War & Conflict

A Face of Internal Displacement in Colombia

Paula FynbohBy Paula Fynboh

There’s a cemetery near Montgomery, Minnesota (USA) where my parents will be buried.  It’s the same cemetery where my grandparents were buried.  And it is the same place where my great-grandparents found their final resting place.  What does this have to do with displacement?  It offers me a physical connection to my roots, something many internally displaced people in many countries do not have.

I recently sat down with Maria Isabelle, one of the participants of the Bogota Wage Subsidy Project (BWSP), to hear her story.  The BWSP is a start-up organization working with women displaced by conflict in Colombia to build personal equity and transition from informal to formal employment. Read More »

Guest Roast: Why all borders are man-made: A response to DevRoast

In historical narratives encouraged by nation states and internalized by most of us, borders often take a natural character, enforcing the nation state as a ‘natural’ and ‘inevitable’ fact. However, these narratives obscure the fact that it is the state itself that drives the process of creating, defining and consolidating borders and their adjacent areas. This article explains how and why, using examples from Europe and Latin America. 

On March 28, Tracey Li wrote on the origin of borders here on the Development Roast. While the piece is both well-researched and well-written, it fails to elaborate on the centrality of states in driving the process that creates and defines national borders. Instead, agency is implicitly attributed to the (‘natural’) borders themselves: “the existence of natural borders in Europe and their absence in Africa is what makes the difference between multi-ethnic polities and ethnically homogenous ones.”

The Pyrenees between France and Spain is held up as an example of such a natural border that discourages migration and more or less naturally creates two national communities. This is incorrect: migration across the Pyrenees and around the region was common for centuries before the national border was determined. The evidence of this is clear: the Occitan language spoken in the south of France and Catalan spoken on the “Spanish side” of the mountains are closer to each other than either is to French or Spanish (or Castellano, as the Catalans call it) respectively. Read More »

Guest Roast: Good Governance and Development – Which causes which?

By Edvin Arnby Machata

The international development community has for almost two decades focused on improving governance as a strategic priority for aiding economic growth. This article points to the historical record and argues that 1) growth does not require good governance, 2) good governance and representative institutions are products of economic development – not the other way around, and that 3) the configuration of national institutions determine whether a political order will produce developmental outcomes or not.

‘Good governance’ has been a mainstay component in most donor-funded development programmes during the last two decades. What exactly constitutes good governance is empirically problematic, but while implementations vary, demands for good governance generally include provisions to minimize graft and increase respect for human rights.

Read More »

Borders: Where do they come from and what do they mean?

Around 10,000 years ago, the only borders known to human beings were natural borders such as mountains, forests, or bodies of water that separated one area of land from another. Humans were hunter-gatherers at that time, meaning that all food was obtained by foraging for plants and hunting wild animals. Given the relatively small number of people and large availability of resources, there was little need to ‘claim’ and fight over territory. People still fought, but not for resources – it is speculated that it may instead have been for cultural or psychological reasons such as the need to demonstrate one’s dominance (Gat, 2000).

However, since the rise of agriculture and modern civilization, humans have sometimes shown a territorial instinct similar to that of some animals. People fight over land in order to gain possession of the resources there, just as a pack of wolves defends its territory to secure sufficient food for all its members. But the human desire to create borders goes far beyond the animal instinct to ensure the survival and wellbeing of one’s social group. For us, borders have a psychological aspect too – that of identifying ourselves and making us ‘belong’ to one group rather than another, while separating us from the unfamiliar and the ‘other’. Finnish Professor of Geography, Anssi Paasi, wrote in his 1998 paper ‘Boundaries as Social Processes: Territoriality in the World of Flows’:

“National identity is one of many, often coexisting and overlapping identities (religions, tribal, linguistic, class, gender, etc.)…”

and that,

“Boundaries are both symbols and institutions that simultaneously produce distinctions between social groups and are produced by them.”

