The Brain Drain from Nigeria Finds a New Home.....Canada

Yomi Kazeem.
By most standards, Ezekiel is living the middle-class Nigerian dream. At 41, he works as a senior manager at a Lagos-based media company where he earns a healthy salary. He also runs a successful side business importing and selling American used cars and has enough money to fund his wife and two children on annual holidays in the United States. He also owns his home—the ultimate upper middle-class status symbol in Nigeria.
It might not be an extraordinarily lavish life, but it’s the kind millions of poor and lower middle-class Nigerians aspire to and work so hard to attain. But it’s not enough for Ezekiel—he’s happy with his life, he’s just not happy with where he’s living it.
Ezekiel is one of the thousands of comfortably middle-class Nigerians looking to uproot their families and plant them across the Atlantic. For many, that desire is borne out of growing frustrations with living in a country where basic amenities can often be a luxury despite the trappings of a middle-class life.

Despite Nigeria’s vast oil wealth, electricity supply is far from regular and makes life miserable and expensive. Middle class Nigerians can end up spending up to three times more running petrol or diesel power generators than they do on electricity bills.

Hospitals lack equipment or drugs and often end up with no staff due to frequent strikes by health workers over low wages. When the workers aren’t on strike, Nigerians dying of a lack of oxygen at hospitals is an all too familiar tale. And if there was any doubt about the state of Nigerian healthcare, there was the sight this week of president Muhammadu Buhari, getting on another flight to London to visit his doctor, for third time in 15 months. Then there’s the general insecurity with terrorist threats from Boko Haram and herdsmen attacks in key pockets of the country. But there’s also a fear of kidnapping and robbery, now a daily reality for the middle-class in major cities.
The recession of 2016 has left many unconvinced about the prospects of an economy once touted to be among the world’s most promising and the repeated failings of political leaders also inspires little confidence for the future. More importantly, for Ezekiel, like many others who make the move, the decision is about giving his children access to educational and life opportunities that will likely stay beyond their reach if they remained in Nigeria. In today’s fast-changing, technology-driven world, Nigeria’s educational standards are not keeping up.

While most headlines about migration from Nigeria over the past two years have focused on the thousands who take the treacherous route across the Sahara desert and Mediterranean Sea to try and reach Europe, the preferred route for wealthier, well-educated Nigerians is through a more formal path to economic immigration. While in the recent past that move has often been to the UK and the United States, today it is mainly to Canada.

Canada, which has a smaller population than the UK or the US, is at a different stage demographically. To offset the effects of its aging population—seniors outnumbered children in 2016—Canada started an Express Entry program for skilled workers in 2015 to boost its labour force. Successful applicants receive the holy grail of migration: a permanent residence permit.
Applicants are judged based on several factors including age (those between 21 and 35 stand the best chance), education level, language proficiency and work experience to determine their eligibility for the program. The entire process typically takes at least six months and it has quickly become popular among middle-class Nigerians: the number of Nigerians admitted into Canada through Express Entry between 2015 and 2016 increased tenfold—2017 data will likely show a much higher spike. With the program open year round and no cap on the number of candidates that can apply, that trend will likely continue. Canada hopes to admit 75,000 skilled migrants through Express Entry this year and 85,000 by 2020. In the first two years of the program, it already admitted over 43,000 applicants and their families.

Nigerians with visitor visas to the United States have increasingly walked across the Canadian border in upstate New York into Quebec to claim asylum. The route accounted for 40% of Canada’s total asylum claimants in 2017 and in the first three months of 2018, more than half of the 5,000 asylum claimants who crossed the border were Nigerians. That’s set to be a marked increase on last year when a total of 5,575 Nigerians sought asylum in Canada—the second largest group by nationality.

From New York to Quebec: Thousands of migrants are crossing into Canada
The choice to try to claim asylum in Canada rather than remain in the US or even go to the UK is mainly driven by the Canada’s more welcoming stance to immigrants since the unexpected 2016 poll wins for Brexit in the UK and Donald Trump in US. Both campaigns were hinged on stiff anti-immigration rhetoric. The implicit message to immigrant hopefuls was that they were no longer welcome. In Canada, it appeared to be the opposite.

A majority of asylum seekers claim they are victims of persecution by Boko Haram terrorists and based on sexual orientation—Nigeria outlawed homosexuality in 2014. Indeed, from 2013 to April 2017, Nigerians made up about 25% of claims based on sexual orientation. But the high spate and trends of LGBT-related claims by Nigerians are now raising questions that they may be fabricated. For example, around 60% of Nigerians seeking asylum claimed to be bisexual compared to an average of 12% for other nationals.

Nigerians seeking asylum in Canada based on alleged persecution
Seeking asylum is not a fail-safe method though as a majority of asylum seekers are unlikely to meet Canada’s criteria and will face deportation. Indeed, less than 15% of asylum claims by Nigerians in 2017 have been approved while a majority of claims remain pending, have been withdrawn or rejected. In the meantime, to stem the tide of illegal border crossings via New York, Canada has urged the United States to be more stringent with awarding visitor visas to Nigerians.

Pricey new beginnings
The financial requirements of either route—economic migration or asylum—puts it out of the reach of many. Walking through the US-Canadian border into Quebec requires first financing a trip to the United States while the basic application fee for Canada’s Express Entry program costs up to $800. Applicants will also need to prove they can fend for themselves after making the move: that requires showing proof of funds ranging from $9,600 to $25,000 depending on the size of the family. IELTS, an English language proficiency test essential to the application, now costs 75,000 naira ($208) per sitting after a recent increase.

For Izy, a 30-year old optometrist, it cost almost six million naira ($16,600) to move to Calgary in January after getting a permanent resident permit through Express Entry. That amount covered her program application fees and settling into a new life. Starting over has not been straightforward despite the best efforts of the Canadian government who have provided settlement and employment counselors, Izy admits. Despite having practiced for five years in Nigeria, she will likely have to wait for up to four years while taking expensive certification courses and exams before being able to practice in Canada. In the meantime, she works as an attendant at a Home Depot store. But she’s happy to have made the move. “I just got tired of Nigeria and frankly didn’t see it getting better any time soon,” she told Quartz.

Settling into a new life in Canada can be tricky, says Tobi (not real name), a 27-year old I.T specialist. Getting through the “difficult initial process of finding your feet can last up to two years,” he says. Regardless, after moving to Ottawa originally for a masters degree program last year, Tobi has quit his job at a global consulting firm in Lagos and is now trying to obtain a permanent residency. Trading in a cushy job and his home country is all about “playing the long game,” he says. Despite having to rely on low-skilled jobs for survival while settling in, Tobi says social safety nets and a higher standard of life in Canada make it worthwhile unlike remaining in Nigeria, “a country where nothing actually works.”

Top 10 Occupations of Express Entry applicants
1 Information system analysts & consultants
2 Software engineers
3 Computer programmers and interactive media developers
4 Cooks
5 Food service supervisors
6 University professors and lecturers
7 Graphic designers and illustrators
8 Advertising, marketing and public relations
9 Financial auditors & accountants
10 Retail sale supervisors

Déjà vu
There’s a feeling of déjà vu about the droves of middle-class Nigerians leaving or attempting to leave the country. From the late 1980s to mid-1990s, a wave of Nigerian intellectuals notably left the country to seek greener pastures abroad amid tough economic conditions and successive military dictatorships. More recently, Nigerians have tended to latch on to opportunities to move to developed Western countries through skilled migrants programs like the UK’s Highly Skilled Migrant Programme from 2002 to 2008.

Just as they do now, the prospect of better paying jobs and a much improved standard of living have proven to be strong draws over the years. Long-term, the downside for Nigeria is that many of its bright minds looking to move to Canada are intent on making it a one-way trip. “[I have] no plan to move back at all, no matter what Nigeria becomes,” Izy tells Quartz. “Not even for a visit.”

*Courtesy of Quartz.

Development would continue to elude a country that fails to educate its citizenry.

John Ifediora.
A long-standing economic theory commonly known as "Economic Convergence" postulates that as world economies develop they would inexorably attain the same level of development through trade based on comparative advantage, technology transfer through direct investment and job out-sourcing. Countries in East Asia benefited from this concept in crafting the trajectory of their respective economies; but this was possible because they had a ready and well-educated work force lying in wait for Western economies to out-source jobs to them. Their investment in educating their citizenry paid off. Now wages in East Asian countries are rising and firms in developed world are looking elsewhere for cost-effective labor force ...but when they turn to Africa for requisite levels of human capital they find the labor force inadequate and remarkably wanting. The result is a shift away of direct investment and technology transfer to other areas of the world. The piece below by Helen O. Waziri takes the case of Nigeria's state of education as an explanatory variable of inadequate levels of human capital in Africa.

Helen O. Waziri.
Education is one of the most important investments a country can make, and has the ability to advance a country from underdeveloped to developed status. Yet, Nigeria has consistently struggled with educating the masses. The country is currently working on outdated curriculum frameworks. The primary education system is based on content unrelated to development trends and is failing in areas such as gender parity, teacher quality and response, and student learning. Nigerian children are currently being deprived a fair chance to escape poverty, obtain decent jobs, and a future to ultimately develop their communities. This continues to be a challenge in the development of a comprehensive education reform. A large cause of the uneducated population is due to the differing social values and ethno-religious conflict in the country. Although the country has tried to develop new schools, change the system through initiatives such as Universal Primary Education (UPE), and modernize the curriculum to the current universal curriculum, the country has still struggled to stabilize school attendance and graduation success rates.

Nigeria’s Nigeria's National Policy on Education (FRN 1998), states that the Federal Government, “adopted education as an instrument for effecting National Development in all areas of the nation.” (Ali, 1987). It was created to promote the teaching of social studies and demote the teachings of history, which consisted of ethno-religious socio-political tensions and an ethnic driven civil war. Thus, social studies was considered a practical subject to teach in order to create cohesion among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria. Shortly after the updated NPE came into effect, the state made the decision to begin teaching Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK) in public schools in the northern state of Borno. The new policy required that Christianity be taught alongside Islamic Religious Knowledge. Consequently, a number of Muslims were in opposition to exclude Christian teachings in the school system which led to three churches being attacked in protest. This led the state to withdraw the order to teach CRK in the Borno school system. The aforementioned is a primary example of the type of ethno- religious tensions that led toward the emergence of a militant Islamic group like Boko Haram.

Almost twenty years later, the situation has not changed and the Nigerian system, which encourages a confessional approach to matters such as religion has contributed to further marginalization in the country. Issues within the system include poor funding and thus poor educational infrastructures, inadequate classrooms, libraries, and lack of teaching aids (projectors, computers, and laboratories). The government has failed to allocate the proper funds towards the education system. One cause is that the Nigerian Army has needed to reallocate funds to combat the terror of Boko Haram. For example, the military has acquired new equipment, such as the purchase of a substantial number of armored vehicles, attack helicopters and even Chinese armed drones to help increase the capabilities of the armed forces. Such spending has taken away from schools attaining adequate infrastructure, proper materials and teaching aids, materials such as suitable libraries and classrooms, quality books, furniture (e.g. desks and chairs), and laboratory equipment. The aforementioned are usually unsatisfactory if available at all, often run out, or used improperly, creating more problems than solutions.

With rapid population growth, poor governance, and internal conflict, education has severely suffered, leaving younger generations at a major disadvantage. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the education system had many flaws. Federal and State governments, Local Government Authorities (LGA), Parent Teacher Associations (PTA), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), and local communities provide funding for education at the primary school level (Olaniyan, 2008). Although the Ministry of Education is primarily responsibility for school funding, the amount actually allocated to education is still very low. There were issues all across the spectrum from unqualified teachers and lack of teacher pay, to a disproportionate amount of schools built to keep up with the booming population.

Challenges Primary School Teachers Currently Face
The quality of education outputs in Nigeria are very low, and there are little to no
incentives to put effort into teaching. Teachers hold a significant role in societies because they
facilitate the building of knowledge and skills necessary for future generations to grow. It is
important that teachers teaching in the Nigerian education system feel valued and safe,
particularly during times of conflict due to terrorism and ethnographic or ethno-religious differences. Unfortunately, the overall quality of the existing teacher education programs has been insufficient in providing teachers with the intellectual and professional backgrounds adequate for their assignment in the society. (Afe, 2006)

The lack of infrastructure to hold the rapidly growing population has been equally problematic for teachers in Nigeria. With the Nigerian government unable to keep up with the infrastructure needed to house the millions of eligible school aged-children and Boko Haram destroying schools – the supply and quality of teachers is becoming scarce. This has created an environment with class sizes that are much too large teach, a solid indicator for poor academic performance. In fact, many Nigerian schools have as many as eighty to one-hundred students per class, which is too large for optimum academic achievement of students. (Yusuf, 2016) This only contributes to the reality that teachers (who already feel mistreated by the system) have less time to focus on individual students needs in the classroom, which can negatively affect student growth.

While conflict has had many physical effects, it has also affected teachers from a psychological standpoint. The attacks teachers have experienced from Boko Haram has had psychological effects that are overcome by grief at the loss or maiming of their colleagues and students or are distracted by threats to colleagues. (UNESCO, 2015) Teachers have experienced issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, which include symptoms of anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and even avoidant behaviors. This has made it difficult for many teachers to support their students or perform their job well for communities in Yobe, Kaduna, Adamawa and Borno states. Similarly, Burundi’s teaching population showed that most teachers in the school system were deeply marked by their experiences with ethnic conflicts, and that they recognized the critical roles that they and the educational system must play to achieve lasting peace.

Attacks on schools by armed groups has not only put children and teachers’ lives at risk, has also deprived many children of an education. Due to the terrorist attacks against schools, many have resulted in closure and many children have dropped out entirely. Even if classes resume after an attack, it is hard to revert to normal as the quality of education can suffer when students and teachers are afraid to go back. Furthermore, many teachers have been forced to flee for their safety to neighboring states, which has attributed to a small percentage of the teacher shortage Nigeria is currently facing. Threats of more attacks have also forced other schools in proximity to close or parents to keep their children at home leaving teachers with no children to teach. With this in mind, it is not difficult to understand why some teachers in the Nigerian school system are already poorly motivated. Thus, creating more problems for the education system.

Current Student Enrollment Rates
According to a UNESCO report, the number of children enrolled in primary schools in sub-Saharan Africa rose by 75% to 144 million between 1999 and 2012. (UNESCO, 2015) Nigeria is leading, having the highest number of unenrolled students on the continent. An important factor behind the low enrollment rates is the current conflict the country is facing with Boko Haram. Other factors for low enrollment are less daunting – children in Nigeria lack both physical and material access to education. For example, a child may not have adequate transportation access to and from school, school is too far or unsafe to walk or the expense of school fees, transportation, books, and other school essentials are too expensive. If either form of access is in jeopardy, it can have a detrimental effect on a child’s education.
For advanced education for secondary school and higher, data shows a plummet in attendance rates. The secondary school attendance rate from the same year showed that only 53% of students were in school with 49% of females and 56% of males. (UNICEF, 2015) Although primary school enrollment has increased in recent years (post-201 data), the net attendance has been about the same. Empirical evidence has shown a missing link between the standard and quality of education. If the Nigerian Government invested better resources and more money on the education system, there may not be such large disparities in the value and access to education today.

Disparities of Children Schooling in Northern Nigeria
Sixty percent of the mentioned 10.5 million children that are out of school are in northern
Nigeria. (UNICEF, 2015) The majority of those not participating in school are girls. Of those
fortunate enough to enroll, less than two-thirds complete primary school and even fewer girls
finish secondary school. (UNICEF, 2015) A lot of that is due to the culture in Nigeria,
particularly in the North where females are second-class citizens. While females play pivotal
roles in Northern society in terms of fieldwork, homemaking, and watching after smaller
children, their place in the classroom is not valued. Therefore, only the males are encouraged to
stay in school. While Nigeria as a whole has reached gender parity for primary education (GPI
between 0.97 and 1.03), girls in secondary schools and girls in the north remained at a
disadvantage. (UNESCO, 2015) In the North particularly, the gender gap remains wide with the
ratio of boys to girls ranging from 2:1 or even 3:1 in some states. (UNESCO, 2015) The northern
population is still very traditional in their beliefs, believing that the only education necessary is
that of the Quran and Islamic teaching. Subsequently, many students in Quranic schools lack
basic reading and math skills. Furthermore, because northerners are generally anti-Western
education, northerners do not believe in the importance of female education, and often times
young girls who are of school age are married off to start families of their own. Since a bride
price and educational achievement, have little to no correlation according to northern tradition, many parents see no incentive in sending their girls to school and without regulation in the system. In contrast, male children – sometimes referred to as referred to as Almajiri – often leave their poverty-stricken families to attend school and are highly encouraged to beg on the streets to pay for their care and instruction. (USAID, 2015) Thus, the number of both boys and girls enrolled in northern schools has stayed significantly low.

As Boko Haram has perpetuated attacks and raids in small villages, particularly schools, girls who are privileged enough to attend school have often faced trauma. Instances of extreme violence, illness, and in many cases death have been side effects of the militant group’s terror. This has been proven in cases such as the missing girls taken from Chibok. As previously mentioned, there has been little progress in finding the remaining missing girls. However, the girls who were released by Boko Haram reported there were many girls (aside from their group) who had been taken.

The Chibok girls reported instances of rape, sexual slavery, exploitation in the militant group’s camps, and inadequate access to reproductive health services in the Boko Haram camp. They additionally reported unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS. The aforementioned is another contribution to low enrollment rates as parents are discouraged from sending their daughters to school because it is unsafe for them to leave home. Similarly, during the Somalian Civil War, girls dropped out of school when it became too dangerous to travel to school. In some cases, this accelerated their early marriage. Furthermore, school attendance is further discouraged when the absence of males means greater workloads for women and girls. (UNICEF, 2015)

Conflict Resolution:Eradicating BokoHaram’sTerror
Nigeria is currently in great need of political and social change. Being the most populous African nation with the lowest student enrollment rate on the continent is extremely regressive for the future of the country. With the international community paying more attention to Nigeria and willing to help, now is an ideal time for the leaders of the country to create a plan for unity and peace. Nigeria could create a model similar to South Africa’s using education to promote peace. The past miseducation of Nigerian children has only created more long-term disparities for the country as those children have grown up lacking the skills necessary to be self-sufficient, contributing their social and civil duties as Nigerian citizens.
The Nigerian government has experienced great corruption and long periods of military rule in the country have created problems of instability on many fronts. Irregular and sudden changes in the government leadership have resulted in good educational policies failing to be implemented or event started. (Nwagwu, 1997) There have been thirteen presidents since the country gained independence in 1960, of that amount, eight of those thirteen presidencies have been under military rule. Unstable national leadership has been destructive towards the education system because leaders have often governed by force rather than the wishes of the Nigerian people.

