Category Archives: Global Development

Does Aid Work? The Aid Audit

Does Aid Work? The Aid Audit:

Below is a summary of this World Service Podcast from 2015


‘Fifteen years ago, German journalist, Ulli Schauen helped compile a book of the top 500 global aid programmes… they ranged from schools for Maasai nomads to support for organic farming to training for volunteer sexual health workers.

The question is did they succeed or fail? Ulli travels to Kenya to see how the projects in that country fared. Ulli sets out to find if Aid really does make a difference.’

(These projects were all related to the original Millennium Development Goals and the folllow ups are here – one author’s blog – The Aid Audit: Development Projects Revisited After Fifteen Years

International Aid money has helped all of the projects below….


Project One – OSIGILI

in 1995 the Laikipiak Maasai formed an organization called OSILIGI (which means ‘Hope’.)

In one of the first projects OSILIGI organized reading and writing courses geared to the nomadic life. In April, August and December, when the nomadic herdsmen are settled, a teacher comes to the village. During these weeks children have concentrated lessons. This made-to-measure education is considerably cheaper than state elementary school. In 4 years, OSILIGI has reached 380 children with this programme, mainly from poor families.

Eco-Tourism - Marginalising the Maasai?
Eco-Tourism – Marginalising the Maasai?

However, the broader issue OSILIGI campaigns for is to establish land rights – to pasture and watering holes, and here they appear to have lost. The Maasai still have no formal rights and their land, and thus way of life, is under threat from agribusinesses and eco-tourism and in the programme we discover that the Maasai live amongst miles and miles of fences – which fence off private farms – one farm being as large as the island of Malta, which houses shipped-in Rhinos for eco-tourism, but this leaves little room for the Maasai.

Osigili seems now to be focussing on the education aspect, but the land rights issue has been taken up by another organisation – IMPACT. It is possible that more progress will be made in this area in the future.

Project Two – A Voucher System for Health Care

In the far West of Kenya the German Government Trained volunteer health advisers – 20 000 community health workers for 10 years. Unfortunately this terminated in 2006 and so no evaluation or final report can be found, the argument here, however, is that a lasting legacy

The German government now funds a voucher programme for the poor where they can use vouchers to receive free or subsidised contraception, maternal health services and HIV treatment.

Through the voucher programme local (privately run) hospitals receive $50 for maternal treatments and $12 for AIDs screenings (from the German Aid fund, they don’t get state funding) – 3/4s of the money goes on medicine and food, but the rest is available to allow for hospital expansion.

To give an example of how it works – one woman is interviewed who is HIV positive, and giving birth in the hospital meant that the infection was not passed on to her two children.

Despite the above, Kenya still failed to reach two of its MDGs -reducing infant mortality and improving maternal health.

But German Government trying to influence Kenyan health policy into the bargain. Germans wand to promote health insurance, Americans want to promote other issues – donors don’t co-ordinate their programmes.

Project Three – The Matinyani Business Cooperative


This is a cooperative of 4000 women, who initially set up a library, primary school and a health centre. They also established a range of small businesses devoted to weaving, water, candlemaking, bakery.

However, all of this stopped working years ago… 75% of the initial money went into other people’s pockets – so they couldn’t pay workers or for materials to keep the projects going.

However, what these women learnt in the early days of this project allowed them to establish their own businesses, many of which are today successful and export to other countries.

Project Four – Environmental Protection on Lake Victoria


Lake Victoria is heavily overfished and polluted.

This projects aims were to build water treatment plants and limiting the spread of the water hyacinth. There are laws in place about catch size (enforced by the mesh size of nets). However, it seems that everyone is happy about breaking the law and the aid-funded environmental organisation doesn’t seem to be enforcing the rules.

The World Bank Project labelled this one as unsatisfactory.

Project Five – A Foot Pump for Water

An Australian company called Kick Start (originally known as Aprotec ) which focussed on developing just one product – a small, foot operated water pump, claims to have lifted almost one million people out of poverty. Aid has been essential in this. The CEO says that it is not profitable to develop such products for people – it’s high risk, low return, and high cost – so it’s a market failure – thus subsidies in the form of International Aid, with this money going mainly into Research and Development and marketing (radio ads).

The pumps themselves are sold for $130 – and they have sold 250 000, which means about 900 000 will have been lifted out of poverty. We visit a tree nursery to see how this works – where an employee is using the foot pump (like a step machine) to pump water to water the young trees – this has allowed the company to grow a lot more trees and it is now much bigger than it used to be.

Question – Has development aid worked in the above five cases?

The programme finishes off by noting that we see all of the classic problems associated with Aid in the above examples, but it is the positive impacts which stick in his mind, especially the fact that when official projects collapse, the people who have gained skills carry on campaigning in different ways.

Find Out More…. There are another two episodes in the series if you wish to listen further!

Neoliberalism in India – the Consequences

Capitalism-A Ghost Story BY Arundhati RoyA brief summary of part of Arundhati Roy’s ‘Capitalism: A Ghost Story’ – In which she explores some of the consequences of privatisation (part of neoliberalisation) in India.

‘Trickle down hasn’t worked in India, but gush up certainly has’

The era of the privatisation of everything has made the Indian economy one of the fasted growing in the world and most of this wealth has gushed up to India’s Corporate Elite.

In India today, a nation of 1.2 billion people, one hundred people own assets equivalent to 25% of the GDP, while a 300 million strong middle class live among the ghosts of the 250 00 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves and the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed and live on less than twenty Indian rupees a day.

The most egregious expression of this inequality is Antilla, a building on Altamount Road in Mumbai which belongs to India’s richest man Mukesh Ambanni. It is the most expensive dwelling ever built: it has 27 floors, including 6 for parking, 3 helipads, 600 servants and a 27 story vertical wall of grass. Ambanni is worth $20 billion dollars and his company, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) has a market capitalisation of $47 billion.

Antilla Mumba

Ambanni’s RIL Corporation is one of a handful which run India, some of the others being Tata and Vedanta, the later of which are truly global in scope – Tata, for example, runs more than one hundred companies in 80 countries.

The consequence of this concentration of wealth, is an increase in corruption, or as Roy puts it – ‘As gush up continues, so more money flows through the institutions of government’. As an example, in 2011, a corrupt minister of communications and information undervalued 2G phone licences by $40 billion dollars, to the benefit of the telecommunications companies which now profit from them, effectively costing Indian taxpayers $40 billion of revenue.

How the Elite in India Benefit from Neoliberal Policies

The way this typically works is that a corrupt government official signs a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU) with a Corporation which privatises a chunk of publicly owned land, giving that corporation the right to use that land to establish a business – this either takes the form of mining the raw materials from under the land, or establishing a range of other projects such as Agribusinesses, Special Economic Zones, Dams, and even Formula One racing circuits.

Taxes are typically kept very low in these deals – often sow low in that local people see little of the financial benefit of the new business.


This is especially true were mining is concerned. In 2005, for example, the state governments of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, and Jharkhand signed hundreds of memorandums of understanding with private corporations, turning over trillions of dollars of bauxite, iron ore and other minerals for a pittance – royalties (effectively taxes) ranged from 0.5% to 7%, with the companies allowed to keep up to 99% of the revenue gained from these resources. (Allowing people like Ambanni to build their 27 story houses, rather than the money being used for food for the majority of the Indian population.)

In a third strand of Neoliberal policy, companies are subjected to very little regulation. It seems that they are allowed to develop their projects without protecting the environment or paying any compensation to people who are negatively affected by these projects, as indicated in the case study below:

Tata Steel in Chhattisgarh, North East India

Only days after the Chhattisgarh government signed an MoU with Tata Steel, a vigilante militia was established (known as the Salwa Judum). Organised by the state government and funded by Tata Steel the Salwa Judum initiated a ground clearance operation to eradicate the local forest peoples so Tata could set up its steel plant.

The Salwa Judum
The Salwa Judum

The Salwa Judum burned, raped and murdered its way through 600 local villages forcing 50 000 people into police camps and displacing a further 350 000. To keep these displaced persons in check, the government then deployed 200 000 paramilitary troops to the region to make sure that it remained a stable climate for investment and economic growth.

An Adivasi (local tribal group) protest
An Adivasi (local tribal group) protest

According to Roy the government has labelled these people ‘Maoist Rebels’, but in reality they are just displaced peoples.

Find out More

Corporate Watch – Stolen for Steel: Tata takes Tribal Land in India

How to End Poverty in 15 Years

In this hour long programme Hans Rosling asks how we can eradicate extreme poverty in 15 years, which is goal number 1.1 of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to which 193 nations signed up to in September 2015, in New York.

While recognising that relative poverty exists within rich and poor countries alike, the programme focuses on extreme poverty, defined as people living on less than $1 a day, a level at which daily life involves a struggle to get enough food to eat.

Hans (he’s so accessible I’m sure he wouldn’t mind first name terms) starts by putting poverty in historical context, by looking at how wealth (measured by GDP per capita) has changed over the last 200 years. To do this, Hans converts the GDP figures into the amount each person earns per day, ranging from those who live on $1 a day (as many do in Malawi) to those who live on $100 a day (as most people in Sweden do). As shown in the still below – only about 12% of the world’s population today live in extreme poverty.

