Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Pollution realities in Nigeria

Most textbooks list environmental degradation as a characteristic of developing countries. Here are some details on one example.

Nigeria's agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill. The US and Europe ignore it
[M]ore oil is spilled from the delta's network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of a major ecological catastrophe caused by oil that has poured from a leak triggered by the explosion that wrecked BP's Deepwater Horizon rig last month…

On 1 May this year a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline in the state of Akwa Ibom spilled more than a million gallons into the delta over seven days before the leak was stopped. Local people demonstrated against the company but say they were attacked by security guards. Community leaders are now demanding $1bn in compensation for the illness and loss of livelihood they suffered. Few expect they will succeed. In the meantime, thick balls of tar are being washed up along the coast…

"If this Gulf accident had happened in Nigeria, neither the government nor the company would have paid much attention," said the writer Ben Ikari, a member of the Ogoni people. "This kind of spill happens all the time in the delta."…

"We see frantic efforts being made to stop the spill in the US," said Nnimo Bassey, Nigerian head of Friends of the Earth International. "But in Nigeria, oil companies largely ignore their spills, cover them up and destroy people's livelihood and environments…

It is impossible to know how much oil is spilled in the Niger delta each year because the companies and the government keep that secret. However, two major independent investigations over the past four years suggest that as much is spilled at sea, in the swamps and on land every year as has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico so far…

The scale of the pollution is mind-boggling. The government's national oil spill detection and response agency (Nosdra) says that between 1976 and 1996 alone, more than 2.4m barrels contaminated the environment. "Oil spills and the dumping of oil into waterways has been extensive, often poisoning drinking water and destroying vegetation. These incidents have become common due to the lack of laws and enforcement measures within the existing political regime," said a spokesman for Nosdra…

Worse may be to come. One industry insider, who asked not to be named, said: "Major spills are likely to increase in the coming years as the industry strives to extract oil from increasingly remote and difficult terrains. Future supplies will be offshore, deeper and harder to work. When things go wrong, it will be harder to respond."…

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Stresses of economic growth

The authoritarian style of government in China extends into industry as well, even when those factories are run by foreign companies. The suicides of industrial workers might be the most visible sign of distress. What's the government's role?

Suicides Expose Stresses Of China Factory Life
A spate of nine employee deaths at global contract electronics manufacturer Foxconn, Apple's main supplier of iPhones, has cast a spotlight on some of the harsher aspects of blue-collar life on the Chinese factory floor.

The worker deaths at Foxconn factories this year, initially dismissed as isolated incidents, have since multiplied and triggered a growing controversy and scrutiny of Foxconn's tight and secretive corporate culture, raising broader questions about the social cost of China's cheap labour manufacturing model…

Factory worker interviews conducted by rights group China Labour Watch, suggest difficult working conditions at some Chinese technology factories…

Worker suicides reflect a deeper problem for China, say experts -- the emotional health of China's vast ranks of migrant workers, many isolated from their families and facing a bleak, low-paid existence on production lines.

"The development of China as a world factory is a fundamental reason causing these suicidal cases," said Pun Ngai, an associate professor of sociology at Hong Kong's Polytechnic University…

Interviews with workers in the Pearl River Delta by China Labour Watch identified 78 suicide cases during the past 10 years, in addition to those at Foxconn.

"Suicides (among workers) are a common problem ... but many factories don't admit it and the families of victims are far away," said Li Qiang, the U.S.-based executive director of China Labour Watch. "This problem isn't noticed as much as it should be."

Electronics Maker Promises Review After Suicides
There were bows and an apology from Terry Gou, one of the richest men in Asia and chairman of Foxconn Technology.

With about 800,000 Chinese employees, revenue of about $60 billion a year and a reputation for military-style efficiency, Foxconn is possibly the world’s biggest electronics maker. It is now also the focus of criticism and troubling questions about a wave of suicides among its workers at a pair of factories here that serve as major suppliers to global brands like Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard…

The company… presented a panel of mental health professionals to discuss the likely causes of suicide in China generally. At least one of the panelists placed the blame on social issues in the country beyond Foxconn’s control…

[S]everal labor rights groups are calling for an independent investigation into the deaths and labor practices at Foxconn. Workers are paid about $32 for a regular 40-hour workweek, which is above minimum wage in the area, and often seek to work large amounts of overtime.

“Foxconn’s production line system is designed so well that no worker will rest even one second during work; they make sure you’re always busy for every second,” says Li Qiang, executive director of the China Labor Watch, a New York-based labor rights group. “Foxconn only values the enterprise benefits but totally ignores the social benefits.”

Those claims have been bolstered in recent weeks by some of China’s state-run newspapers, which have published a series of sensational reports about the suicides, alongside exposés detailing what they claim are the harsh conditions inside Foxconn factories...

Another Death Hits China iPhone Maker's Plant
A tenth employee of iPhone-maker Foxconn jumped to his death late on Wednesday, just hours after the company's chairman promised to make life better for employees at the sprawling production site in southern China…

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

A context for the killing of children in China

Chengcheng Jiang, Jessie Jiang, and the editors of Time magazine try to provide some broader perspective on the rash of attacks on very young school children in China. They point to some big gaps in the capacity of the authoritarian system.

The Class(room) War: Assaults on China's Schoolchildren
[A]ssaults, mostly on schoolchildren [have] prompted questions about the state of China's mental-health care, highlighted shortcomings in the country's legal system and left the government struggling to stop the bloodshed. For a leadership that has emphasized the creation of a harmonious society, the repeated assaults have painfully exposed how distant that ideal remains.

