Commentary

How African Scholarship Can Reduce African Unemployment

BRIGHTON – With two thirds of Africa’s population under 25 years of age, the continent’s youth may be its biggest competitive advantage. After all, countries’ long-term economic prospects are typically linked to the availability of a young, mobile labor force. A recent report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation concluded that ten of the world’s 25 fastest-growing economies between 2004 and 2014 were in Africa. And yet, with many millions of young people unemployed in 2015, and many more underemployed, Africa has so far failed to reach its full potential.


The continent’s youth-employment challenge persists for many reasons. For starters, youth-focused policies and interventions are limited across the region. Programs that do exist lack adequate coordination, and often fail to incorporate lessons and feedback. Employment strategies have also tended to be largely theory-based; while well meaning, they can fail to deliver results when put into practice.

But in our view, an additional, often overlooked weakness is an academic environment that limits contributions from Africa’s youngest scholars – students just finishing their PhDs – who may in fact hold the keys to putting the continent to work. Experience shows that young African doctoral students produce research that is crucial to addressing the continent’s development challenges. And yet, far too often, these young minds lack the training, access, and support they need to bring their ideas from the field to the policymaking arena.

That is why we have joined a global initiative to provide young African researchers an opportunity to engage in policy-oriented solutions, through research collaboration and publishing opportunities. Launched in 2016 by The MasterCard Foundation and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in the United Kingdom, the Matasa Fellows Network aims to bring together the continent’s young academic talent to help solve Africa’s youth employment challenge.

Because that challenge is closely connected to other issues – like migration, conflict, rural development, and gender – policymakers must cast a wide net when considering solutions. Our fellows’ research on these issues poses vital questions to governments and development funders about how to design solutions and implement them in ways that ensure accountability.

The first cohort of fellows, who recently published their findings in the IDS Bulletin, included ten African doctoral students working in the social sciences. With coaching and mentorship from IDS staff, the fellows fine-tuned their ideas through peer mentorship and worked to generate policy ideas through interactions with government officials and NGOs professionals.

The fellows’ output so far has been remarkable: policy briefs on a diverse range of topics, including youth unemployment in Ghana, livestock production in Kenya, and regional strategies for improving youth-led entrepreneurship. The inaugural Matasa fellows also studied the political dimensions of youth employment and policy processes in Ethiopia; the social and cultural concerns underpinning employment choices across the continent; how mentorship affects entrepreneurship; and how young Africans view illicit industries, like gambling and sex work.

Some of the fellows’ research has generated remarkable results –all the more so for being counterintuitive. For example, Kampala-based researcher Nicholas Kilimani’s survey of employment strategies found that, contrary to commonly held assumptions, youth unemployment rates actually rise proportional to educational attainment. Solving the employment crisis will therefore require creative thinking, Kilimani argues. “The youth employment challenge requires policy action beyond basic education and labor markets,” he writes, “into areas such as credit markets, infrastructure, business regulation, and rural development.”

The work of Maurice Sikenyi, who studied Kenya’s Youth Enterprise Development Fund, a government-run microfinancing initiative, is equally innovative. Using primary interviews and secondary data, the University of Minnesota scholar concluded that the fund’s reach and impact was being weakened by corruption, vague eligibility criteria, long wait times for loan processing, and an underappreciation of the risks young people take when starting their own business. His paper explores how the development program could be strengthened through greater attention to accountability measures and a renewed focus on mentorship.

Africa can turn the corner on youth employment. To do so, however, African decision-makers need to engage more deeply with the continent’s youngest, brightest researchers – who often are uniquely positioned to lend key insights – and build new nodes of academic connectivity between the continent’s research, policy, and practice.

Seife Ayele and Jim Sumberg are research fellows at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. Samir Khan is Senior Manager of Research and Policy Communications at The MasterCard Foundation.

By Seife Ayele, Samir Khan, and Jim Sumberg

How to Renew the European Project

BERLIN – The French presidential and legislative elections earlier this year have instilled new hope in the European integration project, by raising the prospect of deeper Franco-German cooperation. And yet some forms of cooperation, not least shared-liability schemes, would be a mistake. As long as member states have sovereignty over fiscal and economic policymaking, France and Germany should focus their efforts on making the eurozone itself more resilient.


French President Emmanuel Macron has started to pursue urgently needed reforms to boost economic growth, and it is crucial that he succeeds in this effort. France is suffering from high structural unemployment and low potential growth, and its public finances are unsustainable in the medium term. Improving this state of affairs will require factor- and product-market reforms, together with deep reductions in public-sector deficits.

From France’s standpoint, there is no better time than now to implement economic reforms. Although the eurozone is showing signs of a solid economic recovery, the European Central Bank is feeling increasing pressure to taper its ultra-expansionary monetary policies. Macron’s government thus has no time to lose, especially given that economic reforms can take time to deliver results, and the next elections are always just around the corner.

In light of this small window of opportunity, the last thing France needs is more joint investment schemes, as some have proposed. Economic growth requires not just capital investments, but also a business environment where innovation is encouraged and rewarded. And at any rate, it wouldn’t make sense for France to rely on other member states for investments. How can France claim to have restored its past grandeur if it is asking for Germany’s help?

