Tag Archives: Africa

The Geopolitics of the Open Government Partnership: the beginning of Open vs. Closed

Aside from one or two notable exceptions, there hasn’t been a ton of press about the Open Government Partnership (OGP). This is hardly surprising. The press likes to talk about corruption and bad government, people getting together to talk about actually address these things in far less sexy.

But even where good coverage exists analysts and journalists are, I think, misunderstanding the nature of the partnership and its broader implications should it take hold. Presently it is generally seen as a do good project, one that will help fight corruption and hopefully lead to some better governance (both of which I hope will be true). However, the Open Government Partnership isn’t just about doing good, it has real strategic and geopolitical purposes.

In fact, the OGP is, in part, about a 21st century containment strategy.

For those unfamiliar with 20th century containment, a brief refresher. Containment refers to a strategy outlined by a US diplomat – George Kennan – who while posted in Moscow wrote the famous The Long Telegram in which he outlined the need for a more aggressive policy to deal with an expansionist post-WWII Soviet Union. He argued that such a policy would need to seek to isolate the USSR politically and strategically, in part by positioning the United States as a example in the world that other countries would want to work with. While discussions of “containment” often focus on its military aspects and the eventual arms race, it was equally influential in prompting the ideological battle between the USA and USSR as they sought to demonstrate whose “system” was superior.

So I repeat. The OGP is part of a 21st century containment policy. And I’d go further, it is a effort to forge a new axis around which America specifically, and a broader democratic camp more generally, may seek to organize allies and rally its camp. It abandons the now outdated free-market/democratic vs. state-controlled/communist axis in favour of a more subtle, but more appropriate, open vs. closed.

The former axis makes little sense in a world where authoritarian governments often embrace (quasi) free-market to reign, and even have some of the basic the trappings of a democracy. The Open Government Partnership is part of an effort to redefine and shift the goal posts around what makes for a free-market democracy. Elections and a market place clearly no longer suffice and the OGP essentially sets a new bar in which a state must (in theory) allow itself to be transparent enough to provide its citizens with information (and thus power), in short: it is a state can’t simple have some of the trappings of a democracy, it must be democratic and open.

But that also leaves the larger question. Who is being contained? To find out that answer take a look at the list of OGP participants. And then consider who isn’t, and likely never could be, invited to the party.

OGP members Notably Absent
Czech Republic
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Slovak Republic
South Africa
United Kingdom
United States


Saudi Arabia

(Indeed much of the middle East)


*India is not part of the OGP but was involved in much of initial work and while it has withdrawn (for domestic political reasons) I suspect it will stay involved tangentially.

So first, what you have here is a group of countries that are broadly democratic. Indeed, if you were going to have a democratic caucus in the United Nations, it might look something like this (there are some players in that list that are struggling, but for them the OGP is another opportunity to consolidate and reinforce the gains they’ve made as well as push for new ones).

In this regards, the OGP should be seen as an effort by the United States and some allies to find some common ground as well as a philosophical touch point that not only separates them from rivals, but that makes their camp more attractive to deal with. It’s no trivial coincidence that on the day of the OGP launch the President announced the United States first fulfilled commitment would be its decision to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The EITI commits the American oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments, which would make corruption much more difficult.

This is America essentially signalling to African people and their leaders – do business with us, and we will help prevent corruption in your country. We will let you know if officials get paid off by our corporations. The obvious counter point to this is… the Chinese won’t.

It’s also why Brazil is a co-chair, and the idea was prompted during a meeting with India. This is an effort to bring the most important BRIC countries into the fold.

But even outside the BRICs, the second thing you’ll notice about the list is the number of Latin American, and in particular African countries included. Between the OGP, the fact that the UK is making government transparency a criteria for its foreign aid, and that World Bank is increasingly moving in the same direction, the forces for “open” are laying out one path for development and aid in Africa. One that rewards governance and – ideally – creates opportunities for African citizens. Again, the obvious counter point is… the Chinese won’t.