Poverty infographic rosling

The story of the last 200 years is that we’ve basically moved from a global situation characterised by extremes of wealth and poverty (broadly speaking 1800-1970) to one in which most people world now live in ‘the middle’ in terms of global wealth distribution. In the video clip below, Hans tells this story.


The biggest shift has occurred in the last 50 years – in the 1970s, 50% of the worlds population lived in absolute poverty (2 billion amongst a 4 billion global population). In 2015, even with world population growing by 3 million to 7+ billion, only 1 billion, or 12.5% of the world’s population live in poverty.

So the best-fit picture of today’s global population isn’t one of a massive divide between the rich and the poor, but one of the expanding or ‘big middle’** – Most people in the world today earn between $1 to $10 a day, and many of these have transitioned out of absolute poverty within the last few decades.

Dollar Street – A Global Family Portrait.

To illustrate the differences in living standards around the globe, Hans draws on a number of case studies.

$1/ day – Malawi – Here the focus is on a couple with eleven children. They are basically subsistence farmers and have a small field of maize which they rely on for their basic food. The field is so small they have to endure a hunger season, during which they only eat once a day, and the children fall sick because of lack of food. In a poor season (As shown later in the video), when the rains are irregular, the food may only last for half the year, so the hungry season is long!)

The children go to school, but there are no school meals, so there’s no food until bed time on some school days. The family struggle to pay for the ‘hidden costs’ of education such as school uniforms and books.

There are no jobs in the area, but the families keep grafting – the father turns old bits of tin into watering cans and the mother makes dumplings, two products which are sold to neighbours. However, local people are too poor to be anything other than occasional customers.

In the household there is no electricity or running water and everyone sleeps on the floor, no mattresses. The house is built from perishable materials and once a week the mother has to spread fresh mud on the walls and ceiling to stop the house falling apart. The husband is gradually building a brick house, but it will take him four years to complete it.

These people are literally struggling to build their future bit by bit.

Countries in which significant numbers of people live on less than $1 a day include Burundi and Malawi.

The Big Middle – Up to $10 a day

To illustrate where the majority of the world’s population now live in income terms, we go to Cambodia to focus on some new arrivals to the ‘big middle’ – We focus on a family who live about an hour away from the capital Phnom Penh, but are still close enough to feel the benefits of its development.

Their house is made from more durable material – bricks and plastic/ iron sheets, they have clean water, bicycles, a little car, beds with mattresses, radios, TVs, and electricity.

The Family’s living conditions are far from easy but there is no hungry season like in Malawi, and they have earned enough to buy various life-changing technologies – such as a water pump so is there more time to devote to paid work.

The nearby capital city Phnom Penh is at the heart of an economic boom, mainly thanks to textile exports, and the benefits reach a long way into rural areas.

The father in this family has benefited from this – migration to the city has meant there are fewer farmers, so he now makes $300 a month from growing and selling grass which people feed to their cattle, and he has bought a small bike so he can deliver more efficiently.

However, the mother is currently pregnant with twins, and one of them is upside down…they want a cesarean and this will cost them $500 which will mean they need to borrow money, a price which could put them back into dire poverty for years to come as they struggle to pay it back.

The crucial thing which prevents this from happening is that the family qualify for Cambodia’s recently introduced free health care, available for free for the poorest families only. This is assessed by means of a ‘Poor Card’ – people are asked a number of questions about their standard of living (which is checked later) and if they score below a certain amount of points they qualify for free health care for the whole family, which ensures that complications in childbirth do not result in financial catastrophe.

Among the many countries included in the ‘big middle’ are The Philippines, Columbia, Rwanda, and Bangladesh. However, there are obviously differences, and if you look carefully, these are not all ‘equally poor’ (but this isn’t expanded on).
How to eradicate extreme Poverty

It’s amazing how much life is improving for s many people in so many ways – this is the greatest story in human history, and if we want to lift the remaining billion people out of extreme poverty we need to learn from the lessons of the majority of countries which have lifted themselves out of poverty in the last century.

The basic lesson is that all of these countries have invested in human welfare, in such things as public health care systems and education, which has reduced the child mortality rate, and the birth rate, and altogether this has resulted in economic growth.

Hans demonstrated this by looking at the historical relationship between the child mortality rate and GDP per Capita from 1800-2015. (The child mortality rate depends on many things, such as improved health, education and gender empowerment, so it acts as a proxy indicator for these other aspects of human progress).

The general trend is that in many countries, the child mortality rate goes down first, which is followed by sustained economic growth for many years. It seems that once the Child Mortality rate gets to about 10%, this is when economic take off occurs. This happened in at least the following countries:

  • Britain
  • China
  • South Korea
  • Ethiopia.

In the Infographic below (nowhere near as impressive as Hans’) I’ve selected four African countries, and there’s a clear historical link between child mortality coming down first and then the economy growing (since 1960).


Interestingly, Malawi have recently got their child mortality rate down to 10%, but they are waiting for economic growth.

In short, the lesson of how to end poverty in 15 years – invest in human progress even when resources are limited.

The video rounds off with going back to Malawi to demonstrate that all is needed to lift many farmers out of poverty is investment in small scale irrigation systems, so crops can be easily watered when rains are irregular. A dam would transform the lives of small farmers in remote areas by allowing them to grow not only more staple food, but also a greater diversity of crops which could be sold.

The investment required is relatively little, but who will pay? The private sector won’t, because there is no profit, and governments in poor countries are still too poor, so the third option is International Development Aid.

However, Development aid needs to be refocused away from the richer developing countries – Currently, countries such as India and China receive aid equivalent to $300 per person, but the poorest countries, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, receive only $100 per person. In short, aid is going to the wrong places.

Poverty Infographic Hans Rosling

Hans argues that we should perceive aid to end poverty not as charity, but as an investment. There are three basic arguments for this:

1. Extreme poverty breeds problems such as war and conflict.
2. If we lift people out of extreme poverty, they will become the customers of tomorrow, and possibly the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
3. It is the most effective way of combating population growth – below $1 a day, the average number of babies per woman is five, above, it the average is 2 or less.

In conclusion, Hans suggests we would be mad not to end poverty in 15 years, and that compared to the other two problems the world faces: climate change and war and conflict, this goal is actually easy to achieve.


**Another way in which Hans illustrates the growth of the ‘big middle’ is by pointing out the following statistics:

80% of people have electricity at home? (the audience thought 40%)

83% have have got vaccinated against measles? (the audience thought 30% )

90% of girls out of ten go to primary school (in that age group) (the audience thought 40%).

Food Inc – A Summary

This is a Superb documentary which demonstrates the downsides of the industrialisation of the food system in the USA.

It is relevant to the following areas of Global Development within A level Sociology.

  • Illustrating the downsides of Industrialisation

  • Illustrating unfair trade rules (corn is subsidised in America)

  • Illustrating the downsides of forced neoliberalisation

  • Illustrating the incredible power of Transnational Corporations in America and the negative consequences of them controlling the food chain ‘from seed to supermarket’.

  • There is also one example (the local farmer guy) of People Centred Development

  • Illustrating the limitations of western models of development

Scene One – Food Inc.

The Film starts by outlining the unrealities of the modern American supermarket, where there are no seasons and the meat has no bones. Then a bold statement – there is a deliberate veil drawn over the realities of the food production chain, which is basically a factory system, an industrialised system. The rest of the documentary is devoted to outlining the downsides of this system.

Scene Two – Fast Food for All

It’s suggested that the move towards an industrial food system started with McDonald’s – when the McDonald brothers got rid of their waitresses and invented the drive through to cut costs, it caught on massively and McDonald’s and other fast food outlets expanded, and so did the mass demand for standardised food products.

McDonald’s is now the largest purchaser of Beef in America and one of the largest purchasers of potatoes, tomatoes and even apples, and of course corn-syrup (and hence corn). It was the demand for large volumes of standardised food goods that led to a concentration of food production into massive farms and factories.

Such is the concentration that only four companies now control 80% of the beef packing market, with similar concentrations in other food sectors, so even if you don’t eat in a fast food restaurant you’re probably eating products produced by the same system, by the same food companies. One company name to look out for in particular is Tyson!

Tyson, which is the largest food production company in the world has redesigned the chicken – so it grows in half the time it used to, and has larger breasts. It has also redesigned the chicken farmer and the whole process of chicken farming.

The video now takes the inevitable trip to the battery farm – where hideous abuses take place, most all IMO for the chicken farmers who are kept in debt by Tyson because Tyson keeps demanding they upgrade to new systems. Keeping chickens in abusive conditions is very actually very expensive!

Scene Three – A Cornucopia of Choices

Starts with an interview with the most excellent Michael Pollen – ‘The idea that you need to write a book about where our food comes from shows you the scale of the problem’.

There are only a few companies involved and only a few food products involved, and much of our industrial food turns out to be clever rearrangements of corn… Ketchup, Peanut butter, Coke, and even batteries contain corn derivatives.

