Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Challenges of a different kind - the role of food prices in the lives of the poorest in Pakistan

Countries like Pakistan always appear at the global stage to be battling big challenges such as political crises, conflicts and disasters. But the picture remains incomplete without seeing challenges of a different kind that ordinary people, particularly the poorest, face on a daily basis.

Research conducted in Pakistan, alongside nine other developing countries, for the Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility project provides just such a perspective. Qualitative research was carried out by the Collective for Social Science Research in 2012 and 2013 in a cluster of villages in Dadu district and in an urban working-class neighbourhood in Karachi to explore how rising food prices were affecting the poor. Three important themes emerged from our research in Pakistan which helps understand ways in which food inflation impacts the poor and the vulnerable.

The economy of the poorest is about food, not money

Survival strategies of the poorest are centred on acquiring staple food to avoid hunger. In the Dadu villages, where wheat is the only major crop these strategies revolved around the crop cycle. During harvest, activities of all the households are around acquisition of wheat either directly through agricultural labour or indirectly by providing other services in exchange for grain. The wheat is stored and consumed over several months and is also used as a currency to purchase other goods and services. For the urban poor, who engage in a range of activities including petty vending, wage labour and begging, the main priority is to acquire sufficient amounts of wheat flour or bread to fill their bellies. Many of the poorest work, borrow, or beg to ensure that they have just enough to eat, regardless of prices and wages, and they generally only scrape by. For the rural poor, wheat prices matters little because their annual cycle is focused on acquiring a target quantity of grain. Money, therefore, is almost incidental in these survival strategies which combine remunerative economic activity with borrowing and begging to stave off hunger.
A woman cooking in rural Dadu. The meal consists of saag (a local leafy vegetable) and beeh (lotus roots) cooked with green chillies, onions and tomatoes along with roti (flat bread)
Credits: Collective for Social Science Research 

Informal systems and blurred boundaries

Support from informal institutions reduce a poor household’s dependence on market denominated transactions and instead increase their reliance on other households and individuals.

Of course these social arrangements, which might protect individuals from prolonged periods of hunger, come at a social cost in the form of humiliation and loss of respect. Food is circulated in a community though reciprocal exchanges between neighbours and family, regular charity by somewhat better-off households and individuals (who may themselves be poor in the wider scheme of things) and through begging by those entirely dependent on alms for survival. These various forms of non-monetised food transfers often occur in overlapping layers. Reciprocal gift exchange might be extended to one-sided support for some time, and people who might accept charitable donations on religious occasions might sometimes beg outright.

For people on the margins, the household or the basic social arrangement for cohabitation and joint consumption also has fluid boundaries. While ‘normal’ households are often identified as the unit that shares regular meals among its members, we found diverse arrangements in place which ensure the sustenance of individuals.

For example, children are easily able to go their neighbours or relatives to eat when there is not enough food in their own home. An adult woman doing domestic work might count on eating lunch at her employers’ house, and then coming home to prepare a meal for other family members. Households break down under conditions of stress, and often the first sign of male household members leaving is them not eating meals with the rest of the family.

Idiosyncratic changes overshadow price shocks

The longitudinal design of the study enabled us to survey the same households in two different years providing rich data on the changes experienced by the household over the year. We were able to identify conspicuous changes that a household undergoes such as variations in its earning potential and livelihood, alternation in its size and composition, and conflicts within, which are sources of positive as well as negative shocks. For instance, the social and economic condition of one respondent improved after her husband got a job in the police while another respondent’s husband had to give up his rickshaw, the main source of their earnings due to his inability to meet rental payments.

One of our case-study households, flood-affected migrants in Karachi, were evicted from their uncle’s house after a family dispute while another respondent, also a flood-affected migrant, who was initially living in a warehouse was joined by his family and had moved into a house. The severity of these events at the individual and household level appears to have more of an impact on people’s lives making the effect of inflation secondary.
Mr O, a flood-displaced migrant, who survived on charity food in his initial days in Karachi, was joined by his family in 2013. Here his mother is seen preparing a roti (flat bread). the staple food in our research sites
Credits: Naila Mahmood/Collective for Social Science Research

Next steps

In-depth qualitative research provides insights into how the effects of macro-level changes such as inflation and government policies are experienced by poor individuals and households. In the third round of fieldwork, starting soon, we will re-visit our informants to see how their well-being has changed over the last year. We aim to go beyond the quantity of food consumed by asking informants about their perceptions of the quality of the food they consume and how consumption habits and food preferences change over time.