It may sounds hard to believe but the OGP is much more than a simple pact designed to make heads of state look good. I believe it has real geopolitical aims and may be the first overt, ideological salvo in the what I believe will be the geopolitical axis of Open versus Closed. This is about finding ways to compete for the hearts and minds of the world in a way that China, Russia, Iran and others simple cannot. And, while I agree we can debate the “openness” of the various the signing countries, I like the idea of world in which states compete to be more open. We could do worse.

World Bank Discussion on Open Data – lessons for developers, governments and others

Yesterday the World Bank formally launched its Apps For Development competition and Google announced that in addition to integrating the World Bank’s (large and growing) data catalog into searches, it will now do it in 34 languages.

What is fascinating about this announcement and the recent changes at the bank is it appears to be very serious about open data and even more serious about open development. The repercussions of this shift, especially if the bank starts demanding that its national partners also disclose data, could be significant.

This of course, means there is lots to talk about. So, as part of the overall launch of the competition and in an effort to open up the workings of the World Bank, the organization hosted its first Open Forum in which a panel of guests talked about open development and open data. The bank was kind enough to invite me and so I ducted out of GTEC a pinch early and flew down to DC to meet some of the amazing people behind the world bank’s changes and discuss the future of open data and what it means for open development.

Embedded below is the video of the event.

As a little backgrounder here are some links to the bios of the different panelists and people who cycled through the event.

Our host: Molly Wood of CNET.

Andrew McLaughlin, Deputy Chief Technology Officer, The White House (formerly head of Global Public Policy and Government Affairs for Google) (twitter feed)

Stuart Gill, World Bank expert, Disaster Mitigation and Response for LAC

David Eaves, Open Government Writer and Activist

Rakesh Rajani, Founder, Twaweza, an initiative focused on transparency and accountability in East Africa (twitter)

Aleem Walji, Manager, Innovation Practice, World Bank Institute (twitter)

Good Statistical Data: We fund it in Africa, but not in Canada

It turns out that the Canadian government is a supporter of collecting good statistical data – especially data that can be used to alleviate poverty and address disease. There’s only one catch. It can’t help Canadians.

As the fall out from the canceling of the mandatory long form census continues to grow – today the head of Alberta Health Services spoke out, saying the the census decision will hamper the province’s ability to deliver health care efficiently – we  now learn that the very arguments the government dismisses here in Canada, it supports on the international stage.

As it happens, the Canadian International Development Agency contributes to the Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB) an international fund designed to support the Marrakech Action Plan for Statistics. And what, you should legitimately ask, is the Marrakech plan? It is a general agreement by international actors to support building developing countries statistical capacity. It has, specifically, as a primary objective, the goal of developing countries capacity to perform censuses. More interestingly, it has a secondary goal, to: “Set up an international Household Survey Network.” the very same part of the census the government just gutted here in Canada.

Both the Trust Fund and the Marrakech Action plan websites explain this in detail. But so to does the CIDA website, where the government acknowledges that this work is essential as:

“The projects supported aim to improve in the collection, processing, analysis, storage, dissemination, and use of quality statistics to support poverty reduction and economic and social development. Developing countries can submit funding proposals to the Trust Fund. The proposals are ideally based on a national strategy for the development of statistics. By implementing such a strategy, countries can improve their statistical capacities to measure development progress and results, notably with regard to the Millennium Development Goals, and to better plan and utilize scarce resources.”

In short, our government accepts that the Household Survey is essential to helping marginalized people. It recognizes that such a survey will help other governments tackle poverty, health care and other social development issues. Indeed, it believes it so strongly, we will spend millions of dollars a year funding the development of statistical capacity abroad to ensure that other governments don’t do what we just did to the long form census.

I’m grateful that our government believes that good statistics and the types of questions found on the long form are essential to developing good policy – I’m just sad they don’t believe it to be true for Canada citizens.

