For 5 days I was one of the 1,000s of people (worldwide) that took part in “Live Below the Line” where I could only eat and drink within a £1 (£1.50) budget each day. Why would I do such a thing I hear you ask?! Well, I have 1.4 Billions reasons to after all.

How do we measure poverty? How can we say that these people live in extreme poverty while those live in mild poverty? The internationally recognised measure for this is currently those who live on less than a £1 per day. This £1 not only includes food and drink, but everything else we spend our money on, so shelter, clothes, medication, transport etc. A lot of my friends mentioned that £1 in a developing country could go farther than in the UK, yes this is true, but £1 anywhere is not enough to live. The key word used is ‘live’, which in some parts of the world actually implies survival. 

What is the point in me, a westerner, living on £1 a day, what does it actually prove? This is a question I asked myself when considering the challenge and to be honest I didn’t have an answer till day 5. I hope that me doing this helps raise awareness of the 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty and to remind people that this is not a choice but a reality. Well, I hope I have achieved this. 

It is not impossible to live on £1 a day, but it is very difficult. There was no room for milk, no room for fruit and no room for meat. I did this challenge with a wonderful, caring and creative friend who inspired me to understand the importance of what we were doing. With her creativity and experience living in a developing country we were able to combine our culinary skills to create 4 pretty tasty dishes to last us the week and they did last and we completed the challenge, and no we did not die. 

I must admit however that it was not easy. Day 1 and 2 involved me struggling against the pressure of no caffeine, until I finally realised that tea would cost 0.01p and therefore allowed myself 1p worth for the whole week. Apart from this struggle with my caffeine addiction I was able to reduce my intake of food, which some of you know is pretty big for such a little person. 

What got me through? Remembering all those people for which £1 is a reality, not just a life experience for 5 days. Day 3 I was travelling to university when I remembered the film “In Search of Ghandi” where the image of the elderly man reduced to tears when he explained that all he wanted was to be able to provide his family with 2 meals a day. This is the image that got me through because he is someone just like us, but so different in so many ways. 

I live in the UK and I am so grateful for this privilege, people say what does politics do for me? Well it is politics that decides how much money we get and provides us with a place to live if it all goes terribly wrong and it is our health care system that will fix us when we break.

My final thought is something that came up on twitter about how ethical it is for super markets to sell products, like flour for 9p. This is something that caught my attention because I do wonder how supermarkets can afford such low prices for products that incur such large production costs. This is something I will have to get back to you on.

Thank you to my wonderful, caring and creative friend for without her I would not have done this. Also thank you to all those that sponsored me, the donations will go to the Global Poverty Project, and supported me.

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The final week of Development Politics shifted its attention toward the worlds rising powers and away from dominant western democratic politics. My seed of knowledge was able to fully bloom into a fully fledged sunflower after this class. We have been told since the beginning of this program to be critical, question everything and then when we get our answer to question it a little more, I didn’t quite understand this until after this class.

I don’t really understand what is happening in the word, I try but I do not succeed. I now realise this is because there is no way of any one of us actually knowing what happens, why or how to solve the problems. What is happening in North Africa and the Middle East? Who actually knows? The people of these countries probably have less of an idea than us. The best part of this is we are all in it together. We can theorise and debate and protest but we probably won’t ever come to the same conclusion, because we are all different. The west want to implement a no fly zone to stop Gaddafi from killing ‘his’ people, the east (everyone else) isn’t voicing an opinion, well not conclusively, who is right and who is wrong? Does it always have to be a right or wrong answer?

We were asked to pick a country or countries from the anchor states and look at their position regarding the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) goings on. I chose India and Turkey which both have opposing media coverage of the events. I quote from The Times of India In the letter, addressed to the “contact group” of nations meeting to map out a post-Gaddafi future for Libya, the strongman likened the NATO-led air strikes to military campaigns launched by Adolf Hitler during World War II.” I think this is a clear example of the difference between the Indian positions in terms of media coverage of the events in Libya, compared to headlines on Tuesday regarding Turkey assuming control of the Benghazi airport to assist with humanitarian aid. Another comparison of headline news – Turkey’s reporting on the MENA states are situated on the homepage whereas India’s is not. I am undecided as to who “to believe” because they are two sides of the same coin.

