This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Thursday, December 31, 2009
According to leading economists, the dominant underlying force propelling China's growth is the continued migration of people from the agricultural sector to the more modern economy - industry and services.
A transition of surplus labour from agriculture to industry and services would increase efficiency and align the Chinese economy with OECD. Thanks to the economic downturn, China’s stimulus package has produced much needed infrastructure that will buttress future growth.
But in the long run, China must carefully steer its economy away from reliance on cheap exports towards domestic consumption to make its roaring surge more sustainable, and forestall a Japan like bubble.
How China will spend this new capital remains an open question. China’s record as an ethical and responsible actor on the world stage is not inspiring. For instance, China maintains that “Western Style” democracy does not suit Africa. China supports despotic regimes in place like Zimbabwe; it has no qualms about doing business with murderous leaders such as Sudan’s Bashir. In October 2009, China struck a $7 billion deal on minerals and infrastructure with Guinea's military junta.
My sense is that as China waxes and the West wanes, the modest democratic and human rights gains in most of Africa could founder. Buoyed by “no strings attached” cash from China, a new wave of African dictatorships could emerge.
Friday, December 25, 2009
Glenn Hubbard and William Duggan both of Columbia Business School are the authors of this new addition. Their central thesis is aid for business development through the private rather than the public sector, welfare programmes. Aid for business they argue, has been the key to economic development in countries that have grown fast, but it is only rarely the principal focus of development aid.
Microfinance is increasingly the best anti-poverty programme in the developing world. However it has not received the support in deserves from aid agencies or governments in developing countries.
Hubbard and Duggan point out the Marshall Plan was used to provide resources for local businesses in post-war Europe. They advocate for a new Marshall Plan for poor countries, with aid (capital) flowing directly to private local businesses who in turn build companies and create wealth. C. K Prahalad and William Easterly have made similar arguments.
But is the well heeled aid industry ready for reform? Does Africa have the requisite entrepreneurial and skilled labour to harness massive capital flows to business?
I was born and grew up in a little village in Nyakach, 60 km south west of Kisumu. The delight was the new clothes and shoes. Christmas was always new, colourful and joyful. The Christmas service was always long. The nativity sermon delivered in the sweltering mid-day of hot December in a jam parked little church.
I have changed. Today the delight of new clothes and the excitement of the large and sumptuous Christmas meal is no more. But I see tons of happy kids in colourful splendour. And my kids ask to go out. I see adults too, consumed by the fire of indulgent consumption.
The magic of Christmas is enduring, unchanging.
In palaces or the Vatican or in the dark huts in the neglected corners of the world, it is Christmas. Some things are truly shared. Rich or poor. Shepherd or wise men.
The juxtaposition and coexistence of humility and majesty in the nativity of Jesus is awesome. This must teach us something about ourselves.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Low height-for-age or stunting is a strong indicator of hunger and its key determinant, poverty. Stunting indicates the cumulative effects of inadequate nutrition and poor health conditions that result from endemic poverty.
A recent UNICEF report Tracking Progress on Child and Maternal Nutrition, reveals that a staggering 195 million children under five years old, 90 % of whom are in Africa and Asia, suffer from the debilitating impact of stunting attributable to hunger and malnutrition. Hungry and malnourished children struggle to withstand illnesses such as pneumonia and diarrhea. And often, the illness prevails. Hence undernourishment is an important underlying cause of child mortality.
The children who survive may become trapped in a vicious cycle of incessant illness and faltering growth-usurping their physical health, irretrievably damaging their development and their cognitive capacities, as well as impairing their productivity as adults.
The UNICEF report shows that the health of a child is inextricably linked to the health of the mother. Women whose nutritional status was poor when they conceived or who didn’t gain enough weight during pregnancy may deliver babies with low birth weight. These infants may be susceptible to infectious diseases and as adults may face a higher risk of chronic illness such as heart disease and diabetes. The report underscores the critical importance of the first 1,000 days from conception for a child’s development. Within this window, nutritional deficiencies can reduce the ability to fight and survive disease, and damage social and mental aptitude.
The report notes that there is a much better understanding of the programme strategies and approaches to improve nutrition, based on sound evidence and improved health and nutrition data. However, progress is slow, especially in Africa where stunting dropped from around 38% to 34% between 1990 and 2008. In Asia the prevalence of stunting dropped from about 44 per cent in 1990 to an estimated 30 per cent in the same period. Asia’s relatively rapid progress is strongly associated with rapid economic growth in countries like China, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia.
In Africa, more children may become undernourished due to persistent poverty, adverse weather, rapid increase in food prices an increasing land degradation and decline in agricultural productivity.
Renewed commitments on food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture must therefore be a critical part of a wider global and national agenda to address the coupled problems of poverty, under nutrition and human development.
Monday, December 21, 2009
The big emitters, China and the United States of America, know what they must do to forestall further anthropogenic interference with the planet’s climate system. But they will not act because they are constrained by economic and political risks.
Was Copenhagen a total disaster? Trying to answer this question will undoubtedly generate more heat that light. But we certainly can embark on sense-making through examining what went wrong while also recognizing the achievements of Copenhagen.
Convening the heads of state meeting on climate in parallel with the United Nations negotiating process was at the heart of the chaos and confusion that marked the final days of the Copenhagen Summit. It was absolutely difficult to harmonize the formal United Nations negotiating process with the informal gathering involving more than 100 presidents and prime ministers.
The two-track nature of the Copenhagen Summit was problematic, contributing to a ludicrous denouement driven by political brinkmanship and economic interests. In the end Copenhagen was held to ransom by a powerful coalition. For instance, despite the support of a critical coalition of developed and developing countries, China vetoed an agreement on 50% reductions in global emissions by 2050 or on 80% reductions by developed countries.
Essentially, the United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa struck a deal and presented the rest of the world with a fait accompli. The EU could have prevented this from becoming adopted as a global climate deal by refusing to endorse it. They did not. Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was enlisted as the champion of France and the United Kingdom as they sought African support for their finance proposal. Zenawi delivered the African Union. The deal was then presented to the greater body of countries on a take-it-or-leave-it basis by small the United States and China.
Questions must be asked about the structure and process of future climate negotiations. The principle that global environmental issues can and should be tackled on a co-operative international basis has taken a crippling blow. It is now debatable whether the UN framework convention on climate change is relevant, or whether powerful countries will unilaterally, or in a small group, decide by how much they are prepared to cut carbon emissions.
But Copenhagen did produce a new beginning with significant and positive outcomes. For instance, the Copenhagen Accord “recognizes” the scientific case for keeping temperature rises to no more than 2 degrees Celsius and that deep cuts in global emissions will be required. The accord recognizes that although socio-economic advancement is the overriding priority of developing countries, sustainable development and a low-emission development strategy are inextricably bound together.
The Copenhagen Accord also agrees that “developed countries shall provide adequate, predictable and sustainable financial resources, technology and capacity-building to support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries”. Rich countries will finance the response to climate change; $10 billion a year over the next three years and rising to $100 billion dollars by 2020. This signals an unprecedented commitment to support mitigation and adaptation actions aimed at reducing vulnerability and building resilience in developing countries.
There is a commitment to establish the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the Convention, to support activities in developing countries related to mitigation including Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD-plus), adaptation, capacity building, technology development and transfer.
Delivery of reductions and financing by developed countries will be measured, reported and verified in accordance with existing and any further guidelines adopted by the Conference of the Parties, and will ensure that accounting of such targets and finance is rigorous, robust and transparent. Similarly, mitigation actions in developing countries that receive international support will be subject to international measurement, reporting and verification in accordance with guidelines adopted by the Conference of the Parties.
Copenhagen yielded no concrete and legally binding agreements. But Copenhagen marks a historic global consensus and represents real potential for progress from post Kyoto. Copenhagen has demonstrated the scale of the challenge we face, as well as what can and must be done through pragmatic coalitions.