The carnage has left at least 18 dead and dozens injured…

Deficiencies in mental-health care likely contributed to the recent bloodshed. At least three attackers had known problems. "What they all have in common is a lack of friends and family connections," says Pi Yijun, a criminal-psychology professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, "and they have no psychological support when they need it."…

The sweeping social changes that China has undergone over the past 30 years have left many people struggling to cope. Millions have migrated far from their homes in search of work. A rising wealth gap has helped stoke animosity between rich and poor. In this particularly Chinese milieu, pent-up frustrations are exacerbated by the lack of opportunity for conflict resolution. Disgruntled parties have little legal recourse when they clash with local officials…

How can pressure be reduced on fragile individuals? China's petition system, which allows citizens who feel they are being mistreated by local officials to file a complaint with higher authorities, is inefficient. One study found that just two out of every 1,000 petitions achieve any sort of results. To stem the flood of violence, says Ma Ai, a sociology professor at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, the government should improve the legal system. "In the long run, it boils down to building a society where everyone is treated justly by law," says Ma...

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Grassroots photographs

Wen Ling is a photographer who posts some of his photos at Ziboy about his life in Beijing. A Nigerian in Los Angeles, writing in The Happy Lagosian blog offers a photographic record of life in Nigeria's largest city.

Both offer an individual's vision of life "at home." For Americans who don't get to Lagos or Beijing, these photos are glimpses of everyday life that don't appear in textbooks or official publications. I recommend these blogs because I think the images help humanize the institutions and issues our students study.

Check them out.
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Mexican tax policy

I don't know about your governor, but Minnesota's governor would drool over a report like this for our state.

Mexico named best country for tax 'competitiveness'
Mexico has been ranked at the top of a new international list for corporate tax "competitiveness," making it the best place to do business based on a comparative analysis of countries with regard to the "total tax burden faced by companies," according to the business research firm KPMG… repeating its top position for "competitive" tax breaks when KPMG made the same analysis in 2008…

Not factored in, of course, are sustained fears among outside business leaders over the security situation in Mexico...

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Wordle of the Queen's Speech

The text of the Queen's speech as a wordle - and how it compares to 1997

We were curious to see if the Queen's speech written by David Cameron and Nick Clegg is all that different to one written by Tony Blair after his 1997 victory. There's a great archive of Queen's speeches on the Parliament website if you want to repeat the exercise.

And the answer is: not that much by this measure. We've had to cheat a bit by removing the word "government" and "introduced". Apart from that, you can see the word "deficit" appears - as does "nuclear". "European" has gone however.

Create your own Wordles

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Queen's Speech 2010

The question really is about the government's legislative plan.

Queen's Speech: How radical are Cameron's plans?
The precise pageantry and choreography dates back over 150 years. The coalition government thinks this programme is just about the most radical in all that time…

If the two parts of the government stick firmly together, though, there is a decent parliamentary majority.

So, success in passing these laws may come down to how well dissent within the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties is managed.

In the 22 bills outlined by the Queen, there could be some very significant changes for parents, pupils, patients and parliamentarians…

[M]ore schools will be given freedom and flexibility from government control, individuals will be directly elected to police forces, and there will be significant cuts to big, centralised public bodies.

The plans for welfare reform look ambitious too - with a desire expressed to get "five million people languishing on welfare into work"…

Cutting welfare bills, slashing "unaccountable" Quangos, and freeing up schools all have the potential to deliver savings for taxpayers, and get the consumers of public services (us) more involved.

But remember: Every government promises to bring down the welfare bill, every government promises better value for money, and every government promises reform of public services.

Tony Blair once said that he had "the scars on his back" after just a couple of years of trying to change the state.

Publishing the plan is the easy bit...

Now both government and opposition have the chance to show that Westminster can work.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Cleaner air in Mexico City

For all its experiments, the government of Mexico City has cleaned up at least one thing.

Where the air is clear: Mexico City enjoys life with less smog
I stopped in surprise a couple months ago, in early spring,  while crossing a pedestrian bridge over the roaring Periferico highway on Mexico City's westside. I looked up to see an unfamiliar white form shimmering in the distance to the east — the snow-capped Popocatepetl volcano.

For decades, this active peak rising almost 18,000 feet over Mexico's teeming capital has been mostly shrouded behind a layer of smog. Lately, though, the "Popo" peak and its twin the Iztaccihuatl volcano are peeking through the pollution, even during the current dry season, when the smog is at its worst...

[A]ir quality in the Federal District has improved markedly in the last decade. The city, governed by leftists without interruption since 1997, has implemented aggressive measures to combat air pollution, from a successful fast-lane bus system to a European-style public bike program that allows commuters to rent and drop off city bicycles at various rack stations in different locations…

While the D.F., as Mexico City is often called, may no longer carry the banner of being the world's "most polluted," the metropolitan region still has a long way to go before being entirely free of unhealthful pollutants for its 20 million residents…

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Talk about taking on the establishment

I remember reading about Diane Abbott when she was first elected to Commons. That was back in my second year of teaching AP Comparative Government and Politics. I assigned an article from The Economist to my classes as an illustration of the lack of diversity in Parliament. There's more diversity now on the back benches, but not much more on the front benches. And 23 years later, here's Ms Abbott pushing boundaries once again.

Diane Abbott enters Labour leadership contest
Backbench MP Diane Abbott has joined the race for the Labour leadership.

The Londoner told the BBC her bid was "serious", saying there was little between the other candidates, who "all look the same".

