"Any way the wind blows" - Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
The past years, there has been a lot of attention paid to security issues in the Sahel region. It even made the 2019 Munich Security Report (prestigious, but probably better not to be mentioned…), according to which, “The Sahel region or “African arc of instability” faces an interrelated set of security challenges, which exacerbate each other and have prompted some observers to describe the states in the region as the most vulnerable in the world. Although both the United States and the European Union have recognized the importance of the Sahel in their respective regional security strategies, for a long time the region did not feature high on the international agenda. This has changed since the French-led intervention in 2013 in Mali, which put the Sahel and its security challenges in the international spotlight.” The report provides a good overview, including on the international impact. Noteworthy is the spike in amount of fatalities in the region as a result Islamist attacks, which has gone from around 200 / year for several years in 2016, to over 1 000 in 2018 (based on research by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
Recently, in Mali, 160 villagers were killed in an attack. While (seemingly) not done by Islamists, and had a tribal / ethnic dimension, it is clear that the overall Malian and Sahelian context of violence played a role. In particular the failure of the state to play a role as guarantee of security stands out. An interesting backgrounder by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute provides a good overview of some of the interventions. At its core, looking forward, it joins the many calls to better and faster implementation of the G5 initiative (in particular the military “joint force” component), the need for development initiatives, and the tricky situation of elections (four out of five of the countries will hold elections this year).
All of this advice is useful and well argued. However, one cannot help but feel a certain amount of frustration. Surely, even back in 2014 (when the G5 initiative was set-up), we knew that security was important. While the international community has pushed for such a multi-national structure, is this the best approach? (The backgrounder points out much of the criticism in this regard.) Moreover, are approaches by international partners towards the region even understood with regards to how they impact insecurity? There has been some criticism, for example of the EU’s CSDP missions and France’s army’s military interventions to support the Chadian regime.
The state having a monopoly of violence is a critical definition of a state going back to Jean Bodin (1576) and Thomas Hobbes (1651). Even more than the capacity of the national armies in the Sahelian countries, their legitimacy is probably the first issue to address if they are to have a positive role in the future. A very interesting recent OECD paper in their West African Papers series shows the “praetorian” history of military forces in the region, and notes that, while some progress has been made, “This must not distract from the fact that in all three countries, a visible section of the armed forces remains at odds with democratic principles. The behaviour of sections of the Malian armed forces in the aftermath of the 2012 coup and recent speculations about a failed military coup in Niger in December 2015 illustrate this. It is too early to assess the political progress in Burkina Faso and the extent to which recent events will affect civil-military relations. In Chad and Mauritania, by contrast, the armed forces are firmly entrenched in power and there is little to suggest that this will change soon.” Here in Niger, for the elections in 2021, the main potential candidates for the ruling party (which is almost certain to win) are the current Minister of the Interior (who is charged with organizing the elections…) and a high-ranking army officer. Clear civilian oversight, professionalism, and technical solutions such as public expenditure reviews of defense expenditure, might be more important than jet fighters and new uniforms for security in the Sahel.
28.3.2019, Niamey, Niger.
Recently I read Susan Strange’s seminal book, “States and Markets”.Strange, who died in 1998, was a long time academic in the field of international relations and international political economy.The book was originally published in 1988, and focuses on “power” as a concept to analyze relationships in international politics and economics.Indeed, one important point she makes is that the fields of politics and economics are often split, providing for academically “clean” theories and methodologies, but loosing the capacity to understand what is happening in the real world.As Palan’s foreword notes, “Markets are integrated, politics affects economics, economics affects politics, and structural power has this uncanny ability to travel between different contexts.”Interestingly, Strange notes that, “In real life, durable conditions in political economy cannot be created which ignore the interlocking interests of powerful people.The problem – which never has an easy, quick or permanent solution – is to find that balance of interest of power that allows a working set of bargains to be hammered out and observed.”Important in any analysis, according to Strange, was the question “who benefits” (Cui bono?).