The road from Copenhagen will be long. And we must set forth at the dawn of this new beginning.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Many stories will be told for many generations about what went wrong and who is proximately or ultimately responsible for this global debacle. In hindsight it is hard to understand how such a delicate and complex negotiation process could be accomplished amidst the multitude of delegates, chaos and confusion that that descended upon Copenhagen.
Carbon, the culprit in global warming, is inextricably bound with the wealth and might of nations. National interests, especially economic growth and national development, naturally triumph over any notions of ‘good faith’ negotiations and planetary responsibility. It is all about sovereign rights. How much carbon a country spews out into the atmosphere is easily a matter of national sovereignty, entangled with entitlement and national obligation to deliver material prosperity to respective national constituencies. Barack and the Wen Jiabao are merely elected representatives of their nations and must ultimately watch the public opinion needle.
National carbon emissions are strongly correlated with GDP. African countries are the least emitting. African countries have the lowest GDP. African countries are the poorest on the planet. And African societies and fragile economies are the most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming. Yet Africa has contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions. My heart bleeds for Africa. But what has held Africa from polluting its way to progress just like everyone else?
Global warming and its impacts, like all things that have held back and tripped Africa’s march to progress and prosperity, such as slavery or colonization or apartheid or corruption or poverty or disease or hunger or desertification or drought or illiteracy or war have been caused by others (especially the west, and lately China and very soon India and Brazil and Africa’s very own South Africa).
And so, Africa delegates and heads of state descended upon Copenhagen united in victimology, rights and entitlement. The African position was built on the demand that huge sums of money be made available by the rich nations to increase Africa’s adaptation to the impacts of global warming. Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the chief G-77 negotiator and a Sudanese reckons that developing countries need short term financing to the tune of $400-$500 billion annually, including $200 billion in special drawing rights in IMF, to address climate change.
Then enter Judas Iscariot who for 30 pieces of silver urged for scaling down on payments ($50 billion down from $400 billion). Meles Zenawi argued that his “proposal dramatically scales back our expectation of the level of funding in return for more reliable funding and a seat at the table in the management of such fund.” I do not endorse Meles Zenawi stranglehold on Ethiopia’s political space but I think his was a more open minded, realistic and flexible position. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister and African Union spokesman in Copenhagen Meles Zenawi has been accused of selling out on Africa’s interests.
A US-lead initiative dubbed the Copenhagen Accord seems to have derailed Africa’s gravy train. Under the Copenhagen Accord, countries will spell out their pledges for cutting carbon emissions by 2020 by February 2010, rich countries will deliver $30 billion in aid for developing countries over the next three years and most importantly, the accord recognises the need to limit global temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the accord as an “essential beginning”. US President Barack Obama described the accord as meaningful. The Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the conference yielded significant and positive fruits.
But Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping was scathing and somewhat undiplomatic in his assessment of the Copenhagen. According to Lumumba, the draft text of the accord “asks Africa to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact in order to maintain the economic dominance of a few countries. It is a solution based on values, the very same values in our opinion that funnelled six million people in Europe into furnaces”. Equally disappointed but much less vitriolic were the small island states such as the Maldives and Tuvalu. Venezuelan delegate, Claudia Salerno Caldera thought the outcome a coup d’état against the authority of the UN.
Why does Africa think climate change compensation payout is the universal panacea that will solve the deep socio-economic and ecological crises wrought by decades of corruption, ineptitude and misrule? Similar cash transfers (handouts or aid) have been made to Africa for HIV/AIDS relief, universal primary education and child and maternal health intervention. The evidence is that this model only benefits a kleptocratic political and business elite. There is so much Africa can and must start doing now to ameliorate the effects of global warming that does not need external financing. These actions include panting trees, water storage, breeding for drought tolerance and better coordination and disaster preparedness.
Africa now has an excuse and something and someone to blame for all of its ills. Copenhagen and Meles Zenawi, Judas Iscariot.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
I have just been looking at some data from Arusha Municipality in northern Tanzania which show that out of 259 infant deaths in 2008, 159 (61%) were caused by pneumonia. Infant deaths attributable to malaria were 60 (23%). This seems to me like a classical case of a neglected disease.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
This revolution will not be delivered by just high yielding varieties and fertilizers and irrigation. This is what brought about the first Green Revolution in Asia and Latin America. Jeff Sachs and Pedro Sanchez have previously suggested a “uniquely African Green Revolution”
A Green Revolution, second or uniquely African, needs a rethinking of farming systems, new institutions (especially financial, social and knowledge systems). And yes, genetically modified crops.
Hundreds of millions of Africans, and maybe a billion, in the not so distant future, depend upon diminishing and nutrient depleted farmlands to feed their families and earn an income. So as long smallholder farmers are food insecure and cash strapped the world will witness hunger, malnutrition and poverty of unprecedented proportions.
The challenge really is to produce sufficient food to feed a burgeoning population in nutrient poor, perched postage stamp size parcels of land that litter the African country side.
Yes we need crops and livestock that can thrive in drought; crops that can survive floods, crops that resist pests and diseases, livestock that can resist Rift Valley Fever, resist pests and diseases. Africa needs higher productivity on more impoverished soils and in more severe weather. Where would one look for crops and livestock that fit this bill?
Genetic modification can deliver drought tolerant, disease/pest resistant and high yielding crops and livestock. The award of the 2009 World Food Prize to Ethiopia’s Gebisa Ejeta is truly laudable. Ejeta is a breeder who has developed drought-resistant varieties of sorghum. Bill Gates recently gave $10.4 million to NEPAD and Michigan State University to develop an African Centre to help African countries develop appropriate regulatory systems for biotechnology. In addition, Gates has committed $120 million to initiatives ranging from broadcasting farming tips to smallholder farmers to producing stress-tolerant varieties of sweet potatoes.
But Africa must not just rely on Gates. African governments, universities and research organizations as well as the ubiquitous CGIAR must step up to the plate. These entities have gobbled trillions of dollars over the last four decades in the name of smallholder, resource poor farmers. Now is the time to show for this colossal global public investment.
For Sub Saharan Africa, the war against hunger, poverty and malnutrition will be won or lost on the small farm.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
However, true to his character of self deprecation, the 2009 Nobel laureate said “I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honoured by this prize, men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.”
There has been an intense out pouring of two kinds of reactions. Congratulating and ridiculing President Obama on winning the world’s highest honour. The Iranians think it is “hasty”. Nicholas Sarkozy thinks it marks “America’s return to the hearts of the world’s peoples”. RNC chairman Michael Steel said “The real question Americans are asking is, ‘What has President Obama actually accomplished?”
Rush Limbaugh and the Taliban think the President is a “worldwide” joke. Rush Limbaugh said that this award was more embarrassing than loosing than Chicago loosing the 2016 Olympic bid. I take Rush Limbaugh more seriously than Mr. Steel. Limbaugh is after all, the moral guide of the conservative movement. He is the moral conscience and protector-in-chief of the GOP. Maybe Limbaugh is the leader of the GOP. I am sure Michael Steel will disagree. But Steel no longer thinks Limbaugh’s rhetoric “incendiary and ugly”. Limbaugh rules RNC. It is Limbaugh’s ordained role to win America back for Americans. He speaks for the folks.
Limbaugh dropped out of South Missouri State University after only two semesters. According to his mother, “he flunked everything”. But thank God, college education does not matter in America. Limbaugh was once addicted to prescription painkillers. Not his fault. In 2006 Custom officials confiscated Viagra from Limbaugh’s luggage. But Limbaugh is King of radio. 14.25 million Americans listen to Rush Limbaugh on radio every week.
Rush Limbaugh, I think, is crossing the line in his spite and hatred of President Obama. He said in the early days of the Obama administration that “I hope Obama fails”. In my opinion, Limbaugh and his followers represent the ant-rationalist wing of the American public, the pseudo-intellectual wing of America that relishes “junk thought”, disdains logic and evidence. Limbaugh and is right wing crew believe that having a college degree is elitist, liberal and anti American.
