Which countries in Africa will get their act together?

November 7, 2017

That is the question. On a continent of 55 nation states, there is not going to be a ubiquitous economic revolution. The polities range from bonkers to transformative, and pro-growth NGOs and rich-country governments waste a ton of money trying to work on transformation with the uncommitted and the incapable; in those instances, donors should stick to mitigation. However there are leaders in transformation — Ethiopia and Rwanda stand out — and there are other countries that might get in the game. The following article, from The Herald in Zimbabwe, gives a snapshot of some of the issues (note that the paper does not claim that Zimbabwe itself is in any danger of making progress).

Africa is now primed for a Green Revolution

Aliko Dangote

ON the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, told investors: “Agriculture, agriculture, agriculture. Africa will become the food basket of the world.”

Prime weather conditions, acres of empty space and well-established agricultural sectors averaging 33 percent of GDP, all make Dangote’s statement more than plausible. Yet, Africa’s thought leaders and businessmen have been emphasising the importance of agriculture for quite some time, and to date, familiar problems remain.

According to a World Bank estimate, the African agriculture sector could be worth up to $1 trillion by 2030, but lack of technology, lack of investment and an ageing farmer population all put this figure and Dangote’s vision into question. Only in the past decade or so has the sector seen a sustained development effort, but more needs to be done.

Vision versus reality

Agriculture is positioned at the forefront of nearly every African government’s development plan. The received wisdom is that rapid economic development comes from developing smallholder farms, evidenced by Europe, North America and Asia’s historical development.

Africa has about 33 million farms of less than two hectares each, accounting for 80 percent of all farms. Rather than create large commercial farms, many believe that by increasing the yields of African smallholdings, and by ensuring manufacturing capability to improve and extend value chains, Africa can retain its agricultural wealth, reduce imports, and profit from a surplus of goods in the market.

Speaking at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2017 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Joe Studwell, author and journalist, said: “I put it to you that smallholder agriculture is not just important; if you want to transform your society quickly there is no other way to do it.”

In 2003 the African Union echoed this belief and adopted the Nepad Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which aimed to revive agriculture by addressing numerous issues as well as pledging that each African country should dedicate 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture.

Faced with substantial budgetary constraints, not all African countries have been able to allocate 10 percent, but progress has been made most recently by Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, who gave $200 million to coffee and cocoa farmers to meet the CAADP requirements and become a net exporter of food.

Other notable public endeavours include Ethiopia and Nigeria establishing an Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) to coordinate activities between government ministries across central and local governments, and Rwanda exceeding CAADP expectations by giving more than 10 percent of its budget.

However, policy often lags behind vision and commitment and many countries still have vastly underdeveloped sectors. Dr Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), said: “We are starting to see African governments beginning to get their act together but there is still work to do.”

Public-private partnerships fill gaps

At the top of the AGRF 2017 agenda was the importance of using public-private partnerships (PPP) to fill the space left over by government incapacity.

During a panel talk at the conference, Liberia’s outgoing president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, commended the cooperative model: “This forum comes at a time when Africa is more coordinated than ever, in its policies and strategies, and this synergy bodes well for the collaborative approach needed for a successful green revolution.” Many argue that if African governments can better present Africa as a viable emerging agricultural market, then foreign investment and technological know-how could greatly benefit smallholder farms.

Forums like the AGRF work well in bringing together various stakeholders in Africa’s agribusiness landscape, and some important deals were made. The Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA) was formed at the forum and includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and USAID. The partnership earmarked up to $280 million to increase incomes and improve the food security for smallholder households in 11 countries by 2021.

Maslaha Seeds Limited and Syngenta committed to a $1 million investment in increased rice and seed production, while BlackPace Africa Group committed to multimillion-dollar deals to develop potato processing in Nigeria and Rwanda, and Kenya’s Agricultural Finance Corporation settled on investing $2 million in lending to potato farmers – all of which illustrates the usefulness of the private sector in meeting demands.

Pressing concerns

Africa’s agricultural and agribusiness limitations are many and include both the way goods are grown and the way value is added. In a report released by the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience (CABI) at AGRF 2017, the fall armyworm – a large worm that spreads rapidly and destroys crops – has now infested 28 African countries. The worm feeds on more than 80 crops and can cut yields by up to 60 percent, raising a substantial threat to agricultural output. CABI estimates that the financial cost of the worm in just 10 of Africa’s maize-producing countries could be as high as $5,5 billion a year.

Although many farms are starting to use new technologies to counter environmental concerns, such as disease-resistant seed strains, environmentally friendly pesticides and improved irrigation, yields remain significantly under their potential. Finance is also a sizeable barrier to the upsizing of smallholder farms, as financial institutions rarely find agricultural projects bankable in Africa.