Beyond implementing domestic reforms, France can still work with Germany to send a powerful message in support of European integration. But as both countries seek areas where they can cooperate, they must be careful to avoid policies that would threaten the eurozone’s long-term stability.

Unfortunately, some proposals currently being discussed would do precisely that. For example, establishing a shared eurozone-level budget or unemployment-insurance regime would, at this stage, sow the seeds of future conflicts. It is inconceivable that national policymakers, seeing to their countries’ own interests, would prevent these arrangements from mutating into permanent asymmetric transfer schemes.

To avoid distributional conflicts that would only poison the European project, any institutional reform that is proposed in the name of Franco-German cooperation should have to pass a strict sustainability test. European policymakers must ensure that there is congruence between the power to make decisions and the liabilities associated with any decisions that are made. It would be naive to think that member states will not offload the costs of their choices onto other member states if given the chance.

And besides, there are many other areas where France and Germany can strengthen cooperation and give new momentum to European integration. To determine where to focus their efforts, French and German leaders should keep three related principles in mind. First, any joint endeavor must respect diversity. The central strength of the European project is that it unites its member states in pursuit of peace and prosperity. But this requires a rich reservoir of ideas, not a single, unified approach.

The second principle is subsidiarity, which holds that decision-making should be decentralized whenever possible. This ensures that local and regional preferences are considered alongside the effects of eurozone-wide harmonization and economies of scale.

The last principle is congruity, to ensure that decision-makers are accountable for the outcomes of their decisions. This means that as long as European electorates insist on retaining sovereignty over fiscal and economic policymaking, shared liability will be a pipe dream.

With these principles in mind, France and Germany could take joint action on a variety of issues, such as climate change, the refugee crisis, and counter-terrorism. Coordinating efforts on these fronts would revitalize the integration process and contribute to Europe’s long-term stability and prosperity.

On economic policy, France and Germany should look for ways to fortify the eurozone and complete the single market. The privilege that government debt enjoys under current banking regulations should be eliminated, and an independent banking regulator, separate from the European Central Bank, should be established within the eurozone. Beyond that, it is time to start phasing in a viable sovereign-insolvency scheme for the bloc.

All of these initiatives could be implemented simultaneously with domestic reforms in France. But there is a risk that they will take a back seat to other proposals, such as shared-liability schemes. To avoid this pitfall, policymakers should consider the roots of the eurozone’s low growth potential, which is not a result of insufficient solidarity, but of individual member states abnegating their national responsibilities. Rather than provide a cure for these problems, shared liability would make them worse.

Proponents believe that more shared liability could pave the way for individual responsibility. But that is an illusion. Once in place, a shared liability scheme would reduce the incentives to deliver on structural reforms. And among German voters, nothing could undermine support for the European project more than yet another set of broken promises.

Christoph M. Schmidt is Chairman of the German Council of Economic Experts and President of the RWI – Leibniz Institute for Economic Research, one of Germany’s leading economic research institutes.

By Christoph M. Schmidt

The Rising Price of Trump’s Border Wall

WASHINGTON, DC – As a candidate, Donald Trump insisted on one signature issue above all: the United States will build a wall along its border with Mexico, and Mexico will pay for it. Seven months after taking office, however, Trump has made no progress on either front: political support for a new wall is diminishing, and the chance that Mexico will pay anything for it is essentially zero and seems to be off the agenda.


Now, Trump is doubling down – and threatening to shut down the government, or even default on the federal debt, unless Congress provides funding for a wall that he promised would cost US taxpayers nothing. If Trump escalates this confrontation, the costs for Americans – in terms of economic uncertainty and slower growth – are likely to pile up.

The amounts of money involved are not large relative to the overall size of the US government. In Trump’s first full-year budget, initial spending on the wall was put at $1.6 billion, with the president estimating that the total cost will be $12 billion (although other estimates are considerably higher). Compared to total US government spending of $3.9 trillion in 2016, that is a drop in the bucket. The argument here is about principles: what would a border wall really achieve from a practical standpoint, and what would it symbolize? But the precise rules about purse strings determine how this argument will play out.

The president does have some discretion on spending – and the Department of Homeland Security has already shifted funds from other programs to pay for the development of prototypes. But a fundamental principle of the US Constitution is that Congress controls the purse strings – meaning that discretionary spending, such as outlays for a border wall, is subject to the formal appropriations process. Building a border wall, or significantly extending what is already there, is not feasible without congressional approval.

The appropriations process is complex and not always transparent to outsiders. Regular appropriations are supposed to be enacted by October 1 (the beginning of the government’s fiscal year). But there is now a long tradition of “continuing resolutions,” which provide funding for just part of a year. And supplemental appropriations bills can provide additional funding at any time in response to particular situations – such as the aftermath of a major hurricane.

The Republicans control both the Senate and the House of Representatives. And the House already granted approval for exactly what Trump wanted on the wall – the $1.6 billion was included in a broader $788 billion spending package, so the wall did not have to be debated separately.

Under current rules, 60 votes would be needed in the 100-member Senate to fund the wall, and the Democrats, with 48 seats, already managed to exclude this item from the spending bill earlier this year, which funded the government through September 30.