As author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said, what America “must change, is people crossing the line between criticizing the president and tacitly encouraging the unthinkable and the unforgivable.”
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Dr. Borlaug’s advances in plant breeding led to spectacular success in increasing food production in Latin America and Asia and brought him international acclaim. In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Borlaug’s remarks on the occasion of the acceptance of the Nobel Prize struck me as truly profound and visionary.
Here are excerpts of his acceptance speech. “I am acutely conscious of the fact that I am but one member of that vast army and so I want to share not only the present honour but also the future obligations with all my companions in arms, for the Green Revolution has not yet been won….. It is true that the tide of the battle against hunger has changed for the better during the past three years. But tides have a way of flowing and then ebbing again. We may be at high tide now, but ebb tide could soon set in if we become complacent and relax our efforts…. There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort. Fighting alone, they may win temporary skirmishes, but united they can win a decisive and lasting victory to provide food and other amenities of a progressive civilization for the benefit of all mankind”.
In his Nobel lecture he had this to say of the then nascent CGIAR system. “The international centres were developed to supplement national agricultural research, production, and training programs, not to replace them. The centres are but one link in the worldwide network of organizations attacking basic food-crop production problems on a worldwide, regional, national, and local level. The backbone of this network is now and must continue to be the national programs. These must be given greater financial support and strengthened staff-wise to meet the challenge of rapidly expanding food needs for the future”.
I had the honour of meeting him in his capacity as President of Sasakawa Africa Association (SSA). Dr. Borlaug will be remembered in Africa for his leadership of SAA and for his pioneering thoughts on the possibility of an African Green Revolution.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Under Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki, Kenya took a boisterous and dynamic path. Kenya’s path has generated staggering social inequality that has been fired up by corruption, and ethnic strife and impunity. Today Kenya is the most unstable of the three countries. Ugandans lived through a brutal and bloody dictatorship under General Amin. Today Uganda is suffocating under the arrogant, unending presidency of Yoweri Museveni. Tanzania is just emerging from the economic disaster wrought by Nyerere’s socialist experiments.
In 1999, Kenya Uganda and Tanzania resuscitated the East African Community. In 2007, Rwanda and Burundi formally joined an ambitious vision a political conglomerate. But who really wants political federation? Tanzania is not excited, fearing that its economy will be overrun by Kenya and Uganda. Museveni hopes to end his political cap his political career as the first president of the federation. But Museveni is now more concerned about how he will move Uganda’s oil to China. Kenya has expansionist ambitions for its fledgling service sector as hub and gateway to an expanded East Africa economic region that will certainly include Eastern Congo and an independent Southern Sudan.
Paul Kagame hopes that an East Africa federation might open up markets and export corridors for Congo’s vast wealth through Rwanda. China, the most voracious external actor is hungry for Congo’s timber and mineral resources shipped via East Africa, hopefully through the port of Lamu. I am sure India is looking. But what is in the federation for Burundi?
But there is palpable skepticism. The idea of a federation might just fizzle out. It is hard to see how a federation will gel when a local trader cannot move onions across the border at Namanga. Raila’s marauding followers who love to vent on the railway really get on Museveni’s nerves. Then there is the needles red tape and epileptic negotiation processes in Arusha.
I am amenable to surprise. Maybe we pull this off.Who knows?
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
New York/Nairobi/Paris, 31 August 2009 - The world's oceans and seas-covering 70 per cent of the planet - may soon be subject to the same kind of systematic scientific scrutiny as the globe's land surface.
Governments are meeting today to consider a series of options and recommendations on establishing just such a monitoring process. It is aimed at plugging significant and serious knowledge gaps that are undermining humanity's ability to better manage a wealth of natural and nature-based marine resources.
If governments give the process the green light, the first globally integrated oceans assessment could be delivered under the auspices of the United Nations by 2014.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "The marine environment is facing a multiplicity of challenges. Some, such as the decline in fish stocks and land-based sources of pollution are persistent ones. Others, from the emergence of 'dead zones' and the impacts of climate change including acidification are rapidly emerging ones. A systematic assessment process is long overdue. This meeting in New York represents a tremendous opportunity for governments to put the best marine science at their service in order to make the best management choices over the coming years and decades."
"Significantly, a very real concern has been acknowledged today with the launch of the Assessment of Assessments report - the first ever comprehensive overview of the marine assessment landscape - which also considers socio-economic factors. The report is a clear signal that the world needs a more inclusive approach on its oceans and resources. It provides a framework and options for how this can be done," said Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
It was interesting to watch and listen to Mrs. Clinton during her first trip as US Secretary of State. Her message was unambiguous. She drew the line. America will not tolerate corrupt leaders. America wishes to see free and fair elections in Africa. She warned that official sleaze poses an existential challenge to African states. From Ellen Johnson Sirleaf it was high praise for fiscal discipline and rapid economic progress. In recognition of the democratic leadership, President Obama honoured Ghana with his first visit to Sub-Saharan Africa. The Obama administration is walking the talk of his inaugural message “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist”.
All of this is great. America is a force of good, generally. America means well. But the solution to Africa’s problems must be sought beyond African capitals and beyond state houses and beyond UN resolutions and beyond indictments for war crimes. There is everything hateful about a vast majority of African leaders. They suffer from a kind of disease. A disease that is deep and infectious. It is a contagious “big man disease” that is passed from one leader to the next.
My sense is that this disease is congenital. It is a deep structural defect in the fabric of African societies. It is a complex syndrome of impunity, greed, a total disregard for accountability and respect for basic human rights and dignity. I see mild forms, benign forms of the big man disease all around me. I see these syndromes among ordinary citizens. I mean, the not so powerful everyday kind of folks. This disease presents at a queue in a bank hall, on the side walk, on the roads, at the outpatient waiting room. I see this despicable display of selfish, raw greed and foul spirit at a church parking lot on Sunday.
The African people are willing accomplices in this orgy of misrule and misery. I recall the palpable outrage of the British voting and tax paying public when the claims scandal in the House of Commons first broke. Resignations and apologies from MPs were swift. In Africa, outrage at official theft or abuse of office is feeble and innocuous. We venerate the corrupt. The reason we elect leaders is so they can steal and share the booty with us.
Friends of Africa must now speak directly to the African people. Only the African voting public has the power to re-shape Africa’s destiny. I believe that citizens of African leaders are a creation of their respective societies. As an African I dare say that our values, our ideals and our aspirations have watered the fields of impunity and murderous greed.
Africans must rise up, dust themselves up, begin to value their own freedoms, demand accountability for their taxes and hold their leaders to account for the decisions they make on behalf of the voters. Africans must demonstrate to the world that the government of the people by the people and for the people has not perished from the continent. This must become true for the African people to take their rightful place among other great cultures and civilizations.
So to all friends of Africa, let us unite and call all Africans to action. Agency and consequence is in the hands of Africans. In a large part, the problems of Africa have been caused by Africans. These problems need African solutions. These problems must be solved by Africans. Our good and admirable friends like Mrs. Clinton can only wish us well.
Choose today Africans, how you will be governed.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Enserick notes that “with HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, and a host of other diseases competing for attention, influenza has never been high on most African countries' priority lists, and getting a handle on the spread of influenza viruses in Africa has long been problematic because laboratories and surveillance have been lacking”.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
All members of IUSS are invited to examine these six papers, and to participate in the Vote for Best Paper. To vote send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Best Paper 2008″ in the subject line.
You should indicate your order of preference for all six papers. Please list all the papers by number in order of preference, with the paper you regard as the most worthy winner listed first.
The vote will end at midnight (Sydney time) on 15th August 2009, and the result will be announced and presented at Pedometrics 2009 in Beijing 26-28 August 2009. We are very grateful to David for his thorough and industrious approach to assembling these nominations, and urge readers to participate in the process by reading the papers and voting.
