Development stories from around the web

I’ve enjoyed my last weekend in Kenya by wandering around downtown Nairobi, finally getting my hands on a Kenya national football jersey, and hanging out with some American embassy staff. I also prepped for my upcoming trip to Denver by enjoying some Fat Tire, courtesy of the embassy’s commissary.

And of course, I caught up on reading again. Here are the highlights.

First, the timely issue: Paul Kagame: enlightened leader of national development…or oppressive tyrant?

I was going to post a few stories on Rwanda in advance of Kagame’s imminent reelection tomorrow. However, Laura Seay (Texas in Africa) has done a much better job than I could, so just go here instead. Lest you think me lazy for just linking to someone else’s round-up, here are two additions: Jason Stearns (Congo Siasa) discusses the power struggles within RPF; and, for those who just want the top-line, here’s the Economist‘s summary of the whole thing.

Second, the miscellaneous gems

  • Laura Freschi (Aid Watch) reviews the evidence on the ability of aid to win “hearts and minds”, especially in conflict/post-conflict situations. The verdict is not good.
  • Phil Auerswald (The Coming Prosperity) dispels some myths and misconceptions around Paul Romer and New Growth Theory.
  • PRI’s got a great story on dealing with land disputes in post-conflict Liberia. It’s worth highlighting the link between nitty-gritty community work and national level judicial reforms, and how important they both are. (h/t Texas in Africa)
  • Alanna Shaikh (Blood and Milk), in a post titled “Change hurts“, recaps a recent debate over crowd-sourcing via SMS, decides that it’s “just a tool” like many others (a view I wholeheartedly endorse), and then proceeds to psychoanalyze the aid community’s reaction to it.
  • Alanna also offers considerable assistance to international development job seekers.
  • Linda Raftree (What… What? Wait… What?) ponders how old ideas get re-mixed and become hip again in development. She’s known about bottom-up development, the importance of public policy, working with local partners/management, participatory design, etc. for years. So my question is: Linda, what’s next?! (Just a heads up: When you see her post title, you may wonder if I included the right link. It’s a little nsfw.)
  • The Economist discusses the history and prospects of industrial policy. It’s seeing a revival due to recent successes in China and elsewhere, the political need to create jobs during a downturn, and environmental concerns. The article offers tips for policy makers: stick to areas where the country has some comparative advantage, or where the government has a natural interest (e.g. defense or energy), and follow the market (rather than try to lead it).
  • The magazine also discusses the profound impacts of Chinese immigrants (not just investment) in Africa, and the future of labor in India.

Third, a perennial debate

You may know that I love debates, such as the recent discussion on conflict minerals, and another on the Multidimensional Poverty Index. I just came across another interesting one. Here’s the play-by-play:

Tom at A View From The Cave opened up with a critique of a recent Washington Post story. The article covered a Virginia couple who raised money and gave out bikes to some Tanzanian children they met while on a safari. To him, it was lazy reporting on a bad aid project.

Jina at, um, Jina Moore, issued a rebuttal. She started by pointing out that the journalist in suburban Loudon, Virginia, is not facing any incentives to do in-depth exposés on aid projects. More importantly, Jina re-framed the debate around two issues. First, should our inability to enact a comprehensive solution stop us from doing something small? (Or another way to think about it: Should the perfect be the enemy of the good?) And then she went one step further to defend the Virginia couple who implemented this project. What really caught my eye is that she placed the onus on development professionals:

I think that people who are determined enough to be part of a solution to anything — from the crises in Darfur and Congo and beyond to getting bikes to kids in Tanzania — deserve to be taken seriously. How do the rest of us help leverage what those with good intentions want to, and clearly simply will, do?

Good question. I don’t know. In any case, Tom struck back — by basically agreeing with Jina, and clarifying his remarks. Jina responded again, expanding the conversation further with the question: Who should decide how aid is used? The line of thinking seems to lead toward an argument for cash transfers (conditional or otherwise).

My only contribution to the debate: As a native of Virginia, I’ll point out that Loudon has become a very wealthy county on the past few decades, and is home to a large number of movers and shakers who commute the hour or so to Washington, D.C. So it’s probably one of the areas that could use insightful analysis on international issues, rather than fluff pieces.

Finally, ending on a lighter note

For anyone in my generation whose middle school computer classes were defined by Oregon Trail:

There’s a development metaphor in there somewhere…