So important is corn that even though yields have increased from 20 to 200 bushels of wheat an acre, 30% of the US land base is planted to corn – which is subsidised which in turn leads to over production. Subsidies are in place because the big food TNCs (Tyson and Cargill) want cheap corn, and they have the ears of the government (no pun intended).

There is a transport network which transports corn to CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Farming Operations) where thousands of cattle are kept standing in their own manure until they are slaughtered.

The fact that cattle are now fed corn rather than grass has created the conditions in their stomachs for e.coli to breed, this comes out in manure, and because cattle in CAFOs all live close together shit is transferred between them and it spreads and gets in the food chain and to the consumer

Scene Four – Unintended Consequences

Which ends up with children dying.

In the movie we are persistently shown how food is farmed along factory lines – we go to the inevitable battery chicken factory and processing plants, massive corn fields and CAFO’s – or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations – where thousands of cattle are farmed together, literally standing in their own shit all day, before being slaughtered.

NB this is very different to how food is marketed to Americans – It is marketed in a very misleading way with images of small scale farmers out in the open air with their free range animals. (NB if you’ve never thought of the concept of ‘industrialisation’ as being applicable to food production as well as to the manufacturing of goods then this shows how good a job the food industry has done with its marketing!).

The reason given for this industrialisation/ rationalisation of the food system is the profit motive – It’s cheaper to mass produce things, which is something demanded by the handful of companies who control the entire food chain in the US and require standardised food products for mass distribution.

Costs are further kept low because the American government subsidises corm production so that it can be sold for less than the cost of producing it. Corn is the main constituent of animal feed today, so cheap corn = cheap meat.

This industrialisation of agriculture has several downsides:

  1. EXPLOITATION and ABUSE of animals – we see several images of animals being kept in atrocious conditions and dying.

  2. Exploitation of workers – battery farm owners are paid very little, and the often illegal migrant workers who pack chickens even less.

  3. The spread of diseases and health problems linked to animals being kept in appalling conditions. Includes children dying of E.coli, and the companies responsible being allowed to carry on producing.

  4. Environmental damage – when cattle and pigs are kept in mass enclosures excrement becomes a pollutant rather than a fertiliser (which would be the case if they were kept in open fields with enough room to graze. Also because corn rather than grass has become the main feed for factory ‘farmed’ animals we have a situation where corn is shipped to meat growing houses, then the meat shipped to consumers, with all the attendant petrol costs, which you wouldn’t have with local food production systems.

Scene Five – The Dollar Menu

Starts off with a low income family shopping at Mcdonald’s – they in fact buy lots of junk food over healthy fresh vegetables because the former is cheaper. The biggest predictor of obesity is income level -

The industry claims a ‘crisis of individual responsibility’ for obesity – but the problem is that we are biologically hard-wired to seek out three tastes – salt, sugar and fat, which are very rare in nature, but are everywhere in modern society thanks to the industrial food industry, so this claim is clearly disingenuous.

The father of poor family has diabetes (his pills cost something in the region of $200 month) and 1 out of 3 people born after the year 2000 in the US will develop early onset diabetes.

Scene Six – In The Grass

Featuring Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms – basically a farm where their livestock eat actual grass and they slaughter them by hand– and have much conditions than your average meet factory – the livestock also manure the fields automatically – basically a sensible, truly efficient farm.

As a contrast, we now take a trip to Smithfield Hog Processing Plant, the largest in the world in North Carolina, where over 30K hogs go through every day, where they treat their workers like their hogs – the workers are drawn from the poorest people and work in a conveyor belt system, sometimes getting covered in feces and blood and developing infections to the extent that finger nails separate from hands.

They effectively use up workers – few of the local population work at the plant, workers are now bused in from 100 miles away, and they also employ illegal immigrants from Mexico (ie people desperate for the money) – who have come to America because of NAFTA which led to cheap US corn flooding into Mexico, putting 1.5 million Mexican corn farmers out of business, who now work illegally for giant meat multinationals under appalling conditions. US meat companies actually actively recruited these workers from Mexico, with adverts and buses laid on.

Of course the government response is to crack down on the illegal immigrants rather than the meat companies.

Scene Seven – Hidden Costs

You wouldn’t want to buy the cheapest car – so why do we apply the same principle to food?

In any case, once you add up the environmental, social and health costs of industrial food, it ends up being far more expensive than locally grown, ethical, organic food.

Back to Joel Salatan who says that although some people make a round trip of 500 miles to get to him, he has no desire to upscale and argues that he can’t do so without compromising the integrity of his business.

This is then contrasted to Stonyfield yoghurts, who are the third biggest yoghurt brand in the states, run on ethical principles.

Like many other ethical companies, these are now owned by a massive international corporation and deal with companies like Walmart – who are stocking more ethical products for economic reasons. The argument for this is simply the impact.

Scene Eight – From Seed to the Supermarket

Back at the turn of the century, the average farmer could feed 6-8 people, now it’s 120 people. The change to farming has been profound – I mean, who sees a farmer anymore.

We now take the inevitable trip to Monstanto Land – who developed both Round Up (a pesticide) and then the Round Up Ready Soya Bean.

In 1996 – 2% of Soya beans grown in the US for Monsanto’s

By 2008 – this had risen to 90%.

Since the 1980s its now legal to patent life, there are now prohibitions on saving seed – when the concept first came about farmers were appalled now it’s just accepted and Monsanto effectively control 90% of Soya production in the US.

Monsanto as a team of private investigators (sometimes ex-military) who visit farmers who save their own seed.

We now take a trip to a farmer who didn’t switch to Monsanto’s GM seed, but his fields are contaminated by Monsanto’s seed because of cross-contamination.

We’re also shown the case study of Monstanto suing a certain ‘seed cleaner’ (used by the 10% of farmers who aren’t GM and save their own seed) who is already in debt to the tune of $25 000 and he hasn’t even been in a court room, and friends of 50 years no longer talk to him for fear of coming under Monstano’s wrath.

The end result is that Monsanto effectively own the Soya Been and they control it from seed to the Supermarket – you have to be in bed with Monstano to be a soya farmer

Scene Nine – The Veil

Covers the revolving door between the Justice Department, the development of seed-patenting law and Monsanto’s Corporate executives – its seems that for the past 25 years the US government has been dominated by people who work for food multinationals.

This is a case of centralised power being used against workers, farmers and ultimately consumers.

This has resulted in legislation which prevents the labelling of GMO products and also criticism of the food industry.

There is now an outline of the legal protections the meat industry has – The most famous case being when Oprah said Mad Cow Disease had meant she didn’t want to eat another Burger – the industry sued her for lose of profit and the case spent 6 years in court and a million dollars in fees – sometimes the industry will sue just to send out a message even if it knows it can’t win.

Scene Ten – Shocks to the System

Basically the food system is precarious – fewer food substances, fewer companies and heavy dependence on petroleum.

The cracks are definitely showing, and every time the public get a glimpse of the truth, they tend to turn their backs on this industry.

The battle against the tobacco industry is the perfect model that illustrates the possibility of breaking monopolistic controls over a system by a few powerful corporations.


You can vote to change this system three times a day.

Buy from ethical companies who treat workers and animals humanely.

Choose foods that are organic and grown locally and in season, shop in Farmers Markets

Tell the government to enforce food safety standards….

‘You can change the world with every bit’.

See the Food Inc documentary for more information…

Why Do We Waste So Much Food in the UK?

Why does the average person waste so much food?

See previous post on this topic – Stats on Food Waste in the UK

According to the WRAP (2012) survey two reasons account for 80% of food wasted in the home -

  • Just under half of avoidable food and drink waste (worth £5.6 billion) was classified as ‘not used in time’: thrown away because it had either gone off or passed the date on the packaging. This included large amounts of bread, milk and fresh potatoes.
  • A further 31% (worth £4.1 billion) was classified as ‘cooked, prepared or served too much’: this included food and drink that had been left over after preparation or serving, such as carbonated soft drinks, home-made and pre-prepared meals, and cooked potatoes.
  • The remaining reasons are linked to personal preferences including health reasons and not liking certain foods (£1.9 billion), and accidents, including ‘food dropped on the floor’ and ‘failure of a freezer’ (£560 million).

Of course what the survey fails to look at is what food waste reveals about our culture. Here I’d suggest the following ‘deeper-level’ reasons for there being so much food waste…

  1. ‘Food materialism and choice culture’ – I’m sure many people overbuy during a weekly shop simply because of the attraction of a full-trolley and a well stocked fridge. Then there’s the fear of running out choice – Technically if you shop once a week, say on a Saturday, you would end up with a limited choice of meal on a Friday. We do live in a materialist culture which offers us lots of never ending choices, surely the number one reason for the over-purchasing of food is simply the unconscious replication of a (moneyless) supermarket in your kitchen?

  2. Throw away culture – straight from my current favourite Sociologist – Z. Bauman – argues that the way we distinguish ourselves today is the rapidity with which we can use things up and then discard them – While I don’t think this quite appeals to our approach to food (I’m sure it’s generally regarded as shameful to throw away food), the fact that we are used to generating waste as part of our consumerist norms is hardly going to do anything to put us off throwing away food.