We are grateful to the publishers of all papers nominated “Best Paper in Pedometrics 2008” for making these papers freely available during the period of the vote.
The six finalists, sorted by journal title and reference are:
(1) Brus, D.J., Bogaert, P. and Heuvelink, G.B.M., 2008. Bayesian Maximum Entropy prediction of soil categories using a traditional soil map as soft information. European Journal of Soil Science, 59(2): 166–177.
(2) Brus, D.J. and Noij, I.G.A.M., 2008. Designing sampling schemes for effect monitoring of nutrient leaching from agricultural soils. European Journal of Soil Science, 59(2): 292–303.
(3) Awiti, A.O., Walsh, M.G., Shepherd, K.D. and Kinyamario, J., 2008. Soil condition classification using infrared spectroscopy: A proposition for assessment of soil condition along a tropical forest cropland chronosequence. Geoderma, 143(1-2): 73–84. [PDF]
(4) Grinand, C., Arrouays, D., Laroche, B. and Martin, M.P., 2008. Extrapolating regional soil landscapes from an existing soil map: Sampling intensity, validation procedures, and integration of spatial context. Geoderma, 143(1-2): 180–190. [PDF]
(5) Lark, R., 2008. Some Results on the Spatial Breakdown Point of Robust Point Estimates of the Variogram. Mathematical Geosciences, 40(7): 729–751. [PDF]
(6) Zimmermann, B., Zehe, E., Hartmann, N.K. and Elsenbeer, H., 2008. Analyzing spatial data: An assessment of assumptions, new methods, and uncertainty using soil hydraulic data. Water Resour. Res., 44: W10418. This paper can be accessed via the following link.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
The African heads of state gathered in Libya justified their action as retaliation against ICC for its failure to grant a one year suspension of Al Bashir’s warrant of arrest.
That this band of disgraceful heads of government acted in this manner is not without precedent. For decades, the African Union and its predecessor, the OAU, has shown unfailing disdain for the plight of the African people.
This African leaders’ summit meeting held in the Libyan city of Sirte also announced the creation of the African Union Authority, a body that would coordinate foreign affairs, trade and defence policies on the world's poorest continent. This is another pie in the sky. Like NEPAD, it will never amount to much.
It is hard to believe that this band of irredeemably incompetent leaders, going by their record in their respective states, can deliver any vision for progressive leadership for a continent as complex, fractious, hungry and poor as Africa. They must first deliver tangible goods and progress for their citizens before they can claim any pan Africanist credentials.
Against the backdrop of the worst economic recession, deepening poverty and hunger made worse by a vicious tail wind of climate change and rapid population growth, this past AU summit has achieved zero. Colonel Qaddafi is just what he is, flamboyant and grand standing.
Significantly, this summit has demonstrated who these leaders really serve. Themselves.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is president emeritus and professor of public services at the George Washington University. He is also chairman of the Higher Education Practice at Korn Ferry International.
"The M.A. degree is neither fish nor fowl nor good red meat. I had a classmate at Columbia who remained on after receiving his B.A. degree to earn an M.A. degree on a fellowship while waiting for his fiancé to graduate from Barnard. Another classmate who started a Ph.D. program was informed after a year that he had no real promise but if he went away quietly they would give him a booby-prize: the M.A. He became an M.D.
What’s so bad about reading a lot of French literature at someone else’s expense?
Does earning an M.A. (distinguishable from an M.B.A. or other professional degree) make any sense from a cost-benefit point of view? It does allow one to upgrade one’s alma mater. If you originally matriculated at a college you are vaguely uneasy about, taking an M.A. at a more elite institution allows you to kick down and kiss up, henceforth letting you tell people you “went to school” in New Haven. And it does, of course, ornament a resume.
Earning an M.A. degree can be fun; it can provide knowledge; and can stretch the imagination. A cynic might conclude that the M.A. degree is the stepchild of the university community, is increasingly a commodity offered by universities in order to earn tuition dollars devoted to the Ph.D. programs. But in the marketplace, it adds to one’s personal narrative. It makes one more interesting.
Degree inflation increasingly obliges more degrees to compensate for the devaluation of earlier degrees. Jobs that once were filled by high school graduates and later by college graduates today often require a master’s degree. This is largely optical, but one deals with the world he or she lives in. Still, just as the double and triple undergraduate major is a form of gilding the lily, a form of product enhancement, meant to seduce the hiring partner or the human resources director, the growing interest in the M.A. reveals the inadequacy of the baccalaureate."
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Clergy, communities and politicians, have organized and mobilized to renew our sense of common purpose. We have deployed song, drama, sport, sermon and supplication to summon our better angels.
But we cannot just sing, dance, pray, preach or legislate our way to national accord. Thomas Friedman, author and New York Times columnists, writes about a Goldberg, a pious Jew whose daily supplication to win a lottery drew God to speak out “Goldberg, give me a chance! Buy a ticket”. To the millions of patriotic, peace loving and pious Kenyans who congregate in churches, mosques and temples, to the countless pupils who recite poetry and dramatize one nation, to the politicians who urge peace and unity, and to the clergy who pontificate love and forgiveness, the heavens have parted and I can almost hear God softly whisper “Kenya, give me a chance! Buy a ticket”.
We are all united in angst about what is genuinely a worrying social and political situation in the country today. Ethnic suspicion is at an all time high. The political class is gravely incompetent. Civil society is comatose. The leadership of the coalition lacks gravitas, is perfunctory and without vision.
Like the pious Jew, the coalition government wants to win the lottery without buying the ticket. This government wants a peaceful and united country, yet it is unwilling to stand up and do something different. We as a people must stop saying one thing in private and something else in public. Who are we fooling?
Forty-six years after independence we are still governed by a constitution makes the presidency and government a theatre for ethnic intrigue and partisan absurdity. Parliament is an innocuous and sterile ambler that disdains its legislative obligation.
As public intellectuals we will keep on telling the truth until it stops working. I want to speak directly to three communities, the Luo, the Kalenjin and the Kikuyu. Membership in any of these ethnicities is not socio-cultural but political and economic. A large proportion of our discord is contrived by how these communities perceive one another. And these perceptions have perpetrated some of the most mindless, baseless, hateful myths and stereotypes about ethnic superiority.
A vast majority of Kikuyu families are worried sleepless about murderous gangs and a rapacious political, business and land owning class hoping for a Jomo State redo. But they dare not tell. For millions of ordinary Luo people, the illusion of indomitable technocrat and the State House mirage have stymied agency and amplified socio-economic decay. And not the railway line or a rock outcrop. But do they say? For the Kalenjin, it is the waning fortunes of grain-based agriculture and post Nyayo era blues that have inched the community towards the edge, not new neighbours. But will they admit?
There are a lot of level headed people within these communities who recognize that their current path, as communities, is unsustainable. They realize that they need to make some tough choices internally on their socio-economic plight-that is in their long-term interest-but not enough people are willing to recognize that publicly, least of all the so called political leaders.
The Kenyan people recognize that the constant incitement and negative rhetoric and ethnic stereotypes that the three communities have been spinning with respect to one another has not provided any solutions on how we deal with unemployment, poverty, hunger, urban and rural decay, insecurity, degraded soils and drying rivers.
The demeanour of these communities even after the post election madness reminds me of a story about a sloth and two biologists. To test the auditory senses of a sloth, two biologists blasted two high calibre guns simultaneously, a couple of inches from the sloth’s left and right ears. After the twin blasts, the sloth lifted its head indolently and then continued to hang upside-down.
The hundreds dead, Kalenjin, Kikuyu and Luo, did not die in vain. In death they have something to say to every politician who has fed us on the stale bread of ethnic vitriol and the rotten meat of tribalism. They have something to say to every Kenyan who embraces ethnic entitlement and the fantasy of tribal supremacy and rejects the aristocracy of merit, equity and a common purpose.
