Author Archive

Who’s leading the charge against corruption?

August 30, 2011

Photo of an anti-corruption protest "Enough filth!" at Brazilian Congress by Flickr user The World Wants a Real Deal

A year ago, I wrote a post called “The ‘middle income’ poor and corruption” about campaigns in India and Brazil against corruption. Lessons we learned from campaigns in Brazil, and the unfolding of a dramatic anti-corruption movement in India have me questioning: just who is leading the “charge” against corruption in these middle income giants?

Clearly, the key to sustainable, lasting change in corruption will be strong coalitions between rural and urban people, and across class lines.

Both Indian and Brazilian campaigns have shown how different groups have different interests and favored means of communication, and holding together a lasting coalition of them is no small feat.

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“Mashing” traditional civil society and flash mobs

July 8, 2011

The protest is the hashtag and the hashtag is the protest

The day I arrived in Brazil last month, I learned by word of mouth that students in the northern city of Natal, Brazil had been occupying the city council for over a week.

Their camp was being transmitted live on webcam, emblazoned with the hashtag above.

It all started on May 25, when about a thousand people organized a rally online with the help of a tweet, fed up with alleged corruption by the mayor, demanding her impeachment. A week later a thousand more joined.

A week after that, they set up camp – INSIDE the city council.

Not even super-online friends in São Paulo had heard of it, more than a week after the camp was set up.

Why am I sharing this? Because traditional civil society – the kind of organizations promoting reform and change that we work with – were not the driving force in this organic collective. (Of course, as in Tunisia and Egypt, when the resistance became a social fact, unions and CSOs were keen to link in.)

Does this mean that the old ways of pushing social change are to be discarded? My answer lies in another question: what happens when the campers go home, and when the webcam is turned off?

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Lo and behold: lo-tech communications

May 5, 2011

By Naomy Nyalusi, from World Comics site

Without entirely meaning to, I have become a bit of an ICT “evangelist” on my team, promoting new ways new forms of communication can help us promote ideas in a more agile, more cost-effective way. Last month, our Private Sector Policy Analyst Anne Lindsay live-tweeted the EITI conference in Paris – she came back saying live tweeting is a game-changer at large policy events.

We have also set up an informal social media help-desk of sorts for partner organisations working in policy around the world. But our partners are doing most of the innovating themselves, Facebook stars like Aceh Institute (Indonesia) and Quiero para mi Municipio (Paraguay) are leading the way.

And yet with all of these changes, some older media remain just as effective as ever, something we need to take care not to forget.

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Mobile blackouts and the poor

January 28, 2011

By Flickr user Vlastula

Watching the unfolding events in Egypt, as I am dedicated to working with our partner organisations on their policy work, I am compelled to pause and think about the implications. While development agencies are obviously not in the business of “revolution”, but we are concerned with “development,” economic and social development.

So what happens when you cut off telecommunications to a country of over 83 million people, many of those living in poverty? As a friend of mine on Twitter observed, like a banal household appliance, the internet “has an off switch.” The definitive blog entry on the “switch off” asked last night:

What will happen tomorrow, on the streets and in the credit markets? This has never happened before, and the unknowns are piling up.

We watched with trepidation in September, as pre-paid mobile customers were shut off in Mozambique, in an attempt to dampen protests by the poor against increases in the cost of living. People still found ways to communicate about protest, much of it was word of mouth. The government made concessions after deadly rioting and things returned to “normal”.

At times like these, when we are often rightly focusing our outrage and indignation on civil rights and free speech, I hope we do not forget to ask: what is the impact of communications blackouts like these on the poorest?

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What to watch in Brazil, whoever wins

October 6, 2010

From Flickr user Ana Paula Hirama

I do not think I need to convince you that “Brazil matters” to international development circles, so I will get to the point.

On Sunday, Brazilians voted for President, Governors and a large portion of Congress. No candidate won the Presidential election. The result will be determined in a run-off vote October 31, as a surge for Green Candidate Marina Silva against her main two competitors meant front runner Dilma Rousseff did not get over 50%.

While there are many factors for Marina Silva’s insurgent success, one of them is clearly frustration with what some voters feel is indifference to the social and environmental consequences of the economic model of agribusiness export combined with internal industrial growth and consumption. Some Brazilians have begun to question whether the “car for every worker” model is right for Brazil in the long term, and question the ideas of the two main parties about the future of the Amazon.

In late October, Lula’s designated successor Rousseff and (centre-) right candidate José Serra will battle it out.

Irrespective of the winner of the Presidential election, there are issues that our partner organisations are rightly nervous about. They are well aware that big decisions are coming up, and for these, there are no guarantees.

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The “middle income” poor and corruption

September 16, 2010

What does a zero rupee note have in common with a gigantic Brazilian broom?

Both represent strong citizen movements against corruption in large “middle income countries” which are vibrant democracies. Both countries have important laws (like India’s Right to Information Act and anti-bribery laws) and legal frameworks (like Brazil’s 1988 Constitution), but face challenges in guaranteeing that these serve the poorest.

And Brazil and India between them have over a third of the world’s billion poorest people according to recent data. Andy Sumner of IDS recently challenged the idea that the majority of the poor live “less developed countries” where per capita income is lowest, showing that almost three quarters of those living with less than $1.25 a day actually live in “middle income countries.”

In this context, fighting poverty is about fighting persistent inequalities in some of the world’s fastest growing economies. As Sumner says, “poverty is increasingly turning from an international to a national distribution problem.”

Theft of public monies and political patronage is a major obstacle to achieving poverty reduction and inequality in both countries. In Brazil this election year, for example, there have been reports of candidates extending health services, metal roofing and cash grants to only to poor communities that vote for them. These are the same candidates that turn a blind eye to the poor when they are in power.

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Welcome

January 8, 2010

We the policy team at the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development have been microblogging for the past year on Twitter. But 140 characters was getting  a little claustrophobic. Welcome to our blog space where we hope to have a lively and informal debate with supporters, policy types, and all interested in international development.

Our motto: “wise as serpents, gentle as doves“.