Tag Archives: economic reform

Disruptive Development: Harnessing the Power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the Middle East and North Africa

2015 TechGirls at iD Tech Camp at American University

Many say that we are in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterized by rapid and transformative technological advancement on a scale the world has never seen before. This Fourth Industrial Revolution has already radically and fundamentally altered the way we live, work, and interact with one another, and, unlike the ones that preceded it, is evolving at an exponential, rather than a linear, pace. Its possibilities are nearly endless.

And while previous industrial revolutions were slow to spread to certain areas of the world—thus engendering spheres of “industrialized” and “non-industrialized”—the technological nature of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has meant that the playing field has evened somewhat; industry in virtually every country has been disrupted, and transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance is all but inevitable, if it hasn’t already started.

From cell phones to self-driving cars and artificial intelligence, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is shaking up what we know—or think we know—about almost everything. This presents an opportunity to recalibrate the lens through which we view and approach critical development issues, and provides a challenge to traditional mechanisms for delivering key goods and services.

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A Way Forward for Afghanistan’s Economy

Presentation of the Herat PBA in Herat City. (Photo: CIPE Afghanistan)

Presentation of the Herat PBA in Herat City. (Photo: CIPE Afghanistan)

In many respects, 2015 was the most significant year in Afghanistan since the beginning of the international military presence in 2001, as Afghan National Security Forces took full control of counterinsurgency operations, and the National Unity Government (NUG) of President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah assumed power.  However, the year ended on a bleak note, with civilian casualties reaching an all-time high, the Taliban regaining control of the most territory they have held since November 2001, and political infighting continuing to paralyze the NUG’s proposed economic reform program.

In November of last year, the Asia Foundation released its annual Survey of the Afghan People, which compiles the views of more than 75,000 Afghan men and women on major issues key to the country’s social, economic, and political development. The results reflect the immense levels of upheaval and change the country has gone through in the past year, with only 36.7 percent of respondents stating that they believed their country was moving in the right direction, the lowest level of optimism over the past decade.

While the increased levels of violence, and the resurgence of the Taliban and other armed opposition groups have certainly been a key contributing factor in this loss of confidence, the most frequently cited local problem among those surveyed was not insecurity, but unemployment and lack of economic opportunity.

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Key Minister Resigns in Ukraine, Casting Doubt on Economic Reform Progress

Photo credit: Lithuania Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/mfa_lithuania/20063595149

Photo credit: Lithuania Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Flickr

By Eric Hontz and Marc Schleifer

In a stunning announcement in Kyiv on February 3, Ukraine’s Minister of Economic Development and Trade Aivaras Abromavicius submitted his resignation to President Poroshenko. The Lithuanian-born Abromavicius cited several factors contributing to his resignation, including pressure to appoint questionable individuals to his team or to key positions in state-owned enterprises. In particular, he named Igor Kononenko, considered a Poroshenko ally in parliament. President Poroshenko has reportedly urged Minister Abromavicius to stay on, and has promised that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau would investigate his claims against Kononeko.

A public statement signed by 10 ambassadors to Ukraine, including from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, released hours after the resignation, emphasized deep disappointment and noted the importance of Ukraine’s leaders setting aside parochial differences and the necessity of putting the vested interests that have hindered progress for decades in the past.

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Leveraging the Youth Bulge to Transform the Arab World

Syrian Economic Forum students learning civic education in Syria.

Syrian Economic Forum students learning civic education in Syria.

Last Thursday marked five years since Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted from power in what has come to be known as the Jasmine Revolution. A well-waged campaign of civil resistance, provoked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, ultimately led to the upending of Ben Ali’s autocracy and catalyzed a series of protests across the Middle East and North Africa.

Five years after the first Arab Spring uprising, we have the benefit of hindsight. We can pinpoint, with relative certainty, the various elements that contributed to the revolutions occurring when and where they did. Five years on, and we continue to grapple with both the inspiring and heartbreaking implications of revolutions in Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. A critical element that drove the protests, often mentioned in the early days but since relegated to the margins of the conversation, is the youth populations of these countries.

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Can Closer Economic Ties with Moldova Resolve the Transnistrian Frozen Conflict?

frozen-conflicts-transnistria

CIPE’s Frozen Conflicts blog series looks at the current situation in seven breakaway regions of the former Soviet Union, with a particular focus on the economic dimension. To learn more about frozen conflicts and what can be done about them read CIPE’s Economic Reform Feature Service article on the subject.