Another quote from The Times of India “It remains to be seen if the gamble pays off. The blistering aerial and sea-to-land assault initially mounted by Britain, France and the US quickly converted a “coalition of the willing” into a combine of the not-so-willing. The conclave excluded two permanent UN Security Council members, Russia and China, as well as ignored India. All three have been critical of the fierce use of force and the western powers taking sides in an internal conflict.” This highlights the divide between the emerged and the emerging powers, who are in control and who are not. The west is clearly the dominant force, in terms of economy and political power, however what happens when these BRICs start falling down on us (the west)? With their growing economies, population and already very large geographical size, all BRIC countries have the potential to out run the fat westerns with their youthful enthusiasm and wealth.

In terms of what I have read and what I am still reading, I find it difficult to conclude the mess made in the MENA states because of my anger towards the west for allowing the unlawful dictatorships to go on for so long. Yet, on the other hand, I am proud that the people have risen up to stand up on their own to make the change. Like most arguments, I am unable to decide because I feel there is always more to learn and there is always more that we just don’t know, especially when it comes to politics. It would be naive of us to fully support NATO and the UN but would be equally naive to turn our backs against them too. Currently in states such as Libya and Syria are taking the Tiananmen model rather than the Cairo example of dealing with the civil up rise with the attitude that repressions trumps reform. Assad and Gaddafi has taken the stand point that if the protest continue, then they will prefer civil war to compromise, if this is the case then at what point does the west intervene? Our government is accountable to its own people and therefore would have to answer to someone at some point.

While this week did not concentrate entirely on democracy, the movement in MENA does imply that there is a shift towards a more democratic system, whether this is an entirely western form of modernisation or a Chinese version of it, where reform and growth will be in the form of “non-western” ideologies, a version yet to take over a long history of western super powers.

It would be silly for me not to naturally progress to Martin Jacques theory of “When China Rules the World”, which in theory sounds convincing (due to my like toward controversial theories) but in reality I am unassured. I found myself comparing Tesco to China the other day, Tesco has been around for some time, we all knew about it but I don’t remember how it went from being a supermarket to a SUPERmarket, and there is my comparison. China has gone from a developing country to an emerging power within a short space of time, and as said in class, the level of economic growth is the first of its kind. Maybe the under valuing of the Yuan should be marketed as “every little helps” when exporting with China… did I just go a bit too far? One of the many differences in my comparison is that Tesco sells almost everything, whereas China is building the avenues to obtain the things it does not have, such as natural recourses from Africa and South America.

In an effort not to totally go off the subject of rising powers I will end my blog post here. I have very much enjoyed writing this posts and will probably continue on, provided something interesting happens in the world and I may have an opinion about it. Over and out.

The whole business with fragile states got me thinking about the world in which we live. I notice myself making more of an attempt to be positive, but the more I learn the more I realise that this is a difficult task. Out of curiosity I searched the net for images that changed the world and through this research I came across some of the most horrific images my sensitive eyes have ever seen. Most of these images are from fragile states or conflict zones; however there is a few that represent achievement and progress. I am fascinated by the power of photography and this appreciation has now extended so much further since seeing the pictures that changed the world. Like the saying goes “a picture has a thousand words”. I am positive about the world in which I live, a world where I am able to explore new things every day, I am in a valuable position because I can extend my knowledge further, so far in fact, that I can (hopefully) can be of some use one day. The hardest part when seeing these images, reading newspapers, seeing the news is the feeling of not being able to help, to be just another member of the audience. I want to highlight the fact that although some of these images are heartbreaking, they are also what connects us to the situation and what reminds us that we are useful, even if just as the audience, because changes can and sometimes do happen.

This week’s focus was on fragile states, with particular emphasis on “Democratic” Republic of Congo and Haiti. Again, as ever, there was the conversation about definitions and, as ever, there was the answer of “it depends”. So it depends on what is a failed state and what is a fragile state. I guess in this context, it is applicable and the idea of what is considered a fragile or failed state should be taken with gentle hands.