Now Trump has issued an ultimatum: fund the wall, or face a shutdown of the federal government – meaning that he and the Republicans would refuse to conclude any appropriations deal by October 1. Or perhaps the wall will become part of a showdown over how the debt ceiling for the federal government should be raised, with the deadline for doing so also likely to come around the end of September.

Complicating the issue further, some congressional Republicans – such as Senator Paul Rand of Kentucky and Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina – seem not to oppose some form of partial default or other reneging on debt by the US government. And remember that John Boehner stepped down as Speaker of the House in 2015 in part over similar budget struggles with the right wing of his party.

The impact of a debt default would be cataclysmic, and it seems unlikely that Trump would be foolish enough to go so far. But Goldman Sachs, a politically well-connected bank, puts the odds of a government shutdown at 50/50 – up from around 30% in May.

Government shutdowns are costly, impacting services and potentially payments to suppliers and citizens. But politicians never know exactly who will be blamed, and how much, until the shutdown happens. Although this approach didn’t go well for Republicans in 1995-96 or in 2013, there are clearly some people in the party who would like to try it again.

The costs to the economy of a shutdown are definitely negative. But, whereas a debt default by the federal government would amount to falling off a cliff, the costs of a shutdown build more gradually over time. It seems entirely consistent with Trump’s personality and style that he would try such a maneuver and see how it plays with his (slowly dwindling) electoral base.

Of course, there are many wildcards – including the apparently bad relationship between Trump and Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate. The massive flooding in Texas – and the important helping role that the federal government can play – may also convince the White House that now is not the time for further disruption.

One thing is certain: Mexico is not going to pay for the border wall. What is less clear is how much Americans will be forced to pay – with uncertainty, disruption, and even a government shutdown – if Trump’s version of the wall is ever built.

Simon Johnson is a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and the co-author of White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt, and Why It Matters to You.

Africa’s Defining Challenge

ADDIS ABABA – Africa has the youngest population in the world, and it’s growing fast. By 2055, the continent’s youth population (aged 15-24), is expected to be more than double the 2015 total of 226 million. Yet the continent remains stubbornly inhospitable – politically, economically, and socially – to young people. The success of African governments’ efforts to address this will be the single most important factor determining whether the continent prospers or suffers in the coming decades.


A business-as-usual approach would risk exposing Africa not only to economic underperformance and a brain drain, but also to criminality, political and social unrest, and even armed conflict. But Africa can thrive if its governments act now to tap the energy and dynamism of the burgeoning youth population. What is needed is a comprehensive policy agenda, comprising demographically informed measures that address political, cultural, and economic exclusion in a synchronized manner.

This will be no small feat, not least because of the massive age gap between Africa’s young majority and their leaders: the average age of an African president is 62, while the median age of Africa’s population is 19.5. That is the world’s largest age gap between governors and the governed, and it raises concerns about how well decision-makers understand the needs and aspirations of young people.

It does not help that a tradition of gerontocracy prevails in many countries, meaning that young people’s political participation and influence is restricted on cultural grounds. To help overcome this barrier, governments should treat generational inequality with the same sense of urgency as other forms of inequality, accelerating efforts to introduce youth quotas for political parties, parliaments, and other decision-making institutions.

Much work also remains to be done on the economic front. According to the African Development Bank, 12 million young people entered Africa’s labor force in 2015, but only 3.1 million jobs were created. That means that millions of young people were left without a stake in the economy.

In the short and medium term, it will be virtually impossible to create enough jobs to meet the needs of the unemployed and vulnerably employed. Africa does not have a large labor-intensive manufacturing sector to absorb its mushrooming young population. But there are programs that can help. For example, YouthConnekt Africa, launched by the United Nations Development Programme and the government of Rwanda, encourages youth-friendly policies, such as access to finance and skills development, that match the needs of the market in particular countries.

Still, given the dearth of opportunities at home, many young Africans view migration as a chance for social mobility. Yet, as the CEO of a major company based in Sub-Saharan Africa recently lamented to me, acquiring work visas for Africans is extremely difficult.

In fact, it can be easier to get a work visa for a British citizen than for, say, a Ghanaian with the same skills. Africa’s vision for economic integration, as set out in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, cannot be realized without labor migration that creates African careers paths for young people.

It is telling that so many Africans are willing to risk drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, living in appalling detention centers in North Africa, or sleeping in public parks in European cities, rather than remaining in Africa. Yet, contrary to popular belief, young people are not migrating from Africa exclusively for economic reasons. Rather, they are motivated by the promise of opportunities for genuine self-improvement and the freedom to decide who to be and how to live. That is certainly what led me to leave Africa and head to Europe at a young age.

In fact, the desire for self-improvement through migration is a key element of the human story – one that no desert, sea, or artificial barrier has been able to quell. Political and cultural exclusion intensifies it. Given this, any strategy that does not address the broader environment of marginalization is a bridge to nowhere.

So far, Africa seems to be sleepwalking into a future of lost opportunity and, potentially, serious instability. And Africa’s international partners have remained preoccupied with containing migration from the continent, rather than addressing its underlying causes.

But there may be reason for hope. The fifth European Union-Africa Summit, to be held later this year, will focus squarely on the continent’s young people. Likewise, the African Union’s theme for 2017 is “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend Through Investments in Youth.”

