Wednesday, 28 November 2012

How to Identify Who Suffers Most from Riots and Why Does it Matter for Policy?

Jean Pierre Tranchant is a Research Fellow with the Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction TeamBy Jean-Pierre Tranchant

Rioting has received a great deal of attention from policymakers, scholars and the general public in the recent past notably due to the presence of high profile riots in Europe (Greece since the Euro Crisis, the UK in 2011 or France in 2005) and to considerably more deadly instances of communal rioting that occurred in places such as Nigeria and India (Assam riots this year, Khandamal riots in 2009). These are a reminder that riots can cause tremendous human suffering and threaten peace and stability in diverse societies. 

Yet we know very little as to who is primarily affected by instances of rioting. It is an important question if we want to understand the dynamics unleashed by and responsible for these episodes of violence. I discuss here how the methods we used in a recent research paper published with IDS colleagues Jaideep Gupte and Patricia Justino can be helpful to shed light on this issue.We surveyed close to 1100 households in urban Maharashtra as part of a long-standing study of civil violence and welfare. In our sample 12.5% of the respondents reported they were impacted by riots. Overwhelming proportions of them have not directly suffered from injuries or physical damages but has been adversely affected by the indirect consequences of riots. We further discussed these findings on the MICROCON blog. Indeed riots generate fear, strain community relations, disrupt markets and institutions, and are generally accompanied by heavy-handed measures to restore law and order such as curfew.

Ecological studies

Riots are localised events in that they unfold within some particular spaces. Thus by looking at a map of the events of violence, one can start noticing patterns. The Guardian displayed such a map at the occasion of the UK riots where the level of deprivation of very small geographical areas was matched with the location of events of rioting[1]. The visual correlation between poverty and violence was obvious. The quantitative academic literature on riots follows a fundamentally similar strategy, albeit in a more systematic fashion: researchers use a unit of analysis (census tracts, cities, states), collect relevant information on causes and consequences of rioting for each of these units and match it with geographical information on violence events. Regarding India, such studies suggest that riots are caused by e.g. low growth, population pressure, weak social spending, low level of social capital, proximity to elections and political configurations.

The problem with this approach is that it conflates space and people. For instance, even if riots tend to happen in poor places, it does not automatically follow that the poorest individuals are the most exposed. Similarly, if one finds an association in the data between social capital and low levels of violence, is it because places with high social capital are able to prevent violence[2] or because people with good social connections can survive and cope more easily amidst episodes of violence.[3]  By design, ecological studies of the kind described above cannot disentangle these effects. They are prone to the ecological fallacy whenever the relationships between two variables differ at various levels of analysis. Economics, sociology, criminology and education studies are abound with examples where such is the case, which cast doubt on the interpretation we can give to results of the riot studies.

Micro-level studies:

Another branch of empirical research on violence takes the opposite direction and stresses the individual level of analysis. The IDS plays a leading role in that stream of research, notably through the MICROCON and other research programmes hosted at the Conflict, Violence and Development Cluster. However, to eliminate various sources of bias, researchers usually feel the need to look at variations between households but within defined geographical areas. This can tell us whether individuals with good social connections are less vulnerable than socially isolated individuals, but it cannot say anything on whether areas with more social capital are more peaceful.

Multilevel analysis of riot victimisation in Maharashtra:

The methodology we used in our study of riots in Maharashtra allows us to combine micro and macro-level analysis. We sampled 1089 households in 45 (predominantly poor) neighbourhoods within 10 districts of Maharashtra. As such the structure of the data is nested so that households are nested within neighbourhoods which in turn are nested within districts. We used a multilevel statistical analysis to model riot victimisation as depending on household, neighbourhood and district effects.


Among other results we found that:

1) Within neighbourhoods, households with weak coping capacity, that are socially isolated, reliant on informal economic groups, and living close to crime areas are those who disproportionately suffer from riots.

