Sunday, September 30, 2007

On the Hill: Calestous Juma Testifies on US/Sub-Saharan Africa Relationship

On the Hill: Calestous Juma Testifies on US/Sub-Saharan Africa Relationship:

"This year marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl Linnaeus, renowned as the father of taxonomy. Less known are his lifelong efforts to find permanent solutions to the persistent famines in Sweden. Linnaeus drew attention to the economic value of living things: “each country produces something especially useful.” He argued, however, for the importance of reason and scientific knowledge for sustainable economies. Three hundred years later, Sweden is among the wealthiest nations on Earth and famines are the subject only of history lessons. Efforts to promote food security in sub-Saharan Africa must remember the lessons of Sweden: (a) “food security” is inseparable from economic development. Rich countries do not starve; (b) science and innovation are a necessary part of economic development and so of “food security”; and (c) universities in most countries are engines of development and must be so in Africa as well. International cooperation is critical for promoting the adoption of new agricultural technologies such as biotechnology. It is especially regrettable, then, that international agricultural assistance to Africa has been reduced in recent years. This disengagement in turn has weakened cooperation between the US and Africa on strategic economic issues."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Thinking About Growth Through Innovation

At the meeting on innovation policies in India and China I was struck by a comparison of China, India, Israel and Ireland. They are all technological innovators, but India and China are huge countries while Israel and Ireland are small countries. It occurred to me that it might be worthwhile to consider innovation in other than a national perspective.

We know that the key innovation clusters in India are located in Bangalore and Mumbai; those in China are in Beijing and Shanghai. In both countries, as in the United States, many cities do not have innovation clusters, and rural areas are unindustrialized. In Europe, a lot of ICT innovation takes place in Scandinavia, but many other countries fail to innovate as much as do Sweden, Norway, Denmark, etc.

It occurs to me that technology investment is focused into areas that have access to large markets. Silicon Valley and Beijing have access to large markets in the United States and China respectively. Scandinavian countries and Ireland have access to the European common market. Israel is a special case, denied access to the markets in the other countries in its geographical region, it enjoys a special access to markets in the United States and Western Europe. India had developed an innovation based industry taking advantage of the Internet and global information infrastructure to tap an emerging global market for tradable services such as software and Internet enabled services.

It is pretty well known that there are cluster effects that encourage new technology firms and existing firms seeking new sites to locate where there is an existing cluster of similar firms. In part this is believed to be due to the technological spillovers among firms, and in part to supporting institutions tailored to the needs of high tech industry, such as financial services, labor markets and other human resource institutions, and markets for intermediate goods and services.

The emphasis on national innovation policies found in so many countries and forums suggests that the policy domain is important. However, companies make location decisions not only on the basis of national policies but also on the attractiveness of the local setting. Local policies and offers seem to count.

Adequate knowledge and human resources seem to be a necessary but not sufficient condition for the development of an innovation cluster. An open environment also seems important. The environment must be sufficiently open that knowledge workers and companies can network with others. Once a cluster takes off, the environment must be open to the immigration of people with the necessary skills. In some (small) countries human resource growth has been accomplished by repatriating expats, while in other (large) countries growth has been accomplished by internal migration.

Policies to promote the development of innovation clusters therefore include those which open markets and open borders, as well as those which open knowledge systems.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Knowledge for Development of What?

Different people have different needs for knowledge at different times.

Think about driving at 65 miles an hour and seeing the cars in front of you suddenly crash. You would have an immediate, urgent need for the skills to avoid the accident and getting killed, and you would not be very receptive to information at that moment on how to get richer or happier. (I suppose that by analogy, the world has an urgent need for knowledge of how to avoid an environmental crash which it seems to be rushing towards in this century.)

The billion poorest people in the world need knowledge urgently to increase their probability of survival. These are folk who have grave difficulty getting enough to eat, who are victims of the diseases of poverty, and who live desperate lives.

Half the world’s population lives in poverty. Two to two and a half billion people are not so badly off as the poorest, but still are caught in a poverty trap. They are generally poorly educated and poorly governed, living in impoverished environments, under threat of war and conflict. Perhaps the most pressing need of these people is for knowledge to spring that poverty trap, and allow them to join the peoples in East Asia and other regions who are gaining decent lives.