One hopes that the growing recognition of the need to create opportunities for young people leads to effective, solidarity-based initiatives that address the barriers to youth empowerment on the continent, instead of erecting barriers to prevent young people from leaving. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Africa confronts the fierce urgency of now. There is such a thing as being too late. Mohamed Yahya is the Africa Regional Programme Coordinator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

By Mohamed Yahya

How to Achieve the SDGs

MEDELLÍN – In September 2015, the leaders of 193 countries agreed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the most ambitious plan ever to promote human development – by 2030. Nearly two years into the process, there are plenty of reasons for concern: the amount of financing raised so far is unlikely to be sufficient, and not all countries have adequate data to measure progress on the ground. It is enough to test even the most diehard optimist.


But there is still plenty of reason for hope. I recently visited Colombia, which, at long last, is leaving behind its decades-long civil conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and setting itself up for SDG success.

In any country, achieving the SDGs will require government, business, aid agencies, multilateral banks, and civil society to work together, adopt flexible approaches, share knowledge, measure progress effectively, and recognize that the various targets are interconnected. Colombia seems to understand this, and is pursuing an integrated approach that leverages the strengths of each actor.

Start with government. According to Colombia’s finance minister, Mauricio Cárdenas Santamaría, the country is localizing the SDGs through the planning department, using the SDG framework to guide reforms relating to the implementation of the peace agreement with the FARC, OECD accession, the National Development Plan, and the Paris climate agreement.

Meanwhile, Cárdenas points out, Colombia’s policymakers are taking care to highlight the benefits of these efforts – in areas ranging from health care and education to employment – for the public. They recognize that a top-down approach will not work: to achieve the SDGs, all levels of the government, economy, and society must feel connected to the goals, understanding the concrete impact that achieving them will have.

To get business on board, the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce, led by Monica de Greiff, is raising awareness of the SDGs among its 640,000 members and providing skills training in sectors like construction and health care. The aim is to achieve the SDGs’ targets while increasing the economy’s overall competitiveness.

The good news is that, as Bruce MacMaster of the Bogotá-based business advocacy and think tank ANDI noted, businesses have a strong incentive to consolidate the gains of the peace process, especially in remote areas that have traditionally been cut off from government services. And, indeed, in Medellín, once the illicit drug capital of the world, the leaders of small and large businesses with whom I met are already integrating the SDGs into their business plans and supply chains.

ANDI is working to support that effort, including by raising awareness among diverse industries, from mining to beverages, regarding their interest in keeping their water resources clean and abundant. The result will be more robust protection of watersheds – crucial to meet Goal 6, on water and sanitation, among others.

Of course, in a truly bottom-up process, strong engagement with local communities and civil society is vital. And Colombian youth are already deeply involved in promoting and implementing the SDGs. On my visit, youth leaders in Medellín’s Comuna 13 proudly showed off the progress in their low-income neighborhood.

In the 1990s, when Medellín had the world’s highest homicide rate, Comuna 13 was among the city’s most dangerous areas. Today, it is a vibrant area benefiting from strategic investments in public transportation (including cable cars and new metro stations), education (libraries and schools), and security. Similar strategic investments will be needed throughout the country to ensure that nobody is left behind; the empowerment of women and girls being one crucial objective.

Leadership by municipal and regional governments to facilitate such local-level progress is particularly important. All of the SDGs have targets directly related to the responsibilities of local and regional governments, particularly regarding their role in delivering basic services. But it is SDG 11 – which focuses on making cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable – that is the lynchpin of the localization process.

That process has the support of the World Bank, the United Nations, and other international development partners, which are working to provide more effective and coordinated support to all levels of government. But success will demand that local governments urgently improve their own capacity in key areas, such as expenditure control, revenue expansion, responsible fund-raising, and creditworthiness.

In Colombia, the municipal development bank FINDETER is aiming to promote such learning, as it strengthens local governments’ public finances and their management and planning capacity. This will enable local governments to invest more effectively in infrastructure and service delivery, thereby advancing local development objectives. Enabling institutions like FINDETER will be critical to localizing the SDG-implementation process to leverage the efforts of local governments elsewhere.

Beyond capacity-building, local governments must engage in smart innovation. In Colombia, innovation has been essential to Medellín’s progress in reducing urban crime and violence, improving mobility, and mitigating social exclusion. The same is true of the city of Bucaramanga’s success in attracting private investment and forging public-private partnerships to improve its competitiveness.

Careful planning processes, including a strong national framework and effective monitoring, are needed to support such innovation and anticipate potential challenges and shocks. For example, in Colombia, obstacles may arise from continued drug trafficking, as well as from the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, which is causing thousands of desperately poor people to pour across Colombia’s border.


Colombia still has a long way to go before achieving the SDGs. But its localized and integrated approach has put it on the right path. Other countries would do well to follow suit.

Mahmoud Mohieldin is the World Bank Group’s Senior Vice President for the 2030 Development Agenda, United Nations Relations, and Partnerships, and is a former minister of investment of Egypt.

By Mahmoud Mohieldin

Measuring the Internet for Freedom

ROME – Last year, during a wave of deadly political protests in Ethiopia, the government blocked more than 15 media websites and the smartphone chat application WhatsApp. Sites promoting freedom of expression and LGBTQ+ rights, as well as those offering censorship-circumvention tools, such as Tor and Psiphon, were also suppressed.