As Kalibata explains: “Banks are not in the business of losing money. It becomes about how viable smallholder farms are as entities that can hold and pay back money; that is what enables farmers to access finance.”

As an alternative to banks, more innovative methods of financing smallholdings are beginning to emerge, especially with the ubiquity of the smartphone and the greater connectivity of farms.

A young farmer at the conference said: “We need to find other channels of getting access to finance, we need to start working with other farmers to save money and borrow from other groups.”

Urbanisation and an ageing farmer population are also a concern, causing a quickly depleting workforce. The average age of Africa’s farmers, who account for two-thirds of employment, is 60 and the youth in many rural areas leave for urban centres at home or abroad.

“You need to stop talking about making agriculture sexy and cool to young people, what needs to happen is to actually make it a business and to focus on young people who are taking the choice of investing in the sector,” continued the farmer.

Finally, many raw commodities are being exported across the world and much of their potential value gets lost in the process. As the UK’s Lord Boateng said: “The global cocoa market is worth $100 billion, Africa gets 2 percent of that because we don’t process and manufacture chocolate products in Africa.” – New African magazine

Another reason to go in to academia

September 21, 2017

This is a wonderful story from today’s South China Morning Post. The only slightly annoying thing is that if they wanted unctuous propaganda masquerading as scholarly endeavour, why didn’t they come to me? I am not saying that I am cheap, but I am absolutely available. My PhD has cost me a fortune.

Have you tried singing ‘Oh, Xi Jinping’ to the sound of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’? It is mildly humouring.

……………………..

Chinese universities encourage professors, students to post online content that promotes ‘socialist values’

Content that influences public opinion with ‘correct thinking and culture’ given same weight as academic papers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 6:43pm

UPDATED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 7:00pm

 

China’s top universities are encouraging academics and students to write online articles promoting socialist values, with some offering authors the same academic credits they would get for papers published in journals.

The policy, which follows calls made by President Xi Jinping late last year for academics to become advocates of socialist values and firm supporters of Communist Party rule, has upset some people in the world of academia.

According to a notice issued this month by Zhejiang University, content that is widely circulated online, that shows “core socialist values” and influences public opinion with “correct thinking and culture” now carries the same weight as an academic paper – whether it is in the form of an essay, video or animation.

Content that is posted on the websites and social media platforms of party mouthpieces such as People’s Daily and Xinhua would receive the most credits, the notice said.

“Many professors object to it, saying they do not want to be used for politics,” a PhD student at the university told the South China Morning Post.

“No one is stupid here. The policy is aimed at getting the most intelligent people to say positive things about the country,” said the student, who asked not to be named.

The new scheme is being run by the university’s party committee, he said.

Zhejiang University, which is based in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, is not the only seat of learning offering incentives to those who toe the party line. Jilin University in northeastern China is also handing out credits to faculty members whose propaganda is published on state media websites and major commercial news portals.

Propagating the country’s achievements on “mainstream foreign media” also counted as an academic achievement, the university said.

A professor at Jilin, who also requested anonymity, said the new policy had yet to affect his teaching or research work.

“I’m holding onto my own academic standards,” he said. “I don’t know what will happen in the future. A good society should have voices of opposition.”

Shanghai Jiaotong University and the University of Electronic Science and Technology have launched similar schemes, while a number of other schools have promised to follow suit.

The online propaganda drive came soon after inspectors from the party’s discipline watchdog in June named 14 top colleges as being “too weak in their political work”. That announcement followed a nationwide programme of inspections.

Both Zhejiang and Jilin universities were accused of failing to implement a strong system for ideological work.

China is keen to boost the global rankings of its universities and attract the best talent from around the world, but critics have said its efforts were being undermined by too many controls on academics.

In recent years, Beijing has tightened its restraints on higher education, warning of the spread of “Western values” on campuses and sacking lecturers it accused of being critical of the party.

In a speech to universities and colleges in December, Xi said they must become the “strongholds of the party’s leadership”.

Ying Biao, Zhejiang University’s party propaganda chief, said the new scheme was a way to help achieve Xi’s goals.

“We want to … encourage all teachers and students to tell the China story well, to spread China’s voice and to produce more positive views and comments,” Ying told People’s Daily.

According to the Zhejiang PhD student, due to its distance from Beijing’s political centre, the university traditionally enjoyed more freedom than many others and attracted a higher number of liberal scholars as a result.

However, the new policy was likely to encourage young researchers to produce propaganda work rather than academic papers in their bid to get on, he said.

