Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

My Job is Ambiguous . . . 

I’m still in the process of absorbing a lot of the films that the NFB is working on/has already made.  There are a lotttt of movies to watch, and I’m sure for a few weeks this place will become some sort of a referral service to the films that I’m looking at.  Don’t worry though, I have good taste, I think.

One of the films that is in the process of filming/development is really intriguing to me, but I’m not sure if I can post the name here.  It is following the life of Joseph Kony‘s former favourite wife.  If you don’t know you Kony is, you can read more about him at the Wikipedia link.  Interestingly enough, there’s also some news on him today, as President Obama has begun a mission to hunt him down.

A Portrait of Joseph Kony

I’ve read the proposal for the project and it’s actually really interesting.  Kony claimed that his actions were supported by the Ten Commandments, that his kidnapping of children for the Lord’s Resistance Army were the cost of setting up theocratic rule.  Most of the preview is centred around meetings with his former wife, Evelyn.  She talks about the days when he would sit down with her beside a river and tears would flow from his eyes.  I’m supposed to feel like he’s a more human character, that he isn’t some kind of monster.  He’s being sought for crimes against humanity, by the way.

Evelyn also used to be a powerful figure in the LRA, but she was kidnapped at the age of eleven and made Kony’s wife.  She has since left the LRA and Kony’s side, but not before spending eleven years in the LRA.  They had three daughters, and now everyone in Uganda wants Kony’s children to pay retribution for what he did to the country.  They probably also want Evelyn to pay for what she used to be.  When you are kidnapped, I’d say you don’t really have much of a choice in how you survive, let alone if you are also a child.

Nice vs. Good

So we have a portrait of a woman whose had a difficult life for reasons that were probably out of her control.  The only problem is the undercurrent running through the film of “Good vs. Evil.”  Without going into Evelyn’s story, she tries to paint for the audience her version of Kony, who was apparently sensitive and loving for many years of their relationship.   It is supposed to confuse an audience that is accustomed sorting through people in a binary way

I think this whole concept is framed incorrectly though, probably because I no longer think that good or evil exist, they are too subjective.  But let’s assume that they do for a second, shall we?  Another metric of character that sometimes gets confused with ‘goodness’ is ‘niceness,” and those two do not always move in the same direction.  There are probably some serial killers out there who are just bursting with charm and hospitality.

The portrayal of Kony as a man with two sides isn’t entirely accurate, because he has orchestrated the destruction of innocent lives through rape, murder, war, enslavement, etc.  I guess this would make him “evil.”   However, evil does not preclude someone from also being a “nice” person, which can explain Evelyn’s recounts of how candid and emotional and intimate Kony could be.  It is possible to possess both qualities simultaneously.

Manners in Nanking

Too bad the quality of ‘goodness’ in a person is so ambiguously defined, eh?  I guess my roots come from a culture of people who are on the surface, very rude.  Don’t try to convince me otherwise!  The Chinese, especially in China, are pushy, and loud, and prone to doing all sorts of things in public that North Americans would consider unhygienic.  The Chinese are also considered incredibly miserly.  From working in the service industry, I can tell you, we probably aren’t the best tippers, which is a constant source of my embarrassment.

The Japanese have a reputation for manners that is probably the opposite of the Chinese, especially internationally: Japanese tourists have often been voted the most polite, meekest tourists in the world.  There is also social pressure to conform to norms which prevents all sorts of common acts in North America, such as vandalism or littering.  This pressure also ensures that in public, the Japanese will go to lengths to avoid embarrassing themselves.  When I had a table of Japanese tourists, the tipping was unreal, and this was probably out of a fear of  undertipping.  Needless to say, I wasn’t complaining.

Our reputations as “nice” and “not so nice” cultures did not stop the Japanese from finding brutal ways to murder hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Chinese civilians during the WWI, in humiliating and painful and creative ways.  It wasn’t simply the conquest of a land; the torture of innocent men, women, and children, and their slaughter, can be considered sociopathic.  It wasn’t enough to kill civilians, the focus was more on prolonging the suffering and degradation than anything else.  The Rape of Nanking does not go over well in China; if you visit the south like I just did, you can still find an undertow of bitter resentment of the Japanese.  This is only aggravated by the fact that there’s still nothing in the way of education of children in schools about what happened, or any sort of official government apology to the Chinese.  I remember that I had to read about it on my own as a high schooler; and for weeks the images I saw would haunt me.

The Chinese have done some egregious things to repress people as well, but the point I’m trying to make is that a culture of manners and an outward projection of “niceness” does not stop a society from exhibiting the potential to act in “evil” ways.   The two qualities are entirely unrelated to each other.

Which Matters?

Ultimately, if both existed, I would choose to be “good” over “nice.”  I’m not a nice person, but I can fake it if an occasion calls for it.  Faking “goodness” would get a bit more tricky.  The more difficult problem is that my framework for “good” and “evil” has been slipping away from me for quite some time, and so I’m not even sure if I can be “good.”

Maybe I can’t be anything at all.


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Otherwise known as youth + unemployment = government toppling.


After the ousting of Tunisia’s long-time dictator, it seems like there’s a widespread revolution taking place throughout northern Africa; self-immolations have been reported from Morocco to Egypt.  Unlike what happened (or failed to happen) following elections in Iran of 2009, youth in Egypt are going to successfully force political reform to fruition.  Collier talked about how instability in one nation causes instability in its neighbours, but I never thought he would mean it like this.

