Untidy Thoughts on Sub-Saharan Africa’s Growth and Threats (part 2)

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Johannesburg’s business centers surrounded by slums (Image credit: Juda Ngwenya/Reuters)

by Elbay Alibayov | Political risk series

The leadership deficit, resource curse, and inequality

Last month, the 6th Tana Forum (Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa) held in Ethiopian city of Bahir Dar brought together former and current heads of state, government officials, diplomats, academics and civil society representatives to discuss the natural resource governance. As ever, the topic of the continent’s resource curse was in the focus. What was new, however, is that this time around the African leaders seemed to acknowledge (with initial hesitation though) that it is them who must bear the greatest responsibility for, as former Nigerian President and incumbent chairman of Tana Forum, Olusegun Obasanjo put it, “the way and manner natural resources are exploited and how revenues from them are harnessed and expended [that] have allowed social and political divisions to fester.” Thus, the old narrative pointing finger at usual suspects—foreign investors and multinational extractive companies—being primary and sole culprits started finally changing.

Just ten days later, the issue of serious leadership deficit was echoed at yet another high-profile event, the World Economic Forum held in Durban. Here, the South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma in his address to participants put the blame of persistent inequality across the globe, and particularly in Africa, on political elites and governments: “As leaders, we have not addressed adequately how we are going to close the gap between rich and poor in the world and achieve meaningful, inclusive growth.”  He went further by calling the African leaders and the international community to combat economic crimes, such as money-laundering and profit-shifting.

These are all broad topics and they have their country-specific root causes and present-day circumstances, but the point about local political leadership seems correct. When there is no political unity among key local players, when they are corrupt and together with their supporting clans try to coerce and dominate anyone else in the land, then their countries fall easy prey to various external actors, who take advantage of them. So the problem of “curse” should start with local leadership—if they abide by the land’s laws and serve their people with integrity, the chances are tiny for economic crimes and corruption to take a massive scale and become a systemic societal decease.

The list of economic crimes the African countries are actively engaged in is long and their scale is at times striking. In this piece I will share my initial findings and thoughts pertaining to one of them—that is illicit capital flight from and to sub-Saharan area of the continent. I was particularly interested in finding any relations between the illicit financial flows (IFF) and economic inequality, as one prime source (whether cause or exacerbating factor) of conflict and instability. No big theories, no conclusive statements—just an attempt to make sense of available evidence. The piece therefore, following Schopenhauer’s method, “by no means attempts to say whence or for what purpose the world exists, but merely what the world is.”

The recent emphasis in global and regional discourse, on the consistent lack of leadership in Africa is not incidental. If not for violent power struggles of political elites and corrupted practices in public institutions (and their local and foreign business accomplices) the continent’s countries would have been more socially stable, the well-being of their citizens higher, and their economies less vulnerable to external shocks. The real curse of Africa is its political institutions, not resources.

Illicit financial flows: trends, size and composition

A series of reports published by Global Financial Integrity (GFI) , the Washington DC-based research and advisory organization provide estimates of the illicit flow of money in and out of the developing world. For example, GFI’s estimates show that “since 1980 developing countries lost US$16.3 trillion dollars through broad leakages in the balance of payments, trade misinvoicing, and recorded financial transfers. These resources represent immense social costs that have been borne by the citizens of developing countries around the globe.

Individual sub-Saharan countries do not appear among top ten in the lists of either illicit inflow or outflow transfers in 1980-2012. Overall, compared to other regions sub-Saharan Africa has not been in the leading role in this business either; in absolute numbers much more has been taken from Asia, for example. In 2014 alone the outflows from sub-Saharan economies are estimated at between US$36 billion and US$69 billion and inflows between US$44 billion and US$81 billion. Therefore, overall IFF volume for sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at between US$80 billion and US$150 billion (midpoint US$115 billion). This makes the portion of sub-Saharan Africa in the global two-way illicit flows for that year very modest – a bit more than 6.5 percent.

However, this may be misleading. First, the global estimated capital flights (and those for Asia, in particular) are very much inflated because of China; thus each region’s contribution, when excluding China, would be much higher. Second, much more relevant is not the comparison with other regions but within the sub-Saharan part of the continent. And even here, by the size of economy and its growth rate and other indicators the economies of sub-Saharan Africa diverge greatly.

Vast majority of sub-Saharan economies are small. These countries are also poor; many are very poor in fact (as of March 2016, out of 39 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries across the globe, 32 were in Africa; all but Sudan were in sub-Saharan part). And therefore those numbers translated into percentage of total trade or compared to GDP per capita tell a different story—those sums are direct losses, the money the Sub-Saharan poor are robbed of, and they are felt with much severe pain than significantly larger IFF sums in more prosperous parts of the world. The amount of one hundred and fifteen billion US dollars in one year is no small amount of money anywhere on this planet; for sub-Saharan Africa, the region home to almost half of the world’s extremely poor—this is an enormous amount of money. Just try to imagine the “opportunity cost”—what else this money could have been spent on. It hurts.

SSA-PART2_CHART-1

And finally, trend is important. And here we have a mixed picture. On the one hand, the region has evidenced the highest rate of average annual IFF (outflows and inflows combined) for years 2005-2014: it is estimated (in midpoint terms) at approx 20 percent of total trade (average for all developing countries being 19 percent). On the other hand, and this is the only good news here, sub-Saharan Africa demonstrates a higher descending trend over the same decade: its rate has dropped from 22.8 percent in 2005 to 16.6 percent in 2014, while the rate for all developing countries has decreased from 19.5 percent to 18.8 percent, respectively.

Another difference of interest: in the course the decade 2005-2014, in all regions but sub-Saharan Africa the illicit capital inflows were approximately twice as large as outflows. In sub-Saharan Africa they were almost equal. The outflows/inflows had the following composition: 9.5 v 10.4 in percentage points (9:10) in sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 5.9 v 13.2 percentage points (1:2.2) for all developing countries. And even here the region is not homogeneous: for example, Mozambique and Cameroon both averaged at around IFF 7-7.5 percent of total trade in the course of 2005-2014; while the former had outflows/inflows composition as 2.5 percent and 5.0 percent, and the latter the reverse– 5.5 percent and 1.5 percent of the respective country’s total trade.

It is difficult to say with precision in the absence of additional data, but the difference seems in the purpose the developing countries are being used for either inflows or outflows of illicit capital. The countries of sub-Saharan Africa appear to be primarily siphoning the money out of their economies while being less attractive for money laundering and external investment (or reinvestment) in grey economy than other regions.

Irrespective of comparative absolute amounts, the illicit capital flights have probably been more painful to sub-Saharan Africa’s populations, in first hand poor, than in other regions of the world. Transferred through formal (recorded) channels, this money could have contributed to tax revenues and directed to strengthening social safety networks, pro-poor programmes and job creation, to benefit their citizens.

Assets in tax heavens vs. Official Development Assistance

One of the most shocking findings pertaining to (financial) relationship between developed and developing countries revealed in the recent reports is that for long time, “developing countries have effectively served as net-creditors to the rest of the world with tax havens playing a major role in the flight of unrecorded capital.” For example, in 2011 (most recent year of available data) holdings of total developing country wealth in offshore financial centers were valued at US$4.4 trillion. In the GFI assessment, “there is perhaps no greater driver of inequality within developing countries than the combination of illicit financial flows and offshore tax havens. These mechanisms and facilitating entities benefit the rich—we call them the ‘1 percent’ for convenience—and harm the middle class and poor.

The sub-Saharan African countries could have been much less dependent on external financial assistance while the quality of life of people living in those countries could have been tangibly higher. This is an issue of choice for political leadership, nothing else.

As the report shows, residents of developing countries held US$1.8 trillion in tax heavens in 2005 which increased to US$4.4 trillion in 2011. Sub-Saharan Africa’s share in that was rather modest, but the region’s assets held in offshore financial centers kept growing at the record rate of over 20 percent annually (almost four time the world average), in the course of 2005-2011. This (at least in part) explains the difference between sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the developing world in terms of outflow/inflow ratio of capital flights mentioned above.

SSA-PART2_CHART-2

There is even more surprising finding. Already in 2011 the total amount (foreign direct investment and private investment) of sub-Saharan Africa’s assets held in tax heavens was five times the official development assistance (ODA) from all sources (official development assistance, as well as other official and private funds) disbursed to the region the same year (US$52.6 billion : US$263.04 billion = 1:5). Actually, the total amount of ODA to sub-Saharan Africa in four years of 2012-2015 (according to OECD DAC data) equaled to US$252.26 billion which is less than the amount of assets from the region held in tax heavens the year before, in 2011. And the offshore investments kept growing since.

The very fact that a country is receiving quite significant amounts of international assistance in the form of technical advice and development programmes, loans, grants etc from public and private sources, and at the same time its corrupted politicians and their “business partners” (part of so called one percent) are pumping out amounts of money its five-fold (!) that has been illegally earned in the same country at the same time, to offshore accounts—is outrageous.

Diversity as it is

Of course, not all sub-Saharan countries are infected with this decease. So it would be correct (as in any other respect) to distinguish between those countries where illicit capital flight is massive and persistent and those where it is relatively small and/or random (similarly, say to the difference between “systemic” corruption and individual, sporadic instances of corrupt practice). There are countries like Mauritania and Angola (average 1 and 5 percent per annum over the decade of 2005-2014, respectively), and there are the region’s mid-performers like Nigeria (with estimated average 20 percent) and front-runners like Benin (average 114 percent of total trade). And then there is Liberia, the world champion and the current record holder—with estimated annual illicit capital flights at staggering 1,000 percent (i.e. ten-fold) of the country’s total trade over the decade, 2005-2014. To compare, the next to it in the global rankings are Aruba and Panama, with the rate twice less than that of Liberia.

Therefore, it makes sense to categorize the countries in terms of the economy’s size, income, growth rate, resource intensity, economic and social inequality, regime type and other indicators and compare them against the categories based on the IFF range—to find out how, if at all, they correspond to each other. That is what I entertained, and found this exercise quite insightful. The untidy thoughts on some of those comparisons will be presented in the next piece. Herein is the first set, by the economy’s size.

And one last note before we move forward. Individual characteristics and circumstances matter, of course. One of few countries falling under Very Low/Low category of IFF (0<3<5 percent of total trade) is Somalia, for example. It would be very naive to consider this low IFF range registered as representative of healthy economy and responsible leadership. What we know of Somalia for prolonged period of time has been quite the opposite. That is why the findings on country groups by certain criteria presented below and in the forthcoming piece are merely first impressions; those findings shall be looked at closely on a case-by-case basis to take into account the country-specific features, in order to arrive at plausible explanations.

Illicit financial flows vs. size of economy

To start with analysis, we first have to categorize the sub-Saharan African countries by the IFF ranges. In so doing, I refrained from building the (whatever imprecise and conditional) scale based on the global rankings. As explained above, the sub-Saharan region has its own characteristics, quite different from the rest of the world, and therefore what is considered as “low” here may be ranked as “medium” or “high” in other regions or on the global rankings.

I kept it simple. The countries of the region (47 altogether) divided into the following categories by the medium point value of their average annual IFF, as percentage of the respective country’s total trade in the same period (2005-2014): Very Low (0-3 percent); Low (3-5 percent); Medium (5-8 percent); High (8-10 percent); and Very High (above 10 percent). Given the conditionality of such a ranking, I also introduced borderlines, like Low/Medium, High/Very High, etc. to add more flexibility to the categorization.

