On a global scale, remittances are one of the most important financial flows to economic development. The World Bank has found that remittances have reached $414 billion globally, and expected to cross the $500 billion by 2016. This massive amount of money flowing across borders has lead many academics and policy makers to dream up ideas of ways to harness remittances to help develop their countries. In particular, Eritrea has decided on a more proactive and heavy-handed strategy, specifically by taxing their diaspora community as if they were their own citizens. By using strong-arm tactics and threats to the families of the Eritrean expatriate community, Eritrea’s government is trying to expropriate their money.
What has become known as a diaspora tax is a 2% income tax imposed by Eritrean consulates in various cities around the world. This is usually assessed with forms to list monthly or yearly income going back to Eritrean independence in 1993. Unpaid taxes are expected to be paid after a person’s 18th birthday, with students even expected to contribute at least ₤50 ($84). One man in 2012 was demanded to pay 600 euros in “arrears” to visit his mother, and then 800 euros to visit a seriously ill brother. The retribution for failure of payment can be harsh. Family members in Eritrea can be harassed, with seizure of property and black-listing of bank accounts all considered as possible retribution. There have even been reports of people not being able to leave Eritrea unless they paid their diaspora tax.
This is an important issue due to the size of the Eritrean diaspora and migration. A report from the World Bank on migration and remittances stated in 2010 that emigration out of Eritrea was 941,000 people, roughly 18% of the total population. The impact from this migration is massive for the Eritrean economy, with estimates of remittances being 32% of GDP in 2005. This figure lines up with a Chatham House report from 2007 that estimated that remittances were an estimated $350-400 million, which would mean $7-8 million would have had to been gained by the Eritrean government without even considering what would have had to been paid before the remittances were sent. With the mining sector becoming more important, Eritrea may become less dependent on remittances for their economic development. Even so, a report by Berhane Tewolde has shown that over one-fifth of Eritreans live in a house with at least one migrant, of which ¾ receive remittances from abroad, highlighting just how important remittances are for normal Eritreans.
The condemnation from the international community has been swift, both for the practical implications of the diaspora and also the use of the funds by the Eritrean government. Eritrea’s government is widely considered as a highly corrupt country, ranking 160 out of 177 countries in the last Corruptions Perceptions Index by Transparency International. It also has been ranked last in Report Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, behind North Korea. This terrible ranking stems from the fact that 30 journalists are imprisoned, the most in Africa, and the governments control of media while jamming incoming independent broadcasts. They are are also allegedly funneling money to Al-Shabaab in Somalia, causing regional destabilization for the sake of indirectly attacking Ethiopia, Eritrea’s long-standing enemy. The United Nations Security Council has already acted upon the diaspora tax, banning them through Resolution 2023 in 2011. Even so, Eritrean consulates around the world have continued trying to collect the tax, with Canada expelling Semere Ghebremariam O Micael, Eritrea’s consul in Toronto, for continuing to collect the diaspora tax. Micael’s response was that he was only providing “information” on how to provide donations.
It’s hard to tell whether this policy of taxing the diaspora will continue with increasing pressure from the international community. Even the stability in Eritrea can be questioned, with an attempted coup failing in January 2013. One thing that is for certain is that only normal Eritreans are the ones with the most to lose from this policy.
What happens when you combine The Office and development work? You get The Samaritans, a mockumentary of life working in an NGO. The show focuses on the daily operations of an NGO in Kenya called Aid for Aid. It satirizes the bureaucratic inefficiencies of the modern day aid industry and its love of development
The pilot episode introduces the characters and a dysfunctional organization that may be harming Kenya’s development as opposed to helping it. Incorporating a very relevant theme, the first two episodes of The Samaritan focus on how the organization counterproductively applies for its largest grant ever. This is a large part of the daily minutia of actual NGOs who rely heavily on grant funding. In another scene that may hit a little too close to home, Scott, the new country Director at Aid for Aid, uses the words “barriers to change”, “capacity building”, and “political economy” to send a message that says absolutely nothing about Aid for Aid’s mission and goals. While NGOs may use their vocabulary to a little more effect, you can find NGO papers littered with these exact same words. Maybe from an outsider’s perspective what is a norm in NGO culture might seem borderline absurd.