The government holds all the control to do something substantial in reducing conflict, yet
it has held the education system back by embezzling educational funds (e.g. scholarships and
grants). Currently, implementing free education in rural areas in the Northeast region – Boko
Haram’s most active areas – would make a great impact on the current education system.
Additionally, more efforts to strengthen the establishment of schools and involve courses like
peace education to re-orientate children and youths on the need to live in peace and harmony with each other.

Implementing Peace Education
Nigerians have been fighting each other since the colonial era, with little progress on the national level. The country now needs to unite using the tool of education to navigate by creating an environment for social and civic reconstruction. If Nigeria adopted new policies to tear down former barriers and unify old rivalries, the country would be able to move towards a more progressive state. In addition, reforming the curriculum of the general education system to make it more responsive to the socio-economic needs of the country would create a solid foundation. Countries such as Rwanda and South Africa have successfully put aside ethnic and racial differences, focusing on education to resolve decades of conflict. Both countries have rose to economic dominance on the continent, overcoming years of poverty and failing education systems. Nigeria is in the position to follow suite, yet the country keeps experiencing setbacks.

The first step Nigeria can take in conflict resolution is peace education. While focusing on the overall education system is important, alleviating ethnic tension and creating solidarity among the Nigerian people is essential. Peace education is a holistic approach to education, and includes the process of acquiring the values, the knowledge and developing the attitudes, skills, and behaviors to live in harmony with oneself, with others, and with the natural environment. (Reardon, 2000) Implementing peace education would allow children the opportunities to put peacemaking into practice in an education setting as well as their community, ultimately creating a more unified environment.
Unless there is sensitivity to peacebuilding, social reconstruction will continuously lead to failure. Thus the Nigerian government, local organizations, and NGO’s need to work with both groups to demobilize Boko Haram, which has begun to spread to other parts of West Africa. To create a more unified country, an initiative such as peace education through emergency in education could be implemented in areas most affected by Boko Haram’s terror. This concept is based on the notion that education is a basic requirement and cannot be delayed because of conflict. After all, waiting for the conflict to end is not ideal as wars can go on for years, and sometimes decades. Education is seen as an important intervention during times of conflict and has been viewed as a major life changing component for child protection. Empirical evidence shows that out-of-school children are at greater risk of violence, rape, and recruitment into fighting, prostitution, and other life-threatening, often criminal, activities (INEE, 2013).

UNESCO affirms that education provides a return to familiar routines and instills hope for the future, mitigating the psychosocial impact of violence and displacement. Good quality education provided during conflict can also counter the underlying causes of violence, and foster inclusion, tolerance, human rights awareness, and conflict resolution. (UNESCO, 2015) Thus emergency education can be executed through curriculum and a new discourse to create a more conflict-sensitive approach. Muslim and Christian students should learn together, in a healthy and inclusive way enforcing unification and diversity. With this approach, girls would also be completely integrated into the learning process, instead of taught a “gender-specific” curriculum leaving young girls at a disadvantage in the education system. Moreover, education should reach all classrooms in Nigeria, not just selected ones.

Boko Haram’s Role in the Peace Process
Integrating Boko Haram members in the peace education process would create a solid
unified environment. The use of religious and ethnic appeals as tools of political mobilization
would diminish during the peacebuilding process creating a climate of justice. Rwanda did this in the case of the traditional community court system called “Gacaca” where communities at the local level elected judges to hear the trials of genocide suspects accused of all crimes except planning of genocide. The Gacaca trials served to promote reconciliation among the Hutu’s and Tutsi’s by providing a means for victims to learn the truth about the death of their loved ones. Additionally, perpetrators were given the opportunity to confess their crimes, show remorse and ask for forgiveness in front of their community. It should be noted that Nigeria has never had any type of national reconciliation or healing process from the Civil War or from the effects of Boko Haram. However, a holistic approach such as this process may prove reasonable and effective in the peacebuilding process as many different groups have been marginalized and affected during conflict periods.
Boko Haram has undoubtedly affected the way Nigeria runs as a country. Many children who have been cheated out of an education, will be locked out of the economic sector creating a perpetual narrative that follow the intersections of poverty, gender, and their effects on opportunity. Nigeria implementing capacity building and peacebuilding are the few options it has left to end the conflict and move forward as a nation.
A new structure could change the education sector plan to create a better representation of what the system could be if properly executed. Students would be more apt to learn in an environment where they feel safe and understood regardless of what their ethno-religious background is. School should always be a safe place meant for ideas, similar or different, to be understood and challenged. Yet, many Nigerian children are not even given the opportunity to learn basic skills such as literacy and mathematics. These children will grow up to be adults who lack basic skills to attain a proper livelihood as the rest of the world is becoming more technologically advanced.

The current problems Nigeria is experiencing will continue to exist as long as the government remains weak. The implementation, equity, quality, learning outcomes, monitoring and evaluation all fall on whether the Nigerian government can successfully facilitate and govern the different Nigerian sectors to work together and improve the education system. Therefore, with proper care and governance, the education system has great unifying potential.

The Cost And Benefit of Globalization: Who Are The Beneficiaries?

John Ikerd.

Globalization has become a major public issue over the past decade.  Most of the recent controversy has centered on the World Trade Organization (WTO).  The WTO was established in 1994, replacing the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT), has authority to oversee international trade, administer free trade agreements, and settle trade disputes among member nations.  However with the WTO, authority was greatly expanded to cover trade in services as well as merchandise – including protection of intellectual property rights associated with such things as artistic recordings, computer programs, and patented genetic materials.  Also, the WTO has far greater authority over trade in agricultural commodities than had existed under the GATT.  The implicit, if not explicit, objective in forming the WTO was to reduce, and eventually remove, all obstacles to trade, in order to achieve a “global free market.”

Globalization, in concept, is far broader in meaning than is “global free market.”  To “globalize,” according to Webster’s dictionary, means “to make worldwide in scope or application.” The objective of the WTO is “to make the economy worldwide in scope.”  However, we cannot globalize the economy without simultaneously affecting global ecology and global society.  This is the crux of the current the WTO controversy.  What are the real benefits and costs of economic globalization, not just for the world economy, but also for the world community and for the world itself?

We live in a global ecosystem, the biosphere, regardless of whether we like it or not.  We have no choice; such is the nature of “nature.”  The atmosphere is global.  Whatever we put in the air in one place eventually may find its way to any other place on the globe.  Weather is global.  The warming or cooling of the oceans in one part of the world affects the weather in another, which in turn affects the temperature of oceans elsewhere on the globe.  Thus, the oceans also are not just international, but global.  All the elements of the biosphere are interrelated and interconnected, including its human elements.  We are all members of the global community of nature.  We have no choice in this matter.

Increasingly, we are all living in a global “social” community.  Global communications – print media, radio, television, and the Internet – have erased national communications boundaries, resulting in the spread of common cultural values around the globe.  Global travel has become faster, easier, and less expensive, resulting in greater person-to-person sharing of social and cultural values among nations.  Consequently, the distinctiveness of national cultures has diminished.  We seem to be moving toward universal membership in a common global culture.

However, in matters of culture we have the right and the responsibility to choose.  We have the right to maintain whatever aspects of our unique local or national cultures that we choose.  And we have the responsibility to protect this right against the economic or political forces pushing us toward a single global culture.

We also seem to be moving toward a single global economy.  International trade has increased dramatically over the past few decades, first under the various GATT agreements and now under the WTO.  All of the national economies of the world are interconnected now through their dependence upon each other for trade.  Problems anywhere in the world economic community, with Japan and Argentina being recent examples, create economic problems for nations all around the globe.  The implicit purpose of the WTO is to remove all barriers to trade and to create a single global economy.

In this matter, we also have a right and a responsibility to choose.  Every nation has the right to maintain those aspects of its local and national economies that are necessary to protect its resources and its people from exploitation.  In a truly global economy, the social and political boundaries that now constrain such economic exploitation would no longer exist.  Every nation has a responsibility to maintain such boundaries as may be necessary to protect its people and its resources from economic exploitation.  Again, to the crux of the WTO controversy, what are the benefits and costs of removing the economic boundaries among nations, thus creating a single global economy?

Perhaps the best way to begin addressing this question is to ask what current boundaries to globalization currently exist and why those boundaries are there in the first place?  The boundaries that exist in nature, the ecological boundaries, were put there by natural processes.  Such physical features as oceans, mountains, and even rivers and ridges, separate one physical bioregion from another.  Why are these boundaries in nature?  Perhaps because nature is inherently diverse, the boundaries are nature’s way of defining its diversity.  Boundaries define the form or structure of those things that support life: sunlight, air, water, and soil. Boundaries define the structure of living things: bacteria, fungi, plants, animals, and humans.  We know also that diversity is necessary for resistance, resilience, and regeneration.  Without diversity, without boundaries, nature could not support life, including human life.

Cultural and political boundaries are those that define “communities” of people – including cities, states, and nations.  We established such boundaries to facilitate relationships among people within those boundaries and to differentiate relationships among people within a given “community” from their relationships with people in other “communities.”  Within boundaries, relationships were nurtured to enhance social connectedness and personal security.  The purpose for boundaries “between” communities was to maintain some sense of identify, and thus, diversity among different groups or communities of people.  Historically, people have valued such diversity as a means of maintaining choices and opportunity – deemed necessary for health, growth, resilience, and long run security of human society.

In earlier times, cultural and political boundaries tended to coincide with natural boundaries – oceans, mountains, rivers, and ridges.  However during the industrial era, there was a growing tendency to ignore the guidance of nature, allowing economic and political considerations to take priority over nature in defining the bounds of our personal relationships.  Wars have drawn the boundaries of countries along lines that have little relationship to either topography or culture.  Towns and cities have expanded their boundaries with little regard for the best long run use of the land they have covered with buildings and concrete.  And with the trend toward a “global community,” the remaining social and cultural boundaries that once defining groups with diverse social, ethical, and moral values are being largely ignored.

With some notable exceptions, economic boundaries, at least over the past century, have been the same as national political boundaries.  Historically, each nation has had its own currency, and economic relationships between those within nations have been distinctively different from economic relationships among nations.  The British Empire of the early 1900s, which once included a fifth of the globe, might have been considered a single economic unit.  More recently, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the European Community (EC) represent attempts to bring several nations within a single economic boundary.  But, most economic communities have been defined as single nations.

The purpose of economic boundaries is to promote “free trade” within the boundaries and carry out “selective trade” among those groups separated by boundaries.  Historically, economic diversity among nations has been considered a necessary means of ensuring choice and opportunity – necessary for health, growth, resilience, and long run security of the global economy.  Humanity was not willing to put all of its “economic eggs in one basket.”

So, why have leaders of the major economic powers of the world decided now to put all their “economic eggs” in the “WTO basket?”  The most logical answer seems to be that world leaders are now motivated more by short run economic consideration than by longer run concerns for human culture or the natural environment.  In this respect, other nations quite likely are being misled by the “economic culture” of the U.S., which now dominates the global economy.  The tremendous growth of the U.S. economy over the past century is widely attributed to our “competitive, free market” economy.  Admittedly, this new “culture of economics” now also holds sway among many in the most economically powerful nations of the world.

Within this culture, economic boundaries are viewed as obstacles to trade, which limit the ability of investors to maximize economic efficiency.  “Free trade” among all nations would result in a more efficient global economy, they say, thus benefiting all people of the world.  Current barriers to trade, they say, are nothing more than artificial, political constraints designed to protect specific individuals and industries within nations from economic competition from more efficient producers in other nations.  The WTO should work to remove such barriers, allowing the most efficient producers in the world to produce the world’s goods and services, resulting in the lowest cost to consumers everywhere – so they claim.

Such claims are based on economic theories of trade that historically have made “free trade” something of a “sacred tenet” of economics – particularly among the more conservative of economists, whose views have been in vogue for a while.  Contemporary economic “free trade theory” has its foundation in the writings of British economist, David Ricardo, in the early 1800s.  Ricardo showed that when two individuals choose trade, each is better off after the trade than before the trade.  People have different tastes and preferences, and thus, each person values the same things differently.  So, if I value something you now own more highly than I value something I own, and you value the thing that I own more highly than you value the thing you own, we will both gain by trading.  I get something that I value more than the thing I now own and so do you.

The same concept can be used to show the potential gains from trade associated with specialization.  One farmer may be a more efficient producer of one thing, say corn, and another farmer may be a more efficient producer of another, say cattle.  If so, one farmer can then specialize in cattle and the other in corn.  The better corn producer can then trade corn for beef and the cattle producer can trade beef for corn, and they both will be better off than if they each tried to produce both beef and corn.

Even if one farmer is a better producer of both beef and corn, the other farmer will have a “comparative advantage” in producing one or the other.  Let’s say the first farmer could produce either a 1,200-lb. steer or 300 bushels of corn with a given amount of land, labor, and capital.  Assume a second farmer could only produce only a 750-lb. steer or only 250 bushels of corn using the same amount of resources – not as much of either as the first farmer.

If the first farmer decided to produce only corn, he or she would have to forego 4-lbs. of beef for each bushel of corn produced (1200/300).  However, if the second farmer decided to produce corn, he or she would only have to forego only 3-lbs. of beef for each bushel of corn (750/250).  In economic terms, this means that the second farmer has a “comparative advantage” in producing corn, because his or her “opportunity cost” of producing corn is less.  The two farmers will have to forego less beef for each bushel of corn if the second farmer uses his or her land, labor, and capital to produce corn and the first farmer produces the beef.  Using the same logic, the first farmer has a lower “opportunity cost” of producing beef – 1/4 bushel of corn per lb. of beef (300/1200) compared with 1/3 bushel per lb. (250/750) for the second farmer.

Although the arithmetic gets messy, if the second farmer specializes in corn and the first in beef, and they trade their surpluses with each other, both will be better off than if each produces their own corn and beef.  Of course the real world is much more complex that this simple “two farmer, two commodity” example, but this simple one-on-one trade situation is still at the heart of contemporary economic trade theory.

So, if both traders gain from specialization and trade, what’s wrong with “free trade?”  The problems arise because “free trade” between two independent individuals, in the context of the early 1800s, does not accurately reflect the reality of trade among nations in the early 2000s.

First, trade is truly free only if both partners are “free not to trade.”  Participants in “free trade” must have an “interdependent” relationship.  Interdependence implies that people depend on each other “by choice,” not by necessity.  If one trading partner is dependent on another, the dependent partner may have no choice but to do whatever is necessary to maintain the relationship.  When both are independent, neither has any obligation to maintain the relationship.  “Interdependent” relationships can only be formed between two independent entities.  Under such circumstances, relationships are formed only if they are beneficial to both and continue to exist only so long as they remain beneficial to both.  Through the WTO, stronger nations are trying to force weaker nations to form “dependent” trading relationships – to create situations where the weaker nations are “not free to not trade.”

Trade made under conditions of coercion, under explicit or implied threats of retribution if one does not trade, is not free trade.  The school kid, who trades lunches with one bully to secure his protection from another bully, is not participating in free trade.  Neither is a weak nation that trades with a strong nation, under the threat of denial of military protection from some global tyrant.  Nor is it “free trade” if one nation is dependent on the other for its economic wellbeing, such as in cases where one has built up large debts to another.  Poor nations are made dependent on rich nations by their disproportionate economic wealth, economic infrastructure, and technological advantage, regardless of their inherent worth to humanity.  In many cases, rich nations are able to exploit the workers and resources of poor nations through trade, because the poor see no other way to avoid physical depravation or starvation of their people.  This is not free trade.

Second, “free trade” assumes “informed trade.”  Both parties must understand the ultimate consequences of their actions.  If a car dealer trades cars with a customer, knowing that the car is a gas-guzzler, needs lots of repairs, and is unsafe to drive, and trades without informing the customer, this is not a “free trade.”  When a developed nation encourages a lesser-developed nation to produce for export, knowing that such production will lead to exploitation of their natural and human resources, and does so without informing them of the consequences, this is not free trade.  The leaders of the lesser-developed nations may benefit from such trade, including bribes or payoffs from the outside exploiters, but the resources of the lesser-developed nation will be exploited rather than developed.  The people will be left with fewer opportunities for developing their country after than before the trade.  The exploiters know the consequences but the exploited do not.  Uninformed trade is not “free trade.”

Third, “free trade,” in economic theory, implies that the decision is made by an individual, not a nation.  Individuals are whole people, presumably absent of unresolved internal conflicts regarding the relative values of items being traded.  A person trades only if they decide that the trade, overall, is good for them as a whole.  Nations, on the other hand, may make and carry out trade agreements to which a substantial portion of the nation’s population is opposed – perhaps even more than half are opposed, both before and after trade takes place.  The economic rational for such agreements is that if the economic benefits to those who favor trade more than offset the economic costs to those opposed the nation as a whole will benefit from the trade.

Economics is incapable of dealing with interpersonal relationships.  In economics, a nation is said to gain from trade if those who benefit from trade could compensate those who lose and still have something left over.  Of course, the gainers are under no legal obligation to compensate the losers, and rarely, if ever, do so.  And, it doesn’t matter that the rich are made richer and the poor are made poorer.  In economics, it doesn’t really matter how many people are made relatively worse or better off by trade, as long as the trade results in growth of the economy.  Contemporary economics doesn’t address issues of social equity or justice.

Finally, the foundational principles of economic trade theory are rooted in a “barter economy” – one person trades something to another.  In an international currency economy, “comparative advantages” in trade can be distorted by fluctuations in exchange rates, resulting from differences in monetary policies among nations.  Such fluctuations can cause the exports from one nation to become more or less costly to importers from another nation for reasons totally unrelated to differences in production efficiency.  Under such conditions, “free markets” do not result in efficient resource use.

In classic trade theory, also, each trading partner uses their individual resources, land, labor, capital, technology, etc. to do whatever they do best – to exploit their comparative advantage.  No consideration is given to the possibility that one nation might instead transfer some of their resources, such as capital and production technology, to another nation where they might generate greater profits.  Mobility of capital and technology, hallmarks of today’s global economy, eliminates the “comparative advantage” of higher cost nations, forcing them to import from lower cost nations, devaluing both land and labor in the higher cost nation to globally competitive levels.

Because of these inconsistencies between economic theory and economic reality, most international trade today does not fit the theory of economic “free trade.”  Perhaps more important, opposition and open defiance of the WTO, from countries all around the globe, indicates that any future expansion of trade forced upon people by the WTO almost certainly will “not” be free trade, but “coerced” trade.