Here is the full list by IFF categories, 2005-14:

–Three countries in Very Low category: Eritrea, Mauritania, Somalia;

–None in Low category;

–One country in Low/Medium category: Angola;

–Three countries in Medium category: Cameroon, Lesotho, Mozambique;

–None in Medium/High;

–One country in High category: South Africa;

–Twenty-one countries in High/Very High category: Botswana, Cabo Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Kenya, Madagascar, Namibia, Seychelles, Swaziland, Tanzania; and

–Twenty-nine countries in Very High category: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia , Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

The vast majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa belong to the categories with high and very high illicit capital flight rates (above 8 percent of a country’s total recorded trade, and in many cases far beyond this benchmark, growing up to tens and hundreds of percent) by both the continental and global standards. No one appears to be immune to this corrupt and incredibly damaging practice.

I will use this categorization throughout the exercise. As it is clear from the list, 85 percent of sub-Saharan African countries belong to the categories demonstrating High and Very High rates of illicit capital flight, during the period studied.

Table below gives an idea of the diversity, depth and scale in terms of the correspondence between the IFF and the economy size (please note that there are no criteria behind selection, it is just a random collection for illustrative purpose). I used the World Bank data on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 2014 (as the last year in the period observed) as an indicator/measure of economy size.

SSA-PART2_CHART-3

It appears that there is no clear correspondence between the size of an economy and its IFF range. It especially concerns the High and Very High categories, where all economies, big and small, are represented.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, all but Somalia are exersizing, to varying degree, the illicit financial transactions. There is no obvious correspondence between the size of economy and the range of illicit capital flight. Economies of all size, from tiny to large, are represented in the categories characterized by especially high rates of illicit capital flight. This means that the size of economy is not a determining factor in illicit financial flows from and to Sub-Saharan Africa.

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I hope you are enjoying the ride. In the piece forthcoming I will share my untidy thoughts on the relations (or not) between the illicit financial flows in sub-Saharan African countries and such characteristics as the economy’s resource intensity and income level, poverty rates and shared prosperity, as well as the political regime type. Stay tuned!

For those who missed the first part in a series, here is the link.

Untidy Thoughts on Sub-Saharan Africa’s Growth and Threats (part 1)

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Port of Cape Town                                                                                                Image credit: SkyPixels / published under Creative Commons 4.0 International license

by Elbay Alibayov | Political risk series

Africa, diverse and dynamic

Diversity across the African continent is truly impressive. And it is not only broadly varied (and gorgeous) geography and richness of natural resources or incredibly colourful indigenous culture, artefacts and tradition. Or almost full spectrum of political systems—from democracies to presidencies for life to authoritarian regimes and dictatorships to fragile states and those where chaos is the ruling regime in town. These are things more or less known and studied (and rather well appreciated). What is (or rather has been for long time) underrated about Africa, and especially its Sub-Saharan part, is its immense human potential and the capacity to innovate.

It is also a continent very dynamic—numerous events of various scale and importance are taking place across the continent every day; much more than in any other continent. One has to admit though, that this dynamism is mostly reflected in the media through “negative reporting”—violent clashes, terrorist attacks, casualties of natural and human-made disasters, corruption scandals, you name it (sub-Saharan Africa is true to its diversity in this sort of things, too). Obviously this is a distorted reality as presented by the media in their ever-lasting search for sensations. The rest (that is, more cheerful events and developments) can be picked up from the government, think tank and development organisation reports (one warning here being that many of those, including international assistance, projects appear to be prone to exaggerating the success of their joint efforts).

To feed my brain with daily news on Africa while doing a political risk research on Sahel and broadly into sub-Saharan part, I used my old tested method—subscribed to daily media reviews compiled by specialized organisations. These compilations are very informative—it is not only about quick references and short summaries; even titles, when categorized by key words, may give the first (and frequently correct) idea of what is happening on the continent today. Yes, you are right—our subconscious mind immediately grasps the hidden code and gives us an impression of the “mood” prevalent at the continent these days. Try one such compilation of headlines I put together from the daily list of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (see it at the end as an appendix, and feel free to entertain even the simplest methods of content analysis, through words and combinations). In the meantime, I will proceed with (rather random, mosaic-like) reflections triggered by the events of the week past and share some “untidy thoughts” (Myśli nieuczesane, to borrow from Stanisław Jerzy Lec) or rough ideas popping up along the road.

Famine vs. resources

According to information released by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) earlier this year, there are about 70 million people who may be in need of urgent food assistance in 2017. Of them, 20 million live in four countries that have a “credible risk” of facing famine–South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.  In all but Somalia the mass starvation is human-made—it owes to internal violent conflicts (whether between warring political actors as in South Sudan, or the government and militant extremists Boko Haram in Nigeria, or with participation of both local and external forces in Yemen). Three out of four countries are located in sub-Saharan Africa. Of these, two are (mineral) resource rich. What is even more alarming is that they are not alone—most of Sahel and countries to the south of it are, to varying degree, “acutely food-insecure.”

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Even resource rich countries in sub-Saharan Africa are not immune to extreme situations, such as food insecurity among large parts of population. That is because the cause often-time is not natural but human-made

Resources vs. conflict

This is an old question: whether natural (primarily mineral) resources act as the catalyst of intrastate violent conflict or, to the contrary, enable governments to deliver basic services, uphold the rule of law and thus sooth tensions, avoid violence (or at least prevent from further escalating). For long time, Africa has been viewed as the prime location for natural resource driven conflict. However, the recent research covering the period from 1946 to 2008 proves that the “empirical relationship between natural resources and conflict in Africa is not very well understood. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we find no evidence of natural resources triggering conflict in Africa after controlling for grid-specific fixed factors and time varying common shocks. Resource discovery appears to have improved local income measured by nightlights which could be reducing the conflict likelihood.”  

Oilfield and Minefield Discovery Location and Armed Conflict

Conflict in sub-Saharan Africa is not natural resource driven. In some cases it is other way around—resources help governments playing tensions down (at least in short term)

Extractive institutions vs. state failure

On a broader spectrum of correlation between economic incentives and civic conflict, political economy school of thought has claimed for decades that “greed and grievances” were the main driving forces of conflicts. However the analysis of conflicts worldwide does not necessarily support this emphasis on the economic drivers—much more powerful forces, such as poor governance and corruption and resulting inequality, political polarization, social exclusion, and ethno-sectarian divides frequently are the root causes of violent conflicts. Today, we can add the disruptive technological change to this list of usual suspects. They all are also increasingly recognized as the major contributors to violent extremism.

This puts institutions at the centre of the phenomenon dubbed by the economists Acemoglu and Robinson as “failed nations”. They hold that nations fail because their political and economic institutions encourage and support extraction to benefit few, instead of creating incentives for people to save, invest, and innovate. This results in “economic stagnation and civil wars, mass displacements, famines, and epidemics, making many of these countries poorer today than they were in the 1960s.”  Let’s see how this proposition proves itself in sub-Saharan Africa.

The nature of political and economic institutions (extractive vs. inclusive) matter to the nation’s economic and social performance more than resource abundance

Inclusion vs. competitiveness

The remedy against the state failure is seen in inclusive growth—one which builds upon the equitable contribution from all sectors of society and benefits all of them, thus fairly distributing the wealth and stimulating innovation and domestic investment in sustainable growth. Not surprisingly then, Achieving Inclusive Growth through Responsive and Responsible Leadership was the main topic on the agenda of the World Economic Forum on Africa held last week (3-5 May) in Durban, South Africa. The meeting brought together more than thousand regional and global leaders from business, government and civil society to explore the avenues for creating opportunities for all economic participants in Africa.

A lot of interesting discussions, propositions, lessons shared from successful innovations across the continent. They can be followed on the WEF’s website; so I instead want to draw your attention to the subject of my interest. A few days before the meeting in Durban, Africa Competitiveness Report 2017 was published thus offering detailed competitiveness profiles for 35 African countries along with the summary of the drivers of productivity and competitiveness within the continent. According to the report, out of ten most competitive African economies seven are in sub-Saharan Africa. The best performing country, Mauritius, holds the 45th place in the global competitiveness ranks (Global Competitiveness Report 2016-17 comprising 138 economies) while Cote d’Ivoire (at the bottom of the top-ten list) is in the 99th place.

WEF AFRICA-2017-PIC

This means that the rest of Africa is ranked in lowest quarter of the global list. No good for a continent as resource and talent rich and as demographically mobile (having one of the highest and rapidly growing rates of youth in its population–Africa’s working-age population is expected to soar by 450 million people, or close to 70 percent, by 2035).

There is another relevant ranking released recently. According to WEF data (Inclusive Development Index 2017), the list of most inclusive sub-Saharan economies looks as the following: 1 – Tanzania; 2 – Ghana; 3 –Cameroon; 4 – Senegal; 5 – Mali; 6 – Zimbabwe; 7 – Chad; 8 – Namibia; 9 – Uganda; 10 – Kenya. Two things immediately caught my eye. First is that only Namibia and Kenya are present in both lists of best performers, meaning that competitiveness and inclusiveness do not necessarily match (at least in Sub-Saharan economies).

Competitiveness and Inclusiveness of sub-Saharan economies do not necessarily go hand in hand. This may mean that they are driven by different set of contributing factors and faced with diverging constraining forces

Second is that population of some of these successfully growing countries are considered to be at acute risk of starvation. Millions of people in each case (as presented in the first map above): in Kenya which is both competitive and inclusive, but also in Uganda and Chad. Also, half of the world’s extreme poor live in sub-Saharan Africa. The number of poor in the region fell only by 4 million with 389 million people living on less than US$1.90 a day in 2013, more than all the other regions combined (according to the latest available data by the World Bank).

Even in countries with competitive economies and those enjoying an inclusive growth the population (at least part of it) may live in extreme poverty and/or under threat of starvation—whether due to natural and/or human-made disasters

Thank you for flying with us. This was the end of part one. Stay with us. Part two comes soon. Meanwhile, as promised…

Appendix: Africa Media Reviews for the week of 1-5 May, 2017

Headlines only (unedited):

Monday 1 May, 2017: French Forces Kill or Capture 20 Militant Fighters Near Mali-Burkina Faso Border– Mali Extends State of Emergency in Bid to Quell Islamist Attacks– Pope’s Timely Egypt Visit Comforts Grief-Stricken Christians– South Sudan Armed Opposition Rejects Declaring Unilateral Ceasefire– Kiir Reaches Out to Opposition to Revive National Dialogue–Can Funding Uncertainty Improve Peacekeeping in Africa?– DR Congo: UN Peacekeepers Face Fresh Sexual Abuse Claims–Libya Seizes Oil Tankers after Shootout at Sea–Sudan’s al-Bashir Calls on Opposition to Join New Govt–The ANC is Mandela’s Legacy. Now His Granddaughter Has Renounced South Africa’s Ruling Party–UAE’s Battle-Hardened Military Expands into Africa, Mideast–UN Security Council Backs New Western Sahara Talks Push–Tanzania’s President Magufuli Sacks 10,000 over Fake Certificates–UN Airlifts Aid Into Angola for DRC Asylum Seekers–Tunisia Forces Kill Fighters Planning Ramadan Attack–My Life Is in Danger, Says Burundi Opposition Leader–Yoweri Museveni: A Five Times-Elected Dictator?–China’s Appetite Leaves Nets Empty.

Tuesday 2 May, 2017: South Africa’s Zuma Quits May Day Rally after Boos from the Crowd– Advance Team of UN Peacekeepers Arrive in South Sudan– Humanitarian Crisis Deepens in CAR Amid Resurging Violence– Nigerian Civil Society Leaders Urge Buhari to Take Medical Leave– Polisario Says Ready for Western Sahara Talks with Rabat–Morocco Wins Battle over Guerguarat without Firing a Single Bullet– Congo Inks $5.6 Million Lobbying Deal Amid Election Strife–Egypt Denies Plans to Build Military Base in Eritrea–Zimbabwe: Alliance to Defeat Mugabe Comes Under Fire–Germany Pledges 70 Million Euros to Aid Somalia Fight Hunger–U.S Africom Commander Meets Somali President in Mogadishu– Ethiopia Is Facing a Killer Drought. But It’s Going Almost Unnoticed– Illicit Capital Flows in Developing World as High as $3.5 Trillion in 2014-Study– Egypt Violence: Three Police Killed in Cairo Attack– How I Smuggle People from Nigeria to Europe (Video)– Kenya Set to Make History with First Female Governors– Why EU Is Sending Poll Observer Mission to Kenya But Not Rwanda– Former Tanzanian President Mkapa Talks Magufuli, Burundi and Slavery– Sudan Threatens to Apply Similar Deportation Measures Against Egyptians– Ghana Crackdown on Illegal Gold Mining Inflames Tensions with Beijing– Echoes of Colonial Conflict in Algeria Reverberate in French Politics.