“At least the old people are still here, and they are hard to move,” he said. “But I don’t know how things will be in 10 or 20 years.”

 

 

TAP: proper crap

September 11, 2017

Air Portugal (TAP) may not be the absolute shittest airline on earth, but it tries hard.

On Monday last week I turned up at Heathrow for a flight to Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. The Gates’ and Rockefeller Foundations had very kindly bought me a Business Class ticket to go speak at the 2017 African Green Revolution Forum. I was sent the ticket details about a week earlier.

At check-in, however, the agent said that TAP had not completed the issue of the ticket because it wanted to do a ‘credit card check’. With which card had I paid?

I replied that like most people who travel in Business Class I had not bought my ticket myself. It was purchased for me by the travel secretariat of the AGRF, which I believed was based in Nairobi. If TAP wanted to do a credit card check, shouldn’t it have done one with the travel secretariat a week earlier when the ticket was ordered?

No answer. A phone call ensued between the check-in agent and the TAP office where someone was demanding this random check. I had thought there might have been a payment problem with the credit card, but the agent said this was not the case. TAP just wanted a random, at-the-airport credit card check with a Business Class passenger who had no idea which card had been used for the transaction.

After the call, the agent asked me if I was prepared to pay for the ticket on my card, since there was really no time to chase down the travel secretariat in Nairobi. Figuring that Gates and Rockefeller were good for the money, which was about £1,800, I said yes, because I didn’t want to miss the flight.

By now, however, 20 minutes had gone by and the computer system had automatically shut down the flight’s check-in. Increasingly frantic, the check-in agent started calling numbers of TAP back-office staff asking if they could take my payment over the phone and re-open the flight to allow my boarding pass to be issued.  There were long discussions and calls to other numbers. At half an hour before take-off, I figured I was not travelling.

Just then, however, the senior TAP manager in the airport sauntered past. The check-in agent explained the situation. The manager picked up the phone, called the TAP office, and instructed them to issue to the ticket, charged to the original card. Then he told the check-in agent to walk me through security to the gate. We set off 26 minutes before take-off and arrived about 15 minutes before take-off.

It was all very weird. And it was only the beginning of TAP’s plans to fuck up my week.

The plane was 25 minutes late getting to Lisbon. It was a connection of only about one hour, and security in Lisbon seemed horribly slow and incompetent, at least by the standards of Heathrow or Stansted. A rather nervous woman from TAP who didn’t quite seem to know what she was doing was delegated to round up seven ex-London passengers and get them on the flight to Abidjan. Once we boarded the plane, having seen the chaos in Lisbon airport we asked the crew explicitly whether the check-in bags were on the flight. They assured several of us that they were.

Given that the airport is not huge, and the ground staff had about 50 minutes to make the transfer, there was no reason to believe the bags had not been loaded. Heathrow had loaded my bags in 26 minutes.

The flight was interesting. It was on a Airbus A320, which has a maximum range of about 6,100km (I make no claim to precise figures here; I am going by a quick online search). Lisbon to Abidjan is 6,000km. In other words, TAP was using a short-haul aircraft at the limit of its range.

The result was that, with a Business Class ticket, what one actually got was a Premium Economy seat. There was no greater seat width than an Economy passenger, just a bit more leg room and perhaps a few more inches of recline. The Irish gentleman next to me agreed that this is a business model that Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, would have a wet dream over.

Only two people served the Business section. They closed a curtain after take-off, and took what seemed to me the longest time I have ever experienced to get a meal ready. There was no drink for Business either before take-off, or immediately after. One person serving Business knew what she was doing; the other was clueless and appeared to be being trained on the job (another innovation for O’Leary). All these facets were exactly the same on the way back.

We arrived at Abidjan at about 1030pm. We watched as the baggage carousel rotated for about 90 minutes. No luggage appeared for the London passengers.

After five hours, TAP in Lisbon must have known that the baggage had not been loaded. TAP, as I later confirmed, has an office at Abidjan airport. But no one appeared to inform or help their luggage-less customers.

Instead, we had to register our missing bags (French language only, which was difficult for some passengers) with the general airport lost luggage office. We then took our chances with some pretty aggressive taxi drivers at about 1230am, arriving at the hotel just after 1am.

I arrived at the hotel with the following clothing resources: T-shirt bearing image of large pineapple; expensive jacket; brown corduroy trousers; sweaty boxer shorts; smelly socks; Danish boating shoes. I also had a green jumper in my backpack, but could not think how to make use of it in the tropics. Luckily, I knew the boss of one of the Lost Luggage Seven, and this person lent me a shirt for the start of the conference at 0745.