Egypt Protests: Hosni Mubarak under pressure

When Iran successfully quashed the would-be revolution of 2009 with brutal force, I was starting to wonder whether or not appeasing youth played any part in a nation’s ability to maintain stability.  In the case of China, it’s very clear that internal political stability comes from appeasing the rural regions and really trying to appease the younger, urban population by keeping them employed, wealthy, etc.  With Iran, it didn’t seem to matter that youth were vocal in their unhappiness; the protesters were silenced quiet efficiently.  Tunisia and Egypt are starting to prove that Iran may have been a type of exception; once youth become disgruntled with corruption and long lasting unemployment sets in,  there’s the potential for serious changes to take place.  It may yet be too soon to determine which direction they will settle, but if suspense is your cup of tea, this sure is an interesting time to be alive.

I named this post the Virality of Jasmine because the topic of the day seems to be “viral” media and the internet.  First off, the instability in the region was kind of viral, with dissatisfaction manifesting concretely in one area and spreading like wildfire.  Secondly, the older I get, the faster and more efficient and accurate the dissemination of info becomes.  It’s kind of exciting being in a time where the communication mediums that I use as a “youth” are being used across the world to incite significant political change.  I love the irony of the word “viral” in that sense; as I get older, I am not growing towards the generation of influence, as I was led to believe.  I am growing “away” from it; the internet, and therefore, younger and younger individuals, are the ones that now command the best tools for change.

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It’s been a while since I read Dr. Moyo’s book, but I think the main reason she rejects foreign Aid is because it erodes the credibility of the government.  She offers them the option of issuing bonds instead.

This leaves out the tricky business of what to do about negative feedback loops.  What Dr. Moyo’s graduate thesis supervisor, Paul Collier, points out is that relationships between several development factors isn’t always uni-directional.  A bad credit rating leads to reduced economic output, worsening living conditions, more political instability and then a lower credit rating.

And it means that at some point, aid might actually be needed to get a country out of a bad situation. When, you know, lack of funding is the problem in the first place.

Tunisia’s credit rating gets downgraded by Moody’s

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Harvard Kennedy School – Exaggerating the Importance of Good Governance.

I am up at 3, trying to finish my Kennedy School Application.  This is an interesting article, and I will definitely look for her book now.

Dr. Moyo suggests that good governance is an impediment to economic growth in Africa, and calls for abolishing this type of aid model as a way to encourage growth and reduce poverty.  I had a conversation with the IR chair Dr. Allen Sens last week, and he reiterated the commonly mentioned accusation of China’s lack of any governance criteria as pro-longing the conflict in Somalia a few years ago (no, that is not a typo, not Sudan).  Bad governance in the area prevented growth because the investment that was supposed to be happening just ended up in the hands of shady individuals.

So what Dr. Grindle is suggesting, from the description anyways, is that perhaps governance is important, but the way aid agencies are describing it are too complicated.  What is governance anyways?  Does it need to be defined on 116 different criteria in order to ensure that an LDC is getting what it needs?

Perhaps it is not a question of eliminating the condition of governance that would affect the effectiveness of aid.  Perhaps, it is clearing the terms of the aid to eliminate too many distracting (and initially, not very useful) terms for defining good governance, to focus on the handful of key indicators which are actually useful.

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So my big plan to have a two part post on China in Africa fell apart, not because I’m lazy, but because there’s too much stuff to jam into part 2. So I’m going to just keep writing until I see fit 🙂

I don’t exactly whole-heartedly endorse Dr. Dambisa Moyo.  I covet her educational background, and I want to be an economist (a real one) one day, but that’s about it.  When she gave a talk two weeks ago on how aid is failing Africa, I had to get to the bottom of her argument.  After all, half an hour of talking wouldn’t do any person justice, not Einstein, not Ghandi, not Jesus.  I want to find out what she thinks about China’s record of governance and whether or not governance gets in the way of economic growth.  So, now we have her book.

Dead Aid.  And Moi.

Sorry Dr. Moyo, I libraried your book so you aren't getting any $$ from moi!

So I’m scouring it for references to governance, and here’s a gist of what she has to say, summarized into a few bullet points

  • Good governance provides a slew of benefits to a country.  It encourages the distribution of  public goods, enforces property rights, creates an atmosphere where contracts can be expected to be enforced, and in general does support the functioning of democracy
  • Aid given to a country with poor governance will not see an improvement in governance. In some cases, it might reduce it.
  • The only way to legitimately improve economic growth in an LDC is to put democracy on the back burner and the solution is not multi-party democracy, but a “benevolent dictator to push through the reforms required to get an economy moving.”

Dr. Moyo acknowledges that this benevolent dictator is kind of more “dictator” than “benevolent.”  A benevolent dictator is like a sasquatch; illusive (and predominantly residing in the minds of imaginative people?).  She then lists some examples of SE Asian countries that have achieved economic growth by crushing democracy and includes Chile as another example.

Dr. Moyo then acknowledges that Chile may not have been the best place to live under Pinochet but hey, at least they achieved economic growth.  And now they are a democracy “thanks to the economic success.”

I’m not quite sure how I feel about the assertion that economic success leads to democratization, and whether or not this will happen in every case.  If it did, then would it be worth it, knowing what Chile went through?  We can’t even be sure that Pinochet was a “benevolent dictator,” so how would this be a prime example?

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