The 57-year-old Cambridge graduate, who became the UK's first black woman MP in 1987, said she was getting support from female and left-leaning colleagues…

Ms Abbott, the Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP, said: "The other candidates are all nice and would make good leaders of the Labour Party but they all look the same... We cannot be offering a slate of candidates who all look the same. The Labour Party's much more diverse than that."

"It's important that we re-energise the party and bring democracy back to the party.

"We need a proper debate on immigration, where children of immigrants like me also have a voice."

Ms Abbott said she wanted a "proper debate" on tackling the budget deficit and whether this should be achieved by raising taxes or cutting spending….

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New president, new anti-corruption efforts or political payback?

Two developments in the campaign against corruption can be seen as progress or more politics as usual.

Ogbulafor Resigns
The National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Vincent Ogbulafor has resigned from office.

The resignation… came on the heels of growing pressure mounted on him to vacate office over his ongoing prosecution by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC) for allegedly embezzling N104million while he served as a minister…

'How Ibori Was Arrested, Granted Bail in Dubai'
Former Governor of Delta State Chief James Ibori who was arrested in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Wednesday was yesterday granted bail.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), however, said it is working closely with the London Metropolitan Police (Met) and Interpol to ensure the extradition of Ibori…

The EFCC had last month declared Ibori wanted after weeks of failed efforts to get him to honour the commission's invitation over fresh fraud allegations including a N44 billion scam.

The anti-graft agency had earlier secured a court warrant for his arrest and equally put him on a watch list.
Chairman of the EFCC Mrs. Farida Waziri said his arrest might not be unconnected with the search for him by Nigerian security agencies and an international warrant of arrest issued against him by the Met Police...

The former governor was first arrested by the EFCC under former Chairman Nuhu Ribadu on December 12, 2007 for alleged corruption and money laundering while in office.

He was later arraigned at the Federal High Court sitting in Kaduna on a 103-count charge all bordering on concealment and money laundering. The EFCC later slammed another 26-count charge against him.

Ibori was initially denied bail and spent the Christmas of 2007 and New Year eve of 2008 in detention.

However, the former governor was later granted bail.

Following an application by his lawyer for the transfer of the case to Delta State where the alleged offences were committed, the case was transferred to the Federal High Court in Asaba, Delta State.

Justice Marcel Awokulehin of the court on November 29, 2009, cleared Ibori of all charges of fraud and money laundering preferred against him by the EFCC.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Decade of African Youth

Ken Wiwa [left] is a Nigerian activist and author. His father, Ken Saro-Wiwa, an activist from the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, was arrested and hung in 1995 by the Abacha government.

Africa’s youth: an energy to liberate or detonate
Like most Africans nowadays, I was not yet born during the colonial era.

By 1968, most of Africa had been liberated from European rule and I entered the world in the middle of Nigeria’s civil war (its first and, to date, only one). Conventional wisdom then had it that once freed of colonial bondage, Africa would use its resource advantage to make a great leap forward. The 2000s would be Africa’s century.

Despite the subsequent decades of underdevelopment, some still believe that this will be Africa’s century…

Another generation is being mass-produced, surfing on a wave of technological advance, presenting a demographic time bomb that threatens to detonate everything that has gone before them. But where, I wonder, are the younger, vibrant leaders who can harness the energy of Africa’s increasingly youthful, urban and restless societies?

It was not always like this. If I rewind the Pathé Newsreels of African history, I see young Turks such as, yes, Moammar Gadhafi and Robert Mugabe, not to mention the likes of Patrice Lumumba (Congo), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya) and Steve Biko (South Africa). There they are, all in their 20s and 30s, daring to stand up to the old order, leading their countries out of the bondage of colonialism, rejecting their parents’ institutionalized passivism and mobilizing moral outrage to separate from a Europe exhausted by the Second World War…

Yet the seeds of the continent’s future dysfunctions had already been sown. The geopolitics of the postwar world meant that East and West would play chess with the map of Africa, propping up dictators such as Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire (now Congo), Ethiopia’s Mengistu Haile Mariam or the notorious, flesh-eating Jean-Bédel Bokassa in the Central African Republic. The world waged its Cold War and turned its back on the African people.

Corruption and deficits of democracy, infrastructure and human development grew. Many African countries became dependent on a drip feed of aid and toxic loans while foreign corporations plundered Africa’s natural resources under the protection of repressive regime. The continent’s well-trained middle class voted with their feet, going abroad for professional fulfillment…

My… return came courtesy of an invitation of Nigeria’s then-president Olusegun Obasanjo. He was like many of his generation who had struggled to save or liberate their countries and then believed that only they had the experience and knowledge to steer the ship of state. As his Special Assistant on Peace, Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution, one of my first unofficial tasks was to try to reconcile the combative president and his equally combustible son. Along the way, Mr. Obasanjo confided in me that it was time “we prepared your generation for leadership.” At this point, he had been at the centre of Nigeria’s affairs for only 40 years...

Africa’s natural and human resources confirm its enduring importance to the world. Sixty per cent of the world’s natural resources reside in Africa….

Yet Africans are still eager to get out, to go to Europe, North America or, increasingly, Asia…

Until the turn of the new century, Africa was still mostly a communications backwater. In-country phone calls were hard enough, but if I wanted to call Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital, from Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, the call had to be routed through an exchange in Europe. Information moved at a geriatric pace. Now, speaking to my brothers and sisters in Accra, Nairobi or Cape Town by cellphone is routine. Additionally, the Internet has opened up Africa to Africans and the world. We no longer have to rely on the BBC World Service to tell us what is happening in our own countries…

Most Africans now live in cities…

Social media have enabled us to bypass the limitations and biases of traditional media…

Local distribution networks and channels are piping locally produced music and film into fertile and impressionable minds, through cable providers such as DSTV and stations such as Channel O and Africa Magic, where African actors and musicians are showcased side by side with cultural producers from the West. The film industry here – Nollywood – is only the most celebrated example.