Innovation at the Bottom of the Pyramid: The Olyset Net in Africa

BoP-200x300A few years ago I read C.K. Prahalad’s The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits, a stunning book about how development can take place and successful economies can emerge even in the poorest of places. Prahalad presents case after case of how companies conducted research and supported innovations at a cost point that helped foster products that could serve some of the desperately poor populations in the world.

The other day my friend John McArthur twittered about this company – which has invented a Permethrin laced mosquito bed net guaranteed to last at least five years (testing shows it often lasts 7). Better yet, it is significantly stronger than polyester nets being both tear-proof, wash-proof and never requiring treatment.

This alone would be a great news story. But it is the economy behind the net that is equally exciting. The manufacturing of the Olyset Net is creating jobs in Africa:

Production in Africa began in 2003 when Sumitomo Chemical provided a royalty-free technology license to A to Z Textile Mills in Arusha, Tanzania. Tanzanian production was further expanded in 2008 when Sumitomo Chemical celebrated the official opening of a 50:50 joint venture factory, expanding our partnership with A to Z in East Africa. From 2009, global production capacity will exceed 40 million nets per annum, with around 50% manufactured in Africa. Furthermore, Sumitomo Chemical has recently committed to expanding production into Nigeria, the African country with the greatest malaria burden. Once production is established in Nigeria, global capacity will be 60 million Olyset nets.

Olyset-netThe news section of the website has still more good news. A Sumitomo Chemical Partnership with an Ethiopian Business will create 300 jobs in Kombolcha, Ethiopia. Is this development? Or is it Foreign Direct Investment creating jobs, feeding the African economy and helping solving one of the greatest scourges on the continent.

If you find this compelling, take a look at John’s newest Huffington Post piece where he outlines the new research and study Masters program he and Millennium Promise are helping create around the world.

Johannesburg: the good, the bad and the ugly

So I’m presently in Johannesburg – here for some negotiation work. It’s been a fascinating trip so far.

First the good: The weather is amazing (about 22 Celsius with a strong sun and no clouds – perfect for being outside, although I may have gotten burn today). Everyone is very friendly. The food in unreal. Last night I had Alligator and Ostrich carpacio – unbelievable. Alligator is like a cross between turkey and bacon, it’s delicious. I’m looking forward to a trip down to Cape Town at the end of the week to visit Mark S.

The bad: It’s been interesting following the news down here. Probably the saddest thing I’ve heard is the Health Minister’s repeated statements that people with HIV need only eat a balanced diet to be ok. I know the story has been covered endlessly but it remains shocking – even criminal – that this type of denial continues. Indeed, I’ve noticed that there is very little signage about HIV/AIDS. That which I have noticed has generally been put into place by private enterprises.

The ugly: Last couple of days have seen a spat of xenophobic riots in the Johannesburg suburb of Alexandra as clashes between black South Africans and refugees/migrants from other African countries – principally Zimbabwe – have escalated. Zimbabweans – and other Africans – are broadly blamed for stealing jobs and, more problematically, contributing to the country’s spiraling crime rate. Each evening it is surreal to feel safely ensconced in my hotel room and know that 20 4 km away roving bands of young men armed with machetes and bricks are looting stores and beating people up. No surprise that the city goes on as if nothing is amiss. Certainly the endless traffic jams that define Johannesburg’s roads don’t show any sign of nervousness.

South Africa is so many things at the same time. Its challenges are fascinating, but numerous and daunting – and yet I get the sense from the brief time I’ve been here – they are not overwhelming. This is very good news, not just for the country, but for the continent.

Choice Analysis Case Study: Negotiating with the Lord’s Resistance Army

Before Christmas I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Liu Institute to give a negotiation workshop to a group of visiting Ugandans. As some people know, but many do not, Uganda has had a large rebel force – called the L ord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – operating in the country’s north for over 20 years.

What makes this conflict particularly troubling has been the LRA’s strategy of kidnapping and indoctrinating and ultimately converting children into soldiers and supporters of the movement. To give you a sense of the scale and scope of the problem Wikipedia talks of the sadly named “night commuters” who: “between the ages of 3 and 17… would walk up to 20 kilometers from IDP camps to larger towns, especially Gulu, in search of safety.”(Photo on the right is of such a safe haven.)

