions on the clerics’ web sites appears to be a further sign of the widening gulf between Iran’s leadership and top ayatollahs who have refused to align themselves with an increasingly authoritarian regime...

Many of Iran’s top-ranking clerics refused to congratulate President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following his disputed reelection last year..

Both Grand Ayatollah Sanei and Grand Ayatollah Bayat-Zanjani have openly condemned the violent crackdown on street protests that followed the disputed election and Ayatollah Dastgheib became the target of attacks by hardliners when he issued a taboo-breaking call to Iran’s Assembly of Experts, of which he is a member, to exercise its constitutionally enshrined responsibility to review the performance of the Supreme Leader...

In recent months, pro-government militia members have attacked the offices of Grand Ayatollah Sanei and Grand Ayatollah Dastgheib, as well as the offices of the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri…

Ayatollah Khamenei has long been at odds with top religious authorities due to his lack of the formal qualifications previously considered necessary for holding the position of “Supreme Jurisprudent,” as stipulated under the political philosophy of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Khamenei’s predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini.

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Communists as Manchus?

Jeremiah Jenne is a grad student in history who is teaching in Beijing while working on his PhD thesis. His historical perspective on Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize is a reminder of the politics and the history of modern China. It's not an introduction, but it could be a great summary or review reading.

The Nobel Prize and the CCP’s Ignoble Response
Change, when it comes to China, will not be sparked by the Nobel committee or Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International. Nor will it be due to the heroic (or Quixotic, depending on your perspective) activism of Liu Xiaobo and his associates.  It will only come when grievances and demands breach the walls of class interest and regional difference to create the kinds of linkages seen in 1919 or 1949 or 1989.

What Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Prize does do is expose as hollow a false premise relating to China’s government: that of gradual evolution…

We’ve seen this before.  In the waning decades of the Qing Empire, the Manchu court under Empress Dowager Cixi and an increasingly conservative inner circle of Manchu notables faced a number of devastating internal problems as well as the constant threats of rapacious and violent imperialist powers.  Those officials — or writers — who sought change, who proposed the kind of systemic and institutional reforms needed to stem the tide of decline, found their voices lost in the cacophony of an insecure and frightened court who saw such systemic changes to be the vanguard of Manchu irrelevance.

The CCP today is in a far stronger position than the Manchus of old. By an order of magnitude. Yet the way they look at the world as they take turns peeking out through the walls of Zhongnanhai is so very similar to Cixi and her flunkies.  As a result, the CCP response last night was as predictable as it was banal: “The decision disgraced the Nobel Prize.”…

The fact is that the CCP doesn’t need to do this anymore. More than one commentator in the past 24 hours has referred to the debacle as a “PRC own goal.”  If government hadn’t been so freaked out by Charter 08 and sentenced Liu Xiaobo to prison (on December 25, 2009 figuring that the Western world would be too deep in egg nog to care…how’s that plan working out right about now?) then the Nobel committee wouldn’t have given this guy the time of day…

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Friday, October 08, 2010

Drama in seven acts?

Jeremy Weate used his Naijablog to offer a link to a potentially valuable analysis of Nigerian political history. (Thank you.) Dr. Adekeye Adebajo is the executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution and author of The Curse of Berlin: Africa after the Cold War. This op-ed analysis was published in South Africa's Mail & Guardian. It offers a useful, brief summary of Nigerian history since independence. Students can check out his contentions using their textbooks.

The seven horsemen of Nigeria's apocalypse
Our tale here refers to the biblical vision of four apocalyptic horsemen representing conquest, war, famine and death.

Since 1960, Nigeria's leaders have failed to lift 70% of their compatriots out of poverty, to build and maintain viable infrastructure and to stem profligate corruption that has resulted in more than $380-billion being siphoned into foreign bank accounts. Might the next horseman to ride on to the Nigerian stage represent the end of the country as a viable entity?