2) Community characteristics matter: As argued by
  • Varshney, neighbourhoods with higher level of social capital are characterised by lesser victimisation rate. However, we don't find that these neighbourhoods see fewer riots, but rather that when hit by a riot; they are better able to shield their most vulnerable residents from its detrimental impact.
  • Victimisation tends to be higher in neighbourhoods with large caste fragmentation.
  • The effect of poverty is unclear: although the sampling design revealed that disenfranchised communities are over-represented among riot-affected sites, our results suggest that riot victimisation is higher among the least disenfranchised ones.
These results are useful for policy in that they emphasise the extent of indirect victimisation and identify potential channels to mitigate it. First and foremost, the results show that development policies aimed at reducing vulnerability should acknowledge vulnerability to violence as an important dimension. Indeed, economic, social, physical and violence vulnerabilities overlap and reinforce each others. Secondly, initiatives aimed at fostering community relations are useful in that they reduce the indirect sufferings caused by riots. Thirdly, these initiatives are all the more important in socially diverse environments (caste) which are the most fragile to the deleterious impact of riots. Tackling this victimisation is an important task to break the cycle of deprivation and violence.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Why should you do the MA in Poverty and Development at IDS?

By Roger Williamson
Photo of Roger Williamson
You are obviously interested at some level – or you would not be reading this.

Some obvious objections. There are other development studies courses around. Yes, but the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) has a concentration of 100 development researchers allowing for a range of specialisms, and a genuinely inter-disciplinary approach. As my PhD supervisor told me, most of the important and interesting work to be done is multidisciplinary and none of us are properly trained in all the subjects we need and how they fit together, being taught in the multidisciplinary environment of IDS gives you a good grounding and establishes the work habits for a career of acquiring other skills you need “on the job”.

It’s expensive. Yes. Education is expensive – but not as expensive or damaging as ignorance. If you want to be a development professional get trained properly. The alternative is likely to be too damaging to poor people later and will not do your career any good. The other news, however, is that MA courses are expensive - and IDS does not compare badly even on price alone in a UK or international comparison.

Things are very turbulent just now – “I am going to wait until it all settles down a bit”. Don't. It's not going to settle down. Do a course which helps you deal with complexity, risk, uncertainty. If you want clarity and simplicity get a job selling bread. You will know at the end of the day if you sold more than yesterday.

Where will I end up working?
You don’t know and we don’t know. However, IDS alumni end up working with government, in NGOs or international development agencies, academia and other stimulating arenas. However, more and more these days’ people end up with a “portfolio” career, rather than one employer for a lifetime. You need interdisciplinary skills, flexible approaches – the IDS courses prepare you as well as any can. I have employed and worked with a number of colleagues with an IDS training.

So – what are the positives?
A huge plus is the other students. You will not be in a room with people who are just intellectually smart careerists. The other students are also high performers, but they have at least two years’ experience working in development. It is a small intense community – with many of the students from countries of the Global South. A mixture of small group study; one-on-one supervision for your dissertation on your theme of choice.

The course is demanding – you can’t do much more in a year
In the autumn term, students have to do three core modules mapping out the territory in poverty and development. There is more choice after Christmas – doing Aid and Poverty and/or Poverty, Violence and Conflict – or one of these courses and one from a lengthy menu of optional modules. From May – August, attention is focused on a 10,000 word dissertation. This either rounds out the course or is the ideal preparation for a student who wants to go on to a PhD. (I have some advice on a PhDs as well – only do one if you think the subject is really interesting and important, and/or you need it for your career).

IDS is a fantastic intellectual environment
There is the challenge of the other students and excellent study facilities in a world class development library. There is literally no “upper limit” to the resources available in the library or on line – and you will be shown the skills to access it.

Then, of course, there is the opportunity to hear a constant stream of challenging speakers on development in lunch time and evening presentations from external speakers and IDS luminaries such as Richard Jolly and Robert Chambers.

Recent MA students I have talked with (not a big enough sample to help me pass the quantitative methods elements of the course, I grant) also stress the important opportunities for some students through IDS to be employed as researchers on projects alongside study. It gets you experience, it gets you known, you earn some money.

I wish I had done this course. Being a visiting fellow gives me an insight into IDS, and I am impressed. I have had a career working with NGOs and organizing development related conferences for government - and the graduates from this course and other IDS MAs are exactly the type of people I wanted to recruit to my teams – well-qualified, well-motivated, open to new approaches, wanting to make a difference.

In Brazil in 1983, I talked with a top cartoonist, Claudius Ceccon who worked with the Catholic Bishops which sided with the poor against the military dictatorship. The Church was producing excellent campaigning material against poverty and human rights violations. I asked why they produced the material so well and carefully. He replied: “The poor deserve the best”. I feel very strongly indeed that if people are not well motivated to work with and on behalf of the poor, and if you are not well trained, you really should be doing something else. Development is littered with examples of the damage done by self-appointed and mistaken “experts”. The interview process should sift out people with the wrong motivation and the course should get you well trained.   

Health warning: This blog is based on insufficient research, not enough in-depth conversation with current or previous students – so should you ignore it? No – check it out for yourself. Is it the course for you? Apply and ask the difficult questions. Or if you find another course at IDS or elsewhere which will equip you better do that instead! A career in development is like the marathon – and this course is like a good pair of running shoes to help you on your way.

About the author
Roger Williamson is a Visiting Fellow in the Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction Team at IDS. He has had a career in NGOs, including work as Policy and Campaigns Director at Christian Aid, a major development organization. Until taking early retirement he organized nearly 80 international conferences for the British government at Wilton Park.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The March of the Index

Photo of Dolf te Linteloby Dolf te Lintelo

Several weeks ago, I spent a day in the heart of London attending two index launch events. One concerned the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance 2012, the other the Global Hunger Index 2012 by IFPRI/Concern/German Agro-Action. Both taking place the same morning was coincidental and seemingly only connected by a few folks shuttling between both events. Yet, it clearly signalled the rise of the index as a measurement and advocacy tool in development.

Of course, indices have been around for some time, yet a clear trend has emerged over the last decade. In the early 1990s the Human Development Index was established to become a leading international reference point, with the UN Development Programme publishing annual human development reports. Newer kids on the block include the Centre for Global Development’s Commitment to Development Index (since 2003); the Gross National Happiness Index of Bhutan (2009); the Global Food Security Index of the Economist Intelligence Unit (2011); the Multidimensional Poverty Index (2010) Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative and UNDP; and the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index of OPHI/USAID/IFPRI (2012), to name but a few. Here I should declare an interest: I have been working with colleagues to develop a Hunger Reduction Commitment Index ( - 2011), soon to be relaunched as Hunger And Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI).

So why are indices so rapidly proliferating? Here are some reasons, in no particular order:
  • They allow a quick fire comparison of countries, if done well. Although in-country policymakers overwhelmingly focus on domestic development, international comparisons can broaden their horizons without any fuzz. 
  • People, organisations and governments are intrigued by league tables – they love them or love to hate them. A senior African UN administrator and member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s governing board noted that African political leaders proudly wave index findings when it portrays them as doing well, or don’t use them at all.
  • Indices not just stir up debate but can also foster dialogue. Civil society groups are attracted to indices as it allows them to engage with governments using credible third party analysis, that often employ government published data.
  • The diagnostic strengths of indices can not only enable governments to assess their own performance on critical development indicators but also help them to join up dots that otherwise may remain unconnected.
  • Indices are possible. This is not just a statement of the obvious. Greater ease of access to data thanks to computerised databases has greatly enabled their construction, on a growing number of indicators. For instance, the Global Food Security Index looks at 25 indicators for 105 countries, and the Ibrahim Index of African Governance compares 53 African countries for 84 variables. This is not to say that sufficient data on the right indicators is always available - it often is not. Indices show what data is available, not what is lacking.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Ethiopia after Meles

by Jeremy Lind
Meles Zenawi, the long-serving Ethiopian Prime Minister since 1995 and leader of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition, passed away in August. His death sparked considerable concern and debate internationally. The political stability of Ethiopia - the largest recipient of overseas development assistance in Africa - was put into question. Would the loss of Zenawi upend a decade of staggering official economic growth? Would it halt the transformation of Ethiopia from a famine-plagued country to a regional hegemon in the Horn of Africa?

Meles sought to replicate the Chinese growth ‘miracle’ and to craft a distinctly Ethiopian version of this that has been labelled ‘developmental authoritarianism’ by outsiders. He dismissed human rights critiques from many directions and squeezed the space for opposition and civic society to organise around governance and rights-based concerns – unless part of officially sanctioned institutions.

Foreign donors quietly criticised his policies – more vocally after the post 2005 elections – yet maintained substantial aid commitments to the country in the long term. With his death, some western critics have sought to cast the transition as an opportunity for Ethiopia’s development partners to press governance and human rights concerns yet again. However, the implications of the transition to a new PM and leadership at the top of the EPRDF are far from certain.

The first issue of a new policy briefing series from IDS explores the implications of Meles’ death for Ethiopia’s political stability, geo-political relations and development pathways. The IDS Rapid Response Briefings are published by the Institute of Development Studies and aim to provide high level analysis of rapidly emerging and unexpected global events and their impact on global development policy and practice. The briefings provide expert perspectives, opinions and commentary from around the world drawing on the experience and expertise of IDS’s 1000 alumni and 250 partners.

So, what are the implications of Meles’ death?


Meles’ successor, Hailemariam Dessalegn, Foreign Minister and Vice Premier since 2010, from the EPRDF, became acting PM under party rules in September. Crucially, Hailemariam is from the southern part of the country – Wolaita more specifically – and was not a member of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that holds ultimate power in the coalition.

While Hailemariam’s appointment has been welcomed by Southerners within Ethiopia, representation of SNNPR in the military and federal command structure is minimal or absent altogether. The TPLF maintains control over the National Intelligence and Security Services, as well as the all-powerful federal police. A majority of recent key military appointments were from Meles’ home Tigray region, which has led some to speculate that Hailemariam’s appointment is a calculated political move by and for the TPLF, allowing them to maintain de facto political authority behind a cloak of ethnic pluralism.

Meles’ death exposes the dangers of a state built around one man, but he also leaves behind a formidable political machine. For Hailemariam the challenge is whether and how he can manage the machine. Members of competing elites may fight for control of this machine and ethnic movements on the periphery could be emboldened to exploit a perceived power vacuum. Eritrea might also sense an opportunity to destabilise its neighbour. The question is whether perceived economic development and prosperity will willingly be traded for political instability – even by those at loggerheads with the central state.


Ethiopia’s presence and capacity for global influence may well diminish. Meles courted Chinese largesse and trade and investment deals with other non-conventional donors such as Turkey, Brazil and India. He was an astute political game-player and realised that many more strategic issues could be used to assist western powers and, therefore, ensure their eventual quiescence when human rights abuses were carried out.

Ethiopia is a key strategic ally in counter-terrorism efforts by the US and its allies in the Horn. Meles opened Ethiopia’s doors to U.S. geostrategic interests, through positioning drones at Arba Minch in the south of the country, which enables greater U.S. geostrategic reach in and around Somalia, and providing proxy forces for the U.S.-backed invasion of southern Somalia in 2006.

Meles deftly negotiated the intricacies of regional diplomacy in the Horn, cultivating close ties with both Sudans. He championed regional economic integration and was deeply engaged in the Lamu-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport project (LAPSSET) as well as several hydroelectric schemes under which Ethiopia sought to position itself as a regional energy exporter.


In spite of significant economic growth over the past decade and important gains in reducing poverty, Hailemariam inherits formidable economic challenges. These are dominated by the need to find secure livelihoods for a large and growing population and the acute vulnerability of its major economic sector - rainfed agriculture which is dominated by small plots that are leased by the government. Two thirds of the economy is controlled by government through nationalised and ‘para-statal’ enterprises, many of which fall under the control of TPLF figures.

