Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nigeria: a one-party democracy?

Thanks to Kevin James at Albany (California) High School for finding this article from last August which offers a perceptive analysis of Nigerian politics. It was written by Chika Otuchikere and comes from Leadership in Abuja. Since it was written in August, it doesn't take into account the divisive politics within the PDP.

Nigerian Opposition Parties Going Extinct
With the whirlwind of the 2011 general elections blowing in a frenzy and fast turning into a hurricane, with all the political actors scheming and jostling for relevance, political watchers across the country have raised an alarm over what they call a 'charade' of an electoral system devoid of a truly viable opposition. Among most of these critical analysts, the recent defection of former military head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari from the All Nigeria People Party, erstwhile most formidable opposition in the country, sounded the death knell for the virtual extinction of the country's opposition political parties.

The once vibrant opposition political parties which used to be the hallmark of the country's democratic experience even up to the tail end of the Fourth Republic, have practically ceased to exist; fizzling out leaving in their wake carcasses of political parties with members whose souls are yearning for the ruling party. The parties now merely pretend to be opposition parties when it is convenient. The fear in most political circles is that the country may be nose-diving into a one party state, for all the politicians care…

A peek into the country's political history would reveal an ill equipped and ill organised political class and system always anchored on parochial and primordial sentiments. In terms of ideological lining, both the ruling party and its opposition parties have never shown any difference from each other. In the assessment of most political watchers the ruling party and the opposition parties are described as a gathering of strange bed fellows with no ideological position...

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Iran-Nigeria pipeline

No, not a physical pipeline, but a pipeline of illicit trade.

Nigeria: 130 kilos of heroin sent from Iran seized
Nigeria's drug enforcement agency says it has seized 286 pounds (130 kilograms) of high-quality heroin hidden inside a shipment of auto parts sent from Iran.

The announcement... by Nigeria's National Drug Law Enforcement Agency comes after security officials seized a shipment of military-grade weapons in Lagos' busiest port last month. An agency statement says arrests have already been made in the case...

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Appointed upper house

For all the talk of the history of Britain's democracy, the upper house of the legislature is still an appointed body. A recent change is that one can no longer inherit a seat in Lords. There is some talk of further reforming the House of Lords, its members are appointed by the Queen. Here's a report on the newest Lords.

Michael Grade is among 53 people to receive peerages
Former BBC and ITV Chairman Michael Grade and Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes will be among more than 50 new members of the House of Lords.

The two - who will become Tory peers - will be joined by other well-known figures including Joan Bakewell, who will sit on the Labour benches.

The list also includes several major party donors…

The SNP… has warned that elevating major party donors risks undermining confidence in the Lords and raising fresh questions about the link between party donations and peerages…

Those becoming Conservative peers are Bob Edmiston, a multi-millionaire car salesman, who gave £2m to the party before the 2005 election…

Curry tycoon Sir Gulam Noon… gave £737,826 to the Labour Party between May 2001 and April 2010, as well as donating £17,000 to David Miliband's unsuccessful leadership campaign…

Labour is currently the largest single party in the Lords with 234 peers, compared with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats which have 193 and 79 peers respectively. There are currently 181 independent crossbenchers.

With 53 new appointments, it will take the total membership of the House of Lords to nearly 750 - the highest number since the bulk of hereditary peers were abolished in 1999...

The coalition has said it will publish outline plans for future reform of the House of Lords before the end of the year, with many Lib Dems - and Labour MPs - calling for a fully elected chamber.

Peter Facey, of campaign group Unlock Democracy, said: "If politicians and prime ministers want to reward their friends, instead of sending them to the House of Lords, what's wrong with a gold watch?

"People who make and amend our laws should be elected by the public, not selected for good deeds done in the past by grateful politicians…"

See also: New members of the House of Lords
Of course, there are downsides to appointing your political allies to Lords.

Cameron hit by class war as new peer says benefits are 'incentive to breed'

David Cameron's judgment was called into question last night after a new Conservative peer was forced to apologise over remarks that benefit cuts would encourage "breeding" among the poor.

The comment, by Howard Flight, whose elevation to the House of Lords was announced last week, was a new blow to Mr Cameron's drive to convince voters that the party is in touch with modern Britain...

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Reconciling differences

I went shopping for Mosel Riesling wine for Thanksgiving. I guess I haven't been paying attention to the German wine section for a few years. The old green bottles and distinctly German-looking labels have been abandoned in favor of post-modern packaging. I had trouble finding the Qualitätswein designations on some of the bottles. And QmP? Forget it. It's now Prädikatswein.

The changes have come about because of a combination of changes in German law and EU regulation. In the EU wines are classified as either Table Wine or Quality Wine. The German wines, in all their confusing categories, have to fit into those European types.

But each member country in the EU wants its products to be identifiable and to stand out. There are allowable ways to do that and there are prohibited ways. Consider the case of chocolate.

EU Court: No Such Thing as 'Pure Chocolate'
There is no such thing as "pure chocolate," the EU high court ruled Thursday, ending an EU-Italy food fight over chocolate labels.

The ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union voided an Italian law that recognizes some delicacies as "pure chocolate."

