What I’m reading this month: July 2019 edition

Quick reads for short journeys (blogs/policy briefs/podcasts)

Ali Breland, The bizarre and terrifying ‘deepfake’ video that helped bring an African nation to the brink

I read a lot of stuff about corruption, crime and conflict (the 3Cs troika), but I have to admit that little I’ve read recently has freaked me out as much as this. This article looks at the allegedly deepfake video of Gabon’s President Ali Bongo that contributed to an unsuccessful coup attempt early this year. I say ‘allegedly’, because no one has proved that it’s fake – or that it’s real. Once you go down the rabbit hole of imagining all the potential ways for how deepfake video technology can be misused, or – just as importantly – how it can be perceived to be misused, it’s hard to see how democracy – and the trust that has to be its foundation – is going to survive. Any techies out there who can reassure me, please do! 

 Moses Khisa, The coming crisis in Uganda

This blog post draws on extensive interviews with politicians and political observers in Uganda and argues that Museveni’s undermining of the minimum consensus binding together the 1995 Constitution has set in action a politically toxic environment that leaves little space for discussing the real challenges that Uganda faces. Instead, political contestation is basically ‘are you with or against Museveni?’. It also looks at the role of the war on terror as enabling Museveni to position himself as a ‘security president’ and what this means for democracy in the country.

Ricardo Weibezahn/ICIJ, Leak exposes millions of dollars in new payments in Odebrecht Cash-for-Contracts scandal

The folks at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists are still unravelling the evidence on Brazil’s Odebrecht’s scandal which the US Department of Justice has called the ‘largest foreign bribery case in history’. This is like industrial-level bribery on a scale that’s quite extraordinary, which has already taken down heads of state. With the ICIJ’s work still ongoing, I can imagine plenty more scandals will be coming. 

Delayed trains or heavy traffic (papers/journal articles/longer thought pieces)

Aida Al-Kaisy, A fragmented landscape: barriers to independent media in Iraq

This report from the DFID-funded Conflict Research Programme looks at how the fragmented media sector in Iraq, with partisan ownership of outlets, is making it difficult for Iraqi journalists to be professional and impartial. It sets out suggestions for how external actors can help support the sector, but with important caveats about political and structural challenges that it faces.  

Niheer Dasandi, Ed Laws, Heather Marquette & Mark Robinson, What does the evidence tell us about ‘thinking and working politically’ in development assistance?

One of my own papers this month. This paper, which is part of a special issue on aid effectiveness, looks at the evidence so far on TWP programming to see what it tells us about improving the effectiveness of aid interventions. While there’s a growing evidence base, the quality of the research is generally questionable, and the methods used so far aren’t able to justify causal claims made. Though the number of cases across sectors and political contexts is growing, there is still a lack of case studies in conflict-affected contexts. Importantly, all of the cases reviewed, regardless of sector, are reform programmes. This means that there are still significant gaps in our understanding of what programming like this looks like in other types of programmes (e.g. service delivery, infrastructure etc). 

See a review from Duncan Green on his From Poverty to Power blog.

The Collective Psychology Project, A larger us

Some folks may know Alex Evans and his work with NYU’s Center on International Cooperation. This new project started in October 2018 and aims to help understand how growing tribalism – us vs them thinking – is growing around the world and contributing to conflict. They make the case for moving beyond the political, economic and cultural explanations we usually reach for and for developing a better understanding of the underlying psychological dynamics. 

 Tobias Jones & Ayo Awokoy, Are your tinned tomatoes picked by slave labour?

This Guardian long read looks at the ways in which the Mafia and gang-masters are taking advantage of immigrants and refugees who work in Italian agriculture, particularly in the South, in appalling conditions for little to no pay. The authors draw the line from the field to factory to the shelf in British supermarkets to show how our love of cheap food is helping drive modern slavery.

Long-haul flights or weekend/holiday reads (books/longer papers)

James Swallow, Nomad


One for folks pulling together their holiday reading lists and are looking for something in the same vein as Jason Bourne. Swallow is a sci-fi/steampunk writer who decided to write the sort of high-octane spy novel he loved reading in the 1980s. Nomad introduces us to Mark Dane, an ex-MI6 officer who (reluctantly) joins a private security team funded by a Sudanese billionaire to bring down those beyond conventional justice. It’s fast-paced and a lot of fun. As with Line of Duty, there are no damsels in distress, though there is quite a lot of violence (cracking limbs, head shots etc). And there are 4 books in the series so far, so enough to keep you going throughout the holiday. 

Heather’s Lost & Found Bin

Emily Dunlop & Elisabeth King, Education at the intersection of conflict and peace: the inclusion and framing of education provisions in African peace agreements from 1975-2017

IPA, Bottom up monitoring of healthcare providers in Uganda

Miranda Forsyth, ‘Kill all the sorcerers’: the interconnections between sorcery, violence, war and peace in Bougainville

Tiina Pasanen et al, What drives policy change in Nepal? A qualitative comparative analysis

Eric Sheye, Heart of Africa’s organised crime: land, property and urbanisation

Catherine Mangan, Is commercialism destroying the ethos of the public sector?

Karen Allen, Is Africa cybercrime savvy?

Will Avis, Current trends in violent conflict

Bruce Byiers et al, The political economy of Africa’s regional ‘spaghetti bowl’ (nb this is about regional organisations and not spaghetti!)

Samuel Bazzi et al, The promise and pitfalls of conflict prediction: evidence from Colombia and Indonesia


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