Mysbah Balagamwala, Research Associate, and Haris Gazdar, Senior Researcher, Collective for Social Science Research, Pakistan.

Friday, 19 September 2014

A year after Westgate: what has Kenya learned?

Social media symbol of sympathy
for Kenya after attacks - ILRI (Flickr)
A year has passed since Al-Shabaab militants laid siege of the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi.

The attack, believed to have been carried out by four gunmen, left 67 dead and laid waste to the luxury complex. President Uhuru Kenyatta promised to form an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate the attack and the actions by the police, armed forces and other responders.

It briefly seemed that the Westgate tragedy would precipitate a sober, hard-headed review of security threats and appropriate responses to these.

Yet, twelve months on, and with many more attacks having transpired, insecurity has become the fodder of Kenya’s insipid politics rather than a catalyst for a serious debate.

Meanwhile, as violence roils the country’s periphery and the prospect of further Al-Shabaab attacks looms, Nairobi has no coherent strategy to strengthen security.

How did it go so wrong?

The underlying logic of Kenya's security responses has been to externalise the threat

While the reasons for Kenya’s deteriorating security are complex, the central underlying logic of its security responses has been to externalise the threat. Al Shabaab is seen as an external threat to peace and stability in Kenya, which must be protected against conflict spill-overs from Somalia.

This logic underpinned Operation Linda Nchi, a military incursion by Kenya launched in 2011, ostensibly to create a buffer zone between it and areas of Somalia’s south stricken by warfare. Yet, insecurity has worsened measurably since then, with Kenya’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit reporting 133 attacks in Kenya since the operation was launched. At least 264 people have been killed and 923 injured, with most attacks taking place in Kenya’s north-eastern and coastal regions. Hand grenades have been the weapon of choice for the terrorists alongside improvised explosive devices (IEDs), landmines, bombs and guns as well as machetes.

The logic of externalising the threat is also apparent in Operation Usalama Watch, a ham-handed security operation that began in April and largely centred in Nairobi’s Somali neighbourhoods of Eastleigh and South C. More than 3,000 people were arrested and incarcerated in the city’s Kasarani stadium on various immigration and refugee infringements.

As of the middle of July, six refugees registered with the UNHCR were re-fouled to Somalia, including one mentally challenged individual and two children. The message was clear: Somalis do not belong in Kenya and they spread violence and insecurity in the country.

Images circulating on social media of Somalis incarcerated in what appeared to be large cages affirmed the worst claims that Kenya’s police and security agencies are discriminatory toward and inhumane in their treatment of Somalis, many of whom hold Kenyan citizenship.

Credit: See Li - Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Independent Policing Oversight Authority in July said that the police failed to uphold the requirements of Article 244 of the Constitution to strive for professionalism and discipline and to promote and practice transparency and accountability during the operation.

Widened gulf between security and intelligence agencies

Kenya’s security responses have widened a gulf between its security and intelligence agencies and Somalis while doing little to improve security for most Kenyans. Meanwhile, Al Shabaab has shown itself adept at stoking deep-lying grievances amongst Kenya’s Somalis, Muslims and other Coastal communities, in effect localising its jihad in Kenya.

Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the June massacre in Mpeketoni in Lamu County that left 60 dead. Kenyatta, who attributed the attacks instead to ‘local political networks,’ unwittingly, perhaps, moved security framings from a focus on external threats to internal divisions. Yet, he did so in a way that was ultimately divisive and damaging to building the broad political support needed to rethink security responses.

In the immediate aftermath of Mpeketoni, Interior Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku blamed the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, for inciting the public and stoking ethnic tension around the country leading to the violence. The arrest in July of Lamu Governor Issa Timamy, who police alleged was  complicit in the Mpeketoni attacks, furthered the impression of partisanship and retributive politics at the heart of the government’s handling of worsening violence. A high court judge threw out the case earlier this month.

Recriminations and finger-pointing but little political debate

The recriminations and threats that flew following the attacks in Lamu County show that far more is at play than Al Shabaab infiltrators. Yet, Nairobi has learned little in the year since the Westgate attacks. While there was seeming public support in Kenya for Operation Usalama Watch, this should not be interpreted as backing of operations that target particular communities. Rather, a genuine sense of fear and unknowing has taken hold. Understandably, in this climate, Kenya’s wananchi are looking for responses that are robust but also effective.

