24 June 2009

Outcomes trump intellect...

...as a policy driver. Chris Blattman quotes from Mahmood Mamdani’s Saviours and Survivors:
'The Rwanda genocide unfolded at the same time as the elections marking the transition to a post-apartheid South Africa—during the first half of 1994. At a meeting of African intellectuals called in Arusha later that year to reflect on the lessons of Rwanda, I pointed out that if we had been told a decade earlier that there would be reconciliation in one country and genocide in another, none of us could have been expected to identify the locations correctly—for the simple reason that 1984 was the year of reconciliation in Rwanda and repression in the townships of South Africa. Indeed, as subsequent events showed, there was nothing inevitable about either genocide in Rwanda or reconciliation in South Africa.'
Mr Blattman goes on to ask:
I’m only a few pages into Mahmood Mamdani’s Saviours and Survivors, but I’m immensely enjoying it already. ... The book is Mamdani’s broadside against the tide of Darfur advocacy movements in the US. The academic in me loves Mamdani’s basic point: politics, like life, is complex. Boiling the Darfur conflict down to a slogan and popular campaign is at best naive, and is probably doing a disservice to peace and stability itself. The problem as I see it: simple messages, credos for action, and the call to "save" Africans will always mobilize more attention and enthusiasm than "Well, on the one hand...". Are we ...doomed to obscurity by our monotony and evenhandedness?
I think the answer is 'yes', but obscurity need not mean ineffectiveness. It probably does when there's a strong correlation between spending and results, but that doesn't always apply. Indeed, some conflicts, particularly in the Middle East, would probably benefit hugely from obscurity to the point of being invisible to the outside world. Complex issues are rarely amenable to the solutions available to large single organizations, like governments. Such organizations just are not responsive enough either to local variations, to information flows, to new technology, or to events on the ground.

Where governments, or supranational organizations like the United Nations could help is in funding the achievement of objectives by, for instance, issuing Social Policy Bonds. Preventing or ending conflict in Darfur or anywhere will probably require a mosaic of diverse, responsive projects, policies and initiatives. Social Policy Bonds would motivate investors to explore and implement these and, importantly, to terminate those that don't perform.

By issuing Social Policy Bonds governments, or the UN, or any group of interested philanthropists could fund a complex array of solutions to the conflict they target, even if they cannot anticipate what these solutions shall be. For more on this, see my essay on Conflict Reduction Bonds.

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