The Failed State Index was handed out to aid the seminar discussion. This index looks at 12 indicators that impact on the status of a failed state, hence the name… The indicators vary from different aspects of what a sovereign state should entail, so on the lines of economic, human rights, gap between rich and poor and threat from other states. I do think there is problem with including everything and this index does just that. The index rates each indicator in equal measures to provide a total and which then placed in a linear form to show that in 2010 Somalia had failed the most. The thoughts that came to my mind and discussed in my group were (a) can each indicator be weighed equally? (b) Is the methodology affective? (c) Is there a political interest for the US agency to publish these states as being particularly failed depending on their level of interest/ involvement in each country?

I understand that there is a limit to each question and its answers, but I do feel that we need to look at this index with an open mind and not take it as totally factual. I have not been to even 10% of these countries, so I cannot say whether their ranking is correct or not, but I can say that I am cautious, as I find the indicators too wide, especially the ‘human ‘rights’ indictor. I feel that uneven development, delegitimisation of state, public services and factionalised elites all fit into human rights and therefore this indicator leaves too much room for cob webs to grow due to the amount of empty space in the term human rights!

The failure of countries such as Haiti and DRC are great examples of where the state has simply failed in all its essential responsibilities, many other examples can be used – just have a look at the index! The media again has and is acting as a great method of telling us, non-Congolese and non-Haitians, what is happening in the world. The full extent of this failure will probably never be witnessed on our televisions or radios, but we have the power of information and the ability to engage in political debate on the further of both these countries, and the rest. I believe that we, people within intellectual institutions, have such a privilege of knowledge and the power of free speech to challenge those that have caused the failure and those who are trying to bandage it up.

On reflection of the reading Adam David Morton looks at “‘Failed States’ of International Relations” (2005) playing the importance of the policy making and the role of failed states in the postcolonial world, with deviancy, aberration and breakdown as the three concepts at the core of his paper. Two main arguments are drawn on in his analysis, (1) looking at the link between failure and terrorist vulnerability and (2) looking at postcolonial states from a historical, capitalist and the influence of uneven development.

Morton quote’s Hilary Benn’s statement in 2004, which highlighted the importance of strong states to the international community, particularly due to threats of terrorism and the threat of not achieving the Millennium Development Goals. I feel that this was a good method of engaging the international community to the importance of failing states so to ensure that they understand the impact they place on us, especially with the example of September 11th, because as I said before, self-centred goals are higher on the agenda. In terms of international intervention I cannot totally disagree with this method of the west prioritising those countries that improve our standard of living or security, but we should not forget about those countries that have nothing to offer.

Morton then looked at the process of capitalism and its influence on primitive accumulation as “war as a mode of political production”, using examples such as the RUF (Sierra Leone) rough diamond trade, Charles Taylor (Liberia) timber, rubber and rough diamonds. The use of natural resources has and is funding such political parties and rebel groups and therefore counteract towards uneven development through the need for accumulation and consumption. I find this use of analysis very compelling as the consumer society we (the west) live in does attract a glamorous life style of a life with no worries.  

After class an informal discussion between a small group of friends focused on the idea of ‘development and modernisation’ and the idea of the developing world wanting to consume just as the developed world, but without the Americanised connotation attached. I can relate to this argument from a personal perspective, my mother migrated to the UK in the mid 1950s and my father in the late 1970s, both with a similar outlook. That their children would benefit from the cultural influence from the east (family values, language, culinary skills etc) whilst enjoying the luxuries offered by the west (education, health care and stability etc). It did not occur to them that their children would actually become so westernised that they would only be identified as theirs simply through appearance. This is a dramatised version, as many second and third generation youth have deeply embedded eastern values, but I am yet to meet on that has not been teased by the western (maybe even Americanised) consumer culture, be it through designer labels or a vintage collection.

