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Poverty and Development

Poverty and Development (3rd edn)

Tim Allen and Alan Thomas
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p. 58527. Poverty and Development: Prospects for the Futurelocked

p. 58527. Poverty and Development: Prospects for the Futurelocked

  • Ikenna Acholonu,
  • Charlotte Brown
  •  and Ingrina Shieh


This concluding chapter brings together reflections from practitioners, thinkers, and academics. They comment on achievements and challenges for social progress in the world over the past 30 years, and outline possible futures for poverty and development. Economist and historian María del Pilar López-Uribe speaks about the experiences of South American countries. She is an authority on the long-term effects of climate change and geography on institutional drivers of economic development, and on the history of land conflicts and property rights in Colombia. Meanwhile, Leonard Wantchekon highlights the role of technology in shaping the future of development. Affan Cheema also offers a practitioner's perspective on the need to approach humanitarianism from a more holistic perspective in relation to development. The chapter then looks at how warnings of the effects of climate change have galvanized international movements calling for governments to declare a climate emergency and prioritize policies that promote sustainability and mitigate the environmental impact of the global economy. Since forming in spring of 2018, the environmental pressure group Extinction Rebellion has organized protests that have reached international scale.

This concluding chapter brings together reflections from practitioners, thinkers, and academics. They comment on achievements and challenges for social progress in the world over the past 30 years, and outline possible futures for poverty and development. All of the interviews were recorded and took place in late 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. The responses presented here are as close as possible to what was said, with minor edits for clarity.

Minouche Shafik

The first interview, with Minouche Shafik, presents a positive perspective on the progress achieved in development over the last 30 years. She has been Vice President of the World Bank, the Permanent Secretary of the UK’s Department for International Development, Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England. She is currently Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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I’ve worked in international development for about 30 years and when I look back at where we were 30 years ago in terms of the capacity developing countries have in managing their own development, it’s been completely transformed. Most poor countries now have functioning governmental institutions—they’re able to adopt policies that they can learn from all over the world, what good practice looks like.

Predicting what the next 30 years will bring is incredibly difficult. The pattern I would observe though is that there’s a bit of a bifurcation between the relatively small group of countries which one would call fragile states around the world whose development has been stymied by conflict and dysfunctional institutions, which dominate the group in which extreme poverty exists, and the rest. And I think ‘the rest’ are on a slightly more linear, progressive path of rising incomes and improving social indicators and strengthening institutions. I think what is going to be the big split going forward is seeing most low- and middle-income countries continue on a path of development but having this group of fragile states for which progress continues to be a challenge.

I think the biggest limitations and constraints are actually around politics and institutional capacity … there will be big challenges. Developing countries are going to have to figure out their role in the global economy in a digital world. And that will mean transformations in the way their economies work. I think services will become a much bigger part of trade in the future than goods are at the moment. All of these are changes that will happen, but I think they are within the realm of knowable challenges. I think the really difficult limitations and constraints will be about whether countries can manage their politics and their institutions in a way that can handle those challenges. And those countries that can do that will be more successful than those which can’t.

We’ve gone so far in solving extreme poverty. The number of countries where people are living on less than a dollar a day has shrunk massively, and that’s a huge achievement. But we also know that poverty has always been a relative concept, and so drawing an absolute poverty line, even if we go for the higher poverty line that’s currently in use, isn’t really the end of the debate. And in a world in which inequality has gone up in so many countries that issue of relative poverty will remain on the agenda for many, many years to come.

It will be a wonderful thing if the concept of development became obsolete because so many countries will have become developed that we don’t really think about it in that way. I do think that the number of countries that move from being emerging markets to being developed will grow over the next 30 years. There’s a whole group of countries that are in the upper middle-income bracket which are virtually on the cusp of the same levels of income and living standards that advanced economies enjoy. And that’s fantastic. I think we’ll still be talking about the concept of development for at least another 20 or 30 years. I hope that we’re not talking about fragile states in 30 years. Those are the countries that I fear will remain at the bottom of the income distribution and social development indicators for a while longer—I’d like to think that in thirty years we would have had breakthroughs in terms of resolving the conflicts and grievances and differences that make those governments less functional and make those societies less successful. But I think the concept of development in thirty years will apply to a smaller number of countries than we currently apply it to. And that’s good news.

In terms of the challenge of having a lot of development aims at the same time, that has always been there and I think the problem of course is that everything is interconnected. So being able to deliver on high quality primary education depends on having functional institutions. And being able to pay for it means you need some economic growth, and all of these things are interconnected. I think there’s no escaping looking holistically at a country’s development strategy and looking at those aims together. What I do think is that your strategy has to be holistic, but your implementation has to be prioritised. No government, particularly in a developing country and a low-income developing country, can tackle all of these problems at the same time because institutional capacity is limited. So you have to have an overall strategy but I think you do have to think, ‘in order to achieve this we have to start by first generating some growth so we have some income to be able to pay for better quality public services’. The implementation has to be sequential, but the strategy has to be simultaneous and holistic.

On the debate about economic growth and sustainability, I firmly think that there are ways to reconcile growth and sustainability. A lot of it depends on how you measure economic progress. If you’re only looking at growth and GDP and not taking into account the depletion of environmental capital that GDP growth is requiring, then it may not look like there’s a trade-off when there actually is one. I think you have to be careful about how you define growth and progress and how you define sustainability. For me, the way I think about it is countries are endowed with physical capital, environmental capital, and social capital. And they have to use that optimally in their development. If you deplete your environmental capital in order to, say, increase your physical capital, the infrastructure that you’ve got in the country, you may be less well off at the end of that process even though you may look like you have more physical capital, if you’ve drawn down your environmental capital. One has to look at these things holistically and measure them properly, and when you measure and use them properly there are ways of managing the trade-off between growth and sustainability.

María del Pilar López-Uribe

Economist and historian María del Pilar López-Uribe speaks here about the experiences of South American countries. She is an authority on the long-term effects of climate change and geography on institutional drivers of economic development, and on the history of land conflicts and property rights in Colombia. Among her recent publications are Wages, Public Policy and Living Standards in Bogotá 1900–1950 (López-Uribe 2011), and ‘Coping with Climate Risk’ (Castells-Quintana et al. 2018). She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics, Universidad de los Andes.