Wednesday 3 May, 2017: Eight Malian Soldiers Killed in Military Convoy Ambush–Britain Sending 400 Troops to Join UN’s S Sudan Force–Scores Killed in Central African Republic Ethnic Clashes–Rifts Deepen in South Africa’s Ruling Alliance–Pravin Gordhan: From Freedom Fighter to Finance Minister to ‘Accidental Hero’–Bid to Topple Zuma Leaves South African Opposition in Catch 22–SANDF Troops Gearing Up for DRC Rotation–As Oil Prices Dip, African Countries Spend Less on Military–UAE Says ‘Significant Breakthrough’ Reached in Libya Talks–Libya Has Become a Hub for Online Arms trading, Report Says–Piracy Attacks Off West Africa Nearly Doubled in 2016–Ethiopia’s Bloggers Face Detention, Restrictions–Journalists ‘Suffocating’ in Magufuli’s Tanzania–150 Journalists Banned from Algeria–A Desperate Plea for Help as Four African Nations Near a Famine Crisis–Protests to End Slavery in Mauritania–ISIS Militant Reportedly Burned Alive in Act of Revenge by Members of Bedouin Tribe in Egypt’s Sinai–Is Egypt Using Passports to Punish Its Opponents?– Zambia: Africa’s Silence Encourages Lungu’s Bad Behaviour–Mission Accomplished – UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire–Burundi Refugees Still Streaming into Rwanda.

Thursday 4 May, 2017: Somali President Visits Ethiopia … At Last–Somali, African Union Forces Recapture Central District–Somali Minister Shot Dead in Car After Being Mistaken for Militant: Police–At Least Six Journalists Arrested in Uganda on Press Freedom Day–South Sudan ‘Suspends’ Al Jazeera English: Report–Crisis-hit South Sudan Hikes Fees to Register Aid Agencies–Libya’s Rivals Eye ‘Strategy’ for ‘Unified Army’–Child Soldiers Reloaded: The Privatisation of War (Video)– Nigeria’s Ailing President Buhari Misses Third Cabinet Meeting–Boko Haram Leader Shekau ‘Injured in Air Strike’–Africa’s Inequality Stifles Growth, Says Report–Algeria Parliament Poll looms, But Voters Busy Watching France–Media Freedom in Africa ‘Not Great’–Rocket Attack on UN Camp in Mali Kills 1, Wounds 9–Can African Leaders Stop Money Laundering?– What to Know About Zambia: Hichilema’s Treason Trial Sheds Light on Political Tensions–Health Overtakes Democracy as US Spending in East Africa Drops–US Congress Rejects Trump’s Cuts in Aid to Africa–Tanzania Extradites to US Suspected Drug Kingpin–Morocco Phosphate Ship Held in South Africa Port over Western Sahara Claim–Eight Chinese Vessels Detained off West Africa for Illegal Fishing.

Friday 5 May, 2017: Mozambique Rebel Movement Renamo Extends Truce Indefinitely–Aid Groups in Central African Republic Retreat amid Threats–South Sudan: ‘They Are Killing Civilians House to House’: Crowded UN Camp Filled with Horror Stories–South Sudan President Wants Home-Grown Solutions–Sudanese Party to End Almost 20 Years in Opposition–Votes Counted in Algeria Parliamentary Elections–Algerians Vote in Parliamentary Poll Marked by Apathy–For Uganda and Ethiopia, It’s $200m Less in US Aid–Surviving Against All Odds – And Court Judgments: How Jacob Zuma Does It–Zuma Told by South African Court to Explain Cabinet Changes–He’s a Real Contender to Lead Congo, if Only He Could Get In–Millions of Nigerians Face Hunger in Wasteland Recaptured from Fighters–Boko Haram: Nigeria Winning the Battle But Losing the War?–No Amnesty For Crimes Under Former Gambian President : Govt–Migrants Who Survive Sahara Face New Torture in Libyan Oasis Town–Boris Johnson Meets Rivals for Power in Libya–Société Générale to Pay $1.1 Billion to Settle Dispute With Libya Fund–How African Governments Use Advertising as a Weapon Against Media Freedom–Complacency Warned Amid Piracy Hijackings off Somali Coast–Kenya Election Plans Include Dispute Resolution–Ex-Guinea Minister Convicted of Laundering Bribes.

Source: compiled from ACSS daily newsletters, 1-5 May 2017

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The EU in Catch-22 Situation: Treaty Reform v Constitutional Compromises

On 6 April, the Dutch voters rejected a proposed trade and accession deal between the EU and Ukraine, in a national referendum. Ironically, the former Ukrainian President Yanukovich was ousted in a public protest two years ago because of not embracing this very deal. But there is more to that: the Freedom Party (PVV) of the Netherlands, which was a driving force behind the No move has stated that this outcome was a step towards the referendum on quitting the EU. This statement from one of the EU’s founding states coupled with the looming British referendum this summer is a clear signal that the EU is facing its toughest survival test ever—that is, political/constitutional. Being an inherently political project, the EU has struggled but shown resilience in economic and financial turmoil (exercising fluctuat nec mergitur, which also happens to be the motto of Paris), but may well sunk being tossed by political waves.

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The daunting problems

The EU is struggling today on all fronts—politically, economically and financially, socially, and security-wise. This did not happen overnight; the problems kept accumulating for quite some time but were either ignored or brushed away as irrelevant. One the one hand, the EU faces the challenges of increasingly volatile world, as anyone else in the 21 century does. This is an irreversible, objective, process brought by globalization whereby fast changing environment poses unprecedented surprises to individuals, societies, states, and international organisations. On the other hand, there is a burden of misguided policies accumulated over the years (roughly since the end of Cold War). Increasingly, the EU has resembled all the characteristics of an empire in decline:

— fast and unfeasible territorial expansion at the expense of gradual progression;

— inequality in wealth distribution, as between the centre and the peripheries so within each country;

— mass migration from the peripheries to the centre combined with the tense intergroup and interfaith relations;

— poor overall economic performance, especially vis-à-vis aggressive external competition;

— inflexible decision making processes combined with diminished government effectiveness;

— sizeable and quite expensive central bureaucracy;

— the rise of radical political movements and disintegrative forces; and finally

— the escalating security threats (having declared bellum justum, or ‘just war’, fights it on its borders and elsewhere, while being systematically rampaged by savage attacks in its heartlands).

Since the end of the Cold war, the EU has increasingly resembled all the characteristics of an empire in decline.

These are quite grave symptoms, considering what has happened with all those initially successful imperial constructs in the course of history (from Romans, China and Mesoamericans, all the way long to British, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarians as of the last century). Also, it is important to note that these problems are correlated (not necessarily cause-effect relationship tied) but vary independently, which means that (a) there hardly is a one-off (whatever fundamental) solution that can fix all the troubles, and (b) it is almost improbable to address them by ‘traditional’ EU decision-making approach. Now the question is, whether it is at all possible?

Contributing factors

One of the political science methods to look into the problem is path dependency model, which is built on a presumption that where you end up depends upon how you got there, as a result of a series of choices made in the early trials along the way. From this perspective alone, there have been various (and numerous) explanations offered. Considering the political nature of the crisis faced by the EU, I will point out to the governance related weaknesses, namely, the inability of EU institutions to make difficult decisions and undertake strong action upon them, in order to survive politically and economically in this volatile world. As a result of its institutional complexity and the intricate political dynamics involving 28 member states, policy-making in the EU is slow, increasingly ineffective and inflexible, and above all, leaning towards preservation of status quo rather than change oriented.

There are four factors which, depending on the policy in hand, combine to contribute to this situation:

* the top policy direction giving bodies (such as European Commission and the European Council) frequently hold uncoordinated stands which leaves the decisions in impasse;

* the Parliament’s rule-making function, even though upgraded after Lisbon Treaty, in effect is not up to the task;

* mushroomed European agencies act upon diverging interests and policy agendas; and

* the member states act upon different (and at times competing, if not conflicting) preferences in various policy choices.

If the former three factors can be grouped as technical contributors the latter factor is crucial, since the most significant decisions in the EU are reached not through supranational institutions but as an outcome of bargaining between the national governments. Moreover, in negotiating and building compromises they lock in their domestic preferences, so that the ‘agreements [become] reflective of the lowest common denominator of national priorities’ [1], which in terms of the quality of decisions means that not the best policy alternative but rather the least objectionable would be opted for, in the end. In this set-up, the different policy preferences of member states come as natural and can be explained by such variables as member states facing different problems; being exposed to the same problem but with varying degree of severity; or demonstrating the interests that are driven by domestic political dynamics and present-day agendas.

Key criteria of successful government: effectiveness, legitimacy, credibility

Being problematic in the best of times, this arrangement turned out to be a killing factor during the euro crisis, calling the very survival of the EU into question. Hard economic and social tests of the recent years (and in addition, the refugee crisis) have exposed the deep rooted weaknesses of the EU, which cannot be addressed by merely cosmetic institutional adjustments (if aiming to achieve long-term sustainable outcomes). As it stands today, the EU does not meet any of the three core criteria against which the performance of any democratic system is broadly judged [2]: it lacks legitimacy to take tough decisions on behalf of the EU entirety; it does not have effective controls (and institutional capacities) to ensure the implementation on the ground; and it lacks credibility with the EU citizens due to unpopular austerity policies and many other failures (mostly related to wealth redistribution and welfare). [3]

As it stands today, the EU does not meet the three core criteria against which the performance of any democratic system is broadly judged: legitimacy, effectiveness, credibility.

Therefore, it has become obvious (for quite some time already) that the Treaty reform is imperative if the European integration endeavour is to move forward. Resistance to reform of various actors being the problem by itself, there are two challenges facing the pro-reform minded political actors. First results from different perspectives, second is a constitutional puzzle in its own right.

With regards to different perspectives, it has been long observed that, while everyone speaks of the EU reform they mean quite different things (even between political actors within one country, let alone across the member states). Everyone seems to be eager to make EU thrive and the Europeans as the community to prosper, but they somewhat fail to understand, let alone support, each other’s perspective even though sometimes it is in their common interest (partially because of the different set of problems faced, as discussed above, but also due to diverging approaches to handling their domestic problems—take, for example the rise of illiberal democracy in the East European states). This miscommunication (dubbed ‘lost in translation’ and meaning much more than the language barrier) between the EU member states (plus the Brussels based supranational institutions) reminds me of a verse from Rumi’s Mathnavi-i-Manavi, where the characters want and mean the same thing (grapes, in this case), but fail do understand each other and end up in disagreement and mess:

A man gave four companions one dirham/ The first said I will get angur with it/ The second, who was Arab, answered, No!/ I want inab, and not angur, you rogue!/ The third, a Turk, in Turkish chimed: It’s mine!/ I do not want your inab, but uzum/ A Greek, the fourth, called out:/ Put a stop to all this nonsense, It’s stafil I want./ Ignorant of the secret of those names/ through discord they were led to wrangling/ Long on ignorance, of understanding shorn,/ each punched, in knuckleheadedness, the other.’