The petty ambition and often inhumane greed of many Nigerian leaders have prevented a country of enormous potential from fulfilling its leadership aspirations and achieving its development potential…

More positively, Nigeria's foreign policy has been impressively active…

The achievements of Nigerian artists, professionals and sportsmen have also been noteworthy…

Nigeria's prolific film industry, "Nollywood", has attracted positive international attention…

In spite of this talent, Nigeria's 50 years of independence can be viewed as a drama in six acts, with military horsemen appearing on the national stage to save the country from the decadence of corrupt politicians, only to descend themselves into similar venality…

In May 2007, after a disgracefully flawed election, Obasanjo handed power to Umaru Yar'Adua, the first university graduate to govern Nigeria… Yar'Adua... died in office five months ago before he could implement real change. His southern deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, took over as president and announced, two weeks ago, that he would contest elections scheduled for January 2011.

Northern autocrat Babangida also announced his candidacy. The powerful north strongly opposes what it sees as Jonathan's violation of the unwritten accord in the ruling People's Democratic Party, an agreement to alternate power between north and south.

Could Babangida's declaration lead to a volatile situation, one that could yet generate a crisis and eventually lead to the triumphant arrival of the seventh horseman of Nigeria's apocalypse?

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

Is bad news good?

Labour has a new leader and a tie in a new public opinion poll. Is that good news? (Ignore the simplistic headline and remember the concept of margin of error.)

Morale boost for Ed Miliband as poll gives Labour first lead in three years
Ed Miliband ends his first week as Labour leader with his party ahead of the Tories in a Guardian/ICM poll for the first time since Gordon Brown ducked the chance of holding an election in 2007.

But the two-point lead is the result of a slump in Conservative support rather than any surge in Labour backing and the poll suggests voters are giving Miliband a wary rather than an enthusiastic welcome…

The poll also shows that the public mood is swinging against the scale and speed of spending cuts, with 43% now saying the cuts have gone too far compared with the 37% who think the balance is right. By contrast, in July 39% thought the balance right, and 38% said too far…

There has been a shift of opinion in Labour's favour since May, with support up almost eight points at the expense of the Lib Dems. Almost one in four people who voted Lib Dem are now thinking of voting Labour instead...

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Video news report on MEND

Nigerian rebels in the Niger Delta might have been responsible for the independence day bombs in Abuja. Al Jazeera offers a two-minute video report from a camp in the delta. Whether the whole organization is as well-equipped and as well-organized as the one in the video is open to question, but the pictures are powerful supplements to what we read about MEND. And proof that there's plenty of money to buy guns, boats, uniforms, etc.

Thanks to Jeremy Weate at Naijablog for pointing out this news report.

‪Nigeria's MEND rebels‬

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Universal values with Chinese characteristics

A dozen years ago, there was a public discussion about whether the UN Declaration of Human Rights is a description of universal rights. The definition of human rights commonly accepted in the USA is not as extensive as the list in the UN declaration. The official Chinese concept of human rights is as different as the US one. Because the topic was in the news so much, my students chose it as the focus of a special unit.

The topic is back. This time the debate is going on in China, often in coded statements. The controversy might offer a framework within which to understand Chinese politics and the leadership transitions that are coming.

The debate over universal values
ON JULY 19th the graduates of one of China’s leading business schools settled down in their academic finery to listen to a farewell address by Qin Xiao, the chairman of a state-owned bank. They little expected what they were about to hear. Instead of rallying them to further the cause of China’s socialist modernisation, Mr Qin urged them to resist the lure of worldly things and to pursue “universal values” such as freedom and democracy.

Mr Qin’s speech to an audience of 2,000 people in Tsinghua University’s sports centre fanned the flames of an ideological debate that has been smouldering in China for the past two years. A philosophical question of whether universal values exist has turned into a political fight, dividing scholars, the media and even, some analysts believe, China’s leaders. The schism is likely to become more apparent as the Communist Party prepares for a sweeping change of leadership in 2012. Liberals will try to goad incoming leaders into making their views clear…

The term “universal values”, or pushi jiazhi, is a new one in Chinese political debate…

[C]onservatives fear that embracing universal values would mean acknowledging the superiority of the West’s political systems. [T]he party’s own mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, weighed in. A signed article accused supporters of universal values of trying to westernise China and turn it into a laissez-faire economy that would no longer uphold “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

