Jun 26 2014

Book Review: The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations by Michael L. Ross

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Countries that are rich in petroleum have less democracy, less economic stability, and more frequent civil wars than countries without oil. What explains this oil curse? And can it be fixed? Michael L. Ross looks at how developing nations are shaped by their mineral wealth–and how they can turn oil from a curse into a blessing. Ramin Nassehi recommends this book to scholars of development or Middle Eastern Studies, and in particular, researchers who share a passion for studying oil.

The paradoxical idea that oil is a curse for economic prosperity has become increasingly influential in the last three decades. Advocates of this idea claim that oil weakens political institutions, harms private sector promotion, increases economic volatility, hinders industrialisation, and fuels civil wars. However, recently, the ‘oil curse’ literature has been undergoing a process of ‘creative destruction’- whereby new ideas are replacing old ones- thanks to the falsification of some theories and emerging methodological criticism. Michael Ross’s recent book The Oil Curse, fits into this revisionist trend.

oilcurse

Drawing on statistical analysis and qualitative case studies, Ross shows that some of the oil curse theses are incorrect. For instance, in Chapter Six, he finds no evidence for oil acting as a curse for economic growth in the long-term, highlighting the similar long-run growth rates between oil-rich and oil-scarce countries during the past five decades. Although, he emphasises that economic growth has been more volatile in oil-rich countries. The author also challenges the studies that have found a negative relationship between oil and the quality of institutions (rule of law and effectiveness of public administration) on methodological grounds.

Nonetheless, as its name suggests, the book still defends many ideas in the oil curse literature and adds some revisions. The author stresses that the oil curse is a new phenomenon, which came into effect only after the 1970s, the period when oil was increasingly nationalised in the Global South. This period also experienced OPEC’s rise to power and also the breaking down of the Bretton Woods regime. All these changes, according to the author, increased the size and volatility of oil revenues for petro-states from the period of the 1980s, leading to many economic and political impediments. Each chapter deals with one of these impediments. Continue reading

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Jun 24 2014

Calls for a radical change in West Africa’s drug policy

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A new report by the West Africa Commission on Drugs (WACD) has called for a radical rethink on how West African governments tackle the war on drugs.

The report, entitled Not Just in Transit: Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa, urges the decriminalisation of low-level and non-violent drug offences, choosing to view these offences as a public health issue.

LSE’s Sasha Jesperson conducts research on organised crime on the security-development nexus and in this post, she outlines some of the factors at play in the drugs trade in West Africa.

Africa at LSE: What is the current situation with the war on drugs in West Africa?

Sasha: West Africa became recognised as a significant transit hub for cocaine being trafficked from Latin America to Europe in the early to mid 2000’s. This sparked considerable European involvement in the regional drugs trade as its member states were directly affected. Unlike the US government’s heavily militarised war on drugs, the European response has been quite different. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) developed the West Africa Coast Initiative in response to the ECOWAS Political Declaration and Regional Action Plan on Drug Trafficking and Other Organised Crimes in West Africa. The key focus of this programme is the creation of Transnational Organised Crime Units in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire and Guinea Bissau, to enhance cooperation across law enforcement and build capacity. The EU has also developed the Cocaine Route Programme in 38 countries across Latin America, the Caribbean and West Africa to build law enforcement capacity and enhance trans-regional cooperation.

cocaineThe international response is primarily focused on the transit of cocaine through West Africa into Europe. On this front the EU and others are actually quite engaged because they want to stop the flow of cocaine in West Africa before it gets to Europe. It appears that this is having an impact – there has been a significant decline in narcotics trafficking through the region since it peaked in 2008, if anything, it seems the Caribbean is favoured once again. There are some reports that local consumption has increased, but cocaine remains expensive and even when traffickers pay in kind, it is much more lucrative to try and get it to Europe than sell it locally. Continue reading

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Jun 23 2014

Attend the LSE Cape Town Conference

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The second LSE Cape Town Conference will take place on Tuesday 1 July 2014.  Speakers will include the LSE Director, Professor Craig Calhoun and the LSE Chair in African Development, Professor Thandika Mkandawire.