LRA Child SoldierI met with tribal leaders who were attempting to negotiate the release of their women and children who, over the course of the conflict, had been kidnapped, indoctrinated and ultimately integrated into the LRA community (many to a degree that, even if their release were secured it is unclear that they would wish to leave their newly adopted home). In addition to running through some negotiation advice I decided to conduct a choice analysis. This is something I often do with clients – it is an ideal tool for understanding why someone you are negotiating with keeps saying “no.”

A choice analysis rests on a two simple assumptions:

  • People do what they believe is in their self-interest
  • We can’t influence people unless we understand how they see the situation

To conduct it you need to determine:

  • Who is the decision-maker?
  • What question does the decision-maker hear? (not, what question are you asking – there is a difference!)
  • What are the likely consequences for the decision-maker saying a) yes; b) no?

In the case of the Ugandans I was working with – the Choice Analysis looked like as follows:

Decision-maker: Kony (leader of the LRA)

The question they hear: Shall I today bow to the pressure of these weak and powerless tribal leaders and give up one of my best forms of protection? [One should always frame the question in the most negative way possible]

+ I keep my human shields and help ensure my safety

+ I keep wives close to me

+ I protect my own children

+ I assert my authority

+ My soldiers and followers see I am a tough negotiator

+ I demonstrate I’m more powerful than those who are asking

+ I can always say yes tomorrow

– The women and children are more likely to be caught in war zone

– I may be seen as conceding that I held people against their will and violated international law

– I lose future soldiers and supporters for my army

– I no longer directly protect the released members of my own and my soldiers families

– It may be perceived as a sign of weakness

– My subordinates may believe that I no longer have confidence in our future

– Undermines central abduction ‘doctrine’ of LRA

– People may think I believe others can take better care of these people than me

– I disappoint (and possibly betray) those women and children who are released but who don’t want to go

– I create expectations among other women and children that they too may get released if they would like

+ I gain credibility as negotiator and allow

   peace talks to continue

+ My reputation among local and international actors improves

You know you’ve done the analysis effectively when, if looking at it, you tell yourself – “Looking at it from this perspective I can see why they are saying no.”

So what does this analysis give us? It gives us a window into the interests and concerns that we have to address in order to craft a proposal that our target is more likely to say “yes” to.

In the above case Kony has legitimate concerns about the safety of these women and children should he release them back to their communities (in an effort to seek revenge against him an aggrieved individual might try to attack someone who is believed to be one of his wives or children). More importantly, life at the head of a rebel army in the African bush is fraught with danger – Kony can never show any sign of weakness lest he be overthrown. As such he can only say yes to a proposal that affirms his power and does not weaken him in the eyes of his soldiers and subordinates.  Also important is the fact that “releasing” these women and children would be a tacit acknowledgment that they had been kidnapped in the first place – something he is unlikely to want to do since that would strengthen the legal and political case against him.

There are of course, some who will argue that Kony is not a rational actor – that he is a murderer and a sociopath. The problem here is that if you adopt these as starting points where do you go…? How do you negotiate with him? Kony himself is alleged to have said “I’m not evil. I’m not stupid, I’ve built this whole army.” We can debate whether or not Kony is evil, but one doesn’t survive for 20 odd years as the head of a successful rebel army without a) being extremely smart; and b) possessing a finely (even ruthlessly) honed sense of self-interest. As difficult as it is to negotiate with someone like this we must appeal to these traits to be successful. Your odds will be better than negotiating with someone who is truly crazy.

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Africa is not a liberal idea

Taylor and I published this piece in Embassy Magazine today. They’d asked for our reaction to PM Harper’s speech at the Council on Foreign Relations…

Embassy, October 3rd, 2007
Africa is not a Liberal Idea
Taylor Owen and David Eaves

“It was clear that he had a particular feeling about the continent (Africa) and particularly that underdog feeling of Mulroney’s where you want to come to the defence of the beleaguered. It was a fascinating dimension of the man which is not widely appreciated by Canadians.” – Stephen Lewis on Brian Mulroney

Of all of Prime Minister Harper’s remarks at the Council of Relations last week, what was most important, and revealing, was what he didn’t say. Amid the platitudes over US-Canada co-dependence and shared values was a noticeable omission.