Yet one can get carried away by the vibrant viewpoints these next-generation griots bring to the mix.

The question I keep asking myself is how these cultural networks will engage with the old political order. Do any of my colleagues in government have the vision and conceptual tools to channel this youthful energy to the common good?…

The continent is vast, rich in contradictions, complex yet simple. It is black and white, rich and poor, Muslim and Christian, north and south. It is a place that invites but defies stereotyping. As we like to say here, what you see is what you don’t get. Whether it can fulfill the claims of its boosters, only time can tell. What could be decisive is whether Africa’s leaders, new and old, learn to see the burgeoning young population as a challenge and opportunity, to be mobilized for nation building and economic success, rather than as a threat to self-serving elites.

See also: Bring Back the Old Guys or Bring in the New Ones?
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Friday, May 14, 2010

UK Coalition stability

Alan Carter also wrote with summaries of 3 articles about the potential for instability in the new UK coalition government. It's too long to post here, but I posted it in the "Files" section of the "Sharing Comparative" Yahoo group (in a folder labeled "UK Coalition Govt.")

If you're member you can access it at UK Coalition Govt

If you're a teacher and not a member, you can join by going to Sharing Comparative and requesting membership by offering your school e-mail address or a web site where I can confirm you status as a teacher.

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Cutting costs in the UK

Alan Carter wrote from Oxford about one of the issues the new coalition in London will be wrestling with: the Lib Dem money-saving proposal to eliminate the submarine-based nuclear deterrent.

He offers these definitions for us Yanks and others outside the UK:

Trident = UK nuclear deterrent, guarantees our seat at UN Security Council....
(coalition govt. has now agreed to look at efficiencies but not cancel...)

Experts back calls to axe Trident

By Jim Pickard

Published: June 28 2009 22:20 | Last updated: June 28 2009 22:20

Axing the new Trident nuclear deterrent would help fill a growing “black hole” in the defence budget, according to a report by senior military figures to be published on Tuesday.

The radical proposition will be put forward by Lord Guthrie, former chief of the defence staff, Lord Ashdown, former head of the Liberal Democrats, and Lord Robertson, the former Nato secretary-general.

EDITOR’S CHOICE (of Financial Times articles you can look up)

Dannatt queries need for Trident subs - Feb-23
Ministers ready to cut nuclear subs fleet - Sep-15
Brown urged to review Trident plans - Jun-14
Rebellion fails to halt Trident replacement - Mar-14

The trio of influential ­figures wrote the report for a “national security commission” put together by the Institute for Public ­Policy Research, a think-tank.

It comes after the Ministry of Defence was forced to deny claims on Sunday that the government had put the £20bn Trident replacement programme under “review” in an attempt to cut costs.

Trident’s upgrade, involving replacing four nuclear submarines, was agreed by Tony Blair in 2006.(surprise, surprise...)

Scrapping or downgrading Trident, a move advocated by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg last week, could save billions of pounds at a time of severe Whitehall belt-tightening.

Des Browne, former defence secretary, said on Sunday that the MoD was facing tough financial decisions: “There is an order book which outstrips the department’s capacity to pay for it – that’s no secret,” he said.

It was reported on Sunday that the MoD was considering options for the Trident upgrade.

This could mean a ballistic missile system operating from mainland Britain or an aircraft fitted with a nuclear bomb that could be launched from an aircraft carrier.

One government source said ministers were still committed to renewing Trident because it was the “cornerstone” of Britain’s defence strategy.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.

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Pronunciation: \-ˈmi-tənt\
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin intermittent-, intermittens, present participle of intermittere
Date: 1601
: coming and going at intervals : not continuous ; also : occasional
— in·ter·mit·tent·ly adverb
Source: Mirriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Retrieved 21 December 2009

I'll be taking an intermittent break in the wilds of northern Wisconsin for the next few days. I'll only post timely and really significant entries if and when I can find an Internet connection.

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Independent journalist in NIgeria

Thanks to Jeremy Weate writing at Naijablog for pointing out this article.

The Huffington Post is a liberal online op-ed source in the US, but it's difficult to recognize liberal bias in this story on a Nigerian journalist, except in its argument for a free press. The article does offer insight into Nigerian politics.

Phillip van Niekerk, the writer of this piece, is the former editor of South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper. He has 30 years experience working in Africa as an award-winning investigative journalist.

Why the Developing World Needs Brave Journalists
The newspaper that precipitated a change in government by exposing the true story of the state of health of Nigeria's President Umaru Yar'adua -- who died on Wednesday -- is now fighting for its own survival.

Next, an upstart of a newspaper launched in Lagos 15 months ago by Dele Olojede, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and former foreign editor of New York Newsday, reported in January that the President of that oil-rich country of 150 million people was brain dead and would not be returning to office…

But Next will always be remembered for the lead story on its January 10th edition, informing the nation that its long-absent President Umaru Yar'Adua was no longer able to recognize anyone, including his wife, and could therefore no longer perform his duties. Scandalously, the newspaper reported that the truth was being concealed from the public through "an elaborate scam orchestrated directly by the First Lady, Turai Yar'Adua."…

Yar'Adua's absence precipitated a constitutional crisis as he had not empowered the Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, to step into the breach. Leaderless, the country lurched from crisis to crisis.