Lack of legitimacy which derives from the ‘constitutional conundrum’ is at the heart of the EU troubles: the problem is that, despite being formalised in the Lisbon Treaty, the constitutional compromises (such as compromises between the supranational and intergovernmental interests) are not supported by ‘a constitutional framework from which to derive procedures for solving disputes and building new interstate compromises.’ [4] In this set-up, even if we suppose that in the end the member states come to the customary consensus at lowest common denominator, they still face a constitutional impasse which would demand much more effort than merely understanding each other’s preferences. What happens is that the EU finds itself in a paradoxical (or absurd) catch-22 situation: in order to get out of the crisis they need to reform the Treaty, but to do so it is necessary to follow procedures which, in turn, are not envisioned by the provisions of the present Treaty.

The EU’s catch-22 situation: in order to get out of crisis it needs to reform the Treaty, but to do so it has to follow procedures which, in turn, are not envisioned by the provisions of the Treaty.

The strategy for successful EU evolvers

It is broadly accepted that the future is unknown; it is impossible to predict the consequences of our decisions accurately, let alone offer their metrics. What is possible however is to look into reality – the EU is falling apart under the pressure of daunting problems and needs to change its mentality in order to survive, remain relevant, and evolve further ahead. Despite frequently referred to as ‘European integration project’, the EU is not a project in technical terms (‘project’ by definition being a set of activities to achieve a predefined goal in a limited time and with specified resources). Instead, the EU was designed as ‘an evolving institutional arrangement without fixed end-point’, where integration should be treated as means to an end and not the final destination. [5] This suggests the adoption of a strategy built on continuous adjustment and refinement.

The situation is complicated and threatening, but not hopeless. The much needed Treaty reform is impossible today (and perhaps in the nearest time period) due to political reasons briefly outlined above. But the attempts shall not stop. I am convinced that the only way is through deliberation, research, experimentation, learning and adapting – that the EU can transition through the current crisis into its next development stage (and perhaps, even different institutional shape). Considering the difficulty and at times irrelevance of grand projects in this fast evolving and unpredictable world (they demand vast data which is not always available, and time consuming computation, and time and resources to process, assess, and prioritise, and above all – by the time they are submitted to decision makers, such policy projects are already outdated, as the conditions on the ground have changed in the meantime), it makes much more sense concentrating at tactical level.

The attempts at finding solutions for the EU’s problems must continue – by scholars, development practitioners, government technocrats, and politicians of all ranks. I would distinguish two dimensions of this endeavour. First is practical: its modus operandi is sense-making through the trial and error approach, numerous small bids simultaneously placed across a variety of policy domains, to address primarily sectoral and sub-sectoral problems thorough timely adjustments. They will add the continuous waves of ‘random, low-intensity shocks’ necessary to keep the system healthy.[5] These efforts should be a driving force behind the EU reforming, while the other dimension – dealing with conceptual issues and strategising – would comprise learning, reflecting, and elaborating on the evidence produced by the former dimension and making larger-scale recommendations grouped along various clusters, such as by the EU policy domains and pillars, over time.

The importance of the EU is not limited to the European nations and their strategic allies only. It is a historic test of an approach that can offer a practice-tested answer to centuries-long questions. It can offer a model to be followed in the future elsewhere across the globe, with the necessary adjustments to local circumstances, political tradition and culture. (Even today, after a short period of existence, in historical terms, it can offer enough material for the students of political philosophy to entertain, on topics like EU as Empire, EU as Utopia, EU as Institution of World Order, or EU as Globalisation Era Political System).

The strategy is to keep implementing multiple small-scale innovative initiatives, learning and adapting, in order to keep the fundamental policy alternatives alive for the time when the ‘politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable’, from the evolutionary perspective.

To conclude, I believe that what the pro-reform EU champions have to do is, to paraphrase Milton Friedman, to keep on with the research and discourse and diplomatic talks, while simultaneously designing and  implementing multiple small-scale innovative initiatives in various policy domains, and keep learning and adapting to the changed environment accordingly—all in all, in order to keep the fundamental policy alternatives alive for the time when the politically impossible will become the politically inevitable, from the evolutionary perspective.

 

[1] James Hampshire, ‘European migration governance since the Lisbon Treaty’, Journal of Etnic and Migration Studies, 42:4 (2016), pp.537-553 at p.549

[2] The three criteria are known as the [democratic] government’s effectiveness, legitimacy, and credibility (owing to Samuel Huntington [1991] and Philip Keefer [2007]). In his recent book Francis Fukuyama [2015], following this tradition in political science, calls the key elements to successful government a strong state, the rule of law and institutions of democratic accountability.

[3] See, for example: Pieter de Wilde and Michael Zurn, ‘Can the Politicisation of European Integration Be Reversed?’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 50:1 (2012), pp. 137-153 at p.138

[4] Sergio Fabbini, ‘The Constitutional Conundrum of the European Union’, Journal of European Public Policy, 23:1 (2016), pp.84-100 at p.84

[5] Andrew Glencross, ‘Why a British referendum on EU membership will not solve the Europe question’, International Affairs, 91/2 (2015), pp. 303-317 at 317

[6] Nassim N. Taleb, Antifragile: How to Live in the World We Don’t Understand (London: Allen Lane, 2012), p.106

[7] As quoted in the Economist, 28 January 2010: ‘Milton Friedman, who, when monetarism was being mocked in the 1970s, replied “our basic function [is] to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”’

Britain’s EU Referendum: Communication Insights

This is a combined version of a series of instalments on the EU referendum, posted on PolicyLabs between 20 and 24 February, 2016. Their message became even more relevant since the debate has kicked off full steam ahead—with the growing confusion and polarisation among political elites and the constituency alike, as warned in these PolicyLabs posts.

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Introduction

Upon his arrival from Brussels the Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he had secured a good deal for Britain and called for the referendum on EU membership to take place on 23 June. Even though the date of the referendum was confirmed only today, a debate was gaining momentum for some time already, with two opposing camps positioning themselves against each other in the halls, the media, and web-based networks. And although there is a long and zigzagging way to go, certain features of the campaign can be observed already at this point, and learning lessons now and taking timely corrective actions would definitely benefit the quality of future discussions and their eventual outcome. I will look at the debate from three angles: supply side of the politics (the Government, in this case the Prime Minister and his aides), intermediaries (campaigners from both camps and the media), and the demand side (citizens and their groups).

Part 1. Mistaking the shadow for the substance: the effects of priming

Setting the agenda, controlling the outcome

It appears rather odd to me, that after an over four-decade-long and quite happy marriage the fate of the relationship—whether to stay together or divorce—has been made dependent on the outcome of the Prime Minister’s on-going negotiations with the European leaders and the Commission.

According to Eurosceptics, the problems of Britain’s EU membership have always been of fundamental character; therefore they are much broader and deeper than present-day issues negotiated by the Government. This notwithstanding, step by step the public attention has been taken away from those big problems and ‘primed’ on the current negotiations results. The secret of priming lies in the associative nature of our memory and opinion formation, when externally introduced ideas have a capability of promoting certain causal interpretations and thus, invoking sequential thoughts and actions with relative ease. In this case, the public opinion on whether to leave or to stay in the EU is increasingly correlated with, and made dependent upon, the success of negotiations and the concessions to be made against the Prime Minister’s offers to fellow European leaders. This opens doors for mistaking the shadow for the substance, I am afraid.

From the outset, the dilemma of staying or exiting was formulated as of universal scale. And it was absolutely correct: Britain’s relationship with EU is the largest policy issue of the day because its outcome will decide which strategic path the country takes. This is a critical issue, with vested interests of a broad range of domestic and international actors involved. Britons believe that they add a unique value to the Union and therefore deserve a special, much fairer treatment. Thus, they expect meaningful concessions on a number of fundamental issues of concern.

Negotiations with the EU leadership and the heads of state, however, have not gone as successfully as intended. The most significant British proposals were dismissed right away under the pretext that the Treaty could not be revisited or precedents could not be set. This was a clear signal of where the negotiations were heading, which unfortunately did not get rightful attention at home. Today, there is no single proposal, whatever small and insignificant, where the deal is guaranteed. Even comparatively modest changes to Britain’s status are somehow acknowledged with sympathy by some countries, but not welcomed by others.

In response, British negotiators have dropped, ‘downgraded’, or replaced their demands after every unsuccessful attempt to renegotiate her status in all four major areas negotiated. Take just the relatively recent shuffling, from ‘repatriation’ of sovereignty through the exemption from ‘ever closer union’ to a group-bound ‘red cards’; from the tax and regulation ‘safeguards’ to the City, to mere recognition of the coexistence between euro and other currencies; from curbing the migration to  temporary and hardly target-hitting ‘emergency break’ with no clear mechanism behind it. And it goes on and on, leaving an impression that instead of sticking firmly to principal demands agreeable to both sides of British stay-exit divide, the negotiation team has embraced the strategy of easily accepting refusals, finding excuses, and tabling yet another, less radical offer—in a desperate bid to secure a deal, any deal, whatever the price.

This manner of dealing with difficulties of the external world has been famously observed by French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. He elaborated on Aesop’s fable of the fox and the grapes: The fox tried hard to reach the grapes, but failed; then making light of it, he concluded that they were sour anyways. Sartre pointed out that it was not the quality of the grapes that changed in the meantime, but the fox’s perception of them—he transformed the reality in order to be able to cope with it. Sartre called this ‘escape behaviour’ from the world’s obstinacy [1]. Interestingly, a similar observation was made by Sir Harold Nicolson about ‘the average Englishman’ at the time, that ‘when faced with conditions involving tremendous and most unpleasant mental effort, he escaped from that effort by pretending that these conditions were easily remediable, or much exaggerated or actually nonexistent.’ [2]

Wrong association, irrelevant choices

Whether the above is a sign of skilful political maneuvering or the escape-behaviour, concerns us not at this point. Everyone understands the difficulty and intricacies involved in such an endeavour. This is not an easy task at all, to get a concession from 27 fellow members plus the Brussels based bureaucracy, in the environment where no one seems to live the easy times and thus tries to negotiate some ‘reforms’ to their individual or group benefit.

However, making the referendum dependent upon the outcome of negotiations has a two-fold repercussion for Britain. On the one hand, it affects the outcome of these negotiations: under the mounting pressure of public expectations at home, the British team behaves hastily and thus exposes its weakness of being desperately in need of a deal—something that their skilful European counterparts eagerly exploit. The art and craft of politics rests in making gains from never ending trade-offs, after all.

On the other hand, the public opinion on the fundamental issue is primed, made subordinate to some deal over the vaguely understood concessions which may or may not meet the level of referendum’s momentous decision. This situation resembles the observation made by the historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson: ‘The man who is denied the opportunity of taking decisions of importance begins to regard as important the decisions he is allowed to take.’ [3] The reality is that, whatever issues are at stake at the negotiation table today, they still are business-as-usual of the politics, something that the officials from all member states are ought to do on an ongoing basis. They are rather technical by their nature and tactical by their level of significance, and as such, their outcome cannot and shall not determine the referendum’s result.

If we follow the behavioural pattern primed on the negotiations, then the rest appears quite predictable in the light of what is already unfolding upon the conclusion of the most recent round of Brussels talks: Britain will get the deal on one or more issues and this will create an impression of glorious victory, something that she desired on the whole. Even though it is utterly irrelevant to the subject matter, our intuitive decision-making nonetheless works so smoothly that no one will ever notice that from the outset they were simply bound to the wrongly imposed association: ‘[whatever] Concession—Britain’s demands met—We stay in’.