All of this was uncovered through the use of software called ooniprobe, which is designed to measure networks and detect Internet censorship. Ooniprobe was developed more than five years ago by the Tor-supported Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), with which I work, in order to boost transparency, accountability, and oversight of Internet censorship. The software is free and open source, meaning that anyone can use it. And, indeed, tens of thousands of ooniprobe users from more than 190 countries have already done just that.

Those users have contributed to the collection of millions of network measurements, all of which are published on OONI Explorer, arguably the largest publicly available resource on Internet censorship. Thanks to their use of ooniprobe, we uncovered the extent of last year’s wave of censorship in Ethiopia, as well as details of many other cases of censorship elsewhere in the world.

In Uganda, local groups used ooniprobe during last year’s general election, when the government blocked social media. Ooniprobe’s network-measurement data not only confirmed the government’s action; it also uncovered which sites were blocked and the different methods used by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to implement censorship.

Ooniprobe also came in handy in Malaysia in 2015. Facing accusations that he had transferred nearly $700 million from the state investment fund 1MDB to his personal bank accounts, Prime Minister Najib Razak attempted to block news outlets and blogs that reported on the scandal. It was ooniprobe’s network-measurement software that enabled Malaysian civil-society groups to collect data that serve as evidence of the blocking.

Of course, censorship is not always carried out to protect the politically powerful; it can also be used to reinforce social and cultural norms. In Indonesia, for example, low social tolerance for homosexuality may have played a role in the blocking of numerous LGBTQ+ websites, even though the country does not officially restrict LGBTQ+ rights. Similar factors may have influenced efforts to block sites perceived as overly critical of Islam.

In Thailand, ISPs have, in the last three years, blocked access to a number of sites that are perceived to be offensive toward the country’s royal family. But, here, there is a legal justification: Thailand’s strict prohibition against lèse-majesté protects the royal family’s most senior members from insult or threat. Other cases of legally justified Internet censorship include the blocking of sexually explicit websites in countries where pornography is prohibited.

Then there are cases where the motivation for censorship is unclear. Why, for example, has an online dating site been blocked in Malaysia? In some countries, ISPs appear to be censoring sites at their own discretion. According to ooniprobe data, multiple Thai ISPs simultaneously blocked access to different types of websites – from news outlets to Wikileaks to pornography – indicating that they likely received vague orders from authorities.

Before ooniprobe, such censorship was difficult to detect, leading to a lack of accountability, with governments and ISPs often denying any and all involvement. Even in cases where governments announce official lists of blocked sites, they may leave some targets off. Likewise, ISPs may not always comply with official orders to lift blocks. Vimeo and Reddit, for example, were recently found to be blocked in some networks in Indonesia, even though the official ban on those sites was lifted more than two years ago.

With ooniprobe, users are not only able to expose Internet censorship; they can also acquire substantial detail about how, when, where, and by whom the censorship is being implemented. OONI’s Web-Connectivity Test, for example, is designed to examine whether access to websites is blocked through DNS tampering, TCP/IP blocking, or a transparent HTTP proxy.

Other ooniprobe tests are designed to examine the accessibility of chat apps – namely, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Facebook Messenger – within networks, as well as that of censorship-circumvention tools, such as Tor, Psiphon, and Lantern. OONI also provides software tests that uncover the presence of systems (“middle boxes”) that could potentially be responsible for censorship or surveillance.

The depth of OONI data supports much-needed accountability and oversight. Lawyers can use OONI data to assess the legality of Internet censorship in their countries, and potentially introduce it as evidence in court cases. Journalists, researchers, and human-rights defenders can use the data to inform their work as well. And censorship-circumvention projects like Tor can use OONI findings on emergent censorship events to shape their tools and strategies.

OONI data can help enrich public discourse about the legality, necessity, and proportionality of Internet censorship. That makes it a critical tool for safeguarding human rights on the Internet and beyond. Maria Xynou, a digital rights advocate, manages community research on the study of Internet censorship at the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) project.

By Maria Xynou

We Are All From Europe

PARIS – “I am not afraid,” chanted the crowd that took to the streets in Barcelona after a van was driven into pedestrians on the Las Ramblas promenade, killing at least 14 people and injuring some 130 others. It was the most dignified and appropriate possible response to a terrorist attack, a firm demonstration of unity that transcended internal divisions. While rifts between, say, Spaniards and Catalonians will surely reemerge soon, that fundamental sense of unity must endure.


Following attacks in Paris, Brussels, London, Nice, and Berlin – not to mention Madrid in 2004 – the choice of Barcelona as a target should come as no surprise. Barcelona is not just the European city that has attracted the largest number of immigrants from the Maghreb, especially Morocco; it is also a symbol of intercultural dialogue and tolerance.

In fact, Las Ramblas – one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions – is itself a symbol of openness: more than 30 nationalities were represented among the victims. One of the suspects subsequently confessed that his terror cell was also planning to use explosives against major monuments, including Barcelona’s world-famous Sagrada Família church – a clear sign that they were attempting to strike at the soul of the city.

Such symbolic attacks are particularly important today. With the Islamic State (ISIS), the main inspiration for transnational terror nowadays, facing near-total defeat on the ground, the group is scrambling to use what weapons it still possesses – namely, its ability to inspire young would-be terrorists around the world.

International ISIS “sleeper cells” do not necessarily comprise graduates from ISIS training camps in countries like Iraq and Syria, as was typically the case with al-Qaeda attacks in the past. Rather, they are composed of second- or third-generation immigrants from Muslim countries who feel disconnected from both their home country and that of their grandparents. They are eager for a sense of purpose and identity – emotional goods that radical Islam, and ISIS ideology in particular, can offer.

In the case of the Barcelona attack, the Moroccan imam Abdelbaki Es Satty, who died in an explosion at the terror cell’s bomb-making factory, is thought have been responsible for radicalizing the young attackers. But such a clear conduit is not always needed; the perpetrator of the Manchester Arena bombing in May had associates who knew of his plans, but he was not part of a terrorist network.

Although ISIS’s self-styled caliphate is on the brink of collapse, an increase in terrorist attacks abroad is possible. This may encourage more Muslims in Europe to denounce loudly such actions, as the “not in my name” movement has done. It will certainly drive governments to pursue more prosaic measures.

France, for example, has already announced plans to reestablish the so-called “proximity police,” in charge of community-level surveillance. Such policing can be a tool of both information and deterrence, and can thus serve as an effective component of a broader strategy, including measures ranging from beefing up border police and intelligence services to military intervention in the Middle East or Africa.

But none of this will suffice to address the identity crisis of the second- and third-generation immigrants who have proved vulnerable to ISIS ideology. The most effective way to tackle that problem is to advance integration, through concrete policies that support education and social assimilation, as well as more open dialogue among various groups.

The problem, of course, is that such a strategy takes time to show results, and time is something that Western democracies lack when it comes to terrorism. Beyond the direct danger of further casualties, there is the growing fear among populations, which populist politicians are eagerly attempting to exploit.

So far, Western democracies have largely resisted the siren song of xenophobia, and remained broadly faithful to liberal values. If ISIS wants to plant seeds of division and chaos in the West – especially Europe, which ISIS considered to be the weak link – it has so far failed.

But the war against Islamist terrorism is far from over. We must remain patient, resilient, and united, within our communities and countries – and also as Europeans. The recent knife attack in Finland, carried out by a Moroccan teen, underscores the reality that a country need not play a major role in the coalition against ISIS in Syria and Iraq to become a target; it is enough to be an open European society.

Given this, it is not enough to say, “We are all from Barcelona.” We must, instead, say, “We are all Europeans.” That is not just a symbolic statement; it is a descriptive one, which should be guiding our response to the terrorist threat. While national-level action, such as Spain’s anti-terror cooperation with Morocco, is necessary, it can work only in the context of broader European action, including intelligence-sharing, migrant policy, and collaboration among police and security forces.

Today, as the United States’ role as a stable actor and a legitimate model erodes, Europe must do more to fill its shoes. Islamist terrorism can either undermine or strengthen this effort. A decisive victory in the fight against Islamist terrorism is possible only if that fight serves as a source of unity in Europe, one that reinforces our deep-rooted connections and our shared democratic ideals.

Dominique Moisi is Senior Counselor at the Institut Montaigne in Paris. He is the author of La Géopolitique des Séries ou le triomphe de la peur.

The Rise of the Food Barons

BERLIN – The industrial-agriculture sector has long faced criticism for practices that contribute to climate change, environmental destruction, and rural poverty. And yet the sector has taken virtually no steps to improve quality and sustainability, or to promote social justice.


This is not surprising. Although there are more than 570 million farmers and seven billion consumers worldwide, just a handful of companies control the global industrial-agriculture value chain – from field to shop counter. Given the high profits and vast political power of these companies, changes to the status quo are not in their interest.

Moreover, market concentration in the agriculture sector is on the rise, owing to increased demand for the agricultural raw materials needed in food, animal feed, and energy production. As the middle class in southern countries has grown, its members’ consumption and nutritional habits have changed, boosting global demand for processed foods – and setting off a scramble for market power among multinational agricultural, chemical, and food corporations.

The biggest players in these sectors have been buying out their smaller competitors for years. But now they are also buying out one another, often with financing provided by investors from completely different sectors.

Consider the seed and agrochemical sector, where Bayer, the second-largest pesticide producer in the world, is in the process of acquiring Monsanto, the largest seed producer, for €66 billion ($74 billion). If the United States and the European Union approve the deal, as seems likely, just three conglomerates – Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta – will control over 60% of the global seed and agrochemical market. “Baysanto” alone would be the proprietor of almost every genetically modified plant on the planet.

With other large mergers also being announced, the global agriculture market at the end of 2017 could look very different than it did at the beginning. Each of the three major conglomerates will be closer to its goal of achieving domination of the seed and pesticide markets – at which point they will be able to dictate food products, prices, and quality worldwide.

The agrotechnical sector is experiencing some of the same changes as the seed sector. The five largest corporations account for 65% of the market, with Deere & Company, the owner of the John Deere brand, in the lead. In 2015, Deere & Company reported $29 billion in sales, surpassing the $25 billion that Monsanto and Bayer made selling seeds and pesticides.