At the other end of the scale, consider the billion people who now own computers and are connected to the Internet. This group is probably a good surrogate for the richest billion people in the world. They are not hungry unless they choose to be, and they enjoy a life expectancy that appears to be approaching the limits defined by our genetic heritage.

These are the folk who have been most avidly discussing the “knowledge economy”. It would seem that their priority is for the acquisition of knowledge to enable still higher levels of acquisition of goods and services and of wealth – knowledge for the development of monetary income!

An alternative would be to give priority to the acquisition of knowledge that would contribute to development of a better improve the quality of life. This might involve knowledge that would allow them to live in a more attractive and sustainable environment. Certainly, many in this group would gladly trade money for leisure, so they might seek knowledge to enable them to live a comfortable life with less work.

This still seems a hedonic view, and I wonder whether we should rather seek knowledge to allow us to live more wisely. Perhaps if we focused on the knowledge for the development of wisdom for the economic elite, we would find ourselves in a world in which they recognized a greater moral responsibility for the welfare of the rest. Perhaps that would end being truly knowledge for the development of all.

The Dragon and the Elephant

"Elusive Dragon"
by Kamala (an Asian Elephant)
The Calgary Zoo
source: cyber animal art gallery

I have been attending a conference on innovation in China and India, titled “The Dragon and the Elephant”. It is being held at the National Academy of Sciences, and is part of the NAS comparative study of innovation processes in the world’s large economies.

The speakers make the point that China has a much larger economy than does India, and that it is only recently that India has achieved economic growth rates comparable to those long enjoyed by China. The Chinese have had a growth characterized by an emphasis on manufacturing, while the Indians have focused more on services. The Chinese have capitalized on their large market more effectively than have the Indians. The Indians have had a program more focused on Internet enabled exports. Both have achieved high rates of growth of per capita GDP by increasing total factor productivity, but the Chinese have been much more effective in capital deepening, and especially in attracting foreign direct investment.

China was described as having developed its manufacturing industry using its competitive advantage of low cost labor, and accepting low profit margins. It has kept the competitive advantage by increasing labor productivity and keeping very high rates of saving and investment. It is now seeking ways to move up the value chain, adding services that involve more knowledge intensive labor and justify a price premium.

One speaker noted that her company can relatively easily get patents in China, but can not enforce them, but they can not even get the patents in India.

Another presentation noted that it is only in the pharmaceutical industry that patent protection is really important to stimulate innovation. While globally the ICT industries are very important seekers and holders of patents, they wield collections of patents to protect larger positions, whereas the pharmaceutical industry profits from the exploitation of individual patented products.

India for many years refused to give patents on pharmaceutical products, allowing them only on the processes for producing those products. As a result, Indian industry developed alternative processes for producing products under patent in other countries, leading directly to the development of its strong place in the international market for generic drugs. The reform of the patent laws to agree with WTO guidelines has resulted in a surge of pharmaceutical product patent applications, and is causing some significant revisions of the industry in India.

I was especially impressed by a question from the audience toward the end of the day. Someone asked if the emphasis on national innovation policies would better be replaced by an emphasis on global innovation policies. The more I think about the question, the more I like it!

I suspect that openness to international competition is an important element in innovation policy in both the national and global context. For most countries in which innovation is important on a global scale, the need to innovate to compete would be a stimulus in the private sector. The argument that open markets and a uniform playing field contribute both to the rate of national and global innovation would be an important element in foreign economic policy. It would help to counter arguments from countries that seek to protect their domestic companies from innovating multinationals.

The question raises issues of harmonization of standards and IPR systems internationally, as potentially supportive of global innovation -- something that merits more thought. I think the world as a whole benefits from a higher rate of global innovation.

The issue is perhaps different for public goods. How does the world achieve an appropriately high rate of innovation in areas such as vaccines against HIV, new anti-malarial drugs, or means for monitoring environmental degradation? How do we fight freeloading and get countries to pay their fair shares of the costs of development of the needed technologies?