In her model, Strange identifies four key “structures of power” in the world economy, namely security, production, finance and knowledge.This seems somewhat random (or maybe evolves through time) in terms of sectors, and the balance of power between states and firms may also evolve.With some of the reading I’ve been doing recently, the question of power in the telecommunication and internet domain is particularly interesting.A great read for this has been Laura DeNardis’, “The Global War for Internet Governance”. Power and responsibilities are spread out over a range of institutions, both public and private, and constantly shifting (and arguably, not always clear).In a sense, this is “multistakeholder governance”.However, with the economic and political importance of the internet only increasing, is this sufficient?Knowing the economic importance – including with significant impact on poverty reduction – is this sufficient?Cui bono?
13.3.2019, Niamey, Niger.
 See, for example, May’s, “Strange fruit: Susan Strange’s theory of structural power in the international political economy”.
 A point also made in the above article by May.
One of the key points from Thomas Piketty’s landmark study, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”, is that the world is returning towards “patrimonial capitalism”: a state in which the economy is dominated by inherited wealth.Linked to this phenomenon is a particular form of financialization, with its emphasis on “shareholder maximization” and “leveraging”, as argued by, for example, Ronald Dore. Finally, numerous authors, but most notably Tim Wu, Jamie Bartlett, Scott Galloway, Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake have highlighted the specific issues that the current high-tech sector, with lack of supranational governance, raises.Looking forward, there is cause to believe that while absolute poverty may be reduced around the world, many of the poor may not be able to further close the gap.
Ralph Hamann identified three risks for developing countries with regards to the “fourth industrial revolution”, namely: a) “worsening unemployment”, b) “increasing concentration of wealth”, and c) “bias baked into algorithms”.This is not a comprehensive list, as major issues (e. e.g., how people have access to the internet), are not included.In the global debates – for example, on the future intellectual property governance – ignore the interests of the poor in developing nations.
Within the development sector, the attention regarding technology has been on how to increase investment in the digital sector in developing countries and on how to increase access to connectivity, digital skills, and “e-services”.This has focused a lot on infrastructure questions and market context, often through close cooperation with large technology multinationals. There has been some attention on governance in the “developing” country but not on a global level nor on the impacts of the “intangible economy” mentioned above. The same limitations can be seen in initiatives such as the World Economic Forum’s “Internet of Things (IoT) for Sustainable Development Projects” or the UN’s Commission on Science and Technology for Development: governance, in particular from a pro-poor perspective is limited.
Living here in Niger, with regular power cuts (we have the luxury of a generator), the heat (a data center would need some serious cooling), challenge of education (high demographics, limited investing in the sector) and relative isolation (no access to the sea, surrounded by “complicated” states make it hard to imagine cabling), it is hard to be optimistic regarding Niger’s future role in the digital economy of tomorrow.Mobile technology is one source of optimism – even some of the beggars have smartphones… The high level of up-front investment needed to be a technology player is of course a significant issue in such a poor country.
2.3.2019, Niamey, Niger.
 Numerous publications by Ronald Dore, but in particular his 2008 article, “Financialization of the global economy”.
 Tim Wu, “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age”.
 Jamie Bartlett, “The People Vs. Tech: How the internet is killing democracy (and how we save it)”.
 Scott Galloway, “The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google”.
 Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake, “Capitalism Without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy”.
 Ralph Hamann, blog on the www.conversation.com, “Developing countries need to wake up to the risk of new technologies”.
 For example, in the Sustainable Development Goals, that drive the current development agenda, “information and communication technology”, under SDG 9, has access to internet and mobile network as targets.
 For example, see the EU-AU Digital Economy Task Force.
 For example, see the A4AI (Alliance for Affordable Internet).
Online encampment of A. S. Barry. Disparate and not-so-disparate thoughts on international relations, development, writing, and life.