The most promising new opportunity for food corporations today lies in the digitization of agriculture. This process is still in its early stages, but it is gathering momentum, and eventually it will cover all areas of production. Soon enough, drones will take over the task of spraying pesticides; livestock will be equipped with sensors to track milk quantities, movement patterns, and feed rations; tractors will be controlled by GPS; and app-controlled sowing machines will assess soil quality to determine the optimal distance between rows and plants.

To maximize the benefits of these new technologies, the companies that already dominate the value chain have begun cooperating with one another. The John Deeres and Monsantos have now joined forces. The confluence of soil and weather “big data,” new agrotechnologies, genetically modified seeds, and new developments in agrochemistry will help these companies save money, protect natural resources, and maximize crop yields worldwide.

But while this possible future bodes well for some of the world’s largest companies, it leaves the environmental and social problems associated with industrialized agriculture unsolved. Most farmers, particularly in the global South, will never be able to afford expensive digital-age machinery. The maxim “grow or go” will be replaced with “digitize or disappear.” The ETC Group, an American non-governmental organization, has already outlined a future scenario in which the major agrotechnology corporations move upstream and absorb the seed and pesticide producers. At that point, just a few companies will determine everything that we eat.

Indeed, the same market-concentration problem applies to other links in the value chain, such as agricultural traders and supermarkets. And even though food processing is not yet consolidated on a global scale, it is still dominated at the regional level by companies such as Unilever, Danone, Mondelez, and Nestlé. These companies make money when fresh or semi-processed food is replaced by highly processed convenience foods such as frozen pizza, canned soup, and ready-made meals.

While lucrative, this business model is closely linked to obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. Worse, food corporations are also profiting from the proliferation of illnesses for which they are partly responsible, by marketing “healthy” processed foods enriched with protein, vitamins, probiotics, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Meanwhile, corporations are amassing market power at the expense of those at the bottom of the value chain: farmers and workers. International Labor Organization standards guarantee all workers the right to organize, and they prohibit forced and child labor and proscribe race and gender discrimination. But labor-law violations have become the norm, because efforts to enforce ILO rules are often quashed, while trade union members are routinely threatened, fired, and even murdered.

In this hostile climate, minimum-wage, overtime-pay, and workplace-safety standards are openly neglected. And women, in particular, are at a disadvantage, because they are paid less than their male counterparts and often must settle for seasonal or temporary jobs.

Today, half of the world’s 800 million starving people are small farmers and workers connected to the agricultural sector. Their lot will hardly improve if the few companies already dominating that sector become even more powerful. Christine Chemnitz is Head of the Department of International Agricultural Politics at the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

By Christine Chemnitz

Measuring the Internet for Freedom

ROME – Last year, during a wave of deadly political protests in Ethiopia, the government blocked more than 15 media websites and the smartphone chat application WhatsApp. Sites promoting freedom of expression and LGBTQ+ rights, as well as those offering censorship-circumvention tools, such as Tor and Psiphon, were also suppressed.


All of this was uncovered through the use of software called ooniprobe, which is designed to measure networks and detect Internet censorship. Ooniprobe was developed more than five years ago by the Tor-supported Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), with which I work, in order to boost transparency, accountability, and oversight of Internet censorship. The software is free and open source, meaning that anyone can use it. And, indeed, tens of thousands of ooniprobe users from more than 190 countries have already done just that.

Those users have contributed to the collection of millions of network measurements, all of which are published on OONI Explorer, arguably the largest publicly available resource on Internet censorship. Thanks to their use of ooniprobe, we uncovered the extent of last year’s wave of censorship in Ethiopia, as well as details of many other cases of censorship elsewhere in the world.

In Uganda, local groups used ooniprobe during last year’s general election, when the government blocked social media. Ooniprobe’s network-measurement data not only confirmed the government’s action; it also uncovered which sites were blocked and the different methods used by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to implement censorship.

Ooniprobe also came in handy in Malaysia in 2015. Facing accusations that he had transferred nearly $700 million from the state investment fund 1MDB to his personal bank accounts, Prime Minister Najib Razak attempted to block news outlets and blogs that reported on the scandal. It was ooniprobe’s network-measurement software that enabled Malaysian civil-society groups to collect data that serve as evidence of the blocking.

Of course, censorship is not always carried out to protect the politically powerful; it can also be used to reinforce social and cultural norms. In Indonesia, for example, low social tolerance for homosexuality may have played a role in the blocking of numerous LGBTQ+ websites, even though the country does not officially restrict LGBTQ+ rights. Similar factors may have influenced efforts to block sites perceived as overly critical of Islam.

In Thailand, ISPs have, in the last three years, blocked access to a number of sites that are perceived to be offensive toward the country’s royal family. But, here, there is a legal justification: Thailand’s strict prohibition against lèse-majesté protects the royal family’s most senior members from insult or threat. Other cases of legally justified Internet censorship include the blocking of sexually explicit websites in countries where pornography is prohibited.

Then there are cases where the motivation for censorship is unclear. Why, for example, has an online dating site been blocked in Malaysia? In some countries, ISPs appear to be censoring sites at their own discretion. According to ooniprobe data, multiple Thai ISPs simultaneously blocked access to different types of websites – from news outlets to Wikileaks to pornography – indicating that they likely received vague orders from authorities.