The court said if a product is made from 100 percent cocoa butter, that fact must be listed on the ingredients table only. It also said the EU's 1999 chocolate labeling rules make no room for a "pure chocolate" reference like the one Italy enacted in a 2003 law…

The EU labeling rules took effect in 1999 after a lively debate pitting countries like Britain — where chocolate usually contains a substitute vegetable fats — against purists like Belgium, Italy and others, where traditionalist chocolate makers use only cocoa butter.

EU spokesman Roger Waite welcomed Thursday's court ruling, saying the EU rules pursue a fair balance between Europe's two different chocolate cultures…

In 1999, all EU nations agreed "there would be something on the label making clear whether it's pure cocoa butter" or not, said Waite.

He said it was agreed to stick to the name chocolate but to let the ingredients indicate the quality of the chocolate…

The European Commission had sued Italy, saying the EU law aims to inform consumers in a neutral way about the quality of chocolate on the basis of its ingredients.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Headline melodrama

The New York Times headline is dramatic -- more dramatic that the reality it seems. In fact, the concluding paragraphs imply that rather than being challenged, the Iranian president might be solidifying his power. It causes me to wonder whether the headline is news or wishful thinking.

Iran Lawmakers Complain About Ahmadinejad
Iranian Parliament members recently sent a letter detailing a long list of complaints against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Iran’s powerful Guardian Council, Iranian news media have reported, marking a new phase in an effort by traditional conservatives to rein in the administration and reassert the powers of Iran’s legislative body.

The letter, which could theoretically result in the president’s impeachment, was rapidly disavowed by its putative supporters. Many denied having signed the document...

Mr. Ahmadinejad and the conservatives have sparred frequently since he was first elected, in 2005…

The latest confrontation came to light on Saturday, when unofficial news outlets reported that an effort had begun in Iran’s Parliament to call the president to account for a number of instances in which his government stood accused of bypassing the constitutional powers of the Parliament and exercising unchecked power…

Subsequent news reports said that the petition had been signed by more than 40 members of Parliament, among them a number of prominent critics of the president. But on Monday, several members who had been named publicly as supporters of the plan distanced themselves from the letter, some issuing stern denials that the plan had been presented to members for their signatures…

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s power seemed to be further consolidated on Saturday with a statement issued from a joint committee set up in August to resolve the differences between the administration and the Parliament. The statement appeared to grant the president the “right” to issue warnings to other branches of government when, in the president’s opinion, they failed to act in line with the “fundamentals of the Constitution.”...

[P]olitical experts here said the fact that it was issued was a sign that Iran’s highest authorities were backing the president in his battle with the legislative branch.

Any extension of presidential powers will help Mr. Ahmadinejad to push through long-delayed reforms of Iran’s vast and inefficient system of subsidies...

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My daddy's more important than yours

Guanxi is important in China, but there are — at least in public opinion — limits. While the children and relatives of powerful people enjoy the benefits of their family connections, the public doesn't think they should get away with murder. And now the government's control of the media is being exposed and criticized.

China’s Censors Misfire in Abuse-of-Power Case
One night in late October, a college student named Chen Xiaofeng was in-line skating with a friend on the grounds of Hebei University in central China. They were gliding past the campus grocery when a Volkswagen sedan raced down a narrow lane and struck them head-on…

The 22-year-old driver, who was intoxicated, tried to speed away. Security guards intercepted him, but he was undeterred. He warned them, “My father is Li Gang!”…

Li Gang is the deputy police chief in the Beishi district of Baoding… party propaganda officials moved swiftly after the accident to ensure that the story never gained traction.

Curiously, however, the opposite has happened. A month after the accident, much of China knows the story, and “My father is Li Gang” has become a bitter inside joke, a catchphrase for shirking any responsibility… with impunity. Even the government’s heavy-handed effort to control the story has become the object of scorn among younger, savvier Chinese…
Campus art titled, "My father is Li Gang"
In many ways, the Li Gang case, as it is known, exemplifies how China’s propaganda machine — able to slant or kill any news in the age of printing presses and television — is sometimes hamstrung in the age of the Internet…

[T]he Li Gang case was hard to suppress, partly because it personified an enduring grievance: the belief that the powerful can flout the rules to which ordinary folk are forced to submit. Increasingly, that grievance focuses on what Chinese mockingly call the “guan er dai” and “fu er dai” — the “second generation,” children of privileged government officials and the super-rich…

[A] female blogger in northern China nicknamed Piggy Feet Beta announced a contest to incorporate the phrase “Li Gang is my father” into classical Chinese poetry. Six thousand applicants replied, one modifying a famous poem by Mao to read “it’s all in the past, talk about heroes, my father is Li Gang.”

Copycat competitions, using ad slogans and song lyrics, sprang up elsewhere on the Internet. In the southern metropolis of Chongqing, an artist created an installation based on the phrase...

Policeman settles China hit-and-run case with cash
A Chinese police official whose name became national shorthand for anger over abuse of power after his son was accused in a deadly hit-and-run accident has paid more than $69,000 in compensation, the victim's father said Thursday…

The victim's father, Chen Guangqian, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Li Gang gave him 460,000 yuan, or more than $69,250. A police spokesman for Li Gang refused to comment on the case.

The Oct. 16 death on a university campus focused popular outrage at China's elite and abuses of power, and Li Gang quickly appeared on national television, weeping, apologizing and bowing in front of the camera for half a minute…

State media last month was ordered not to publish any more stories on the accident. The Hebei governor announced that the provincial Communist Party committee has formed a working group to look into the case, which he said made the province look bad...