  3. What I call the ‘Masterchef effect’ – Buying particular items to make a particular recipe, not quite using all of the items bought and lacking the ingenuity to innovate around left-overs, resulting in bits of food getting thrown away. The more complex the recipe, the more obscure ingredients to throw away next week.

  4. Occasional ‘top up buying’ in order to satisfy whimsical desires for a particular meal – which means what you’ve already got in the fridge goes off. We do live in a culture of instant-gratification after all, so if I want stir fry tonight and pizza tomorrow and this means throwing away yesterday’s pasta the day after tomorrow, then wtf not?!

  5. Hurried Lives – meaning we either don’t have the time or the energy to cook so we have beans on toast instead, meaning the fresh veg goes off. On the occasion I do waste food, this is my number one reason…

  6. It’s not exactly a causal factor, just a perpetuating one: it’s hardly in the government’s interest to clamp down on food waste. The agri-food sector contributed £97.1 billion or 7.4% to national Gross Value Added in 2012. We may well throw £12 billion of this in the bin every year, but I’m sure it doesn’t cost that much to take it to land fill. If we didn’t throw away this food, then demand would fall and we’d lose 1% of our GVA. That’s a massive chunk of cash. Actually it’s more than the entire International Aid Budget.

What’s above are just a few Sociological meanderings on the matter of Food Waste, comments welcome…

Food Waste in the UK

Food Waste in the United Kingdom

The average person will spend £16 000 over the course of their lifetime on food which they will then throw away. That’s getting on for one year’s worth of wages on the median salary once taxes are taken into account.

In 2012, 15% of edible food and drink purchases were wasted at an estimated cost of £480 per year for an average household. This figure includes domestic shopping and meals out. If you divide this by 2.4 (the average number of people in a household) and multiply by 81.5 (average Life Expectancy) then this means the average person will spend just under £16 000 over the course of their lifetime on food which will be wasted.

Of food brought into the household (excluding waste generated by supermarkets and restaurants etc), £12.5 billion was wasted in 2012.

Avoidable food waste UK

By cost, the largest food groups wasted were:

  • Meat and fish (17%; £2.1 billion).
  • Home-made and pre-prepared meals (17%; £2.1 billion).
  • Fresh vegetables and salad (14%; £1.7 billion).
  • Drink (10%; £1.3 billion).
  • Fresh fruit (7%; £900 million).

Cost of Food Waste UK

On a day to day basis this means in the UK we throw away…

  • 1.4 million bananas
  • 1.5 million tomatoes
  • 1.2 million yogurts
  • 24 million slices of bread

Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the economic inefficiency of our food strategies. Some of the food we eat is effectively wasted because it simply goes towards making us overwight (37% of UK adults) or obese (25% of the UK adults). This then means we spend additional resources on diet regimes and gym memberships in order to lose said weight, or we pay more collectively through the NHS to deal with higher rates of weight-related illnesses.

Finally, one could say that the way we source our food is also inefficient – We only grow 53% of our food supply within the UK (I say only, I actually thought it was nearer to 40%) which means we also bear the cost of international food miles where imports are concerned. (Although in fairness, much of this comes from Europe, parts of which are not much further away than parts of the UK are from each other.)

Related Posts -

Why does the average person waste so much food?

Sources Used

DEFRA – Food Statistics Pocketbook 2013

WRAP – Household food and drink waste in the United Kingdom

Exploring the reasons for Rwanda’s unusually high degree of gender equality

Rwanda makes an interesting case study of a developing nation which appears to have atypically high levels of gender equality. It ranks no 7 in the Gender Empowerment Index, just behind the Nordic countries, and actually has a higher proportion of girls enrolled in education than boys (97% compared to 95%).

Given that East and North African nations typically have the lowest levels of gender equality in the world (take neighbouring DRC as an example, Rwanda not only bucks the regional trend, but it also bucks the general trend of the correlation between higher GDP and greater levels of gender equality.  So what’s its secret? I’m not exactly an expert in Rwandan history, but here are five things which might explain the high reported levels of gender equality in Rwanda.

Firstly, the genocide, may have (somewhat perversely) played a role in female empowerment.

In the aftermath of the genocide, Rwanda found itself a country composed of 70 percent women. The violence had been perpetrated by — and largely toward — men. There were simply fewer men due to death, imprisonment, and flight. Killings also targeted civic leaders during the genocide. Out of more than 780 judges nationwide, only 20 survived the violence. Not 20 percent, 20 total.

These skewed demographics resulted in a power vacuum. Prior to 1994, women only held between 10 and 15 percent of seats in Parliament. Out of sheer necessity, and a desire to rebuild their country, women stepped up as leaders in every realm of the nation, including politics.

Or in the words of one Rwandan woman….. “Many women were left as widows because of the genocide. Others had to work hard in the place of their jailed husbands for allegedly taking part in the genocide. So even young girls got that mentality to perform genuinely to access good jobs, and good jobs means going to school first,”

Secondly – (and no doubt related to the above) women’s rights have been rooted in the constitution for over a decade – The constitution stipulates that at least 30% of government positions should be filled by women. Rwanda now tops global league tables for the percentage of female parliamentarians. Fewer than 22% of MPs worldwide are women; in Rwanda, almost 64% are.

Thirdly (and probably a knock-on effect from point two) Rwanda spends huge proportions of its national budget on health and education, according to World Bank statistics. In 2011, almost 24% of total government expenditure went to health and 17% to education. High expenditure on the former has greatly improved maternal health and reduced child mortality, while high expenditure on the later has meant there is sufficient money to fund education for both boys and girls (as a general rule)

Fourthly (and probably a knock on effect from the above three points) – A relatively high proportion of women are employed in public sector jobs – In the education system – women have also outnumbered men as primary school teachers. Higher up the education system, things are not equal, but they are improving rapidly – At secondary school, however, fewer than 28% of teachers are women, up from 21% in 2001. In higher education, only 16% of teachers are women, but this is up from 10% in 1999 and 5% in 1990. In every local police station there is a ‘gender desk’ where incidents of gender related violence can be reported (something which I think is pretty much unheard of in most African countries.)

Fifthly, there is the role of women’s support groups in rebuilding the country after the decimation caused by the genocide. These groups initially just offered a place for women to talk about their experiences of being widowed and raped, but they morphed into workers co-operatives, which has, 20 years later, led on to a very high degree of engagement with women in local politics, which is increasingly integrated with national politics.

Limitations of Rwanda’s Gender Equality….

As with all statistics, they don’t tell the full picture, one of the posts below makes the following cautions – Firstly, 60% of Rwandans live below the poverty line, and while those women how have jobs in politics and education are on decent wages, there aren’t actually that many people in the population employed in these sectors and gender equality means very little to the vast majority of women when they can’t afford to eat. Secondly, DV statistics don’t make for pretty reading, with 2/5 women saying they have experienced domestic violence, with 1/5 saying they have experienced sexual violence – And you can imagine how low the prosecution rate of men is for such crimes.

A few thoughts on the meaning of all this….

Rwanda has experienced excellent economic growth compared to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, which suggests that Gender Empowerment has a positive effect on development, but obviously this conclusion has to be treated with caution because there are so many other variables which need to be taken into account.

If it is indeed the prevalence of women and the absence of (certain types of?) men from a society which encourages development, there are some pretty challenging implications – Most obviously it raises the question of how we are to reduce (certain types of) male influence in developing countries?



A summary of The End of Poverty Chapter Eight – The Voiceless Dying: Africa and Disease

A summary of The End of Poverty Chapter Eight – The Voiceless Dying: Africa and Disease

I’ve just finished re-reading this – It mainly focusses on how Malaria and AIDs have prevented development in Sub-Saharan Africa and what can be done about it – basically a precursor to the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals. It’s 10 years old now, but fascinating nonethless, especially if you read it along with current progress reports on efforts to combat these two diseases I’ll add in a few updates on the later l8r.

The chapter begins by reminding us that corruption alone is not enough to explain Africa’s poor economic growth in the post-colonial period. In fact, charging Africa with corruption is hypocritical – little surpasses the cruelty and depredations that the West has long imposed on Africa, firstly in the form of Colonialism itself which left Africa bereft of educated leaders and infrastructure, and with arbitrary boarder lines which divided ethnic groups, water courses and mineral deposits in arbitrary ways.

On top of this, as soon as the cold war ended, Africa became a pawn in the Cold War. Assistance was refused to governments who were seen to be pro-communist and some terribly oppressive regimes were actually supported if they were seen to be anti-communist….The most obvious example provided is the installation of Mobutu Sese Seko in the now DRC following the murder of the first Primeminister of the Congo – Patrice Lumumba by CIA and Belgian Operatives, with a similar process happening in at least Angola, Ghana, South Africa (US support for Apartheid), Mozambique and Somalia.

Sachs now cites a 1965 CIA report which summed up the potential for economic growth in Africa as minimal, and stated the view that Africa was unlikely to receive signficant enough investment from the US to make a difference – basically what Africa needed was a Marshall Plan level of investment, but the US was not prepared to invest this money in Africa.