The government would be wise to end its finger-pointing and instead seek to encourage a political debate on how to strengthen security. Kenyatta’s promised Commission of Inquiry never materialised but could have provided insights into policing and intelligence failures, strengthening inter-agency coordination between the National Intelligence Service, regular police and Administration Police, and instilling greater discipline and professionalism in the military.

Further, there is need for strong commitment and engagement from the top on conducting comprehensive police reforms that goes to the heart of the service.

The recent police recruitment exercise showed the country still has far to go to rid the force of corruption and favouritism. Police rank and file are in desperate need of training on community policing, another tool the government has brandished to improve security. However, its approach too often suggests a one-way relationship where communities are used for intelligence-gathering rather exploring opportunities to address the security concerns of communities themselves and, thus, building trust and confidence in policing institutions.

A strategic response to insecurity must consider many other major internal challenges ranging from land reform, to the structure of the overall economy and accumulation of wealth that excludes most, to the citizenship and rights of minorities and young people. A more nuanced understanding of the problem of worsening security, particularly one that asks the right questions, might lead to more appropriate responses.

Dr. Jeremy Lind is a Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (UK). He leads the Addressing and Mitigating Violence programme. Patrick Mutahi is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Human Rights and Policy Studies (Kenya).

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Voting with their feet – Zimbabwe’s youth refuse to buy into the illusion of democracy

There is a conundrum in current Zimbabwe that evokes Mahmood Mamdani’s seminal analysis of the strategy of colonial rule, the division of the colonial states into the rulers and the ruled, or “citizens” and “subjects”.

Zimbabwe's liberation movements fought to ensure that all those living in the then-Rhodesia would cease to be “subjects” and become “citizens”.

The colonial state, amongst many other forms of discrimination against the Black members of Rhodesian society, deprived them of the vote, probably the most fundamental way in which people move from “subject” to “citizen”. The movements' strongest refrain was “one man, one vote”: all would be citizens. and, derivatively, all would have access to land, resources, and public goods and services. 

So, how does it now look from the perspective of 2014, thirty-four years into independence?

Zimbabwe as a "predatory state" with a narrow citizen base

Zimbabwe is now described with considerable validity as a “predatory state” rather than the democracy for which a civil war had to be fought. That is, a state in which there are clear “insiders”, rewarded and given preferential access to public goods and services, and much more beyond, and “outsiders” are kept in their place by a variety of repressive institutions and policies.

One political party - the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) - has captured virtually the entire state to its own benefit, and the benefits flow only to “citizens”, narrowly defined as those that overtly support it. This small example illustrates the scale of the issue.

It is well-nigh impossible for anyone not belonging to ZANU PF to obtain a job as a civil servant, except in some narrow professional areas such as education or health. Even then, it is abundantly clear that a teacher, for example, had better evince support for ZANU PF, or be overtly apolitical. Teachers that violate this prescription can expect short shrift come the elections

In 2013, nearly 75% of Zimbabwe's budget paid for the salaries of about 290,000 civil servants, and about half of those are from the security services. These are the “citizens”, while the remaining 12 million Zimbabweans are still cast as “subjects”: despite paying taxes, they are compelled to obey draconian laws, and still not allowed to vote freely for the political party of their choice. Even if they do vote, they are very unlikely to see their vote count: where elections are not won by ZANU PF through political violence, as was the case in 2002 and 2008, they are won through intimidation and vote-rigging,  as happened in 2005 and 2013.

When so much of the fiscus supports the “citizens”, narrowly defined as ZANU PF supporters, the remainder of the country is increasingly reliant on the remittances from the diaspora, which are less a “resource curse” than a possible source of resistance to the partiality of ZANU PF.

The legacy of the liberation struggle still sustains ZANU PF but for how long?

Heroe's Acre, Harare. Credit: Gary Bembridge (Flickr) CC BY 2.0
What lies behind this fa├žade of democracy is the “invisible power” of the liberation struggle, and the failure of ZANU PF (and most other Southern African liberation movements) to transform from military-party complexes into modern political parties.

This is amply described by contemporary political commentators, such as Christopher Clapham, who demonstrate the intractable nature of liberation movements.

However, underpinning this is the more general force deriving from “invisible power”, the “psychological and ideological boundaries of participation”, as John Gaventa puts it in “Finding the Spaces for Change: A Power Analysis...”. It is the psychological fixedness that underpins the ideology of the entitlement of liberation movements to eternal political power.

What does this have to do with the youth?