If the ultimate “free market” goals of the WTO were achieved, all national economic boundaries would be removed.  Initially, all economic barriers to trade would be translated into tariffs, and over time, all tariffs would be eliminated, erasing all economic boundaries among nations.  The world economy would presumable operate pretty much as a national economy.  “International commerce” would be a lot like “interstate commerce,” and no nation would be allowed to have laws interfering with such commerce.  However, under the WTO, nothing could be arbitrarily excluded from “international commerce.”  Ultimately, anything we own might have to be offered for sale to the highest bidder.  The WTO would decide what we can and cannot exclude from the world marketplace.  And, no seller or buyer would be allowed to offer a different price or different conditions of trade to one nation than is offered to any other.

Under such rules of trade, a nation could not subsidize its agriculture by any means that might be trade distorting; that is, it couldn’t subsidize producers of one commodity more than it subsidizes producers of another.  A nation could not establish environmental, health, or safety standards for its production processes that were more restrictive than those specified by the WTO.  A nation could not close its borders to WTO approved “cultural exports” from other nations – movies, television programs, clothes, and magazines – no matter how repulsive they may be to current residents of that nation.  A nation could not refuse to sell its natural resources, such as minerals, oil, or even water, to another nation.  And, the WTO would stand ready to enforce merchandise patents and intellectual property rights globally, regardless of whether the people of the world agree that all things, such as life forms, should be patented.  These are some of the potential consequences of the WTO vision of globalization.


So what are the “real” costs of globalization to Americans?  After all, we are the strongest of the strong nations and the strongest promoter of the “free market” goals of the WTO.  Certainly, the U.S. expects to benefit economically – at least in terms of economic growth.  But, at what social and ecological costs?  And can we even be sure that the economic benefits of globalization will accrue to the “people of nations” rather than a select group of investors and executives of “global corporations?”

First in farming, until a decade or so ago, few questioned the ability of American farmers to compete with farmers anywhere in the world.  We were the self-declared global leaders in agriculture.  We had the most highly educated and efficient farmers in the world using the latest production technologies to cultivate the best agricultural land in the world.  However, in recent years, the US share of global agricultural exports has plummeted, dropping farm profits, and shaking confidence in the American farmer’s ability to compete.

The U.S. market share of global exports of soybean and soybean product, for example, shrank from 80 percent during the 1960s to just 35 percent in 1998-2000.  Over that same period, the combined share for Argentina and Brazil grew from less than 10 to nearly 50 percent.  Abundant land and favorable climates, coupled with low-cost labor and a favorable exchange rate, have given Argentina and Brazil a clear competitive advantage – not just for soybeans, but for corn and most other grain crops as well.

U.S. livestock producers face strong competition from Canada and Mexico in domestic livestock and meat markets, causing some livestock producers to question the wisdom of the NAFTA.  Threats by agribusiness to move their large-scale confinement animal feeding operations to Mexico or elsewhere, to avoid growing environmental and animal welfare restrictions, also cast a shadow on the future of meat production in the U.S.  South America and Australia are lower cost producers of range cattle, and countries such as Mexico and China could gain competitive advantages in restructured global pork and poultry industries.

Declining exports have led American farmers into their fourth straight year of economic “emergency” – resulting in $5-$9 billion per year in “emergency” government payments, in addition to already generous farm program benefits.  American farmers today are among the most heavily subsidized in the world, and the new farm bill seems certain to maintain this dubious distinction.  Without these generous subsidies from taxpayers, American farm exports would be far less, and we would be in the midst of an American “farm financial crisis” at least as severe as that of the 1980s.  Without continued large subsidies, American farmers quite likely will not be able to compete in a free market global economy, regardless of what the free market promoters may say.

America’s lack of competitiveness in farming is not just a short run phenomenon resulting from unfavorable exchange rates or a depressed global economy.  As Steven Blank points out in his recent book, “The End of Agriculture in the American Portfolio[” rising costs of land and labor are destroying the traditional competitive advantage of American farmers in world markets.  Growing demand for land in rural areas for residential purposes, as America’s affluent urbanites acquire more living space, will make even good farmland too costly to farm.  Employment opportunities arising from the “new economy” will make the economic sacrifice of an occupation in farming too high.  Cornfields can’t compete with condominiums for land and the Missouri Valley can’t compete with the Silicone Valley for labor.

According to Blank, Americans will choose their best economic alternatives and will leave agriculture to the farmers of other countries.  Americans will continue to be well fed, he says, we will simply import our food from other countries where it can be produced at a lower cost.  We will exploit our comparative advantages, but they won’t be in agriculture.

Although Blank didn’t make an issue of it, if the multinational corporations succeed in gaining control of global agriculture, this scenario is quite plausible, if not inevitable.  Under comprehensive corporate production contracts, agricultural producers become little more than landlords, tractor drivers, or hog house janitors.  The corporation will select the crop and livestock genetics, will own the growing crop or livestock, and will make all of the important decisions – including where and with whom they choose to contract.  These same corporations will control access to global commodity markets, and producers without contracts will not have access to those markets.

Multinational agribusiness corporations have no sentimental ties to family, community, or even to any given nation, because they are not real people and their stockholders may be located anywhere on the globe.  They will simply move their agricultural operations, including contractual operations, to wherever on the globe they can make the most money, and increasingly, that will be somewhere other than in America.  So, what will be the real cost of globalization to American farmers?  Perhaps the cost will be the lost opportunity for farming in America, at least farming in the sense that we have known farming in the past.  The end of the “American farm” could well be one of the “real” costs of globalization.

Maybe America won’t quit producing food, but the U.S. in the future could well become as dependent on the rest of the world for food as we are today for oil.  Economists argue that it doesn’t matter where our food is produced.  If producing it elsewhere in the world will be cheaper, we will all be better off without agriculture in the U.S., so they say.  But how long will it be before an OFEC (Organization of Food Exporting Countries) is formed to restrict world food supplies causing our food prices to skyrocket – as we have seen OPEC do with our energy prices in the past.  Even more important, we have only a few days supply of food in the “food pipeline” at any point in time.  The disruption of global food supplies, even for a short period of time, could have devastating consequences for millions of people.

Perhaps we could keep our food imports flowing – through our military might, if economic coercion fails.  But, what will be the real costs?  How many more terrorist attacks might we expect as a consequence of our global food policy?  How many small wars will we feel compelled to fight?  How many people will be killed to support a global food system?  The highest “real” costs of globalization may be paid in human blood.

Even if America somehow maintains its food security, nations with less productive resources are almost certain to become subject to “nutritional blackmail” in the new global economy.  Those nations that have food inevitably will threaten to withhold it from those who do not, as the U.S. has withheld food from our “enemies” in the past.  Even more important, those corporations that will control global food production in the future will use their new-found power to shape national policies in every nation of the world, including America.

With the multinational corporations in control of the global food supply, the resources of no nation will be secure from exploitation.  There will be no effective limits to their ability to exploit, pollute, and destroy.  And almost certainly, with corporate control of the food economy, food prices are far more likely to rise than to fall, and those without the means to pay the higher prices will be more likely to starve.  A major cost of globalization may be the loss of food security – for people of both the rich and the poor nations of the world.

Finally, what are the costs of globalization of the food system to global society?  The answer, quite possibly, is the sustainability of human life on earth.  The question of sustainability is: how can we meet the needs of all people of the present, while leaving equal or better opportunities for those of the future?  The answer to the question of sustainability is, through systems of production and distribution that are ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially responsible.  Globalization is a strategy designed for short-run economic exploitation, not for long run societal sustainability.

A sustainable food system, to be ecologically sound, must work in harmony with nature – not attempt to dominate or conquer nature.  Nature is inherently diverse.  Diversity in nature is necessary to support life within nature.  “Boundaries” in nature define the diversity of landscapes, life forms, and resources needed to support healthy, natural, sustainable production processes.  Fence rows, streams, and ridges define unique agroecosystems within which nature can sustain different types of human enterprises.  Globalization will remove the fence rows, divert the streams, and level off ridges, to facilitate standardization and homogenization of production processes.  The natural boundaries needed for sustainability will be removed to achieve greater economic efficiency.  A “real” cost of globalization to society will be the loss of ecological sustainability.

A sustainable food system, to be socially responsible, must function in harmony with human “communities,” including towns, cities, and nations.  Humanity is inherently diverse.  Diversity among people is necessary for “interdependent” relationships – relationships of choice among unique, independent individuals.  Although we have our humanity in common, each person is unique, and we need unique human “communities” within which to express our uniqueness.  Social and cultural boundaries define those “communities” – towns, states, and nations.  Globalization will remove those boundaries and will homogenize global culture and society.  The natural boundaries needed to sustain social responsibility will be removed to achieve greater economic efficiency.  A “real” cost to humanity will be the lost of social sustainability.

A sustainable food system, to be economically viable, must facilitate harmonious relationships among people and between people and their natural environment.  The inherent diversity of nature and of humanity must be reflected in diversity of the economy.  Although potential gains from specialization are real, such gains are based on the premise that people and resources are inherently diverse, with unique abilities to contribute to the economy.  Competitive capitalism is based on the premise that individual entrepreneurs make individual decisions and accept individual responsibility for their actions.  If globalization is allowed to destroy the boundaries that define the diversity of nature and people, then it will destroy both the efficiency and sustainability of the economy.  A “real” cost of globalization to humanity may well be the loss of long run economic viability.

The “true” costs of globalization quite simply are too high to pay.  But what can we do to avoid paying these costs?  How can we stop globalization?  First, we can help people realize that the undeniable existence of a global ecosystem, a global society, and a global economy does not justify “economic globalization” – i.e., the removal of all economic boundaries.  Natural boundaries are necessary to ensure ecological integrity.  Cultural boundaries are necessary to ensure social responsibility.  And economic boundaries are necessary to ensure long run economic viability.  Without boundaries, the biosphere would be left without form, without structure, without order, and without life.

Every nation has both a right and a responsibility to protect its people and its resources from exploitation, just as every person has a right and responsibility to protect their person and property from exploitation.  Globalization would deny these most fundamental of human rights to the “communities” of people that constitute the nations of the world.  People need to have healthy relationships with each other and with the earth, but healthy relationships are relationships of choice, not relationships of coercion.  Global society needs a world forum, such as the WTO might be – not to remove boundaries, but to ensure that every person of every nation is protected from economic exploitation.  To avoid the high costs of globalization, we must reclaim our rights to individual and national sovereignty.

Other things we can do to fight globalization are more tangible and practical.  For example, we can all help develop more sustainable, local alternatives.  Thousands of farmers and consumers all across North America are already joining forces to develop more sustainable, local food systems.  These people come together regularly within local communities at farmers markets, CSAs, community gardens, and other venues where farmers and consumers meet around food.  In addition, the number of large conferences in recent months, bringing farmers and consumers together around common concerns for food safety, nutrition, environmental quality, social justice, and other issues of sustainability, indicate a growing interest in local food systems.  Farmers can give priority to local markets in developing more sustainable farming systems.  The rest of us can buy as much of our food as possible from local farmers.  We can all help to develop a local, sustainable alternative to globalization.  Much of the rest of this program will focus on ways to help make this positive vision a future reality.

Supporting local food systems doesn’t mean that we have to give up oranges, bananas, coffee, or things that can’t be produced locally.  Trading when we are “free not to trade” can be beneficial to all concerned.  We simply need to buy and sell locally to the extent necessary to maintain the sustainability of our local food system.  We can and should continue trading with those in other regions and other nations to help ensure the sustainability of agriculture everywhere on the globe.  It’s just that relationships among regions and nations must be “interdependent,” rather than “dependent,” if the global food system is to be sustainable.  We must maintain boundaries to maintain our identity, our integrity, and our ability to act interdependently.

It would be easy to be skeptical about the possibility of success of local food systems – such systems currently make up such a small part of the huge global food system.  Farmers and consumers may seem too few and too weak to confront the giant global food corporations.  However, the trend toward a global food system, occurring over the past several decades, took place one farmer and one customer at a time.  One-by-one, as farmers changed what they produced, and where they sold their products, and as consumers changed what they ate, and where they bought their food, a food system that had been local became global.  Again, one-by-one, we can and must make the changes needed to create a sustainable, local food system.

Will we succeed in avoiding the high costs of globalization?  I don’t know if we will, but I know it is possible, and thus, I have hope.  Hope is not the expectation that something good is destined to happen, or even that the odds favor something good, but rather, that something good is possible.  I know that something better than globalization is possible.  It is this very real “possibility” of a sustainable, local food system that gives farmers and consumers the courage to challenge globalization, with everything from protesting in the streets to buying and selling locally.  Regardless of whether we ultimately win or lose in this struggle, life is simply too precious to live without hope.

What Cultural traits engender economic development?

Francis X. Hezel, SJ.

How Flat is the World?
"The world is flat," Thomas Friedman has famously declared. His claim is that in this modern age of globalization, when capital can cross national borders so easily, when investment funds can be pulled from one country to another instantaneously to respond to new business opportunities, economic development is attainable in the most surprising of places. Today, as never before in the past, economic growth should be within the reach of any country anywhere in the globe.

All that is required for the golden fruit to flower, it would seem, is to have the door open to investment and the phone at hand. Naturally, there are conditions to be met to attract investment dollars (or yuan or yen or Euros or pesos). But given a stable government, the assurance that the rule of law will be upheld, and an investor-friendly climate, any country should be in a position to become the new Singapore-a nation powered by steady economic growth.

The hitch is that not all needy nations are able to meet these conditions. In some parts of the world, in fact, almost none are--as if some toxic substance in the soil makes it impossible for economies to take root there. But even if most of the primary conditions are met-in other words, the government is responsible and the country has the official welcome mat out for foreign businessmen--there may be other factors that make investors shake their heads and walk off with the decision to drop their money somewhere else. Perhaps the world isn't flat, after all. Possibly there are ingredients for economic development, more far-reaching and subtler than the conditions usually prescribed, that touch on the national ethos and its traditions. In other words, economic development might well be affected by those intangibles that are collectively known as culture.

Flirtation of Economics with Culture

Economics, once known as "the dismal science," has come a long way since its early days. The discipline, relying on its scientific formulas and precise metrics, has patented a storehouse of remedies for ailing economies. Yet it doesn't seem to know what to do with a concept as untidy as culture.

It wasn't always this way, though. Back in its earliest days, economics had plenty of room for the vagaries of human behavior. Adam Smith, sometimes regarded as the founder of modern economics, argued in his classic work, The Wealth of Nations (written in 1776) that each individual, motivated by the pursuit of his own interests, contributes to the public interest in a system that is self-regulating. Smith was keen-sighted enough to recognize that the "pursuit of personal interests" involved much more than just making money. Hence, his tract, "Theory of Moral Sentiments", deals with what today we would call cultural values. John Stuart Mill, writing 70 years later, made the same point when he noted that cultural constraints on individuals could have a stronger impact on them than the pursuit of personal financial gain.

Max Weber, the German social scientist writing in the early 20th century, offered more specific insights into how cultural or even religious values could impact on economic output. He argued that the Protestant work ethic, supported by Reformation teachings that the pursuit of wealth was a duty, inculcated the virtues needed for maximum economic productivity. For this reason, Protestants were more productive than Catholics throughout Europe-just think of Germany and Great Britain, for instance, compared to Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Italy in his day.

In the meantime, the worldview of economists was radically changing. Economic progress was now a given, as the discipline shed its grim premise, first enunciated by Thomas Malthus in the 18th century, that population growth doomed people to a declining standard of living. Malthus believed that total wealth was a constant-there was only so much land and a strict limit to the resources it could produce, after all-and that most of the world's population would inevitably be reduced to fighting over the scraps from the table. The remarkable growth in the economies of the United States and many European countries during the 19th century, however, provided evidence that a different set of assumptions was needed. Economic theory was subsequently guided by a new insight: there was not simply a fixed amount of wealth, but an ever expanding economic pool to draw from. This meant, for one thing, that those nations that had little industrialization and whose people lived a largely subsistence life could join the more highly developed nations at the table. In theory, there would be plenty for everyone to eat.

After having offered hope to the underdeveloped that they could join the party, economics seems to have narrowed its field of vision since the 1930s and dedicated its energies largely to generating ever more sophisticated formulas relating to such things as markets, rents, income policies, price stability, and inflation control. It has also been busy refining its set of mathematical tools to test the theories that the discipline has been generating. Its principal interest has been in measuring the impact of different strategies on financial and economic crises so as to develop a dependable set of guidelines for predicting and managing these crises.

But as it has been doing all this, it appears that its interest in culture has been waning. Its presupposition seems to be that Homo economicus, no matter where he happens to be dwelling, is subject to the same ineluctable laws of supply and demand, maximization of profit, and pricing. The apparatus it devised to analyze and manage economic situations are self-contained and have little room for the vagaries of human behavior. Today, ironically enough, with the prophets of globalization proclaiming new hope for nations struggling to pull themselves out of poverty, economics has little to offer them on how this might be done. In short, the discipline's abandonment of its early fascination with culture has rendered it speechless to those who most need its help today.

Culture Does Seem to Matter

Why do some countries do very well, while others fail to develop, even when all the requisite economic factors seem to be in place? How can we explain the repeated failure of African nations, even when aid is given in great supply, to develop their economy? Why are countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, even with a strong resource base and a well educated population, so resistant to development? For that matter, what is there to explain the slow economic growth rates of the Pacific nations?

Most development economists might explain these inequalities by appealing to the list of conditions that must be met for an economy to develop. Good governance is seen as a prerequisite of development: the political system should be stable; laws must be clearly promulgated and enforced so that contractual agreements will be honored; and government officials should not be corrupt or inefficient. Moreover, land should be available at a fair rate for business opportunities; foreign investment should be encouraged; and the bureaucratic procedures for applying for a business permit should not be too onerous.

There may be something to be said for this list, but it still doesn't deal with the more fundamental issue of how culture impacts on development. Why do some ethnic groups do so well in business that they leave others in the dust, even when these ethnic groups are minorities in other cultures? Amy Chua raises this question in her much acclaimed book World on Fire.

In her work we learn that ethnic Chinese in the Philippines, accounting for less than two percent of the population, control 60% of the nation's private economy, including the country's four major airlines and almost all the country's banks, hotels and shopping malls. But it's not just in the Philippines that Chinese ethnic minorities have made their mark. They have come to dominate business in other parts of Southeast Asia as well-especially Indonesia, Thailand, Burma and Malaysia. Even closer to home, Chinese have distinguished themselves in the Solomons, Tonga, and in Majuro, triggering occasional reactions from the local populations.

Chinese are far from the only group to achieve such success. As Chua points out in her book, no matter where we look around the world, we will find examples of what she calls "dominant minorities"-ethnic groups that have demonstrated a remarkable ability to succeed in business wherever they may live. The Lebanese have become the entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone and other parts of West Africa, while Indians have assumed the same reputation in East Africa. In Russia, six of the seven billionaires following the privatization of public resources less than a decade ago are Jewish. For years, Chua points out, the Croats had enjoyed a much higher standard of living than the majority Serbs in what was formerly known as Yugoslavia. In South America, she goes on to point out, those of European descent have long held economic power over their darker-skinned compatriots.

