The same old canard

From the comments section of Aid Watch, emphasis mine:

Lure D. Lou:

Transitionland says that immediately tackling corruption could go far to reversing this. What I would say is that one man’s corruption is another man’s way of life…as long as you have great disparities in wealth, a non-democratic power allocation, and fortunes to be made from drugs and weapons you will get nowhere in tackling corruption. Corruption is endemic to even the most advanced societies…just look at New Jersey politics…what you need are alternative structures that aren’t corrupt that will hopefully draw enough people away and give them enough incentives to stay on the straight and narrow. This is not going to happen any time soon in Afghanistan, Nigeria, or even New Jersey. The focus on corruption is a waste of time…better to use the corrupt system than to try to change it…but goodie-two shoes Americans are unlikely to want to go there…we want to save souls while allowing our contractors to rake in the dough and our NGO legions to pad their ‘conflict zone’ resumes…the Great Game of neo-colonialism continues.

Good governance NGOs in places like Afghanistan make me laugh.

A few things:

1) When I mentioned corruption, I was referring to corruption by aid agencies and their contractors. If corruption in the aid world is, as Lure D. Lou argues, a “way of life,” it is not one I want any part of.  We condemn and punish corruption in the for-profit sector (or should); there’s no reason we should apply a different set of principles to non-profits, including aid agencies.

2) New Jersey is corrupt. Comically so. But its corruption is, for the most part, the non-lethal variety, and it is mitigated (though not always successfully) by strong rule of law. Comparing Afghanistan to New Jersey is absurd. Afghanistan won’t reach New Jersey’s level of governance development for a very, very long time (I’m pretty confident I will be long dead by the time it does), but that doesn’t mean Afghanistan can’t do better, or shouldn’t. Corruption in poor societies steals food from the mouths of the poor, deprives people of basic necessities of life, walks hand in hand with human rights abuse, kills. If you don’t have an ethical problem with that, you’re an asshole.

3) It’s “better to use a corrupt system than try to change it”? Use it for what exactly?

Lou’s muddled argument seems to be that corruption is hardwired into human nature, but some humans (read: people from the developing world) are slightly more prone to corrupt behavior than others.  Lovely.

*

Another prize-winning comment:

Justin Kraus:

Transitionland,

I for one wish there were more people like Lure D. Lou in development work, at least he is thinking outside the box a little bit. Your own approach, and that of most development agencies, strikes me as arrogant and patronizing. Talking about how the “international community,” which if it exists at all in any meaningful sense, is surely the most hypocritical entity on this planet, should “hold the Afghan government to its commitments” as if they were somehow freely made in the first place (how many troops do “we” have in that country?), and as if it were completely unproblematic for “us” to be telling them how to run their country. What we call vetting, they call western imperialist encroachment. Why not “allow” them to choose their leaders as they see fit? We don’t go waltzing into Japan which, even with the recent election, doesn’t have a “true” democracy in any western sense of the word?

And then you take this patroninizing protective posture over the Afghan people by stating that Mr. Lure is “dangerous” to the people that you are (supposedly) “helping.” Who is the best judge of what is and what is not help? From the looks of it most Afghanis are rejecting Western “help.”

Perhaps we should be humble enough to take a step back and stop trying to impose our “help” on a people who clearly prefer to manage themselves in ways very different from “our” own.

1) Putting international community in snark quotes is lame. Everyone knows what it means, or should anyway. It’s a convenient shorthand for a collection of governments and IOs working together. In Bosnia, it’s the OSCE, EU, UN, and United States. In Afghanistan, UNAMA, ISAF, donor agencies, NGOs, and foreign governments. No one is going to write all that out. You find international community an obnoxious phrase? Too bad. Get over it already.

2) Holding the Afghan Government to its own constitution and to international law is not disrespectful, but the opposite would be. “You must do better” implies “and we know you can.”

3) As for “telling them how to run their country” — well, this is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Are we shoving an unsuitable form of government and set of ideals down the throats of unwilling Afghans?