The conference, probably the key development event of the year for Africa, was full-on, but in the course of the day I managed to a) skip out to a French department store and buy pants, socks, trousers and a shirt for dinner with the vice president and b) track down a number and email address for the TAP office in Abidjan.

In the course of that day, no one from TAP attempted to contact the passengers.

A lady in the TAP office emailed eventually after I called her to say that they had located the luggage and it would not arrive until Wednesday, as there was no flight Tuesday. So would they bring it to the Sofitel, where we all were, I asked? No, she wrote, we would have to go to the airport and get it ourselves at 1030pm on Wednesday using our own transport.

I was the only person in the group who had managed to track down the TAP office, so at least I was able to tell three others whom I had contacts for what was going on. At no point, the whole week, did TAP contact anyone. Even though they could have done so via the original bookings, or via the email and phone numbers we left with the airport Lost Luggage office. They did not give a fuck.

I emailed TAP to ask if I would be compensated for the £150 I had spent on clothes and toiletries. The reply was vague, saying only that I should come to the TAP office. I checked Google Maps. It was half an hour away across town. I would not have time to go there before Friday, and then only if I was lucky.

On Wednesday we went to the airport, waited around for 90 minutes, and eventually got the bags. By a somewhat crafty manoeuvre I managed to recover not only my two bags but also that of the guy who lent me the shirt, who had essential work stuff to do that evening.

I had asked TAP if they would send someone from their office to assist us at the airport that evening and they indicated not. They were as good as their word. We saw no one from TAP all night.

At 4pm on Friday I got my first free hour of the working week and decided to go to the TAP office, if only to complete my anthropological and ethnographic research. The email about reimbursement said that I needed to bring my passport to the office, nothing else.

At the office, about 10 minutes in to a conversation with the woman who had been emailing me, she clarified that the most TAP were going to give me was US$100. In our correspondence, she had consistently refused to address whether I would be repaid the purchases of clothes for which I have no general use. Adding in the US$20 I was paying the hotel for a car that brought be to the TAP office, (because I couldn’t face doing this is an Abidjan taxi after working a 60-hour week), plus the Abidjan taxis that I had taken to do the clothes shopping earlier, I was now out US$200. Plus the AGRF had paid at least US$50 to provide a hotel car to take me to the airport to collect the luggage because it was so embarrassed by TAP’s behaviour (for which, of course, the AGRF has zero responsibility).

In order to get the US$100, the lady asked if I had the lost baggage receipt from the airport. Of course not, I said, because they take it from you when you get your bags back.

The lady said I should have taken a photograph of the receipt with my phone’s camera before handing it over. I agreed that I am an utter moron. However, since I had a copy of the TAP email correspondence with me, the lady had to concede that she had never stated that I should have or bring a copy of the lost luggage receipt.

The lady started to talk with her colleague, who assumed that I did not speak French. I don’t speak great French, but I had mainly chosen not to speak French in the TAP office because I wasn’t clear why I should do anything helpful to a firm that is so contemptuous of its customers. The woman who only spoke French appeared to be the senior person in the office. She made a call to someone apparently more senior than her. She noted that I was a Business Class passenger and referred to me as ‘impatient’.

I smiled. The French-speaking lady said to the English-speaking lady to get a photocopy of my passport. The photocopier was less than two metres from the French-speaking lady, but she did not make the copy herself. Instead, she called the office boy to make the photocopy.

At length, they gave me the US$100.

I had one last question: of the seven people from London whose bags were lost for two days, how many had come to the TAP office to claim US$100? The two ladies conceded that no other passengers had come.

Like me, other passengers would have had to find the TAP office by searching, get the correct phone number after discovering the one given online is wrong, work with a driver to locate the office (the address alone is not enough because the office is inside a small shopping arcade, while no directions are given online), and then found time during the working week to get to the office.

As I drove back to the hotel to get a beer after a very long week, I wanted to reach a reasoned conclusion about TAP, Air Portugal.

My conclusion was that the business is run by Mother. Fuckers.

Still, the key thing is that you can always find a positive. Check-in was a shambles; actually, it was worse. The Business Class seat was not a Business Class seat and hence a total rip-off. The service was slow and half the TAP employees did not know what they were doing. Lisbon airport security was pure Third World. Baggage handling was Third World. The loss of luggage for two days when they could have re-routed it faster if they wanted is off the spectrum for abuse of clients. And our treatment in Abidjan was frankly inhuman.

On the other hand, I did like the tin that the socks, ear plugs and eye mask came in. It is both original and recyclable.