Instead, what Africa got (during the 1980s and 1990s) was Structural Readjustment Policies which encouraged ‘budgetary belt tightening’ which left many African countries poorer by 2000 than they were in the 1960s immediately after the end of colonial rule. Sachs says that these policies had little scientific merit and produced little results

Deeper Causes of African Poverty

Sach’s starts of this section by pointing out that the corruption levels between 1980 – 2000, as measured by Transparency International, were higher in various Asian countries (for example Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) compared to various African countries (for example Malawi and Mali), and yet Asian countries grew at around 3% a year, while Africa stalled. NB – it’s worth noting as a quick aside that a 3% year on year growth rate might not sound like a lot, but over 20 years this compounds signficantly.

Sachs draws on his visits to Sub-Saharan Africa (the first in 1995) to explain the factors which have hindered economic growth…..

Environmental factors hinder attempts towards economic growth – Disease, Drought and distance from world markets are all features of the African environment – Adam Smith, in fact, noted in 1776 that Africa lacked the kind of navigable rivers which gave Europe an advantage in world trade.

To emphasise this Sachs also talks about just how dispersed the rural populations of Africa are, which, combined with poor soil fertility, hinder their ability to produce sufficient food for themselves, let alone producing enough to export.

Then he gets onto the prevalence of disease – AIDS was already rampant by the mid 90s, but he also cites Malaria – he states that all of his Africa Colleages lost a few days a year to boughts of Malaria, some of the boughts being serious and leading to hospitalisation. He says that nowhere on earth had he experienced so much illness and death as in Sub-Saharan Africa – in the year 2000, SSA’s LE stood at 47, a good 20 years below Asia’s and 30 years below Europes.

According to the historian Angus Maddison, SSA had experienced the lowest levels of economic growth in the world even before colonial times, which leads Sachs to theorise that the disease burden may be able to explain both this long-term historical low economic growth rate and the more recent low growth rate.

There are some other factors which might explain low growth – Firstly poor leadership is sufficient to explain this in the case of Zimbabwe.

Next Sachs asks why there is such a lack of Free Trade Zones for exporting in Africa, given that these were the path to growth which Asian countries used form the late 1960s onwards, which grew mainly through exporting garments. There is one African country which did the same – Mauritius in 1968 – Here one ethnic-Chinese academic on the island happened to visit his brother in Taiwan . The brother was playing a lead role in the new export processing zones which were then being established in Taiwan, and his brother took the concept back to Mauritious, and the rest is history….

He then points out that free market reforms would not work in African countries which were caught in a poverty trap, especially those which are landlocked (15 countries are in Africa) – even those which had generally good governance.

The Malaria Mystery

Malaria is an entirely treatable disease, and yet it still claims 3 million lives a year, 90% of which are in Africa. After pointing to the correlation between low GDP and Malaria and then asks four questions….

Is it Malaria that causes poverty, or vice-versa? Or both?

Why was the Malaria problem so much worse in Africa

What was being done about the Malaria problem?

What more could be done?


Is it Malaria that causes poverty, or vice, versa, or both….?

Both –

Poor countries cannot afford Malarial prevention strategies – such as spraying with insecticide or putting up treated mosiquito nets, or even houses with doors and windows which keep the mosquitos out.

Malaria also prevents econommic growth – not only because of work days lost, but also because mass illness can stop infrastructure development projects in their tracks – Sachs reminds us that the building of the Panama canal was hindered because of Malaria.

Malaria also means high birth rates – when children die, parents overcompensate and have more children…. then large numbers of children and poverty means the family can only afford to educate one child, so large numbers of children enter adulthood with no education.

It also means those children who do get an education taking time of school because of sickness and poor education.

In short (p199) ‘Malaria sets the perfect trap: it impoverishes a country, making it too expensive to prevent and treat the disease. Thus malaria continues and poverty deepens in a truly vicious cycle.

Why is Africa more vulnerable than other regions?

Basically because of the disease ecology – a combination of high temperatures (the parasite develops faster), moist breeding grounds, and a variety of mosquito which prefers bighting humans rather than cattle means the transmission rate is higher in SSA than Europe and Asia (with the exception of Papua New Guinea). This all leads to the transmission rate being 9 times faster in Africa than it is in Asia.

However, Malaria is treatable and a combination of spraying, bed nets, and anti-malarial drugs means that no child at least needs to die from the disease.

What was being done (in 1995) to combat Malaria?

Hardly anything – tens of millions were being spent in aid, when $2-3 billion was required ($5billion a year in today’s money)…. The world bank was too busy arging for budget cuts and privatisation to even notice Malaria.

Africa’s AIDS cataclysm

Why is AIDs more of a problem in Africa?

No one’s really sure – the common assumption is that people have more sexual partners in Africa, although data puts this in doubt – So it might be that the patterns of copulation are different (more older men with younger women), it might be more concurrent relationships (faster turn over), it might be less use of condoms.

What are economic costs of AIDs?

This is possibly worse than Malaria, at the time 10s of millions of deaths – and many adults dying – teachers/ doctors/ civil servants, not to mention the strain on the health services, the heads of households being ill and the orphaned children. Also businesses don’t invest out of fear.

What was being done?

By the late 1990s, Anti-retroviral therapy in the West was giving people with AIDS hope – which meant more people were coming forwards to be tested for the disease, but only $70 million was being spent on combatting the disease in SSA. Apparantly the World Bank did not make one single loan specifically for combatting AIDs in the Africa from between 1995-2000.

Eventally Sachs ended up charing a WHO commission on macroeconomics and health which made the case for economic investment in health to improve economic development. They found eight major causes of disease in Africa – of which AIDs and Malaria were the top two.

The commission also suggested that $27 billion of aid focussed on health a year could save 8 million lives – equivalent to 1/000 of the combined annual income of all donor countries.

The birth of the global fund to fight AIDs, TB and Malaria

This was established in 2001, following agreement from drugs companies to provide AIDs drugs for the $500 cost price (for low income countries) rather than the $10000 market price in high income countries.However, there is still an ongoing battle to secure funding and encourage low income countries to implement the necessary procedures to make all this worthwhile.

Lessons learned

In the final section of this chapter Sachs reminds us that Africa faces other barriers to growth rather than just disease – he notes that a combination of environment and poverty creates a poverty trap – He comes back again to the point that intermittent rain fall doesn not help crop fertility, but also the fact that the most heavily populated areas are the most fertile regions in Africa – which is Rwanda (and DRC I thought) – basically inland areas furthest away from the coast.

However, he notes that there are many things which could be done to assist Africa – Poor soil can be improved by organic and artificial fertilisers, irrigation schemes could help – (Africa, basically, needs its own Green Revolution), and infrastructure improvement could connect inland rural populations.

At the end of the day – if a combined effort of the International Community and African Countries can combat Malaria and AIDs, then the same can be done to improve farming and develop roads and electric infrastructure.

I’m reminded about one quote from near the beginning of the book – What does Africa need to focus on most urgently – health/ education/ infrastructure or what – the truth is, everything at once.

The chapter rounds off by mentioning that this was about to be put in place big time by the introduction of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 – Which Sachs played a central role in….


Putting Ebola in Perspective (along with other preventable causes of death in West Africa)

This is just a quick post on the spread of Ebola… Can’t really not do something on this when you teach health and development…..

The spread of Ebola

As of 7th November 2014 there have been 13268 confirmed cases of Ebola and almost 5000 deaths from Ebola, spread across Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, with 1/2 people contracting the dieseas dying from it. This web site outlines the current cases and deaths from Ebola in West Africa and beyond…..


A report from September  (Estimating the Future Number of Cases in the Ebola Epidemic—Liberia and Sierra Leone, 2014–2015) estimated that wthout additional interventions or changes in community behavior, by January 20, 2015, there will be a total of approximately 550,000 Ebola cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone or 1.4 million if corrections for underreporting are made. The report also noted that halting the epidemic requires that approximately 70% of Ebola cases need to be cared for either in Ebola Treatment Units or in a community setting in which there is a reduced risk of disease transmission and safe burials are provided.

What are the symptoms of Ebola?

In a nutshell, victims bleed to death.

AKA Ebola hemorrhagic fever, symptoms typically start between two days and three weeks after contracting the virus as a fever, sore throat, muscle pain, and headaches. Then, vomiting, diarrhea and rash usually follow, along with decreased function of the liver and kidneys. At this time some people begin to bleed both internally and externally.The disease has a high risk of death, killing on average 50 percent of those who contract it, often due to low blood pressure from fluid loss, and typically six to sixteen days after symptoms appear.

Ebola lives on in the deceased for at least three days…..and this is when Ebola is at its most contagious. All it takes is one tiny speck of any of the various body fluids associated with death to enter your body, and you’re infected.

Why is Ebola spreading so rapidly?

Here I focus on Sierra-Leone

(1) The first case….

The first confirmed Ebola case was in Sierra Leone was in May (2014), when a woman was admitted to a government hospital in Sierra Leone. The authorities traced her back to a well known healer in the region, who many people visited both from SL and from accross the border in Guinea, where Ebola had already been confirmed. This healer (for obvious reasons) contracted Ebola herself, and died, and this was seen as a seminal event in Ebola’s spread, with 365 deaths being traced back to her well-attended funeral.