We are, if you count only those  who gain personal benefit from anarchy, corruption, and misgovernment. These are the people who, in every transitional society, are first to invoke “cultural differences” when the existence of said differences would oh-so-conveniently allow them to gain or retain power.

Afghan public opinion on many things  –that is, what ordinary women and men think– matches closely the more principled goals of the international community in Afghanistan. If anything, Afghans have actually expressed stronger desire for good governance, rule of law, and transitional justice than many expats.

4) “What we call vetting, they call imperialist encroachment.” Um, no. That’s just factually untrue.

From page 28 of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission report, A Call for Justice:

Many people who participated in our study forcefully made the point that human rights violations continue in Afghanistan today and that abusers remain in power. The vast majority of respondents who participated in the survey wished to see those who committed human rights abuses removed from their posts. Ninety percent of respondents indicated a desire to see the removal of perpetrators from their posts. The results of the survey were reflected in the sentiments expressed in the focus groups. Most participants wished to see the exclusion of human rights abusers from public office in order to prevent the reoccurrence of injustice. In particular they wanted to prevent perpetrators from gaining political power in the future.

Some “Western encroachment” that is.

5) “Why not ‘allow’ them to choose their leaders as they see fit?” That’s a great idea. Only, slightly difficult in practice at the moment for two reasons: some of those in power will do almost anything, including defraud, intimidate and kill, to hang on to it. And the international community is not doing enough to protect the right of ordinary Afghans to freely and fairly choose their own leaders.

6) Afghans (Afghani is a unit of currency, like dollar or Euro) aren’t “rejecting Western ‘help'” –they are rejecting our hypocrisy, laziness, corruption, insufficient respect for Afghan lives on the military side of things, and unwillingness to listen to Afghans who actually want the best for their country. That’s a different animal entirely.

Siding with tyrants

I found the following a thoroughly compelling distillation of Mahmood Mamdani’s views:

For Mamdani, colonialism seems to be just a matter of one continent involving itself too heavily in the affairs of another continent–a jurisdictional abuse. But what was it that made colonialism so vile, so repugnant? Surely the essence of colonialism was the denial of freedom. The provenance matters less than the crime. If you read accounts of the savageries that attended European ventures into Africa, and then read accounts of what has taken place these past few years in Darfur, you will be struck by the similarities between them. It is no coincidence that the historian M.W. Daly has described postindependence governments in Khartoum as governing Darfur by “internal colonialism.” And this phenomenon is not unique to Sudan. Today many African tyrants treat their people with the same contempt Europeans once did. Is it a consolation for the victims that their oppression does not come from the West?

To side with Mamdani’s notion of anti-imperialism is to side with these tyrants. And to side with tyrants is to side with something that very much resembles colonialism. This is the contradiction within Mamdani’s worldview. It is also, in the end, the reason that the left’s great disputation between anti-imperialism and human rights presents a false choice. There is no need to pick sides. To be for human rights always and everywhere is to be against the ugliness of colonialism. And Mamdani’s anti-colonialism? It is, paradoxically, an apology for the closest thing our world now has to the colonialism of old.

It is altogether too bad that was written by Richard Just, managing editor of The New Republic, a publication I and many others have still not forgiven for its shameful cheerleading in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

Where do I enlist?

Americorps volunteers are, apparently, the Afro-Socialist shock troops who will keep Real Americans in line (and by lines, I mean bread and medicine lines) when Obama and his pals, George Soros, Ban Ki Moon and Bill Ayers, turn America into a totalitarian oligarchy through provision of free abortions  to billions of illegal aliens and establishment of Sharia Law and criminalization of heterosexuality and mass granny killings and the nationalization of all the conglomerates you hold dear.

Or, something like that. Just ask Glenn Beck, America’s last patriot!

As Jason Linkins sagely put it:

Who hasn’t gazed upon the average gaggle of Americorps volunteers, fresh and clueless from college, and thought to themselves: “From this raw material, I could surely fashion a brutal cadre of fearsome shock troops that will finally bring Western civilization to its knees!”

My best friend just applied to Americorps and her birthday is coming up. I need to scour eBay for an ammo belt to match her fave heels.