The debate picked up in December 2008 when hundreds of liberal intellectuals and out-and-out dissidents signed a manifesto in support of universal values, known as Charter 08. China faced a choice, it said, of maintaining its authoritarian system or “recognising universal values, joining the mainstream of civilisation and setting up a democracy”. This was a step too far for the party leadership. Recently, Chinese officials have been issuing warnings about diplomatic trouble if the Nobel Peace Prize, due to be announced on October 8th, goes to the charter’s organiser, Liu Xiaobo. Mr Liu, who is the bookies’ favourite to win the award, is serving an 11-year jail term for his role…

But the rival camps are still at daggers drawn. Liberals see the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, as a champion of universal values…

Conservatives… were encouraged by a speech on September 1st by Vice-President Xi Jinping, who is all but certain to take over from Mr Hu as party chief in 2012 and as president a year later. Mr Xi’s speech was peppered with references to values, but did not come close to suggesting that any were universal…
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Behind the veil

Ian Johnson and Michael Wines speculate in The New York Times about what might be discussed at an upcoming meeting of THE elite of China's Communist Party. Could this be the political equivalent of science fiction? We'll have to wait until after the meeting (perhaps long after) to evaluate this speculation.

Talk of Reform to Enliven Leaders’ Meeting in China
Against a backdrop of a rare discussion about political reform, China’s top leaders are preparing to set the country’s economic policies and political leadership for the next decade…

But already, the country’s political classes are chattering about what may or may not happen at this secretive gathering.

The only firm piece of business known to be on the agenda is the country’s Five-Year Plan, which could move China toward a less export-oriented economic model — with implications for issues like the United States trade deficit. It is also likely that officials will begin to determine the succession to the leadership duo of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, both of whom are to retire in two years.

But it is the talk about political reform that makes this year’s meeting intriguing. Some officials have been calling for an overhaul of the country’s political system… Others at the top have been silent or have explicitly rejected such talk…

To many, China hardly seems in need of a system overhaul. The country weathered the global financial crisis with robust economic growth…

But on the ground, the situation is far messier…

In August, speaking in Shenzhen, the Chinese city that pioneered many economic changes, Prime Minister Wen echoed these arguments in a speech carried by the party’s flagship daily, People’s Daily…

When Chinese leaders talk about political reform they often mean making the administrative system more efficient or open, but not democratic in a Western sense…

What does seem clear is that Mr. Wen’s call has exposed differing priorities among senior leaders. Also speaking in Shenzhen, which was celebrating the 30th anniversary of its creation as a Special Economic Zone, President Hu did not mention political reform. More pointedly, the country’s head of security, Zhou Yongkang, rejected political reform. In an article carried in the party’s main theoretical journal, Qiushi, Mr. Zhou wrote that some party members had been influenced by “erroneous Western political and legal ideas.”…

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

More Nigerian campaign videos

SolomonSydelle, in his blog Nigerian Curiousity, introduces us to a couple campaign videos from Nigeria for a relatively unknown candidate. Your students might find other campaign videos if they searched YouTube.

Below are Dele Momodu's campaign videos.  He is a publisher of a gossip/society magazine, Ovation, and according to his website and other social media sources, he wants to become Nigeria's next president…

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Monday, October 04, 2010

For teachers of AP Comparative

If you teach the Advanced Placement course and don't receive the online newsletter for AP Comparative Government and Politics, you really ought to sign up. You can sign up at the
AP Comparative home page.

The latest electronic missive offers information about

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Why things are different

Jeremy Weate, in Naijablog quotes a comparison of Nigeria and Indonesia by Peter Cunliffe-Jones of the BBC. Indonesia might not appear in many comparative government courses, but the comparison is worth looking at for its efforts to explain how the two political cultures developed so differently.

How Indonesia overtook Nigeria
An interesting comparison between Indonesia and Nigeria in a personal account of his time in both countries by Peter Cunliffe-Jones here.  Both countries were created by European powers just over 100 years ago; both countries were rich in palm oil and in recent decades have amassed wealth from the discovery of oil and gas.  And yet, the developmental difference between the two is now stark.  For instance, in Indonesia, life expectancy is now 70; in Nigeria it is 47…

Perhaps, in the final analysis, the difference in models of corruption and commercial contracts boils down to a stronger civil society in the archipelago state.  In which case, the lesson Nigeria can learn from Indonesia is the importance of building up a healthy civil society, which includes non-governmental organisations, the media and religious organisations.  The work is still all ahead.