Back to the reading, I would like to write briefly about the article by Robert Jackson and Carl Rosberg (1982) which provides an interesting insight into “Why Africa’s Weak States Persist” I must admit I was taken aback with the first line “Black Africa’s forty-odd states are among the weakest in the world”. I guess because of my age and the fact that I am new to development I was surprised by the term “Black Africa”, never before have I come across this phrase. For me, this is an insight into the way of the world was during this time, and the politically incorrect term of Black Africa and the people of this part of the world. However, in terms of the content it is not much different from Morton’s 2005 article. Both articles look at the importance of statehood and refer to the same failed states – Sudan, Rwanda and Zaire (DRC), over twenty years on and the same states are being referred to as failed.

At least there has been development in terminology of sub-Saharan Africa and the developing world, as opposed to Black Africa and the Third world, one point to political correctness zero to a more stable world. 

A. D. Morton (2005) ‘The ‘Failed State’ of International Relations.’ New Political Economy. 10 (3) pp 371-9

R. Jackson & C. Rosberg (1982) ‘Why Africa’s Weak States Persist: The Empirica & Juridical in Statehood.’ World Politics. 35 (1) pp 9-15

First things first, what is Latin America? Where is Latin America? I was very pleased that the lecture began with the definition of where in the world we would be basing our lecture. There is often confusion as to what is Central America, South America and Latin America, so I will not try and solve this argument here. Latin American is considered to be the American’s term for South America, so basically anything below Canada, USA and Mexico.. I think.

The history of this part of the world provides a great account for authoritarian rule for the best part of 200 years in such countries as Mexico, Venezuela, Columbia, Chile and Argentina.  Another interesting historical aspect is of ‘landed elites’ who immigrated from Italy, Spain and Portugal to South America after the abolition of slavery. The Pacific acted as a bridge from Europe to South America and maybe the beginning of our ever shrinking world.

I have a very limited knowledge of South America, especially in terms of political engagement however the cultural aspects have always been of great interest to me, so looking at the political history and present democracy sheds a sad light onto the rulings of populist democracies that are ever present, with Venezuela as the prime example. Democracy by populist voting – and who said money can’t buy you everything!

The 2010 Democracy Index ranks 36.5% of countries as authoritarian regimes and only 12.3% as full democracies. I have been studying Development Politics for 8 weeks and already I am a cynic as the sad reality is that these statics do no shock me, however does trigger my continuous need to ensure that people in these regimes are given a voice without fear of prosecution. What was a surprise was the number of authoritarian regimes had increase from 51 in 2008 to 55 in 2010 and a decline in full democracies from only 30 in 2008 to 26 in 2010. The efforts of democracy promotion have failed and a part of this is due to a decline in freedom media, due to this, countries such as France and Italy are now considered flawed democracies and rightly so, in my opinion.

Thomas Carothers looks at the influence of “sequential democracy” which looks two components that act as prerequisites for democracy – rule of law and state building. The Sequencing Fallacy states that without these two components being well established democracy will not work, and if it does it will largely ineffective. Carothers begins by making an interesting assessment that “democratising states are in fact more conflict-prone than stable autocracies”. This point would suggest that a well established rule of law and state building needs to be in place before the process of voting in a government through a free and fair election. As ideal as he sequential argument is, it is not totally realistic. An autocratic regime is likely to be uninterested in establishing the two conditions as they would, by definition, be self serving and uninterested. Unless, as pointed out by Carothers, they are interested in the potential for economic development, but again it would rely on such an assumption. He later gives an example of East Asian economic growth, which points out that this can be achieved without major progress towards rule of law. My favourite quote from the article nicely puts in place a realist view of the process of democratisation “Pursuing a sequential path promises to rationalise and defang democratic changes by putting the potentially volatile, unpredictable actions of newly empowered masses and emergent elected leaders into a sturdy cage built of laws and institutions.” The second component looks at state building but unlike rule of law the process toward state building is not as rapid, so to ensure functioning capacity, especially after a collapsed or failed state. The emphasis of Sequential Fallacy is so that the two components are complementary and mutually reinforced.

In terms of current affairs this paper provides an interesting insight into the importance of people pushing for a democratically elected party with a “now it’s our turn” mind frame – such as in Tunisia and Egypt, hopefully the rest that have followed will achieve similar outcomes. The paradox in this argument points out in one hand the West’s is unable to control the unpredictability of the democratic process and on the other hand have the power to convince  the people not to part take in the desire to part take in politics. I feel that the West should not be wholly blamed or totally responsible for the conditions of autocratic regimes, by doing this the Gaddafi’s and Mubarak’s of the world get away with their crimes while the West gets all the blame and the responsibility.