Not once was Africa mentioned.

For an hour and a half discussion that covered the breadth of Canada’s Foreign Policy agenda, this is remarkable. For just over 20 years, Canada has progressively increased its presence in Africa. Largely driven by CIDA funding, but also through the support of peacebuilding missions and humanitarian relief operations, we have developed tremendous experience and expertise in African development.

And for good reason.

For a country that balances its foreign policy between the promotion of values and national interests, and that defines these values in notably humanitarian terms, there is no better place to project our resources and influence than Africa.

However, it is no secret that the current government sees Africa as a Liberal idea. Canada’s “New” Government has sought to distinguish itself from the past whenever and wherever possible, and Foreign Policy is no exception. This has manifested as a major regional shift in policy towards Latin America and a corresponding thematic shift to democracy promotion and trade liberalization.

This is of course the Prime Minister’s prerogative. There are, however, real costs to this regional and thematic shift. Moving to Latin America means both rebuilding our in-house regional expertise, and devoting resources to developing a new skills, networks and institutions focused on democracy promotion and trade liberalization rather than on local development and humanitarian relief. It also shifts our limited resources from a continent struggling with extreme poverty, communicable disease and war, to one much further along the path of development.

The sad irony of course, is that Africa was never a Liberal idea. If anything it was a Conservative one.

Both Chretien and Martin were certainly strong supporters of Canada’s role in Africa. But Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was there first. Prompted by a public outcry to the devastation they saw on their televisions, he led the world in responding to the Ethiopian famine in 1984. More importantly, this leadership wasn’t just financial. Canada acted diplomatically, breaking ranks with its Western Allies and becoming one of the first countries to talk to Ethiopia’s then-Marxist government. In addition, it is widely accepted that Mulroney took special interest in tackling apartheid and again broke ranks with our allies by pushing for tougher sanctions.

More ironic still was how Prime Minister Harper’s partisan-influenced remarks stand in contrast to much of the American Foreign policy discourse, driven in no small part by the Council on Foreign Relations. The Council has been critical in enabling America to discuss its role in the world within a bipartisan community. In the US, the promotion of national interests and values are seen as largely non-partisan issues, with many foreign policy issues discussed with a degree of centrist objectivity.

The Prime Minister however, did the very opposite. He went to great pains to point out that whereas he wants to lead by example, previous (read Liberal) governments, were content to lecture the world. Ignored in this twice repeated sweeping generalization was: the Land Mine Treaty, Responsibility to Protect and the International Criminal Court. Together these foreign policy successes have become symbols of our role in the world and of our national identity. They are representative of multilateral tradition and our capacity to mobilize the international community.

More than a partisan oversight, this slight by the Prime Minister is emblematic of an underlying insecurity among many conservatives towards foreign policy. By viewing past initiatives like our focus on Africa, through a partisans lens they risk implementing reactionary and counterproductive policies that will marginalize past successes and impede future accomplishments.

More importantly, however, this insecurity is unnecessary. Many of our great foreign policy initiatives, such as the response to the Ethiopian famine, the Acid Rain Treaty, and the fight against Apartheid, were led by conservative governments. Like the Mine Ban Treaty, the ICC and R2P these were not partisan, but national accomplishments..

Rather than lead Canada out of Africa, the Prime Minister could use the network, infrastructure and expertise Canada has developed to – by his own words – lead by example. His successes would be celebrated by Canadians as national, rather than partisan, achievements for which we can all be proud.

Taylor Owen is Doctoral Student and Trudeau Scholar at the University of Oxford and a 2007/2008 Action Canada Fellow. David Eaves is a frequent speaker, consultant and writer on public policy and negotiation.