Sam Petroda is a great key note speaker!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Islamic Countries

In the last year and a half I have spent time abroad in Kazakhstan and Jordan as well as Uganda. In Uganda I was able to visit the Islamic University in Uganda, which educates muslim kids from Uganda and other African nations. In the past I have had the opportunity to work in Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Morocco. My reading suggests that the Islamic countries have long and complex histories that influence their current cultures and institutions. I have come to the conclusion that Islamic countries differ at least as much from one another as do Christian countries. That impression seems not to be universally shared.

Jordan: A great tourist destination

I am recently returned from Jordan. I have already posted materials from my visits to Petra and Jerash on another blog:
I also go to visit the Citadel in the center of Amman, and the museum that is located there. Here are some images from that visit:

Ruins above the citadel.

An 8,500 year old statue in the museum --
perhaps the oldest surviving statue in the world.

Roman statue in museum.

I also took the chance to visit Madaba and Mt. Nebo. The latter is the site of a church dedicated to Moses, who is believed to have seen the promised land from the mountain, and to be buried nearby.
Byzantine church called after Moses on Mt. Nebo.

Roman mosaic in original location (?) in Madaba museum.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Does Political History Miss the Big Picture?

I have just read A History of the Middle East by Peter Mansfield, as edited by Nicolas Pelham. It is a good read, dealing with a large region in the two centuries since Napoleon. Of course, it is history of the school of "one damn thing after another", or more accurately, "one damn big wig after another". (Of course, any history of West Asia and North Africa that describes itself as a history of the Middle East has a Eurocentric bias.)

I suppose the book illuminates a pattern. If so, that pattern is one not so much of instability as of a limit cycle in which political changes take place within a limited range until a metastable arrangement is stumbled upon, which lasts for a longer period. It seems that one outside power after another succeeds in extending its influence over the region. We do not see a total destruction on the order of Darfur in the region during the two centuries, nor do we see the emergence of modern nation-states comparable to those Western Europe.

I read the book while in Jordan. During my visit, I had the opportunity to visit a number of Jordanian museums. They of course are repositories of the remains of the material culture of the region, labeled with the political epochs from which they descended. I was struck by the continuity of that material culture. Mosaic techniques from Greco-Roman times were clearly the antecedents of Byzantine mosaics, which are the basis of a thriving mosaic craft in the region today. Oil lamps from one epoch are much like those of another. So while the thin upper crust of political authorities changed, perhaps the lives of the majority of the people continued much as before.

I am just beginning to read Sailing from Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World by Colin Wells. It focuses on how intangible culture flowed from the Levant into Western Europe, Northern Europe, and the Arab lands having been the recipient of culture from Greece and Rome, which in turn were influenced by the earlier civilizations of the Fertile Crescent. Again, intangible culture seems to have a life of its own separate from political regimes, and a continuity that often defies political change.

The big changes may have been environmental. Certainly Jordan today seems to be a much degraded environment, and I was told by a guide that the region has never recovered from the deforestation from the time of the Ottoman Empire. Has anyone studied the link between the Little Ice Age (1300 to 1870) and the decline of the Islamic civilization?

The Logic of Abstenance Campaigns to Prevent AIDS

Read "AIDS: Time to grow up", The Economist, September 20th 2007.

Subtitle: "'Abstinence only' education does not slow the spread of AIDS"

"THERE can be no surer way of averting a sexually transmitted infection such as AIDS than avoiding sex. That much is obvious."
How about killing everyone? That would completely stop the spread of AIDS.

Actually, "sexually transmitted infection" is a general description, and STDs can be transmitted by other means than sex. Thus, HIV infection has been transmitted to many people by direct blood to blood transmission, as in the case of intravenous drug users, people infected by injections with used needles in other settings, and people who were transfused with HIV infected blood (before blood supplies were well policed). So, there are surer ways of averting sexually transmitted infection than avoiding sex.

I would also point out that there is no surer way of avoiding food poisoning than by fasting. There is no surer way of avoiding traffic accidents (that kill tens of thousands of Americans a year) than by staying home and never going out in the streets.

Friday, September 21, 2007


Check out: "Herb Stein's Unfamiliar Quotations: On money, madness, and making mistakes." in Slate, May 16, 1997.

If you meet a madman who says that he is a fish and that we are all fishes, do you take off your clothes to show him that you do not have fins?

--Milan Kundera, Risibles Amours, 1984
Honesty may not be the best policy, but it is worth trying once in a while.

--Richard Nixon, in a meeting, 1970
If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.

--Stein's Law, first pronounced in the 1980s

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Africa losing faith in conference diplomacy"

Read the full article by Calestous Juma in Business Daily Africa (September 20, 2007).

Dr. Juma notes that African nations post large delegations in the expensive locations where the international organizations plan and host their big conferences, and those conferences keep recommending policies to fight poverty in Africa, but very little actually comes as a result of those conferences. He suggests that these nations emulate the Swiss House for Advanced Research and Education (Share) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Share, a joint effort of the Swiss Federal Department of Interior and the Swiss Federal Department of the Foreign Affairs, is the country’s first foreign mission dedicated to education, research, innovation, art and design. Share facilitates collaboration between Swiss and American researchers and advises Swiss scientists on innovation and entrepreneurship.

Dr. Juma writes:
African countries could do the same by redirecting some of the sources currently locked up in their missions to the UN. Similarly, these countries can scale down their participation in non-essential multilateral negotiations and use the resources to support science and innovation consulates in key technology centres around the world.

For example, having a science and innovation consulate close to Silicon Valley in California could be more beneficial than supporting new development negotiations.

African countries are laying the foundation for such diplomatic transformation by starting to focus on economic diplomacy. This is not only reflected in the decisions of the AU but is evident in proposed revisions in the foreign policies of several Africa countries.
Comment: It sounds like Professor Juma, a world leader in science and technology policy, is on the right track. I am not sure that Silicon Valley and the Route 128 Corridor are the key sites for African economic diplomats. Perhaps Singapore and Sao Paolo, Beijing and New Delhi would be even better. But I too am skeptical of the payback from the conferences of the multinational agencies is as great as that from economic diplomacy with the technological innovators and productive businesses. JAD

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

link home

link home: "LINK (Learning INnovation, Knowledge) is an initiative of United Nations University – Maastricht Economic and social Research and training centre on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT). Its goal is to advance the understanding of innovation for a New Rural Economy in developing countries through concepts, lessons and guidelines and by facilitating discussions amongst scholars, policymakers, development investors and practitioners dealing with rural development."

"Africa flood zones face more rain"

Read the full article on BBC News, 19 September 2007.

"A million Africans already suffering from severe flooding have been warned of further misery to come with heavy rain predicted from West to East.

"The United Nations says 250 people have died and more than 600,000 people been made homeless across 17 countries.

"The World Food Programme has urged governments to do all they can to help provide immediate relief.

"WFP has launched an $60m appeal for food aid to Uganda alone, where it estimates 1.7 m people will go hungry."

Comment: This is a disaster worth our attention and our generosity.

Ia it a symptom of global warming. There is no way of knowing. But is the apparent increase in the rate of these floods and weather disasters such a result. Probably.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tropical Agriculture Expert Donald Plucknett, 75

Read the obituary by Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb in The Washington Post, September 17, 2007.

"Donald L. Plucknett, 75, an expert in world food matters who in recent years was the president of his own agricultural research and development firm, died of leukemia Sept. 3 at Inova Fairfax Hospital....

"Dr. Plucknett, who had an extensive career in tropical agriculture, worked at the University of Hawaii for 20 years. He continued to gain recognition for his work with the U.S. Agency for International Development and as a senior adviser to the World Bank. He wrote or edited 20 books and more than 200 articles....

In Genebanks and the World's Food (1987), "Dr. Plucknett and his co-authors warned that the international decline of genetic diversity produces record harvests but creates crops that are delicate and defenseless against nature's threats.

They said that such events as the 1840s Irish potato famine and the 1980 Cuban boatlift -- which occurred soon after a fungus destroyed 90 percent of the tobacco crop in Cuba and left thousands unemployed -- might have been caused by nations' failures to cultivate enough plant varieties."

Dr Plucknett "was chief of soil and water management at the Technical Assistance Bureau from 1973 to 1976; deputy executive director of the Board for Food and Agricultural Development in 1978 and 1979; and chief of agriculture and rural development in the Asia Bureau in1979 and 1980."