Clearly, some ethnic groups seem to be far more successful in business than others. Unfortunately, their financial success can incite violent retaliation against these groups, for they are usually small minorities in their adopted countries. During the last two decades, just as globalization was being trumpeted as the big leveling force through the world, uprisings have occurred in one country after another to strip the dominant business minorities of their economic power. Many of these-in Mugabe's Zimbabwe, in post-Suharto Indonesia, in Rwanda, in Serbia, and in Ethiopia-sought to redress the imbalance by expropriation of holdings, expulsion of ethnic minorities, or worst of all by genocidal wars. Apart from the enormous human suffering generated by the conflicts themselves, further misery followed. The nations that had sought to reclaim what they felt was justly theirs became even more impoverished when the people to whom businesses were handed off could not make them work.

Even so, the summons to a globalization that will offer all ethnic groups equal opportunity continues to ring out. To the extent that it remains a hollow call and a false hope, Chua warns us, it will spur further outbursts of ethnic violence fueled by frustration.

Why the Differences?

If some cultural groups seem to do better than others, what would explain the differences? The real intent of this question, of course, is to discover what might be done to compensate for these differences and cancel the competitive disadvantages that some cultures seem to bear in this age of globalization.

The inequality of cultures is one of the themes explored by Gregory Clark in his recent Farewell to Alms, which he subtitles A Brief Economic History of the World. It was no accident, he argues, that the Industrial Revolution occurred in Great Britain and not some other nation. Although his book is more concerned with the antecedents of the Industrial Revolution than the transforming impact of this landmark event on subsequent history, he points out that it gave rise to what he calls the "Great Divergence." The Industrial Revolution may have brought about enormous changes in production technology, but it left many nations impoverished just as it made others wealthy. After the mid-19th century, the heyday of the Industrial Revolution, the differences in national income and standard of living around the globe became even greater than they ever had been before, Clark points out, and the differences continue to widen with each passing decade.

Why was Britain in a unique position to give birth to the Industrial Revolution? And why did the effects of the Industrial Revolution vary so greatly from one part of the globe to another, from one nation to another? Clark maintains that Britain's development was not a sudden leap forward that was propelled by the invention of a few power-driven machines. It was gradual, he maintains, taking place over the course of several hundred years prior to the 19th century. In his way of thinking, the Industrial Revolution would have never occurred had it not been for the changes in values that were happening for centuries before. From the High Middle Ages on, following the Magna Carta in the 13th century that limited royal authority, Britain had the stable political, legal and economic institutions so often touted as the preconditions for economic growth.

But such institutions of themselves do not generate economic progress, Clark maintains. Stable political institutions, a reliable legal system, predictable land values and functioning markets were the necessary but not sufficient conditions for the economic take off Britain experienced when new sources of power were harnessed. They did, however, lead to the gradual development of precisely that set of deep cultural changes, especially a sense of competitiveness and a strong work ethic, that was required if sudden technological breakthroughs were have to have any real impact on the society. The data that the author presents to us offers a picture of a society that was losing its taste for violence even as its homicide rate was dropping, a society with high population growth among the well-to-do, one in which people had to work hard and long to gain a competitive advantage over their peers, a society that was increasingly literate and patient. These traits served people so well in Britain, Clark adds, that they would have been passed on by means of social Darwinism and possibly even by a genetic selection process as well. This cluster of traits, usually associated with the middle class, gave people the edge in surviving, just as quickness of reaction, strong legs and a good aim might have in a much earlier age and in a very different milieu.

All of this predated the Industrial Revolution, Clark points out, so that when the steam engines and other new means of production were developed in the early 19th century, the British could utilize them to expand their economy many times over. By contrast, when India was introduced to the technology later in the 19th century, the results were far different. The power-driven cotton mills that had spurred such a startling economic burst in Britain were introduced to India but never offered the country the same competitive advantage. The productivity of British mill workers, thanks to the very traits that Clark has described for us, was so far greater than that of their Indian counterparts that even though hourly rates for Indian employees were merely one-fourth of British labor, British-run mills were far more cost-efficient than Indian mills. Clark notes that to compensate for the greater per-person productivity of British employees and to get the Indian mills operating at maximum output, Indian mills would typically hire many more employees. But this boosted labor costs beyond what they would be in a British mill, making the Indian-run mills non-competitive in the end.

So, in the end, it was people and the values they had absorbed over the years, not the power-driven mills or any other form of advanced technology, that had made the difference.

Values and Attitudes

"Does Culture Affect Economic Outcomes?" is the title of an intriguing paper written two years ago by Luigi Guiso, Paola Sapienza and Luigi Zingales. The paper offers tantalizing suggestions as to which values matter most when economic development is at stake.

The first writer to propose a cultural explanation for underdevelopment, the authors tell us, was the political scientist Edward Banfield in his 1958 volume The Moral Basis of a Backward Society. He attributes the slow economic growth in southern Italy to the excessive pursuit of narrow self-interest by people who have never learned to trust anything outside their family. Following this lead in his own 1993 book, Robert Putnam offers evidence that those areas in Italy that enjoyed free city states centuries earlier have a much better track record today than those places in southern Italy that never had the benefit of such civic institutions. When these institutions are effective, people are prepared to invest in social capital. Development of a sense of trust is critical here, it is suggested, and this occurs over a long period of time as people come to believe in something beyond their own extended family. (I have to admit that when I read this I immediately thought of Chuuk, a cultural area that traditionally had very few civic institutions and so might have been slow in developing the public trust these authors regard as so important.)

In an even more recent book, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, David Landes concludes that the success of national economies is driven by cultural factors more than anything else. Thrift, hard work, tenacity, honesty and tolerance are the cultural factors that make all the difference, he suggests. In his view, Max Weber was right after all in suggesting that social attitudes and values have the decisive say on what economies will succeed and which will fail.

Guido Tabellini, in a working paper written three years ago, makes an attempt to offer real evidence for the impact of culture on economic development. Using as his cultural constellation a set of four values-trust, belief in the importance of individual effort, generalized morality and autonomy-he finds that yearly economic growth and per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are higher in those regions throughout Europe that exhibit higher levels of these four cultural values.

All of this merely confirms what Amy Chua suggests and Gregory Clark tries to document-namely, that modern technology alone will never be able to turn around an economy and to boost the standard of living among a population. The development of a mindset, with accompanying values and habits, is a big part of the equation. Formal education may contribute to this, but possibly not so much because it imparts new information and hones skills as because it inculcates a new view of the world and concomitant values.

This conclusion is not encouraging for less developed parts of the world. At one time, economists felt that sufficient capital, especially through national savings, might catapult nations into a flight path of economic growth. Lately, it has become more fashionable to focus on the institutions, political and economic, to ensure that the ground is prepared for the bountiful economic harvest to come. But a number of recent authors, proponents of the cultural dimension of economic development, are suggesting that the creation of such political and economic institutions may have taken centuries. Even once they are in place, there may be need for still further cultivation of attitudes and values before a country is fertile for economic development.

Where do the island nations of Micronesia stand in all this?

Closer to Home

Many parts of the world have been written off as resistant to development. We may think of most of Africa, parts of Latin America, the Middle East, and a few of the countries in Southeast Asia. Of course, many of these countries still lack the reliable institutions, beginning with stable government and the rule of law, that are a requisite for development according to today's canon. Then there is the Pacific, which has shown disappointing economic growth rates over the past decade or two. If the authors we have cited are on the right track in suggesting that historical antecedents of a people produce a cluster of values and beliefs that foster economic development, then it might be enlightening to measure Micronesian island societies against this cluster.

Belief in the importance of individual effort. Island societies have never been distinguished for individualism or the belief system that encourages it. They have been better known for the communalism and the subordination of the individual to group interests that this demands.

Trust. This may range in societies according to how elaborate the suprafamilial institutions were. In groups like Pohnpei, Yap and Palau, political and social institutions were relatively well developed in traditional times. On the other hand, people from smaller, unstratified societies like the atolls of the central Carolines or Chuuk may not have developed trust in broader institutions, much as the Sicilians in Italy did not.

Generalized morality. By this is meant the application of ethical standards to all, not just those in one's immediate kin group. This may have varied by locality, but was probably not pronounced in traditional times. However, the pressure to develop such a standard intensified everywhere following the advent of Christianity.

Autonomy. This has never been especially high on the list of virtues in island society. In fact, island life is slanted in the opposite direction-toward conformity, in keeping with strategies needed for survival in a small isolated community.
Ethic of hard work. Persistent work done for long hours day after day and week after week was not regarded as a value traditionally. Island life could demand feverish outbursts of hard work, but such an outburst was almost always followed by a long period of relaxation. This reflects the fact that work needed for survival was limited to a few hours a day. After all, Pacific Islanders did not have to spend all day in the fields plowing and planting as Asians and others were required to do.

Thrift. This was associated with niggardliness, which was perceived as a fault rather than a virtue in island life. Instead, the investment in social capital-in the form of contributions to a community feast or tribute to a chief-demanded lavish generosity.
Overall, Micronesia, like the rest of the Pacific, probably does not rank very high in those cultural value and attitudes that have been identified as helpful in promoting economic development today. This is not an indictment of Micronesia or the other Pacific Island cultures. Nor is it to suggest that these islands suffer from corruption or political instability or some of the other problems that plague less fortunate countries in other parts of the world. Indeed, the traditional Micronesian value cluster was clearly well suited to survival in small islands in the past. Yet, the same value set that allowed islanders to maintain harmony and support one another throughout good times and hard times in the past is not equally well suited to building a modern economy. In other words, Micronesia simply does not enjoy the same cultural advantages that led Britain to prosperity after the Industrial Revolution or which have given Chinese and Lebanese entrepreneurs the competitive edge they enjoy even after leaving their own country to settle in another.

What Would It Take?

What would it take to develop the set of values that a line of authors, extending from Adam Smith to contemporary economists, see as fundamental conditions for achieving real economic development? Must we wait centuries for this to happen, as Britain and the US did, or can this process be accelerated?

Improved education for the population is an almost automatic response, as Amy Chua points out, but she admits that research on the impact of education does not support the conclusion that this will work. She goes on to point out that much more work needs to be done on the interplay of culture with economic success, and writes that even if the relationship between the two were pinpointed, leveling the playing field between ethnic groups "will be a painfully slow process, taking generations if it is possible at all."

Gregory Clark offers evidence to support his conviction that the path to economic development is to increase worker output, whether in a textile mill or a computer lab. He traces the steady rise of Japanese worker output against that of Indian mill employees during the early years of the 20th century, showing that by the 1930s Japan had outproduced India and had come to dominate the market. The greater efficiency of Japanese workers during this time was a result of their strong discipline, which in turn stemmed from their cultural values.

A growing number of authors seem to agree that economic growth will take more than an infusion of investment capital, more than an import of the latest technology, even more than dependable political and economic institutions. A constellation of cultural values suited for modern business seems to be a critical ingredient as well, although no one has identified these values with precision, to say nothing of devising a strategy for inculcating these values in developing populations. For now, we can only conclude that in the contest for economic development the playing field is far from level. The world is not nearly as flat as Friedman exuberantly proclaimed.

Meanwhile, the small nations of Micronesia are not left hanging in the wind. They enjoy substantial dollar amounts of aid from the US, access to the US for those who can not find employment at home, and a measure of successful business in the islands. What they do not enjoy, however, is the cultural climate that is deemed essential in order to turn the islands into a whirlwind of economic activity and to stimulate the level of growth that outsiders had hoped to witness.

At present in Micronesia, money is viewed as a means to more meaningful ends than simply expanding one's financial wealth. In island culture strictly economic considerations are limited by other considerations, ones that individuals often judge to offer them greater personal advantages than multiplying their money. These considerations fall under three headings: security, status and solidarity.

Security often takes the form of land, regarded throughout the Pacific as the last fallback and possibly the most important currency of wealth. For a person to trade off his own land for the opportunity to make a modest killing in a business venture could present a serious problem for many islanders.

Status may be the motivation when an individual forgoes a business opportunity to make a large contribution toward a church or community event. The payoff for the individual is an increase in prestige, or a higher position in society

Solidarity, or sense of belonging, is the purpose of remitting a portion of one's earnings to a relative in order to strengthen the family cohesion that is so vital to islanders.

None of this is reprehensible, but neither does it reflect the value set that will create millionaires and promote the rapid growth that the islands seek today. Although entirely reasonable to island people, choices like these can be mystifying to consultants in that they seem to flout what should be irresistible economic incentives so as to achieve other trivial gains. But what is "trivial" from one cultural viewpoint is not necessarily so from another. Here is where cultural values impact on economic choices, where an island-oriented cost-benefit analysis defies what outsiders would consider "common sense." Here, too, is where the conversation on economic development must begin.

But what happens when Micronesians are plucked from their own cultural soil and are transplanted in the US? What is the effect of this relocation on the set of cultural values that tend to inhibit economic development? The tens of thousands of Micronesians who have emigrated to the US to find jobs and a new home there could provide a population sample for research into the speed with which cultural values changes. A study of these emigrants could offer insights into the impact of their new cultural surroundings on these islanders, even as it helps us answer the question of whether the cultural changes needed to improve economic development can be accelerated.

Smart Aid For African Development

Reviewed by: David Black.

Richard Joseph and Alexandra Gillies, eds. Smart Aid for African Development. Boulder, Colo.; Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2009.

Some five decades after the start of the post-decolonization era—an era marked by the pervasive presence of foreign aid in African political economies—controversy over the effects and effectiveness of the “aid industry” continues to rage. “Aid pessimists” on both the right and the left posit various deleterious consequences of external aid in Africa, including its contributions to corruption, weak institutions, unaccountable leadership, and entrenched inequalities. At the same time, “aid optimists,” or perhaps more accurately “humane internationalists,” assert that increased aid is imperative, though insufficient, to meet the pressing developmental and humanitarian challenges faced by too many Africans.

The authors in this collection advocate a middle way between these poles. While largely agnostic on the question of whether more aid is necessary, the contributors all share a commitment to the need for “smarter aid.” Writing in the shadow of the “big push” for increased aid, debt relief, and trade reform promoted by the 2005 Commission for Africa and the Gleneagles G8 Summit—a push that was already losing momentum by the time the book was published in early 2009—the contributors collectively argue that increased aid that does not take account of the pathologies to which it has historically contributed merely sustains an “international welfare system” (256) and the global aid industry.
What, then, is “smart aid”? It is, first of all, “more nuanced, flexible, and adaptable.”

It is particularly attentive to the need for institutional reform and improved governance as a critical condition of “sustainable, equitable growth” (256). It tends to be unapologetic about the need for selectivity and conditionality in pursuit of these objectives. It is rooted in a close understanding of national, historical, social, and especially political contexts. For many of the authors in this collection, including Joseph, Kew, Bratton, Logan, Anyang’ Nyong’o, and Diamond, it is indissolubly linked to the fostering of conditions for more robust democratic governance. In this regard, however, there is an interesting and underexplored tension among the authors, with a minority arguing that for smart donors, other imperatives may need to take priority over democratizing reforms and an idealized “democratic social contract,” at least in the short to medium term. Reflecting on the Nigerian experience, for example, Callaghy argues that “support should be given to governments that actually engage in real, sustained economic reform, whether they are democratic or not” (99). Similarly, Reno’s rich historical analysis of corruption in Liberia leads him to some provocative conclusions regarding its potential functionality in the quest for postconflict security and stability.

There are a number of important strengths to this collection. Its contributors provide succinct and sophisticated analyses of several of the most important contemporary innovations in aid practice, including the Paris Declaration, general budget support, debt relief, poverty reduction strategy papers, and interventions tailored to the particular needs of postcon-flict or “failed and fragile” states. They highlight the degree to which the achievements of these new modalities have been more modest and ambiguous than hoped; but in general they argue for learning from and adapting them rather than abandoning them. Many of the individual contributions also reflect the long experience and keen insight of their authors, drawing on richly textured case-based analyses that illustrate the nuanced and con-textualized understandings that “smarter aid” would require
There are also, however, some key gaps and limitations. There is a strongly American cast to the volume as a whole (including some two-thirds of the authors). This matters, in part because the “aid regime” is firmly and increasingly transnational and because many of the most sophisticated aid agencies—those that one would expect to be “smartest”—are European. In this regard, as well as in the idiosyncracies of the American debate on and approach to democratization, the U.S. is an outlier. Similarly, African scholars immersed in the recipient side of the aid “partnership” are underrepresented, with only two of fifteen authors.

*African Review Studies

Alas! An African country that defies expectations

John Ifediora.

In the annals of African development tragedies, a singularly isolated thought that any country in the continent would gain and sustain traction in its development trajectory would be both anachronistic and devoid of rational expectations. An informed and popular expectation, at least amongst development experts and lay persons, is that the continent and its inhabitants are beyond help, and like an ocean liner, the task of turning around its collective economies would be herculean and deserving of superhuman intervention. But think again!

A three-week visit to the continent brought this author to a country where the following are true, and pleasantly surprising: there is clean running water both indoors in cities and in remote towns, the roads and streets are clean and constantly being attended to, the educational system from elementary schools to tertiary levels are well-funded and students are offered first-rate education, the electricity supply is constant without interruption twenty-four hours a day (there is no noise pollution from diesel generators), the work-force is populated by highly educated and skilled workers, and female work-force participation rate is the same as that of male workers, the taxi drivers are more likely than not to have a university degree, and if prompted would comfortably explain the difference between floating exchange-rate regime and fixed-rate, but most importantly, the citizens are proud of their country and happy with the way things are. This gem in Africa is Kenya.

Kenya, of course, was not always this way, and did not reach this point in its development path through random beneficial events and happenstance. Before and after it secured its independence from the British in 1963, it had its fair share of struggles, uncertainties of its chosen path to economic self-sufficiency, a steady influx of refugees from Somalia, the inevitable bad crop of corrupt public officials, and insurgencies. But through a shared and undivided vision of who they are, and what they want to achieve as a collectivity, Kenyans have progressively moved their socio-economic status to that of a middle-income country with a rising manufacturing base. With a population of approximately 53 million, and a Gross Domestic Product for 2019 pegged at 99.3 billion dollars, it now has the means to profitably exploit its newly discovered reserve of crude oil.

But all these inevitably beg the question; how did Kenyans manage to achieve an enviable socio-economic state of affairs while its counterparts in the continent continue to suffer from an array of self-inflicted maladies and unremitting comedies of errors that have crippled all efforts at development? The answer, fortunately, has always been known to policy makers in the continent; the rest simply chose to ignore it, or is saddled by ill-informed and corrupt leadership.

