Reading the International Crisis Group or why think tank reports have to be taken with a pinch of salt, by Berit Bliesemann de Guevara

Hillary Clinton at ICG Annual Award ceremony (Picture borrowed from

Hillary Clinton at ICG Annual Award ceremony (Picture borrowed from

Recently the New York Times caused turmoil among prestigious and influential US think tanks when it published an investigative article about concealed connections between these non-profit research organisations and a broad range of foreign countries, among them Norway, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar (NYT online, 6/9/2014). The article revealed that leading think tanks like the Center for Global Development, the Brookings Institution and the Atlantic Council are receiving funding from foreign governments in exchange for influence on the organisations’ recommendations to US policy-makers. The article criticized this practice for its lack of transparency and the supposed loss of intellectual freedom and objectivity. ‘The money is increasingly transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying in Washington’, the authors cautioned. The attacked think tanks rejected the accusations, pointing to ‘credibility’ and ‘scholarly independence’ as their major ‘currency’, although one interviewee admitted that self-censorship could be a future problem because in times of dwindling funding sources, saving one’s job could well trump the urge to be critical.

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Is it Acceptable to Lie for a Good Cause? By Henrik Urdal

Humanitarian organizations may easily succumb to the temptation to misuse numbers and statistics in order to promote their own causes. Does the end justify the means?


Illustration: Espen Friberg / Morgenbladet

Disasters are most dangerous for moms reported Save the Children’s Carolyn S Miles in Huffington Post when presenting the organization’s State of the World’s Mothers report for 2014. The claim was followed by a number: women and children are ‘14 times more likely to die in a disaster than men’. A sky-high number when one is talking about differences in death rates and a colossal injustice if the information is reliable. But it’s not.

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The Modernity Bluff: book review by Joschka Philipps



Sasha Newell. 2012. The Modernity Bluff: Crime, Consumption, and Citizenship in Côte d’Ivoire. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. 305 pp. [original source: African Studies Quarterly | Volume 14, Issue 3 | March 2014; pp. 143-145]


Sasha Newell’s The Modernity Bluff starts out by pulling the reader into one of Abidjan’s typical outdoor bars where, around tables fully covered with bottles, groups of young men lavishly outspend each other. They flash rolls of money, prominently display their cell phones, and exhibit their prestigious US brand name clothing in the most refined ways. We witness a bluff: many of those indulging in seemingly unlimited consumption that night “would struggle to find enough money to feed themselves the next day” (p. 2). What follows is an extraordinary account of how such bluffing makes sense in the Ivoirian context. Newell delineates in its most intricate details how the fakery of being wealthy and the performance of being “modern“ (i.e. “Westernized“) are of constitutive importance to such diverse phenomena as street language (chapter 1), the illicit urban economy (chapter 2), masculinity and social cohesion (chapter 3), consumption (chapter 4), migration (chapter 5), and the Ivoirian political crisis (chapter 6).

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Beyond the health crisis: Ebola hits Liberia’s economy hard, by Patrick Hettinger

With over 400 deaths in Liberia and more than 1,000 across West Africa, the Ebola epidemic has been the deadliest in history and has spread fear and panic across the region. But beyond the terrifying health crisis, the Ebola outbreak threatens to reverse much of the economic and social progress Liberia has made over its decade of peace. While GDP growth had averaged over 8% since 2011, it was already forecast to slow down to 5.9% in 2014 due to slower growth in iron ore production, weak timber and rubber exports growth, and the gradual drawdown of the United Nations force (UNMIL). However, restrictions on transportation and commerce, the withdrawal of international workers, a slowdown of investment, and a panicked population will further reduce growth this year. Containing the crisis rapidly will be critical to preserve the progress made, and to reduce risks to the short- and medium-term outlook.

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“It don’t take a semiotician…” Or, what we talk about when we talk about bush meat, by Adia Benton

This weekend, Newsweek published a relatively controversial article about the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Here’s the cover:

chimp ebola

Let’s just say it’s not exactly an original piece of journalism either.

I found myself frustrated not only by the cover and the article, but also by the editor-in-chief’s condescending response to his critics:


Not exactly the kind of response you want from an editor-in-chief, right? I vented to Facebook friends about the magazine cover, the thin claims of the article and its editor-in-chief’s rude response to critical tweets. One of my friends pointed out that the magazine has been propagating race-baiting click bait for a while now. (Yes, I used the word ‘bait’ twice, and we, the scholars, have bitten). So it shouldn’t be surprising to see the old trope of apes standing in for black folks or sexually charged Grubb Street prognostications regarding ‘back door’ entry of Ebola into the US gracing its front pages. (As one tweeter noted, It doesn’t take a semiotician to see what’s going on here).

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The Complexity of Ebola & Its Misrepresentation in the West, by Theresa Ammann

After two months, I left Liberia and my Liberian host-family shortly before what has now officially been termed Ebola Outbreak #2, full of worries what was yet to come. When ebola first entered Liberia in March, I was bewildered at the initial response of the Government of Liberia (GoL) and the inaction of the International community, so much that the later rapid escalation of Outbreak #2 did not come as a surprise. To me, the ebola outbreak has become a marker of the fragility of the Liberian state and the biased mentality of International decision-makers and media. While ebola will lead to many far-reaching consequences that one can only speculate about at this point, one thing is for sure, the historically deeply-entrenched Liberian distrust in public authorities will only be worsened by this.

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Ebola, mistrust and humanitarian mobility? by Adia Benton

In a recent response to questions about the role of the war and the attacks on foreign health workers, I wrote:

…. if war has changed anything, the incredible influx of humanitarian interventions and aid workers during the war and its immediate aftermath — where outsiders and their local cronies seemed to benefit openly from others’ suffering — has also engendered suspicion that has helped fuel the backlash against local and international health workers.

Here, I am expanding on this claim, which is intended to complement Susan Shepler’s piece about mistrust of the ‘vampire state’.

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