The ideology behind the invisible power is that only those that fought for the liberation of Zimbabwe are “real” citizens, as might be those that become proxy liberators, the young that support ZANU PF. The rest are those without “totems”, that is, the urban youth with no connections to a rural home, who can even be denied the rights to burial in a rural home if deemed politically unacceptable; “sellouts”, the rural youth who don’t support ZANU PF; and all are mere subjects.

Scarcely surprising that nearly one million Zimbabweans under the age of 30 years were not registered voters in 2013: they voted with their feet, and not merely because it was too hard for them to get registered, which was also the case.

With nearly 70% of Zimbabwe’s population under the age of 30 according to the 2012 Census, the memories and cachet of “liberation theology” are going to be hard to sustain in the future, worsened probably by the inability of the state to provide public goods and services to both citizens and “subjects”, or to offset the undermining of its clientalism by remittances from the diaspora.

Thus, subjugation is not likely to last forever: the only worry is how will it end – with the ballot or the bullet? And will the promise of the new Zimbabwe constitution foster the use of the ballot if the institutions (the courts, etc.) which must implement the constitution remain under narrow, partisan control? After all, a constitution is only as good as its implementing institutions, just as a country is as democratic as its citizens are allowed to be.

About the author
Antony Reeler is a Senior Researcher at the Research and Advocacy Unit. His main interests are transitional justice, governance, and active citizenship for women. He has been working with Marjoke Oosterom at IDS.  

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Friday, 25 July 2014

Tax justice campaigners should stop picking on the OECD

Have the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the G20 really attempted to "discredit and discourage" the participation of developing countries in a new system of automatic tax information exchange? That at least is the verdict of leading campaign group the Tax Justice Network, who recently published a report on the proposals, the full version of which was released on July 21.

Yet another case of poor countries being excluded and disadvantaged by a rich countries club, and global tax justice campaigners coming to their rescue?

Not this time.

While Automatic Information Exchange (AIE) may sound rather dry and technical, it is actually hugely important in the battle against tax evasion by transnational corporations and very wealthy people.

In principle, it means that tax authorities from participating countries will gain automatic access to each other's data on companies or individual taxpayers. Once up and running, this will present a significant improvement to the existing system of information exchange "on request" which requires tax authorities to explain to each other, and for each request, exactly what kind of information they need on specific individuals or companies. In reality, very few requests are actually made since tax authorities rarely have even a basic level of information upon which they can formulate such requests.

As part of their evidence, the Tax Justice's report authors firstly quote Pascal Saint-Amans, who heads the OECD’s tax activities, as saying: "Most (developing countries) are not yet ready and most of them don’t want (automatic information exchange)". Then they share survey findings which support their claim that developing countries are actually very eager to participate in automatic information exchange.

On closer inspection, however, the evidence is pretty flimsy. It’s based on eight responses to a questionnaire sent to tax authorities or other relevant people in 37 countries. Three respondents explicitly stated that they were replying in their personal capacities, and not representing their governments, and only one of the responses was from what could technically be described as a Low Income Country (Uganda).

Making it happen

Over the last year there has been a great deal of movement towards agreement on a global AIE system. However, the system will initially include only the richer economies.

This is because the bulk of international economic transactions occur among high income countries where most tax avoidance and evasion is to be found. So it goes without saying that tax authorities from these countries have the most experience and are best equipped to challenge transnational tax avoidance, making it inevitable that any effective global AIE system should begin with them. Additionally, it should be no surprise that the OECD, whose membership is primarily made up of these richer countries, is taking the lead in organising this.

Having said this, the OECD has broadened its engagement by temporarily recruiting members of the G20 into its international tax reform discussions, which includes most of the leading non-OECD emerging powers, such as Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. The OECD/G20 are operating under tight self-imposed time limits to make real progress in tax reform. This means that most low income countries, which are not so well organised and are also highly diverse in their tax affairs and concerns, will not be central to the decision-making over the exchange being set up. Although some efforts have been made to consult them, this does not amount to effective participation in decision-making.

Poor countries missing out?

So is the Tax Justice Network right to assert that low income countries are losing out by being excluded from an institution that they need and want to join as soon as possible, according to their report? Or, alternatively, as I’ve heard many tax administrators from poor countries claim, are these nations being disadvantaged because they will be dragged into joining a system created by richer and more influential states, a system which does not address their particular needs and concerns?

While these sound like polarised positions, they are actually quite complementary. 