I rushed off my delayed train to priorsfield with a little panic of missing the beginning of “In Search of Gandhi” However, my little legs got me to the class right on time and I was sat ready to learn about today’s influence of Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings. What a great man he was, yes he was a member of the elite, but would anyone have listened to an “untouchable” with the same views? I think not. Discussions of Gandhi’s background was mentioned in class, I feel that a member of the elite speaking up for the poor has a greater impact than the poor speak for the poor, because as I have learnt, unfortunately the poor have a very quiet voice.

My personal feelings towards India and Indian politics are somewhat difficult to explain. I was born and raised in England, however Punjabi is my first language and both my parents were born in Punjab, India. From personal identity, I am yet to place myself between my Indian heritage and my British identity. To complicate matters even further I am a Sikh, not baptised, but very knowledgeable about my religion and about our history, so when I hear that India is the “Biggest democracy” I can’t help but disagree. How can a government, who organised Operation Blue Star, an attack on Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple), killing over 500 people and 1,000s more after, be considered democratic? These are the actions of an authoritarian government, with Indira Gandhi as the dictator. Indira’s government is long over, but can the Congress Party be entitled to a democratic status when more than half the population live below the poverty line and other living a life of luxury and an ever enhancing space program? Amartya Sen compared the rich and poor, buy stating “Is that half of India is going to end up looking and living like California, the other half like sub-Saharan Africa”.

A colleague of mine mentioned the tensions between Sikhs and Hindus in India after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, which was used as an effective comparison of the tensions between Muslims and Hindus. However, religious conflict in India is a massive topic, one I do not wish to discuss here. My point is, politically I have personal connections with the Indian government and culturally too. I guess my appearance presents me as Indian but my personality has been shaped by Britain, I am lucky to have the best of both worlds, so maybe it doesn’t matter where I belong in terms of category or definition?

The film “In Search of Gandhi” provided a clear understanding of the teaching of Gandhi and his journey, along with an understanding of what Indians think of him today. The film outlined the political and economic issues facing the affluent and poor people of Gujarat. A scene that struck me the most was of an elderly man reduced to tears during a conversation about a super mall being built where his slum was located. A rough translation from memory was “all I require is two meals a day for my children”, two meals a day isn’t even basic living and that is all he requires. Social uprising is a great idea, but political empowerment is not what this man needs, he needs sustainable shelter and basic food security. It is the voice if the elite – both the policy maters and the voters that need to speak up and consider the poor. However, the economic growth theory suggests that the poor will be lifted out of poverty, let’s hope this happens before half the population has to survive on less than $2 a day…oh wait!

The final part of this blog will refer to the paper by Larry Diamond “Can the World Become Democratic? Democracy, Development and International Polices” (2003). Diamond began by providing an account of countries with Democratic and Authoritarian government, based on reports dated between 1974, 1990-2002. The paper takes a significant turn once these countries have been categorised in clear tables, to a stand point that highlights the issues/ problems for the potential for democracies to exist in countries with absolute poverty, illiteracy and a life expectancy is 44 years old. Yet again this is an issue of definition. Yes by definition most developing countries are democratic but how many countries account for human rights? Diamond refers to the Freedom House reports, which rate countries on their human rights and civil liberties, however many may not even be considered democracies and if they are may have authoritarian rule, such as his suggests of Venezuela. Diamond makes the statement that ‘democracy’ is a universal phenomenon and through its fad maybe only temporary or superficial. This brings about the question of the sustainability of democracy, which I would argue is a sustainable political structure, as we have seen in the west then in the east and now being represented in the Middle East and North Africa. However the definition is too broad, a multiparty voting system cannot be the only aspect of democratic principle that counts, surely?