Please, read this

Melissa McEwan has the guts to write things I’ve thought more times than I can tell you, but never put into words (before now, or without help). Her whole piece at  Comment is Free is important and well worth the fifteen minutes it will take you to read it in its entirety. The parts I found most relevant, the parts I found myself nodding the most affirmatively to, follow.

If I played by misogynists’ rules, specifically the one that dictates it only takes one woman doing one mean or duplicitous or disrespectful or unlawful or otherwise bad thing to justify hatred of all women, I would have plenty of justification for hating men, if I were inclined to do that sort of thing.

[…]

My mistrust is not, as one might expect, primarily a result of the violent acts done on my body, nor the vicious humiliations done to my dignity. It is, instead, born of the multitude of mundane betrayals that mark my every relationship with a man: the casual rape joke, the use of a female slur, the careless demonising of the feminine in everyday conversation, the accusations of overreaction, the eye rolling and exasperated sighs in response to polite requests to please not use misogynist epithets in my presence or to please use non-gendered language (“humankind”).

But I don’t hate men, because I play by different rules. In fact, there are men in this world whom I love quite a lot.

There are also individual men in this world I would say I probably hate, or something close – men who I hold in unfathomable contempt. But it is not because they are men.

No, I don’t hate men.

It would, however, be fair to say that I don’t easily trust them.

Trust isn’t so much my issue, personally, because I am ridiculously trusting of anyone –male or female– who doesn’t act like like a complete creep from the get-go.

As for mundane betrayals, I personally wouldn’t go as far as to say they mark  “my every relationship with a man.”  Actually, “every” would be way too far. But many? Perhaps even most? Yes, that would be pretty accurate. And, like McEwan, I am not talking about men I hate, but rather ones I respect, like, and even love.

There are the insidious assumptions guiding our interactions – the supposition that I will regard being exceptionalised as a compliment (“you’re not like those other women”), and the presumption that I am an ally against certain kinds of women.

This is one of the inherent dangers of having, as my wise little sister succinctly put it when we discussed McEwan’s piece this afternoon, “honorary dude status.” Not only do others often perceive me as an exception, but I perceive myself as an exception. And I go to extraordinary lengths to cultivate this exceptional identity –in my own head and among my peers.

My field is one dominated by men and traditionally masculine ideals. My language is one often infused with militarism (think: “refugee protection surge roster”), and my writing style is often confrontational. My interests are wonkish, disquieting, “ballsy,” cerebral –all things that, in our society and age, we don’t equate with “feminine” or “female.”

Since I moved to this city, I rarely do anything but work, study, and argue with people online. These things constitute most of my existence at the moment. And so, I am counted among the boys –at least most of the time. In some ways, this is positive. For one, it allows me to participate equally, to “pass” if you will.

But being an “honorary dude” has definite drawbacks. If I exhibit any traits that are overtly feminine, I get immediately kicked out of the club, if only for a few minutes, for the duration of a staff meeting, for lunch. If I speak up against a sexist comment, or attempt to get members of the group to consider the subject of our discussion from anything other than an implicitly male perspective, I become an object of ridicule, my ideas the inspiration for eye rolls and sighs and knowing glances between the bro’s.

Again, I am not talking about raving misogynist assholes. I am talking about guys who read Jezebel, and guys who care deeply about, say, women war victims.

I am exhorted to join in the cruel revelry, and when I refuse, suddenly the target is on my back. And so it goes.

There are the jokes about women, about wives, about mothers, about raising daughters, about female bosses. They are told in my presence by men who are meant to care about me, just to get a rise out of me, as though I am meant to find funny a reminder of my second-class status.

I am meant to ignore that this is a bullying tactic, that the men telling these jokes derive their amusement specifically from knowing they upset me, piss me off, hurt me.

Occasionally, I call them on their comments. But I usually backtrack soon after. “It’s OK,” I tell them, “I wasn’t being serious. Well, not that serious. You know what I mean. You know me. I’m not one of those women.” Finally, just to make sure they get the point, I drop a quick and derogatory comment about those vapid, hysterical girls my age I’m definitely not like.