The virus, being highly contageous, spread rapdily after that, with doctors and nurses being common casualties, dampening the ability of the country to delay the further spread of the disease.

(source –

(2) Traditional burial practices in West Africa?

One THEORY of the spread of Ebola is that traditional burial practices, which involve morners touching the deceased, lead to the rapid spread of the disease.

However, the main evidence from this comes from Anthropoligsts who have observed death ceremonies in Uganda, which is firmly in East Africa (see this article)

As one anthropologist describes a UGANDAN burial ceremony…..

In the Ugandan ceremonies the sister of the deceased’s father is responsible for bathing, cleaning, and dressing the body in a “favourite outfit.” This task  is “too emotionally painful” for the immediate family. In the event that no aunt exists, a female elder in the community takes this role on. The next step, the mourning, is where the real ceremony takes place. “Funerals are major cultural events that can last for days, depending on the status of the deceased person.” As the women “wail” and the men “dance,” the community takes time to “demonstrate care and respect for the dead.”  When the ceremony is coming to a close, a common bowl is used for ritual hand-washing, and a final touch or kiss on the face of the corpse (which is known as a “a love touch”) is bestowed on the dead. When the ceremony has concluded, the body is buried on land that directly adjoins the deceased’s house because “the family wants the spirit to be happy and not feel forgotten. These burial rituals and funerals are a critical way for the community to safely transfer the deceased into the afterlife. Prohibiting families from performing such rites is not only viewed as an affront to the deceased, but as actually putting the family in danger. “In the event of an improper burial, the deceased person’s spirit (tibo) will cause harm and illness to the family,”

(3) Mistrust of health workers

Terry O-Sullivan, who spent three years volunteering in Sierra-Leone reports that….

“People have no idea how infectious diseases work. They see people go into the hospital sick and come out dead—or never come out at all,” he says. “They think if they can avoid the hospital they can survive.” This mistrust of the medical world seems to be validated when a family is prohibited from honouring the dead, participating in the funeral, or even seeing the body.”

This is backed up by a report from the BBC World Service (28/10/14) focussing on the ‘dead body management team’ in Sierra Leonne’s capital Freetown – The report described how, with Ebola still on the increase, although the message about the risks associated with the disease is getting through, there is enoromous resistance in rural or semi-rural villages when the disposal team arrives to remove a dead body for cremation. The reason for the resistance is that it is traditional for relatives to bury the body, typically with a lot of physical contact being involved.

The report followed the disposal team into one village, where a 65 year old woman had recently died. Their job was to get the morners ‘on side’, disinfect literally everything in the hut containing the body, bag the body up (in 2 body bags) and remove it, spraying everything on root. In the process the team is thoroughly suited, with gloves taped on. Apparently the most dangerous part of the process is the removal of the suit afterwards, the staff have to be sprayed with chlorine as every layer of protective clothing is removed.

(4)  The literacy rate in SL is only around 35%, which hampers the ability of authorities to explain how Ebola is spread and how to prevent its spread, athough I imagine this isn’t so important given the widespread prevalance of the radio as a means of communication in SL.

(5)  Lack of money and medical resources in SL. In the article above O’Sullivan appears to be suggesting that it would be necessary to have health workers in every village to win the trust of villagers and supervise funerals so that they can be conducted safely, without risk of spreading the disease. Until that happens, he seems to think it’s unlikely that its spread will be stopped.


Putting Ebola in perspective….

Looking at current figures, there are 14 things which kill more people per year than Ebola (including road traffic accidents) – Using WHO data from 2011 To illustrate…..

Deaths %
1. Malaria 13,262 17.77
2. Influenza & Pneumonia 10,761 14.42
3. Diarrhoeal diseases 8,673 11.62
4. Tuberculosis 7,143 9.57
5. Low Birth Weight 3,654 4.90
6. HIV/AIDS 2,775 3.72
7. Birth Trauma 2,748 3.68
8. Maternal Conditions 2,191 2.94
9. Stroke 2,143 2.87
10. Measles 2,047 2.74
11. Coronary Heart Disease 1,788 2.40
12. Meningitis 1,712 2.29
13. Road Traffic Accidents 1,311 1.76
14. Malnutrition 1,176 1.58

15. Ebola (so far in 2014) 1130

NB I don’t want to underplay the threat of Ebola – I’m aware of the unfair comparison and the doubling every 20 days or so. If current projections come true and there are 500 000 or more confirmed cases in SL and the death rate is one in two, then Ebola will top the death league tables for 2015 by a long way. It is, however, important to note that in the table above these deaths are occurring every single year – so cumulatively deaths from preventable causes is a massive problem in SL even without Ebola.

If people really want to prevent West African children dying from preventable diseases then ending poverty in SL is the most important long term goal. Just turning up in chemical suits for a few months and then turning our backs isn’t going to help that much. It will, however make us feel a lot better about ourselves.

Ebola and the globalised culture of fear….

One interesting line of analysis about Ebola is the extent to which media attention reflects predominent narratives in the West….

Ebola sits well with parellel narratives in the ‘globalised culture of fear’ – Ebola’s basically another threat from abroad – just like the immigrants and terrorists – All of our problems come from outside, and the Ebola story reinforces this ignorance, especially when, in its original incarnation, it does actually come from the Heart of Darkness, which is pretty much the same as the all-the-same countries in West Africa.

Ebola also fits well with the Modernisation Theory narrative that ‘backward Africans’ cultural practices lead to them dying off… The predominant focus in the media seems to be on silly Africans with their backward burial rituals, all touching each other and monkeys and bats and given each other Ebola, rather than focussing on the lack of money and facilities which are essential to dampening the spread of the disease and preventing the other 14 preventable causes of death which currently kill more people every year than Ebola’s killed so far this year.

Of course what the media should be focussing on are the year on year causes of death in SL and other poor countries – and the day to day causes of health problems in general – poverty, lack of clean water and poor sanitation, and of course the good ole’ unfair trade rules which keep poor countries poor. This however is a lot more difficult for an ignorant and generally uncaring audience to understand.


‘Summary’ of Why Nations Fail

71obsqEDYbL._SL1199_Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty (2013) by D. Acemoglu and J.A. Robinson

Overall Summary

Developed countries are wealthy because of ‘inclusive economic institutions’ – Basically a combination of state and free market in which

  1. The state creates incentives for people to invest and innovate – (through guaranteeing private property rights and enforcing contract law)
  2. The state enables investment and growth through providing education and infrastructure, which private business uses, and
  3. The state is controlled by its citizens, rather than monopolised by a small elite. Crucially, there needs to be a democratic principle at work in which people in politics establish institutions and laws which work for the majority of people, rather than just working to make them rich.
  4. The state also needs to maintain a monopoly on violence.

The authors come to this conclusion through a number of comparative studies of countries which are in close geographical proximity to each other such as

  • Mexico/ America
  • South/ North Korea
  • Botswana/ Zimbabwe

They argue that the only factor which can explain why one of these countries is poor and the other rich is because of the institutional infrastructure which has been established through the last few decades/ centuries.

In contrast to the above ‘inclusive economic institutions’ which encourage development, the authors suggest the opposite ‘extractive economic institutions’ (think corrupt dicator and his clique sucking money into a Swiss bank account) can generate growth in the short-term, but in the long term result in poverty.

They also suggest that there has been ‘a vicious circle’ at work in many underdeveloped countries over the last three to four centuries – With their globalised history starting off with extractive institutions established by a colonial power (typically built on already existing internal extractive institutions), which, on independence, became even more extractive under postolonial rulers, which in turn lead to civil war as competing factions fought for control over the extractive institutions – which then led to a decent into chaos and failed states. The authors see little hope for such countries.

In contrast, developing countries such as the US and the UK have benefitted from three to four centuries of a virtuous circle in which institutions have become gradually more inclusive, which has created increasing incentives for entrepeneurialism and economic growth.

The gist of the book is, handily enough, covered in the intro and chapter one….


Countries such as Egypt are poor becuase they have been ruled by a narrow elite that have organised society for their own benefit at the expense of the vast mass of people. (This also applies to North Korea, Sierra Leonne, Zimbabwe)

Countries such as Great Britain and The United States are wealthy because their citizens overthrew the elites who controlled power and created a society where political rights were much more broadly distributed, where the government was accountable and responsive to its citzens and where the great mass of people could take advantage of economic opportunties. (This also applies to Japan and Botswana).


Chapter one – so close and yet so different

Starts with a comparison of the two sides of Nogales, half of which lies in Arizona, in the US, the other half in Mexico.

Nogales inequality

In the Arizonan half the average income is $30 000 U.S dollars, the majority of adults are high school graduates, the roads are paved, there is law and order, most live until over 65. In the Southern half, the average income is three times less and everything else is similarly worse.

The authors point out that the difference cannot be because of environment or culture, it must be because of politics and economic opportuntities.

They also argue that in order to understand the difference, you need to go right back to early Colonialism in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Mexico was the first to be colonised, under a system of slavery and extraction. In the 15th century, the Spanish basically used already existing systems of slavery to their own benefit and extracted mountains of gold and silver, leaving a legacy of elite-governance and a dearth of politcal rights for the majority.