Any development economist worthy of the title would be quick to state that the development of any country is path-dependent, guided by the collective will of its citizenry, and the ability of its leadership to put in place a well-defined plan to develop its economy. As is true with individuals so it is with countries; an individual plans to succeed by investing in her human-capital development through education and acquisition of skills. A country is no different. Every developed economy in the world began with good leadership and a plan; development does not occur in a vacuum, and certainly not haphazardly. England, soon after the industrial revolution, used an export-led development strategy and severe import-restriction policy to develop its economy. The US adopted the same approach and implemented an infant-industry protectionist policy that lasted for 99 years. Japan, South Korea, and now China all planned their economic growth with clever combinations of human capital development, export-led and infant industry protectionist policies.

African policy makers need not visit developed economies in Europe, Asia or North America to learn how to develop their respective economies; they should, instead, take a trip to Kenya. It is cheaper.

Haven’t We Done This Before? Lessons From and Recommendations for Strategic Competition in Sub-Saharan Africa

Forum on China-Africa cooperation, 2015. Photo credit: Flickr/Government of South Africa.

Judd Devermont*

A trio of White House strategies have heralded the return of strategic competition between the United States and its adversaries, China and Russia, in sub-Saharan Africa. In the National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and President Trump’s Africa Strategy, the U.S. government committed itself to countering threats posed by its global rivalries. In December 2018, National Security Adviser John Bolton claimed Beijing and Moscow’s activities “stunt economic growth in Africa; threaten the financial independence of African nations; inhibit opportunities for U.S. investment; interfere with U.S. military operations; and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests.”

This is a back-to-the-future moment for U.S.-Africa policy. We are witnessing African leaders draw on an old playbook, pitting the United States, China and Russia against each other to increase access to new resources, generate new leverage and lessen dependency on any single foreign patron. African political elites are very adept at telling U.S. officials what they want to hear; for instance, nine African leaders told President Trump that “we would prefer to do business with the United States and other western countries” over China. Or, African leaders will dangle the possibility of greater cooperation with U.S. adversaries to soak the United States for additional support. Former Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua, for example, ordered his petroleum minister to explore deals with Chinese and Russian oil companies as “bait to extract value and concessions” from Western companies, according to a memoir by one of his aides.

If the United States wants to treat Africa as an arena for great power competition, it needs to avoid the mistakes of the past. It should play the game smartly and anticipate the traps. I have spent the past 20 years studying and working on sub-Saharan African issues, and I believe we can distill clear lessons from the history books. Below are nine principles that should guide the U.S.’s approach, investments and partnerships in this new phase of global competition in Africa.

Judge African Governments by What They Do, Not by What They Say

It is a fool’s errand to dissect every statement from an African leader for clues about their allegiances. This is a poor barometer of how they think about the United States, China, Russia or other foreign actors. African leaders, oppositions and publics routinely craft messages to elicit a desired response from a targeted audience. Rulers, often disingenuously, will vow they would never align with U.S. geostrategic rivals or claim they are only reluctantly working with China or Russia. In 1961, Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah reportedly said, “I am not a Communist, but they are the only ones who will help us …. I ask [the Americans] to help me in my cause for which in return I would help them in Africa, but they refused.” African political elites continue to use this same tactic; Nigeria’s opposition leader Atiku Abubakar, who lost his presidential bid in February 2019, recently railed that Chinese loans led to misappropriation while acknowledging that African governments have had to look to Beijing because Washington is not engaged.

It Is Usually About Domestic Politics, Not the United States

There is a serious risk of misreading the actions of African political leaders when they pertain to China or Russia. U.S. policymakers want to interpret punitive measures or harsh rhetoric against China as an indication of a budding geostrategic realignment. The truth is that it is often more than not about internal politics. In 1962, the British director of intelligence argued that Kenyan politician Oginga Odinga—father of opposition leader Raila Odinga—was “no ideological convert …. [I]nternational affairs mean little except in the purely parochial context of how they can best be turned into local—and by implications, personal—advantage.” This same dynamic is playing out today. Sierra Leone’s new president, Julius Maada Bio, recently canceled a Chinese contract for a $400 million airport. Maada Bio, however, was not necessarily fed up with Beijing. He had merely shelved a project that had been negotiated by his predecessor. He later signed a deal with China for a bridge project estimated to cost $1.3 billion—more than four times the cost of the airport.

A Row With China Doesn’t Mean a Rupture

There is a tendency to conflate bumps in the bilateral relationship with strategic shifts toward one side or the other. African governments bristle at allies who meddle as much as they reject interference by adversaries. In 1961, Guinean President Sekou Toure threw out the Soviet ambassador, Daniel Solod, for spying but did not sever ties with Moscow.

These bilateral spats continue to pop up, but rarely do they derail the relationship. Kenya has managed its relationship with China, despite multiple run-ins with Chinese traffickers, hackers and racist businesspeople, as well as a dust-up with Beijing over tilapia fish imports.

You Can’t Buy a Country’s Loyalty

The United States often regards its partnerships as enduring in part because of shared interests or investments. However, history is littered with examples in which African leaders switched sides—from the Soviet Union to the United States, from the United States to the Soviet Union, from North Korea to South Korea, and from Taiwan to China. Most African governments do not subscribe to the “partner of choice” paradigm. It is more advantageous to have a diversity of partners rather than dependency on one patron. Or, as a former U.S. ambassador once said, African governments always want to add “another string to their bow.” In 1977, Somalia’s Siad Barre ditched the Soviet Union for the United States because Moscow was backing the new government in Ethiopia. African governments continue to toggle between foreign rivals. Within three weeks of the rupture between United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in 2017, eight sub-Sahara African countries severed or downgraded ties to Qatar. In 2018, Burkina Faso became the 48th country in the region to abandon Taiwan. Chad recently renewed ties to Israel after more than four decades, and it appears that Sudan and Mali are making similar moves toward the Jewish state.

Your African Allies May Cost More Than Your Adversaries

While African leaders publicly reject the great power competition framework, African elites recognize that geopolitical rivalry increased their country’s strategic importance, and they expect to profit—either as a government or personally—from the uptick in attention. In 1975, Zaire’s leader, Mobutu Sese Seko, told the U.S. ambassador that he purchased tanks from China because he had no choice but to turn elsewhere. A year later, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recommended that the United States sell tanks to Zaire because “[i]f Zaire goes, every African state will draw the conclusion that the Soviet Union (which they don’t like all that much) is the wave of the future.” There are several modern-day equivalents. Djiboutian President Ismail Guelleh, whose country hosts several foreign military facilities, including China’s only overseas base, negotiated a hard bargain with the United States to continue its lease of its base there in 2014. He extracted a U.S. commitment to pay $63 million a year—almost double the $38 million that the United States had previously paid.

The United States and China Is Not the Only Game in Town

When the United States uses a framework like great power competition, its field of vision tends to narrow. Not only does this paradigm push Africa to the background, but it also has similar effects on how U.S. policymakers view other foreign actors. These other governments become marginal in U.S. planning and analysis, and it blinds Washington to both opportunities and challenges. In the late 1970s, Saudis, French, Moroccans, Iranians and Egyptians worked together—in what was called the Safari Club—to defeat the Zairian rebels backed by Angola and Cuba. The Saudi ambassador to the United States explained that “[o]ur American friends are in trouble, their intelligence collection and capacity has diminished … so we, as friends of the United States, we should get together and try to do something to face the Community threat on our doorstep.”

The chessboard of foreign actors is even larger now than it was during the Cold War. The Center for Strategic & International Studies recently published a brief, “The World Is Coming to Sub-Saharan Africa. Where is the United States?” to show how the international community is growing its diplomatic, security and military ties to sub-Saharan Africa. These countries, which include new entrants as well as traditional partners, are forging closer ties with the region because they see new openings for trade and investment, as well as growing threats from terrorism, criminality, epidemics and irregular migration. This flurry of activity presents new opportunities to burden-share responsibilities and build a broad consensus to counter negative Chinese and Russian behavior.

It Is About What the United States Does, Not What China Does

The United States has slipped into the habit of criticizing China for what it is doing and wagging its fingers at African countries for being led astray by China. This is not a winning strategy. U.S. chiding of African leaders who accept Chinese financing is often viewed as paternalistic and infantilizing. Maada Bio, for instance, hit back at critics in September 2018, saying, “[W]e are not fools in Africa.” In the late 1960s, U.S. diplomats understood the shortcomings of this approach. They recommended to President Johnson’s National Security Council that the “US should be more subtle and circumspect” in pointing out the dangers of communism to African governments as the latter are anxious to keep the Cold War out of Africa at all costs. The diplomats also complained of instructions requiring them to bother African chiefs of state and foreign ministers on every little communist issue.

If the U.S. government aims to strengthen its position vis-a-vis Beijing, it needs to harness its private sector, stand up for U.S. values, and institute more robust education and cultural exchange programs with African nations. Moreover, the U.S. needs to do more to court African leaders—of whom only Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta have visited the White House. The ambassadors in the mid-1960s made the same point. They argued that personal relationships between chiefs of state are important in Africa: “[F]or US policy objectives to be advanced, it is desirable that African leaders be made aware of the US President’s personal interest in African affairs.”

Serve as an Honest Broker

Instead of simply positioning the United States as a competitor, there are opportunities to step in and act as a referee to protect U.S. interests and forestall further negative developments. This is what former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester Crocker did in southern Africa, negotiating the Cuban withdrawal from Angola in the 1980s. It allowed the United States to stay above the fray, while ensuring U.S. equities were advanced. In cases where there isn’t a U.S. company in the mix for a business opportunity, the United States could offer its good offices to assist with environment and labor assessments, and support negotiations to ensure African governments obtain the best economic package from China or other foreign actors.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

It is essential to draw a finer distinction between which of China’s activities threaten U.S. national security priorities and which Chinese engagements are neutral or complimentary to U.S. objectives. If the United States portrays all of Beijing’s endeavors as antithetical to U.S. goals, it will fail to develop and implement an effective policy response. In my testimony to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, I argued that some of the current apprehension about Chinese economic investment is overblown and ill informed. Unlike the current U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, I am not troubled that there is “a stadium that is built without exception by the Chinese” across the region.

I recommend focusing U.S. efforts to counter Chinese activity that undercuts U.S. military access and operations, U.S. information and communication platforms, and U.S. relations with current and emerging African leaders. It is imperative to leverage U.S. strategic advantages, including soft power where Washington has traditionally had an edge over Beijing. This was a central tenet of President Kennedy’s African policy, leveraging the president’s personal engagement to prevent African counterparts from fully aligning with adversaries. It was also part of Nixon’s vision for U.S.-Africa relations. Following his trip to the region in 1957, he told President Eisenhower that Africa’s “understanding of the principles for which we stand as a nation is a tremendous asset to us in this area. The maintenance of the present high prestige we are fortunate to have in Africa will depend whether the people of the continent continue to understand our dedication to the principles of independence, equality, and economic progress.”

*Judd Devermont is the Director of the African Program and the Center for Strategic Studies.
**First published in Lawfare.

Climate Change In Africa: African Global Warming Role Is Small But Crucial To Finding Solution

Morgan Winsor.

While Africa’s lack of modern energy and minimum carbon footprint have made it the slightest contributor to the growing global warming crisis, the massive continent bears the brunt of the world’s rising temperatures with damaging effects such as massive droughts, flooding, unreliable crop yield and waning ecosystems. And yet, analysts have indicated that Africans represent just a small fraction of the global voices partaking in the crucial conversation about climate change.

As more than 2,000 researchers from across the world met at UNESCO headquarters in Paris last week for the largest international scientific conference on global warming, only 10 percent of those participants came from Africa, one of the world's worst-affected regions. And while Africa was increasingly more involved in the worldwide discourse on the topic, many agreed that it’s still not enough because scientific research and innovative solutions from African pioneers at the conference would not translate into concrete action if they were not heard loud and clear by policy makers at the much-awaited, upcoming global climate summit in December, experts said.

“The African voice is there,” Edith Ofwona-Adera, a senior program specialist at Canada’s International Development Research Center, who manages climate change projects in Africa and attended the conference, said during a telephone interview. “But the voice of Africans needs to be at the table of the higher-level global talks in terms of scientific evidence that’s being produced. Developing country researchers, including those from Africa, need to be at the forefront.”

At nearly 12 million square miles, Africa covers 6 percent of Earth’s surface area and more than 20 percent of its total land space. The continent’s sheer enormity coupled with its vast natural resources and unique weather patterns make it particularly vulnerable to the severe consequences of global warming, which permeate every aspect of African life. Rising sea levels and coastal storms have destroyed parts of Kenya, where some streets have turned to virtual rivers. The coastal city of Mombasa is no stranger to flash floods, but this year the torrents were stronger than usual, which environmental scientists have attributed to climate change. The floods have contaminated drinking water storage, leading to shortages and disease. Severe droughts in sub-Saharan Africa -- like the one that gripped East Africa in 2011, slashing crop yields and triggering food shortages and a refugee crisis -- also have been linked to global warming.

The impacts of global warming vary for different regions around the world, underscoring the dire need for Africa to play a larger role in framing policies on climate change -- especially when the continent is the second-largest and second-most populous in the world, Ofwona-Adera said. “Africa is the most-affected continent and the least capacity in global climate change. If we are to find common solutions, then you need the voices of those who are affected and those
In order for a global approach on climate change to work, experts said there must be local scientists on the ground researching the effects across the African continent, developing innovative solutions and presenting them to policy makers.

A financial contribution from various sponsors, including the International Development Research Center, was dedicated to recruiting and funding about 150 scientists from developing counties to attend last week’s meeting in Paris, which was the largest international science conference ahead of December's, according to Benoit Martimort-Asso, an organizer of the event. But that number of scientists was small compared to its international community, and Africa needs financing to foster more homegrown scientific minds.

"We are facing a global issue and we need the mobilization of every scientist," Martimort-Asso said in an email last week. "To have a better global model to understand climate change at the global level, Africa is a key place and the international science community needs local data to upgrade that model."

African nations often lack the infrastructure, equipment, material and teachers necessary to improve on higher education. Enrollment rates for higher education in sub-Saharan Africa were by far the lowest in the world, and individuals who study abroad often never return, a Harvard University study found. An estimated 30 percent of the region’s university-trained professionals live outside Africa, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. “We’ve got this enormous brain drain just at the time we need their expertise on the ground,” said Tom Smith, founding director of the Center for Tropical Research at the University of California, Los Angeles. “We build centers of excellence that focus on the developing world but we base them in New York City or Paris. That’s just a poor business model. What we need are centers of excellence that can build capacity in these countries.”

However, some oversight across the continent does exist at a regional level when it comes to international policy framework on global warming. An alliance called the African Group of Negotiators was charged with representing each of Africa’s 54 independent nations – which all have varying needs and characteristics -- with a common and unified front during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

An African national government gets elected to chair the group every two years and receives some technical support from numerous organizations.
“African governments have one voice in negotiations at the [Climate Change Conference of Parties],” said Shem Wandiga, the director of the Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. “African voices have been very loud since [the 19th Conference of Parties]. But there is room for improvement.”

African leaders have hoped that by speaking with one voice during the 194-nation process on climate change, their position would be loud and clear. The region has collectively asked for compensation for Africa because of the damaging effects it suffers due to global warming primarily caused by richer nations, such as the United States. Although African countries are among the world's lightest polluters, some experts agreed the region still has its responsibilities and cannot follow in the carbon-heavy footsteps of developed countries.“If African cities develop in the same carbon-intensive way that developed cities have, the climate change outlook of our planet could be devastating,” said Kobie Brand, regional director of Local Governments of Sustainability – Africa.

Africa is becoming increasingly urban, which could either worsen or improve global warming. Currently, two out of three sub-Saharan Africans -- or 600 million people -- have no access to electricity at all. But that was slowly changing, as economists at Stand Bank Group Ltd. were expecting middle-class households in several leading sub-Saharan African economies to balloon from about 15 million to 40 million by 2030. Cell phone ownership also was booming and Internet access was rising, with companies such as Facebook investing in African consumers. Chinese firms have made huge investments in African infrastructure, targeting key sectors such as telecommunications, transport, construction and power.

However, with urbanization come environmental hurdles such as pollution, overpopulation, deforestation and strained resources. Still, the region has an opportunity to leapfrog over the damaging energy practices of industrialized nations, experts said.
“The African voice on climate change is not always well heard or represented,” said Jim Taylor, director of environmental education for the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa. “But I really think the chance for change could come from Africa.”

Sovereignty Matters: Africa, Donors And The Aid Relationship

William Brown.

This article critiques the predominant opinion that aid undermines the sovereignty of African states. This claim implies not only that a recipient state's policy autonomy is curtailed by development assistance, but also more fundamentally that the politico-legal independence of the state itself is being challenged. While the former is often the case, the latter is not. Drawing a conceptual and analytical distinction between sovereignty as a right to rule and national control over policy and outcomes, the article develops a more accurate identification of the areas in which aid, as a particular form of external influence, does and does not have an impact on recipient states. It argues that sovereignty as a right to rule constitutes the very basis of the aid relationship, and endows African states with the agency with which to contest the terms of aid deals. The article thus provides a new reading of the politics of aid and, by reasserting the centrality of sovereignty as an organizing institution in contemporary aid relations, supports rather than questions the relevance of the discipline of International Relations to African studies.

THE CLAIM THAT OFFICIAL AID TO AFRICA UNDERMINES state sovereignty has been an important and longstanding critique of Western aid policies towards the continent. Such a view implies both that a recipient state's policy autonomy is curtailed as well as the more fundamental claim that the politico-legal independence of the state is being challenged. This article argues that while the former is often the case, the latter is not and that the relationship between aid and sovereignty needs to be reassessed. The article responds critically to those who question the place of sovereignty as the central constitutive institution around which relations between African states and Western donor states operate. As well as offering a more nuanced assessment of the politics of aid relations, the approach set out here also has wider implications and reasserts the relevance of the discipline of International Relations (IR) to the study of Africa.

After reviewing the main claims of the aid and sovereignty literature, the article argues that we need a conceptual and analytical distinction between sovereignty seen as ‘right’ and ‘authority’ on the one hand, and political issues to do with the control over policy and outcomes on the other. Secondly, the article shows that this distinction is vital in order to appreciate more precisely the areas in which Western aid, as a particular form of external influence, does and does not have an impact on recipients, affecting policy autonomy but not the state's right to rule. Thus, thirdly, the article argues that sovereign rights are the very basis upon which aid relations are conducted and, furthermore, the base from which recipients are able to contest the terms of aid relationships. Finally, it shows that these contests are more about policy autonomy and the forms of internal rule, not about the sovereignty – the right to rule – of the state itself. This new reading of the relationship between aid and sovereignty has important implications for our analysis of the practical politics of aid relationships, for our understanding of sovereignty as a central institution in international relations, and for our assessment of the relationship between Africa and the discipline of IR.