There is in practice a high degree of consensus among specialists. Whatever their affiliation, they tend to agree that:
  1. it is in everyone’s long-term interest, except tax evaders, that low income countries join in automatic information exchange
  2. however, most low income countries are currently not ready for this because they do not have the required software systems and skilled staff  
  3. investments need to be made to meet those gaps, with richer countries sharing the burden 
  4. as far as possible, various interim arrangements should be made to allow "unready" countries to share in at least some of the benefits of automatic information exchange. For example, some low income countries, especially the smaller ones, might be allowed to receive information from the system before they are in a position to contribute to it. 
One thing is certain: there is great scope for compromise and for different developing countries to integrate into global automatic information exchange at different rates. These are not "do or die" policy issues that involve fundamental conflicts of ideology or interests.

It is not clear why the Tax Justice Network has published a report which gives a very different impression. While I am prepared to defend tax justice campaigners who have to play rough against powerful international organisations and corporations, I hesitate when I see the leading tax justice campaigning organisation publishing a report that artificially polarises opinion in an area where real progress is being made. On top of this, the report uses evidence that has little value, and opens with what will be widely seen as a personal attack on one of the leading officials responsible for the current international reforms. Credibility is a valuable resource, not to be cast away lightly.

Mick Moore is Professorial Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies and Chief Executive if the International Centre for Tax and Development

This blog was originally published by The Conversation.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Killings of rural communities in Nigeria: where is the state?

On Monday night, my village came under brutal attack by Fulani pastoralist gunmen in the Sanga Local Government Area, Kaduna State, Nigeria. Attacks spanned a cluster of villages in the area, where at the last count there were over 90 dead and many more escaped to closeby neighbourhoods out of fear for their lives. Calmness has now resumed in my community and the mass murdered were buried yesterday, yet we know that this is not peace.

Since gunshots began, my friend’s elderly mother slept in the bushes, only returning to her home each morning. While many managed to take cover, some of the more vulnerable were killed in their sleep. My close cousin and her four young children are among those victims.

Unfortunately, this is a very familiar cycle.

Pastoralists come and kill at random in our communities, state troops arrive many hours later, impose an informal curfew until the violence calms and then nothing follows until another outbreak of killings in another village.

Quite often, arrests are made but it seems no meaningful actions are taken by state agencies. Many concerned citizens have accused the government of complicity, claiming that the military is deliberately not deploying its full capacity to tackle this violence. The history of conflict between pastoralists and agrarian communities is complex and fraught. It has been heightened in the last few years by the use of heavy and modern weapons and religious differences.

Complete failure and helplessness of state security agencies?

These serial attacks have been happening for two years in dozens of rural communities across most of North Central Nigeria – Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Niger and Taraba states, and even further North in Katsina and Zamfara states. Yet, without any new plans to address this constant and persistent threat, the Government of Nigeria and ruling party politicians would prefer to place blame on the communities and absolve the Federal government of any responsibility. The Government call for citizens to be more vigilant against threats of violence, and support armed forces, yet when we call for help it can take up to 24 hours for support to show up.

The inability of the state security agencies (military, police, secret police etc) to confront this violence is attributed to a diversity of reasons ranging from corruption to incapacity.

Even in the midst of the internal corruption and incapacity many citizens believe there is complicity by the highest levels of the Nigerian state and ruling elite to allow these killings for a variety of political interests, particularly in relation to the upcoming election next year. The recent effective deployment of thousands of troops and equipment, including a number of hovering helicopters, to protect ballot boxes during the Ekiti State gubernatorial elections does support the idea of state complicity. Forces blocked opposition party members from campaigning before the election, yet did not apply similar support elsewhere within more fragile parts of the country.

Politicians subtly play up oversimplified divisions in Nigeria 

The complex dynamic of religion, locality and hierarchy in Nigeria tends to blur the issues and reduces everything to a competition between Christianity and Islam, or north vs. south. The governments at the federal, state and local spheres subtly play up these sentiments and exploit them for popular support from a divided citizenry. In addition, the majority of local elite also ‘tap-in’ to this rhetoric to maintain their turf and position in the political and economic war-field.

The incidence of pastoralist-local community conflicts is not new in Nigeria, but it does not gain the same coverage as other issues such as Boko Haram killings, and city bombings. It has been neglected by nonchalant governments for far too long. Scholars like Jibrin Ibrahim have recently sought to bring these issues to the discussion. We are now, more than ever, calling for the Nigerian Government at all levels to take the lead in mobilising stakeholders to take action and save rural communities from this trauma.

Philip Ikita, a Rotary Peace Scholar in University of Bradford, is a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies.