Jul 29 2014

Disconnected in Detroit: Water shut-offs through the prism of African cities

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LSE’s Jonathan Silver looks at lessons Detroit can take from Johannesburg as authorities and activists deal with the city’s water crisis.

You might have seen the images circulating out of Detroit over the last few weeks of the unfolding humanitarian crisis. Utility company vehicles, highly-armed police, distressed but resisting residents (often it seems from the African-American community), warnings and condemnations from civil society and from the UN and the act of disconnection to that most basic of human rights, water. We have certainly become familiar with such images for many years now but we have fixed these moments in the grand neoliberal experiment in the African cities of countries such as South Africa and Nigeria (and of course the wider global South). This time though, our maps of the cities of the world have been fractured, turned upside-down even. For we have to leave behind those African neighbourhoods and cities, from which we have become accustomed to seeing an ongoing war against the urban poor, through controlling access to urban infrastructure services. Instead we have to take a step back into the “heart of empire” to locate these moments of infrastructural conflict that challenge how we categorise and place cities across the globe.

Detroit_Cop-detroitSince last summer over 42,000 disconnections to Detroit’s water system have taken place, concentrated in poor and African-American communities of the city’s devastated neighbourhoods, with these actions being processed on debts as low as $150 or two months non-payment. But despite the 15 day halt announced recently this might be only the start of what is viewed by the Detroit Water Brigade as a systemic campaign to stop water flowing to around 40% of the city’s population over the coming months. The consequences of these disconnections are almost unimaginable for residents left without the ability to clean, to cook or to drink, with National Nurses United calling for an immediate halting of the shut-offs before a significant public health crisis develops. Sections of the local establishment have even turned against this mass shut-off, warning not just of the cost to historically disadvantaged parts of the city but the city’s image in the wider world. Yet in the build-up to the privatisation of the water system in Detroit, maximising the value of this infrastructure has become the main driver of the actions of the authorities and has predicated a mass scale assault on water connections rarely seen in the global North. How can such an event take place in USA we might ask as we realise that on the streets of the world’s superpower access to basic services seem to be as fraught and contested as in those cities at the other end of our developmental categories and rankings. Continue reading

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Jul 28 2014

How to Roll Out the Red Carpet for Africa

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Obama’s major summit with the continent’s leaders will only succeed if the White House eschews autocrats in favor of a new generation of democratic champions, argues Jeffrey Smith.

Over the next few weeks, there is going to be an awful lot of chatter about the current and future state of relations between the United States and Africa. That is because US President Barack Obama is hosting the first-ever US-Africa Leaders Summit, which will take place in Washington, DC, from Aug. 4 to 6.

It is clear from the White House’s website for the event — and from my engagement with summit organizers — that much of the agenda will focus on the promotion of peace and security, as well as private investment, trade, and development. Obama’s renewed effort to engage with a rising Africa should be applauded: The summit is an extraordinary opportunity for the administration to fulfill its strong and repeated rhetorical commitments to promoting the twin goals of prosperity and human well-being across Africa.


Will President Obama’s first US-African Leaders Summit be just a talking shop or can it breathe new life into US-Africa relations?

To be sure, Africa paints a complex picture. Although overall economic growth has been impressive, expected to top 5 percent this year, levels of inequality continue to rise. A stagnation or steady decline in political freedoms and democratic rights is also cause for concern. Similarly, there has been noticeable backpedaling on continental governance commitments, and ratification rates of regional conventions continue to decline, after hitting a peak in 2005. Continue reading

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Jul 24 2014

Book Review: Rwanda and The Moral Obligation of Humanitarian Intervention by Joshua James Kassner

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The 1994 Rwandan Genocide that took the lives of approximately 800,000 men, women and children is etched into our memories as one of the most acute failures of intervening in human rights violations. In Rwanda and The Moral Obligation of Humanitarian interventionJoshua James Kassner contends that the international community had a moral obligation to intervene and therefore unrolls a convincing argument for a significant reform of the normative framework governing international relations. This argument bears unquestionable urgency but regrettably fails to move beyond the oft-debated Responsibility to Protect (R2P) framework. Reviewed by Lucas Van Milders.

Joshua James Kassner’s assessment of our moral obligation to act whenever human rights are violated on a massive scale, such as during the Rwandan Genocide, situates itself firmly within a tradition of scholarly work that critically engages the prevailing norms of our international system. This is immediately apparent from the title, which refers to one of the most controversial and dazzling challenges of International Relations after the Cold War on the one hand, and an example of what is generally agreed upon as one of its disastrous and devastating consequences on the other.


Although invoking the memory of one of the most severe tragedies of the second half of the 20th century might seem a self-evident argument in favour of a more progressive defence of humanitarian intervention, Kassner’s engagement with Rwanda is reduced to such an extent that its inclusion in the title might be called into question. A more fitting subtitle could therefore be: Why did the international community fail to act? According to Kassner, there are conditions that induce an “all-things-considered reason for action” (p. 11). These entail a violation of the basic right to physical security, a guarantee that states do not need to make internal sacrifices, the protection of a community of moral significance, that international peace and security will not be compromised unjustifiably, that those bearing the obligation are capable of effectively fulfilling this obligation, that intervention will not worsen the situation, and that intervention will not undermine the presumption against non-intervention (p. 83). When these conditions are met, as was the case in 1994 Rwanda, there is an irrefutable obligation to act. Continue reading

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Jul 22 2014

“Illegal” migration is a problem of our own making

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LSE’s Ruben Andersson argues that rich nations’ efforts to quell “irregular” migration by land and sea are failing spectacularly.