Audience listen intently at the LSE Cape Town Conference last year

Audience listen intently at the LSE Cape Town Conference last year

The theme of the conference is Africa in the World, the World in Africa: Making regional integration and South-South relations work for growth and equality. The speakers will be examining how African countries can meet the challenges of delivering sustained economic growth and eradicating inequality by strengthening links within their region and with the Global South. Continue reading

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Jun 23 2014

LSE Director, Professor Craig Calhoun visits Ghana

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LSE Director, Professor Craig Calhoun, will promote the School’s strategic vision for Africa during a two-day visit to Accra on 23 and 24 June.

Africa is a region of vital importance for LSE as realised through the LSE African Initiative which seeks to put Africa at the centre of the social sciences and in the global public spotlight.

Professor Craig Calhoun is visiting Africa for the first time as LSE Director

Professor Craig Calhoun is visiting Africa for the first time as LSE Director

This is a vision emphasised by Professor Calhoun earlier this year when he said, “LSE has a rich tradition in Africa of policy work and public engagement being complemented by teaching and by the training of students from across the continent. Continue reading

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Jun 19 2014

Book Review: The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South by Vijay Prashad

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Since the 1970s, the countries of the Global South have sometimes struggled to express themselves politically. In The Poorer NationsVijay Prashad analyses the failures of neoliberalism, as well as the rise of the BRIC countries, and all the efforts to create alternatives to the neoliberal project advanced militarily by the US and its allies. Lorenzo Ferrari finds value in the book’s accessible tone and content, as well as its interviews with leading players including senior UN officials.

A history of the Global South told by a historian of the Global South: that is largely what makes The Poorer Nations a particularly interesting book. A thorough history of the Global South has been much needed up until this point in order to enrich the relatively scarce literature on the history of North-South relations. Many feel that this literature also desperately needs to be enriched by voices from the South. Now teaching at Trinity College, Hartford, Vijay Prashad is a decidedly left-wing scholar, and in his latest book he aims at providing “a possible history” of the Global South – one which might be partial indeed, but which is made more engaging thanks to the author’s passionate involvement.

GlobalSouth

The first chapter of the book is the only one to focus on “the North”. Prashad’s analysis shows how the Western industrialized countries’ approach to international politics and economics shifted during the 1970s from liberalism to neoliberalism. In the early 1970s, the Third World project challenged the existing international order thanks to increasing assertiveness and growing bargaining power. According to Prashad, the establishment of the G7 in 1974 was mostly meant to counter the challenge and to re-establish the North’s dominance: “the periphery needed to be put in its place”. Neoliberalism was established as the new ideology of G7 – neoliberalism being for Prashad “a fairly straightforward campaign by the propertied classes to maintain or restore their position of dominance”. Liberal thinkers and actors were sidelined; their last attempt at resistance being the Brandt Commission of experts in the late 1970s. The Commission envisaged a reformed liberal order informed by “global Keynesianism”, but its vision was too timid and too late to stop the triumph of neoliberalism. Continue reading

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Jun 18 2014

“Afro-euphoria is just as misleading as Afro-pessimism” – Professor Thandika Mkandawire

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LSE’s African Development Chair, Professor Thandika Mkandawire joins Unicef’s Breaking Views to discuss the economic challenges facing Africa and the prospects for a better future.

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Jun 16 2014

“Accountable to the people”: Can President Mutharika be taken at his word?

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Steve Sharra analyses how Malawi’s new President can be truly accountable to his people.

There is one statement in Professor Peter Mutharika’s inaugural speech that will be the ultimate test on which his term of office will be evaluated. Taking over the reins of power at the Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre on 2 June, the president said: “Today, we are launching a government that must be accountable to the people. The central principle of democracy is that everyone must be accountable to someone else.” The president promised a “bottom-up approach” and “people-centred economic growth”.

People queue to vote at the recent elections in Malawi

People queue to vote at the recent elections in Malawi

This has never happened in Malawi before. Despite pronouncements and proclamations to follow the will of the people, we have never had a government that was truly accountable to the people. That President Mutharika chose this particular language in his inaugural address is nothing short of radical. And it should be a shock to those holding decision-making positions in a public sector that was accountable only to itself and ruling party cohorts.

The toughest choice facing newly-elected president Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika is how he can steer the country in a new direction with the people who helped him win the 20 May elections. Malawians are ready for the “new beginning” Mutharika has promised. But can he deliver this “new beginning” with the same faces that delivered victory? How President Mutharika manages that feat will foreshadow what his term of office is going to look like. Continue reading

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