In North America, settled by mainly the English 100 years later, the absence of slavery amongst indiginous populations and much lower population densities meant that slave systems simply would not work, although this didn’t stop them trying for the first twenty years or so. Eventually, however, the orginal settler company (The Virginia company) back in England realised the only way colonialism was going to work was to provide incentives for the settlers – So they offered them land in return for work. It was this that set the basis for the democratic constitution and congress of the US, which then went on to create problems for the English government.

The rest of chapter goes on to argue that the next 300 years of history are crucial to understanding why the US is now so wealthy, and why most of Latin America is so poor.

America has had 300 years of political stability, where poltical institutions control economic institutions, at least to an extent (the authors cite the breaking up of the Microsoft Monopoly as an example) broadly making them work for everyone. Other factors such as the patent system, credit systems, and education provide opportunities for anyone to make it rich and enjoy the benefits of the wealth.

By contrast in Latin America (Mexico), up until the 1990s most countries saw political turmoil and a series of dicatorships where a series of small elites ruled for their own benefit. This instability has lead to the rise of monopoly power, and it acts as a disincentive for anyone to try and do well and become rich (the next dictator might just take all your money away), also lack of finance and education prevents competition anyway.

Crucially, historical good fortune appears to be central to explaining why a country is rich now, so figuring out how a current poor country can develop is not that straight forward if a culture of monopoly, corruption and lack of political rights are the norm…..


Chapter three – the making of prosperity and poverty

This chapter contrasts North and South Korea, divided along the 38th parellel after world war two. In the late 1940s these had similar levels of development, today, however, their economies have diverged.

South Korea has living standards 10 times higher than North Korea, the former being similar to Portugal, the later similar to sub-saharan African countries. People in North Korea also live ten years less than those in South Korea.

North and South Korea at Night
North and South Korea at Night

The differences cannot be explained by anything other than institutions.

In the South, private property and markets were encouraged (albeit by dictators initially) and thus investment and economic growth were encouraged. At the same time, the government invested in education and new industries took advantage of a better educated population.

In North Korea, privated property and markets were banned, and a centrally planned economy instigated. This simply led to stagnation.

Extractive and Inclusive economic instiutions

Countries differ in their economic success becasue of their different institutions – the rules influencing how the economy works and the incentives that motivate people. Crucial is private property rights – which needs to be backed by the state…. In South Korea, people know that they will be rewarded for their efforts, in North Korea, there is no incentive to innovate and invest because the state will expropriate the benefits of any such initiatives.

In order to develop a society needs to have ‘inclusive economic institutions’ – A state that guarantees prosperity for the massess – Such a state provides a degree of infrastructure that is necessary for economic growth – for example enforcing private property rights, contract rights for all, not just a minority, and providing education and physical infrastructure such as roads. Private enterprise uses and needs such institutions.

What doesn’t work for development is extractive insitutions – where the state is used to extract wealth from one subset of the population to another…. Such as slave and colonial systems (and the Tories in the UK today?)

Engines of Prospertity

Education for the masses is crucial for innovation in an advanced technological world – This is what all developed nations have, and what many undeveloped nations lack. Education needs to be well financed and parents need to have the incentive to send their kids to school.

Inclusive and extractive political institutions

A state needs to be inclusive for economic growth to occur – that is, it needs to both be chosen by its citizens and have a centralized control over legitimate violence.

Extractive political and economic insituttions tend to support eachother (which then means the masses don’t support them…. there is disincentive!)

Why not always choose prosperity?

The simple fact is that where technological change is the engine of economic growth, this means social change, and with change there are winners and losers… Thus existing elites may resist changes that make institutions more inclusive even if this means greater prosperity for all, because it will mean less prosperity for them. (Think industrial revolutions in Europe).

The long agony of the Congo

The Congo has not developed since independence because it has not been in the interests of the ruling elite to build a centralised state which includes all voices, or in their interests to use the state to provide public services which will benefit the masses – instead the institutions remain extractive.

As an independent polity, Congo experienced almost unbroken economic decline and poverty under the rule of Jospeh Mobutu between 1965 and 1997. Mobutu created a set of highly extractive economic insitutions. The citizens were impoverished but Mobutu and the elite around him (known as the Grosses Legumes or The Big Vegetables) became fabulously wealthy. Mobutu built himself a palace at his birthplace, Gbadolite, with an ariport large enough to land a supersonic Concord jet, a plane he frequently rented from Air France for travel to Europe. In Europe he bought castles and owned large tracts of the Belgian capital Brussels.

The simple truth is that if Mobutu had introduced more inclusive economic institutions he would not have been as rich.

Growth under extractive institutions

Growth can occur under extractive instiuttions – as in Russia and South Korea at first and China today but this is unlikely to be sustained unless both economic and political insitutions become inclusive.


Chapter twelve – the vicious circle

The authors paint the vicious circle as starting off with extractive institutions established by a colonial power (which builds on previous extractive institutions), which, on leaving, becomes even more extractive under corrupt post-colonial rulers, which in turn leads to civil war as competing factions fight for control over the extractive instittions – which then leads to a decent into chaos!

1914 - British Colonies in Red
1914 – British Colonies in Red

Or in more detail… The British Colonial Authorities built extractive instititions which many post independence African politicians were only too happy to continue in order to enrich themselves. This happened in countries such as Sierra Leone, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. The postcolonial rulers used their wealth to build personalised security forces which were answerable to them and also to rig elections – money thus became essential to maintain power, with only those who have money able to maintain power. This creates incentives among the opposition to depose the existing leaders in order to gain power and wealth themselves, and to protect themselves from being killed off by the said existing leaders. The point here is that power has become an end in itself rather than as a means to developing a country.

This is best illustrated through the example of Sierra Leone –

All of the West African nation of Sierra Leone became a British colony in 1896. The British identified important rulers and and gave them a new title – paramount chief. In Eastern Sierra Leone, for example, they encountered Suluku, a powerful warrior king, who was made Paramount Chief Suluku.

In 1898 the British tried levying a hut tax of five shillings, which resulted in a civil war known as the hut tax rebellion. It started in the north, but was strongest and lasted longest in the South.

In 1904, the British stopped construction of a railway line from Freetown to the North East and instead diverted it south, to Bo, in Mendeland, to give them quick access to put down this rebellion.

When Sierra Leone became independent in 1961 the British handed power to to the SLPP, which attracted support from the South, and in 1967 this party lost the election to the opposition party, the APC which drew support from the North.

Though the railway line was initially established to rule SL, by 1967, its role was economic – it allowed transportation of the country’s exports – coffee, cocoa, and diamonds, which came mostly from Mendeland in the south.

The then leader of the APC, Siaka Stevens, who drew his political support from the north, ripped up the railway line and sold off the track and rolling stock in order to weaken the oppostion in the south and consolidate his political power. This decimated the SL economy, but when it came to a choice between consolidating power and economic growth, the consolidation of power won out. Today, you can’t take the train to Bo anymore.

There is continuity between Colonial rule and Steven’s government – both extracted wealth from the people.

The Colonial rulers did this through agricultural marketing boards – farmers had to sell their goods to these boards, which typically paid much less than the market price (impovershing farmers and enriching the elite). When Stevens took power, he kept these marketing boards in place, but it got worse – under colonial rule, the colonialists extracted about 50% of the value of agricultral products, under Stevens, the rate of extracting rose to 90%.

Along with marketing boards, the old system of Paramount Chiefs remain in place today…. They control local politics at the village level, and local land rights and taxation – Paramount chiefs are elected, but only members of the ruling house can stand – and in 2005 the victor was Sheku Fasuluka, King Suluku’s great, great grandson.

The combination of these two institutions means there is very little incentive for farmers to increase productivity – because they have insecure land rights due to the paramount chief system and are the victim of extractive insitutions in the form of the marketing boards.

Thirdly, there was the control of the diamond mines – The British essentially set up a monopoloy for the entire country and handed it to DeBeers in 1936, and shortly after independence, Stevens simply nationalised this arrangement, through which he effectively personally controlled 51% of the diamonds in SL.

Stevens used his vast fortune to buy political influence and to set up his own private security forces – the ISU (known locally as the ‘I Shoot You’ and the Special Security Division – known as Siaka Steven’s Dogs).

All of this set the scene for the brutal civil war, outlined below….

Chapter 13 – Why Nations Fail Today

In the year 2000 Zimbabwe held a national lottery for everyone who had kept more than 5000 Zimbabwean dollars in their bank account (following a period of hyperinflation). The fact that it was Robert Mugabe who won this lottery just goes to show the extent of his control over Zimbabwe’s institutions and just how extractive those institutions had become.

mugabe corruption zimbabwe

The most common reasons nations fail today is because they have extractive institutions – and Zimbabwe illustrates the economic and social consequences of these…. By 2008 its per capita income was half that when it gained its independence, and 2009 the unemployment rate stood at 94%.