To the leadership of the coalition, we must say to you that you are on the wrong side of the platform and you don’t have a ticket. This train, Kenya will depart momentarily, to greatness.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
My sense is that all of these groups sincerely want to win the lottery. And with bended knees and expectant hearts they are praying daily that they may win the lottery. But one thing they have all neglected to do is to partake of the pre-requisite ritual of purchasing a ticket. The Arabs, the Jews both want to live in peace. The Jews claim, rightly, that they do not want rockets fired into their bedrooms at night. The Palestinian situation is intolerable. America's national security is vital.
Israel in perpetuity as an enclave in the Arab heartland is not feasible. They will arm to the teeth and have America back them to the hilt but this is not a viable option. And Hamas for all its militancy will not birth the Palestinian state, free and living side by side with Israel. And America's interests are just as far reaching as the terror networks. America cannot defeat or protect itself from acts of extremism.
This is what Obama so eloquently laid out. Obama told the truth as best as he could. But the right wing ideologues in the US and the skeptics and extremists in the Arab world are not convinced that this consensus and trust building approach will work. They do not believe that a pathway that seeks to illuminate the common aspirations for peace is even desirable.
Obama's critics at home say there was too much carrot and not enough stick. The Arabs say he must win their hearts and minds and that they will wait and judge Obama not by his words and but his actions. The Israelis say their security is not negotiable. These attitudes are ignorant and as Obama would put it "on the wrong side of history".
Solving problems in the 21st century will demand collaboration, tolerance and an ability to listen rather than projecting one's own self interest at all times. There is no such thing as an invincible Jew or entitled Arab or a righteous American. We are one people, eternally flawed and irredeemably interdependent. It is time to set aside childish ways borne of centuries old arrogance and hatefulness. It is time to build a global family; diverse but respectful.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
As a fledgling scientist, I feel I must apply all the tools of the trade at my disposal to find that right tenure-track opportunity. But mindful of a modest travel allowance that I must spend this year, I packed a bag, left my son with his capable dad and flew off for some excellent networking adventures.
And, for better or for worse, I would give prospective search committee members a face and a personality to match my CV, should it cross their desks.
I swapped business cards, clinked pints and mentally sketched hypotheses (not always best done alongside beer, as the hypotheses seldom look as pretty the next morning). An excess of late nights and early mornings led quite literally to ‘conference-itis’, as I came down with a cold when I arrived home. Yet my trip was worthwhile. I achieved most of my networking goals, which I can only hope will translate into job opportunities in the near future.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
In the most severe recession since World War II, the global economy is projected to shrink by 1.3 percent in 2009, with a slow recovery expected to take hold next year, according to the IMF’s April World Economic Outlook.
Without naming countries, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF's managing director said, “obviously the crisis comes from an important regulatory and supervisory failure in advanced countries . . . and a failure in market discipline mechanisms."
At the heart of the global financial crisis is the American housing bubble. This bubble has impelled an historic crisis of capitalism. So we think.
In an expanding bubble, belief or confidence in the profit potential was indomitable. Everybody was winning borrowers and lenders, brokers and investors, home flippers, home builders and home buyers, credit-rating agencies and bond salesmen, appraisers, realtors and municipalities, and, far from least, politicians.
The credit performance of mortgage loans was good, with very low delinquencies, defaults, and losses. More debt seemed better. House prices could never come down. Did anybody believe that? The bubble was out of control. The United States is now two and a half years into the deflation of the housing bubble with accompanying defaults, foreclosures, and massive losses to lenders and borrowers, as well as home builders and investors.
This is a monumental crisis, one that will have deep, long and complex consequences. Many theories will be advanced to explain how we got here. One theory that I find most persuasive is by Simon Johnson in an essay titled “The Quiet Coup” in The Atlantic.
Johnson examines the rising power of corporate profits between 1973 and this decade. He observes that domestic corporate profits rose from 16 percent in the 70s and 80s to 20-30 percent in the 90s to a record 41 percent in this decade.
Wall Street was awash with money. Wall Street's political power soared. Wall Street and Washington merged. Enabling legislation was designed to enhance freedom and power of corporate finance. Regulations separating commercial and investment banking were repealed. There were major increases in the amount of leverage allowed to investment banks.
Given that in the buildup to the recent global economic meltdown hedge funds had been leveraging their deals by ratios of 30-to-1 i.e. borrowing $30 for every $1 of their own that they put in. It must seem obvious that massive leverage was a major driver of the financial turmoil.
Stefan Thurner, an econophysicist and director of the complex systems research group at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, and colleagues say their model shows that many of the distinctive statistical properties of financial markets emerge together as rates of leverage climb.
The lure of the Gaussian function- a bell curve that gives little probability to large swings (risk)-gave finance whizzes the illusion that they could accurately calculate risks. But high leverages increased the likelihood of large swings than most bankers understood. In reality, the distribution has “fat tails” that make large swings possible. Thurner and colleagues have developed an “agent-based model” of a market. In their model, if they forbade leverage, the market behaved largely as classical economics would predict.
In a Wall Street Journal article titled “Is This the End of Capitalism?” Daniel Henninger thinks the crisis has less to do with capitalism than with psychosis, a mental dis-ease that dispossess bankers, borrowers and regulators of their capacity to meet life's everyday demands. For sensible bankers, that includes due diligence and risk management.
Capitalism did not torpedo the U.S. economy. Overbuilt housing did. Overbuilt housing tanked the economies of the U.K. and Ireland and Spain. If little else, we've learned that artificially cheap housing sets loose limitless moral hazard.
Two signal events in history are shaping the politics of the current economic crisis: the Great Depression, Reaganomics/Thatcherism.
The Great Depression touched off a raging tension between public and private sectors over who determines the course of a nation’s economy. After 50 years of public sector dominance, Reagan's presidency tipped the scales in favour of free-market enterprise.
The Great Recession of 2009 is a chance for the public sector to control the agenda and reinstate public-sector power. And President Obama recognizes that his administration has a responsibility to “create rules that punish shortcuts” on Wall Street.
It is disappointing that rather than fixing just what the mortgage crisis broke, the G-20 suddenly became a musing on the "future of capitalism."
Saturday, April 25, 2009
What evidence could make us sit up, listen up and heed a warning so dreadful? We are so confident in our ability to conquer and triumph over catastrophe that we most certainly will dismiss any evidence with a wave of the hand or a snooty chuckle.
I have followed regional and global population, economic, food supply, water, land degradation trends and their feedbacks. The singular and interactive effects and feedback of these trends coupled with the ramifications they portend point to a perilous collapse of ecosystems, political sovereignty and societal order. We can no longer dismiss the possibility that localized or global shortages of fertile topsoil, water, food and obviously financial credit, could bring down the global civilization.
My sense is that rapid population growth, emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, persistent poverty, depletion of topsoils, water shortages, rising temperatures, food scarcity constitute irrefutable vital signals of a planet in peril and imminent collapse of global civilization. A precursor to collapse is the increasing spectre of “failed states”, especially in poor countries of the South.
States fail when the sovereign authority can no longer provide food security, personal safety and security, basic social services, fundamental rights and freedoms for its citizens. Failed states often cede, involuntarily, their monopoly of territory, power, law and order to bandits and militias.
From a global security perspective, failed states pose a singular threat to global sustainability and survival. Failed states can serve as deadly epicenters of terrorism, disease, illicit drugs, weapons, refugees and more recently piracy. Somalia has become a haven for pirates. Afghanistan is a leading source of terrorists and narcotics. Pakistan and Somalia are becoming an active cell for Al-Qaeda and a frontier for Islamic fundamentalism.
The influx of Somali refugees into neighboring Kenya, the Islands of Pemba, Zanzibar and Dar-es-Salaam will most certainly turn the Eastern Coast of Africa into the most virulent axis of illicit drugs, money laundering and weapons proliferation. The drought in the Horn of Africa, the collapse of the livestock economy, piracy, famine, the political impasse and weakening state authority in Kenya will have serious implications for political and social stability of the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region.