The civil up rise in Egypt has become about, in my opinion, through the increase in social media avenues. Finally the Egyptian, Tunisians, Libyans and so on have realised their potential and the potential of their country, no longer will the young, strong and educated people be suppressed by an authoritarian regime, “they (the authoritarians) must know that the party is over”. This links to Diamonds comment that North Koreans are physically and intellectually isolated from the world today, so do not have a clue as to how the rest of the world lives. Once they find out, he believes the regime will crumble or else change rapidly. In 2003 Diamond reported that in the Middle East the only representation of a democracy was Lebanon, which is one out of sixteen, maybe he will report an increase of democratic states in 2013? Here’s to hope.

This Zimbabwean politics lecture couldn’t have come at better time, well for me anyways. The lecture began with the history of Zimbabwe, which set the stage to ensure that everyone was clued up with the process of how Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and how the British left Mugabe in power. The question we were asked this week was “Land reform ‘Mugabe style’ is it pro-poor politics?”

Mugabe came into power with the intention to serve the native people of Zimbabwe; I think his objective was more pro black than pro poor. There is nothing wrong with a man wanting to support the people of Zimbabwe, but there is definitely something wrong with (a) how the white farmers were pushed out and (b) the way he prioritised the people he knew. A man that gives unskilled people a piece of land to cultivate over a man, who knows how to cultivate it, is a man who did not look into the future. A Zimbabwean student highlighted the point that Zimbabwe was once the bread basket of Africa. If Mugabe style was pro-poor then he would have considered the needs of his people rather than of his elite.

When thinking about what Mugabe’s party ZANU-PF have done to Zimbabwe I cannot help but be bias. I would consider myself to be reasonable and fair, but how can I be this person when I hear what suffering he has caused the people of Zimbabwe. I cannot justify oppression, suffering and self centeredness from such a figure, an 87 year old man living in a country with a life expectancy of 37 reeks of all these characteristics.

Onto the reading, before I continue with my rant about the man I have been speaking about all week. Brain Raftopoulos “The Zimbabwe Crisis and the Challenges of the Left” caught my attention straight away when addressing the ZANU-PF as the Left, however stressing the point “in the Zimbabwe context” and can be referred to loosely. Raftopoulos mentions the party’s commitment to ‘Marxism-Leninism’ theory; however he concluded that this was an unimaginative rhetorical mechanism. I believe the dictatorship of Mugabe was not to allow the proletariat to rise above the ruling class, but actually to make them so powerless to enable him (the ruling class) to prosper beyond his means.  The paper concludes that the nationalism is channelled against the citizens and is often a shield suffocating embrace of murderous regimes. I think this is a great way to describe what ZANU-PF are doing in Zimbabwe and hopefully it is just a terrible mistake to have allow such a man to rule a country and this mistake, will overtime, be rectified.

At the beginning of this post I said that this lecture couldn’t have come at a better time, well this is because it gave me a case study for my presentation on resource curse in my ‘Transforming Developing into Sustainability’ module. The resource curse I looked at was Conflict Diamonds which has been widely research over the past decade, I was very pleased that I could combine my Zimbabwean politics lecture and reading with my presentation on conflict diamonds. A question I asked myself was, how can a country like Zimbabwe fund the ZANU-PF regime and how can Mugabe be so wealthy? Conflict Diamonds is a possible answer. A report from the head of the  Kimberley Process, Evan-Zohar stated this week that “Zimbabwe diamonds are not conflict diamonds; however apparently are in the hands of the wrong political system.” The Kimberley Process are responsible to ensuring that the rough diamond trade industry remains conflict free, however they have been criticised over the last year to have failed in this duty, due to the case of Mugabe’s Diamond trade. If a political regime continues to extract millions of dollars each month from the Marange field, which is the wealthiest diamond mine in the world, then there is no hope for such a regime to crumble especially when a UN supported institution isn’t able to shine light on its failures.

A final point which unfortunately does not end this post in a positive twist, is the idea of the Zimbabwean people rising up against Mugabe, like those in North Africa and the Middle East. This question was asked in class but with an answer that brought yet another Development Politics tear to my eye, “The ingredients for a mass uprising in Zimbabwe were there from 2003-2008, so if a revolution was to happen, it would have happened then.”