TAP tin 2017

More

In case you have never seen it, here is SNL’s Total Bastard Airlines sketch. I guess that European airlines, TAP (and Alitalia) excepted, are more civilised than American ones, so we have no European equivalent.

I will be saying Bub Aye to PAL. Perhaps you should too.

 

 

 

 

 

China: GDP-per-capita US$8,123

July 6, 2017

Liu Xiaobo & wife 0717

 

Later, following the death of Liu Xiaobo:

James Palmer in Foreign Policy with a thoughtful overview.

Jerome Cohen on the legal aspects of the Chinese Communist Party’s abuse of Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia, and its impressive hypocrisy.

Novelist Ma Jian writes about Liu Xiaobo on Project Syndicate.

Which part of this will end well?

November 20, 2016

trump-abe-trump-tower-1116little-trumps-and-abe-trump-tower-1116

I can understand why Trump was elected, just like I can understand why Dirty Duterte was elected. But other than a salutary lesson for metropolitan liberals in both the United States and the Philippines, I’d like to feel that the punishment has some limits.

These photographs of Abe’s visit to Trump Tower suggest that the punishment will involve a minimum of a thousand cuts. Ouch one.

Philippines back on track?

May 10, 2016

 

It is pretty much clear that Dirty Harry Duterte has won the Philippines’ presidential election.

Thank goodness. Six years of Noynoy, with relatively clean government and improved growth threatened the Philippines’ status as the most dysfunctional polity in mainstream east Asia. The Thais were catching up. Fast.

Dirty Harry has the chance to put his country back on its pedestal by returning to the basics of machismo, nepotism, greed and ignorance. I’m not absolutely certain he will seize the chance because, like Donald Trump, he expresses contradictory positions on almost every issue. Which is more important to Duterte: LGBT rights or rape? He’s expressed support for the first and condoned the second. I guess that only time will tell.

Do we blame the poverty of Filipinos for this presidential choice? Or the poverty of choice of candidates? My personal grudge is against Noynoy, for endorsing Mar Roxas, from one of the great robber baron political dynasties, as his successor. Roxas stood aside in 2010 to give Noynoy a clear run, so it seems that Noynoy decided he had to return the favour. It may yet be 100 million Filipinos who pay the price for this bit of political business as usual.

 

Dirty Duterte / Donald Trump quiz:

The Guardian today offers the following quotations. Which ones are from Duterte, and which are from Trump? Answers at the end.

On crime and punishment:

On crime and punishment

A: “Forget the laws on human rights… You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because I’d kill you.”

B: “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

On sex and other things

A: “I was separated from my wife. I’m not impotent. What am I supposed to do? Let this hang forever? When I take Viagra, it stands up.”

B: “My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”

On modesty

A: “I do not have brilliance, wit or smartness. What I have is common sense. It is what our country needs!”

B: “My IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure; it’s not your fault.”

On negotiation

A: “Do not fuck with my team.”

B: “Sometimes you need conflict in order to come up with a solution. Through weakness, oftentimes, you can’t make the right sort of settlement, so I’m aggressive, but I also get things done, and in the end, everybody likes me.”

On the political system

A: “The trouble with us in government is that we talk too much, we act too slow, and do too little.”

B: “One of they key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace. Good people don’t go into government.”

On the future

A: “We, the People, recognise that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defence.”

B: “We need to steer clear of this poverty of ambition, where people want to drive fancy cars and wear nice clothes and live in nice apartments but don’t want to work hard to accomplish these things. Everyone should try to realise their full potential.”

Answers: All As are Rodrigo Duterte and all Bs are Donald Trump. EXCEPT the last one – both are Barack Obama.

 

More:

Here is the first of three articles in the Huffington Post on the background to the Philippine elections. The first article links to the other two.

Choose your poison – but not Italian poison

April 30, 2016

Good news for the Eurozone in data released today. The area grew 0.6 percent in the first quarter, faster than either the US or UK, and finally surpassed the level of GDP achieved before the global financial crisis (the US and UK did this 2-3 years ago).

Perhaps the most striking performance came from France, whose national data show quarterly year-on-year growth of 0.5 percent. This made me think. France may have sclerotic labour laws and a self-serving bureaucratic elite. But it is still a relatively grown-up country. France’s productivity record is way better than the UK’s. Its people at least live on the same planet as the Utopian economic dream by which they live. Unemployment remains grotesquely high, but growth has returned and Hollande can hold his head higher as he drives around Paris on his union-built scooter.

In Spain, too, growth has returned, despite even more grotesque unemployment following the country’s presumably acid-induced foray into the Anglo-Saxon never-never land of post-industrial, debt-fuelled, realestate driven, marginalist economic voodoo.