How Indonesia overtook Nigeria
From the air, the place certainly looked familiar.

I had never before been to Jakarta, the chaotic and teeming capital of the sprawling Indonesian archipelago.

But, as the plane dodged in and out between the clouds, there it lay below. And just as I had been told it would, it looked like my former home - Nigeria.

"Indonesia and Nigeria?" I'd protested to the friend who first suggested the comparison to me some weeks earlier.

"They're 7,000 miles apart. One's Africa, one's Asia. There's no comparison to make."…

Certainly, Indonesia has many troubles. But today, for all its problems, Indonesia is holding elections that the world applauds, while Nigeria's last elections, in 2007, were said to be the worst in Africa that year.

So why the discrepancy? The reasons most commonly given for the trouble with Nigeria - for its failure to meet its enormous potential as an African giant - are many and complex. They range from the legacy of colonial rule to the problems of a divided nation, and the impact of the so-called oil curse...

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Friday, October 01, 2010

China's National Day

October 1 is a significant day in China as well as in Nigeria

National Day celebrated at Chinese embassies around world
Chinese embassies around the world held receptions and other activities to mark the 61st birthday of the People's Republic of China…

In Denmark, a grand reception on Wednesday was attended by around 200 guests.

Chinese Ambassador to Denmark Xie Hangsheng said China highly values its relationship with Denmark and hopes the two sides can enhance their mutually beneficial cooperation.

The ambassador said China is committed to following the path of peaceful development and is ready to join hands with the international community to cope with global challenges and promote world peace, development and prosperity...

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Possible spoiler in Nigeria

An early report of a bombing during independence celebrations underscores the persisting divisions within Nigeria.

Blasts heard near Nigeria independence parade
Two explosions were heard in Nigeria's capital on Friday near a parade of top government and foreign officials to mark the country's 50th anniversary of independence, a Reuters television witness said.

The blasts came about an hour after Nigeria's MEND rebel guerrilla group issued an email bomb warning, saying it had planted several devices at the parade and telling people to evacuate.

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Reflections on 50 years

Blogger Jeremy Weate asked seven Nigerians to respond to an historic picture from Nigeria's independence day.

Writing on Nigeria’s 50th Anniversary of Independence
Can Nigeria legitimately still call itself a force to be reckoned with, both in the region and internationally? Can we call ourselves a superpower of Africa? Or have we been sleeping so long that we’ve unknowingly slipped into an ongoing vegetative state? Fifty years is an awfully short time in which to judge a country’s success, but it is a fair distance from which to look at its failures.

Has the Nigeria Project been a disaster? If it has, was it always doomed, and can it still be salvaged? Or is the forecasted doom and gloom an overreaction? Will Nigeria rise from the ashes of upheaval, scarred and cracked, but still with a fighter’s spirit? Is Nigeria, as Father Matthew Kukah described it, similar to a Catholic marriage: “It may not be happy, but it does not break up”?

To mark Nigeria’s five decades, we dusted down an iconic photograph. The image above shows a handover of power – from James Robertson, the last British Governor-General of Nigeria to Tafawa Balewa, the first Prime Minister of Nigeria. We asked eight writers to tell us what feelings the photograph evoked for them...

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Fifty years on

Al Jazeera offers a good 23-minute video (and a transcript of the video) about the 50th anniversary of Nigerian independence.

Becoming Nigerian
Home to 150 million people, one-quarter of the entire African continent's citizens, Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation. The British, who colonised the nation for the first 60 years of the 20th century, ruled over some 250 tribes often by playing one off against the other.

So when independence was gained in October 1960, tribalism was a powerful force.

Nigerians who took over at independence were faced with the challenge of trying to form a sense of Nigerian belonging and identity. Most people could only relate to their ethnic groupings.

These divisions have remained within Nigerian society, intermittently causing outbreaks of deadly violence. Despite Nigeria's enormous oil reserves, its population is poor, collective victims of rampant corruption.

But at 50, and with an election just around the corner, can this country finally fulfill its potential and become the biggest African success story?…

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