[1] For the interpretation of this episode from Sartre’s Sketch for a Theory of Emotions, see: Robert C. Solomon, Introducing the Existentialists: Imaginary Interviews with Sartre, Heidegger and Camus (Cambridge, MA: Hackett Publishing, 1981), p.22; and Robert C. Solomon and David L. Sherman, eds., The Blackwell Guide to Continental Philosophy(Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), p.170

[2] Harold Nicolson, ‘Is war inevitable?’, The Nineteenth Century and After, 126/749 (1939), pp. 1-14

[3] C. Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson’s Law, or The Pursuit of Progress (London: Buccaneer Books, 1993), p. 103

 

Part 2. Missing the forest for the trees: the limitations of framing

‘Either-or’ choice of a narrow frame

At the time being, the referendum debate in the media has taken shape of weighing advantages and limitations (or costs and benefits) of Britain’s membership in the EU, by the opposing camps, in order for the public to figure out the balance and make their minds. The approach being quite logical, it can be easily observed that the entire debate has been inadequately, or narrowly, framed.

Communication experts claim that frames are unavoidable, in part because they help simplifying the decision making process. As defined by political communication expert Robert Entman, ‘to frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described.’ [1] The problem is that framing (whether intentionally or not) may distort the picture and risk hijacking the outcome sought—an insignificant fraction selected as representing the whole entity is given undue prominence, and in that way a decision is eventually taken. The narrow frame may also take from the table the most valuable choices to consider.

One manifestation of narrow framing is that the EU referendum’s choice has been taken as strictly ‘either-or’ business. Such an antagonistic stand-off ignores the complexity of the modern world and results in a simplistic stock-piling of arguments on the opposite arms of a balance. This is not much useful approach for the purpose of the referendum because both sides will present narratives abundant of facts and figures in support of their stance and will turn it eventually into a negative sum game, the decision theory’s situation with no winners. Continued in this fashion the discussion won’t help Britons making informed decision at the ballot box this summer (or any other date, to this matter).

The frame translates itself into two options currently debated. Even if the conditionality on negotiation results is taken out, they still do not offer a set of plausible alternatives for the public to consider. One is to stay in the EU simply because it has been more beneficial for Britain to team up with the continental Europe. This sounds as a ‘passive acceptance’ attitude, which simply surrenders to the prevailing circumstances, something like escape-behaviour. Another option is to exit from the EU because playing alone, with no commitments attached, has always been in Britain’s best interest. This is a ‘predetermined negation’ attitude towards EU which builds on the notion of Britain’s perceived comparative advantages. If we look closer at these options they do not appear to represent the reality, nor do they meet the overall intention of the referendum.

The two options are lacking a strategic perspective, the single important feature of such an endeavour as referendum. Even an unsophisticated analysis makes it obvious that these options do not stand the test: both are viewing the British/EU relations as static (based on the assessment of present moment’s snapshot or, at best, on the most recent trend) and rather one-sided (concerning the two entities only, without taking the global context into equation). In other words, this frame does not take into consideration the dynamic and evolutionary nature of political processes that are never satisfied with status quo, do not accept anything as a permanent fix but rather view them as temporary solutions to be challenged in the future, once the opportunity avails itself.

This is especially evident in the light of the most prominent of British claims—about the regaining her sovereignty.  It has also been the longest maintained concern with regards to her membership in the European Union: it is enough to recall the annoyance of European politicians at the British demands for long term sovereignty safeguards in advance, during the entry negotiations back in the 1970s. At the heart of this British quest essentially lies the same central question that was formulated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau more than two centuries ago: ‘How to find a form of association, which will defend the person and goods of each other member in the collective force of all, and under which each individual, while uniting himself with the others, obeys no one but himself, and remains as free as before.’ [2] This is what shall be debated. Otherwise, why to bother at all with holding such a high-profile, expensive, time and effort consuming event, which also happens to raise expectations evoked by zealous argumentation of the opposing sides?

A need for strategic focus, broader perspective

It appears that, as a result of narrow framing very important other options were left aside, thereby limiting the choice spectrum. Two of them deserve special attention. One option is to stay in order to continue the attempts at reforming the EU and getting Britain a fairer deal, from the inside. This has been a long-standing argument held by the integration proponents—that Britain stands better chances to succeed with the reforms when it is a member state. It resembles a somewhat ‘resilient’ attitude towards the rigidity of the EU’s governance. Another option is to exit the EU but leave the door open for pursuing the negotiations on a comprehensive revision of the Treaty and Britain’s place in the reformed Europe, as an outsider. To me, this option would stand for an ‘evolutionary’ attitude—one built on both the cooperation with neighbours and the strengthening of domestic societal and institutional adaptive capacity.

A detailed assessment and comparison of these two sets of options (one that is currently at offer and another briefly presented above) is beyond the scope of this article, but one example would help underlining the principal difference. Suppose that you are driving round a place you have not been before. What would you use as guidance: street signs or a map? The former is rather straightforward and easy to follow, but once you face an unexpected obstacle, you are lost. The latter, to the contrast, demands some effort to comprehend but offers various choices for navigation and thus, allows adapting to the changed circumstances. Perhaps it would be fair to say that a direct, narrow guidance is useful for tactical decisions, while mapping is the relevant guidance for deciding on strategic and complex issues.

Away from narrow frames, at this point it is possible to share two thoughts on shaping the future discussion. First is that the EU referendum debate shall adopt a forward looking approach—the one that looks beyond the referendum day and into what is going to happen after the decision is taken.  Then people will come to the ballots with realistic understanding of the consequences of their decision. Moreover, they will do so upon reflecting on the strategic choice and being prepared to answer the critical question: How do we want the European Union, Britain, and their relations develop in the decades to come?

Another insight is that the discussion shall look beyond the EU/Britain relations, to adopt a balanced view of national, European and global goals and interests. Today, cost-benefit analysis of British membership in the EU accounts for only one dimension and does not take into consideration the broader context. These relations, being multifaceted and quite nuanced in their own right, occur in a complex political, security, social and economic environment. Moreover, this environment is very dynamic and full of uncertainty—it is rapidly changing across broad variety of factors and is continuously influenced by competing (sometimes even conflicting) interests of domestic and international actors.

[1] Robert M. Entman, ‘Framing: Towards Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm,’ Journal of Communication, 42/4 (1993), p. 52

[2] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract on Principles of Political Right, trans. Maurice Cranston (London: Penguin Classics, 1968 [1762]), p.51

 

Part 3. Bird in the hand: the hidden workings of mental habits

Threats and opportunities

In the management theory, the notion of risk is closely linked to the effects of uncertainty on the organisation’s goals and includes both threats and opportunities. This makes perfect sense: In the complex and highly unpredictable world we live, it is difficult to know for sure whether what we see (let alone something that we try to foresee) is going to turn bringing benefits or losses, or both. It demands not only good evidence but also sound reasoning. However, it appears that due to certain sense-making mechanisms of our mind we frequently tend to hold to our initial judgements and easily dismiss any argument to the contrary, without attempting to think creatively. As a result, we miss opportunities. I will illustrate this thought on two examples which are metaphorically very close.

First case is borrowed from Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Macbeth. When asking the Three Weird Sisters about threat posed to him, Macbeth receives two foreshadows. One of them warns that he will be safe as long as Great Birnham Wood does not move uphill to attack him. Woods attacking the king does not match with Macbeth’s predefined understanding of things and he, without giving it another thought, dismisses it outright: ‘That will never be:/ Who can impress the forest, bid the tree/ Unfix his earthbound roots? Sweet bodements, good!’[1] Later he falls on his sword because of this overconfidence.

Now consider the case from The Histories of Herodotus. Greeks are warned that Persian king Xerxes is preparing for an unprecedentedly large-scale assault. Athenians send for an advice from the Oracle of Delphi and hear bad news that the land will be destroyed, but they will be granted a wooden wall by Zeus, as protection. They fail to make sense of it, as it does not match their mental models. Here is when Themistocles, the man who is able to see the things from a different perspective, argues that ‘the “wooden wall” meant the fleet and that they should ready themselves to fight by sea.’[2] As the story goes, the Athenians followed this advice and indeed saved their land because they took advantage and themselves surprised the invaders.

The uncertain future, therefore, is initially neutral. It is up to us actually, whether we turn our knowledge about it, whatever obscured and fragmented, into advantage or fail to prepare and thus end up being caught off guard. As one of the most influential risk authors these days, Nassim Taleb, holds in his Black Swan, ‘the idea that in order to make decision you need to focus on the consequences (which you can know) rather than the predictability (which you can’t know) is the central idea of uncertainty.’[3] This brings me to our cognitive strategies, those which we engage in making decisions on daily basis. They have direct bearing on the way how Britons will vote at the referendum.

The flows of our reasoning process

Findings of the most recent polls by YouGov [4] and Ipsos MORI [5] have confirmed the trend that was in making, at least since the last summer—the share of those willing to leave the EU is consistently increasing at the expense of those willing to stay. There is a variation, though: the former puts the ‘Leave’ camp ahead of the rivals, while the latter narrows the ‘Stay In’ camp’s lead to approximately the same percentage-point gap.  There is no contradiction in this; in fact it is something expected in polls, due to randomness of data collection (for example, the British Polling Council’s Inquiry found the variation missing in the polls leading to the 2015 General Elections as their shortcoming).  What is much more intriguing is that the trend may turn somewhat misleading and raise the exaggerated expectations. There are psychological factors in play.

Whatever the respondents say in advance, let along in the situation when everything is rather cloudy, is merely an indication, and the indication which is time bound—it reflects what is there right now. This uncertainty also encourages the poll respondents take on gambles much more eagerly than they would do otherwise. In reality, making your choice at the referendum is a much harder task than deciding at the election ballot, and there is high chance that people would tend to play safe on the day, at least for two reasons.

First is that by its nature (once in a generation event and with no third option to choose from) referendum puts huge responsibility for the consequences, on the voters. Even at individual level, normally we know what we are doing but are not in full control of consequences—some of them are unpredictable, or unintended. This spirals to another degree of significance when millions of individuals driven by their personal intentions combine together in one single act, the outcome of which, even if not set in a stone, still will determine the development direction of Britain for decades to come.

Second reason is that people are offered to trade their wellbeing (something they keep dear to their hearts) as it stands at present to the one they aspire for. This requires an individual to be mentally ready, if not eager, for such a change—and this is not our strongest feature: people are resistant to change, they prefer stability over it. This manifests itself in various ways. For example, numerous experiments have proven that we are very reluctant to give up what we posses, irrespectively of what is offered instead (in reasonable proportions, of course). Or, take our strong desire to stick with current state of affairs and endlessly postpone the game changing decision.

Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (the former is the Nobel Prize winner in Economics) explain many of these mental habits as influenced, at least partially, by loss aversion. [6] They claim that loss aversion is inherent to human decision making, deriving from the evolutionary history when people had to treat threats as more urgent task in hand. Moreover, it has been experimentally demonstrated that the pain of loss is twice as strong as the pleasure of gain. Then the wisdom of ‘a bird in the hand worthy two in the bush’ proverb becomes even mathematically proven.

Towards a two-pronged choice architecture

People’s inclination for taking the loss avoiding, conventional choices at critical moments will play its role on the referendum day. Benefits of the EU membership are known; that is to say, Britons hold them in hands and they are tangible. To the contrary, benefits that are going to accrue after breaking from the EU are yet to be experienced. This makes the job of Eurosceptics much harder. Going back to the poll figures, I would suggest that, considering the above mathematics, only a two- or three-fold percentage point advantage prior to the referendum day would be enough for them to hold a hope of winning the vote.

The insight for the campaigners from both camps is that they shall make all efforts to ensure that the debate enables people to overcome various mental traps of intuitive decision making and to make choices which are informed by what they want to have in terms of their wellbeing, rather than being driven by what they may currently (rather short-sightedly) prefer. Consider the following.

Think of people making choices about their summer vacations. Every year they decide whether to stay somewhere close to home or to go abroad, and where to go, where to stay, what sort of activities to undertake, and so forth. In so doing, the majority do not engage in complicated calculations but rather allows their emotions of that moment to drive their decision making, even though they try to make their decisions sound as well-reasoned. And sometimes they are: like, for example, driving to some local resort and camping over there, in order to save money for children’s education. What is characteristic of this process is that everyone knows that the decision they make has only an effect limited to this year (except for some really disastrous choices or simply bad luck) and the next year they will be free to do something different.