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In the case of South America, progress in development means increasing economic and political opportunities for those who have been excluded by society. Although in South America all people older than 18 can vote and are supposed to be represented, this is not happening in reality. Progress means freedom and more opportunities—economic, political, and social. South American countries are still very conservative in many ways, including rights for minorities. Nevertheless, South America has made progress in the last 30 years. First, in terms of democracy. More countries have turned from dictatorships and autocracies to democracies, and the rise of the left parties and ideologies has also been an important change. This implies more political participation of different ideologies that have contributed substantially to improve the political debate.

The other form of progress we’ve seen is in terms of growth. While we are experiencing important crisis in some countries in the region such as Venezuela and Argentina, in general, Latin American countries have experienced positive and sustained economic growth rates in the last decades. Countries such as Colombia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, and Bolivia are good examples. While some think this was due to some particular situation (high prices of commodities), the truth is that poverty rates decreased substantially in these countries in the last 30 years. When you combine more political participation and growth, this implies some type of progress.

However, this has also come at a cost. While there has been growth and GDP per capita has increased in the last 30 years in most of these countries, inequality has also worsened. The rich became even richer at a higher rate than the poor became less poor. Inequality is at the centre of the debate in the region now, because public policies and more participation of left-wing parties in politics haven’t solved this problem, and the perception is that it has worsened. Governments, no matter their political affiliation, haven’t tackled this problem and policies have focused on increasing taxes for the middle classes while important exemptions have been made for the rich groups. The idea behind this is that policies to increase growth have focused on attracting foreign investment or investment in large-scale projects on very good terms for the investors—at the expense of the majority of the population, who, in general, don’t see the benefits.

South America is going through a very interesting period. We have protests and riots every day in most of the countries in the region and for different reasons. Because of economic decisions, or political fraud, or corruption. The region is going through a renaissance. While for some decades countries in the region were under dictatorships and it was impossible to protest, now the situation is the other way around. People are protesting and are using this way to manifest unhappiness with governments and their policies. It is the only way they feel they can be heard. While political parties of different spectrums are participating in elections, this situation still doesn’t translate in real representation. In most cases, no matter which ideology is getting in power, they are coopted by the system, and corruption is inevitable.

Examples of socialist governments in the region have failed. The main case being Venezuela … In economic terms the success stories have been countries that have implemented capitalist systems to foster growth and succeeded in that respect. But capitalism has failed to decrease inequality.

Development assistance should continue in a different shape. New democracies and post conflict countries that are at the same time politically polarised should count on international vigilance and arbitrage. This is how the development assistance should continue in the region, as an observer and referee to appease polarisation without direct intervention … The region doesn’t want direct international intervention in national affairs. In post-conflict countries, development assistance should help in the integration of former rebels, to develop productive programmes, and to access markets. In order to avoid new forms of conflict, development assistance should take a part in the reincorporation of former rebels into society and economy in rural areas, not only with money but also through training and building capacities in the regions that were most isolated and highly exposed to violence. The role of development assistance in post-conflict countries in the region should be more direct and more focused.

Leonard Wantchekon

Leonard Wantchekon, Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and founding director of the Institute for Empirical Research in Political Economy, based in Benin, reflects on his personal experience and highlights the role of technology in shaping the future of development. He is the author of numerous articles in leading academic journals, including ‘Clientelism and Voting Behavior: A Field Experiment in Benin’ (2003), ‘The Paradox of “Warlord” Democracy: A Theoretical Investigation’ (2004), and ‘The Slave Trade and the Origins of Mistrust in Africa’ (Nunn and Wantchekon 2011).

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Measuring progress with growth and expanding economic opportunities is important. But this can come at the expense of the environment … It can come at the expense of equality of opportunities. It can come at the expense of freedom … Growth alone cannot be the definition of development. Quality of life, fresh air, going on vacation, and peaceful interactions with other individuals and raising kids or raising the young generation with fundamental values of decency and generosity. Those are very important. For instance, if you take the place I grew up in central Benin in the 60s. We had no electricity. We had no television. We had nothing. But the comradery, the togetherness, and the strong community spirit is not only something that made our life then a great life but also that’s the main reason why I am where I am today. Because I grew up with a positive attitude with trusting my neighbour, trusting my friends. I lived in an environment where my parents got me to always look towards the future and to have high aspirations and to drive for success, not at the expense of anyone but together with everyone else.

There is something about wealth which can be self-destructive. And yet it doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to be that either you have it and then you have to give up everything else. We need the human, the community side to go along with prosperity. It takes sacrificing a little bit of growth to preserve this. I think it’s really important.

I believe strongly that future development is not going to take an authoritarian form. If you take the US, if you take Russia, the Philippines, and Brazil and other places, you have the government becoming more anti-democratic and very oppressive. But I think it’s going to be temporary. I believe especially in the younger generation. They want to travel, they want to be free, they want to be able to express themselves and as a result they are not going accept this trend.

The international organisations, whether it’s the World Bank, African Union, or European Union, those are not just economic and political organisations. They are also opening up more and more to the voice of civil society organisations and intellectuals and so on. The future is democratic, the future is freedom, and despite the step back that is happening today this is what is going to take place. We should never forget that autocracies are in the end self-destructive. It’s not a sustainable concept. It’s impossible the people, generation after generation, will accept to not have a voice, accept to be put in prison for criticising the government. So I strongly believe that the future is democratic.

Let’s not forget that even today we are much better off than our parents were in the 70s and the 80s. If you went to a country like Argentina, it was barbaric. Chile, you take Nigeria under the military governments. You take South Africa. Those were very oppressive. Let alone the former Soviet Union. We came a long way and people tend to forget that we are on a good trajectory. We were much better off in the 60s than we were in the 50s and 40s. We’re much better off in the 80s and the 90s than we were in the 60s. And as a result, today, despite the step back, I think we will be better off than our parents were.