He "joined the World Bank in 1980 and until 1983 served as senior science adviser to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, which aims to increase food production and reduce poverty in developing countries through scientific research and research-related activities."

I knew Don Plucknett, and saw his work at USAID and at the CGIAR. He was a good man and played an important role in international agricultural research for many years. He will be missed!

"Lessons in Forced Democracy"

Read the full article by Shankar Vedantam, The Washington Post, September 17, 2007.

An as yet unpublished study by political scientists Andrew Enterline and J. Michael Greig "is a detailed examination of 41 cases over about 200 years where one nation has tried to impose democracy on another.....A third of all democracies imposed by one nation on another fail within the first 10 years of their establishment, Enterline and Greig found. Strong democracies, such as the ones set up in Germany and Japan, that last beyond 20 to 30 years seem to survive indefinitely. But 75 percent of weak democracies, where elections are held but the civic institutions that shore up a democracy are weak or missing, die within the first 30 years. According to the definitions used by the political scientists, the democracy in Iraq, like others established by European colonial powers in Africa and Asia, is extremely weak. "Their trajectory of failure deepens so that 90 percent have failed by their 60th year, and most have failed well before that," said Greig, who teaches with Enterline at the University of North Texas."

Enterline and Greig found four factors contributed to "successful impositions of democracy: large occupation forces early on to stamp out nascent insurgencies; a clear message that occupation forces were willing to spend years to make democracy work; an ethnically homogenous population, where politics was less likely to splinter along sectarian lines; and finally, the good fortune to have neighbors that also were democratically minded, or at least neighbors who could be kept from interfering."

Technology and the Construction of Knowledge

I have just returned from a trip to Jordan. I have been traveling internationally for more than 50 years. For many of those years I owned a pretty good camera and took slides of the places I visited. I would have them developed on my return, and project them on a screen. I tried to photograph the places and things I thought most worthy of memorializing -- the most beautiful, impressive or historic.

These days I travel with a laptop, a digital camera, and image editing software. I download images from the camera to the computer, and edit them with the software, then send selected ones by email to my wife and son and selected friends. I even post some on my blogs. Now I try to photograph things that will convey to that audience the things I am seeing and doing -- things that might interest them. Since I still try to see things in my travels that are beautiful, impressive or historic, some of the images are comparable to those I took in the past. My recent images of Petra were perhaps similar in spirit to those I photographed of Machu Picchu or the Tag Mahal in the past. But I will also take images from my hotel window or of typical street scenes, or of desert landscape that help me communicate the everyday experiences I am having on my trips.

Street scene, Madaba, Jordan

The point is that the change in technology changes my conception of image making with a camera. The image is an embodiment of knowledge, but it is knowledge construed differently according to the technology available and thus the purpose to which the image is applied. The image above, taken on my trip, has still another construction.

Information and Communication Technology and the Social Construction of Knowledge

I am impressed by the idea that the ways in which we construe our observations are deeply influenced by the people with whom we interact, and indeed by our society and culture. Others have suggested that we construe technology socially. A famous example is the bicycle. Once the bicycle was seen as a sporting device for fit and athletic young men, and the makers devised machines that were difficult to master but exciting. The bicycles used by huge numbers of commuters in China have little relation to those early machines. The exquisite machines used by professionals in the Tour de France have little relation to either, since they are construed in terms of the competitive goals of the racing teams.

But the point I am making in this posting is that our use of information and communications technology -- cameras, computers, software, email -- also changes the way we construe knowledge. The technology affects what information we record and transmit, why we do so, and what we make of it.

Magellan and the construction of knowledge

I have been reading "Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe" by Laurence Bergreen. The book is an entry into a world distant in time and place, and a good read. In the context of this blog however, I want to point out one of the book's central premises.