And the vicious cycle continues, because I’m an active, knowing collaborator. I don’t admit this with pride, merely self-awareness.

There are the occasions that men – intellectual men, clever men, engaged men – insist on playing devil’s advocate, desirous of a debate on some aspect of feminist theory or reproductive rights or some other subject generally filed under the heading Women’s Issues. These intellectual, clever, engaged men want to endlessly probe my argument for weaknesses, wrestle over details, argue just for fun. And they wonder, these intellectual, clever, engaged men, why my voice keeps rising and why my face is flushed and why, after an hour of fighting my corner, hot tears burn the corners of my eyes.

Why do you have to take this stuff so personally? ask the intellectual, clever, and engaged men, who have never considered that the content of the abstract exercise that’s so much fun for them is the stuff of my life.

“Stop being so self-involved,” you say. “Stop being so sensitive.”

And I ask myself,  would you consider it self-involved or overly sensitive of a person of color to object to the nonchalant, everyday racism of her or his friends and colleagues?  No, you probably wouldn’t.

There are the stereotypes – oh, the abundant stereotypes – about women, not me, of course, but other women, those women with their bad driving and their relentless shopping habits and their PMS and their disgusting vanity and their inability to stop talking and their disinterest in Important Things…

[…]

And I am expected to nod in agreement, and I am nudged and admonished to agree. I am expected to say these things are not true of me, but are true of women (am I seceding from the union?). I am expected to put my stamp of token approval on the stereotypes. Yes, it’s true. Between you and me, it’s all true.

That’s what is wanted from me. Abdication of my principles and pride, in service to a patriarchal system that will only use my collusion to further subjugate me. This is a thing that is asked of me by men who purport to care for me.

Often. So very fucking often.

And there is the denial about engaging in misogyny, even when it’s evident, even when it’s pointed out gently, softly, indulgently, carefully, with goodwill and the presumption that it was not intentional. There is the firm, fixed, unyielding denial – because it is better and easier to imply that I’m stupid or crazy or hysterical, that I have imagined being insulted by someone about whom I care (just for the fun of it!), than it is to just admit a bloody mistake and say, simply: I’m sorry.

When called on one of my many flaws –be it my religious prejudices, my casual racism, my hypocritical classism, my propensity for belligerent  intellectual laziness, or even my own sexism– I will own up and apologize.

Why can’t you do the same?  That’s all I ask.

You can’t take from people who have nothing, right?

Last December, Alanna began a post with this:

Bad development work is based on the idea that poor people have nothing. Something is better than nothing, right? So anything you give these poor people will be better than what they had before. Even if it’s your old clothes, technology they can’t use, or a school building with no teacher.

But poor people don’t have nothing. They have families, friends – social ties. They have responsibilities. They have possessions, however meager. They have lives, no matter what those lives look like to Westerners.

I was reminded of that post when I read the following on the Roma Rights blog, even though it isn’t about the kind of development Alanna was referring to:

Three months before the opening of the Universiade, Belgrade’s City Secretariat for Inspections decided to destroy the Roma slum settlement located right next to the athlete’s village “Belleville”. On April the 3rd 2009 all of a sudden a couple of bulldozers showed up at the settlement and demolished 40 houses. As the demolition was carried out without any prior notice to the residents, the people did not even have time to save their belongings from being buried under the ruins. A few of them were practically rescued from their houses in the very moment when the bulldozers were demolishing them.

It’s the assumption that underlies virtually everything governments in Eastern Europe do in regard to Roma housing: Roma lives are so bad, so intolerable, so filthy and hopeless that anything, even homelessness –or, as is the case for untold thousands of Roma in the former Yugoslavia, statelessness– is better than life in informal settlements like the one demolished in Belgrade. Thus, there is really no need to work with Roma communities to create housing alternatives. No, that demands too much effort on the part of busy, mid-level municipal officials, and requires actually sitting down with Roma as peers.  Forget it. Just send in the bulldozers and scatter the Gypsies. After all, you can’t take from people who have nothing, right?