There is one other thing I would like to stress and that is the role of technology. Technology has vastly improved over the past few decades. It makes communication easier. It makes the communities more global. And this will definitely have economic consequences. The fact that today if somebody in an isolated village somewhere does not have access to food, he has an opportunity to call someone, even far away, while 30 years ago he might be in this situation for weeks without being able to communicate with anyone [is] just one example of how the information technology can be a good opportunity, not only to resolve crisis, but also [to] enable individuals to communicate and to take actions against something they do not like. People talk about Twitter and Facebook for instance being used to mobilise and generate social movements effectively. This was something that was impossible in my day. I used to be a political activist when I was in college. And to be able to get people together to organize demonstrations and so on you have to be there physically. You have to go place to place and talk to people directly and give directions. It was very costly and very risky. Today from your office or from your home, you can direct people to do things. Technology, information technology in particular and social media, is an important step to make the world a better place in the future. Not only economically, but also politically and socially.

Francisco Ferreira

Francisco H. G. Ferreira reflects on the challenges posed by global inequality for development. Ferreira is a Senior Advisor in the World Bank’s Development Research Group, where he oversees the Bank’s research programmes on poverty, inequality, and agriculture. He has also been the Bank’s Chief Economist for the Africa Region and the Deputy Chief Economist for Latin America and the Caribbean.

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In 1990, our best estimates suggested that almost 1.9 billion people lived in extreme poverty—that is, in households consuming less than $1.90 per person per day—in the world as a whole. That number corresponded to 36 per cent of the global population. More than one in every three people in the world lived in a state of extreme deprivation. In 2015, our current estimates suggest some 730 million people live in extreme poverty—some 10 per cent of the global population. While even one person living in that kind of poverty should be unacceptable, there is no denying that there has been tremendous progress in poverty reduction, first and foremost in Asia. In addition, Asian growth has also contributed to a remarkable reversal in the trends in global inequality. After rising inexorably since records began, there is now a consensus that global (relative) inequality has started to decline, beginning sometime in the 2000s.

As for future challenges, there are many. Let me focus only on three: first, re-thinking development so it is resilient to climate change—both by mitigating temperature rises to the maximum extent possible and by supporting adaptation, particularly in the poorest and most vulnerable countries. Climate change will be enormously disruptive, and not only in places like much of Bangladesh, which may be overrun by rising sea levels. It will change crop patterns and endanger livelihoods in what are already some of the world’s poorest countries. It will push people to move, exacerbating both migratory pressures and resource-based conflict. Much of the recent progress against poverty is at risk from these changes.

Second, extending and deepening poverty reduction—and the demographic transition—in Africa. Asia’s growth has not yet been replicated in Africa and, as a result, most of the world’s extremely poor people now live there. By 2030, we estimate that 95 per cent of the world’s poor will be Africans. The battle for SDG 1.1 will be won or lost in Africa.

Third, saving globalisation by reforming it. The current crop of right-wing nationalist and populist leaders in many countries are already fighting trade wars and seeking to curb international migration with unprecedented zeal. This is halting a process of globalisation which, however much maligned, had greatly contributed to the rise of Asian countries from Thailand to India—and most notably including China—which was responsible for the aforementioned successes of the last 30 years.

The question is, ‘how can progress against global inequality be sustained?’ In my view, that requires building a political consensus for continued international integration—through trade, migration, and the flow of ideas. That, in turn, requires at least two key components: first, regulating the ‘dark side’ of globalisation—in many areas, but chiefly with respect to capital flows. Unbridled capital mobility has helped rich people and large companies avoid and evade taxes and has led to serious imbalances in capital—labour relations. Second, we must fight domestic inequalities, and protect those specific workers who lose from globalisation, even as most people in most countries benefit.

If international trade is allowed to grow again; if progress is made in the quality of governance in Africa; and if women’s empowerment and education enables the demographic transition to proceed in that continent, I suspect we will continue to see progress against extreme poverty in the next 30 years. But as countries grow, the standards of what constitutes poverty naturally and appropriately also evolve. The $1.90 standard is informed by the poverty lines in the world’s poorest countries. It is not intended—and is indeed meaningless—to assess real deprivation in the US and Europe today. By the same token, it is increasingly insufficient in most middle-income countries. Because of this inevitable relativity, so long as there is wide inequality, poverty will always be with us, no matter how rich a country becomes.

As for inequality, I have noted the positive trend of some reduction in global inequality over the last decade or two. But let’s make no mistake: the global market system—‘capitalism’, if you prefer—is an engine that generates both prosperity and great inequality. New technologies and the expanded mobility of capital have enhanced that trait. Without concerted effort by states and international organisations, I see the danger that inequality will resume an upward trend within the next two or three decades, with potentially disastrous social and political consequences.

Mary Kaldor

Mary Kaldor, Professor of Global Governance, London School of Economics and Political Science, takes up the question of stability and conflict in relation to development. Her many books include New and Old Wars (1999); Human Security (2007); and International Law and New Wars (Chinkin and Kaldor 2017). Here she explains her well-known view of modern armed conflicts, reflecting on the endogenous and exogenous roots at the heart of the violence.

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What you’re seeing in many places is an extreme version of neoliberalism that actually affects the state itself. And what you see is that the competition, the conflict, is really all about access to the resources of the state, not an interest in controlling the state, but access to the resources. So the networks that are involved in violence are really more interested in disorder. The state is weak or fragile not because it is backwards or behind but because there are groups in society that are interested in disorder.

There is no question that these bouts of violence are tremendously detrimental for development. What you see very often is that these are conflicts in which civilians are targeted and in particular in which intellectuals, doctors, middle-class people are targeted. And usually they leave. Displacement is the most typical characteristic of these kinds of conflicts. So you lose a huge amount of human capital. But also they are physically destructive. Most importantly perhaps they destroy legitimate economic activities and replace them with a war economy, which is based on a combination of criminality and fundraising from violent activities: checkpoints, pillage, hostage taking, and also smuggling various types of goods. It’s a disaster for development.