A formidable risk factor for social anarchy and possible collapse is the youth bulge. When 15 to 29-year-olds make up 20 per cent or more of the population, a society shows a "youth bulge," in the words of Gary Fuller, director of population studies at the University of Hawaii.
Political scientist Samuel Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilizations, has argued that this huge reservoir of young men aged 15-30 provides a natural pool of instability and violence directed both internally.
A society with an overflow of young men simply can't reward such a large number of "sons" with enough respectability, goes the theory. So they find ways to earn a standing. They wage war to earn war heroism. Or they simply use an “ideology” that turns arson, violence and even death into an achievement - into “honour.”
The vast majority of recruits in civil strife are young men, most of them out of school and out of work. It is a formula that hardly varies, whether in the scattered hideouts of Al Qaeda in the deserts of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan, on the Kenya-Uganda railway line or in the killing fields of Kirinyaga and Nyeri or the pirates on board the Maersk Alabama or the marching armies of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
As a preacher from Atlanta said “injustice any where is a threat to justice everywhere”. The survival of global civilization relies on a functional network of ecologically, economically, politically healthy and collaborative societies and nation-states.
This is a pre-requisite to dealing with Al-Qaeda, sorting out Kenya and Somalia, containing the deadly swine flu in Mexico, resolving the global economic crisis and reaching consensus on dealing with global climate change.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The World Bank is set to triple healthcare spending in developing countries to $3.1 billion this year amid signs governments are cutting funding in the midst of a global economic crisis.
A new World Bank report said it would increase its healthcare funding from $1 billion last year, with evidence already that some governments are facing difficulties in affording HIV/AIDS drug therapies.
Preliminary findings from a March 2009 World Bank survey in 69 countries, which offer treatment to 3.4 million people on anti-retroviral treatment, shows that eight countries now face shortages of anti-retroviral drugs or other disruptions to AIDS treatment.
Some 22 countries in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and Central Asia, and Asia and Pacific are likely to have difficulties in providing anti-retroviral drugs over the course of the year.
HIV/AIDS prevention programs are also in jeopardy, with some 34 countries, representing 75 percent of people living with HIV, feeling an impact on prevention programs that target high-risk groups, including sex workers and drug users.
The World Bank also said it was doubling financing for health education this year to $4.09 billion.
The Bank's announcement comes amid an outbreak of a deadly swine flu in Mexico and the United States, which on top of a recession could be devastating to developing economies.
The World Bank this week said it was boosting investment in countries' social protection programs to $12 billion for 2009-10, including for so-called targeted assistance that offers poor families cash in return for sending kids to school and to mothers who take their children for regular checkups.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Andrea Ricci)
Saturday, April 18, 2009
"Capitalism evolved out of feudalism. Although the basis of power has changed from land to money and the system has become more mobile, the distribution of power and wealth has not changed that much. It’s still a hierarchical power structure, it was not designed with ecological sustainability in mind, and it won’t achieve that as it is currently constituted.
The main reason I believe capitalism is not up to the challenge is that it improperly and systemically undervalues the future. I’ll give two illustrations of this. First, our commodities and our carbon burning are almost universally underpriced, so we charge less for them than they cost. When this is done deliberately to kill off an economic competitor, it’s called predatory dumping; you could say that the victims of our predation are the generations to come, which are at a decided disadvantage in any competition with the present.
Second, the promise of capitalism was always that of class mobility—the idea that a working-class family could bootstrap their children into the middle class. With the right policies, over time, the whole world could do the same. There’s a problem with this, though. For everyone on Earth to live at Western levels of consumption, we would need two or three Earths. Looking at it this way, capitalism has become a kind of multigenerational Ponzi scheme, in which future generations are left holding the empty bag.
You could say we are that moment now. Half of the world’s people live on less than $2 a day, and yet the depletion of resources and environmental degradation mean they can never hope to rise to the level of affluent Westerners, who consume about 30 times as much in resources as they do. So this is now a false promise. The poorest three billion on Earth are being cheated if we pretend that the promise is still possible. The global population therefore exists in a kind of pyramid structure, with a horizontal line marking an adequate standard of living that is set about halfway down the pyramid.
The goal of world civilization should be the creation of something more like an oval on its side, resting on the line of adequacy. This may seem to be veering the discussion away from questions of climate to questions of social justice, but it is not; the two are intimately related. It turns out that the top and bottom ends of our global social pyramid are the two sectors that are by far the most carbon intensive and environmentally destructive, the poorest by way of deforestation and topsoil loss, the richest by way of hyperconsumption. The oval resting sideways on the line of adequacy is the best social shape for the climate.
This doubling of benefits when justice and sustainability are both considered is not unique. Another example: world population growth, which stands at about 75 million people a year, needs to slow down. What stabilizes population growth best? The full exercise of women’s rights. There is a direct correlation between population stabilization in nations and the degree to which women enjoy full human rights. So here is another area in which justice becomes a kind of climate change technology. Whenever we discuss climate change, these social and economic paradigm shifts must be part of the discussion.
Given this analysis, what are my suggestions?
• Believe in science.
• Believe in government, remembering always that it is of the people, by the people, and for the people, and crucial in the current situation.
• Support a really strong follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol.
• Institute carbon cap-and-trade systems.
• Impose a carbon tax designed to charge for the real costs of burning carbon.
• Follow the full “Green New Deal” program now coming together in discussions by the Obama administration.
• Structure global economic policy to reward rapid transitions from carbon-burning to carbon-neutral technologies.
• Support the full slate of human rights everywhere, even in countries that claim such justice is not part of their tradition.
• Support global universal education as part of human-rights advocacy.
• Dispense with all magical, talismanic phrases such as “free markets” and promote a larger systems analysis that is more empirical, without fundamentalist biases.
• Encourage all business schools to include foundational classes in ecology, environmental economics, biology, and history.
• Start programs at these same schools in postcapitalist studies.
Does the word postcapitalism look odd to you? It should, because you hardly ever see it. We have a blank spot in our vision of the future. Perhaps we think that history has somehow gone away. In fact, history is with us now more than ever, because we are at a crux in the human story. Choosing not to study a successor system to capitalism is an example of another kind of denial, an ostrich failure on the part of the field of economics and of business schools, I think, but it’s really all of us together, a social aporia or fear. We have persistently ignored and devalued the future—as if our actions are not creating that future for our children, as if things never change. But everything evolves. With a catastrophe bearing down on us, we need to evolve at nearly revolutionary speed. So some study of what could improve and replace our society’s current structure and systems is in order. If we don’t take such steps, the consequences will be intolerable. On the other hand, successfully dealing with this situation could lead to a sustainable civilization that would be truly exciting in its human potential."
My sense is that this is very thoughtful.
I have no problems with capitalism as way to link resources and human ingenuity to produce good and services. Consider the expansion of knowledge and technology that has led to great advances in medicine. The reason we are in deep trouble today is because of the way we choose to measure outcomes of good and services. We should depart from GDP and consider using Net Domestic Product (NDP). So this way we account for the deterioration of ecosystem services such as clean air, fertile soils, clean water, and biodiversity. We must now begin to grapple with measuring the real demand of domestic growth and expansion of the so called wellbeing on national and global ecological resources. We must get the accounting right or we will destroy irretrievably, the production base.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
The results of Obama’s domestic economic policy do not look good at this point in time. Unemployment is at its highest in twenty five years. There is no guarantee that his economic policies will change the gloomy outlook any time soon. Here in Kenya as in many parts of the world things, economically speaking are really tough. Millions are hungry and without employment. Pastoralists are loosing livestock and a livelihood.
But we are envious because in spite of the great pain and distress of tough times, Americans are so proud of their president. Kenyans feel let down and short changed by the political leadership. What is worse, I have the feeling that Americans have faith in Barack Obama. I would love to feel the same way about Mr. Kibaki, Mr. Odinga, the Mayor of Nairobi and my member of parliament.