The cabal around the First Lady retained their grip on the patronage machine while maintaining the fiction that the President was recovering and would be back any day. Most of the political elite were complicit in this sham…

Rumors were regularly fed through the mill that the President is about to appear in public - moves designed to destabilize the Jonathan Administration's attempts to fight corruption and get the country moving again. But on Wednesday the President finally gave up the ghost and passed away in the presidential villa.

Next's influence has extended well be beyond that story. The paper has covered every twist in the extraordinary power play in the country with insight, independence and tenacity, and its reporting and editorial commentary is taken extremely seriously in Abuja. "It has been gratifying and energizing," says Olojede. "When you have this kind of impact it reminds you why you became a journalist in the first place."

Olojede, who won the Pulitzer for foreign reporting in 2004 for his coverage of Rwanda a decade after the genocide, adopted a policy of zero tolerance for corruption - something of a shock for Nigerian bigwigs who are used being able to buy publishers and reporters…

The imperative for Next is enormous. The political conflict in Abuja, which has a scary regional and religious dimension, remains unresolved and the country has a trillion stories that require exposure and a population hungry for information…

The need for honest, brave journalism is huge and far overshadows the many millions of dollars of well-meaning aid and support for democracy and civil society that usually comes from foreign donors. This is one paper that can't afford to die.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

A new Nigerian VP

President Jonathan has named a vice president. The parliament must now act.

Nigerian Leader Picks Relative Newcomer as Deputy

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has nominated Kaduna state governor Namadi Sambo [left] to be vice president of Africa's most populous nation, a presidency source said on Thursday.

As a relative newcomer to national politics, Sambo is not seen as an obvious contender for next year's presidential elections and his appointment could clear the way for a run by Jonathan himself…

Under a power-sharing agreement within the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), the presidency should rotate every two terms between the Muslim north and Christian south to avoid an imbalance of power.

Yar'Adua, a northerner, died during his first term and many expected Jonathan to appoint a powerful northern vice president, who would then become the ruling party's presidential nominee.

"The selection of vice president is not simply a question of who is best equipped for the job, but who will not upset the most number of factions," said Antony Goldman, head of London-based PM Consulting...
Biographic sketch of Namadi Sambo.
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Significant detail

This might be as important as Goodluck Jonathan officially taking office as president. And some people are floating rumors that Ribadu would be a good vice president.

Nigeria: Charges Against Anti-Corruption Official Dropped
The Nigerian government... dropped criminal charges against the oil-rich nation’s former anti-corruption czar, potentially allowing him to return home from a self-imposed exile. Nuhu Ribadu, the onetime chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, fled Nigeria in 2008 after he received death threats and survived a drive-by shooting…

The government later filed charges against Mr. Ribadu before the nation’s Code of Conduct Tribunal, accusing him of failing to declare his financial assets while serving as the anti-corruption agency’s leader. The tribunal has since acknowledged that Mr. Ribadu properly filed his asset declaration…

Many in Nigeria, long regarded by watchdog groups as one of the world’s most corrupt nations, saw the charges and Mr. Ribadu’s firing in 2007 as a sign he had overstepped bounds that have traditionally protected the country’s ruling elite. In his four years at the agency, Mr. Ribadu investigated and brought criminal charges against top politicians from the ruling People’s Democratic Party.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fixed Term Parliament: The Magic Number

Andrew Rudalevige wrote at The Monkey Cage blog:
The introduction of UK legislation to create fixed-term (5 year) Parliaments is… a major constitutional reform. But in the short term it is also an enforcement mechanism for the current coalition. The proposed legislation would prevent the Prime Minister from unilaterally deciding to dissolve Parliament and hold a new election - and it would prevent a narrow vote of ‘no confidence’ from doing the same thing. Instead, this would require a supermajority vote in the House of Commons — set at 55%.

That number is notable. After all, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats between them hold… 56% of the Commons. So — the LDs are protected in that the Tories can’t dissolve Parliament out from under them in hopes of gaining a majority in their own right. The Tories are protected in that the LDs can’t collude with Labour and the smaller parties along those lines, since that collusion could at best comprise 53% of Commons seats, even making unrealistic assumptions about Northern Irish DUP votes.

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Discouraging civil society

The Communist Party in China has long held that there was little or no need for organizations beyond the Party. A current crackdown on independent organizations continues to express that line.

China's crackdown on nonprofit groups prompts new fears among activists
The Chinese government in the past several weeks has intensified a subtle but steady tightening over the country's freewheeling civil society sector…

China's Communist rulers have long had an ambivalent attitude toward non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, seeing them as necessary, and often helpful... but also viewing them with profound suspicion. The government is particularly wary of groups that receive foreign funding.

Despite the long-running tensions between NGOs and the government, activists, lawyers and others said the latest moves against the civil society sector appear more sustained and serious than earlier cyclical crackdowns…

"I think they want a civil society with Chinese characteristics," said Nicholas Young, a Briton who once ran the online NGO newsletter China Development Brief but was forced to leave China in 2007. "And they want it to be 'civil' in the Chinese sense -- light, not antagonistic and not pushing the envelope too far."

[T]here has long been a kind of tacit understanding that NGOs would be tolerated as long as they didn't stray too far into political activism or criticizing the government. But as Young said, "You never know where the line is, and it does shift."

Added Wan Yanhai, head of the Beijing Aizhixing Institute of Health Education: "I think there's no clear boundary between a political and a non-political organization. And there's no clear boundary between action-oriented and advocacy."…

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Speculation on Nigeria's new VP

Solomonsydelle, in the Nigerian Curiousity blog, offers some speculation about the identity of the next vice president.