The roots of the political and economic instiututions lie in the colonial period. Orginally apartheid institutions were establised for a white elite to extract wealth from the country, but when Zimbabwe gained its indendence, these institutions were simply maintained by Mugabe. Eventually (because of lack of inclusivity) his support waned until by the year 2000 he had to find further resources to buy political support – so he expropriated the farms owned by white people and when that wasn’t enough he printed money, which led to massive hyperinflation.

Nations fail today because their extractive institutions do not create the incentives to save, invest and innovate. In many cases politicians stifle economic activity because this threatens their power base (the economic elite) – as in Argentina, Colombia and Egypt. In the cases of Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone this led to total state failure and economic stagnation. The countries in which this has happened include…

  • Angola
  • Cameroon
  • Chad
  • DRC
  • Haiti
  • Liberia
  • Nepal
  • Sierra Leone
  • Sudan
  • Zimbabwe

And the civil war, mass displacement, famines and epidemics that accompany them… in terms of development many of these countries are poorer today than they were in the 1960s.

A children’s crusade…

This section outlines the causes of the civil war in Sierra Leone. The authors put this down to decades of extractive institutions by the tyrannical APC government (the economy was collapsing by 1985, and they use the example of the TV transmitter being sold by the minister of information in 1987 and in 1989 the country’s main radio antena collapsed, ceasing radio transmissions.) By this point, the army had been dispanded because of the ruling elite feared it might overthrow them, which meant by the time Charles Taylor’s RPF crossed the boarder in 1991 there was no one there to stop them…. And then that brutal and chaotic civil war carried on for a decade – in which competing factions competed over resources in order to keep fighting each other – diamonds/ children (soldiers) and weapons.

Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor

So in summary, the historical precendent of the SL civil war is extractive institutions… the hollowing out the state to the point that was incapable of fending off rebels.

The authors now go on to outline three other countries which have suffered from different types of extractive institutions – Colombia, Argentina and Egypt, and then Uzbekistan…. a country languishing under the absolutism of a single family and the cronies surrounding them, with an economy based on the forced labour of children….

Child Cotton Labourers in Uzbekistan
Child Cotton Labourers in Uzbekistan


Cotton accounts for 45% of the exports of Uzbekistan. When the country was created in 1991, its first and still only president Islam Karimov, divided up the land among farmers, but each was required to devote at least 35% of their land to cotton, a valuable export crop. However, because the farmers themselves receive only a fraction of the world market price of the crop, they had no incentive to maintain, let alone invest in, cotton harvesting machinery.

No matter, however, because the country has turned to children to harvest the cotton, and every September-November the schools are emptied of approx. 2.7 million schoolchildren. Teachers, instead of being instructors, become labour recruiters.

Each child is required to pick between 20-60KG a day, depending on age, and the lucky ones who live close to their allocated farms can walk or bus to work, but the unlucky ones have to sleep over in sheds, with no toilets or wash facilities. And it’s BYO food.

While the market price for cotton was $1.40 in 2006, the children were paid somewhere in the region of $0.01 per kilo.

All of this has come to pass because Karimov has established a regime where opposition is repressed and there is no free media or NGOs allowed.

Why do nations fail?

What all of the countries loooked at in the book have in common is that they have an elite who have designed economic instiututions in order to enrich themselves and perpetuate their power at the expense of the vast majority of people in society.

Despite differences the bigger picture is that in each of these countries extractive political institutions that have created extractive economic insitutions which transfer wealth and power toward the elite.

The solution is to transform the extractive institutions into inclusive ones…

Chapter fourteen – breaking the mould

This chapter looks at three case studies – Botswana, The South of America, and China, which all managed to move from, or negotiate their way around (in the case of Botswana) extractive to inclusive political institutions which encouraged econonomic development.

Of particular interest to me is the case of Botswana – which today has the same level of development as some Eastern European countries, despite being as poor as most of the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa in the 1960s (at which time there were less than 100 graduates in the entire country).

What’s especially interesting about Botswana is that in that particular region of Africa a broadly inclusive political system was in existence pre-colonialsm – in the sense that any individual could rise up to become head of one the various different chiefdoms in the region, and so chiefdom was not hereditory, it was meritocratic, and someone could only be chief with the will of the people. Thus the principal of ruling with the will of the people, and on behalf of the people had been established for generations.

Another factor which promoted development was the fact that the English weren’t particularly interested in Botswana. In fact in the 1890s, three Twsana chiefs visited England and negotiated with the government to be part of a British Protectorate (different to a colony) – In return for protecting the region against Rhode’s South African expansionary policies (the guy who colonised Zimbabwe and Zambia, and look how they turned out!) all Enlgand wanted was enough land to build a railway in order to open up the intererior. For this the Twsana were pretty much left alone, crucially unextracted and without interefering institutions which had been set up to allow the extraction to take place.

Also signficant is that, following Colonialism and the discovery of diamonds, the Tswana chiefs passed a law that all diamond wealth was to be national property, rather than giving the rights to individuals or Corporations (like neoliberals would claim should be done, and like what happened in Sierra Leone). The effect of this was masses of public money which was then used to pay for public services. Hence development……

Something else emphasised in this chapter is that in all three cases certain key actors made important decisions at crucial junctures in the country’s history (when an existing leader died, such as Mao, creating a power vaccum, or when Independence was gained in Botswana) – The decisions taken at these crucial points in history in these countries involved either fighting the power of entrenched elites (as in China) or establishing laws which would prevent political corruption (like nationalising the diamond supplies in Botswana) – it was these decisions, in contrast to decisions in countries like Sierra Leone where a national railline was sold off to benefit an elite, which led to economic development.

Chapter 15 – understanding prosperity and poverty

The most interesting section of this concerns the predictive power of the theory – which is limited given the role of agency and contingency in said theory. However, the authors do predict that…

America and Europe are likely to get even richer than countries in most of the rest of the world, because these are the most inclusive institutions (I’d beg to differ given Tory Policy). Nations that have undergone no signficant state centralisation such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Haiti are unlikely to witness any development. Some Latin American countries are set two grow – most noteably Brazil, Chile Mexico as are some African countries – Tanzania and Ethiopia for example. Growth will not be sustained in China.

The irresistible charm of authoritarian growth…..

This section reminds us that modernisation theory is flawed – economic growth (more Mcdonalds as Thomas Friedman might put it) does not necessarily lead to to more inclusive political institutions.

Plenty of repressive regimes have pursued and achieve very rapid economic growth in the last 60 years – Germany, for example, Russia, and China.

This chapter also deals with what probably won’t work in terms of development… Firstly, any attempt at engineering policy changes such as those attempted by neoliberalisation throughout the 1980s and 90s – Because if a country is politically corrupt, they just subvert the policy changes – Privatisation happens, but the people winning the contracts are the brothers of the ministers for example, or the country says it implements a policy but they just carries on as normal!

You can’t engineer prosperity

…because the actors within developing countries are constrained by their institutions, and if these are extractive then any programmes designed to engineer change will ultimately result in further extraction.

This is true of two approaches to foreign aid preferred by the West – both the neoliberal ‘restructure your economy’ type approach and the micro-economic approach which focuses on specific institutions.

The failure of foreign aid

As above, any aid money going into a country with extractive institutions will ultimately end up being extracted. The authors do argue, however, that even if only 20% of aid money reaches its ultimate destination then it’s worth it!

What works….?

The chapter and book round off by going back to the English and US revolutions which resulted in institutions becoming more inclusive – what is required for development is a plurality of voices demanding to be heard by government and actually being heard. This cannot be imposed from above, but seems to have to become from below.

In this sense, any attempt to engineer growth and provide aid seem pointless – the only things that make any sense are programmes oriented towards empowerment and making sure media is free because the later fosters the former.

Thoughts and comments….


The comparative analysis of countries and territories in close geographical proximity does seem to rule out the role of environmental and cultural factors in explaning divergent patterns of development, leaving only political and economic institutions.

It fully recognises the importance of the legacy of extraction identified by dependency theory, however, it also puts more emphasis on the already existing extractive institutions which the early colonisers extracted and it recognises the continuation of extraction post-colinalism, acknowledging the fact that corrupt elites also play a role.

This seems to deny the validity of neoliberal theory – the state seems to be crucial in helping development, and the absence of the state seems to be crucial in explaining the descent into chaos and civil war.

This isn’t a deterministic theory – it stresses the importance of agency and contingency at crucial historical junctures.


This is  quite a generalist analysis – ‘extractive’ and ‘inclusive’ institutions are very general, broad terms, and there’s lots of variation possible within these voluminous concepts.

The book only draws on a relatively few case studies – and lacks the statistical rigour of, for example,  Paul Collier’s Bottom Billion Theory.

The book doesn’t seem to deal with the globalised context of the nation state today within a ‘world system’ – There is no mention (as far as I can see) of the role which TNCs, trade rules, the World Bank might play in allowing a global elite (rather than nationalised elites) to extract regions of the world.

As a final word, what’s maybe most timely (or not timely?) about the book is its suggestion that some kind of political infrastructure which allows a plurality of voices to be heard and wealth to be distributed so it benefits all is crucial to development – it’s time more of us started asking how we might do this at a global, rather than a national level.

Further Reading

The blog based around the book