The show’s scenarios and hi-jinx may seem extreme and unbelievable but many of the story lines come from true stories of people working in NGOs. The show’s website even has a contact section where they encourage actual NGO workers to submit their own real life experiences with NGO inefficiencies. The show’s creator, Hussein Kurji, says inspiration for the show came from a story of a real NGO, whose mission was rhino preservation, holding an auction with top prize being a rhino hunt. Does Kurji’s inspiration and plotlines seem absurd? Absolutely. But he says that since airing he has gotten many responses from NGO workers saying The Samaritans is more truth than fiction.
Kurji hopes his satire of the aid industry will create a dialogue about the industry’s shortcomings. What works and what does not work in the aid industry? Already the show’s popularity is growing. A range of media sites such as the BBC, Buzzfeed, and Devex have all run articles about The Samaritans. This show could generate a new conversation about the accountability of NGOs and the increasingly bureaucratic nature of grant making and development work. Are these changes making development work increasingly ineffective, as Kurji seems to propose from his show? The increasing buzz surrounding The Samaritans may be what the development industry needs to start a conversation about NGO accountability.
The Samaritans is a groundbreaking concept not just because of its commentary on the aid industry but also because of its origins. Begun by a Kenyan production company, Kenya is not known for its entertainment industry, especially not television. The preferred entertainment method is radio. But Kurji has worked against the odds to create a show that is not only funny but has a social commentary relevant to both developed and developing countries. Kurji did not even have the money to initially create the show. He relied on the support of 74 Kickstarter backers to fund the first season. The show still needs funding help so it is currently selling the first two episodes online for $5.
It remains to be seen whether the aid industry will address Kurji’s NGO commentary. But regardless, he can be proud in knowing that he has shed light on a topic that has mostly gone unnoticed. As NGOs adopt more business-like attributes, perhaps we in the development community should consider how we are holding NGOs and ourselves accountable for quality development work. Does the NGO industry exist to serve workers’ martyr complexes like the characters in The Samaritan or are they actually there to serve developing nations?
In 2011, Ghanaian citizens viewed the discovery of offshore oil as a game changer for Ghana. The oil would provide an economic boost for the developing country and improve overall social welfare through increased revenues, jobs, and infrastructure projects. Yet, oil-led development is notorious for stagnating economic growth and harming overall development. This is known as the “Resource Curse”. Almost every African country attempting oil-led development falls under the curse. Take your pick of examples. There’s Angola, or Equatorial Guinea, or Nigeria. The World Bank even tried to break the curse in Chad and failed. Africa has yet to see a successful execution of oil-led development.
What factors contribute to successful use of oil as a means of development? Terry Karl attributes Norway’s success to strong governance and a diverse economy. Countries relying on oil for development need strong governance to avoid corruption and a misallocation of resources. You only have to look three countries over from Ghana to see an example of this. Nigeria is Africa’s largest exporter of oil, yet the general public sees almost none of the money. A diverse economy is necessary because of the fluctuating value of oil. If a country relies solely on oil its economy will directly fall and rise as the value of oil falls and rises. Look no further than Angola or Equatorial Guinea where oil and gas make up 98% and 95% of exports, respectively. Neither country has experienced economic stability or the developmental benefits of increased revenues.
The development community still remains optimistic with Ghana. Many look to Ghana as an example of effective democracy in Africa. Ghana ranked 63rd on the Corruption Perception Index, the 6th highest of all African countries. Elections run smoothly and, more often than not, citizens turn to the justice system instead of violence to resolve conflicts. Ghana extends its good governance to its use of oil revenues. It passed the Revenue Management Act in 2011 as a new approach to oil-led development. The Act promises government transparency in its use of the oil money, with 30% of revenues going to savings and 70% towards development projects. It establishes oversight, regulations, and benchmarks for revenue distribution that the government is accountable to present to the public.