The latest issue in Nigerian politics is the question of who will become the nation's next Vice President… Various interests and geopolitical zones are pushing to influence who will become Vice President and several names have been fielded for the job.

By Sunday, May 9th, the Daily Independent paper reported that Speaker of the Senate, David Mark, was a front runner for the VP slot…

[The] governors have now decided that the Governor of Gombe state, Danjuma Goje, become the Vice President. Goje is a northern Muslim and as a member of the House, support from his peers would be guaranteed…

The leader of the House, Dimeji Bankole, allegedly informed Goodluck Jonathan that Gombe State Representative, Bayero Usman Nafada, should get the job…

Onyeka Onwenu is allegedly encouraging the President to be nominate Nigeria's first female Vice President…

The ruling PDP party asserted that the Vice President must be a member of the party…

Despite all the speculation and the jostling, Nigerians will have to sit tight and wait to see who emerges as Vice President and what that might mean for the country.

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Building civil society

Here's a good example of how civil society is built. It always seems to me that there are good reasons for being optimistic about Nigeria and equally good reasons to be pessimistic. This is one of those reasons for being optimistic.

Thanks to Imnakoya for blogging about this at Grandiose Parlor.

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu - a Nigerian change-maker
Growing up in Nigeria, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu spent his after-school hours raising poultry and cattle. After high school, as he participated in youth and citizens’ associations helping farmers, Ikegwuonu quickly became aware that the rural community had little access to information about farming practices and environmental issues…

In 2003, he founded the Smallholders Foundation to provide the rural community with information – via the radio – on contemporary agricultural techniques and environmental conservation. Ikegwuonu, who has a bachelor of arts in history and international studies and a master’s degree in cooperation and development, is a change-maker who fights poverty using new interactive technology.

“We are reaching rural poor farmer listeners living in remote communities of Imo State, Nigeria with appropriate and sustainable agricultural development information in Igbo Language through The Smallholders Farmers Rural Radio…"

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Monday, May 10, 2010

More on the growing power of the Revolutionary Guard

Here's some specific evidence about the growing power of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps expands role in sanctions-hit oil sector
Taking advantage of the very sanctions directed against it, Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps is assuming a leading role in developing the country's lucrative petroleum sector…

The Guard's engineering companies, replacing European oil firms that have largely abandoned Iran, have been rewarded with huge no-bid contracts…

In the past, the Guard's role in Iran's petrochemical sector was restricted to related infrastructure projects, including building roads and canals. But now Guard-affiliated companies oversee the development of most oil projects, and they have taken the lead in key parts of the gigantic South Pars liquefied natural gas project in the Persian Gulf town of Asalouyeh, with Chinese companies increasingly acting as subcontractors...

Under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Guard has vastly increased its business activities.

Working through its construction-sector arm, the Guard operates Tehran's international airport, builds the nation's highways and constructs communications systems. It also manages Iran's weapons-manufacturing business, including its controversial missile program…

The Guard's construction arm acts as a commercial company, but it is unclear how its revenue is handled. Commanders say the Guard's income is transferred to the national treasury, but no public records detail the amounts…

The Guard, whose Khatam ol-Anbia arm is the biggest construction contractor in the country, publicly boasts of its growing experience in huge oil projects.
"Today, the Revolutionary Guards are proud to have such knowledge and capability that we can easily replace big foreign companies like Total and Shell in taking over big projects at Asalouyeh," senior commander Yadollah Javani told the semiofficial Iranian Labor News Agency last weekend. Western analysts say that on major projects, however, the Guard typically subcontracts the most complex work to foreign companies, most of them now from China.
See also: The Rise of the Revolutionary Guard

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Friday, May 07, 2010

As close to politics as necessary and as far as possible

The British monarch, we all know from a sentence in our textbooks, is a figurehead. No power, no independent political action, no political influence, etc. Here's how close the monarch comes to politics and what's done to maintain the separation.

The Queen and a hung Parliament
The Queen is the only person who can invite someone to form a government and to become prime minister.

But that does not mean that the monarch can exercise any personal discretion over the choice of No 10's occupant.

After a general election, the Queen is obliged, by long-established convention, to invite the person who seems most likely to command the confidence of the House of Commons to become prime minister and to form a government.

If the outcome of that election is inconclusive, it is for the political parties to determine who that person is, and to communicate that choice to Buckingham Palace.

Only then will the Queen receive any outgoing prime minister to accept his resignation and, a short time later, to invite someone else to take his place.

The one thing that can be said with certainty amid all the uncertainty of a hung parliament is that Buckingham Palace is determined to maintain a distance from the political process and to keep the Queen well away from the discussions about who is in the strongest position to command the confidence of the Commons…

But what happens if the politicians simply cannot decide who has the strongest claim to become prime minister?…

The Queen will watch how things unfold. Her senior advisers will be in close contact with the cabinet secretary who, under the most recent Civil Service protocols, is permitted to assist the political parties to come to a decision about how to proceed.

Once they have done that, the motorcade(s) will make their way to the Palace and Elizabeth II will invite someone to form a government.

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Bring back the old guys or bring in the new ones?

In his blog, Nigerian Curiosity, Solomonsydelle offers this bit of analysis about the political elite in Nigeria. It's especially appropriate after Yar'Adua's death. The report of Obasanjo's remarks that follow might be prophetic. He did, after all, claim to have chosen Yar'Adua for the presidency.