Now suppose that the same people are given a chance to permanently change their residence, for a better life (as the offer claims). This is an opportunity with an array of attractive features but also unpredictable consequences. Plus, it means leaving behind the house they have lived for years and are somehow accustomed to, the social environment and neighbourhood friends, the job, you name it. Most importantly, this is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime choice which cannot be revisited on an annual basis, and therefore the responsibility for the outcome is enormously high. As one can imagine, people may have numerous reasons to opt for the offer or to turn it down, and they will do so by exercising their right for a free choice. Moreover, there is no right or wrong choice, as long as people know what exactly they are going to gain—and not only at the point of trade but many years down the road.

Freedom of choice has always been highly regarded by people. It is also one characteristic feature of democratic society we take pride of. However, as famously noted by Dostoyevsky, there is price to pay: ‘What human being wants is just an independent choice, whatever the cost of this independence and whatever it may bring about.’[7] But here is the trick with the referendum—because, unlike ordinary everyday situations, in this case it is not enough anymore to merely employ some intuitive methods and quickly form a judgement. This task requires some considerable mental activity, an effortful computation, lots of evidence and perhaps, some guidance. In short, this implies that people who make life-changing decisions cannot be left alone in respect of their freedom of choice—they shall be assisted.

In the case of the EU referendum such an assistance shall come from the intermediaries—the campaigners and the media. I shall note that the idea of (implicitly) assisting people in making their policy choices is not new; almost a decade ago the behavioural scientists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein introduced ‘nudging’ as one method of helping people make policy choices that are in their best long-term interest.[8] What I suggest here is a bit different: it is not about directing people towards a certain predefined ‘default option’, but about setting a fair competition between two camps in introducing their respective choices, and doing so in close cooperation with citizens and their organised groups. To borrow from Robert Buckman, a businessman who put knowledge management at the heart of building a successful enterprise, the best way to address the organisation’s growth (read, the competitiveness and market survival) challenges is to follow its customers: ‘Look where they are going. What do they want right now? In five years from now? In ten years from now?’[9] Similarly, the job of the campaigners is to learn what people need and want, immediately and in a medium term period, and to demonstrate how each offer meets their particular requirements and expectations.

It should be made clear to Britons what do they get as a result of their choice. Their concerns and expectations differ quite significantly between various social groups and across the localities—it is very clear from the publications in the press, interviews, and the on-line discussions and is something that should have been expected in this respect. Therefore, costs and benefits of each choice shall be made relevant to the concerns and aspirations of every large group of stakeholders—something that is known in policy analysis as ‘net assessment.’ Generalisation and vague statements won’t do in such situation. Whatever the referendum’s outcome, the debate will be considered meaningful and achieving its primary objective (that is, to help people make decisions which are based on full and relevant information tailored to their circumstances) only if Britons make their rational judgement on the day—the one that treats the threats and the opportunities equally.

[1] William Shakespeare, The Tragedies of Shakespeare: Complete Works, Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen, eds. (London: Macmillan, 2007), act 4, sc. 1 [97-107], p.1897

[2] Herodotus, The Histories, trans. Tom Holland (London: Penguin Books, 2014), bk. 7 [141-144], pp.496-497

[3] Nassim Nicolas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (London: Allen Lane, 2007), p. 211

[4] YouGov trackers on the European referendum, available athttp://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/y0omer21fg/YG-Trackers-Europe-Referendum-050216.pdf

[5] Ipsos MORI database on the EU membership research, available athttps://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/2435/European-Union-membership-trends.aspx

[6] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (London: Penguin Books, 2012), pp. 282-284

[7] Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground (1864), pt. 1, ch. 7 [translation is mine – E.A.]

[8] Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008)

[9] Robert H. Buckman, Building a Knowledge-Driven Organization (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004), pp. 235-236

 

Part 4. The questions to be answered

So far, the battle over Britain’s future in the European Union has been taking place in shallow waters. Some of the reasons behind making the debate about such a momentous decision so irrelevant and misplaced were discussed in this paper. They include the priming of the referendum on the outcome of on-going renegotiation of Britain’s status and narrowly focusing the debate on two tactical options, instead of taking a comprehensive view of all the issues involved and seeing the outcome of the would-be referendum in a long term strategic perspective. There are also technical issues involved, such as those related to the quality, or usefulness, of information offered to citizens.*

Most importantly, it appears that the British society is not prepared to take the decision of such a life-changing magnitude yet.

European countries are struggling with numerous problems, trying to recover from the crisis that hit their economies so hard. At the same time, they are working to respond to a broad range of newly emerging political, security, economic, and social and cultural challenges. From increasing authority transfers to Brussels and concerns over  the ‘insufficient legitimacy of supranational institutions’ [1], to the unpopular austerity measures (which some activists from the left regard as the manifestation of ‘departure from the welfare state’ [2]) to the growing inequality (as between the EU economies, so within each given country), slower than expected (and indeed imperative) growth dynamics, high unemployment among the youth, to the cultural-identitarian concerns and failure of multiculturalism, to the rise of radical movements on both left and right—all this are legitimate concerns of Britons, as well as other Europeans, whether from the EU’s core or its periphery. Most of those problems are not unique to Britain, or to Europe as such—they are being witnessed across all the industrialised countries.

One group of questions is about how much of these problems can be attributed to the EU: What are causes of these problems and what are their effects? Where do they originate from? And to what extent the solutions are in the hands of the European institutions and how much is in hands of national governments?

Another group of questions is concerned with the reform: How the EU shall be reformed in order to be better suited to address the mounting and unprecedented problems of the twenty-first century? What is the role of Britain and other leading countries (such as Germany and France) in the reform process and, later on, in the reformed Europe? What kind of reforms to address Britain’s domestic problems the Government shall undertake on its own, within its sovereign responsibility? Is it possible to undertake two sets of reforms—domestic and common European—simultaneously and, above all, harmoniously?

These are not easy questions to answer, but these are the only relevant kind of questions to be posed and reflected upon. And if no one is ready to offer the answers today (what seems to be the case), then perhaps the best course of action would be not to rush with holding the referendum and instead to engage in a properly administered policy analysis deliberative process, in order to bring clarity and separate the wheat from the chaff. Such process shall normally involve two groups of audiences, where the communication is maintained as within each group’s members, so between the groups. One group comprises scientists, politicians and advocates [3] and another group is of citizen and institutional stakeholders.

This process requires a good organisation behind it. Considering vested interests of various groups and the enthusiasm with which both camps, and their affiliates and associated media outlets are going to convince citizens in the rightness of the choices promoted by them respectively—the role of impartial professional assistance to the constituency will be of paramount importance. And it sounds logical that this should be the Government’s responsibility to provide such an objective and balanced information by means of an ad hoc committee comprising the representatives of all parties and interested sides, along with independent policy analysts and subject matter and communication experts.

Interestingly, the findings of this process will help decide on the final set questions about the referendum itself: Does the referendum, as it has been set today and whatever its outcome, offers the solution? Does it serve the interests of citizens of the United Kingdom? Or is it a manifestation of political struggle of political and economic elites? For example, there has been an argument set forth by Andrew Glencross, that the ‘the simplicity and decisiveness that a referendum, particularly one that spurns the EU, promises is merely a mirage. … British political parties are presenting an in/out referendum as a simple solution to a complex problem. The reality is that direct democracy cannot resolve the Europe question – and nor should it: political and economic ties with the EU necessarily form part of an enduring British political conversation.’ [4]

Whether to hold the referendum in the end or to abolish the idea and to find some other mechanism/solution is a crucial decision, which can only be reasonably decided upon the policy deliberative process suggested herein. If the decision (as informed by various forums) is to run the referendum, then it would not be late to hold it, say, in March 2017 – still well within the timeline initially promised by the Prime Minister, when the citizens would be in good position to take their well-informed decisions on the United Kingdom’s future. It is important to remember that the real decision Britons will take is not about an immediate ‘leave or remain’ choice—it is about forward-looking ‘what and how’ strategic alternatives.

* Policy analysis issues will be addressed in a separate post.

[1] Edgar Grande and Swen Hutter, ‘Beyond authority transfer: explaining the politicisation of Europe,’ West European Politics, 39/1 (2016), pp. 23-43 at 23

[2] See, for example, Thomas Fazi, The Battle for Europe: How an Elite Hijacked a Continent and How We Can Take it Back (London: Pluto Press, 2014)

[3] According to James Throgmorton, these are the must-talk-to audiences in policy analysis process, see James A. Throgmorton, ‘The rhetorics of policy analysis,’ Policy Sciences, 24/2 (1991), pp. 153-179 at 174

[4] Andrew Glencross, ‘Why a British referendum on EU membership will not solve the Europe question’, International Affairs, 91/2 (2015), pp. 303-317 at 317

 

Introducing Public Policy version 2.0

Growing as teenagers back in the 1960s-70s, my generation believed that the world after the year 2001 would be totally different. In a way this turned to be true – along with technological advancements we could not dreamt of at the time the political, security, economic, environmental, and societal problems our planet faces today are not only unprecedented but go beyond comprehension, in their nature and severity.

public policy complexity

The fact that in the last ten years a series of ‘second versions’ have been introduced and commonly accepted—such as Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Governance 2.0, Globalisation 2.0—suggests that we have come to realize that the world around us and the global processes have changed in a categorical / qualitative terms rather than mere quantitatively. And this ‘version two’ trend does not limit itself to the development of the worldwide web and the use of social software platforms, but reflects the fundamental changes in the way how we interact between us as individuals, groups, states and societies and how do we cope collectively, with the complex and unpredictable world of the twenty-first century.

Still this is not as surprising as is our inability to cope with them. The Financial Times editor, Lionel Barber, has stressed this point when describing the global trends under the ‘Globalisation 2.0’ banner, that ‘[n]ational governments are desperate to regain a measure of control’  over the mounting problems posed by global processes. [1] It looks like our political and economic institutions have not been prepared for this change to happen, and are struggling now in the hesitant attempts to adjust. Francis Fukuyama identifies the problem (with regards to democracies) as one of ‘political decay’ and puts his diagnosis as follows: ‘The failure of modern democracies come in many flavours, but the dominant one in the early twenty-first century is probably state weakness: contemporary democracies become too easily gridlocked and rigid, and thus unable to make difficult decisions to ensure their long-term economic and political survival.’ [2]

The fundamental insight offered by prominent thinkers of the day has been that we (as a humankind, at all levels, from individuals to institutions) must embrace the uncertainty, adapt to it, and evolve and grow stronger with it, instead of pretending that we can predict, measure and even manage the risks (let alone to do so without fundamental changes to our not-effective-anymore practices). [3]

When it comes to the state, the focus on building its evolutionary capabilities implies that, as its one overarching function public policy making shall be the first to adapt. In the course of the past century, especially its second half, public policy was heavily relying on the rational choice theory and related models which use cause-effect and pattern recognition methods (with a sophisticated statistical computation) to explain the operational environments with stable settings, known variables and the abundance of historical data available. Nowadays however, even though remaining relevant and useful this approach, coupled with hierarchical model of decision-making and the rigid goal-fixated implementation design, is showing its limitations in offering viable policy solutions in complex, dynamic settings and effectively addressing the emerging problems in various domains. Against this background, vast evidence produced by social scientists and practitioners from various fields of expertise over the last three decades has convincingly demonstrated the benefits of experimentation, evidence-based policy, and flexible, adaptive approaches to decision making. [4]

On a positive note, there is a growing recognition and use across the world, of new methods of policy analysis and design. As behavioural economist Richard Thaler reports with the reference to Economic and Social Research Council’s 2014 survey, more than 130 countries have utilised behavioural science insights in their policies, while over 50 countries have developed policies influenced by the behavioural sciences. [5] In other words, new (and at times distinctively different but compatible) approaches are already being used, but need to be recognised by governments as a legitimate choice and, in certain situations, even as a default option instead of Public Policy 1.0 methods.