Compared to its counterparts, however, Ghana is in a better economic position to benefit from oil-led development. At the time of discovery, Ghana had a relatively diverse economy. Its largest export was gold, at 46%, followed by cocoa products at more than 30%. Ghana also had trading partners throughout Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Since oil production began Ghana’s exports have grown from $7.5 billion in 2008 to $13.5 billion in 2012, but only $500 million is from oil. Ghana’s economic diversity means oil is a form of extra revenue instead of the basis of the country’s economy.
But Ghanaian citizens have yet to benefit from the oil revenues. The government made a promise to use the oil revenues for infrastructure improvements. But citizens have not seen the benefits of that investment. Is this another case of the resource curse? The government claims the reason citizens have not directly benefited is thanks to lower-than-expected revenues. Current oil production rates are half of what analysts expected but Ghana is working to improve its production capacity and could see $1 billion in revenues in the future. Perhaps this slow production rate is a blessing in disguise for Ghana. At full production Ghana’s oil will run dry in 20 years. At the current rate Ghana can instead find a way to refine its oil and use it towards other industries and create long-term economic benefits.
Ghana is still in the early stages of oil-led development but it is facing a crossroads. Will Ghana take advantage of its good political and economic standing and break the resource curse? Or will it succumb to the draw of high short-term revenues and become another cautionary tale concerning the pitfalls of oil discovery? Ghana’s success could serve as a model for future oil-led development, especially considering the recent oil discovery in Kenya and Uganda.
On November 8, 2013 the whole world watched as the most powerful storm in recorded history smashed into the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, struck the central region of Philippines with sustained winds of 195 mph and wind gusts of up to 235 mph. Since its landfall, Haiyan is believed to have affected around 12 to 16 million people – with millions displaced, more than 6,000 dead, and nearly 1,800 still missing.
Countries and organizations around the world quickly scrambled to deliver aid to the devastated area. The relief effort has come in various forms; military aid, hospital ships, and millions of dollars from both organizations and countries. While countries have been quick to respond to the catastrophe, the Philippines is not in the clear yet. Three months later bodies are still being found, people are still missing, and aid is difficult to deliver to the islands that are only reachable via boat or helicopter.
Lack of electricity remains a huge problem in the Philippines. Not only did the storm knock down power lines, but looters looking to make money have broken into transformers to take out the copper cores and sell them on the black market. Additionally, looters have also cut open the downed power lines and have taken the copper inside. With many people still missing, the lack of electricity poses a serious communication issue. People are having a difficult time contacting their loved ones who live in different parts of the country, or even around the world, to let them know that they’re alive.
Corruption continues to be a constant fear in the rebuilding efforts. There have been reports of local officials selling aid supplies for profit. This type of post-disaster corruption is not new to the Philippines; $20 million in government funds meant for rebuilding towns in northern Luzon Island after a 2009 storm were allegedly stolen by local officials using fake non-government agencies. Haiyan has revealed to the world the extent of Filipino corruption; money to maintain and build roads were diverted, hospitals have not received resources they needed, and many buildings have not been built to code – which is evident by the fact that cities like Tacloban, the city hit hardest, are flattened.
Filipino political officials are well aware that the Philippines is known for corruption, and many citizens have been demanding improvement for years. President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III, has made it his mission to eliminate corruption, and has begun to deliver by establishing a new website called the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub. FAiTH, as the website is called, is open to the public and allows people to track funds given to the Philippines by foreign donors. On the website people can see how much a foreign country has donated and what kind of assistance was provided. This website has helped the Philippine government and President Aquino gain some credibility in the battle against corruption, but many Filipinos remain skeptical.