Nigeria has a habit of recycling political figures. For that reason, it is not abnormal to see a previously important individuals, say from 20 or even 30 years ago, choose to run and then win some form of current political office. In the 2003 Presidential elections, 6 former military/para-military officers and a 1960s leader of the secessionist movement… contended for the office. The eventual winner was Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired general and former military dictator…

[T]he constant reappearance of old political individuals serves to deter younger politically inclined individuals from entering into politics. These younger people are hampered by the fact that they have little name recognition (in comparison to older stalwarts), lack the necessary funding and many times do not have the backing of Nigeria's political godfathers and elite who largely determine what individuals can or cannot run for political office in an area. The implications of this shut-out of young Nigerians and young Nigerian ideas will have significant implications down the long run…

In 2007, then Chair of Nigeria's Central Bank, Charles Soludo, estimated that roughly half of Nigeria's almost 150 million people were 18 years or younger. Additionally, 23 million of Nigeria's young people are reportedly "unemployable", and the educational sector is in shambles as students flee for educations in Canada, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Unemployment stands at 28.57% (as of third quarter 2009) and some young people turn to kidnappings, militancy, robbery and even prostitution to care for themselves and their extended families as is the norm in Nigerian culture…

And to add insult upon injury, individuals like former dictator Ibrahim Babangida… asserted, "[b]ecause we have seen signs that [young Nigerians] are not capable of leading this country and so we feel we should help them.  May be they are not given the proper education that is why."...

This disenfranchisement of young Nigerians will deter young Nigerians from using democratic processes to express themselves, possibly leading to their use of violence to get their point across. This is already the case in the Niger Delta…

Nigeria cannot risk that possibility and must take steps to include more of its population in the empowering politics of determining the nation's future. For that to happen, the electorate will likely have to get fed up with all the recycling.

Youths Can Rule Country, Obasanjo Counters IBB
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has called on politicians in Nigeria to first reform themselves before talking about national reformation…

Obasanjo said he believes in the ability of the younger generation to bring lasting political reforms and sustainable development to Nigeria.

"One thing that is very bright and makes me happy in Nigeria is that the generation that are coming behind are very promising."

Obasanjo's comment came on the heels of a statement credited to former President Ibrahim Babangida that Nigerian youths are incapable of leading the country. Obasanjo, who did not make reference to the statement, hinged his optimism on the ability of Nigerian youths...

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Breaking news from Nigeria

Death of President Yar'Adua Confirmed After Lengthy Illness and Constitutional Uncertainty

President Umaru Yar'adua died Wednesday night in the Presidential Villa in Abuja. His death was confirmed by presidential spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi, according to the Associated Press.

The death, occurred at 9 pm local time (2000 GMT), according to Adenyini, follows a long illness that was surrounded by secrecy and intrigue.

Goodluck Jonathan, who served as Yar'Adua's vice president and became acting president in January after a court conferred on him the authority to carry out affairs of state, will now be able to claim greater legitimacy in the presidential post.

The next test for Nigeria's democracy will be selection of a vice president, who also could become the ruling party's presidential candidate in the next election, scheduled to take place a year from now. Under an informal arrangement, the presidency has alternated between the country's northern and southern regions. If the arrangement endures, Jonathan as a southerner would serve only the remaing 11 months of Yar'Adua's term...

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Tory TV ad and the Queen's power

Joe Schottland who teaches at one of California's Acalanes Union High School District schools, pointed me to the New York Times Lede blog from Tuesday.

There is a link to a fine example of political advertising from the UK's Conservative Party warning of the dangers of a "hung parliament." If we weren't sure already, the final image reminds us what David Cameron fears most.

TheLede also offers an example of one of the few real powers of the monarch.

If Parliament Hangs, Queen Could Veto Fresh Election
She makes no speeches on the hustings; she remains aloof from the political fray. She admits no party affiliation and is not permitted to vote or stand for office. Yet, she addresses Parliament with bejeweled and regular fanfare; for more than half a century, she has held  secret conversations with a cavalcade of 11 prime ministers; and, in a peculiarly British way, she could be cast in a central, yet largely powerless, role if Britain’s elections on Thursday stray into the gray zone known as a hung Parliament…

Since 1950, senior civil servants have concluded that the Queen is not constitutionally bound to accept an incumbent Prime Minister’s request for a dissolution of Parliament very soon after an election providing she can see an alternative way forward.

In the convoluted calculations emerging from a hung Parliament, that could mean that Mr. Brown — currently tipped to lose — might seek a second chance to cling to power by asking for a second ballot to overcome a stalemate. And the Queen — to the probable delight of her campaigned-out subjects — could simply say: “No.”

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Coalition building

If the crackdown on dissent is getting serious in Iran, the opposition is making noises like it may be getting serious. Then again...

Iran Reformist Tries to Enlist Labor and Teachers
The Iranian opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi released a video statement on Thursday calling on workers and teachers to join the reformist cause, in a bold new attempt to broaden and energize the country’s flagging protest movement.

The statement came as groups representing laborers and teachers called for demonstrations, and a labor coalition issued its own list of economic grievances to mark International Labor Day, on May 1, opposition Web sites reported...

In his video appeal, Mr. Moussavi said the challenges workers faced — low wages, inflation, economic mismanagement and the inability to create independent organizations — were also essential grievances of the Green movement, as the opposition calls itself.

He urged the creation of a united front against government malfeasance and injustice, and even linked President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy to workers’ circumstances. “The government’s illogical actions have a direct effect on what the people of Iran can put on their table,” Mr. Moussavi said.