It is better to understand contemporary wars not as a sort of deep-rooted conflict between two sides, but rather as a sort of societal condition in which various groups, armed groups, identity entrepreneurs, are making money and making politics out of continuing disorder and violence. And what we know from all these conflicts is that conflicts like this in which people see they’re benefiting and they’re more interested in the violence than winning or losing are very difficult to end. One very dire prospect is that you will see the spread of this kind of societal condition over large parts of the world.

Once we really understand that these are not deep-rooted political contests that are resolved either through talks or through one side winning, once we understand that actually they’re better understood as a social condition in which you get a combination of a war economy and extremist identity politics, then we can start thinking about how to directly address those problems rather than the usual traditional approaches.

My view is that it is very hard to imagine global governance in the way that our political institutions are currently organised. And I think it’s not going to mean some more international agencies. I think the regions are going to be very important. I think regional institutions like the European Union and the African Union, those need to be the central institutions that try to deal with issues like global social redistribution or tackling war or tackling climate change. And that’s why I say that politics are so important.

Last week I met a terrific Tunisian activist who’d been very active in the Tunisian revolution. And now she is the African Union’s envoy for youth. And she said she felt the future lay in a Pan-African activism. And I feel the same way about the European Union. At the moment everyone is trashing the EU and there’s no question that it’s been responsible for some really awful neoliberal policies. But the question is could it be transformed to become a model of global governance. And I think that really depends on development politics both in individual states and across Europe.

Affan Cheema

Affan Cheema, Head of Programme Quality, Islamic Relief, offers a practitioner’s perspective on the need to approach humanitarianism from a more holistic perspective in relation to development. Cheema has held senior positions at Islamic Relief Worldwide and CARE International UK.

I think there’s a nexus of ‘humanitarianism and development’. They overlap. Decades ago, we in the sector linked relief and development. Now communities go through processes whereby they are in a humanitarian environment one second, then trying to work on development, and then they go back into humanitarian crisis. This distinction at hand, which is used in the sector and within academia in studies on humanitarian aid, between emergency and long-term development is a bit of a false division when you’re actually working with communities. I think it helps us in the North; it helps us in our discourse, and sometimes it’s helps when we’re structuring organisations and hierarchies. But at grassroots level, it doesn’t necessarily work. I think because we’ve taken out a structure from higher up, it can mean that when we’re operating, power structures are operating, political structures are operating. There are silos, which mean that the different sections don’t talk to each other, and that can result in our responses not being holistic in themselves.

It’s almost put into a little box, so if you have a conflict or a natural disaster, you say that that’s dealt with by other parts of the international community, but they’re massively integrated—one feeds off the other. And there needs to be much more coherence around that. In the sector right now, there’s a lot of talk about the nexus between the two. And even if you look on the Islamic Relief website, you’ll see it on one of the blogs where the conflict advisor is talking about conflict humanitarian development and the nexus. We need to bring some of this together. These cannot be seen in isolation when you’re dealing with communities.

Alcinda Honwana

Alcinda Honwana, in her interview, addresses the role of young people in the future of development. She has been an Inter-regional Adviser on social development policy at the United Nations and a Program Director at the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) in New York. She has held professorships at several universities and is currently chair of the International African Institute. Her books include Child Soldiers in Africa (2006); The Time of Youth: Work, Social Change and Politics in Africa (2012); and Youth and Revolution in Tunisia (2013).

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As we all know, youth are a very important population in today’s world. The world has never been so young. The majority of the world population especially in the Global South is under 35 years of age, and in some situations under 24. Being such an important demographic, youth have a very important role to play in what society will become tomorrow. They are the generation of tomorrow and they are the generation that are doing things today to prepare a better tomorrow. But we also know that young people in today’s world are struggling in ways that other generations didn’t struggle. The global economy is not supporting youth development socially and economically around the world especially in the Global South and particularly in Africa.

Young people are struggling to make ends meet. The quality of education is not that desirable. And even those who have access to education, they do have difficulties getting into the job market. Educational systems and job markets are disconnected in terms of what kinds of work force we are preparing. And economies are not growing fast enough to absorb people into labour markets into productive roles. We have large numbers of young people who should be the productive force of a nation that are outside formal channels and frameworks that help develop the economy.

In my writing I talk about this as ‘waithood’. Young people from South Africa, Mozambique, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, and Senegal tell me they are just ‘getting by’, ‘scraping by’, and ‘just trying to survive’. This is a generation that is just making do and waiting for better times. It is this generation that is struggling, that really should have an impact on changing the future and impacting development in a positive way.

And we have seen that happen. Young people by nature, they are rebellious. They challenge the status quo. They don’t just accept the social, political, economic repository from the previous generations. They don’t just take it lock, stock, and barrel. They tend to transform it. They tend to rebel against it. And that rebellion, that transformation, that the younger generation usually creates or propagates is based on the fact that each generation leaves a particular type of experience. And this generation are the generation of the ICTs, new technologies of information and communication, the generation of globalisation, the generation that has seen the world changing very rapidly. The way they analyse things, the way that they see things, the way they expect things in the world are certainly different from the way their parents and their grandparents saw things.

And also when a young man in Dori, which is in the remote areas of Burkina Faso, is able with his cell phone to see in real time what is happening in China, the United States, or in Palestine, it changes their perception of the world. Their aspirations change, the demands change, etc. And we have seen young people coming to the streets and claiming their role and claiming their rights and their position in the world. We saw it with the mushrooming of youth uprisings all over the world. The Arab Spring certainly marked a new phase, but we have seen riots in Europe, we’ve seen the Occupy Movement, we’ve seen the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, and what’s going on with the environmental movements right now.

I don’t think that protests and violence and confrontation is always the key. But there are a lot of young people making changes in different ways. Through participation in civil society organisations, through engaging in more peaceful forms of promoting change. But there are also those who engage in other forms, those who join violent groups and radical groups and those who decide that I will just try to look for greener pastures elsewhere. And we have seen all this migratory movement of young Africans trying to find solutions by migrating to Europe and doing this perilous crossing of the Mediterranean, etc. But all this long story to tell you that young people are central in this conversation and if the world is going to change, they are the ones who have to be the drivers of that change.