In addition to foreign assistance, Filipinos are helping each other out. Organizations like the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF) and Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) aim to help out communities ravaged by the typhoon. PDRF has been able to deliver relief supplies such as food, water, clothes, satellite phones, mobile ATMs, solar-powered lamps, and tents to Haiyan survivors. PBSP has been able to rally Philippine businesses to donate hygiene kits, blankets, clothes, food, and other forms of relief aid to those affected by the storm.
Even after the typhoon, Filipino resilience is strong. Shops and markets in areas destroyed by Haiyan have begun to reopen. Aid organizations, knowing that they need to make money, pay displaced Filipinos to clear debris and make repairs on buildings. Tacloban even celebrated Christmas by illuminating a church and erecting a Christmas tree in front of city hall. While it is apparent that Filipinos want to return to normalcy, it is clear that relief efforts will continue in the Philippines for the foreseeable future. For now, many Filipinos are just happy to be alive.
The Olympics have always been about stories and narratives. Athletes in sports, both obscure and relevant, represent their countries and play out the story of their nation, whether it be powerhouse nations raking in the medals or the simple story of the Jamaican bobsled team. The ability to host the event is also a story of the rise of a nation and the ability to show either one’s might or newfound brilliance on the world stage. Back in October 2013, we looked at how the story of the Sochi Olympic games were unfolding at that time. With the Winter Olympics beginning shortly, it was time revisit our intrepid heroes and villains.
One view of the Olympics has been as a giant vanity project, allowing Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin to evict Russian citizens from their homes, crack down on NGOs, gay rights activists, and roughly anybody that disagrees with the egregious cost of these games. To this list, it has recently been added that athletes will not be allowed to speak their mind, such as their displeasure at the anti-gay propaganda laws in Russia. OIC chair Thomas Bach has already stated that, though there is freedom of speech, athletes that speak their mind around the Olympic events will face punishment. The head of the Russian Olympics, Dmitry Chernyshenko, even contradicted this, saying that the athletes would only be able to express themselves at a venue far from the Olympic venues.
Censorship is not the only issue plaguing the Olympics. Despite seven years to prepare, and the assurances that 97% of the venues and hotels are prepared, there have been a large amount of pictures and tweets from journalists showing half finished rooms. One hotel didn’t have a reception area while another hotel wasn’t even completed. Considering that these games cost $51 billion, $11 billion more than the Beijing Olympics, the amount of corruption and ineptitude is starting to show more and more over the media. One road has cost $8.6 million, more than the whole Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. This raises the question of whether or not these games are worth it. Supposedly, the infrastructure will stay and benefit the residents of Sochi, along with increased tourism. However, Allen Sanderson and Samantha Edds explored the question of whether Olympics have an economic impact, which they found that there is no evidence to support that.
A last branch in this narrative is a concern for the security of the event. IOC chair Thomas Bach has emphasized that these games will be safe. This mostly has to do with the massive amount of security surrounding Sochi. Roughly 40,000 security forces have been sent to the region around Sochi to prevent atrocities from happening. They have also erected a “Ring of Steel” around Sochi, with checkpoints and anti-aircraft batteries, to aid in this security. Part of the paranoia surrounding the events is that terrorist leaders in Dagestan and Chechnya located only 400 miles away, such as Doku Umarov, have already stated that they are going to target the Olympic games. The other cause for concern is the bombing in December 2013 in Volgograd, something that is considered to be a decoy to drag resources away from Sochi and make it more vulnerable. The Russians have gone so far as to contract out 400 unarmed Cossacks for the duration of the Olympics.
Despite the lack of attendance by some world leaders, the world’s games at the Olympics will continue. One of the questions that will be asked is how much all this negative press hangs over the Olympics. What will be the effects of this event after the torch has been extinguished? This is a tale with many twists and turns, with more anti-heroes than heroes. At the least, everybody will be watching Sochi to see how the story unfolds.
With the recent fall of the global economy and rise in the specter of austerity, it was greatly feared that development aid budgets would be slashed. There has also been the questioning of the effectiveness of aid. If public opinion turned against development aid, that would give the various governments in the OECD and elsewhere the opportunity and excuse to slash their aid budgets even further than they already have.