Workers’ and teachers’ groups have often demonstrated and issued grievances on Labor Day, but their cause has been distinct from that of the reformists, who — at least until last year — were led largely by students, intellectuals and former government officials. Ali Akbar Baghbani, the director of the largest Iranian teachers’ union, and Mohammad Beheshti Langaroudi, the union’s spokesman, were arrested and taken to Evin prison this week, according to the BBC’s Persian service. They were briefly imprisoned last year at this time…

So far, there are few signs that the opposition is regaining the confidence it had during the months after the election last June, when vast crowds of people took to the streets to declare Mr. Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory a fraud…

Iran’s conservatives are also divided, with some fiercely criticizing Mr. Ahmadinejad’s handling of economic issues and corruption. And for all its crowing about having crushed the opposition, the hard-line clerical elite has sounded some unusually anxious notes lately, suggesting a deep concern over the possibility of renewed protests…

Intimidation in Iran Keeps Protesters From Rally

A planned demonstration in which Iranian workers were to join reformists in an antigovernment protest failed to materialize on Saturday, apparently the result of intimidation and a large police presence.

Two Iranian opposition leaders, Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, had called Thursday for workers and teachers to join the reformists in a broad-based coalition.

The call went unheeded on Saturday, analysts said, largely because of government intimidation.

But the lack of action may also reflect a failure of the opposition leaders to win over workers and teachers, who have their own grievances, to the antigovernment cause. And it raised questions about the ability of the opposition to mobilize a mass protest planned for June 12, the anniversary of Iran’s disputed presidential election…

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Connections between Nigeria and the UK

Corruption in Nigeria can spread beyond it's borders. And, it seems, that it's not just Congressmen in the US who have benefited from the largesse of Nigerian politicians.

Jeremy Weate wrote about this is on Naijablog. He wonders about how the MP will fare in this week's election.

£37k for 29 hours: nice work if you can get it...
This is how much Tony Baldry (MP for Banbury) was paid by James Ibori for work representing him in the UK between September and December last year. £1,200 as a daily fee isn't bad.

Look at it like this. Its more than half of what he earns as an MP in a year, earnt in less than a working week...

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The model worker program continues

Model workers were an essential part of the Soviet system. They were supposedly everyday people who just did what everyone should do and a lot more. The recognition was to inspire "model" behavior by more people.

Continuing the tradition, model workers were recently honored in Beijing.

Delegates pose for photos after being honored at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, April 27, 2010. A rally honoring Chinese national labor heroes and advanced workers was held in Beijing

China awards national labor heroes
A rally honoring Chinese national labor heroes and advanced workers opened at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Beijing, with attendance of the country's top leaders.

President Hu Jintao attended the rally, along with other Chinese leaders including Wu Bangguo, Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Li Changchun, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, He Guoqiang and Zhou Yongkang.

The rally is to honor 2,985 outstanding workers from grass-roots levels and at the forefront of specific industries.

President Hu calls for promotion of "model worker spirit "
Chinese President Hu Jintao on Tuesday called for more efforts to promote the "model worker spirit" nationwide to further advance social and economic development…

Hu, also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, praised the model workers and advanced workers for their "outstanding contributions in pushing forward the country's social and economic advancement."

"They are the outstanding representatives of hundreds of millions of working people in China who have made noticeable efforts to help build a well-off society in an all-round way," Hu said...

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Monday, May 03, 2010

A super KGB?

Is Russia headed back to Soviet times in another way?

Russian Plan to Bolster Security Agency Evokes K.G.B.’s Powers
Russian lawmakers are considering extending new powers to the F.S.B., the successor to the Soviet-era K.G.B., allowing its officers to summon citizens and issue verbal or written warnings that their activities are “unacceptable” and leading toward a crime, even if no violation has occurred.

The government-backed proposal, which was submitted Saturday to the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament, would also impose fines or 15-day jail terms on citizens who did not comply with demands made by the F.S.B., or Federal Security Service. Russia already imposes similar sanctions on citizens who disobey the police or prison officials...

[T]he proposals could strengthen the agency’s ability to control information or activities considered “extremist,” a term that has been applied to religious and political groups as well as to journalists…

Opposition lawmakers and journalists responded with alarm when parts of the bill appeared in Russian newspapers. The proposal recalls a practice of “official warning” that the K.G.B. frequently employed against dissidents, but that faded away during the Soviet collapse…

Gennadi V. Gudkov, who served in the K.G.B. and now sits on the State Duma’s Security Committee, said he expected Parliament to approve the bill, which has the support of the Russian government…

The F.S.B. has been resurgent over the past decade, and people who served in the agency were swept into ministries and state-run corporations when Vladimir V. Putin, a former colonel in the K.G.B., became president…

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Sunday, May 02, 2010

Critique of "Welcome to Lagos"

Bunmi Oloruntoba lives in Washington DC and offers a take on the BBC documentary Welcome to Lagos. The critique is much longer and contains many more good ideas, but here's one of them:

I think the mistake filmmakers from the developed world make when tackling a topic like "the resilience of Lagosians" is that they tend to equate the poorest with some kind of authenticity and realism (in fact, we all do), which is not necessarily the case. And authenticity... what does that mean anyway? Also, and even more important in terms of storytelling, filmmakers are looking for high voltage tensions--i.e. Lagos government goons swooping down any moment on slum town--from which to elict high drama (and at the end of the day, that's all a filmmaker really cares about - the kind of truth that offers the most drama). It is only logical therefore that the most extreme parts of our reality appear to foreigners as the most tense and the most likely to elicit interesting twists, turns and high drama. Again, not necessarily so. Middle class Lagos realities are as extreme, authentic and filled with the everyday Lagos drama of resilience and adaptation. However, the poverty porn is less or of a different kind, and middle class stories are a little more complex and probably a little harder to tell…

See also: Welcome to Lagos
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