Sovereignty in question?

It has become something of a default position in much recent literature on official aid to Africa that aid policies1 – at least since the inception of structural adjustment conditionality in the late 1970s – involve a denial of, or challenge to, African sovereignty.2 Over the past three decades, Western aid policies towards Africa have been dominated by, in roughly chronological and cumulative sequence, economic conditionalities around structural adjustment programmes; political conditionalities around respect for human rights and governance; and ‘partnership’ policies involving intensive and extensive redesigning of policy formation and budgetary processes in recipient countries. This liberal programme of change, which has unfolded over the past three decades, has provoked a long-standing claim that such practices entail a loss of, or challenge to, sovereignty in Africa. In an early example, David Plank argued that, ‘increasingly overt and extensive intrusions by outside agencies into what had been viewed as the extensive purview of sovereign governments … [had] … thoroughly discredited traditional notions of sovereignty in many parts of Africa … The most likely successor to postcolonial sovereignty will be neo-colonial vassalage.’3

More recently, David Williams argues, in one of the more extended and thoughtful discussions of aid and sovereignty, that there has been a persistent tension in the post-Second World War international system between the rights to independence and freedom, implied by the principle of self-determination, and an accompanying obligation on sovereign states to develop.4 The failure of African states to deliver on the latter principle provided cover for Western donors and international institutions to demand wholesale internal changes: ‘This [the dual nature of sovereignty] established the possibility that when countries failed in this obligation [to develop], sovereignty would be trumped by the pursuit of development by international agencies like the World Bank.’5 Imposing conditionalities on polities ‘hitherto regarded as sovereign’, David Williams and Tom Young suggest, it is not now clear that ‘“sovereignty” means very much for states in Africa’.6 In summary, Williams detects

“a wholesale disregard for the idea that there is a realm of internal affairs over which the government should be considered sovereign, and over which external agents, as a matter of principle and a matter of practice, should not have any authority. Sovereignty has lost its significance as an institution that structures relations between states like Ghana and outside agencies … It is clear that sovereignty is no longer a guiding or constitutive norm in contemporary international politics, at least for a significant number of states.7

” Other writers reinforce this ‘aid versus sovereignty’ thesis by drawing attention to historical continuities between contemporary aid practice and colonial-era relations between Africa and the West. This in turn has been presented as one example, repeated in the aid relationship, of interactions between self-consciously ‘liberal’ Western states and societies deemed in some sense(s) to be ‘illiberal’. A number of contributions to the aid literature have all focused on the socially transformative impact on Africa of both aid donors and their colonial forebears.8 Such work draws out striking similarities between contemporary efforts by donors to create ‘good government’ in African states, and the guiding ideas of colonial administrations.9 In somewhat stronger form, analysing ‘social transformation at a distance’, Williams and Young argue that there is a persistent ‘liberal project’ that unites present-day aid efforts, directed as they are at creating liberal states and societies, and the more liberal and emancipatory aspects of colonial rule.10

At a higher level of generality still, a third set of sovereignty critics come as part of a wider broadside aimed at International Relations as a discipline. For writers of a postcolonial standpoint, the arguments about aid and sovereignty and historical continuity both add weight to a view that emphasizes the lasting legacies of colonialism in international relations. The over-emphasis within IR, as they see it, on sovereign independence, is merely a means to obscure the continuities that exist between colonial and postcolonial eras, hiding them behind the ‘fiction’ of formal sovereign equality. In one example, Julian Saurin suggests that, as a discipline, IR privileges a view of colonialism being ‘ejected and substituted by novel and distinctive forms of rule’ at the expense of the view that ‘colonialism, being just one form of imperialism, metamorphosed in such a way as to retain the fundamental powers of imperialism while shedding the outward forms of colonialism’.11 IR is thus based on ‘an illusion’ that the world order of the second half of the twentieth century is in some fundamental way different from what preceded it.12 April Biccum suggests that the discipline of IR is not ‘wholly wrong’ yet still it ‘mythologizes’ the idea of a complete break in history marked by decolonization.13 A similar point is made by Antony Anghie when writing that despite ‘radical changes in jurisprudence … which in conventional histories of international law mark important disruptions in the discipline, the basic structure of the civilizing mission is reproduced’.14 In getting the historical narrative wrong IR becomes, for Branwen Gruffydd Jones, a ‘form of modern imperial ideology’.15

Such arguments feed into a perceived wider ‘revolt’ from the periphery ‘against IR's core concepts’.16 If, as Arlene Tickner puts it, ‘Dominant knowledge of the world reinforces power in international practice itself’, the issue of whether sovereignty, as a cornerstone of IR's ‘dominant knowledge’, is a myth or not, holds wider implications as well, both for political practice and for the IR discipline and its relationship to Africa.17

These three overlapping critiques of sovereignty do have some intuitive appeal – they accord with much everyday language around sovereignty and appear to connect with commonly held notions of sovereignty as something that is being ‘lost’ not just in the aid-dependent states but also in states affected by globalization, EU integration, or liberalization. Indeed, Graham Harrison uses the phrase ‘sovereignty as commonly understood’ in the prelude to his discussion.18 My purpose here is not to deny that such ‘commonly understood’ uses of the term sovereignty exist, as they clearly reflect something of social and political reality.

However, to assess the impact of aid on African sovereignty, and therefore also to judge these related broader claims, greater analytical clarity is needed. In the next section I argue that we can begin to achieve this by establishing an analytical distinction between questions of sovereign right and authority from questions of national political control. Although something of a simplification – all analytical distinctions are – it is a necessary starting point in order to disentangle what is and is not at stake in the aid relationship. In subsequent sections I go on to explore the role that sovereignty plays in the aid relationship and some of the related complications that also arise.

Sovereignty, authority, and control

A key problem with the three sovereignty arguments surveyed above is that they do not distinguish between questions of sovereign rights and authority on the one hand and questions of state capability or control on the other. Thus Harrison tells us that the ‘concept of sovereignty necessarily posits a state of self-containment or inviolateness that exists before intervention’.19 For Williams, sovereignty is the ‘freedom for the nation or society to pursue its ends without external control or intervention’, and for Lindsey Whitfield and Alastair Fraser sovereignty defines ‘a realm of political action free from foreign influence’.20 Stephen Krasner, in a broader and more in-depth study of sovereignty, does distinguish different kinds of sovereignty, termed ‘domestic’, ‘Westphalian’, ‘international legal’ and ‘interdependence’ sovereignties. Yet, even while acknowledging that there are both issues of ‘right’ and issues of ‘control’ at stake in sovereignty he, like writers on aid, then conflates these within each of his four types.21

In order to assess the aid relationship we require a clearer analytical distinction. On the one hand we have sovereignty claims that relate to a state's right to rule over a given territory and population. On the other hand we have an assortment of political claims that are often couched in the language of sovereignty, but which relate more to issues of the ability on the part of states or governments to act and to control particular outcomes and enjoy constraint-free policy choices. An undifferentiated claim that sovereignty is being eroded by aid policy implies both that a recipient state's policy autonomy is being curtailed and – a far more fundamental claim – that the politico-legal independence of the state itself is being challenged. In aid relations, the former has been undoubtedly the case (although even here, caution is needed) while the latter is not. As we will see, there is a stronger connection between these two than implied here, but it is useful first to pursue where this distinction takes us before complicating the picture somewhat.

Arguing that ‘Sovereignty is best conceptualized in terms, not of state control, but of state authority’, Janice Thomson noted that ‘State control has waxed and waned enormously over time, regions, and issue-areas while the state's claim to ultimate political authority has persisted’.22 She thus makes a distinction between ‘the claim to exclusive right to make rules (authority) and the capability of enforcing that claim (control)’.23 Robert Jackson argues a similar line, stating:

“There has always been a wide variation in the capability and capacity of sovereign states. Important domestic and international consequences often stem from whether a state is strong or weak, a great power or a minor power, has a capable government or an ineffective government, and so on. Yet all such relative and variable facts of power have no conceptual bearing on state sovereignty, which is a question not of power but of freedom from legal subordination to any other authority.24

” Indeed, by emphasizing the authority element of sovereignty, we focus more clearly on that which is most constant and central to sovereignty in modern states – the sine qua non of any discussion of sovereignty is the question of the location of ultimate authority. Most other matters – foreign influence, constraints on policy choices, limits on the range of state actions – are more fluid. The necessary condition for these other issues even to arise – the social recognition of a right to rule located in the state – persists throughout. Questions of right and authority are in that sense a uniquely irreducible element of debates about sovereignty. Other issues to do with an ability to control outcomes are important – as we will see, they are often the reason why a right to rule is valued in the first place. However, to see what is and is not at stake in aid relations we need to separate out these two elements for the purposes of analytical clarity.

Much of the discussion of sovereignty in the aid literature and more generally lacks such clarity. Often the claim of a denial of sovereignty is constructed in relation to an unspoken assumption that sovereignty implies a series of totalizing conditions: complete independence from external influence, complete freedom in policy choice (particularly economic policy), and complete command of domestic society and transborder flows.25 If sovereignty is taken in this totalizing, catch-all sense, the role of donor agencies would trespass on sovereignty – through supplying finance and advice, by constraining economic policy choices through conditionality, by influencing the formulation of poverty reduction strategies through the PRSP process, or through liberal reforms that curtail the state's ability to control international trade and investment. But this simply is not the right benchmark with which to judge aid and sovereignty. As Krasner rightly argues, it is highly doubtful if such conditions have ever obtained for any state in history.26

The next two sections explore where this takes our understanding of the aid relationship. First, we see that the distinction between authority and control enables us to highlight the different areas where external influences, including aid, may be felt in a given state. In the subsequent section, we see that sovereignty as a right to rule is not undermined by aid policies; rather it constitutes the basis upon which such relations are conducted.

Aid and external influence

Using the term sovereignty, ‘as commonly understood’, as a catch-all for an inviolate national area under threat from all manner of external influences on a society, obscures rather than reveals the areas in which aid might or might not impact on recipients. One way to approach the issue is to consider the range of ‘foreign influences’ that may occur in any given society. These can be placed on a ‘broken continuum’ with more general and diffuse societal influences at one end, and more politically direct and explicit influence at the other.

Varieties of external influence

The benchmark for the ‘aid versus sovereignty’ argument is thus a pretty unusual starting point. In the modern international system, societies are engaged in more or less chronic processes of mutual interaction.27 Key, prominent examples are suggested in the left-hand column to do with general processes of economic and social development, investment, trade and inter-cultural influence particularly stimulated by increased interaction capacity through the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs), many of these going under the rubric of ‘globalization’.28

A more politically direct form of external influence is suggested in the second column, focusing on instruments that specifically engage the policy choices of a government. This is most obvious in the area of macroeconomic policy and becomes particularly acute in times of economic stress when ‘external’ forces, whether they be international markets or aid donors, restrict the range of options open to a government. Such restrictions on policy autonomy are not unique to aid relationships; indeed, all policy is formulated under conditions of often highly restricted choice and many of these restrictions intrude from outside of a given society.29

The third column shows external influences that engage the domestic constitutional make-up of a state, in particular the constitutive rules and practices around which political authority is established as well as some of the regulative rules and practices through which that authority is exercised.30 A clear example of such influence is political conditionality that seeks to alter the rules by which governments are chosen or replaced (multi-partyism) and how the state governs its citizens (governance reforms, the rule of law, and human rights). Post-conflict situations arguably allow for greater scope for the international community, usually under UN auspices, to shape political reconstruction through the use of multi-party elections and liberal peace building.

Finally, set somewhat apart from these forms of external influence, there is the abrogation of sovereignty itself – the denial in one way or another of the politico-legal independence of the state. Where the first three columns are mainly about issues of control, how far a legally independent state is able to exercise control over outcomes and enjoy freedom from external influence over policy choice, the last column is about the existence or otherwise of such an independent entity.

As with any categorization of this sort, reality is more complex and the lines between categories are not hard and fast. Sovereignty for any state is established and upheld by the practices and norms of the international system as well through the actions of states and the relations between rulers and ruled domestically.31 In both its external and internal aspects, sovereignty requires recognition and such recognition often comes conditionally. Accordingly, sovereignty is about the establishment and reproduction of an ultimate authority over a territory and people, not absolute power or comprehensive control of all areas of social life. Rulers are both representatives of and answerable to domestic populations in a way that is different from non-sovereign entities.32 Moreover, recognition may be withheld or challenged by external actors when the exercise of sovereign power transgresses international norms to such an extent that international intervention, often military, is considered to be necessary. Such cases of military intervention or withdrawal of recognition, for example in response to widespread rights abuses, illustrate the idea that abrogation of sovereignty itself remains a qualitatively different act from other forms of external influence.

External influence of any kind is potentially controversial and I will return to controversies over aid below. However, it should be noted here that, viewed within this broader framework, aid is a particular form of external influence. It is a particular kind because (at least in the form of Official Development Assistance, ODA) it is overtly public, undertaken by states and by agencies authorized by states. To the extent that influence is successfully exerted it is therefore more deliberate and hence more directly political than that of, say, the cumulative influences of a series of private commercial actions. The influence of aid is mainly located in relation to the middle two columns of the table, influencing policy choice and constitutional make-up. The latter is much less well established in terms of the extent to which donors consistently seek to apply such influence and the extent to which they do so effectively. The attempt to influence policy choices is the mainstay of debates around conditionality, post-conditionality and ownership. Of course aid also has impact in the ways mentioned in the first column; indeed, it is ostensibly the purpose of ODA – ‘administered with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as the main objective’33 – to influence broad social and economic change in recipient countries. None of these different areas or forms of influence can be identified for the purposes of analysing the effects of aid if the entirety of ‘foreign influence’ is thrown under a single catch-all notion of sovereignty. Rendering oneself unable to make distinctions between issues of sovereignty and the different issues of control actually obscures what we are able to see when analysing aid relationships.

The political and legal basis of the aid relationship

The foregoing analysis suggests that the focus of our assessment of aid should be on areas of national control, not sovereignty as a right to rule. This claim is further strengthened when considering the role that sovereignty as a right to rule plays in constituting the aid relationship and in the material effects this has on the parties' ability to engage in negotiations over the terms of aid.

In terms of the day-to-day practices of aid, sovereign authority is in fact the basis of both the granting and receipt of aid. For donors, often quite elaborate procedures and rules exist to authorize the granting of aid. In the case of aid from the UK, this includes Acts of Parliament in 2002 and 2006 and in the USA a series of Congressional procedures around the allocation of budgets to, and reporting from, USAID to Congress. Furthermore, donors require the identification and agreement of national authorizing agents in the recipient country. For example, the European Union sets out in the Cotonou Agreement with the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) Group of States that ‘The Government of each ACP State shall appoint a National Authorizing Officer to represent it in all operations financed under the multi-annual financial framework of cooperation under this Agreement’ and that recipients shall act ‘in all sovereignty’.34

As Hewitt notes, even the Bretton Woods institutions ‘lack the monopoly of territorial control that the British had, and their membership remains formally equal between nation states’.35 Indeed, the World Bank's concessionary lending arm, the International Development Association (IDA) defines in its articles of agreement that ‘The Association shall not provide financing for any project if the member in whose territories the project is located objects to such financing’.36 In fact, donors like the Bank do not just ‘lack territorial control’, they do nothing to seek to achieve it, nor claim any right to do so.37 Rather the opposite is true. While African policy autonomy may indeed be severely compromised by the aid relationship, the recognition of the right of African states to govern their own societies is not seriously questioned by donors through the aid relationship. Whatever other powers donors have, a socially recognized right to rule African societies is not one of them, nor is it sought: in this fundamental sense this is a non-colonial relationship.

As for aid recipients, many have clear guidelines establishing precisely which ministries and representatives have the authority to act on behalf of the state in aid negotiations and implementation. Indeed one of the effects of the Paris Declaration has been to clarify such roles. For example, Rwanda's government statement on aid policy specifies the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MINECOFIN) as having ‘the lead role in coordinating external assistance and ensuring efficient allocation to activities in line with the national planning processes’.38 MINECOFIN leads aid negotiations but, recognizing the ‘political aspect inherent to many bilateral relationships’, acts in liaison with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINAFET) whose role is to maintain broad policy dialogue with donor organizations.39 Any agreements negotiated by MINECOFIN are specified in ‘a Memorandum of Understanding or similar agreement’ and signed by the Minister ‘for and on behalf of the Government of Rwanda’.40

Other countries have similar rules identifying which part of government has authority over aid deals. In Ethiopia the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development ‘retains the exclusive mandate to negotiate bilateral and multilateral assistance programmes on behalf of the Ethiopian government. It therefore plays a central role in coordinating the framework of aid management and dialogue.’41 Indeed, Ethiopia has a series of forums, committees, and sectoral groupings managing the negotiation and implementation of aid programmes.42 While there may very well be problems of coordination between different ministries and in specific areas of aid negotiation and implementation,43 there seems little doubt that the actor at the recipient end of the aid relationship is a sovereign government acting with the authority that comes with such a status.

Even where NGOs are involved either independently or as conduits for bilateral aid, their presence and actions within a recipient country are subject to the legal imprimatur of the state concerned. Sudan's expulsion of thirteen NGOs in 2009 is a prominent example. The Sudanese envoy to the UN told the Security Council that ‘The decision of the government of Sudan is a legitimate sovereign decision which we will never reverse, and this should not be a issue for discussion.’44 Rwanda is equally explicit, stating in its ‘Aid Policy’:

“The GoR [Government of Rwanda] retains a fundamental duty to ensure that all such [NGOs] – regardless of whether their activities are financed by ODA – act in a manner that is transparent and accountable to the Rwandan citizen. The GoR's regulatory role in this respect is detailed in its Laws regulating the activities of national and international non-governmental organizations operating in Rwanda.45

” Indeed, negotiation by NGOs with host governments, of rights of access, presence and operational conditions, are all important dimensions of the practicalities of aid and they are necessary because such action takes place on territory governed by a sovereign state.

These examples all illustrate ways in which recognition of sovereign rights of recipient states creates the basis through which the aid relationship is conducted – it defines who the actors are and important aspects of their respective roles. However, by doing this, sovereignty also shapes the way in which aid relationships are conducted. Although ‘choice’ may be a rather simplistic way to characterize the complex political processes that go into the decision of a state or government to agree or not agree to an aid deal, it is nevertheless the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ that underlies much else that happens.