I suspect that the political leadership in Kenya feels even more envious than I do. I bet they are wondering why they are not universally loved as well as Barack Obama is loved. Some of our politicians have even claimed that they are related to Mr. Obama. Some have even proclaimed “Yes We Can”. But others have suggested that the honey moon will soon be over. And that Mr. Obama is overrated.
Envy is a complex passion. It engenders both love and hate. Some Kenyans hate Barack Obama because of his Luo connections. For some politicians from Luo community, Obama meteoric rise has diminished their place and messiah status. These leaders feel that too many Luo people adore Obama, and with too much ardor, at their expense.
Overall, the optimism and jubilation that the majority of Kenyan people felt during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, election and inauguration have is undiminished.
We had a chance to appreciate Mr. Obama’s political skills, charisma and charm with world leaders at the G-20 summit and with Europe at the NATO celebrations. This new demeanor of America came almost as a surprise. We had grown accustomed with the ways of exclusion-for us or against us-and posturing of the Bush years.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
The embrace of elections in Africa has legitimised leaders like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and Mwai Kibaki of Kenya.
In Kenya especially, democracy has heightened ethnicity and weakened the state. Politicians have strong ethnic identities that undermine electoral competition and obstruct accountable and responsible governance.
In Kenya’s short history of electoral competition, politicians such as Daniel arap Moi, Mwai Kibaki, Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga and William Ruto have all used some combination of violence, fraud and repression to ensure that elections do not undermine their grasp on ethnic power.
As Paul Collier, a professor of economics at Oxford and author of The Bottom Billion writes in his most recent book, Wars, Guns and Votes-Democracy in Dangerous places, democracy with an election-focused facade “has increased political violence instead of reducing it.”
In Kenya elections have entrenched ethnic hatred and stymied social integration and nationhood. Democracy has eroded state authority, crippling its capacity and will to deal decisively with criminal gangs such as Mungiki and host of less charismatic terror mobs.
Democracy has spawned impunity and enabled corruption to fester and impoverish society. Thanks to democracy and the triumph of ethnic nationalism, political leaders are not accountable and worried the least about public opinion.
If democracy was real and elections mattered, I doubt that president Kibaki would use the occasion of a rare press conference to proclaim his marital status on the day of the official release of the most appalling Kenya Certificate Secondary Education results since the introduction of the 8-4-4 education system. You would imagine that Mr. Kibaki would call a press conference because he is outraged that the mean score in Math was less than 20% and that our schools fail too many talented kids.
Newspaper editorials, civil society and religious leaders have all gone to town with a clear message to Mr. Kibaki; sack corrupt ministers and hold fresh elections. But I have news for them. Elections do not matter hence public opinion or voters’ voices for that matter are just a noisy nuisance. And Mr. Kibaki will treat these Pumbavu calls with the contempt they deserve.
We are going on about extra-judicial killings like it all just happened. Police executions are not a new phenomenon. Abuse and misuse of firearms, excessive use of force, extortion and corruption is the nature of the Kenya Police. A government that relies on votes and a fair electoral process to gain power tends to charm rather harm its citizens. This government does not need votes to govern.
I recall the censure motions against Mr. Kimunya and Mr. Ruto. Both of these individuals happen to have a strong ethnic constituency. I will not be mired in the merits of the allegations that were brought against them. But one thing was evident. In the days preceding the parliamentary motions, both MPs went back to their constituencies to drum up ethnic support.
While the two Ministers privatized whatever ill gains, they successfully communized a matter of personal conduct and integrity. The point is that as long as you can fan ethnic passion and dramatize ethnic victimology you are game. With a solid ethnic base, who cares about accountability?
Because elections do not matter, the civil service is bloated, inept and corrupt. There is no incentive to serve on the part of the civil servants. Promotions and access to corrupt deals and networks is pre-ordained by ethnicity. Some departments, faculties and schools in public universities are ethnic fiefdoms.
Where elections do not matter and votes do not count, the quest for power is a duel of life-and-death. Contestants are driven to extremes. Bribery, violence, and misuse of state resources are only mildly foxy as vote winning tactics.
Before the last general elections, the economy had registered the fastest growth in two decades. Progress was spreading beyond Mount Kenya. Kalenjin, Kamba and Luo voted against PNU. Mr. Kibaki was the wrong tribe. With this sort of voting behaviour, there is little incentive for a president to provide national goods.
Kenya is woefully polarized ethnically. Elections as a vehicle for democracy are therefore a curse and an obstacle to accountable and legitimate government as well as socio-economic progress.
To Religious Leaders and Civil Society, elections will not fix a moribund presidency and an ineffective government.
Instead Religious Leaders and Civil Society must lead the effort to build a national identity upon which a Kenyan nation will rise. Only then will elections matter and only then will democracy deliver good governance.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Magicians use Visual, auditory and multisensory sensory illusions in their tricks, but they also use cognitive illusions, manipulating people’s attention, trains of logic and even memory. The authors suggest that that these methods should inform and aid the neuroscientific study of attention and awareness.
An example of a visual illusion exploited by magicians is spoon bending, in which a rigid horizontal spoon appears flexible when shaken up and down at a certain rate. This effect occurs because of how different parts of objects (in this case, the spoon) are represented in the brain. Certain neurons are responsive to the ends/corners of the object, whereas others respond to the bars/edges; the end-responsive neurons respond differently to motion than do the bar-responsive neurons, such that the ends and the centre of the spoon seem misaligned when in motion.
Attention can greatly affect what we see-this fact has been demonstrated in psychological studies of in-attentional blindness. To misdirect people’s attention and create this effect, magicians have an arsenal of methods ranging from grand gestures (such as releasing a dove in the theatre to distract attention), to more subtle techniques (for instance, using social miscues).
The use of cognitive illusions-for example, during brain imaging-could serve to identify neural circuits underlying specific cognitive processes. This could also be used to map neural correlates of consciousness by dissociating activity corresponding to processing of actual physical events from the activity corresponding to the conscious processing.
Indeed, scientists too often become too entrenched in their own circumscribed area of expertise. We need do need reminding that a wealth of insight can be found in unexpected places.
There is increasing acknowledgment by the scientific community of the insights that artists have had about human perceptual mechanisms. For instance, painters intuitively knew about pictorial depth cues and opponent processes in colour perception long before these notions were established in vision science.
-excerpts from Scientific American
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Scientists, philosophers and theologians from around the world are converging at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome to discuss the compatibility of Darwin's theory of evolution and Catholic teaching.
A leading American scholar of Evolutionary Biology, Prof Francisco Ayala, plans to tell the conference that the so-called theory of intelligent design, proposed by Creationists, is flawed. According to Prof. Ayala, the design of organisms is not what would be expected from an intelligent engineer, but imperfect and worse. In Ayala’s view defects, dysfunctions, oddities, waste and cruelty that pervade the living world are a strong indictment on ID.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
The impacts of climate change in Africa relate to several factors associated with the vulnerability of African societies and the sensitivity of a fragile environment. Important factors here are high dependency on low technology rain-fed subsistence agriculture, rapid population growth, limited surface water, resource conflict, poor infrastructure, disease burden and poverty. Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa in general, have a low institutional and financial capacity to adapt to changes.
Reduction of vulnerability to climate change is clearly a more realistic adaptation policy for Sub-Saharan Africa. This vulnerability relates to several critical sectors: the dependency on biomass constitutes a serious energy management issue in Africa, often leading to local deforestation and threatens water supplies and biodiversity. Thus, increasing the range of substitution possibilities for household energy consumption constitutes an adaptation measure. In rain-fed agriculture, small climatic changes often have profound implications on household food security, nutrition and income. Agricultural research promoting drought-resistant seeds or climate-adapted species or water use efficiency, or developing new sources of income for households can reduce vulnerability. Climate change and variability is also expected to lead to changes in disease transmission, range, prevalence and incidence.
