A man of no importance

Are men being left out of the development equation?

Over at Global Dashboard, Mark Weston reviews a new book on men, masculinity and development:

The problem lies in the expectations society has of men. In West Africa, for example, men are expected to set up a home, marry at least one wife, and accumulate and provide for children and other dependents. Those who fail to perform these duties forfeit the respect of their elders, women and their peers; they cannot become “real men”.

When the breadwinner role becomes impossible to fulfil – as it did for millions of men across Africa during the economic crises of the 1980s and 1990s – men have other facets of masculinity on which to draw in order to recover their self-esteem. Some of these alternative masculinities are positive…….   but many traditional expressions of manliness are socially destructive

This is a difficult subject to discuss – one needs to be critical about the interaction between economic and social forces without sounding like an apologist for the worst aspects of masculinity [Disclaimer: I am male]. A particularly shrill example is David Willletts’s numbskull comment that feminism was to blame for the lack of working class jobs for men. It sounds like Men and Development avoids these tropes:

Legal and institutional changes can embed or trigger cultural shifts, but in many cases the latter exacerbate gender inequality by entrenching harmful masculinity norms. As Andrea Cornwall notes in Men and Development, for example, laws that oblige divorced men to pay alimony without also obliging them to provide child care cement the notion that men should be breadwinners above all else, and that women should take responsibility for caring. Microfinance programs’ targeting of women reinforces the idea of the reckless, irresponsible man who cannot be trusted to invest in his family. And the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients, itself based on a misleading perception that all such men are perverted or violent, perpetuates the stereotype of men as aggressors and women as helpless victims.

I have written before about the dangers of taking men out of the question (Tim Ogden also has some good thoughts). Our tendency to do so is a natural reaction to the relative plight of women in developing countries. Yet, despite the fact that men are the cause of so much woe, we can’t ignore them as part of the solution .

This newfangled thing called development economics

We have traveled far across the land - battling enemy tribes - and have finally brought you this thing we shall call: "development economics"

From a Guardian Inter Press Service piece (re-published by the Guardian) on Esther Duflo titled “fighting poverty with economics”:

Doing her PhD at MIT, she was one of the first doctoral students to apply economics to development, linking the two, at a time when there were few university faculties devoted to the subject.

“It was not considered a fancy area of study,” she says. “There was a generation of people who had started looking at development from other fields. They had their own theories and only a few were economists. What I contributed to doing was to start going into detail. But I did have some advisers and mentors.”

I think someone just retconned the birth date of development economics to 1999  (or maybe it’s just been rebooted by a major studio).

To be fair, I’ve got a feeling the article was mainly copied off the back of a J-Pal brochure, as it completely underplays Duflo’s main contributions to the field.

Update: Duflo comments on the article, pointing out that yes, the field is a little older than that and she had been trying to point out that she came in at a time that micro development empiricism hit a springboard (which is what I felt the article had completely missed).

Bibles and lions, oh my!

Aid Watch occasionally features entries by NGO-worker Dianne Bennett. Her previous post on DFID’s Douglas Alexander’s inability to distinguish between self-promotion and accountability was well-argued and thoughtful. Her more recent post is a bit harder to swallow:

A small team was dispatched to assess and prioritize the needs of internally displaced people (IDPs) resettling in a corner of South Sudan…..

….Our team was horrified when we learned that lions actively hunted in this area, killing children daily without protection of shelter or family….

True to our word, our NGO brought in emergency food supplies, then seeds and agricultural tools. A year later, insufficient rain created a temporary food crisis and we again brought in supplemental food supplies to help them get through….

Within a short time of our first visit, there were no more lion attacks on helpless children and we never heard another word about the hundreds of orphaned children.

Is it just me, or are they claiming credit for the lack of lion-related deaths in this village? What sort of people does this NGO employ? There’s no mention of any direct attempt to protect the villagers from the attacks or kill the lions….. so how is it that they get the credit for this?

It’s odd that Easterly, usually a hound for good evidence, allows for the occassional bit of shameless promotion – Bennett’s article is titled “Respecting local values: Western confusion about African orphans,” yet her article deals very little with local culture, aside from a brief discussion of ubuntu (despite the fact that ubuntu is a bantu-based, south-east African concept, far from the culture of southern Sudan).

The story gets stranger, and a fair bit ickier when a commenter revealed this story on the website of Bennett’s NGO, Servant’s Heart Relief, titled “Going into the War Zone – Because They Care.” This is the part that struck me:

“…I made a commitment to them to bring in some food, bring in some bibles and I thought that was going to be the end of my involvement. Instead what happened was, that was almost 3 years ago now, and we’re still involved,” she said.

What was that about respecting local culture? I think this Onion article sums it up properly: Poverty-Stricken Africans Receive Desperately Needed Bibles.

Development in dangerous places?

The Boston Review hosts a discussion (hat tip MR) on Collier’s latest ideas regarding foreign-led security interventions in the bottom billion. Part of the discussion are Nancy Birdsall, Edward Miguel, and, of course, Bill Easterly, who seems particularly vitriolic today. The whole thing is worth reading:

Link here.

UPDATE: Bill Easterly strikes again.