A different view on BiH and the EU’s visa free regime

Florian Bieber:

The EU has to insist on countries fulfilling the requirements it sets. It has been weak for some (which were arguably bad conditions), but if it relents just to be ‘nice’ to a country or to not leave anybody behind, why would any politician pass any necessary law anymore? Lowering conditions and requirements would hurt citizens across the region, not least in BiH–not in regard to visa free travel, but in regard to other reforms. Not including all countries at the same time does not mean leaving them behind. If Slovakia had not been lagging behind in the 1990s, there would have been no pressure to get rid of Vladimir Meciar and to begin serious reforms. Had been Slovakia given an easy ride early on, it probably would have been left behind at the end.

One argument put forth in the debate has been that it is mostly Bosniaks who would be left out from visa free travel and Croats already have Croatian passports and Serbs can or have Serbian passports. This is, however, as demagogic argument. First, Croatian passport holders are uneffected, so there is no change there. Second, there is little evidence that Bosnian Serbs have easy access to Serbian passports. According to a report in Danas, only 2,557 Bosnian citizens also have a Serbian passport. While this might be underestimating the real number of double citizens, there is little evidence to suggest that Bosnian Serbs have easy access to Serbian passports. Finally, if Serbia were to provide easy access to Bosnian Serbs, the EC could easily impose similar limitations to Serbian passport holders from Bosnia as there will be for Serbian passport holders from Kosovo.

In a heated facebook debate started by one of my Bosnian friends in response to Bieber’s article (this friend agreed with Bieber), another Bosnian wrote:

This article states: “Lowering conditions and requirements would hurt citizens across the region, not least in BiH–not in regard to visa free travel, but in regard to other reforms” Are we talking about the same principle of conditions and requirements Turkey cannot fulfill for decades, but do not apply for Bulgaria and Romania. Second argument I find at least disturbing here is “First, Croatian passport holders are unaffected, so there is no change there.” Excuse me? That’s like saying there is no discrimination because we gave special privileges to a certain group long time ago.

What disturbs me the most is the claim that “there is little evidence that Bosnian Serbs have easy access to Serbian passports.” Does this person know that the Consulate of the Republic of Serbia was recently opened in Banja Luka with much publicity and the first person to receive the passport was the Prime Minister of the Republika Srpska. You do not have to be a PR expert to see that this was an open call for the citizens of Republika Srpska to stop by and get their passports. The only requirement was to declare Serbia as your homeland.

Would dropping the entry requirements for Bosnia be the least worst course of action — a way to ameliorate the feeling of injustice felt by the half of BiH’s population unable to obtain other passports, and pave the way for better relations between states in the region? Or would it put another dent in the EU’s already damaged ability to enforce  conditions evenly on states seeking accession? The latter could actually end up hurting the chances of Balkan states joining the union in the future, even if it led to short term gains, like inclusion in the visa free regime.

I’m not sure where I stand on this anymore.

Governance is…

My employer wants me to come up with names for the organization’s new quarterly newsletter. I suck at naming things (believe me, the name for this blog was a fluke), so I decided to use my Gen Y dorky, web-obsessed, concentration-deficient, “out of the box,” completely obnoxious tech savvy to get some ideas.  I typed “Governance” into Googlism. This is what came out.

Continue reading

The best ever idea in the history of ideas!

happy-hour

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fascism-evoking-jeffrey-sachs

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DRCONGO-UNREST-NKUNDA-FIGHTERS

I’ve mentioned this casually before, but now I’m formally calling for it to be brought to fruition –let’s have a development/human rights/humanitarian relief bloggers meetup!

In New York City! Sometime next month!

I want the following bloggers and their readers in:

- Wronging Rights

- Humanitarian Relief

- Stop Genocide

- Aid Watch (Because drinking + belligerent aid debates = awesome)

- The bloggerss at Voices from the Field

- Global Health and Blood and Milk readers (It’s too bad Alanna is in Dushanbe, but I’m sure she has a large NY readership)

- Tales From The Hood

I am forgetting a lot of people. Please add your suggestions in the comments.

So, does this sound good to you guys?