Magellan's voyage around the world, during which he died, took place between 1519 and 1522. According to Bergreen, in Magellan's time -- the Age of Exploration -- there was a significant separation between the maps of:
  • cosmologists who where academics seeking to describe the earth (and the heavens) through the application of mathematics and the study of sources believed to be authentic at the time, and dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans.
  • pilots, whose "portolan" charts were based on the actual observations made by ships crews, and especially by the European explorers who were literally sailing into uncharted waters.
The cosmologists were gentlemen and the pilots were working class. Thus there was a reluctance of the cosmologists to give credence to the maps of pilots over those of ancient philosophers whose writings were rediscovered during the renaissance.

Magellan is described as a gentleman who knew enough to distrust the maps and globes produced by the cosmologists, who was still deeply affected by their ideas that the world was round and that the Pacific was a relatively small body of water that would be easily navigated. He was also an experienced sailor, who knew the value of pilot's charts. He is also described as one of the first of the breed of modern men who sought knowledge through direct observation.

His circumnavigation of the globe provided a direct observation of the shape and size of the earth, and forever changed cosmology.

I guess we are all influenced by the mythology promulgated by the authoritative academics of our times, even as we depend on the knowledge accumulated by working men through their observations. Magellan was one of the pioneers that made modern science possible.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hello from Amman, Jordan

I have been in Jordan for a week and a half, primarily looking at the Jordan Education Initiative. The project was created as the result of an initiative promoted by Cisco CEO John Chambers at the World Economic Forum. It was also an important initiative for the Jordanian Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MoICT). It has evolved into the prototype national initiative in the WEF's Global Education Initiative. Of course, it is now a key initiative for Jordanian educators.

The JEI has focused on developing a model in which e-content (developed to enrich textbooks issued to all students in Jordanian public schools and a revised curriculum developed as part of the Education Reform for the Knowledge Economy--ERfKE-- project) is delivered via the Internet and now the National Broadband Network from central servers. It is accessed by students in computer labs and from their homes, cybercafes or community centers, and used by teachers using laptops and projectors in the classroom. E-content is available to enrich Mathematics, Science, Arabic and English instruction in primary and secondary schools.

This is a very ambitious project, seeking to mobilize the Ministry of Education (MoE) to roll out the model to all 3,200 public primary and secondary schools in Jordan. It is being developed and Beta tested in 100 "discovery schools" in Amman. I think this will be one of the most interesting projects in the world to watch in terms of the applications of e-learning in developing nations. This is especially true given that it is gathering a lot of data describing the innovation and its development.

It is interesting too in that for the three years of WEF support, it enjoyed a strong coalition of private and public partners. Private partners included some of the world's giant ICT corporations -- Cisco, Intel, Microsoft. Jordanian private partners included a number of courseware development firms that could produce content in Arabic linked to MoE curricula.

The small JEI staff, which has included people assigned from private firms for long periods, has played an important role in coordinating among the many participants in this program. JEI is now making the transition to an international NGO, and I wish them luck.

I was especially impressed by the involvement of NetCorps Jordan, which has an innovative internship program in support of the JEI. It provides 20 interns per year, who must learn a lot working with the project. I met several of them, and they are indeed impressive recent ICT graduates who are confronting the real world helping schools to adopt the technology and helping JEI to coordinate inputs and assure that the infrastructure supports e-content testing.

It has been fun to visit schools, and especially to see some great teachers who are really keeping kids interested in the classroom, using technology in ways the MoE envisioned and going beyond those visions. It has also been humbling to see schools that are dealing with crowded conditions, opening up to accept tens of thousands of Iraqi kids who have arrived in recent years, and keeping good spirits in the face of severely limited financial resources. It was quite nice to see facilities that in spite of age and overcrowding, were clean and well decorated -- testifying to the time and effort spent in their maintenance.

I have read there is an exceptional tradition of hospitality to guests and visitors in Jordan, and that certainly has been my experience. Our hosts in the JEI especially gave us a warm welcome and strong support. Everywhere we went, busy people generously took time to show us around and explain their successes and problems. And we were offered drinks and munchies everywhere we went.

Still the strongest impression was the intelligence and the professionalism of the people we interviewed. This was perhaps expected in JEI, an internationally known initiative, and in the higher levels of government agencies. But that intelligence and professionalism was also shown in the schools by principals, teachers and computer lab technicians.

Not all was business, and you might be interested in my posting on Petra in another blog.