In this post therefore, I am attempting to outline key features of Public Policy 2.0, drawing on the insights from various fields of knowledge grouped under the umbrella of effective policy making in the twenty-first century. It is a sketchy initial shot produced with an eye towards initiating a discussion and, ideally, collaboration around this project. I shall mention here that attempts have been already made to define the ‘version-two’ of policy analysis and evaluation. [6]

For the working definition I would suggest the following: Public Policy 2.0 is a proactive, experimental approach to policy making which derives from the appreciation of the complexity and unpredictability of the world and which is deployed with an aim of enabling the states and the societies adapt to the rapidly changing environment, and to evolve and thrive with and within it.

Public Policy 2.0 is a proactive, experimental approach to policy making which derives from the appreciation of the complexity and unpredictability of the world and which is deployed with an aim of enabling the states and the societies adapt to the rapidly changing environment, and to evolve and thrive with and within it.

To specify, Public Policy 2.0 rests on the following principles:

— builds bottom-up, where more authority and responsibility given at tactical and even ‘limited task’ level is married with strong coordination and support role at the centre of government;

— employs trial and error approach, with testing simultaneously many ideas trough small pilots, making sense of the findings (including those from inevitable failures), in order to collect and analyse evidence, learn, and to catch up with the changing environment in a timely manner and on the go;

— exercises the management methods that rely on the experimentation and feedback, are supportive to creativity, and encourage unorthodox approaches;

— maintains an ongoing dialogue between multidisciplinary teams of researchers and practitioners and relies, for the implementation, on a broad based in-country and international collaborative networks of partners; and

— recognises the structures only as non-rigid and adjustable to the evolving context, and both the strategic and tactical goals as subject to constant revision.

At this point I see the benefits coming in various ways, namely:

— sense-making: deployment of decision making mechanisms that, while relying on less data and complicated computation, allow for employing insights from social and behavioural sciences to make reasonable and effective policy interventions, given the limited time and information available;

— decentralisation: puts the decision making in right hands of those who deal with the problems in real time and space; helps building the cadre of experienced, tested managers who are ready to assume responsibility along with authority; and encourages the initiative and reasonable risk-taking;

— analysis: opens opportunities for generating more evidence, as from traditional experimental and quasi-experimental designs, so from qualitative and deliberative methods—to make the policy assessment and evaluation more insightful of values and aspirations of stakeholders and relevant to delivering the expected impacts and benefits; [7]

— design: allows designing strategies and policy programmes which combine the traditional integrated approach with the modular architecture—to enable decoupling potentially high-risk components from the rest of the programme and to create more opportunities for synergic effects from the implementation;

— monitoring: by making the policy programmes’ objectives subject to continuous examination, revision and adjustment—enables using simple but informative methods of relevance, in order to quickly and meaningfully assess the real progress made along the path.

With that said, this proposal does not call for the ‘policy reform’ or dismissal of the present Public Policy version 1.0 approach and for the wholesale shift to Public Policy 2.0 — immediately or in any visible term. Instead, I would advocate for their complementarity, the mutually reinforcing parallel application. The major task at the initial stage will be to demonstrate benefits (as ever) and to ensure that Public Policy 2.0 methods have their place as equals to those of Public Policy 1.0, when considering the analytical, implementation design and managerial issues of any policy issue.

This is especially relevant to the countries which make their state-building efforts in transition from authoritarian regimes towards democracy—where experimentation is imperative in order to find their own way, to tailor the practices tested (but still in need of further enhancement, as we have seen, along with those yet untested) in liberal democracies to their political tradition, culture, and present-day circumstances. I believe that the international organisations, development agencies and broader donor community shall place the strengthening of policy-making capacity of recipient governments at the centre of assistance, and do so with encouraging creativity, innovation and experimentation so that to enable the most effective and harmonious combination of both Public Policy methodological versions.

 

[1] From the speech delivered at the FT-Nikkei symposium:  Lionel Barber, ‘Globalisation 2.0an optimistic outlook,’ Financial Times, 14 January, 2016

[2] The quote is from: Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution (London: Profile Books, 2011). More in detail he elaborates on this topic in his recent book, the second instalment of the series: Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy (London: Profile Books, 2011). These two volumes are an essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the nature of political processes and to make sense of the current developments.

[3] Among those seminal works: Eric D. Beinhocker, The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); Nassim Nicolas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (London: Allen Lane, 2007); and Nassim Nicolas Taleb, Antifragile: How to Live in the World We Don’t Understand (London: Allen Lane, 2012)

[4] There is vast literature—books, articles in academic journals, reports by think tanks—on the benefits of experimentation, evidence-based policy, and flexible management and decision-making methods. These are some of my favourite books: Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (London: Penguin Books, 2012); Gary Klein, Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009); Gerd Gigerenzer, Peter M. Todd, and the ABC Research Group, Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (New York and London: Yale University Press, 2008); Tim Harford, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure (London: Little, Brown, 2011)

[5] Richard H. Thaler, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics (London: Allen Lane, 2015), p. 344

[6] Agrell and Treverton, in their discussion on policy analysis draw on the unpublished paper by the economist and public policy scholar Robert Klitgaard, Policy Analysis and Evaluation 2.0 (2012): Wilhelm Argell and Gregory F. Treverton, National Intelligence and Science: Beyond the Great Divide in Analysis and Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 115-135. Also see for an elaborate account of post-positivist policy analysis: Ya Li, ‘Think tank 2.0 for deliberative policy analysis,’ Policy Sciences, 48/1 (2015), pp. 25-50

[7] It is not accidental that in defining Policy Analysis version 2.0, Klitgaard builds on the characteristics of evaluation suited to the world of uncertainty, borrowing from the leading authority in qualitative analysis methods, Michael Quinn Patton: M. Q. Patton, ‘Use as a Criterion of Quality in Evaluation,’ in A. Benson, C. Lloyd, and D.M. Hinn (eds.), Visions of Quality: How Evaluators Define, Understand, and Represent Program Quality: Advances in Program Evaluation (Kidlington, UK: Elsevier Science, 2001), pp. 23-26. In more recent publication, Patton points out to advantages of qualitative analysis methods (which are highly relevant to the policy analysis and evaluation version 2.0, as advocated in this post): ‘Indeed, qualitative evaluation and in-depth case studies were utilization-focused methodological responses to the kinds of evaluation questions stakeholders were asking and the criteria they applied to judge quality of finding: contextual understanding, in-depth analysis, and cross-case comparisons.’ [Michael Q. Patton, ‘The Sociological Roots of Utilization-Focused Evaluation,’ The American Sociologist, 46/4 (2015), pp. 457-462 at 461.

The Perils of Security Policy-Making in 21st Century

If I were to chose an epigraph for a book on the topic of challenges faced by security sector today, this quote from the recent book of Wilhelm Agrell and Gregory Treverton would say it all: ‘We are living in a social environment transcended by growing security and intelligence challenges, while at the same time the traditional narrow intelligence concept is becoming increasingly insufficient for coping with diffuse, complex, and transforming threats.’ [1] This post serves as an introduction to a series of episode studies/essays I am writing on security policy (employing, to extent possible, the knowledge from various social sciences), namely on the British Government’s strategies to counter the threats posed by militant Islamists. [2] This post briefly outlines the key themes I am interested in exploring and sharing the insights with the interested readers. [3]

image5_en

Four features, three themes

Security sector in the twenty-first century faces a number of unprecedented challenges, both by their scope and complexity. One set of contributing factors relates to globalisation. The nature and pace of technological advancements, and especially the revolution called Web 2.0, have exerted enormous influence on all aspects of life. Security environment being by definition dominated by uncertainty, nowadays becomes increasingly volatile—it is multifaceted, nuanced, filled with potentially large-impact surprises, and is very dynamic and rapidly changing. This makes planning, collecting and processing intelligence, and making decisions immensely difficult. On the top of it, militant Islam has evolved over the last three-and-half decades into a kind of security threat that the world has not encountered before; it keeps evolving through the mutually reinforcing relations between its political and religious causes and economic, political and social contexts as within certain countries, so regionally and globally. By the way things are developing it is clear that at present neither states nor societies are prepared to deal effectively with such a threat.

Western liberal democracies, in particular, are ill-prepared to counter modern extremism, due to certain limitations inherent to them as a governance system; moreover, they are showing reluctance to reform the established practices and procedures and to introduce more flexibility into security policy making. Societies, in turn, are undergoing a painful generational process which is characterised by declining trust towards governments but also deepening divisions between various social, cultural and religious communities. [*I am particularly interested in exploring social and cultural adaptation of migrants (and possibly newly arriving refugees) from the conflict-torn countries: (unmet) expectations, stereotypes on both sides (hosts and incomers), group identities – all this creates a fertile ground for misunderstanding, isolation, animosity, radicalisation, hate and violence.]

There have been various explanations offered in the literature, to democratic governments’ weakness in handling security sector issues. Four features of the present day decision making, which relate to the national security policy, deserve a close look. First is the sensitivity of issues dealt with by intelligence. Second feature is the urgency of the action required by citizens, from the state. These correlate and I will consider them in tandem, under the ‘pressing circumstances’ below. The third feature is an inherently political nature of the policy making, which in the case of security policy turns to be quite problematic (briefly addressed under the ‘political constraints’). And the fourth is the policy’s reactive rather than proactive positioning against the extremists, especially with regards to their very aggressive propaganda campaign (under ‘communication: a reactive stance’).

Under pressing circumstances

It is well known that in a daily life some people are ready to pay more for a quick gain instead of waiting a bit for getting it at a nominal cost. However, things change when we as individuals, communities, society feel endangered.  If there is a perceived threat to our lives and wellbeing or that of our beloved ones, we react sharply and our immediate gratification mood spirals with an enormous magnitude. At this moment of collective anxiety we are ready to overpay significantly (actually, no one even thinks about costs) and tend to put a massive pressure on the decision makers to act promptly and effectively.

The state’s reaction to public pressure in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015 can serve as a textbook case: Initial shock gave place to the public outrage, then intensive media reporting took off and this followed by a panic that we were the next target of militant Islamists—all in all, for the officials finding themselves under huge pressure to make last minute amendments to the Strategic Defence and Intelligence Review, pledging significant additional human, technological and financial resources committed to the security strategy (additional investment of £2.5 billion and employment of 1,900 more staff) and then to hastily pass a decision on joining the airstrikes of the ISIL’s targets in Syria.

In this case, the Government’s actions did not seem rational but rather emotionally charged, under the intensity of public outrage. Such decisions tend to result in immediate gains at the expense of long-term priorities. They are also costly. A few days after the publication of the Defence Review and the reports on first airstrikes by RAF planes in Syria, there was no panic anymore. No one thought about the cost of the response.  Obviously, those funds will be taken from some other budgetary items, if not borrowed, and the society will bear the cost of it in the years to come. [*A post reflecting on the causes and consequences of this decision-making phenomenon, known as ‘availability cascade’, is forthcoming].

Political constraints

Key features of intelligence, such as fragmented knowledge and lack of timely and complete information, as well as difficulty gauging the progress make decision making in security sector notoriously complicated. The uncertainty of the environment where security policy operates partly explains one known weakness of democratic governments—that is, their indecisiveness in taking difficult decisions, also known as the ‘lack of political will’ to act on complex and sensitive problems. At the same time, there are situations when governments tend to act on security issues swiftly and with minimal hesitation. At least two political factors can be distinguished as contributing to this phenomenon.