In sensible Germany, of course, with its revised labour laws, continued commitment to equitable growth, and its serious leader, life inevitably goes on in the sort of steady-state fashion that Anglo-Saxon economists fantasise about. Largely, I suppose, because they don’t have any Anglo-Saxon economists.

One can quite reasonably choose between any of these poisons. However, one poison is to be avoided. The Italian one. Not Anglo-Saxon-Spanish. Not Utopian French. Not sensible German. Instead, directionless decay. This, I suspect, is the price to be paid for not believing in principles. Or indeed, anything.

Here are current GDP levels of the different countries rebased to 100 in  Q1 of 2008.

United States: 111

United Kingdom: 107

Germany: 106

France: 103

Spain: 97

Italy: 92

 

The system that dare not speak its name

April 20, 2016

This is a very thoughtful little essay from Yu Keping, dean of the school of government at Beida. It is hard to see how the Chinese government’s praxis could be out of line with such clear thinking. And yet it is. ‘Democracy’ remains one of hundreds of terms that you cannot search for on the Chinese Internet.

The original article is posted here, on the site of The Conversation.

 

Crossing the river by feeling the stones: democracy’s advance in China

April 15, 2016 1.31am BST

Author

  1. Yu Keping

Chair of Politics, Professor and Dean at the School of Government, Peking University

The Conversation is funded by the following universities:Aberdeen, Anglia Ruskin, Bangor, Bath, Bath Spa, Birmingham, Bradford, Brighton, Bristol, Brunel, Cambridge, Cardiff, Cardiff Metropolitan, Central Lancashire, City, Coventry, Durham, Edge Hill, Edinburgh Napier, Essex, Exeter, Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian, Goldsmiths, Heriot-Watt, Hertfordshire, Huddersfield, Hull, Kent, King’s College, Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Loughborough, LSE, Manchester Metropolitan, Newcastle, Northumbria, Nottingham, Nottingham Trent, The Open University, Oxford, Queen Mary University of London, Queen’s University Belfast, Royal Holloway, Salford, Sheffield, Southampton, Stirling, St Andrews, Surrey, Sussex, UCL, Warwick, Westminster and York.

It also receives funding from:Hefce, Hefcw, SAGE, SFC, RCUK, The Nuffield Foundation, The Ogden Trust, The Royal Society, The Wellcome Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, The Alliance for Useful Evidence and Lloyd’s Register Foundation.

 

Renowned as one of China’s leading political thinkers, Yu Keping from Peking University featured in this year’s Encounter hosted by the Sydney Democracy Network (SDN) at the University of Sydney on April 12. His article is a contribution to the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with SDN. The series aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.

To say “democracy is a good thing” means that democracy can benefit the people. Yet if democracy is to benefit the people, a precondition is that social order must be maintained and hardship shouldn’t burden them. If democracy causes unrest, the people will lose hope, corruption will go unchecked. Under these circumstances, who would still wish for democracy?

Those who are against democracy often use this possibility to frighten their audience. The truth is that there is much evidence to show that the advancement of democracy will not necessarily produce disorder. Just the opposite: over the long term, it is only democracy and the rule of law that will provide for the long-lasting peaceful rule of the nation.

Direction

The China dream is about supporting the great revival of the Chinese nation. This revival includes many things, but a high level of democracy and the rule of law are an indispensable part of the vision.

The movement towards democracy everywhere is a political trend that cannot be reversed. China is no exception. Sun Yat-sen once said:

Worldwide trends are powerful. Going with them will bring success, going against them will bring disaster.

The main global trend he referred to was nations becoming independent, countries growing wealthy and strong, and their people wanting democracy. Today, when we speak of political civilisation, we mainly refer to democracy and the rule of law.

Democracy is the lifeblood of our republic. The central meaning of “The People’s Republic of China” is that the people are the masters and make the key decisions. The 16th Party Congress emphasised that intra-party democracy is the lifeblood of the party; the 17th Party Congressemphasised that the people’s democracy is the lifeblood of socialism. It is no longer a matter of whether or not one likes democracy: democracy is a trend that cannot be blocked.

The political development of socialism with Chinese characteristics is in fact the organic unification of three things:

… the leadership of the party, the role of the people as masters and decision makers; and the ruling of the nation in accordance with the law.

The sovereign people are at the heart of these three components. The goal is to enable “the people to be the masters”. In the final analysis, the “leadership of the party” and “the rule of law” serve to ensure that the people are the masters.

The 18th Party Congress emphasised the same point: the people must indeed remain the masters. The continual advancement of democracy and the rule of law is the historical responsibility of those in the Communist Party. This is our correct direction.