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Expert speculation

Joshua Tucker, who teaches at New York University, recently reported in The Monkey Cage blog about speculation concerning the next Russian presidential election.

How to Get a Second Term in 2012: Russian Edition
I'm just back from the newly renamed Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies annual conference. While there, I had the pleasure of chairing a roundtable on current Russian politics that featured presentations from Timothy Colton, Henry Hale, Steven Fish, and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss.

At the conclusion of the panel, the topic turned to the coming Russian presidential elections. What makes the 2012 presidential elections in Russia interesting is that there actually is quite a lot of uncertainty about who will be elected president that year, for a now rather imposing six year term. Bucking the general anti-incumbency trend in Eastern Europe, we know that the next president of Russia will either be the current Russian President Dmitry Medvedev or the previous Russian President and current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. We just don't know which one it will be. We do, however, know, that the election itself will not be used to settle this question. Only one of these two men will be on the ballot, and he will win the election...

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Back to the old ways

There was some fanfare when Russia announced the beginning of a transition from an inquisitorial judicial system to an adversarial system. Since then, the lure of the old ways of doing things has been powerful and the transition process has been reversed.

In Russia, Jury Is Something to Work Around
Juries were supposed to change Russia. Introduced amid a raft of liberal reforms in 1993, they shifted power away from the state structure and thrust it into the hands of citizens. Juries introduced real competition into Russia’s courts, granting acquittals in 15 to 20 percent of cases, compared with less than 1 percent in cases decided by judges.

But the state has never been happy about leaving the fate of high-profile prosecutions in the hands of ordinary people.

Some juries skeptical of a prosecution have been dismissed on the verge of important verdicts. When they vote to acquit, their verdicts are routinely overturned by higher courts, allowing prosecutors to try for a conviction before another jury. Lawmakers are continuously chipping away at what types of criminal offenses merit a jury trial.

Meanwhile, the number of jury trials remains so small — around 600 a year out of a total of more than one million — that they vanish into a justice system that in some important ways has changed little since Soviet days...
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Monday, November 22, 2010

Commercial, not political TV in China

Socialism with Chinese characteristics seems to tolerate commercial enterprises — even television. But, once again, everyone knows who's in charge, especially at the 7:00pm hour.

China's got viewers
China’s television business has developed largely in isolation from the rest of the world. Despite heroic efforts, particularly by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, Western media firms have been unable to launch mainland channels. They have been restricted to TV sets in Hong Kong and in expensive hotels, or reduced to selling the odd programme to domestic networks. But isolation does not mean Chinese television is stagnating. On the contrary: it is progressing at a lunatic pace.

Money is pouring in… Total television advertising has grown sevenfold since 2001…

The box used to be dominated by the state-run CCTV, which is controlled by the Communist Party’s publicity department. But despite the launch of new channels—it currently has 15… CCTV’s share of viewing is falling. Earlier this year it was overtaken by the combined audience of provincial broadcasters… which can each distribute one channel nationally. These provincial outfits, which are less controlled by Beijing, are locked in a fierce, untidy and occasionally underhanded struggle for viewers…

Why are these troublesome, populist broadcasters allowed to operate at all? Because the Chinese government wants people to watch television. The living-room set is a crucial conduit between the state and the masses. However ribald their programming at other times, at seven o’clock in the evening almost all channels carry CCTV’s starchy news broadcast, in which unsmiling anchors relay the latest utterances from party officials. If television becomes too dull, that show would lose its audience. After all, many Chinese can go elsewhere for entertainment...

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Just so you know who's in charge

If there was any doubt in China about who's in charge...

Top Chinese political advisor calls for efforts to unite private sector
Top Chinese political advisor Jia Qinglin has called for better work by federations of industry and commerce across the country to serve and unite entrepreneurs and private business owners…

Jia called on Communist Party of China (CPC) organizations and governments at all levels to make detailed plans to implement the policies issued by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council on the federations' work, and promote the healthy development of the country's private sector…

The CPC Central Committee and the State Council have issued new policies to improve the work of the Party organizations and governments for the federations, to promote the role of entrepreneurs and private business owners in social activities, such as charities, and their participation in the deliberation and administration of state affairs.

The new policies also called on industry and commerce federations to assist the government in better administering and serving the development of the private sector.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Questions about a revolutionary heritage

Not everyone is sure that Mexico's revolutionary heritage is revolutionary.

Critics say Mexican Revolution's goals are elusive
As Mexico prepares to mark 100 years since a revolution fought to install democracy and improve the lot of the country's landless peasants, many are focusing on how short it fell from its mark.

Mexico's democracy is anemic and the plight of the poor remains largely unchanged, critics say.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at Mexico City's independence monument Friday, blocking one of the city's main boulevards, to denounce what organizers called the failures of the bloody, seven-year conflict that began Nov. 20, 1910, and saw peasant armies led by mustachioed heroes Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa topple the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz.

Rather than democracy, it set the stage for 71 years of paternalistic political domination by the Revolutionary Institutional Party that only ended a decade ago.

"The legacy of the revolution is a really mixed bag," said Jose Antonio Ibanez, coordinator of the human rights program at the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City. "It undoubtedly changed the face of Mexican society, but it fell far short of its objectives. ... The poor people, the farmers who fought in the revolution, those whose blood built this country, they're still completely marginalized."…

Today, another bloody war against drug traffickers, which has cost at least 28,000 lives over the past four years and transformed some areas of Mexico into battlegrounds, also casts a pall on Saturday's anniversary celebration.

The violence is so bad that dozens of towns in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas have scrapped parades planned for Saturday. In parts of the same state, drug gangs have kidnapped ranchers or run them off land they've held since the time of the revolution…

Pundits compared the revolution's worst excesses to the cartel executions that dominate contemporary news broadcasts.

"Were the pitiless revolutionaries of yesteryear the ancestors of the current killers?" a column in Thursday's El Universal newspaper asked. "Or is it simply that ... the history of Mexico is a history of treason and violence that are as Mexican as the tortilla?"...

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Iran-Nigeria pipeline

No, not a physical pipeline, but a pipeline of illicit trade.

Nigeria: 130 kilos of heroin sent from Iran seized
Nigeria's drug enforcement agency says it has seized 286 pounds (130 kilograms) of high-quality heroin hidden inside a shipment of auto parts sent from Iran.

The announcement Friday by Nigeria's National Drug Law Enforcement Agency comes after security officials seized a shipment of military-grade weapons in Lagos' busiest port last month. An agency statement says arrests have already been made in the case...

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Coalition politics in Mexico

Coalitions formed to defeat the PRI can produce some seemingly contradictory governments at state levels. What can happen at the national level where the PRI has already been "demoted?"

New congress in troubled Mexican state sworn in
Citizens who formerly led street protests and manned barricades in the troubled southern state of Oaxaca were sworn in as members of the local congress Saturday, in what the governor-elect called a historic change…

The protesters accused outgoing Gov. Ulises Ruiz of brutality, electoral fraud and ordering the killing of demonstrators. Federal police broke up the protest in October 2006, after the city's center had been controlled by Ruiz's opponents for several months…

Ruiz narrowly defeated Gov.-elect Gabino Cue in 2004 elections that many claimed were marred by fraud. Cue won this time around, in July, with the backing of a coalition of leftist and conservative parties [PAN and PRD]…

While some criticized such coalitions - which won three governorships this year - as an ideological stew, they allowed locally popular figures to unseat the long-standing rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which held Mexico's presidency and most state governments without interruption for 71 years until it lost the presidency in 2000…

The new leader of the state congress is Eufrosina Cruz, who led protests after being barred from seeking the mayorship of her small Oaxacan town in 2007 because she is a woman.

Traditional Indian governance rules - which have legal standing at the municipal level in many towns in Oaxaca - ban women from running and in some cases voting in local races, even though Mexico's federal Constitution prohibits such discrimination...

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Welfare reform in the UK

Reforming public welfare spending in the UK could save money, but not until a lot more money is spent. Doug Sanders, writing in the Toronto Globe and Mail, offers some explanation.

Tearing apart the British welfare state: Tories impose jobs on the 'workshy'
Almost a century after the modern welfare state was created by Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George, his successors in Britain’s Conservative-Liberal coalition government are hoping to tear it apart completely in a radical act of cost slashing.

In a huge and risky experiment sure to be watched closely by other countries wrestling with public debt, government budget deficits and shrinking work forces, Prime Minister David Cameron’s government Thursday announced sweeping plans to change the lives of 5 million people dependent on government payments in an effort to push hundreds of thousands of people into the work force...

Mr. Cameron... plans to force all welfare and unemployment recipients to seek work, even unpaid volunteer work, or to risk losing their payments.

The proposals will also unify more than 30 social safety net programs into a single “universal credit,” a move that was welcomed by many observers on the left. And through a “work program,” whose name evokes Britain’s Victorian efforts at reform, the perpetually dependent would be trained to do jobs, however minimal, or risk losing their cheques…

An estimated 2 million children – mostly descendents of the old industrial working class – grow up in households in which nobody has ever worked. Britain… suffers from very high levels of poverty and intergenerational welfare dependency, to an extent not seen in other European countries or in Canada.

It is a perpetual source of frustration to conservatives here that even in the midst of a serious recession there remain 450,000 job vacancies, requiring high levels of immigration to be filled, while there are 1.4 million British working-age people on long-term welfare and unemployment insurance…

[T]he root of Britain’s unique welfare-dependency problem is the large number of people classified as “NEETs” – Not in Education, Employment or Training – most of whom dropped out of secondary school at 16. Very few jobs exist for such people, and fixing this would require big expenditures in the education system, at a moment when the government is cutting it back…

Officials at the British Treasury said in briefings that aggressive welfare reforms are being pursued now because they are the one form of cost cutting whose effects are felt quickly…

But the change will not be immediate, or cheap. In fact, the changes will cost Britain an extra £2-billion over the next two years, and that does not factor in the cost of an elaborate new computer system that will be needed to unify the programs. Given that most economists do not expect the labour force to grow significantly as a result, and some fear the cuts could trigger a downturn, there is a chance that the whole exercise could end up costing the country more money.

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Quasi Quango?

The new British government is abolishing a large number of Quangos as inefficient bodies for making policy and administering programs. But, in preparing a policy "white paper" the government seems to be following the Quango model of getting all interested parties around the table to propose policy. And since the government says it wants cooperation rather than regulation, those participants will be expected to reach the policy goals voluntarily.

McDonald's and PepsiCo to help write UK health policy
The Department of Health is putting the fast food companies McDonald's and KFC and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg's, Unilever, Mars and Diageo at the heart of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease, the Guardian has learned.