The need for negotiation in the first place comes about precisely because any aid programme requires the agreement of the recipient, because that recipient possesses sovereign independence and with it the right to agree or refuse aid programmes. Conditionality, after all, is a means of offering incentives and threats to an independent party to persuade them to act in a certain way because donors cannot instruct them directly. From this perspective, the point is perhaps not so much that the ‘tricky terrain of effecting social transformation “at a distance” without direct local control’ denudes sovereignty.46 Rather it is tricky precisely because the ‘distance’ involved is not simply one of geography but also politics – a ‘distance’ created by political separation, by sovereignty. Imperial fiat will not work in this circumstance.

Sovereignty as a right to rule is therefore critical to the ability of recipient states to exercise agency within the inequalities of the aid relationship. Although some of the ‘aid versus sovereignty’ literature presents a rather uniform (and therefore inaccurate) picture of a one-way exercise of power over politically inert recipients, studies have increasingly recognized the limits on, and the variability in, donor influence and different degrees of recipient ownership of aid policies.47 Even while arguing that sovereignty has been ‘lost’, Whitfield and Fraser claim that ‘African governments almost always have a degree of choice over whether or not to accept aid from a particular source at a particular time’.48 And as donors have discovered, the positive and negative incentives they can use to influence independent actors are at best limited tools. It was recognition of these limits that in part lay behind the moves from hard-line conditionality of the 1980s and early 1990s to ‘post-conditionality’ techniques of influence since then,49 the UK going as far as to state that ‘conditionality which attempts to “buy” reform from an unwilling partner has rarely worked'.50

Tanzania and Rwanda

Tanzania and Rwanda are sometimes presented as exemplars of contrasting relations with donors: Tanzania as a state subsumed beneath donor influence, Rwanda as an example of a state able to retain some control over aid relations. They thus represent something of a ‘hard’ and a ‘soft’ case with which to illustrate the general argument made here. In fact, in neither case do we see a loss of sovereignty understood as a right to rule. Rather, it is the changing use that is made of this right, under changing conditions, that lies behind their fluctuating relations with donors.

Tanzania has been termed a ‘governance state’, a state whose very mode of functioning has been shaped by donor aid agencies, the IMF and World Bank foremost among them.51 Yet Tanzania's relations with donors have fluctuated dramatically.52 Following a breakdown in IMF support in 1980, Nyerere famously decried IMF influence asking ‘Who elected the IMF to be the Ministry of Finance for every country in the world?’53 A period of ongoing disagreements with donors continued until 1986 when Tanzania embarked on far-reaching internal reforms and donors extended structural adjustment funding until the early 1990s. By 1994–5, mounting dissatisfaction on both sides led to another breakdown in relations with donors. At this point the Tanzanian government, in conjunction with the Danish government, instigated a review of aid in Tanzania which became known as the ‘Helleiner Report’ and laid the basis for a renewed ‘partnership’ between donors and Tanzania.54 The improvement in relations with donors that followed initiated the rising status of Tanzania as a ‘donor darling’.55

On some accounts, the length of time over which Tanzania has been engaged in implementing economic and governance reforms in return for aid amounts to a loss of sovereignty by Tanzania.56 Other scholars suggest that such a portrayal obscures the politics of this relationship. First, at no point is there any evidence that donors questioned the independence of Tanzania as a sovereign state; as noted, donors require sovereign states with which to do business. As Samuel Wangwe put it, ‘While the sovereignty of the state was not questioned … the state's autonomy in making policy choice was tightly constrained.’57 Second, the sources of constraint on Tanzania's policy options were only ever partly down to aid policies: wider structural limits on economic development, the impact of oil price rises and recession, internal corruption, and past policy choices all undermined the attempt by Tanzania to resist the IMF's demands in the early 1980s.58 Third, even the decision to accept IMF conditions in 1985 was a choice – other options were debated extensively by different factions within the governing party and other policy circles.59 Fourth, the initiation of the ‘partnership’ era from 1995, and the Helleiner Report which did so much to shift donor policies more widely, represented a change in relations in which the Tanzanian state and government was a key actor, not simply the recipient of external demands. It was its initiative with the Danish government that laid the ground for a different kind of relationship with donors. Indeed, the dissatisfaction that donors had with Tanzania up until this point was in part a reflection of the frustration they had at not being able to achieve the extent of reforms inside the country that they sought. Finally, as detailed by both Wangwe and Harrison et al., these shifts in relations are the product of the combination of external and internal political change; ‘it is in large measure the interaction of aid with Tanzanian politics that have produced this showcase’.60

In post-genocide Rwanda the government's attitude towards donors has been characterized by a ‘healthy disrespect’.61 From the emergency situation at the end of the civil war onwards, the RPF-led regime has articulated a strong national sense of where the country's development should be heading, through the ‘Declaration of Principles’ announced in 1994 to the ‘Vision 2020’ document published in 2000 setting out the country's overall development aims.62 Rwanda did formulate Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers in 2002 and 2007, a development which Rachel Hayman sees as reflecting external influence, through the requirements of the debt-reduction procedures of the World Bank and IMF.63 However, from 2005, Rwanda has sought explicitly to exert greater control over donors, making active use of the Paris Declaration principles to corral donors into a nationally defined framework for external assistance.64 Its 2006 ‘Aid Policy’ statement presents a clear effort by a highly aid-dependent country to address shortcomings in its own aid management architecture as well as aiming at an eventual reduction in aid dependence itself.65 Rwanda clearly expresses the intention to use its rights of decision making with regard to external aid to refuse as well as agree to aid: ‘The Government will decline any or all offers of assistance where it considers transaction costs to be unacceptably high, alignment to government priorities to be insufficient, or conditionalities to be excessive’.66 Rwanda's efforts to coordinate OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donors in line with its policy aims have been relatively successful, even where donors disagreed with Rwandan priorities.67 As Hayman notes, ‘even where some donors have threatened to withdraw aid or indeed frozen aid, the government has pushed ahead on issues it considers to be a priority’.68 In setting out a vision of relations with donors that can hardly be explained as the actions of a ‘post-sovereign’ entity, the country's President Paul Kagame argued:

“To realize our development vision, we in Africa must substitute external conditionality – that is, what the donors tell us to do – with internal policy clarity … [A]mong other things, we [the African leaders] need to learn to ‘say no’ to donors whenever their priorities do not align with domestic objectives and agenda.69

” In fact in neither Rwanda nor Tanzania do we see a process of change driven by the denial of sovereignty, nor is the end product of these interactions a non-sovereign political entity. Rather, sovereignty as a right to rule underpins how aid relations have been enacted. Whether in Tanzania, where donor influence has penetrated relatively deeply, or in Rwanda where this is less the case, both remain sovereign states with the right to say no to external actors.

Authority, control, and liberal aid

As signalled earlier, this analysis relies on a conceptual simplification separating issues of sovereign rights from issues of national political control. In actual political discourse, things are not quite so cut and dried. Indeed, the language of sovereignty is often deployed by representatives of recipient states in contests over national political control, including contests with donors. The argument presented here suggests that we should not take such discourse at face value. Nevertheless, we do need to give some account as to why such contests arise and why the language of sovereignty is used. There are two points that address these questions. First, the language of sovereignty is used because it is a powerful rhetorical resource with which to contest restrictions on national autonomy that themselves threaten the bases of domestic political support for recipient regimes. Second, the language of sovereignty is used because loss of national control over policy is perceived to undermine some of the purpose of sovereignty. However, while both points complicate the account given above, they do not undermine it entirely.

From the early 1980s through to the present day, Western aid policies have been dominated by a liberal vision of desirable political and economic change in recipient countries encompassing changes to the regulative actions of states (privatization, macroeconomic orthodoxy, subsidy removal), the constitutive basis of governmental authority (multi-partyism, respect for human rights) and the processes of policy formation and deliberation (‘participatory’ consultative mechanisms around poverty reduction). Each of these aims connotes a particular, liberal, understanding of how internal authority in recipient states should be constituted and exercised. That is, a state bound by law, operating at arms length from direct relations of production, upholding property rights and contracts and, for some donors at least, subject to electoral endorsement. Despite the rise of a notably illiberal China, and some recent failures of nerve among donors in terms of aid effectiveness, this liberal blueprint still animates Western thinking in the aid arena. Such aims do not directly challenge sovereignty as a right to rule, but do reveal processes by which liberal sovereignty is ‘increasingly embedded within the system of states and increasingly serves as a constitutive norm of domestic and international state power and agency’.70 As such they still constitute a hugely ambitious project of change – ‘nothing less than a Great Transformation in Africa’.71

Such a project has met resistance from some African states in part because it challenges existing political dispensations within those states. While conflict over liberal conditionality should not be portrayed simplistically as one between liberal donors and illiberal Africans,72 nevertheless existing political economies within many recipient states are challenged by Western liberal policy aims. The form of internal rule in African states has been variously characterized as a ‘nuanced picture of complex overlaps, fusions, and accommodations between [tradition and modernity]’;73 ‘bifurcated’ rule;74 or a ‘compromised modernity’.75 While we should be wary of over-generalizations, there is a widespread agreement that African regimes rely to a greater or lesser extent on fusions of economic and political power through clientelist and patrimonial relationships of power.76 Heterogeneity in African politics means there are both barriers to, as well as proponents of, reform in African states, contributing much to the variety of relations with donors that Whitfield and others have detailed. However, donors' demands for a distinct ‘liberal’ political space, separate from direct economic relations, stands as a direct challenge to the bases of political power of many African regimes, potentially eroding avenues of personal accumulation and possibilities for rewarding constituencies of support.77 It is this that provides extensive ground for contests over the three areas of national control identified in Table 1 (constitutional make-up, macroeconomic policy, and wider social and economic development). In such circumstances the language of sovereignty provides a powerful discursive resource for such regimes.

However, such an instrumental account also requires a second element, an explanation as to why the language of sovereignty can have purchase in these circumstances. Even if struggles over national control do not challenge the principle of a sovereign right to rule, they do relate closely to questions of sovereignty. This is partly to do with the challenge they present to the form of internal sovereignty – the principles and practices that establish and condition internal recognition of a state's right to rule – as noted above. However, they also relate to the purposes of sovereignty. A right to rule is desired and defended in part because it promises a degree of national control and resonates deeply within all political discourse but perhaps particularly in states which have a history of colonization. Many nationalist movements were premised on the belief that control over national affairs would come with political independence.78 An absolute absence of national control would therefore mean that much of the purpose of sovereignty is lost, reduced to a merely legal formality. Erosion of areas of national political control therefore are easily connected to claims of a loss of sovereignty.

Such considerations certainly complicate the analytical distinction with which we began. However, they do not undermine it entirely. First, it should be recalled that while sovereignty as a right to rule may be a necessary condition for exercising control, it is rarely if ever sufficient.79 This is particularly so in a world where liberal norms and a capitalist world economy restrict state action. Second, the accounts that emphasize a loss of control due to aid policies often overstate the extent to which donors have been able to dominate African internal affairs. Relations with donors are highly variable and aid has time and again proven to be a limited tool with which to influence internal change in Africa. Finally, sovereignty remains a necessary component of such national aims and still endows those who carry such authority with enormous and unique power. It is therefore never just a formal legal matter: recognition of sovereignty changes the nature of the interaction between African states and external actors and has material effects on the outcome of contests over issue of control. As Robert Jackson succinctly concludes:

“The classical view of sovereignty as political independence is sometimes dismissed as mere legality. Of course it is legality. But legality, i.e., legal authority and right, is not something that is trivial or of little interest or concern to practical politicians. On the contrary, in the case of sovereignty it is of profound interest and concern.”80


Far from being a myth, sovereignty plays a central role in constituting the aid relationship and has significant political impact on the conduct of that relationship. As we have seen, it provides the basis from which recipients can negotiate and bargain, whether the political strategy taken is one of accommodation and collaboration with donors, as at times in Tanzania, or one of more forceful rejection of donor conditions, as at times in Rwanda. It is sovereign states that are the focus of such strategic decision making and political contestation. An analytical emphasis that we find in the aid literature, on a denial of sovereignty, tends to obscure these points. It is not the removal of authority from recipient states but the attempt to influence change in an independent polity that is at the heart of the aid relationship.

The reading of sovereignty set out in this article has important, wider consequences. First, it changes our understanding of the politics of aid relations. The analytical distinction between issues of sovereign authority and issues of control helps to identify more precisely the areas of national politics that aid impacts upon in African states. A focus on the specific issue of the recognition of a right to rule also allows us to see how sovereignty provides the constitutive basis for aid relations as well as the material effects this has on the struggles for control over other areas of national policy and politics. Secondly, this re-reading of its place within aid relations reinforces the centrality of sovereignty as a key institution organizing Africa's international relations more generally. Far from sovereignty being a myth in Africa's contemporary international relations, it is the nationalist assumption of freedom from external control that needs to be critiqued. This analysis therefore also brings into question the bolder assertions that are made about the continuities between colonial and postcolonial periods in Africa's international relations. If sovereignty remains a central organizing device in contemporary aid relations then it reinforces rather than questions the relevance of International Relations to African studies.