The major constraint is that we will not create sustainable development for all if we don’t address some of the critical issues regarding inequalities. Inequalities have to do with the opportunities that are granted to everyone, leaving no one behind, like this beautiful Agenda 2030 of the United Nations. But to do so economies have to grow. But those economies have to grow alongside an equitable distribution of the benefits of that economic growth. That’s why it’s important to look beyond GDP. That’s why it’s important to look at notions of freedoms and happiness and wellbeing, encompassing a holistic perspective on development on sustainable development.

And there is an important factor that I didn’t mention which is the environment as well. Sustainability in terms of the environment is also important. Because we have to make sure that we leave a better world for our children and our grandchildren. We cannot squander resources on the grounds that we have to develop now and right now. The environmental issues, the issues of climate change have to be seriously considered.

International environmental activists

Warnings of the effects of climate change have galvanised international movements calling for governments to declare a climate emergency and prioritise policies that promote sustainability and mitigate the environmental impact of the global economy. For example, since forming in spring 2018, the environmental pressure group Extinction Rebellion has organised protests that have reached international scale. Though not without their critics, the protests have attracted a broad spectrum of support (see Box 27.1 and Figure 27.1). Other groups, such as the Ugandan group Our Trees! We Need Answers (Box 27.2 and Figure 27.2), have also continued to lobby and act in specific contexts, sometimes at considerable personal risk.

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Box 27.1 Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion is an international movement that engages in strategies of civil disobedience in order to influence governments to address the climate breakdown, loss of biodiversity, and overall ecological collapse. Extinction Rebellion protesters (London, October 2019) shared their views about the aims of the protests and the major issues facing our planet today.

Bel Jacobs, journalist:

We’re in a climate emergency! You do not need to look very far through media to see that we’re losing our planet. And we’re losing our planet to a capitalist system … to a system that encourages exponential growth of products; that’s all about profit; that’s all about the use and abuse of nature, animals, and people. It’s a hierarchical system that places certain cultures at the top and everybody else is just there to be employed or consumed. Extinction Rebellion came up at a time when I just didn’t know how to handle all the grief I had inside. I was so frustrated. I didn’t know how to save the planet for my daughter and it came up and it was completely obvious that I had to join … The movement represents all people. Most importantly they’re from all walks of life … I’ve met doctors, accountants, teachers, moms, students, artists, creators, we are everyone here!

Jo Rand, Methodist minister:

I think growth is perhaps the problem … unending growth is not a sustainable aim. We have to stop seeking to grow and work for sustainability. Growth is the wrong objective … Speaking as a Christian I despair of those Christians who will say ‘God will save us’ or ‘We’ll all be headed to heaven in the end’. That’s not where my faith lies. I believe that God is with us in all of this but God calls us to act. And anything I can do to help mobilise that realisation among faith groups, I want to do.

Mothiur Rahman, lawyer and Extinction Rebellion strategist:

With the Extinction Rebellion I’m part of the political strategy team … This time I’m coming more through Extinction Rebellion Muslims because I feel voices need to be represented in different communities … I think we are all accountable. The political situation arises from the conversations we hold as human beings together. Let’s say years ago the democracy was created through these kinds of conversations and people created a system. We now need to create a new system. The governments are accountable to us. But who has the responsibility of creating a new system? It’s not the politicians. It’s up to us by creating these citizens assemblies. And we need to be given that space to be able to do that.

Elizabeth Adofo, activist:

We’re rebelling against the system. Capitalism. Big corporations that profit off the destruction of the planet … We need a full-on socialist revolution because under capitalism these issues will never be changed. Capitalism is a profit-based system and it’s always going to drag and suck the life out of everything that it comes in contact with … I think protecting the planet is the most important thing. There is no point in having economic growth if you don’t have a planet to enjoy it on.

Monique Sapla, Extinction Rebellion ‘Radical Inclusivity Advocate’:

Social justice is the backbone of everything, and the biggest cause of this climate breakdown is the oppression of the people in the Global South … and people of colour; it’s their exploitation and the exploitation of the planet … We often refer to countries as being underdeveloped. I think that’s wrong. I think there are over-exploited countries and over-exploited people and people who are not treated equally to others. Our entire society is focused on economic growth but really our economic growth is the exploitation of people and planet. I think that economic growth is not our priority. Looking after each other and creating stable communities is our priority.

Rob Abrams, climate activist:

I’ve been involved in climate activism for ten or so years … For me climate justice is a really intersectional issue … It’s recognising that the climate crisis exacerbates all other social issues. For example, there’s the way that it impacts people of different economic means; the way that there’s a class divide in who is impacted by it; there’s also a race divide in it … The other things that are linked and exacerbated by the climate breakdown are the rise of the global far right. We’ve seen demagogue populist leaders across the world from Trump in America to Orbán in Hungary and elsewhere get elected on policies which are fascist in content. And I’m scared that once those people catch on to how bad the climate crisis is what they may do to our rights or what their form of tackling the climate crisis looks like, which I think will inevitably benefit only a small minority of people. The rich.

Figure 27.1 Extinction Rebellion protestors have declared a global climate emergency. Extinction Rebellion protests have taken place across sixty 60 cities in the world, including London.

Source: Photo by Ikenna Acholonu, 2019.

Box 27.2 Our Trees! We Need Answers

Illegal logging and charcoal production are having dire consequences for the forests of the former war zone of northern Uganda. The environmental resources of the region are being destroyed. Our Trees! We Need Answers is taking direct action to stop it happening. Here six activists from the group explain their motivations and the challenges they face in stopping the deforestation.

Arthur Owor—independent researcher and coordinator:

We set up Our Trees! We Need Answers in 2018 to address the huge problem with deforestation in our region. Our leaders are not doing enough about environmental justice. They were not stopping illegal logging and indiscriminate cutting of trees. People come with trucks from the south of Uganda and collect charcoal and logs which they transport to Kampala and export to foreign countries. The trees they want most are slow growing native tree species, but are being cut with impunity, conspiring with local elites. The security and military forces are involved, coming from outside the region. We are recovering from war, but this is an extension of the war in peace time. We use the news media to publicise what we do and have some degree of protection from those who want to stop us acting.

