Via Le Monde Diplo, here’s a very useful map:
I’ve just started More Than Good Intentions, the new book on impact assessment in international development by Dean Karlan* & Jacob Appel, and was struck by a figure given in their introduction: US$2.3 trillion has been spent on development aid over the past 50 years. (They don’t specify how this figure was constructed, or whether it’s in nominal or constant dollars. However, Easterly cites the same figure elsewhere, so I’m going to run with it for the moment.) K&A mention this in the context of arguments about development effectiveness, with the usual gloss – the question of how that much money could have failed to spark development. Reading this now, however, I’d sooner ask the opposite question of why anyone might assume that such a trivial sum could suffice to materially transform large swathes of the world.
Think about it: US GDP in 2009 was $14 trillion in nominal terms. In a single year, the wealthiest country in the world produces up to 6 times the value of all the money spent on aid over the last 50 years. To put it in per capita terms, US per capita GDP in the same year was $45,989 in nominal dollars. Let’s assume that the $2.3 trillion in aid was spent equally over those 50 years, for approximately $46 billion in aid per year. Let’s assume as well that this aid went exclusively to the bottom billion during each of those years. That leaves us with about $46 per person per year over 50 years – about a month and a half of subsistence at an average of $1 a day.**
This is a highly stylized and inevitably inaccurate description of how aid funding is spent, but I found it useful to put these numbers into context. Why should we expect that a sum like $46 per person per year, no matter how effectively spent, might successfully pull nations out of poverty? Why should we expect this paltry ammunition to succeed against the array of historically and politically contingent reasons why countries find themselves unable to grow or to equitably distribute the benefits of growth?
Of course, this isn’t actually an argument against aid, or improving aid effectiveness. The fact that it isn’t sufficient to raise all impoverished people out of poverty doesn’t mean that the limited but real benefits that it can provide – like improving access to healthcare or education – are suddenly worthless. And certainly almost everyone in the development community sees aid as necessary yet insufficient for development. However, to echo Fukuyama’s critique of the lack of historical context in recent political science work (which you can read in my notes [PDF] from his recent talk at SAIS), I find it a bit troubling that we as development practitioners are still quite so focused on the causal link between aid and development, sometimes at the expense of broader thought about how countries develop and why. As a commentator at the Fukuyama talk said, much development work feels like it’s “trying to do history in a hurry” – and with insufficient tools at that. Alongside rigorous evaluation of the type K&A advocate, I’d love to see a stronger understanding of historical contingency & context in discourse on development.
* I worked on one of Dean’s projects with IPA, and he generously sent me a galley of the book for free.
** For the sticklers on research methods, yes, I know that nominal & real dollar amounts aren’t directly comparable; that aid hasn’t gone to a tidy billion people per year for exactly 50 years; that $1/day is actually a complex estimate of poverty [PDF]; and that living on $1/day doesn’t actually mean you get a dollar per day. It’s a thought experiment, yo.
Whilst looking around on Worldmapper for my recent post on liberation theology in Africa, I found this map of the global distribution of Anglicans, which makes clear why the Church of Nigeria has played such a pivotal role in the potential schism in the Anglican Communion:
If you haven’t been following this debate, there’s a brief overview here. To generalize a bit, there’s a conservative-progressive split in the communion that roughly corresponds with Southern and Northern churches, and it intensified over the Episcopal Church in the USA’s ordination of an openly gay man as the Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. I certainly think the ECUSA is on the right side of history on this point, but, as this thoughtful article from Killing the Buddha relates, African resistance to Northern theological hegemony is also tied in to historical legacies of colonialism and contemporary local-level struggles to expand the reach of the Anglican church. Just like everything else, there aren’t any easy answers.
In the spirit of my recent post about what to read on Rwanda, here’s my take on the DRC. (I’ve also updated this list several times, most recently in June 2015.)
- For very early regional history, David Schoenbrum’s A Green Place, A Good Place: Agrarian Change and Social Identity in the Great Lakes Region until the 15th Century is a fascinating linguistic reconstruction of life in the Great Lakes region from the early first centures CE onwards. The method alone is worth reading for. Jean-Pierre Chretien’s The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History may cover similar territory, but I haven’t read it yet.
- King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, by Adam Hochschild. If you’re even remotely interested in the Congo, you will doubtlessly have had this book recommended to you. This is for an excellent reason. Hochschild is an engaging writer, and draws a detailed picture of the merciless colonial origins of the DRC. Jan Vansina also has a new book out covering the colonial period, called Being Colonized: The Kuba Experience in Rural Congo, 1880 – 1960, which I also haven’t read yet.
- In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Zaire, by Michaela Wrong. A readable popular account of the Mobutu years. Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s latest book, Wizard of the Crow, is an interesting fictional account of life under a dictatorship partially based on Mobutu’s 37-year rule.
- Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason Stearns. Stearns is one of the most knowledgeable people around on the Congo (see his blog for proof of this), and his recent book is thoroughly researched and remarkably clear in its depiction of the complex wars that wracked the DRC from 1996 to 2003. Gerard Prunier’s Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe covers largely the same territory as Stearns’, but plunges even more unsparingly into the thicket of local politics and important detail.