Within this context, Christina Haas from the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies has recently come forward with an analysis of public opinion and support for development aid in Europe. Specifically, she explored the question of how inequality at home would affect the level of support for development aid, along with a couple other factors. Interestingly enough, the higher the income inequality at home, as measured through the GINI index, the more support there was for their government to provide international aid. In this context, support was very high in Spain, Portugal, and Greece, countries reeling from the financial crisis of 2007. It was also found that higher educational attainment increases support for aid, while women tend to support development aid more than men. The last significant finding from this study was that the amount of aid that your country provides has no effect on public opinion on support for more aid.
There are a few issues with the report itself. The survey is measured by only one question done by Eurobarameter, which the wording changed over time. People are less likely to answer negatively so that they don’t seem heartless and because they feel that is what they want the people providing the survey to hear. These are also solely based on European respondents, so pan-European cultural values and norms could be skewing the results of the survey and the analysis afterwards. Still, it is interesting that the generally held assumption that the more equal societies of Northern Europe support aid more than other less equal societies.
The international development community is taking advantage of the large strides the technology sector has made in respect to drones. Drones have the potential to revolutionize assistance programs and could become a norm among development programs in the coming years. Just last week, IREX held a conference on the implications of drone technology for international development projects. Will drones improve development opportunities? What are their limitations?
Some of the advantages of drone use include:
- Supply Delivery: This past year, Matternet began incorporating drones into its development program, using them to deliver supplies to rural areas in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Drones have the potential to make formerly inaccessible or hard to reach areas accessible. More people will have access to medical supplies, clean water, and food supplies.
- Emergency Response: In 2013, the US National Guard used drones to assist firefighters in stopping forest fires near Yosemite National Park. Drones are versatile resources for emergency response. They can help stop forest fires, clear hurricane or earthquake wreckage, and deliver supplies to disaster or conflict zones.
- Data Collection and Research: Sending drones into conflict zones is a much easier way to collect data on conflict size and police response without risking the safety of reporters. In more peaceful settings, drones can collect data on agricultural development, such as crop growth, or conservation initiatives, tracking wildlife and poachers.
- Ease of Use: Countries benefiting from development assistance do not have the infrastructure challenges that face drone use in highly developed countries. For example, drones in Kenya do not have to navigate skyscrapers or large cities the way drones in the United States do. Some argue that because of this, developing nations are in the best position to take advantage of drone technology.
Regardless of the benefits, proponents of drone use face a long, uphill battle to general acceptance and adoption of the technology. One of the greatest difficulties is the military and Big Brother connotation associated with drone use. The US has primarily used drones for air strikes in conflict zones. A shift to more peaceful intentions will not happen without some suspicion. Officials in developing nations could question the drone’s true purpose. Is it actually here just to deliver supplies and collect data? Or, is it armed and conducting military surveillance?
Drone use could also remove a large human contact component of development programs. When actual human beings no longer deliver supplies to rural areas, the nature of development assistance changes. Drones will deliver medical supplies but they cannot explain to the community how to use them. Researchers no longer need to talk to farmers about crop patterns when drones can collect the same information. Successful development work is able to appreciate and account for different cultures and lifestyles. When drones become the primary worker, however, the interaction component so pivotal to development work suffers. Development work becomes more like a business transaction instead of relationship and capacity building.
Another potential, unintended consequence of drones is the hindrance to infrastructure development. Drones are a cheaper way to bring resources to rural areas than building a long, rarely used road. But the road would be a better long-term investment for the country and would encourage future development more so than a drone would. Using drones may discourage infrastructure development. Countries no longer have a reason to build access roads to more rural areas if drones become the primary mode of supply transport. Because of this drones are unlikely to be a sustainable solution to development problems.
It will be interesting to see how the international community incorporates drone technology into development programs and whether drones will ever be free of the military stigma. The technology could completely change development programs, but will it be a beneficial or detrimental change?