Nelson Obol—local government researcher:

Local government is not widening revenue appropriately. They take a small tax from the loggers and charcoal producers at the expense of the environment. They use it to pay Local Councils, but that form of fund raising is not sustainable. It has to stop. They need another way to finance themselves.

Chowoo Willy—media practitioner for radio and new media:

There was also an information gap about cutting down trees. We needed to explain the danger of climate change to the community. We needed to explain how to improve their livelihood. We have tried to explain why they should not sell trees cheaply. Nowadays, the communities themselves stop the trucks as a result of our community engagement with them demonstrating how they are exploited in the charcoal and log value chain. The impounded trucks are taken to the police, but are often released, because the traders pay bribes.

Omona Patrick—community worker:

We are also concerned that some of those coming to take our trees are also behaving in other exploitative ways too, especially to poor farmers and households. They use money to lure out school-going girls and use them for sex. They just play with them and go away. They are abusing our people.

Benson Ongom—journalist:

I think the key thing we wanted to address is vulnerability in relation to the environment. Our leaders are not providing livelihoods, so people give up trees too easily and cheaply. We need more accountability. And people need to know their rights. But we live in a different place to London. If we protest like that here we would have problems. We need to get permission to protest. If we do what Extinction Rebellion does here, we will be accused of political activism and mobilisation. Police will come and beat us and arrest us. We are still threatened at the moment, especially when we accuse powerful people like government ministers and senior army or security officers.

Rubangakene Kenneth—social worker:

Protesters in London are in a country where the institutions provide protection for protesters. That is not the case here. However, we are looking at the future. We got these trees from our forefathers. If we don’t save them, the future generation is in danger. It is our responsibility to our children to stop this violation of our land.

Figure 27.2 Our Trees! We Need Answers is an activist group based in Gulu, northern Uganda.

Source: Photo by Tim Allen, 2019.

Nicholas Stern

Nicholas Stern, IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government, Chairman of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, and Head of the India Observatory at the LSE also discusses the future of development in relation to climate change, sustainability, and constraints on natural capital. He has served as Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President of the World Bank, and as Permanent Secretary at HM Treasury. In 2005 he was appointed to conduct reviews on the economics of climate change and development, which led to the publication of a widely cited study, The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review (2007) and several other books, including Blueprint for a Safer Planet (2009), and Why Are We Waiting: The Logic, Urgency, and Promise of Tackling Climate Change (2015).

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If you are going to talk about sustainability you better have a view of what it means and essentially that’s the definition: offering to the next generation opportunities at least as good as yours assuming they behave in a similar way. Now that of course opens the question of what opportunity means and what determines opportunity. Opportunity is the ability to shape your life along the dimensions you choose. The sustainable development goals are illustrative of some of those dimensions. And what determines those opportunities are arguably four types of capital: physical, human, and now natural and social.

Economic modelling in the past has mostly been about physical and human, but now we’re talking about sustainability you have to include natural and social capital. But your opportunities are shaped by assets and what are the key dimensions of the assets. So if you adopt that definition of sustainability you have to illustrate what you mean by opportunity and what you mean by the assets that shape opportunities.

I think what’s different now is that we see the constraints of the natural capital as becoming intense. And we see the difficulties and constraints of social capital much more clearly than in the past. And the natural capital are things like concentrations of greenhouse gases, the quality of our air, the quality of our oceans, and the land and so on. And they are now imposing severe constraints on what we are able to do in a way that wasn’t true in the past at the global level. Part of this is a result of the success we’ve had the last 70 years, which is absolutely remarkable in the context of human history. There is no other period that gets anywhere near it in terms of expanding life expectancy and output per head. And of course, that outputs have been produced in a particularly toxic way.

As a result essentially of those past successes, you’ve got intense pressure on natural capital. We kill probably maybe somewhere between 7 and 10 million a year from air pollution. The total number of people that die each year are 57 million. That’s a big slice. That’s just one example.

If climate change continues unmanaged it would be absolutely devastating. Hundreds of millions, probably billions will have to move and you’d be in for a very severe extended conflict for reasons which you couldn’t turn off. So just those two illustrations, air pollution and climate change, are an indication of how severe the constraints are becoming through natural capital. And we risk tipping points in terms of biodiversity in oceans and it certainly could get much worse. In a way, the successes of the last 70 years, the running down, the deterioration, the destruction of natural capital, are now putting intense limitations on development.

It’s not simply science, it is the political will to organise differently and use the science and technology. You have to decide to run cities in a way that excludes most of the single occupancy private vehicle. Well that’s a social decision and you’d hope people would take it because otherwise things won’t work. If everybody could bring their vehicle in at any time whenever they like things stop working, just being empirical. But you have to be able to take those decisions as a community. Now if you’re able to take those decisions then there’s so many technologies that are going to make it work. When I published the Stern Review in 2006 it was one year before the iPhone. Now you’ve got Internet of Things, which Uber is a rather simple, straightforward example, but you couldn’t have had that without the smartphones.

Paul Collier

The next interview is with Paul Collier, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. He is the author of several influential books, including The Bottom Billion (2007); Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places (2009); The Plundered Planet: How to Reconcile Prosperity with Nature (2010), and most recently, The Future of Capitalism (2019).

What constitutes progress in international development? That’s a good question and it’s pretty straightforward. It’s catching up with everybody else. It’s the poorest countries converging on everybody else; poorest societies catching up with the middle and the high income. That’s progress … Talk of progress is easy if you measure things in absolute terms. How many poor people are there in the world and all that sort of stuff. It’s a very low bar considering the whole world is growing. What matters is whether the absurdly wide gaps between poor countries and rich countries get narrower or wider.

What progress happened in the last 30 years? It hasn’t. The poorest countries, if anything, continue to diverge from the rest of mankind. I coined this concept, ‘the bottom billion’, the people living in the poorest 60 or so countries in the world. Not literally the poorest people in the world, they’re scattered all over the place. You can see them on the pavements out here. But the poorest countries in the world that have become the poorest countries, they haven’t all started as the poorest. But by the millennium they’ve become the poorest countries. And of those countries, a few have managed to catch up. A few—for example, Ethiopia and Rwanda. Another group within the bottom billion have fallen apart absolutely, just declined absolutely. Most have continued to diverge from the average of the rest of mankind.