In an overhaul of public health… health secretary Andrew Lansley has set up five "responsibility deal" networks with business, co-chaired by ministers, to come up with policies. Some of these are expected to be used in the public health white paper due in the next month.

The groups are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, who have been invited to suggest measures to tackle public health crises. Working alongside them are public interest health and consumer groups including Which?, Cancer Research UK and the Faculty of Public Health…

In early meetings, these commercial partners have been invited to draft priorities and identify barriers, such as EU legislation, that they would like removed. They have been assured by Lansley that he wants to explore voluntary not regulatory approaches…

Lansley's public health reforms are seen as a test case for wider Conservative policies on replacing state intervention with private and corporate action...

Responding to criticism that industry was too prominent in the plans, the Department of Health said: "We are constantly in touch with expert bodies, including those in the public health field, to help inform all our work. For the forthcoming public health white paper we've engaged a wide range of people, as we are also doing to help us develop the responsibility deal drawn from business, the voluntary sector, other non-governmental organisations, local government, as well as public health bodies. A diverse range of experts are also involved."...

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lingua Franca

Is a "new" language a way to unite Nigeria? In a country where more than 400 languages are spoken, how can politics, education, business, or just everyday life function? How about pidgin?

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

Nigeria harnesses Pidgin English power
Long considered the language of the uneducated, Nigerian Pidgin English, with its oscillating tones and playful imagery, is now spoken by Nigerians of every age, social class and regional origin.

In a country with wide disparity in education provision, Pidgin operates as a de facto lingua franca, a bridge between social classes, ethnicities and educational levels. Public announcements and information campaigns are often made in Pidgin, which has a wider reach than standard English, the official language of this former British colony.

But while Nigerian Pidgin first emerged nearly 600 years ago, when trade with Europe was first established in the Niger Delta, and is now estimated to be used by 50 million people, and with variants spoken in Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the language still has no standard rules for spelling, grammar or an official dictionary.

As a Nigerian linguist once put it, "Na like pikin we no get papa, we no get mama" (It is like a child without a father or mother). Everyone uses Pidgin to serve their purpose, but no one looks out for it.

That is what the Naija Languej Akademi is seeking to change by creating the first reference guide for Pidgin English…

Pidgin is a definition applied to simplistic languages that are prone to die out. If, however, they evolve and acquire native speakers, they are categorised as creole languages…

The interest in Pidgin is not only intellectual but also political. Because similar forms of Pidgin are shared across west Africa's English-speaking countries, many believe it could evolve from a national lingua franca into a regional one…

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General strike in Nigeria

Unions, like most other civil society groups in Nigeria, are divided along ethnic, geographic, and religious lines. Plus unions are divided by occupational cleavages. However, when it comes to demands to raise the minimum wage for the first time in a decade of growing inflation, workers seem to be uniting. Will they shut the country down?

Nigerian Workers Strike After Govt Talks Fail
The All Africa page has links to five news stories about the possibility of a strike.

Then there was the delay: Strike - Govt Gets Three Weeks' Respite
The three day warning strike started by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) was suspended yesterday after the unions secured an "undertaking" from President Goodluck Jonathan that a new minimum wage bill would be forwarded to the National Assembly…

Chairman of the Joint Strike Committee of both labour unions Comrade Promise Adewusi said the National Executive Council (NEC) of NLC and the Central Working Committee (CWC) of the TUC met at an emergency session and after due consideration resolved to suspend the three-day warning strike given the desired attention the issue has drawn from various organs of government...

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rule of which law?

China continues moves against activists, barring 2 lawyers from leaving country
China - increasingly open, modern and economically powerful - wants to be seen as a country that abides by the rule of law, with an independent judiciary.

The official state-run news agency reported Tuesday that China's State Council - the equivalent of the cabinet - had issued new guidelines ordering officials to adhere to the rule of law…

According to China's constitution, people can be arrested only on orders of a public prosecutor or court, and arrests must be made public…

But while officials publicly extol the rule of law, the police and security forces continue to act under their own rules. The security apparatus detains people it considers "troublemakers," restricting them to their homes, or, in the worst cases, causing them to disappear for weeks or months into "black jails," as secret detention centers are known.

Under Chinese law, people suspected of a crime can be held for a maximum of 37 days, during which time the public prosecutor must issue a warrant. But the reality is often far different.

One lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, has been missing since April… Ding Zilin, whose son died in the 1989 crackdown at Tiananmen Square and who has become an activist for relatives of Tiananmen victims, has disappeared along with her husband and is thought to be in a black jail...

Placing dissidents and others under house arrest - also known here as "soft detention" - is common in China, particularly during big events such as the 2008 Summer Olympics or major meetings of the Communist Party…

China has reacted furiously to the Nobel committee's announcement that Liu Xiaobo would receive the peace prize. Liu was sentenced in December to 11 years in prison for trying to overthrow the system, after his calls for more democracy, in an online petition…

Several Chinese activists and foreign human rights observers pointed to what they called a central irony of the Chinese government's position. Chinese officials have sharply criticized the Nobel committee's decision because, they say, Liu is a convicted criminal and the award shows "disrespect" for China's judiciary and legal system. At the same time, they said, by placing dissidents under house arrest, or blocking them at the airport from traveling, officials are violating the very rule of law they criticize others for disrespecting…

Premier Wen Jiabao, in an interview aired last month with CNN and in Time magazine, talked about the importance of China adhering to the rule of law.

"All political parties, organizations and all people should abide by the constitution and laws without any exception," Wen said. "They must all act in accordance with the constitution and laws. I see that as a defining feature of modern political system development."

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Details, details

There's a rush to complete all the details for next year's elections in Nigeria. And this observer (who's been an election judge in the US) has to ask, "What happened to the voter registration machines from the last election?"

This article is from The Daily Trust in Lagos.

INEC Awards N34.4 Billion DDC Machines Contract
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has awarded contract for the supply of 132,000 units of Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines at about N34.4 billion for the conduct of voter registration exercise…

INEC said the firms are to supply the machines within the next 35 days to enable the commission conclude arrangement for the voter registration exercise scheduled for January 2011…

Ahead of the supply of the machines, INEC has trained its staff on the digital registration of voters in order to also train registration officers that will conduct the exercise by January…

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Friday, November 12, 2010

The politics of economics

There are good economic reasons for the changes coming in Iran's subsidy program, but the government might well have political goals as well as economic ones. The costs of ending subsidies will not be borne equally.

Iran's middle class to be hard hit as subsidy program is overhauled
Last year, Tehran's writers, doctors and small-business owners formed the backbone of a grass-roots opposition movement against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Now these middle-class urbanites feel they're being singled out by a government plan that will soon cut off state subsidies and boost the prices of a wide array of everyday products…

[I]n the coming weeks they expect to be hit again, when the cost of gasoline, bread, electricity and other staples are set to increase to market levels, with some prices possibly rising as much as tenfold. While the rural poor will be partly compensated by direct cash handouts from the state, many in Iran's cities will have to fend for themselves.

The subsidy overhaul lays bare a deep rift between the Islamic Republic's leaders and the influential middle class over what kind of country Iran should be, three decades after the 1979 revolution…

"The middle class has updated itself to modern times," said Mehdi [a copper trader who asked not to be identified by his full name out of fear of retribution]. "Now I want out leaders to do the same."…

Ahmadinejad has said the program is an attempt to redistribute wealth to the poor. When it is implemented, some 60 million Iranians, including most of the country's poor and lower middle-class residents, will receive the equivalent of $40 a month in their bank accounts to compensate for the steep price increases. But the remainder of the population, some 15 million by government estimates, including many in the urban middle class, will have to fend for themselves.

"The subsidy plan will lead to the middle classes becoming more dependent on the state. They will be poorer and lose influence" said Abbas Abdi, a political analyst critical of the government. "The government will be pleased with this…

Iran's middle class has long been at odds with the country's revolutionary leaders, who dislike their moderate values.

In the revolution's aftermath, Iran urbanized at rapid speed. Illiteracy was nearly wiped out, universities became accessible for all social and economic classes, and the most remote villages were connected to the national electricity grid. But the changes came at a price for Iran's leaders.

As carpet weavers, shopkeepers and farmers moved to Tehran, bought cars and sent their children to universities, their revolutionary fire was slowly extinguished…

The changes heralded increasingly loud political demands for more personal freedom, moderate policies and better foreign relations. In the past decade, the middle class formed the base of a moderate movement of clerics and politicians attempting to modernize and reform the Islamic Republic from within…

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Clash of symbols

Who is to judge the competing importance of symbols when they clash?

The Daily Mail article doesn't explain because reporter James Chapman assumes that his British readers know that the red poppy in Britain is worn in November to honor British war dead. The symbol for the Brits comes from the poppies that grow in European military cemeteries.

In China, the poppy -- especially in British lapels -- has another meaning. Whose symbols should take precedence?

David Cameron rejects Chinese request to remove 'offensive' poppies during visit

David Cameron and four Cabinet ministers wore poppies in defiance of Chinese demands to remove them yesterday.

The Prime Minister was told that allowing his delegation to sport the symbol would cause grave offence because it would remind Chinese ministers and officials of the Opium Wars…

The British victories in both conflicts apparently still weigh heavy on Chinese minds, since the prospect of British ministers and officials wearing poppies while attending this week's talks in Beijing prompted horror…

Mr Cameron… refused to remove his poppy, as did Chancellor George Osborne, Business Secretary Vince Cable, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne and Education Secretary Michael Gove, who are all accompanying the Prime Minister in China…

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rule of law and business

Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been in jail since 2003. He's likely to remain in jail until 2017. He was once the richest man in Russia. Most observers agree that his crime was to oppose Vladimir Putin politically.

As his second trial ended, he made a plea for rule of law and freedom for businesses. Is this like the legal assumption in the USA that corporations are individuals? Or is it a civic plea for human rights?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky attacks 'sick' Russian state
Jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky urged a judge in Moscow today to end his days "slurping gruel" in prison, saying the fate of every Russian was tied up with his own. Khodorkovksy was speaking on the final day of his trial for allegedly stealing $25bn (£15.6bn) of crude oil from subsidiaries of his own Yukos oil company, a charge widely seen as vengeance for his financing of political parties opposing the Kremlin.

"A state that destroys its best companies, which are ready to become global champions, a country that holds its own citizens in contempt, trusting only the bureaucracy and the special services, is a sick state," he told a packed courtroom…

Political analysts believe the Kremlin wants to ensure Khodorkovsky is not released in the runup to the 2012 presidential elections…

Excerpts from Khodorksovsky's statement to the court.
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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Roads as a sign of governance

Imnakoya asks the good question: When does the lack of public infrastructure indicate the failure of governance?