The conflict between Ukraine and Russia has set in motion events that could have major implications for the unrecognized Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistria. Wedged between Ukraine and Moldova, two countries that have taken a Western turn in their foreign policy, Transnistria is distant from its backers in Moscow.

In May 2015, the Ukrainian parliament suspended all military co-operation with Russia, including a 1995 agreement giving Russia transit rights across Ukraine to reach Transnistria. Losing access via Ukraine means that Russia must route supplies to Transnistria by air through Moldova’s capital Chisinau, but the Moldovan government has been turning back suspected military personnel, and Tiraspol — Transnistria’s capital and the second largest city in Moldova — has an runway unsuitable for cargo flights from Russia.

The loss of direct Russian access has limited the flow of aid, one Transnistria’s most important revenue sources, and put the economic squeeze on a region already weakened by the poor economic situation in Russia. Industries in Transnistria, such as they are, have been shutting down or decreasing production. Moldova’s signing of a key trade deal with the European Union will increase the pressure on Transnistria’s economy. The net result could be to push Transnistria back toward its Moldovan parent state, in the process resolving one of the oldest post-Soviet frozen conflicts.

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Keeping the Economy on the Radar, Even in the Hardest Times

A new job category in Aleppo -- "the crosser" who ferries good across the border under dangerous conditions. (Photo: Syrian Economic Forum)

A new job category in Aleppo — “the crosser” who ferries good across the border under dangerous conditions. (Photo: Syrian Economic Forum)

In Beirut during Lebanon’s civil war, people continued to go to school and attend theater performances. One woman once told me how, to get to her university, she would take a taxi to the line between East and West Beirut, dash to the other side behind overturned trash dumpsters to avoid snipers, and then catch another ride to university — always with a change of clothing in case she could not get home again for a while.

Not every war sees people able to defiantly and bravely continue school and go to the theater, but the story underscores an important point left out of most news reports: conflict is not a permanent state…even during conflict.

Media reports show the most bullet-ridden, shell resounding, civilian-fleeing dramatic moments, but even in situations of all-out war, pockets of fighting revolve and front lines move. Whenever there is a lull in violence, civilians generally try to make life go on as much as they can, however they can. And that includes the economy. Farmers will return to their fields and factories will resume operation as often as possible, and people will buy, sell, and barter what they need to survive. And yes, sometimes they even study for exams by candle in hallways lined with mattresses during shelling (another story I once heard from another Lebanese).

Recently, a group of CIPE staff with experience in conflict-affected settings formed a task force to do some more thinking about CIPE’s own projects in conflict-affected areas. We found it interesting that we work with local groups in areas that range from unstable to war-torn, but that we rarely think of them as “conflict projects” per se. So we started throwing around a lot of questions: is it worth even thinking of our projects through a conflict lens ? (Short answer: yes.) What is our approach to conflict and is it unique? What are the various ways CIPE has either reacted programmatically to conflict, or designed programs to be conflict sensitive?

We’re still thinking, but we have started to articulate what we think we know (more on that at the end of this post). So here it goes…

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Kickstarting Economic Growth in Afghanistan’s Provinces

Participants at the Nangarhar PBA launch event.

Participants at the Nangarhar PBA launch event.

A year after the impasse over the 2014 presidential election was resolved, Afghanistan finds itself at a critical juncture in its economic development. Given the dramatic reduction in foreign military presence over the past several years and the decrease in development assistance from the international donor community, concerns are mounting that Afghanistan’s economy will be unable to sustain itself.

A recent study published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the International Council of Swedish Industry (NIR) draws attention to the problem. “In its current state,” the report notes, “the Afghan private sector is not the engine of economic growth or instrument of social inclusion it has the potential to be. Popular dissatisfaction with unequal access to economic resources, flawed public services and goods, the adverse security situation, and predatory government activity undermine an effective and sustainable private sector.”

President Ashraf Ghani and the National Unity Government have laid out a wide range of proposals to kickstart economic development, but security conditions and political infighting have made it difficult to implement many of these reforms.  Nevertheless, hope for progress and success remains.  The Swedish report, while painting a grim picture of the current outlook, provides a concrete set of recommendations to Afghan government policymakers, the international donor community, and other key stakeholders, for incentivizing private sector growth and boosting economic development, thereby improving prospects for peace and stability.

Chief among these recommendations is the need for the Afghan private sector to play a greater role in the policy making process.  On October 28, over a hundred leaders of the Afghan business community, civil society, and media, as well as prominent provincial and national government figures, convened in Jalalabad for the official launch of the report of the Nangarhar Provincial Business Agenda.

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