Timing

The delay of political democratic reforms in China will breed a host of problems. If there are no breakthroughs in the reform of key policy areas, then illegal corruption may turn into legitimised special privileges.

The achievement of democracy depends on real-world conditions. It needs to be linked to economic and cultural realities and the actual foundations of society. As we discovered when “running towards communism”, rushing ourselves will not work; it will bring disastrous consequences.

But moving too slowly in matters of democratic political reform will also not work; the problem of corruption that we hate to the bone won’t be solved. The fact that corruption, until this day, hasn’t been effectively controlled is linked directly to the slow pace of reforms, as are such dilemmas as publishing the property holdings of officials and dealing with declining public trust in government.

Identifying the proper timing of political reforms is the responsibility of politicians, who need to have great wisdom and be willing to take action. Of these qualities, willingness to take action and a sense of responsibility are most important.

Handing over a weighty responsibility: Hu Jintao congratulates his newly elected successor as president, Xi Jinping, in 2013. Reuters/China Daily

Route

To deal with its problems, China, as a great power, must draw up a clear roadmap for political reforms.

I have always believed there are three routes from which to choose: the first is a transition from intra-party democracy to social democracy. The 16th, 17th and 18th Party Congresses have consistently emphasised this point. Democratic development needs to choose a pathway that is most efficient and exacts the lowest toll.

The second pathway is a transfer from grassroots democracy to upper-level democracy. Grassroots democracy is directly aimed at the common people, to bring them direct benefits.

In political life, the ideal situation is that the people trust all levels of government. In reality, China is the exact opposite of America: American citizens have a very low level of trust in the federal government.

We (in China) have high levels of trust in the central government, but our trust in base-level government tends to be lower. “If the base level is not solid, the ground will shake and the mountains will sway.” We need to pay attention to this possibility.

The third pathway involves a shift towards greater political competition. Democracy requires competition: without competition, how are we to elect the most outstanding individuals?

Our democracy will naturally be one with Chinese characteristics. But democracy cannot be separated from elections and competition. Consultative democracy is very important, but consultation should not exclude elections.

Methods

Democratic development in China requires achieving a balance among six policy areas:

1 We want democracy and we also want the rule of law. Democracy and the rule of law are two sides of the same coin. Any politician who speaks of democracy cannot avoid discussing the rule of law, looking to the experience of the West, or to the experience of our nation, China.

2 We want deliberation and we also want elections. Chinese democracy, to a great degree, is in fact deliberative in nature; deliberation is part of our historical traditions. Elections, on the other hand, are the product of the modern world. Democracy is naturally inseparable from elections: the two need to be combined.

3) We want freedom and we want equality. These are basic values of democratic governance. In the past, we have over-emphasised equality. Since the reforms began, freedom has been emphasised, to the point where equality and liberty are in great tension.

4) We want efficiency and we want justice. These are two indispensable basic values. In the early stages of the reforms, the issue of efficiency was more salient, but now the issue of justice becomes central.

5) We want participation and we want order. Political scientist Samuel Huntington once said that the greatest challenge for political modernisation is to manage the relationship between public participation and political stability. As the interests of different social groups become more diverse, the desire of citizens for participation becomes more intense by the day. We need more open channels for political participation. Without legal channels, citizens will certainly resort to irregular, or even illegal channels, and social unrest will result. Democratic participation then becomes problematic.

6) We want a balance between individual rights and public rights. Rights belong to the individual, and the legal rights of citizens are guaranteed by the constitution. But we also need public rights, because our nation and society are a community.

The impacts of Chinese economic reform can be seen in Shenzhen. flickr/Blake ThornberryCC BY-NC-ND

Strategy

China is facing many reform challenges, and we need to get a firm grip on the most important of them. We must discover those breakthrough reform points that enable us to “move the entire body by pulling one strand of hair”. The restraint of power through intra-party democracy is among these most important breakthrough points.

There needs to be better overall planning; put in terms of mainstream political thinking, “scientific development” is needed. This means that economic development needs to be combined with political development, social development and cultural development. There need to be upper-level designs and reasonable plans based on facts.

What is also needed is an institution responsible for co-ordinating different interests, especially at the level of the central government. Governmental reform should be matched with Party reform.

There also needs to be continuous testing and expansion of reforms, so that we “cross the river by feeling the stones”. Many reforms that have been effective have suffered from discontinuity. The problem is that when politicians leave office their policies often lapse, or are not institutionalised.

To overcome this weakness, efforts need to be made to achieve advances in areas of greater strategic importance. We speak much about supervision, but too little about restraints. We speak even less of restraints on leaders at all levels of the Party.