The current picture is mixed: economic vibrancy is apparent in Addis Ababa and other major cities as construction booms and the consumption economy grows. Yet unemployment is rising – particularly in urban areas, inequality is widening and inflation has surged in recent years. Balancing the complex interrelations between transformations in agriculture, urbanisation, employment generation and maintaining a reasonable cost of living is the challenge facing the new Prime Minister.

Visit the IDS website where you can subscribe to the new IDS Rapid Response Briefings and receive each one as soon as it is published.

Resilient Wellbeing – Climate Change, Migration, Urbanization

by Roger Williamson

It is a frequent complaint – and justified – that no-one gets enough time to think these days. We decided to schedule an exploratory day to see what could and should be researched further on these topics. So – to have a day to think, with a small group, proved to be a great idea.

What came out of it? We don’t fully know yet. It is a famous Zen Buddhist maxim that in the mind of the expert there is only one solution, but in the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. You can use this motto to dignify laziness, failure to commit, lack of precision in analysis, but I don’t think we are doing that.

It is good to start with a fundamental question – does it make sense to put these issues together? Or are the individual problem areas already so complex that they defy sensible or politically-practical response?

First – you have to start somewhere. We brought together a home team of some IDS specialists with colleagues from:

Some points I gleaned from the day are:
  • The overwhelming difficulty of really getting on top of any one “corner of the triangle” – climate change, migration or urbanization;
  • The importance of ensuring that ODA and climate funding is well targeted in the post-MDG world – it would be a huge wasted opportunity if the climate funding mechanisms went through the painful education of “learning from mistakes” which has characterized much of development funding history – we should know better by now;
  • That a polarized “urban is more important / no, it’s not” debate would be a great waste of time. Neither the extremely poor in rural areas, nor those in cities are well served by the policies in most countries. Even a cursory review of post-financial crisis and climate change literature indicates the urgent need for solutions tailored to specific contexts – and suggest that many of these contexts will be even more challenging in the future.
  • That looking at urbanization and migration as complex processes, not just as “one-off” individual decisions brings a much deeper understanding.
For me, there is fertile ground to be explored in the overlap between resilience and wellbeing. The 'systems-thinking' of resilience is well adapted to provide a space in which all relevant factors can be introduced. But if the resilience sought is the resilience of 'the system' isn’t there a danger that the vulnerable, poor, marginalized and excluded can be sacrificed in 'triage' when things get critical? (see the recent IDS working paper on whether resilience is a 'new utopia' or 'new tyranny'). The antidote could well be bottom-up understandings of wellbeing – actually finding out from ordinary people – migrants arriving in cities, for example, what would make their lives better.

My working hypothesis is that the creative area is the intersection between the “big drivers’ and systems and the 'stories from below'. It is there that we discover that the subnational level is vital, that initiatives by slum dwellers are a vital component to urban priorities and governance.

The world often writes the agenda – the “storm warning” from the Caribbean and New York tells us through the cost in people’s lives that neither poor countries like Haiti, nor a rich city like New York can pretend that we have cracked the issues of urban reliance in a time or more frequent and extreme weather events. I am convinced that there is agenda in there – but like cooking, it is not just about listing the ingredients, it’s how to put them together and cooking until it’s ready.

PS - During the lunch break, I checked my mail box. There – as promised – was the attractive and engaging Rockefeller Foundation book on the 'Century of the City'.

The day after our seminar, I worked through much of it in a quick preliminary reading. In it, David Satterthwaite says: “The international funding system is superbly disconnected from the sources of innovations. The World Bank does not fund them. Neither do the bilateral agencies. Almost all the big donors have moved away from supporting local engagement”.

Now it has to be said that the book was published in 2008, so I await contradiction from donors who feel that critique was unfair then, and is certainly unfair now because of their ground-breaking initiatives on …….. ( please complete with examples and post them here!)