America’s Next Great Restaurant, an Africa Concept?

I have occasionally thought about opening my own coffee shop, or bookstore, or restaurant…  Not that any of these things are likely. And not that any of these ideas are that original.

However, one idea that I have had that I think might be a bit more unique is to open up a chain of fast casual Africa-themed restaurants. The idea would be to feature cuisines from different parts of Africa, sort of like this restaurant in Seattle:

Pan Africa Restaurant & Bar | Tour Africa without leaving Seattle.

I am unlikely to ever do this, my current gig is satisfying and keeps me plenty busy. But I hope someone thinks about doing this.  I would love to be able to get some fufu with groundnut soup wherever I am!

Anyways, I was inspired to think about this idea again while watching some of the episodes of America’s Next Great Restaurant a month or so ago. No “Africa” concepts were presented, but maybe next time?

Ghana: Waste, lagoons, and deserts

Besides some concerns about oil’s impact on the environment in Ghana, there have been a number of other recent stories that remind us that Ghana’s environmental problems are far more widespread and diversified.

Waste Disposal

One of the biggest issues is the problem of waste disposal (or the lack thereof).As Fiona Leonard mentions in her blog, “A Fork in the Road”,Ghana’s beaches occasionally look pretty bad because of this. The Korle Lagoon in Ghana is particularly bad (a number of observers have called it one of the most polluted waters on the planet but I’m not sure whether there is an official measure of this). It is even called “Sodom and Gomorrah”. Nevertheless, there have been efforts to change the situation. Ghana’s Ministry of Housing and Works has contracted with International Marine and Dredging Consultants to do work to reduce pollution in the lagoon. However, some efforts (I’m not sure exactly who is behind these) have also created important social problems, including the eviction of squatters.

Fiona also mentions a great advertising campaign designed to bring attention to the issue (“The Picture the Ghana Tourist Board Doesn’t Want You to See”).

However, don’t take all of this as a sign that there aren’t good beaches in Ghana. Esi’s “What Yo’ Mama Never Told You About Ghana” blog has a nice rundown of great Ghanaian beaches that are worth visiting.

Desertification

More pleasant, perhaps, is the news about a new grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and World Bank to combat desertification and drought in Ghana.

In case you missed it, last friday, June 17th, was World Desertification Day. Sponsored by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) the focus this year was on supporting the UN’s International Year of the Forests. In Ghana, the MTN Group sponsored at least a couple events.

The WTO’s Doha Round

The Doha Round still limps along.

You know the WTO is in trouble when…
… The Financial Times says negotiations are dead. In 2008 they argued that leaders should admit the talks are over. They haven’t really been optimistic since.
… We start to argue that an assassination will save it. Jagdish Bhagwati, one of the great spokesmen for concluding the Doha negotiations, starts grasping at straws. For instance,his letter to the Financial Times on May 6th, argues that Osama bin Laden’s assassination provides just the opportunity that is needed to restart the round.
… We say we should kill the talks in order to save them. That is the logic that Bhagwati claims they are using when his (and Sutherland’s) High-level Expert Group on Trade advises that the Doha Round be abandoned if there is no agreement this year. “Our idea,” he states, “was that just as the prospect of an imminent hanging concentrates the mind, the deadline and prospective death of the Doha Round would galvanize the world’s statesmen behind completing the last mile of the marathon.”

Should we narrow the agenda and what are the obstacles to doing this?
The Financial Times has editorialized on the progress of the talks a number of times.This past April, they suggested the WTO should move away from its current all-or-nothing approach to negotiations. It is important, they argued, that the WTO show it is a “rule making system [that] can adapt and renew itself.”

That concern and approach has driven WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy’s move to conclude a limited version of a Doha deal this year. However, “Doha Lite” seems to be hitting roadblocks as well. (“Doha lite runs into rough weather”, June 10). The US is at the center of this. Alan Beattie reports (“WTO scrambles to savage Doha talks” FT, June 12.) that the US is a major stumbling block to progress on the Doha Round. As I write in my book manuscript, African countries have been able to wield significant influence in the round by reasonably demanding that the US change its support for one commodity: cotton. Indeed, cotton–and other agricultural issues–remains a major issue.

Why should we save the Doha Round?
While I was on vacation, Sutherland and Bhagwati’s Trade Experts Group published their important report, “World Trade and the Doha Round.” You can download it here. In it they argue that the Doha Round should definitely be saved. Some of the highlights:

  • There is a moral argument, as well as an economic argument, that needs to be considered: “Indeed before the twentieth century the conventional case for trade was a moral one: that it promoted economic integration and therefore peace, and that the efficient allocation of resources that it encourages pushes down prices for clothes, food and consumer goods. The argument that open trade damages the interest of workers in developed countries too often misses completely the fact that it has rendered the goods they buy cheaper, more diverse and in many cases more sophisticated than at any previous point in human history.”
  • And then there are the familiar economic reasons for open trade: competition promotes efficient specialization, open trade is linked to economic growth, etc.
  • The WTO is under threat: PTAs and other regional agreements, the lack of political will on the part of country leaders today, and the continuing struggle to accommodate the wishes of emerging powers are all part of this.

Other ad hoc solutions for governing global commerce are not better. I agree with Bhagwati, for the most part, when he says that Preferential Trade Agreements are starting to take over the rule-making agenda (also one of the conclusions made in the report above).

We also don’t want to have 1930s-style destructive economic competition. As Pascal Lamy and others have warned, the recent financial crisis already has increased protectionism around the world but that sort of policy can lead to mistrust and threaten not just the global economy but also global security. As a recent report from Roubini Global Economics (gated) suggests, the WTO has played an important role in stemming such problems.

Finally, if the “we” in my question above is the United States, then there might be an even more poignant reason to act and try to conclude the Doha Round now. We may not get the agreement we most desire (we definitely will not, nor will anyone else) but it is even less likely that we will get a deal we like in the future. The American economy may recover from its recent crisis and begin to grow again, but all signs point to our gradual relative economic decline. This could be our last great shot at putting our mark on global economic governance and ensuring that an institution we created survives the inevitable change in the distribution of power.

On that note, I keep thinking I should write a post (or something) on this theme: The United States should act like a great power, but think like a middle power. That is, we should use our power resources which still allow us to dominate on most global issues, but we should be interpreting our interests more and more in terms of how we will like the international system to look when we are no longer so dominant.

The WTO is more than Doha
However, I believe it is too easy for the casual observer to interpret the faltering Doha talks as signs of a weak institution. The WTO still clearly matters a great deal in global economic relations. Countries still expend considerable resources to participate in the daily meetings in Geneva and the dispute resolution system is still one of the most relevant (if not the most relevant) quasi-judicial process the international system has (although there is the occasional concern about its future, such as in this post by Hufbauer and concerns expressed in Elsig and Pollack’s recent piece).

Apparently, Lamy thinks we may know by the end of this month whether a deal this year will be possible (“WTO’s Lamy Says Working on ‘Early Harvest’ Trade Deal”, June 13, Washington Post). I will definitely be watching.

News: Skimming the Surface – Inside Higher Ed

This is such a common problem in student writing!  When I ask students how they go about writing a research paper I find that a common practice is to begin by creating an outline and paste lots of material–found online–into the outline.  It’s no wonder that the result is a lack of original ideas (as suggested in the article cited below).

But I have one additional concern:  this practice probably encourages students to simply search out material that fits their predetermined conclusions rather than challenging such presuppositions.

I think I might share the article with my students next term.

The researchers analyzed the students’ 1,832 research citations and assigned each of them to one of four categories:

Exact copying — a verbatim cut-and-paste, either with or without quotation marks.

“Patchwriting” — the copying of the original language with minimal alteration and with synonyms substituting for several original words (patchwriting is often a failed attempt to paraphrase, they said).

Paraphrasing — a restatement of a source’s argument with mostly fresh language, and with some of the original language intact; it reflects comprehension of a small portion, perhaps a sentence, of the source material.

Summary — the desired form of citation because it demonstrates true understanding of a large portion, if not the entirety, of the original text; summarizing was identified by the researchers when student writers restated in their own terms the source material and compressed by at least 50 percent the main points of at least three consecutive sentences.

Only 9 percent of the citations were categorized as summary. “That’s the stunning part, I think: 91 percent are citations to material that isn’t composing,” said Jamieson. “They don’t digest the ideas in the material cited and put it in their own words.”

via News: Skimming the Surface – Inside Higher Ed.

Bad Ideas: Using Gbagbo for email fraud

I’ve seen some bad email pitches before, but this has to be one of the worst that I have seen.

I’m not quite sure how anyone can think that using the name of Gbagbo to perpetrate fraud would work. Am I really supposed to trust the son of an egoistic dictator responsible for all sorts of violent and criminal acts? Am I supposed to want to help him and his son?

Here is the message I received today:

Greetings,

My Name is Leon Gbagbo Jr,son to the Former President of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo,who is presently detained and his by UN security.sir can i seek your indulgence to help me and my family to lay claims to the funds deposited by my Dad in a coded bank in Asia which happens that i have all the legal documents to enable you lay claims to the huge funds for safe keeping.if interested revert back urgently for full details,This mail is highly confidential am sending this email from a very secured point.
Go through this link for more update.
[I’ve removed it]

Await your urgent response Asap please reply me via my private email [I also removed this]

Best regards
Leon Gbagbo Jr.

Join the Conversation

A (new to me) source for information about contemporary issues on the web is “The Conversation”. This Aussie website has the taglines: “Academic rigour, journalistic flair” and “For curious minds”.

The website covers a number of themes, from Business to Health to Politics. Right now–and what initially brought me to the site–they are sponsoring a discussion on climate change.They begin with an open letter that states: “Today, The Conversation launches a two-week series from the nation’s top minds on the science behind climate change and the efforts of “sceptics” to cloud the debate.”

This is all from an “Australian” perspective, but it looks like it may be useful for the rest of us as well.

Ghana: Oil

Oil

Ghana has received a lot of attention over the past few years for the offshore oil finds. As the BBC reported earlier this year, Ghana’s economic growth rate is expected to double due to this find. Some of the most recent news on this:

  • The debate as to whether Ghana will “escape” the oil curse rages on.
    • Ghana’s Business Guide reports that “prominent indigenes” of the Niger Delta are warning Ghanaians that the troubles in Nigeria could be reproduced in Ghana. Specifically, they cite the concern that oil companies will use Ghanaians against each other.
    • Meanwhile, Ghana Business News cites Standard Chartered Analyst Raziah Khan, who claims that Ghana is doing too many things right to experience an oil curse. This includes hedging their entire share of production from the Jubilee oil field, passing a law that saves oil income for future generations (a “Heritage Fund”). However, as they note, there is still concern that more needs to be done to protect Ghana from possible environmental damage.
  • At the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting,Christiane Badgley has a series of reports on oil’s actual and potential impacts. One of the more significant themes in her work is the problem that oil production is posing for fishermen.

It is obviously way too early to tell if Ghana will escape the oil curse. One major question is whether Ghana’s democracy has had enough time to consolidate itself and avoid some of the high levels of corruption that other African nations have experienced in connection with oil. Indeed, oil need not lead to bad politics (the US, Norway and many other nations have avoided such problems for the most part). As Thad Dunning notes in his excellent book, Crude Democracy, oil finds can also promote democracy. If other sectors of the economy are still important to elites, and if the country is overall poor and unequal, then an oil boom may actually make democracy more palatable to elites as they now have another source of revenue for redistribution. (OK, this is an oversimplification of his argument…. definitely pick up his book if this idea interests you!).
I like the optimism in Charles Kenny’s Foreign Policy piece,“What Resource Curse?”. A couple of nice quotes:

  • “The curse is the type of counterintuitive idea that makes for a great newspaper op-ed. Nonetheless, the curse is also the kind of counterintuitive idea where intuition may have been right to begin with.”
  • “Blaming oil wealth for poverty, though, is like blaming treasure for the existence of pirates.”

Ghana: Debates about homosexuality

I try to follow news and blogs about my former host country (Ghana) on a weekly basis (at least). One of the latest themes concerns homosexuality.

Homosexuality on the continent has been a major international news item this past year. Most notably, Uganda considered introducing legislation that would make homosexual sex a crime worthy of the death penalty. Fortunately, the legislation didn’t go that far though it is my understanding that it is still a crime. In the U.S., this received attention because of linkages to some American evangelical Christians.

In neighboring Kenya, homosexuality has also been attacked. However, as Sean Jacobs reports, some recent judicial nominations there suggest that the legal system may be able to at least halt if not reverse some of the damaging laws that have been enacted.

In Ghana, homosexuality is also interpreted to be a crime (rarely prosecuted as an “unnatural carnal act”), and they too are a former colony of Britain, and they too have a strong link to evangelical Christians in the US. Not that all of those connections matter, but some argue they do. Here are some recent posts on the subject:

It will indeed be interesting to see whether gay rights emerge as an important issue in the next national elections.

African Cinema

I remember hearing about the “Ougadougou Film Festival”when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Northern Ghana. I thought I might go. But I never did. Hopefully, I someday will. A recent film I saw and a couple recent news items reminded me of this festival.

The film I recently saw was “Rêves de poussière” (“Dreams of Dust”). It is about a Nigerien farmer who comes to work at a gold mine in Essakane, Burkina Faso. Greed and love are dominant themes. It is a French film and has the sort of slow pacing that French films frequently have (in my experience). But it was very engaging and received some attention at festivals when it came out in 2006 (for instance, it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance). It is currently available on Netflix!

At the MTV Movie Awards, a Congolese film, “Viva Riva” won “Best African Movie”. Thanks to Sean Jacobs’ for this news. He mentions the other finalists: “A Screaming Man” (Chad), “Life, Above All” (South Africa) and “Restless City” (Nigeria).

Sean Jacobs must be watching a lot of movies lately since he also mentions some great documentaries coming up at The Encounters Documentary Film Festival in South Africa.

China and Africa: Some of the Latest

As many friends and colleagues know, one of my two core research agendas considers Africa’s changing relationships with rising powers in the world, and in particular China.

Here are some of the latest (well, I was on vacation a couple weeks so some of this may not seem very recent to all of you!) items I’ve found:

Secretary Clinton’s trip to the continent has included a number of important statements about US policy towards Africa and its interpretation of China’s role on the continent.

Meanwhile, Antoaneta Becker’s IPS story (June 7, “North Africa: China Begins to Look Away from Africa”,via allAfrica.com) suggests that recent political uprisings in North Africa could change China’s perceptions of doing business in the continent. If that is the case, then I must wonder: does China have the same “Africa is a country” problem that so many people seem to have here in the US?

Sean Jacobs at “Africa is a Country” mentions a new documentary,“When China Met Africa”. The trailer seems interesting, though this is a subject that is a bit easy to sensationalize.

I like the anecdote in Giles Mohan’s piece (in the African Arguments blog) of an Angolan official who is asked about China’s role there: “[he] looked at us incredulously asking why we were so obsessed with the Chinese. He said they were only one amongst a range of new investors, and his country was open for business to all of them.” Indeed, while China has emerged as Angola’s key trading partner, any account of Angola’s external trade and investment would have to include consideration of other rising economies, including Brazil.

Deborah Brautigam does her usual service to our understanding of China-Africa relations by providing some correctives to an April story in The Economist.