Probably the most powerful single force in the poorest countries, the economic force, for the next 30 years or so will be urbanisation. Europe has been through its urbanisation transition a long time ago. East Asia, South Asia, the big phase of rapid urban growth is over. For Africa the next 30 years will be decisive. The UN estimates that between now and 2050 Africa’s urban population will triple. Think of the African city of 2050. Two-thirds of it isn’t there yet. But we know that the third of it that is already there, to a large extent, doesn’t work. It is neither very productive nor very liveable. That’s because providing an environment, a platform, for activity that is productive and liveable is very expensive. It takes big investment and big active public policy. And it’s not happened.

The foremost development challenge in the bottom billion in the next 30 years will be to manage this process of urbanisation more successfully so that the next two-thirds is a lot more successful than the existing third. If cities all become mega-slums, congested, unproductive, and unliveable, the cost of retrofitting into a congested, unliveable city is about three times as high as the cost of getting it right before people settle. But the politics at the moment work against that … Creating that critical mass of citizens and public officials who understand the need for getting urbanisation right is hard, because even when you’ve got accountability, if you’re accountable to people who don’t understand what should happen, then it’s not going to happen. The only people who can do it are leaders: community leaders, social leaders, political leaders who take the trouble to get up to speed themselves on the issues and then spread sensible ideas.

At the moment, social media is largely doing exactly the opposite. In a lot of these countries, social media is being used for exactly the wrong purpose. It’s not spreading good ideas, it’s spreading bad ones. The good ideas would be to build a sense of shared belonging and a view forward around a common purpose. What social media is currently doing is spreading doctrines of division based on a backward-looking narrative of grievance. ‘My group’s poor because of what your group did.’ So moving from that zero-sum mentality, a backward-looking, segmented society, to a forward-looking sense of here we’re all part of this society, we’ve all got to have a common purpose, which is basically, this society needs to catch up so that our children can have a better life. And then you’ve got to understand what that means in practice. It means structural change. It means urbanisation. It doesn’t mean just keep doing the same thing and hoping it changes the result. That’s Einstein’s definition of madness.

The thesis of The Future of Capitalism is that capitalism is capable of raising mass living standards. It’s the only economic system we’ve had that’s been capable of doing that. Capitalism is a loaded phrase for something that has very diverse meanings. What are we contrasting it with? Are we contrasting it with the pre-capitalist world or with the communist world? Those are really the menu: pre-capitalist or communist. And pre-capitalist, which was much smaller scale, is what we’ve had for all but the last 250 years of human history. We had about 15 000 years of pre-capitalist economic activity and its one constant was mass poverty. Why? Because it didn’t produce any of the benefits of scale or specialisation or investment. The return to the pre-capitalist world is just romantic nonsense touted by exhausted investment bankers who go on to live on the Scottish island with a load of money. So any romantic notions of return to the pre-capitalist order, we’d all starve to death.

Communism has reliably and consistently failed, dramatically so. That’s the menu. Then within the capitalist societies, there’s quite a wide range … But it can’t be left on autopilot. If you leave it on autopilot every now and then it derails big time. And in the last 250 years it derailed big time at least three times: first in the 1840s, then the 1930s, and now across the OECD since about 1980. And this third derailment is what my book’s about.

Active public policy put capitalism back on the rails after the health catastrophe of the 1840s. Active public policy put capitalism back on the rails after the disaster of mass unemployment in the 1930s depression. Active public policy hasn’t yet put our societies back on the rails from the derailment which started around 1980 around the OECD and has gotten progressively worse. Because it has been neglected, what we’ve had is mutinous social uprisings by the people that have been neglected. That’s Brexit. That’s Trump, the gilets jaunes in France, AFD in Germany, the five-star movement in Italy. These are uprisings. They don’t come with any forward-looking solutions. They’re just angry responses to divergence and neglect.

The actual derailment is no more difficult to fix this time than it was in the 1840s or the 1930s. It’s different. It’s a different form of social crisis. But perfectly fixable. We need to turn to what’s happened to politics and identity to understand why this time nothing has been done about it.

Societies save themselves or not at all , , , I think the idea of ‘we help them’ is hopefully pretty dead … External actors are big players who should not under any circumstances tell other societies what to do. We went through a period of development assistance with conditionality. That was bad enough. And now we are in a sort of moral imperialism where we’re telling other societies what their morality should be, which is always what the metropolitan well-educated youth in the richest countries happen to think this year. In my mind that’s a repulsive abuse of power.

Can ‘the West’ help in any way? Yes, primarily through business. What the poorest countries are desperately short of is proper firms. I don’t mean micro-enterprises. They’re very photogenic—two women sitting there knitting a basket. But proper firms that employ 50 to 5000 people and produce things benefiting from scale economies of specialisation and investment. Basic ingredients of development and the poorest countries are desperately short of them. Two-thirds of all Africa’s human capital is working effectively solo. No scale. No specialisation. That human capital is doomed to be unproductive. A lot of stuff follows from opportunities to earn a living that are productive. That are not just knit your own basket, grow some maize, and grow a bit of tobacco.

Just because people are poor doesn’t mean they’re stupid. And the amount of patronising nonsense that is poured into poor countries is sickening. They’re thrust into the role of being global victims and that is a debilitating categorisation.

p. 596Grace Akello

The final interview of this chapter is with Grace Akello, a medical anthropologist and an Associate Professor at Gulu University, Uganda. Gulu is the largest town in the parts of Uganda affected by the insurgencies against the government of President Museveni, which only abated in 2006. The region has enjoyed relative peace now for more than ten years, but thousands of South Sudanese refugees have fled the fighting in their newly established country across the border, and are now living in large refugee settlements. Here she reflects on development in the Ugandan context in light of these changes and ongoing challenges to development. Her most recent publications explore aspect of transitional justice and examine survivor resistance to the reintegration processes of amnestied LRA fighters (Akello et al. 2010; Akello 2019) and the legacy of the 2001 Ebola epidemic in northern Uganda (Park and Akello 2017).