- The Congo wars have received a fair amount of additional literary attention. Both Rene Lemarchand’s Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa and Filip Reyntjens’ The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996 – 2006 are quite good. I have read Thomas’ Turner’s The Congo Wars: Conflict, Myth and Reality, but didn’t find it very analytically useful. Three other excellent books which focus on specific aspects of the crisis are Severine Autesserre’s The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding; its sequel, Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention; and Timothy Raeymaekers’ Violent Capitalism and Hybrid Identity in the Eastern Congo: Power to the Margins.
- One of the few books that tries to provide a comprehensive account of Congolese history from the precolonial era to the present is David Van Reybrouck’s Congo: The Epic History of a People. Haven’t read it yet, but have heard many positive reviews.
I’ve been puzzling over this question for a few weeks now, ever since reading about the connection that Samuel Huntington drew between the evolving Catholic church (with regard to Vatican II and liberation theology) and democratization in Latin America. Liberation theology sprang up from the 1950s – 1970s as an intense critique of the church’s role in abetting oppression and poverty, of which there was plenty in both Latin America and Africa at the time – but whilst it left a lasting impression on both faith practices and (selon Huntington) politics in LatAm, it didn’t seem to spread across the Atlantic in any meaningful way. (The exception appears to be South Africa, where “liberation” had an unusually clearly defined sense.)
This might go back to the general debate over why Africans don’t protest more (see here and here), but I’m also wondering about the specific political facets of religious life in Africa that might have incentivized religious leaders not to adapt and adopt this type of faith-based social movement. Were organized faiths regularly co-opted by by the state during this period? Or did religious leaders & laypeople face the same incentives against rebellion as any other citizens? Science Encyclopedia offers some stylized facts about religion and the state in Africa, but nothing systematic enough to draw conclusions.
With regard to Catholicism specifically, January Makamba points out that this tradition was not nearly as deeply entrenched in Africa as it was in Latin America, which could be relevant if theologians are less likely to adopt new ideas across denominational lines (or across different faiths all together, given that there are estimated to be more Muslims than Christians in Africa). Check out Worldmapper’s depiction of the distribution of Catholics around the world:
For comparison, here’s a map of global population distribution:
Latin America clearly has a greater-than-proportional share of Catholics, although central and east Africa also appear to be holding their own, making it less immediately obvious that “lack of Catholicism” is a good explanatory variable. Thoughts and recommendations for further reading would be welcomed!
Having received a few requests recently for books on Rwanda & the genocide, I thought I’d list those that I’ve found most valuable in understanding the peri-genocidal state. (I’ve since updated this post several times since publication, most recently in June 2015.)
- Antecedents to Modern Rwanda: The Nyiginya Kingdom, by Jan Vansina. A must-read for understanding the political, economic, and social organization of pre-colonial Rwanda, and the harmful way that colonialism interacted with the extant social identities of “Hutu” and “Tutsi.” Alison Des Forges’ Defeat is the Only Bad News: Rwanda Under Musinga, 1986 – 1931 and Catherine Newbury’s The Cohesion of Oppression: Clientship and Ethnicity in Rwanda, 1960 – 1960 cover the same period, although I haven’t read either yet.
- The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide, by Gerard Prunier. The most comprehensive history of the genocide that I’ve yet read. Prunier is a formidable researcher, and he covers the period from independence up to the late 1990s in considerable detail and from a cogent analytical perspective. His later research caused him to question this book’s favorable portrayals of Paul Kagame during several internal RPF struggles which took place during the 1990 – 1994 civil war, but I don’t think that detracts from the insight of the vast majority of analysis here. Mahmood Mamdani’s When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda provides a similar look at the historical roots of the genocide.
- The Order of Genocide: Race, Power, and War in Rwanda, by Scott Straus. Straus does incredible work investigating the microdynamics of the genocide, with specific attention to the way in which the national-level order to commit genocide was transmitted through various levels of political machinery, and actualized in killing at the local level. This book should put to rest once and for all the misconception that the genocide was an unpremeditated outburst of “ancient tribal hatreds.” Lee Ann Fuji’s Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda, which I haven’t read yet, looks like another excellent work on the genocide’s microdynamics.
- Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak, Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak, and The Antelope’s Strategy: Living in Rwanda After the Genocide, by Jean Hatzfeld. Hatzfeld is a French journalist who conducted extensive interviews with genocide perpetrators and victims in the mid-1990s (for Machete and Life), and then again in the early 2000s (Antelope). Machete and Life offer an incomparable view into the human side of the local-level political violence that Straus documented in Order, whilst Antelope is a sobering reminder that the wounds of the genocide are still very much open for most Rwandans. Essential reading.
- Remaking Rwanda: State-Building and Human Rights After Mass Violence, edited by Scott Straus & Lars Waldorf. Published in 2011, this essay collection offers a fascinating look into social policy and domestic politics 15 years after the genocide. Susan Thomson’s Whispering Truth to Power: Everyday Resistance to Reconciliation in Postgenocide Rwanda and Jeannie Burnet’s Genocide Lives in Us: Women, Memory, and Silence in Rwanda cover the same period with a focus on the lived experience of ordinary people. They’re very good works of anthropology, worth a read even if you’re already familiar with the broad outlines of Rwandan society today. Marc Sommers seems to cover similar territory in Stuck: Rwandan Youth and the Struggle for Adulthood, but I haven’t read this yet.
What else would you recommend? (Update: see the comments for some additional recommendations!)