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Monday, August 25, 2008

America's Moment

Barring any disaster, Senator Barrack Obama of Illinois will accept the Democratic nomination for the presidency on August 28th 2008. This date is phenomenal. On this day four and a half decades ago, a King revealed his dream. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a nation where his four little children will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. In this election, and in King’s words, “this must become true if America is to be a great nation”.

Millions across the world will watch, and will be moved and numbed with emotion as Mr. Obama delivers his most important speech to America and the world. Without a doubt, the oratory will be skillful and powerful.

This moment comes through great toil and inspiration. Senator Obama ran a splendid campaign. Using the internet and his experience in community organizing the Obama campaign harnessed unprecedented energy and donations of a legion of supporters in nearly every state.

Political pundits have lauded the choice of Senator Joe Biden of Delaware as Mr. Obama’s running mate. In Obama’s word’s Joe Biden gets it! Joe Biden connects well with the working-class and the Catholics, groups that most Democrats and especially Senator Obama have immense trouble connecting with. Joe Biden also brings tremendous foreign policy experience to the ticket.

Senator Obama has very little Washington experience but full of promise and potential. He is truly in step with the problems that will confront America and a globalized world in the years to come.

As the New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote, Senator Obama is “unconnected with the tired old fights that constrict America’s politics. Obama is in sync with the 21st century.

In his remarks on Monday at the DNC in Denver, Senator Edward Kennedy said “Barack Obama will close the book on the old politics of race and gender and group against group and straight against gay”.

Oprah Winfrey in her endorsement of Obama said “He is the one”.

After Iraq, Katrina and an economy in crisis, this election is the Democrats to give away to Senator John McCain. But after a long and bitter primary contest that saw Mrs Hillary Clinton lose to Barack Obama, the Democrats must unite behind the Obama/Biden ticket.

This is America’s moment!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Are the poor really poor?

ASome basic assumptions have dominated the discourse on development assistance and poverty reduction among rural communities:

i) Poor communities are poor because they lack resource. Hence, aid is viewed as a substitute for locally generated resources;

ii) Aid to poor communities for specific projects, typically infrastructure, would reduce poverty.

The notion that poor countries and communities are poor is misguided. More of than not, poor communities are asset-rich and capital poor. Local capital formation is constrained by dysfunctional markets and lack of appropriate institutional and financial service arrangements.

Poor communities might be rich if we factor in trapped assets. All forms of foreign investment in poor communities whether through FDI or philanthropy are but a fraction of the potential for capital that is trapped in these communities.

We must begin to see the poor as “undercapitalized and unsupported entrepreneurs,” and view poverty as the absence of capital markets and growth. Key to the evolution of capital markets is the need for a transparent market for capital, knowledge, land and labour. Ownership and transfer of ownership must be enforced. Under such a system, a market-oriented ecosystem will emerge. A market-oriented ecosystem is platform that permits private businesses and civil society actors to co-create wealth in a symbiotic relationship.

I believe that attention must shift towards building market-based ecosystems for broad-based sustainable growth and wealth creation. Only then can we tap into the vast and trapped resources, innovation, enterprise and purchasing power of local communities.

What is needed is the capacity to bring the largest segment of smallholder farmers to the market system. With assured markets and competitive prices, local capital poor communities can increase their productive capacity and mobilize the essential capital and local or international investments to free the vast trapped resources.

The private sector, in its quest to leverage smallholder agricultural production and gain market access, can invent novel systems depending on the nature of the production and market for the crop.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Science and Society: The pendulum phenomenon

When research and findings touch on issues of public interest the news media and commentators of all stripes dig in. Under incessant comment and analysis, contradictory conclusions can cause news coverage and reporting to swing from one extreme to another, creating a kind of journalistic pendulum for the reading public.

This has been true for decades in the coverage of HIV/AIDS and other globally significant health concerns. But more recently this pendulum phenomenon has been glaringly manifested in the climate change and global warming debate.

Incongruent findings have been generated in multitudes. However, scientists see disputation as the path to discovery and knowledge. What is worrisome is the haemorrhage of publication of inchoate findings in highly visible and accessible media. Each new paper seems to repudiate something that was emphatically asserted in a previous paper.

The general public does not view this as the hard and narrow road that leads inevitably to dispassionate scientific understanding but as a proliferation of contradictory opinions.

There is growing evidence that the general public is divided and confused over what is happening and what action is needed. But scientists have pointed a finger elsewhere. They have blamed energy-dependent industries and the popular media for the paralysis on climate policy. But more often than not, the science community fails to differentiate between what is well understood and what is tentative.

Part of the problem also is that news media reports are often marred with reinforcing loops of sound bites that often oversimplify complex findings. What is needed is for scientists to work with journalists to report, with clarity, the evidence-base behind new advances.

Reporters have also been blamed for sacrificing accuracy for impact. Words that scientists use to express uncertainty are often omitted to give stories more sting. At a time when specialized reporting is declining and instant opinion is growing, scientist must take responsibility for communicating.

Scientist must take their message straight to the public. To dampen the pendulum phenomenon, scientist must address the implication or “so what? of their findings, instead of “farming” this out to reporters and politicians.

Momentous scientific issues of should be explored in an on-going fashion rather than in response press releases and peer reviewed journal publications. The Internet provides an unprecedented opportunity for the scientific community to re-take and guide science communication.

One would hope that an argument back with solid scientific evidence and communicated will clarity will prevail.

But ultimately, the general public must rise to the occasion with regard to policy and scientific literacy. This must be demonstrated in terms of commitment to education and strong and a listening political leadership.


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