Social groups often define themselves, and are defined by others, in terms of any of the identities listed above. National borders often coincide with these groupings. In Europe, for example, linguistic groups are very prominent: the official language(s) of most countries is distinct to that of its neighbors e.g. France and Spain. The members of different European nations therefore tend to have different linguistic, as well as ethnic, backgrounds. This seemingly ‘natural’ division exists because many of Europe’s borders are natural borders, like the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain. In ancient times, such obstacles would have been difficult to traverse, and so it would have been natural for groups on either side to independently develop their own language and culture. In modern times, these natural borders have often been adopted as the political, legal, and economic boundaries that define nations. Read More »

Theory Bites: Can war create strong states today?

By Edvin Arnby Machata 

Historically, war has been a crucial factor in the evolution of today’s developed states. War both increases the direct need for state institutions like a tax authority and an organisation to manage conscription and training of soldiers. It has also weeded out weaker states to be assimilated into stronger ones.

How well this past experience remain true today is however unclear. There are a few important differences with developing state capacity in our time compared to 100, 500 and 1500 years ago (depending on the area). The most important is probably globalisation. If a state would emerge in isolated territories with limited external influence, it could much easier establish and maintain authority, as its main rivals would likely be tribes or states with similar resource levels but with authority centred in different areas. Read More »

Theory Bites: The violent origin of states

By Edvin Arnby Machata

The state is a key player in implementing successful development strategies. The state collects taxes and uses these for public investment like roads and schools, from which society will reap rewards in the form of a growing economy and better way of living. More fundamentally, the state provides the legal framework – courts, laws, and police forces – that shape economic activity in the country. A state that effectively maintains these functions is called a strong state.

Too many developing countries however have weak states, which instead of facilitating economic development are often inhibiting it through corrupt policies that only benefit a small part of the population. In the search for ways to improve the capacity of today’s weak states, it is useful to consider how today’s strong states emerged. Read More »

What’s more important freedom of speech or economic development?

Mieke Dale Harris

Freedom of speech has become an important prerequisite of democracy and is to an equal extent prized by the population of any democratic country. Many modern generations quite rightly feel that they have a “right” to speak their mind about political policies and that when many minds converge in their opinion these minds have a “right” to group together and express their discontent, be it in the form of strikes, blockades, marches or sit-ins. This relatively modern trend can be seen in the almost daily protests, of one kind of another, that afflict America, England and a number of other developed democratic (or even non-democratic) countries. It can also be noted in the international outcry that rained down over the presidents of the Arab Spring over a year ago, or more recently, but to a lesser extent, the international discontent over the arrest of the Russian protest punk group “Pussy Riot”.

Read More »

Graphics: Where Does Latin America Stand In Terms of Peace?

It is no secret that every nation in the world struggles with peace and stability in some way, shape or form. The Global Peace Index (GPI) attempts to capture this process by collecting data and information and collating it into 23 indicators that give countries a final score between one and five. You can view a map of the 2012 GPI around the globe here.

Hispanically Speaking News has gone one step further and organized the 2012 GPI measures for Latin American countries into an easy to understand infographic: Read More »

Guest Roast: Mining Companies’ Violations In Developing Countries—Who Is Responsible?

By Grahame Russel

Increasingly, over the past few years, information has been published about serious human rights violations and health and environmental harms being caused in Guatemala by (mainly) Canadian mining company operations: Goldcorp Inc., Radius Gold Inc., Tahoe Resources Inc., Hudbay Minerals, and others.

It is not possible to understand how these violations and harms occur, and will continue to occur, without understanding the political context.  Read More »

Guest Roast: “Cancer and Condescension – The Case of Iraq’s Imposed Epidemic”

In December 2011, the world media focused its attention on the official end to the war in Iraq.

“Now, the last four bases are closing and their personnel are going home for Christmas 2011”, reported Al Jazeera.

Yet nine years after the beginning of what many see as an illegal war,  should we be feeling proud? Barack Obama’s noble statement about bringing troops home for Christmas was followed by:

“and the United States will continue to have an interest in an Iraq that is stable, secure and self-reliant.” (Al Jazeera, October 2011). Read More »


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