Then he offers a 2-minute slide show of roads near Lagos as evidence. Your students should be able to debate the issue and then look for other evidence to back up various positions that answer the question.

Discerning governance
Looking through the pictures below, I wonder what governance (the activity of governing) is if indicators as such simple and vital infrastructure like motorable roads are not available…

At which point is government considered a failure? How is such consideration made, and by whom?..

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Monday, November 08, 2010

Corruption and business and governance

New rankings suggest that corruption is a bigger problem in Russia than before. Does it matter or is that just how things are done?

Russian corruption takes on a life of its own
In Russia, the greased palm has overtaken the strong hand. For the past decade, Vladimir Putin, now the prime minister, has been building a tightly centralized, practically unaccountable political structure - a structure that tolerates and is highly susceptible to corruption. But now that corruption appears to have expanded beyond the Kremlin's control…

"Corruption is not a disease, it's a pain. It's a signal that something is not working efficiently," Georgy Satarov, head of the Indem Foundation in Moscow, said Tuesday.

That signal grew stronger Tuesday with the release of the 15th annual Transparency International report on corruption perceptions around the world, ranking nations from least to most corrupt. Russia slid from 146th place to 154th, out of 178 countries, and into a tie with Tajikistan, Papua New Guinea and several African nations…

In October, Medvedev launched a "Forward, Russia" campaign to fight corruption. But in July, he acknowledged that it had achieved no results. He laments that government ministers do not carry out his orders - the direct consequence, according to Yuli Nisnevich, chief researcher for Transparency International in Moscow, of a corrupt bureaucracy over which the external controls no longer hold sway.

There is no shortage of laws, instructions, orders or publications against corruption, Yelena Panfilova, director of the Moscow office of Transparency International, said. "But they don't work."

Russia has a long history of pulling strings and trading favors. "What do you mean by corruption?" asked Yevgeny Kovtun, a 48-year-old businessman. "I can help one man; after that, he helps me. Is that corruption? No, that's business."…

Sergei Markov, a political analyst and member of the lower house of parliament from the ruling United Russia party, said Russia's leaders have been tentative about fighting corruption because they don't want to upset the stability that the country has finally achieved. "Instability is the main threat to economic growth," he said. "And corruption is not contradictory with economic growth."…

"Investors won't pay attention to Transparency International," he said. "They pay attention to their own experience. Some of them are quite cynical. For some of them, corruption is good."

Corruption Perceptions Index 2010 Results
On a scale of 0 − 10 (from most to least corrupt):
  • Denmark is perceived as least corrupt with a score of 9.3
  • The UK is #20 at 7.6
  • China is #78 at 3.5
  • Mexico is #98 at 3.1
  • Nigeria is #134 at 2.4
  • Iran is #146 at 2.2
  • Russia is #154 at 2.1

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Friday, November 05, 2010

A former country heard from

Former Soviet leader Gorbachev isn't happy with the regime Putin seems to be creating or with the party Putin has created. Why not? He thinks Putin is running things just as Gorbachev did in the USSR.

How well could your students identify the parallels between now and then?

Gorbachev Says Putin Obstructs Democracy
Mikhail S. Gorbachev [right], who once supported Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, is voicing growing frustration with Mr. Putin’s leadership, saying that he had undermined Russia’s fledgling democracy by crippling the opposition forces.

“He thinks that democracy stands in his way,” Mr. Gorbachev said.

“I am afraid that they have been saddled with this idea that this unmanageable country needs authoritarianism,” Mr. Gorbachev said, referring to Mr. Putin and his close ally, President Dmitri A. Medvedev. “They think they cannot do without it.”

In an interview, Mr. Gorbachev even described Mr. Putin’s governing party, United Russia, as a “a bad copy of the Soviet Communist Party.” Mr. Gorbachev said party officials were concerned entirely with clinging to power and did not want Russians to take part in civic life.

Mr. Gorbachev was especially disparaging of Mr. Putin’s decision in 2004, when he was president, to eliminate elections for regional governors and the mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Those positions are now filled by Kremlin appointees. The impact of this change was illustrated in Mr. Medvedev’s dismissal last month of Moscow’s longtime mayor, who was replaced with a Putin loyalist.

“Democracy begins with elections,” Mr. Gorbachev said. “Elections, accountability and turnover.”...

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Lagos Jazz Series

It's probably too late to get there if you don't already have a plane ticket, but this is a reminder that there's life in Nigeria beyond politics. Thanks to Jeremy Weate for pointing this out.

Lagos Jazz Series, November 5-7, 2010
The Lagos Jazz Series will hold over three nights from November 5 - November 7, 2010. It will feature amazing jazz musicians from the Americas, Europe and Africa, all performing at a range of intimate and beautiful venues in Lagos. The Lagos Jazz Series 2010 is the first of what is to be an annual celebration of jazz, culture and the good life.

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A reminder

For those of you who don't remember one of the keys to current American-Iranian relations, there were large demonstrations in Tehran. It wasn't for us. It was for the majority of Iranians who weren't alive when crowds swarmed the U.S. embassy and took 52 hostages. It is an important part of the political socialization process for those holding power in the government.

Iran stages mass protest on anniversary of US embassy capture
Thousands of Iranians chanted “Death to America” as they staged a mass protest against the “Great Satan” to mark the 31st anniversary of the capture of the American embassy by Islamist students.

Waving Iranian flags and carrying anti-US banners alongside posters of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the largely young crowd also shouted anti-Israel slogans.

Iran annually on November 4 marks the anniversary of the capture of the US embassy by Islamist students in Tehran in 1979, months after the Islamic revolution which toppled the US-backed shah.

The embassy has remained closed and the US and Iran have had no diplomatic ties since then...

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

On another hand

The privatization of Nigeria's electricity production is not universally popular, as the demonstration reported by Next proves. But who is opposed? And given the failures of the public power company (PHCN) and general opinion about PHCN, you have to be pretty audacious to hold it up as a model of public enterprise.

Group protests power company's sale
Nigerian workers, under the umbrella organisation of the Joint Action Forum (JAF), the pro-Labour civil society partner in the Labour and Civil Society Coalition, took to the streets of Lagos yesterday to protest the planned privatisation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).

In a press release issued by the JAF, they described President Goodluck Jonathan's Roadmap on Electricity Power Reform as "another gigantic fraud meant to hand over another publicly owned enterprise (PHCN) to the looters' cousins and pirates called private investors."...

Abiodun Aremu, the Secretary of the JAF, said the workers are completely opposed to the privatisation because it has never worked in Nigeria. "We are opposed to the privatisation of the electricity sector," he said. "Government has a responsibility to ensure there is light for Nigerians; to ensure that what is publicly owned is not privatised because all cases of privatised public enterprises has been a disaster…

PHCN provides a good source of employment for the common man which would be jeopardised if the electricity sector is privatised. This was the view expressed by Jacob Ishola, the Vice President of Lagos State chapter of the National Union of Electricity Employees…

However, another association, the Coalition of Residence and Business Associations of Nigeria, opposed the actions of the JAF. Their National Chairman, Abayomi Daodu, who was present at the rally, said that the JAF was wrong and were only conducting the rally for their own selfish interests...

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Another kind of power

In the 1970s, a friend of mine spent a year teaching in Nigeria. One of the stories he told was about how private electrical generators roared noisily to life several times a day when the main power went out. Things are not better today. But, President Jonathan is promising big change and has plans for privatization.

The whole thing is complicated by the upcoming presidential election and the fight within the president's dominant party. Privatization sounds like the way to go, but few companies or countries are likely to invest in Nigeria until political stability is more assured.

Let there be light
President Goodluck Jonathan, who early next year will stand in an election that could split his party and spark violent protests, has asked investors to participate in a grandiose privatisation programme meant to raise $35 billion over ten years. He wants to flog state power-generation and distribution companies, and put the grid under private management.

The scheme may be his—and his country’s—best hope of salvation from chronic power cuts. At a prayer meeting on October 4th Mr Jonathan was reading a biblical passage in front of many of the country’s elite when the grid failed and his microphone cut out. He walked off in a huff…

The problem is not new. Nigeria’s power supply has been stagnant for 30 years… One result is a laughably small manufacturing sector, about 4% of GDP…

The Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), the monopoly supplier, is known to consumers as Please Have Candle Nearby. Five years ago it replaced the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), nicknamed Never Expect Power Again…

To survive, many Nigerians have their own power plants, creating the world’s highest concentration of small-scale generators. Two-thirds of all electricity is produced in basements and backyards…

There are reasons to be optimistic. The programme has a sound legal basis. It follows a conventional privatisation model. Its pricing scheme seems transparent. That has reassured investors. They also welcome the easy access to local-currency loans in Nigeria, one of Africa’s most developed capital markets. And they like the country’s strong GDP growth, expected to top 7% this year…

Even more worrying, the corrupt state bureaucracy is drooling in anticipation. The influx of billions of dollars will create long queues at the trough. Observers warn of the “rascality” of Nigerian officials…

The strongest pitch the government could make would be its own re-election. Voting is due early next year and for the first time in recent history the outcome is uncertain. The president’s party—dominant since the end of military rule 11 years ago—cannot agree on a nominee. The losers in a forthcoming primary may break away. One-party rule could end...

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Monday, November 01, 2010

Political integration; cultural segregation

Once again, SolomonSydelle, writing in Nigerian Curiousity, points to a valuable teaching tool and offers insightful commentary. (Thank him.) An adequate level of political integration (and that's a relativistic measure) is necessary for the functioning of any state. The question raised here is whether the level of political integration in Nigeria is adequate.

A lot of the perceptions some Nigerians have of their fellow citizens stem from stereotypes and archaic beliefs. These ideas should be long gone, but as is the case across the globe, stereotypical attitudes persist even in the face of contrary evidence.

'Perceptions' is a short documentary that interviews 3 Nigerians - a Hausa man, an Igbo woman and a Yoruba man. In the 10 minute program, these individuals share some of their thoughts about Nigeria's major ethnic groups. They explain why they dislike and like people from other tribes...

I for one think that the views expressed are reflective of attitudes held by many Nigerians. There is indeed distrust between Nigerians and it oftentimes is expressed within a tribal context… Only a concerted effort will allay those fears and stereotypes. And such an effort is needed because tribalism is a divisive element in the fabric of Nigeria and it contributes to violence and disunity.

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