Decision making in democracies is in many ways defined by electoral cycle, what limits politicians to implementing only those policies that can produce visible results in short time. Taking bold decisions is always difficult, as the cost of risk taking might be prohibitive, and hence, the time must be ripe. For example, the decision to launch the military campaign against al-Qaeda and their hosts, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, was only possible because of conducive environment created by September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and the declaration of the ‘war on terror’. Similarly, the UK Government’s decision to join airstrikes in Syria was long on the agenda of the Prime Minister, but got the real chance to pass through the Parliament (without damaging his and the Conservative party’s image by the humiliation of possible defeat) in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, when the emotional tension was high and thus, conditions were favourable to overcome the opposition.

By its nature the policy making inevitably brings about change which affects the interests of various stakeholders. In foreign, defence and security policy domain, along with domestic interest groups (such as government ministries and agencies, and state and private contractors and providers of products and services) there are international (governmental, inter-governmental, international public and private) actors who have vested interests in the government taking this or another course of action under external obligations.

Government ministries/agencies elsewhere are constantly competing for funding, in a bid driven by the consideration of the scope and quality of work and, partly, by their political ambition to grow strong and exert more influence. For example, the Government’s reaction to Paris attacks, along with airstrikes, resulted in significant additional public funds pledged by the Prime Minister. This being a precedent, right after the terrorist attacks in Jakarta in January 2016, Scotland Yard went ahead announcing quite considerable increase in the number of trained marksmen (by more than 27 percent) in a move that cost £2.5 million of taxpayers’ money.

On the other hand, international allies put additional pressure on decision makers, either supporting or discouraging them, and not necessarily in the best interest of the nation but rather for the sake of the common good (NATO and European Union related policies stand as an example). Today, Syria and Iraq are not merely a battlefield where the war with ISIL, al-Qaeda, and other militants is fought. It is also the place where local actors (national governments vs. diverse opposition groups in Syria and Sunni tribes and former Baathists in Iraq), backed on either side by key regional players (Saudi Arabia vs. Iran) and global powers (US and allies vs. Russia)—all collide in their contestation over exerting larger influence in the Middle East theatre, in a dramatic, complicated geopolitical stand-off. Therefore, statements by some British pundits and politicians in justifying the airstrikes, that ‘we must show our solidarity with France’ or ‘we must go out there and prevent this threat from coming and hitting us next’ sound at the very least as naive (or misleading). Britain must join the fight because, first, that is what her allies demand of her; and two, that is the place to be, if you want to be regarded as an influential global player.

In their turn, the policy makers attempt at putting political pressure, or unduly intervening, in the intelligence process (which is there to provide an impartial specialist advice in support of the policy making).  This politicisation of intelligence may take various forms, from ‘soft’ framing to ‘hard’ manipulation of evidence and/or simply imposition of pre-formulated constructs, disregarding the intelligence advice. To these I would add another type, when policy makers simply reject the intelligence offered to them and rely on other information or their own reasoning. Given the degree of secrecy in decision making on the national security issues, we never actually know for sure how certain decisions were made and which type of politicisation was applied (if any at all).

Strategic communications: A reactive stance

The Government counter-terrorism strategy’s protective function is implemented by specialised forces quite effectively: the fact that there has been no successful attack by militant Islamists on the British soil in more than ten years stands as a proof. However, the responsive stance taken by the state enables militants dictate the pace, location and even the format of engagement. It is obvious when it comes to the terrorist propaganda: the state, the society, and the media are not doing well in countering it as could have been expected. This gives the Islamist extremists a possibility to manipulate individual perceptions and public opinion, media coverage, and eventually the decision making.

Aggressive propaganda undertaken by militants, first of all, targets the young Muslims and serves to justify violence. Traditional themes exploited are jihad (interpreted strictly as ‘just war’) and the protection of the Muslim lands from ‘infidel’ invaders. Their interpretation allows for pre-emptive attacks and killing civilians—to silence the critics among the Muslim community, of the methods they use. The propaganda also aims at glorification of the images of Islamist fighters (take, for example, Mohammed Emwazi aka ‘Jihadi John’), to promote the case of martyrdom and afterlife heaven. As for non-Muslims, through various video footages, particularly those with execution of hostages, militants intend at inflicting mayhem, so that to put additional pressure and diminish the resistance of targeted states/societies.

One of communication techniques used by militant Islamists is about imposing certain messages and symbols to influence the target audiences’ associations and perceptions. For example, the organisation which has its formal name as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, instead of being called by its acronym ISIL is frequently referred to in public discourse and in the official documents as Islamic State. No one seems to pay attention to this fact, but that is exactly what they want—to be seen as the state. And the attributes of the state, as known from classical definition, include an ‘exclusive authority to use violence for establishing law and order within its borders.’  [*A post is forthcoming, offering some insights into the terrorist propaganda and reflecting on the methods to counter it effectively.]

Consider this (for conclusion)

You have already noticed that I used the case of the British Government’s hastily taking decision on amending the strategy and joining the airstrikes over Syria, under different thematic parts of this post. In one part, the decisions are explained by the desire to calm down the public anxiety (‘availability cascade’), in another it suggests that the decisions might be the result of political manoeuvring of the Prime Minister, or the successful lobbying of political elites and military and intelligence agencies. It is also implied that this might have been the result of pressures from the allies, in the geopolitical struggle over the Middle East. All these explanations seem equally plausible, and I believe that more than one (if not all, to various degree though) have contributed to the decision in question. Think about it. And think about other similar instances (in any country) and their consequences. I will try to elaborate in the future posts, too. Especially from the point of what could be done to minimize the politicisation of intelligence and to increase the transparency and accountability in the defence and security policy domain.

 

[1] Wilhelm Argell and Gregory F. Treverton, National Intelligence and Science: Beyond the Great Divide in Analysis and Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), p. 196

[2] There is no globally agreed terminology, but depending on the context (whether related to terrorism or to extremism) the most recent UK Government strategies and policy documents employ the ‘Islamist terrorism’ and ‘Islamist extremism’ phrases. I will use the ‘militant Islam’ alongside these two, as an overarching phrase. See: David Anderson Q.C., The Terrorism Acts 2014, Report of the Independent Reviewer on the Operation of the Terrorism Act 2000 and Part 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006, September 2015; and Counter-Extremism Strategy, October 2015, Cm9148

[3] These posts aim at sharing opinion on certain themes and generating a cross-disciplinary discussion (ideally with the involvement of both practitioners and scholars), without pretending to present any comprehensive, all-encompassing analysis of the intelligence. I owe my understanding of the sector’s present-day developments and challenges to a number of excellent works produced recently by the leading authors in this field, such as: Loch K. Johnson (ed.), Handbook of Intelligence Studies (Abingdon: Routledge, 2007); Loch K. Johnson (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of National Security Intelligence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); Mark M. Lowenthal, Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy, 3rd ed. (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2006); Peter Gill and Mark Phythian, Intelligence in an Insecure World, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012); and Wilhelm Argell and Gregory F. Treverton, National Intelligence and Science: Beyond the Great Divide in Analysis and Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015) Continue reading

Britain’s EU Referendum: Communication Insights (Part 4)

Part 4. The questions to be answered

So far, the battle over Britain’s future in the European Union has been taking place in shallow waters. Some of the reasons behind making the debate about such a momentous decision so irrelevant and misplaced were discussed in this paper. They include the priming of the referendum on the outcome of on-going renegotiation of Britain’s status and narrowly focusing the debate on two tactical options, instead of taking a comprehensive view of all the issues involved and seeing the outcome of the would-be referendum in a long term strategic perspective. There are also technical issues involved, such as those related to the quality, or usefulness, of information offered to citizens.*

Most importantly, it appears that the British society is not prepared to take the decision of such a life-changing magnitude yet.

European countries are struggling with numerous problems, trying to recover from the crisis that hit their economies so hard. At the same time, they are working to respond to a broad range of newly emerging political, security, economic, and social and cultural challenges. From increasing authority transfers to Brussels and concerns over  the ‘insufficient legitimacy of supranational institutions’ [1], to the unpopular austerity measures (which some activist from the left regard as the manifestation of ‘departure from the welfare state [2]) to the growing inequality (as between the EU economies, so within each given country), slower than expected (and indeed imperative) growth dynamics, high unemployment among the youth, to the cultural-identitarian concerns and failure of multiculturalism, to the rise of radical movements on both left and right—all this are legitimate concerns of Britons, as well as other Europeans, whether from the EU’s core or its periphery. Most of those problems are not unique to Britain, or to Europe as such—they are being witnessed across all the industrialised countries.

One group of questions is about how much of these problems can be attributed to the EU: What are causes of these problems and what are their effects? Where do they originate from? And to what extent the solutions are in the hands of the European institutions and how much is in hands of national governments?

Another group of questions is concerned with the reform: How the EU shall be reformed in order to be better suited to address the mounting and unprecedented problems of the twenty-first century? What is the role of Britain and other leading countries (such as Germany and France) in the reform process and, later on, in the reformed Europe? What kind of reforms to address Britain’s domestic problems the Government shall undertake on its own, within its sovereign responsibility? Is it possible to undertake two sets of reforms—domestic and common European—simultaneously and, above all, harmoniously?

These are not easy questions to answer, but these are the only relevant kind of questions to be posed and reflected upon. And if no one is ready to offer the answers today (what seems to be the case), then perhaps the best course of action would be not to rush with holding the referendum and instead to engage in a properly administered policy analysis deliberative process, in order to bring clarity and separate the wheat from the chaff. Such process shall normally involve two groups of audiences, where the communication is maintained as within each group’s members, so between the groups. One group comprises scientists, politicians and advocates [3] and another group is of citizen and institutional stakeholders.

This process requires a good organisation behind it. Considering vested interests of various groups and the enthusiasm with which both camps, and their affiliates and associated media outlets are going to convince citizens in the rightness of the choices promoted by them respectively—the role of impartial professional assistance to the constituency will be of paramount importance. And it sounds logical that this should be the Government’s responsibility to provide such an objective and balanced information by means of an ad hoc committee comprising the representatives of all parties and interested sides, along with independent policy analysts and subject matter and communication experts.

Interestingly, the findings of this process will help decide on the final set questions about the referendum itself: Does the referendum, as it has been set today and whatever its outcome, offers the solution? Does it serve the interests of citizens of the United Kingdom? Or is it a manifestation of political struggle of political and economic elites? For example, there has been an argument set forth by Andrew Glencross, that the ‘the simplicity and decisiveness that a referendum, particularly one that spurns the EU, promises is merely a mirage. … British political parties are presenting an in/out referendum as a simple solution to a complex problem. The reality is that direct democracy cannot resolve the Europe question – and nor should it: political and economic ties with the EU necessarily form part of an enduring British political conversation.’ [4]

Whether to hold the referendum in the end or to abolish the idea and to find some other mechanism/solution is a crucial decision, which can only be reasonably decided upon the policy deliberative process suggested herein. If the decision (as informed by various forums) is to run the referendum, then it would not be late to hold it, say, in March 2017 – still well within the timeline initially promised by the Prime Minister, when the citizens would be in good position to take their well-informed decisions on the United Kingdom’s future. It is important to remember that the real decision Britons will take is not about an immediate ‘leave or remain’ choice—it is about forward-looking ‘what and how’ strategic alternatives.

* Policy analysis issues will be addressed in a separate post.

[1] Edgar Grande and Swen Hutter, ‘Beyond authority transfer: explaining the politicisation of Europe,’ West European Politics, 39/1 (2016), pp. 23-43 at 23

[2] See, for example, Thomas Fazi, The Battle for Europe: How an Elite Hijacked a Continent and How We Can Take it Back (London: Pluto Press, 2014)

[3] According to James Throgmorton, these are the must-talk-to audiences in policy analysis process, see James A. Throgmorton, ‘The rhetorics of policy analysis,’ Policy Sciences, 24/2 (1991), pp. 153-179 at 174

[4] Andrew Glencross, ‘Why a British referendum on EU membership will not solve the Europe question’, International Affairs, 91/2 (2015), pp. 303-317 at 317