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This is the first of three blog posts looking at the implications of complexity theory for development. These posts draw on a new online lecture by Owen Barder, based on his Kapuscinski Lecture in May 2012 which was sponsored by UNDP and the EU. In this post, Barder explains how complexity science, which is belatedly getting more attention from mainstream economists, gives a new perspective to the meaning of ‘development’.
Last month, two major international conferences were convened – the G-20 in Los Cabos on food security and sustainable development and the Rio +20 conference on the environment and more. Lawrence MacDonald contrasted the two meetings in his blog, pointing out that in both cases “much of the action is on the sidelines.” And he’s right.
The recent coups in the Maldives and Mali against democratically elected leaders, and the continuing political struggles in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya following the Arab Spring, are potent reminders that democracy is a fragile institution. In fact, of the 120 attempts at democratization that have occurred around the world since 1960, nearly half have been reversed at some point. The reasons for democratic failure, however, are surprising.
A colleague recently returned from Senegal and commented that she was struck by the vast gap between that country’s youthful population and its aged leader. President Abdoulaye Wade is 85 years old while the median Senegalese citizen is just 18.7 years old. Perhaps that 66-year gap is one reason that Wade, who recently jammed through a change that allows him to run for a third term while disqualifying popular musician Youssou N’Dour, seems so out of touch.
Two years ago, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, plunging an already poor and unstable country into complete and utter chaos. In the days and weeks that followed, international responses and donations were overwhelming. Yet almost all of the assistance provided to Haiti has bypassed its government, leaving it even less capable than before. Humanitarian agencies, NGOs, private contractors, and other non-state service providers have received 99 percent of relief aid—less than 1 percent of aid in the immediate aftermath of the quake went to public institutions or to the government. And only 23 percent of the longer-term recovery funding was channeled through the Haitian government. Figure 1 shows the breakdown of relief aid from all donors to Haiti, by recipient.