I suppose the first thing to note is that my country is one of those where lots of Paul Collier’s ‘bottom billion’ live. To the extent we can believe official data, which have to be an estimate given the fact that most of those working and earning in Uganda are not formally employed, between 20 and 30 per cent of the population eke a living at less than the international extreme poverty line. That is despite the fact that World Bank data indicate the Ugandan economy grew at around 7 per cent per year in the 1990s and early 2000s, and growth still averages above 4 per cent. The high growth was linked to the degree of stability President Museveni’s government brought to parts of the country after seizing power in 1986. The country had been devastated by the misrule of Idi Amin in the 1970s, the invasion by Tanzania in 1979, and then by a terrible civil war. At the turn of the 1990s, those living in extreme poverty in Uganda were over 70 per cent of the population. So, there has been some improvement. Nevertheless, the fact is that most Ugandans remain poor, and very many, especially in the north, are very poor indeed.

In Gulu, where my university is located, peace was only established ten years ago, and now there are huge numbers of South Sudanese refugees. So, much of the past 30 years have been characterised by mass forced displacements and human rights abuses. Thousands of people, including children, have been recruited into armed groups. Until quite recently, most of the population were living in camps, also called protected villages and they were supported by humanitarian agencies. They had been there for a generation or more, and now have been effectively resettled to farms where many had never previously lived. Land conflicts are common. On top of all of this, there have been outbreaks of infectious diseases, including Ebola, and high rates of HIV/AIDS. There has, however, been some progress, especially since the fighting ended, and development has occurred over a longer term in other locations, and not only in the south west, where President Museveni comes from.

One aspect is the improved access to education. Uganda has been promoting access to formal education at all levels. That is a positive step, but these are strategies which are not as effective as they could be. Although the basic aim of promoting universal access to education is to ensure that people thereafter are employable, the end result has been improved enrolment, but with no direct translation into quality education, and people struggle to attain the end goal of being employed in the formal sector. There are also high drop-out rates due to inability to meet the hidden costs of universal free education, such as textbooks and parent-teacher association charges. The increased access to formal education also applies at tertiary institutions including universities. This is in spite of the fact that public universities have not improved student to teacher ratios. The infrastructure also remains the same.

To promote development through education, the government put more emphasis on science-based disciplines. Traditional scientists, it is argued will innovate and thereafter improve how things are done, including digitalising national systems. In this regard it has been made mandatory to take science subjects in all secondary schools regardless of whether facilities including laboratories and equipment for learning science subjects exist. Our own faculty has to constantly negotiate with officers from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education, about inability to obey demands pertaining to increased numbers of medical students to be admitted when facilities remain the same. Delivering a good education in such circumstances can be almost impossible, and many students drop out.

One innovation that may prove important is the introduction of digitalisation to many sectors and government systems including tax and revenue collection and management of public institutions in a bid to promote efficiency and modernisation. Also, perhaps the pressure of student numbers at schools and universities might be managed with more computer-based teaching. A new Ministry of Science and Innovation was specifically created in the last ten years to guide ways of development, increased employment, and improving government systems. This Ministry targets young people and sometimes supports them to innovate, conduct science fairs to exhibit ideas which can be replicated in a bid to solve our protracted problems including lack of clean water, poor harvests in the agricultural sector, drug-resistant pathogens, and emerging diseases.

The most current wave of development concerns improved infrastructure like roads, modernising the airport, and even building another airport where oil reserves have been discovered. Uganda partnered with China on this issue, and observable indicators include some roads like the expressway which enables commuters to and from Entebbe airport to the capital, Kampala, to travel uninterrupted. Within this infrastructural development framework, China constructed many roads linking rural districts to Kampala; many upcountry districts, including Gulu, now enjoy a fairly modern road network.

China promises to improve trade with Uganda after infrastructural development. And this to some extent is a window of hope for the country and its future plans of promoting development through trade and discovering markets for its largely agrarian economy in China. Already there has been a huge wave of small- and middle-scale traders who travel to China or have created links with China—largely through importing its affordable goods for the Ugandan consumer.

Creating markets for agricultural goods has been a thorny issue for Museveni’s government, which has frequently promised to modernise agricultural production, improve quality of farm products through processing, and linking Ugandan producers with other regional and international markets. Noticeably, Uganda and its neighbours produce similar agricultural products, and that promise to market its agricultural products has not been realised. Even when the state created modern market structures for small-scale agricultural producers in all districts, many sections are instead reserved for selling imports from China.

Thereby, while Uganda struggles to adapt with global, national, and regional demands and fitting particularly global/donor demands, in its national strategy it is currently observable that Uganda’s future plans for development align more with its linkages and partnership with China, other Asian countries, and, to some extent, Russia. It is difficult to tell what this shift in focus from being an American best ally and collaborator to being a friend to China and Russia will mean to Uganda in the next 30 years. If its new-found friends promise trade, markets for its products, and infrastructural development, perhaps the future of Uganda could be bright, and even enable its development to a middle-income status.

But generally, caution needs to be taken here since the future of Uganda is very much intertwined with good leadership. What we see, however, is an increased heavy-handedness of the state and corruption. Poor leadership, in my view, could interfere with strategies to reduce poverty and promote development in my country. For instance, attempts to promote self-employment among unemployed youths through providing them capital and funds to start up small-scale businesses have been mired by corruption. Many younger people’s investments also fail to thrive because of low demand for their services or goods produced. The most common products have been low-cost goods manufactured by young people, including crafts, and some invest their capital in agriculture. The lack of jobs is going to be compounded by the population growth, which has been among the highest in the world—the average number of children per woman was persistently above six until 2010 and has only recently begun to drop slightly. More than half our people are under the age of 18, who particularly do not connect with current development strategies offered by the state. I see reluctance in subscribing to an agriculture-based economy by young people who instead prefer digital aspects, formal employment, and are agitating for a regime change. That change will inevitably come soon. President Museveni has been in post for over 30 years. What will happen when he goes is both a focus of hope and concern. Whoever takes over will face huge expectations, most of which will not be met quickly.

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