Everyone fears that advancing democracy will cause a loss of order and will bring social unrest. Everyone meanwhile hopes that by strengthening democracy we can maintain social stability.

However, as I see it, it is only through the deepening of reforms of our political system, and through the genuine advancement of democracy and the rule of law, that we will be able to provide for the long-lasting peaceful rule of our nation, enabling democracy to benefit the people.

 

The love that dare not speak its name

April 20, 2016

No, not that kind.

A new kind of what the Chinese government calls ‘dangerous love’ (危险的爱情).

Last week we had China’s first National Security Education Day. It turns out that the nemesis of 19th-century Asia – the red-headed foreigner – is once again stalking the land, seducing Chinese women and convincing them to reveal Chinese state secrets. This unconscionable sexual espionage must be stopped.

Here is the Chinese poster campaign, with English translation. I hope that readers of this blog will not show ‘a very shallow understanding of secrecy’. If you know any red-heads, out them now.

 

 

One of the very worst?

April 19, 2016

I am loath to post the following article from today’s Guardian because it concerns a woman who is subject to sexist abuse. However I cannot help feeling that Marissa Mayer’s compensation at Yahoo for doing zero (okay, less than zero) for shareholders is one of the most egregious cases of rewarding failure that we have seen. She had nothing to do with the investment in Alibaba 10 years ago that is the only reason that the share price has recovered somewhat of late. The money she personally will have stripped out of the business by the time it is sold is grotesque. And the only people who should be more ashamed than her are the board members who let her do it.

From The Guardian:

What’s the price of failure? For Yahoo’s boss Marissa Mayer it could be about $137m. Bids are now in for the ailing tech company – and no matter who gets it, Mayer is set to be one of the biggest winners.

Mayer has taken home $78m since she was installed as CEO in 2012, according to stock analytics firm MCSI; if she’s dismissed from the company after a buyout she’s set for another $59m, based on the terms of the company’s most recent proxy statement.

Mayer’s performance pay and vested options peaked in 2014 at $48m (double the previous year’s salary). Yahoo has yet to finalise this year’s pay package so the final figure is yet to be determined, but few are expecting her to take home just her base salary, in excess of $2m.

Despite the company’s fundamental problems – it has lost the ad wars to Google and Facebook and bet billions on new businesses that have failed to take off – Yahoo’s share price is still in better shape than it was when she started. The rally in the stock price is entirely due to its holding in Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce company.

Shares are close to their mid-2014 levels, in fact, and that probably means Mayer is owed further cash.

Mayer has benefitted from a low “strike price” for her stock options. In 2014 it was $18.87 – and the day those options were granted, 27 February 2014, shares were worth more than twice that.

On Monday, Yahoo’s share price closed at $36.52. History suggests that Mayer will be entitled to buy those shares at a price far lower than that. Although her strike price for 2015 has yet to be released, it is expected later this month. Given that there are bids open for Yahoo’s core assets, however, experts say that filing may be delayed.

While nothing is cut and dried yet, the smallest amount Mayer could make at the company is about $80m if she receives absolutely no more of her long-term incentives.

“Until the new proxy is out it isn’t really possible to say how much Mayer will ultimately end up making, or to what extent she will be entitled to any additional severance amounts,” said MCSI’s Ric Marshall.

Marshall is MCSI’s executive director of environmental, social and governance research at the firm and he says much of the eventual compensation depends upon the decisions of the board: “What you can’t say is how the committee will evaluate the performance and what percentage of the original target they will deem as having been met,” Marshall said.

Investors see the board as unduly supportive of Mayer. One group, Starboard Value, asked that the entire body be replaced with members of its own choosing.

There is reason for shareholders to worry: Starboard thinks that the net value of the “Yahoo stub”, that is to say, Yahoo without its stake in Alibaba, is worthless. With the amount of money a purchasing company would have to pay Mayer to leave in the event of a change in ownership – $59.3m in numbers adjusted for share price from the company’s most recent proxy filing – Yahoo’s value by Starboard’s reckoning would be negative.

“The firm buying her knows all about this,” said Alan Johnson of compensation consulting firm Johnson Associates. “They’re not going to pay for it. That’s coming out of the hide of Yahoo’s shareholders – everybody’s got that in their spreadsheets. They look at this as another sunk cost, like a bad lease.”

In a word, Starboard is afraid shareholders may end up having to pay someone to haul Yahoo away.

Marshall told the Guardian he’s seen that happen in the past. “It has been proven more expensive to sell a company because of the change in control than it is to just bankrupt it.” He hopes it won’t be the case at Yahoo, he said.

 


%d bloggers like this: