The CSS Blog Network

Burma is still on the Rocky Road to Democracy

Courtesy of brentolson/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on 17 March 2017.

When the iconic democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi won her historic, landslide election in Burma (Myanmar), she was met by soaring expectations, as well as by the formidable challenges of violent conflicts, a stuttering economy and the significant constraints of sharing authority with a still-powerful military.

Not surprisingly, she has fallen short.

Since taking office just over a year ago, she has been navigating a thorny and complex landscape with great caution. Many say too cautiously, but getting that balance right will be critical for a successful and peaceful transition.

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The Contemporary Shadow of the Scramble for Africa

Courtesy of James Cridland/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was published by VoxEU.org on 1 March 2017.

The Scramble for Africa has contributed to economic, social, and political underdevelopment by spurring ethnic-tainted civil conflict and discrimination and by shaping the ethnic composition, size, shape and landlocked status of the newly independent states. This column, taken from a recent VoxEU eBook, summarises the key findings of studies that use high-resolution geo-referenced data and econometric methods to estimate the long-lasting impact of the various aspects of the Scramble for Africa.

Editor’s note: This column first appeared as a chapter in the Vox eBook, The Long Economic and Political Shadow of History, Volume 2, available to download here.

When economists debate the long-lasting legacies of colonisation, the discussion usually revolves around the establishment of those ‘extractive’ colonial institutions that outlasted independence (e.g. Acemoglu et al. 2001), the underinvestment in infrastructure (e.g. Jedwab and Moradi 2016), the identity of colonial power (e.g. La Porta et al. 2008) and the coloniser’s influence on early human capital (Easterly and Levine 2016).1 Following the influential work of Nunn (2008), recent works have explored the deleterious long-lasting consequences of Africa’s slave trades (see Nunn 2016, for an overview). Yet, between the slave-trade period (1400-1800) and the arrival of the colonisers at the end of the 19th century, the Scramble for Africa stands out as a watershed event in the continent’s history. The partitioning of Africa by Europeans starts, roughly, in the 1860s and is completed by the early 1900s. The colonial powers signed hundreds of treaties, which involved drawing on maps the boundaries of colonies, protectorates, and ‘free-trade’ areas of a largely unexplored and mysterious continent (see Wesseling 1996 for a thorough discussion).2 In this context it is perhaps not surprising that many influential scholars of the African historiography (e.g. Asiwaju 1985, Wesseling 1996, Herbst 2000) and a plethora of case studies suggest that the most consequential aspect of European involvement in Africa was not colonisation per se, but the erratic border designation that took place in European capitals in the late 19th century.

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The Breakdown of the Kachin Ceasefire and its Implications for Peace in Myanmar

Kachin rebels

Kachin rebels in front of a gaming shop that closed after fighting broke out again. Source: David Brenner.

Hopes were once high that Myanmar’s transition to semi-civilian government in 2011 would be accompanied by the settlement of its decades-old conflicts with its ethnic minorities. However, many of the country’s insurgencies have escalated since then, plunging the north back into renewed civil conflict. As things currently stand, government forces are battling various ethnic armed groups – including Kachin, Kokang, and Palaung movements – resulting in heavy losses on both sides and the displacement of up to 200,000 civilians in Shan and Kachin States. » More

Turkey’s Ethnic Armenians Wary About Future

Armenian flags in front of a mosque in Lebanon during an anti-Turkish protest. Image: Harout Arabian/Flickr

This article was originally published by EurasiaNet on 14 April 2015.

The 100th anniversary [on April 24th] of the Medz Yeghern, or the “Great Catastrophe,” [has] highlight[ed] the mixed feelings that Turkey’s tiny ethnic Armenian minority has for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration.

On April 24, Armenians around the world [marked] the World-War-I-era deaths of hundreds of thousands ethnic Armenians in Ottoman-era Turkey. It is a tragedy that for many historians and analysts constitutes an act of genocide.

Turkey denies the claim of genocide. On April 12, Ankara withdrew its ambassador from the Vatican after Pope Francis termed the massacre “the first genocide of the 20th century.” » More

Time to Abandon the Greed-Grievance Debate

Police confront rioters during 2012 Rohingya riots in Burma. Image: Hmuu Zaw/Wikimedia

Over the past ten years, the question of whether violent conflicts are the result of genuine grievances or the product of an environment in which rebellion is an attractive and/or viable option has been  at the heart of a fierce theoretical controversy known as the greed versus grievance debate. The debate was sparked when Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler claimed that rebellion cannot be explained by grievances resulting from ethnic animosities or economic and political inequalities, because situations in which people want to rebel are ubiquitous, whereas the circumstances in which people are able to rebel (weak states, rough terrain, the presence of lootable resources etc.) are sufficiently rare to constitute the explanation.

This claim and its morally charged phrasing in terms of “greed” and “grievance” posed a tough challenge to the dominant view of many political scientists and to conventional wisdom more generally. While many scholars subsequently shifted their attention to studying the opportunities for conflict, others put their efforts into finding better ways to measure people’s grievances. An award-winning book on Inequality, Grievances, and Civil War, published in 2013, testifies to the fact that the jury in this debate is still out. » More

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