In the Indian Ocean, Australian border patrols intercept 41 Sri Lankan asylum seekers and return them straight back to their home country. In the Mediterranean, the Italian navy rescues more than 2,600 migrants over one single weekend as the number of tragedies and disappearances at sea keep mounting. At the US-Mexico border, the arrival of thousands of unaccompanied minors is creating a moral panic and a headache for Obama. What on earth is happening at the rich world’s borders? And why do the migrants and refugees keep coming – despite the enormous investments in tougher controls over recent years?

illegalityincIn the mainstream media, so-called “illegal” migration across sea and land borders appears as a recurrent spectacle, a blip on the evening news. The visual cues are now familiar: boats heaving with human cargo, coffins in port, migrants blankly staring out through a fence. Some citizens and politicians, distressed by these images, call for an end to the suffering; others see in them a menace, and want ever tougher and more militarised controls. Still others turn a blind eye and prefer to forget, the misery safely contained by the borders. Or as Pope Francis said last year on the tragedy-haunted Italian island of Lampedusa: “We have become used to the suffering of others…It doesn’t affect us. It doesn’t interest us. It’s not our business.” Continue reading

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Jul 21 2014

‘Ending Child Marriage – Tackling stereotypes through quotas and motivating governments through regional peer review

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Ahead of Girl Summit 2014, LSE’s Alice Evans discusses the campaign to end child marriage.

To mobilise support against child marriage, the UK is hosting the ‘Girl Summit’ on 22 July. It will bring together governments, international organisations, civil society and the private sector in a bid to amplify existing efforts.

In Zambia, where the UK International Development Secretary Justine Greening recently spoke out against child marriage, a nationwide campaign is already underway. It is backed by government ministries, the country’s First Lady, Dr Christine Kaseba, UNICEF, UNFPA and a number of traditional chiefs.

For many, the solution is girls’ education rather than marriage.

Indeed, there is an association here, as highlighted in the widely-shared Twitter picture below:


But how can popular support for girls’ education be galvanised in the first place, so that girls stay in school and out of marriage? Continue reading

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Jul 17 2014

Book Review: Africa Emerges by Robert I. Rotberg

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Many countries in Sub–Saharan Africa are now enjoying significant economic growth and political progress. The new Africa has begun to banish the miseries of the past, and appears ready to play an important role in world affairs. Africa Emerges draws on a wealth of empirical data to explore the key challenges Africa must overcome in the coming decades, from peacekeeping to health and disease, from energy needs to education. Ainsley Elbra finds that this book is replete with data at all levels and on a wide variety of measures that should be of interest to any reader keen to develop an understanding of recent changes taking place throughout Africa.

Robert I. Rotberg’s latest book, Africa Emerges, provides a valuable update on the progress of one of the world’s most vastly misunderstood regions. Written by a pre-eminent scholar of African affairs, and governance more broadly, the author utilises a raft of quantitative data to outline a more nuanced picture of the continent’s development. Overall, the book reveals trends in a variety of areas of interest to development scholars, such as population demographics, disease, conflict, infrastructure and the role of China in the continent’s progress. Rotberg’s book is well balanced, reflecting on the progress being made (including growth rates exceeding those in other developing regions) as well as the challenges facing the translation of this growth into true development across all groups in society.

Rotberg_AfricaEmergesDespite any misgivings from the title, the author avoids the common mistake of assuming a continent-wide trajectory at the expense of specific local experiences. Rotberg instead provides key statistics detailing progress at the regional, country and sub-national levels. Continue reading

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Jul 16 2014

World Cup fever in Sierra Leone reveals how the beautiful game unites and divides

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LSE’s Jonah Lipton looks at how football serves as a window into a wider world for marginalised youth in Freetown.

I am sitting in Victor’s cinema in Freetown, Sierra Leone. A rumbling generator powers three televisions at the front of a large room built from corrugated iron and wood. A crowd has assembled to watch the World Cup game between Ivory Coast and Greece. This is the final game of the group stage for Ivory Coast’s “golden generation”, many of whom are celebrated members of Europe’s top clubs but have yet to achieve at international level. A victory or draw would offer an historic opportunity to progress to the knock-out stages.

The atmosphere in the cinema is one of pride for fellow West Africans performing on the global stage, but also one of profound and somehow expected disappointment, crystalised by the late penalty awarded to Greece, winning them the game in literally the last minute. One audience member exclaims that “they don’t want African teams to succeed”. Others comment on the determination of the Greeks to score right until the very end versus the Ivorian’s misjudged self-assuredness.


A crowd watching Ivory Coast-Greece at Victor’s cinema in Freetown

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