Food insecurity and malnutrition are also likely to be further aggravated by climate change interacting with other multiple stressors such as emerging and re-emerging vector-and water-borne diseases, HIV/AIDS, malaria, poverty, conflict and weak institutions weak institutions and limited knowledge and capacity to respond to the impacts of climate change.
Climate change therefore threatens long term sustainability and attainment of the Millennium Development Goals for 2015 in Sub Saharan Africa. Hence, improved adaptation capability will be of must be a higher order priority among Sub-Saharan African countries.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
For nearly a century, public education, forest and water policies were based on the assumption that under any hydrological and ecological circumstance, forest is the ideal land cover to maximize water yield, regulate seasonal flows and ensure high water quality.
Following this assumption, forest conservation and reforestation in upland watersheds was deemed the most effective measure to guarantee sustained water supply for domestic, agricultural and industrial use as well as protecting downstream communities from ravaging floods.
It is not surprising therefore that public policy making in environment and conservation has been based solely on the notion of more trees more water, and in some cases, this has been stretched to the belief that more trees would lead inevitably to more rain.
Some of these earlier assertions are counter intuitive. For instance, forested landscapes are in fact major users of water. Tree canopies reduce groundwater and stream flow through interception of precipitation, evaporation and transpiration.
Previous generalizations about the benefits of upstream forest cover on downstream annual and seasonal flows have been found to be misleading.
Both natural and plantation forest use more water than either pasture or cropland. There is therefore no doubt that even partial forest removal will increase downstream water discharge. Removal of heavy water demanding forest cover could be a rational course of action especially in arid areas, as a means of mitigating the effects of drought on dry season stream flow.
It has been shown that extensive reforestation in monsoonal climates can lead to severely diminished stream flows during the dry season that may engender a suite of other problems, potentially offsetting any advantages gained by planting trees. However, there are significant tradeoffs. Deforestation decisions must therefore be weighed against loss of important ecosystem functions besides water supply.
“Forests and Floods: Drowning in Fiction or Thriving on Facts?” , a report by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) published in 2005 concluded forests can play a role in minimizing runoff that causes localized flooding.
The FAO/CIFOR report further notes that even at the local level, the flood-reducing effects of forests are heavily dependent on soil depth and structure, and saturation levels, not exclusively on the presence of the trees. Impacts of deforestation are evident only at the micro level and in association with short-duration and low-intensity rainfall events.
Hence, the protective role of upstream forest cover against seasonal downstream floods has often been overestimated. This is especially true in connection with major events affecting large river basins.
In Kenya, there is little empirical evidence to demonstrate that recent trends in deforestation in the upland watershed of the Nyando River have exacerbated flood frequency or severity in the Kano plains. We can not demonstrate that the 1997/98 floods in the Nyando River basin were more severe than floods of 1961/62.
The ritual flooding in the Kano plains result largely from a combination of simultaneous discharge peaks of river Nyando and its tributaries, high runoff from the adjacent hills (Nandi escarpment, Nyabondo plateau and Sigowet escarpment), high groundwater tables, lateral river embankments and a lack of storage areas in the lowlands.
Partial or complete removal of tree cover may accelerate water discharge and increase flood risk during the rainy season. But as rainfall duration or intensity increases, or as distance of the rainfall area from the watershed increases, the influence of tree cover on flow regulation decreases.
There are many good and great reasons for reforesting the Nyando and Nzoia river basins or other flood prone basins elsewhere, (e.g. reducing soil loss, keeping sediments out of streams, maintaining biodiversity, carbon sequestration), flood risk reduction or even control is not one of them. Reforestation to prevent or reduce floods and associated land degradation may be effective only at the scale of Katuk Kodeyo gulley basin in Nyakach, Western Kenya.
The scientific debate on the role of trees in the landscape rages on.
In a study published in 2007 by Bradshaw et al., in the journal Global Change Biology, researchers from Charles Darwin University in Australia and the National University of Singapore claimed that a 10 percent increase in deforestation results in a 4-28 percent increase in flood frequency in the countries modelled. These findings were based on data from 56 developing countries.
However, the coarse scale country statistics utilized in this study may mask variation flood frequency and severity due to climate, soils, land use, population density land management and hydrological conditions making it difficult to draw solid conclusions about cause and effect.
Evidence from the Amazon and Yangzte river basins show that reduced infiltration and increased sedimentation contributed to flooding. But deforestation per se did not contribute to reduced infiltration and sediment generation and subsequent flooding. We know that sedimentation and reduced infiltration can be enhanced through better soil and land use management. Again reforestation alone does not necessarily reduce flooding if soil structure and river bed morphology does not change.
The tragedy is that what will grab the attention of policy makers and environmental activists is the claim, without solid empirical evidence, that deforestation amplifies flood risk and severity. A paper published in the international weekly journal of science, Nature, considered the paper by Bradshaw and his colleagues ‘a landmark study that offers strong evidence that forest do reduce frequency and severity of floods.
In Kenya the debate on the link between forests and water resources is perhaps even more intense in the public arena than it is in the scientific arena. All too often, what should a dispassionate debate is mired by stakeholder self interests. The debate is distorted for electoral/political expediency, public policy or for environmental activism.
We all remember too well the state-led humiliation of Nobel laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai in the heady days of her crusade against forest excisions motivated by land grabbing.
“Threats” to the Mau began with the land fragmentation and settlement program of the 1970s when large-scale forest excision began. It would help to look at time-series flow data for all the major rivers that flow from the Mau and relate these to spatial and temporal patterns of deforestation in the Mau Forest Complex.
Today evictions from Kenya’s Mau Forest is based on the notion that uprooting nearly 50,000 smallholder farm families will somehow save Sondu-Miriu hydropower plant and resuscitate Lake Victoria, especially the Winam Gulf, from ecological comatose.
It is for the sake of these voiceless and powerless citizens that we must act now to narrow the gap between research and public policy making and communicate with clarity, the linkages between forests and water to policy makers.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
According to Chris Field, the trend was likely to continue if more countries turned to coal and other carbon-intensive fuels to meet their energy needs. If so, he said the impact of climate change would be “more serious and diverse” than the IPCC's most recent predictions.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
His achievements were outstanding; his science, unmatched. His work transformed our understanding of nature and of ourselves.
He examined the minutiae of nature-the little things of life and life forms. But he also worked on grand ideas such as the abolition of slave trade. He communed with men of high standing and learning. But he also congregated with farmers and pigeon breeders.
Charles Darwin was a quintessential intellectual. He observed, questioned, experimented, incessantly testing and validating his ideas. In 1869, Charles Darwin said to J.D. Hooker "If I lived twenty more years and was able to work, how I should have to modify the Origin, and how much the views on all points will have to be modified! Well it is a beginning, and that is something ….” Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, botanist, explorer and plant collector was a friend of Charles Darwin.
Charles Darwin is best known for The “Origin of Species”. This book laid the foundations of modern biology. In this volume, Darwin presented extensive and persuasive evidence that all living beings-including the human types-have evolved from a common ancestor. Natural selection, he wrote, was the driver of evolutionary change. Sexual selection, he argued, was an additional force, responsible for spectacular features like the tail feathers of peacocks and big cars for grown men (useless for or even detrimental to) survival but essential for getting dates.
His other works include “The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex” (1871) and “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” (1872). I his old age Charles Darwin wrote down his recollections for his own amusement and the interest of his children and their descendants.
As we probe into DNA sequences, we see natural selection acting at the gene level. Our genes bear evidence of our intimate relation with other life forms; from protozoa to ungulates to grains.
Today, advances in research enable us to trace the genetic changes that differentiate us from our primate kin, and demonstrates that significant parts of the human genome validates evolution through natural selection.
It is astounding looking back 200 years, how much Charles Darwin knew, and how far he saw.