  • ↵ The focus of this article is on critiques of Western aid donors and it does not address analyses of relations between African states and emerging non-Western donors.
  • ↵ See for example, David N. Plank, ‘Aid, debt and the end of sovereignty: Mozambique and its donors’, Journal of Modern African Studies 31, 3 (1993), pp. 407–30; David Williams, The World Bank and Social Transformation in International Politics (Routledge, London, 2008); Graham Harrison, The World Bank and Africa: The construction of governance states (Routledge, London, 2004); Lindsay Whitfield and Alastair Fraser, ‘Introduction’ in Lindsay Whitfield (ed.), The Politics of Aid: African strategies for dealing with donors (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009), pp. 1–26.
  • ↵ Plank, ‘Aid, debt and the end of sovereignty’, pp. 408–9 and 429–30.
  • ↵ Williams, The World Bank and Social Transformation, p. 31.
  • ↵ Ibid., p. 32.
  • ↵ David Williams and Tom Young, ‘The international politics of social transformation: trusteeship and intervention in historical perspective’ in Mark Duffield and Vernon Hewitt (eds), Empire, Development and Colonialism: The past in the present (James Currey, Woodbridge, 2009), pp. 109–10, emphasis added.
  • ↵ Williams, The World Bank and Social Transformation, p. 118. Also see Graham Harrison's claim that sovereignty is ‘empirically too provisional and theoretically too contested’ to be of use in analysing Africa. Harrison, The World Bank and Africa, pp. 24–5.
  • ↵ Vernon Hewitt, ‘Empire, international development and the concept of good government’ in Duffield and Hewitt (eds), Empire Development and Colonialism, pp. 30–44; Williams and Young, ‘The international politics of social transformation’; David Williams and Tom Young, ‘Governance, the World Bank and liberal theory’, Political Studies 42, 1 (1994), pp. 84–100; Williams, The World Bank and Social Transformation; Harrison, The World Bank and Africa; William Brown, ‘The Commission for Africa: results and prospects for the West's Africa policy’, Journal of Modern African Studies 44, 3 (2006), pp. 349–74.
  • ↵ Hewitt, ‘Empire, international development’.
  • ↵ Williams and Young, ‘The international politics of social transformation’.
  • ↵ Julian Saurin, ‘International Relations as the imperial illusion: or, the need to decolonize IR’ in Branwen Gruffyd Jones (ed.), Decolonizing International Relations (Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, MD, 2006), p. 31.
  • ↵ Ibid., p. 37.
  • ↵ April R. Biccum, ‘Theorising continuities between empire and IR’ in Duffield and Hewitt (eds), Empire, Development and Colonialism, p. 157.
  • ↵ Antony Anghie, ‘Decolonizing the concept of “good governance”’ in Gruffydd Jones (ed.), Decolonizing International Relations, p. 124.
  • ↵ Branwen Gruffyd Jones, ‘Introduction: International Relations, eurocentrism, and imperialism’ in Gruffyd Jones (ed.), Decolonizing International Relations, p. 5.
  • ↵ Ole Waever and Arlene B. Tickner, ‘Introduction: Geocultural epistemologies’ in Arlene B. Tickner and Ole Waever (eds), International Relations Scholarship around the World (Routledge, London, 2009), p. 3.
  • ↵ Arlene B. Tickner, ‘Seeing IR differently: notes from the third world’, Millennium Journal of International Studies 32, 2 (2003), pp. 295–324.
  • ↵ Harrison, The World Bank and Africa, p. 25, emphasis added.
  • ↵ Ibid., p. 25.
  • ↵ Williams, The World Bank and Social Transformation, p. 36; Whitfield and Fraser, ‘Introduction’, p. 7.
  • ↵ Stephen Krasner, Sovereignty: Organized hypocrisy (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1999).
  • ↵ Janice Thomson, ‘State sovereignty in International Relations: bridging the gap between theory and empirical research’, International Studies Quarterly 39, 2 (1995), pp. 213–33.
  • ↵ Ibid., p. 223.
  • ↵ Robert H. Jackson, Sovereignty: Evolution of an idea (Polity, Cambridge, 2007), p. 16.
  • ↵ For example, see the above definitions from Harrison, Williams, and Whitfield and Fraser.
  • ↵ Krasner, Sovereignty.
  • ↵ As Justin Rosenberg has noted, ‘the conditions of reproduction which define the concrete existence of any given society … always include, by virtue of the bare fact of inter-societal coexistence, those external conditions which are the object of diplomatic management’. Justin Rosenberg, ‘Why is there no international historical sociology?’, European Journal of International Relations 12, 3 (2006), pp. 307–420.
  • ↵ Barry Buzan and Richard Little, International Systems in World History: Remaking the study of international relations (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000).
  • ↵ The exceptional restrictions on the choices facing the Greek government in 2012 and the ‘penetrated hegemony’ of the USA being non-African examples; Daniel Deudey and G. John Ikenberry, ‘The nature and sources of liberal international order’, Review of International Studies 25, 2 (1999) pp. 179–96.
  • ↵ David Williams, ‘State agency and state formation in Africa’ in William Brown and Sophie Harman (eds), African Agency in International Politics (Routledge, London, forthcoming 2013).
  • ↵ See the discussion of the English School in Buzan and Little, International Systems in World History, pp. 104–7, which suggests that ‘Sovereignty only works if it is recognized by other units’, p. 107.
  • ↵ Representation defined here in its general political, not necessarily democratic, sense; see Andrew Rehfeld, ‘Towards a general theory of political representation’, The Journal of Politics 68, 1 (2006), pp. 1–21.
  • ↵ Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Development Assistance Committee, ‘Is it ODA?’ (Factsheet, OECD, Paris, November 2008) p. 1, <> (1 December 2012).
  • ↵ Article 35 and Article 4 of the EU-ACP Cotonou Agreement, respectively; ACP-EU, ‘The Cotonou Agreement, 2005’, 2005, <> (9 May 2011).
  • ↵ Hewitt, ‘Empire, international development’, p. 40.
  • ↵ World Bank (International Development Association) ‘Articles of Agreement’ Article V Operations, Section 1(e), <,contentMDK:20052323~menuPK:115747~pagePK:51236175~piPK:437394~theSitePK:73154,00.html> (2 February 2012).
  • ↵ Here aid interventions are distinct from military peacekeeping/peacemaking interventions, where territorial control is an issue, but even in these cases, the goal of intervention is nearly always the reconstruction of state authority and a fast exit.
  • ↵ Government of Rwanda, ‘Aid Policy’ (Government of Rwanda, Kigali, 2006) p. 10.
  • ↵ Ibid.
  • ↵ Ibid., p. 11.
  • ↵ Xavier Furtado and W. James Smith, ‘Ethiopia: retaining sovereignty in aid relations’ in Whitfield (ed.), The Politics of Aid, pp. 131–55, p. 145.
  • ↵ Ibid., p. 146.
  • ↵ For Rwanda, see Sven Grimm et al. (eds), Coordinating China and DAC Development Partners: Challenges to the aid architecture in Rwanda (German Development Institute, Bonn, 2010); for Ethiopia, see Furtado and Smith, ‘Ethiopia’.
  • ↵ Reuters, ‘Sudan says to never reverse decision to expel NGOs’, 20 March 2009, <> (2 February 2012).
  • ↵ Government of Rwanda, ‘Aid Policy’, p. 9.
  • ↵ Williams and Young, ‘The international politics of social transformation’, p. 108.
  • ↵ Of these studies, notwithstanding other criticisms made, Whitfield's collection is most impressive.
  • ↵ Lindsay Whitfield and Alastair Fraser, ‘Negotiating aid’, in Whitfield (ed.), The Politics of Aid, pp. 27–44, p. 28.
  • ↵ Rita Abrahamsen, ‘The power of partnerships in global governance’, Third World Quarterly 25, 8 (2004), pp. 1453–67.
  • ↵ Department for International Development (DfID), ‘Partnerships for poverty reduction: rethinking conditionality. A UK policy paper’ (DfID, London, March 2005), <> (28 January 2010).
  • ↵ Harrison, The World Bank and Africa.
  • ↵ Ibid. Samuel Wangwe, ‘The politics of autonomy and sovereignty: Tanzania's aid relationship’ in Simon Bromley, Maureen Mackintosh, William Brown, and Michael Wuyts (eds), Making the International: Economic interdependence and political order (Pluto Press in association with The Open University, London, 2004), pp. 379–411; Gerry K. Helleiner, Tony Killick, Nguyuru Lipumba, Benno J. Nudulu, and Knud Erik Svendson, ‘Development cooperation issues between Tanzania and its donors’ (Report of the Group of Independent Advisers, 1995), <> (2 February 2012); Graham Harrison and Sarah Mulley, with Duncan Holtom, ‘Tanzania: a genuine case of recipient leadership in the aid system?’ in Whitfield (ed.), The Politics of Aid, pp. 271–98.
  • ↵ Cited in Gerry K. Helleiner, ‘The legacies of Julius Nyerere: an economist's reflections’ in Godfrey Mwakikagile (ed.), Tanzania under Mwalimu Nyerere: Reflections on an African statesman (New Africa Press, Dar es Salaam, 2006), p. 200.
  • ↵ Helleiner et al., ‘Development cooperation issues’; Wangwe, ‘The politics of autonomy and sovereignty’; Harrison et al., ‘Tanzania’.
  • ↵ Harrison et al., ‘Tanzania’.
  • ↵ Lindsay Whitfield and Alastair Fraser, ‘Understanding contemporary aid relationships’ in Whitfield (ed.), The Politics of Aid, pp. 74–107; Harrison et al., ‘Tanzania’.
  • ↵ Wangwe, ‘The politics of autonomy and sovereignty’, p. 386.
  • ↵ Ibid. Helleiner et al., ‘Development cooperation issues’.
  • ↵ For an account of this by a participant, and of the different options being debated, see Wangwe, ‘The politics of autonomy and sovereignty’.
  • ↵ Harrison et al., ‘Tanzania’, p. 289.
  • ↵ Rachel Hayman, ‘Rwanda: milking the cow: creating policy space in spite of aid dependence’ in Whitfield (ed.), The Politics of Aid, pp. 156–84.
  • ↵ Grimm et al., Coordinating China and DAC Development Partners.
  • ↵ Hayman, ‘Rwanda: milking the cow’.
  • ↵ Grimm et al., Coordinating China and DAC Development Partners.
  • ↵ Government of Rwanda, ‘Aid Policy’.
  • ↵ Ibid., p. 8.
  • ↵ Grimm et al., Coordinating China and DAC Development Partners.
  • ↵ Hayman, ‘Rwanda: milking the cow’, p. 173.
  • ↵ Paul Kagame, quoted in Grimm et al. Coordinating China and DAC Development Partners, p. 35.
  • ↵ Simon Bromley, ‘On liberal sovereignty’ (Unpublished paper), p. 6.
  • ↵ Richard Sandbrook, ‘Africa's great transformation’, Journal of Development Studies 41, 6 (2005), pp. 1118–25.
  • ↵ Harrison's critique of Williams's ‘over dualized image’ has some force in this respect; Harrison, The World Bank and Africa, p. 47. We should distinguish between donors' stated policies, actual donor practice and the character of donor states themselves.
  • ↵ Eboe Hutchful, ‘The fall and rise of the state in Ghana’, in Abdi I. Samatar and Ahmed. I. Samatar (eds), The African State: Reconsiderations (Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH, 2002), pp. 101–30.
  • ↵ Mahmood Mamdani, ‘Contradictory class perspectives on the question of democracy: the case of Uganda’, in Peter Anyang' Nyong'o (ed.), Popular Struggles for Democracy in Africa (Zed Books, London, 1987), p. 83.
  • ↵ Pablo L. E. Idahosa and Bob Shenton, ‘The Africanist's “new” clothes’, Historical Materialism 12, 4 (2004), pp. 67–113.
  • ↵ For a recent study of patrimonialism in Rwanda, see David Booth and Frederick Golloba-Mutebi, ‘Developmental patrimonialism? the case of Rwanda’, African Affairs 111, 444 (2012), pp. 379–403.
  • ↵ See Ian Taylor, The International Relations of Sub-Saharan Africa (Continuum, London, 2009).
  • ↵ Naeem Inayatullah, ‘Beyond the sovereignty dilemma: quasi states as social construct’ in Thomas J. Biersteker and Cynthia Weber (eds), State Sovereignty as Social Construct (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996), pp. 50–80.
  • ↵ Naeem Inayatullah and David L. Blaney, ‘Realizing sovereignty’, Review of International Affairs 21, 1 (1995), pp. 3–20.

80. Robert H. Jackson, ‘Introduction: sovereignty at the millennium’, Political Studies 47, 3 (1999), pp. 423–30

Nigeria's past is a mirror image of its present

Editorial Commentary.
One would be hard-pressed to notice a difference in Nigeria's state of affairs since this report was issued four years ago. Read on!!

Tim Cocks and Joe Brocks. In late 2013, Nigeria's then central bank governor Lamido Sanusi wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan claiming that the state oil company had failed to remit tens of billions of oil revenues it owed the state.

After the letter was leaked to Reuters and a local news site, Jonathan publicly dismissed the claim and replaced Sanusi, saying the banker had mismanaged the central bank's budget. A Senate committee later found Sanusi’s account lacked substance.
Sanusi has since become Emir of Kano, the country's second highest Islamic authority, and has smoothed over relations with the president. He declined to discuss his earlier assertions. Before he was sacked, though, the central banker submitted to Nigeria’s parliament more than 300 pages of documentation in support of his claim. Reuters has reviewed that dossier, which offers one of the most comprehensive studies of waste, mismanagement and what Sanusi called “leakages” of cash in Nigeria’s oil industry. Detailed here, the dossier includes oil contracts, confidential government letters, private presidential correspondence and legal opinions.

Sanusi’s letter and documents do not state whether he thinks the money was stolen or lost through mismanagement. Nor did he make allegations of illegal acts against any specific individuals or entities. Both corruption and bad governance are perennial problems in Africa’s most populous nation, and central issues in elections due on Feb. 14.
Nigeria’s oil industry accounts for around 95 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. If Nigeria continued to leak cash at the rate described in his letter to the president, Sanusi said at the time, the consequences for the economy would be disastrous. Specifically, the failure of state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation “to remit foreign exchange to the Federation Account in a period of rising oil prices has made our management of exchange rates and price stability ... extremely difficult," he wrote. "The central bank of Nigeria is always blamed for high rates of interest,” but “given these leakages, the alternative is a devalued currency ... and financial instability."

That is exactly what has happened. As oil prices have plummeted to around $55 a barrel, half their level at the beginning of 2014, Sanusi’s successor Godwin Emefiele has devalued the naira, Nigeria’s currency, by 8 percent, and raised interest rates for the first time in more than two years.

Nigerian foreign exchange reserves are down around 20 percent on a year ago, while the balance in the country's oil savings account has fallen from $9 billion in December 2012 to $2.5 billion at the start of this year, even though oil prices were buoyant over much of that period. Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told reporters at a press conference in November that a significant portion of that money was distributed to the powerful governors of Nigeria’s 36 states instead of being saved for a rainy day.

Nigerians are rarely shocked by stories of billions going unaccounted for, or ending up with politically powerful individuals. Africa’s largest oil producer has for years consistently ranked towards the bottom of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
Sanusi handed his documents to a parliamentary inquiry set up last February to investigate the assertion in his letter that billions of dollars in oil revenue had not reached the central bank. He told the inquiry that state oil group NNPC had made $67 billion worth of oil sales in the previous 19 months. Of that, he said, between $10.8 billion and $20 billion was unaccounted for.

A spokesman for the president declined to comment on the specific contents of Sanusi’s dossier. He referred to a statement made at the time the banker was pushed out. It said the government “remains committed to ensuring integrity and accountability and discipline in every sector of the economy ... And indeed we look forward to a situation whereby Mr. Sanusi will continue to assist the legislature in their investigations.”

Those investigations include a “forensic audit” of the oil industry set up by Okonjo-Iweala. The audit was given to Jonathan on Feb. 2 and he said he would hand it on to Nigeria’s auditor general. NNPC said on Feb. 5 it had received a copy of the audit, before it was made public. The firm said the audit cleared it of wrongdoing, although it found NNPC owed the government $1.48 billion for a separate shortfall.

A spokesman for NNPC rejected Sanusi's allegations and referred Reuters to last August’s Senate inquiry. The inquiry expressed satisfaction that most of the money not remitted was withheld for legitimate reasons. But it urged the NNPC to remit $700 million that the committee said it could not account for.
Diezani Alison-Madueke, the oil minister who oversees NNPC, did not respond to a request for comment. She told the inquiry at the time that the correct sum for money not remitted was $10.8 billion, which was to pay for subsidies.

The NNPC has consistently said it did nothing wrong. The oil company said last year that Sanusi’s allegations came from his "misunderstanding" of how the oil industry works. The central bank is “a banking outfit ... how will they understand petroleum engineering issues?" then managing director Andrew Yakubu asked journalists. "They are not auditors."

Sanusi’s claims were seen by some Nigerians as part of the historic tensions between the country’s mostly Christian south and poorer, mostly Muslim north. Jonathan and oil minister Alison-Madueke are Christians from the oil-producing Niger Delta in the south. Sanusi is a Muslim from the country’s north, as is Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler of Nigeria who is the main presidential candidate running against Jonathan. The two regions have historically taken it in turns to hold the presidency. Since 2009, though, Jonathan has broken with this tradition.

Sanusi has said any notion there were religious or ethnic politics behind his allegations is absurd. He has declined to be interviewed since becoming the Emir of Kano.
But last April, two months after he was sacked but before he took on his new role, Sanusi told Reuters he worried that the sheer quantities of cash going missing were “unsustainable.”
“You are taking what doesn’t belong to you and transferring it to private hands,” he told Reuters. “The state is captive to vested interests.”

Sanusi’s documents identify three key mechanisms through which Nigeria has allegedly allowed middlemen to channel oil funds away from the central bank. Among the recipients, Sanusi alleges, are government officials and high-flying society figures.

The three mechanisms are: contracts awarded non-competitively to two companies that did not supply services but sub-contracted the work; a kerosene subsidy that doesn’t help the people it is meant to; and a series of complex, opaque "swap deals" that might be short-changing the state.
Sanusi’s concerns around the first of these mechanisms centre on the 2011 sale by Royal Dutch Shell of its interests in five oil fields. The blocks were majority-owned by NNPC. The government, keen to end the domination of the oil industry by foreign oil majors, had been encouraging Shell and others to sell to local firms.

Shell sold its interest in the fields to companies in Poland and Britain. But the new owners did not get the same rights Shell had. To promote local control, the NNPC gave the right to operate the fields to its own subsidiary, the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC). Without soliciting bids, the NPDC signed "strategic partnership agreements" worth around $6.6 billion with two other local firms to manage them.

One firm, Seven Energy, signed for three fields; another, Atlantic Energy, for two. Seven Energy was co-founded in 2004 by Kola Aluko, an oil trader and Christian southerner. Aluko also co-owned Atlantic with another southerner, former oil trader Jide Omokore. Atlantic was incorporated the day before it signed the deals.

Geneva-based Aluko is a high-profile member of Nigeria's elite. He owns a fleet of supercars, including a Ferrari 458 GT2 that he races with Swiss team Kessel Racing. He also owns a $50 million yacht, according to Forbes magazine, and divides his time between a $40 million home in Los Angeles, an $8.6 million duplex on Fifth Avenue in New York, and homes in Abuja and Geneva. A colleague describes him as a "work hard, play harder kind of guy. He’s extravagant. That’s just his style.” Aluko, whose stake in Seven is now minimal, did not respond to emailed questions.

Omokore has also become rich from oil and gas. Forbes has estimated annual revenue at another of his companies, Energy Resources Group, at $400 million. His jet-setting lifestyle is a regular feature in the local press. Omokore could not be reached for comment. Reuters has reviewed the contracts the firms signed with NPDC. They give Seven Energy 10 percent of profits in the three oil blocks it operates, while Atlantic gets 30 percent of profits in its two blocks. The contracts also show that, unlike Shell, neither firm pays royalties, profit tax or duties to the state.
Both companies quickly sub-contracted production work to other operators, according to Sanusi's submission to parliament and several market sources. The companies did not disclose terms of these contracts. Atlantic does not publish accounts, but Seven’s 2013 annual report shows its deal with NPDC helped its revenue more than triple to $345 million.

In May 2013, Nigeria’s parliament threatened to investigate the NPDC contracts because they were not issued through competitive tender. But the NNPC argued no tender was needed because the contracts involved no sale of equity in the oil fields; the probe did not go ahead. Sanusi did not accuse Seven and Atlantic of any illegalities, but he did question why the NPDC chose those companies. His report said the deals’ only purpose seemed to be “acquiring assets belonging to the federation (state) and transferring the income to private hands."

Asked about this, NNPC referred to the Senate report, which found that no-bid partnership agreements are not new. It also said that "it may be good policy to encourage indigenous players by giving them greater participation," but called for such deals "to be conducted in a transparent and competitive manner." Seven did not comment. It says on its website its agreement with NPDC pre-dated the Jonathan administration and included an allowance for taxes. The company says it has invested more than $500 million, more than doubled production from its three blocks, and paid $48.8 million in taxes in 2013. Atlantic did not comment.

The second mechanism Sanusi’s report identifies as problematic is a decades-old state subsidy provided to retailers of kerosene, the fuel most Nigerians use for cooking. Nigeria lacks the refining capacity to make kerosene, so imports it instead. The government then sells the kerosene to retailers at a cheaper price than the import price. This subsidy is meant to make kerosene affordable for the poor. In reality, though, retailers have long hiked prices so consumers pay much more than official levels.

In June 2009, Jonathan’s predecessor, Umaru Yar'Adua, ordered a halt to the scheme on the grounds that it was not working. But the subsidies carried on regardless. The NNPC told parliament last February that it still deducts billions of dollars a year from its earnings to cover it. In his report, Sanusi called the kerosene subsidy a "racket" that lines the pockets of private kerosene retailers and NNPC staff. The report estimated the cost of the subsidy at $100 million a month. It said kerosene retailers – there are hundreds of them around the country – routinely charged customers much higher prices than the government pays to import the fuel.

Sanusi’s report included an analysis of kerosene prices across Nigeria’s 36 states over two years. It found that the government buys kerosene at 150 naira per litre from importers and then sells it to retailers at just 40 naira per litre. Sanusi’s analysis found consumers pay an average of 170-200 naira per litre, and sometimes as much as 270 naira. “The margin of 300 percent to 500 percent over purchase price is economic rent, which never got to the man on the street,” Sanusi wrote. NNPC said in a statement last year that it can't force retailers to sell kerosene at the subsidised price.

The third mechanism Sanusi identified involves other types of refined petroleum products, such as gasoline. Like kerosene, these are also imported. Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil producer but it depends on imports for 80 percent of its fuel needs because its refining capacity is tiny.To pay for the imported products, Nigeria barters its crude oil. Sanusi’s dossier focuses on these barter exchanges, which are known as "swap deals." The idea is that importers who bring in refined fuel worth a given amount receive an “equivalent value” in crude oil.
How that equivalent value is determined is unclear. Sanusi said he was uncertain how much, if anything, is lost in these deals. But he expressed concern at the sheer value of oil that changes hands and the lack of oversight. His report estimated that between 2010 and 2011, traders involved in swap deals effectively bartered 200,000 barrels of crude a day – worth nearly $20 million at average crude prices over the period - for a loosely determined equivalent value in refined products. It is impossible to tell, he said, if all the refined products were delivered, let alone if the terms were fair. “It was clear to us that these transactions ... were not properly structured, monitored and audited,” he wrote.
Sanusi wrote in his report that mismanagement and “leakages” of cash in the industry cost Nigeria billions of dollars a year.

Since the price of oil has fallen by around half since the start of 2014, such losses are even more significant. As it approaches elections, Nigeria faces plummeting oil revenues and a lack of buffers to shield the economy. Construction projects are on hold and the government is struggling to pay its sizeable workforce. Multiple scandals in the oil sector since Jonathan took power have boosted the popularity of his rival, former military leader Muhammadu Buhari. Remembered by some for deposing a civilian government in a 1983 coup and trampling on civil liberties, the sandal-wearing general often promises to "free Nigeria from corruption."

Jonathan, too, says he will “clean up” Nigeria. By using technology and strengthening institutions, “I will solve the problem of corruption in this country,” he told a crowd in Ibadan in January.