Before ooniprobe, such censorship was difficult to detect, leading to a lack of accountability, with governments and ISPs often denying any and all involvement. Even in cases where governments announce official lists of blocked sites, they may leave some targets off. Likewise, ISPs may not always comply with official orders to lift blocks. Vimeo and Reddit, for example, were recently found to be blocked in some networks in Indonesia, even though the official ban on those sites was lifted more than two years ago.

With ooniprobe, users are not only able to expose Internet censorship; they can also acquire substantial detail about how, when, where, and by whom the censorship is being implemented. OONI’s Web-Connectivity Test, for example, is designed to examine whether access to websites is blocked through DNS tampering, TCP/IP blocking, or a transparent HTTP proxy.

Other ooniprobe tests are designed to examine the accessibility of chat apps – namely, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Facebook Messenger – within networks, as well as that of censorship-circumvention tools, such as Tor, Psiphon, and Lantern. OONI also provides software tests that uncover the presence of systems (“middle boxes”) that could potentially be responsible for censorship or surveillance.

The depth of OONI data supports much-needed accountability and oversight. Lawyers can use OONI data to assess the legality of Internet censorship in their countries, and potentially introduce it as evidence in court cases. Journalists, researchers, and human-rights defenders can use the data to inform their work as well. And censorship-circumvention projects like Tor can use OONI findings on emergent censorship events to shape their tools and strategies.

OONI data can help enrich public discourse about the legality, necessity, and proportionality of Internet censorship. That makes it a critical tool for safeguarding human rights on the Internet and beyond.Maria Xynou, a digital rights advocate, manages community research on the study of Internet censorship at the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) project.

By Maria Xynou

China’s Renewable-Energy Revolution

BEIJING – At the start of 2017, China announced that it would invest $360 billion in renewable energy by 2020 and scrap plans to build 85 coal-fired power plants. In March, Chinese authorities reported that the country was already exceeding official targets for energy efficiency, carbon intensity, and the share of clean energy sources. And just last month, China’s energy regulator, the National Energy Administration, rolled out new measures to reduce the country’s dependence on coal.


These are just the latest indicators that China is at the center of a global energy transformation, which is being driven by technological change and the falling cost of renewables. But China is not just investing in renewables and phasing out coal. It also accounts for a growing share of global energy demand, meaning that its economy’s continuing shift toward service- and consumption-led growth will reshape the resource sector worldwide.

At the same time, various other factors are reducing global resource consumption, including increased energy efficiency in residential, industrial, and commercial buildings, and lower demand for energy in transportation, owing to the proliferation of autonomous vehicles and ride sharing.

According to Beyond the Supercycle: How Technology Is Reshaping Resources, a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), these trends are slowing the growth of primary energy demand. If rapid adoption of new technologies continues, that demand could peak in 2025. And with less intensive energy use and increased efficiency, energy productivity in the global economy could increase by 40-70% over the next two decades.

While global growth in energy demand is slowing, China’s share of that demand is increasing. By 2035, China may account for 28% of the world’s primary energy demand, up from 23% today, whereas the United States could account for just 12% by 2035, down from 16% today.

China has already made significant progress in reducing its resource intensity: between 1980 and 2010, its economy grew 18-fold, but its energy consumption grew only fivefold. According to World Bank data, that reflects a 70% decline in energy intensity per unit of GDP.

In its 13th Five-Year Plan, the Chinese government aims to reduce energy intensity by a total of 15% between 2016 and 2020. It is already well on its way toward achieving that goal. At the Chinese Communist Party’s National People’s Congress earlier this year, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reported that China’s energy intensity fell by 5% last year alone.

Renewables are one reason for China’s declining resource intensity. Hoping to become a world leader in the field, China is already investing more than $100 billion in domestic renewables every year. That is twice the level of US investment in domestic renewable energy and more than the combined annual investment of the US and the European Union.

In addition, China is investing $32 billion – more than any other country – in renewables overseas, with top-tier Chinese companies increasingly taking the lead in global renewable-energy value chains. China’s State Grid Corporation has plans to develop an energy grid that draws on wind turbines and solar panels from around the world. Chinese solar-panel manufacturers are estimated to have a 20% cost advantage over their US peers, owing to economies of scale and more advanced supply-chain development. And Chinese wind-turbine manufacturers, having gradually closed technology gaps, now account for more than 90% of the Chinese domestic market, up from just 25% in 2002.

These trends suggest that China will be a major source of both energy demand and cutting-edge technology, implying that it will have a unique opportunity to provide global leadership. Its experience in reducing energy intensity can serve as a roadmap for developing countries. And its investments in renewables at home and abroad can lead to additional technological breakthroughs that drive down costs for consumers everywhere.

But China will also face challenges as it moves from fossil fuels to renewables within a changing global resource sector. Its economy is still highly dependent on coal, implying sizeable costs as it shifts capacity to other resources such as natural gas and renewables.

Moreover, the construction of solar panels and wind farms in China has outpaced upgrades to its electrical grid, creating a great deal of waste. And Chinese producers, like most others, are feeling increasing pressure to reduce costs and improve efficiency to make up for slower demand growth worldwide.

Despite these hurdles, technological innovation should help Chinese producers realize productivity gains and deliver savings to consumers. According to MGI, by 2035, changes in the supply and demand for major commodities could result in total cost savings of $900 billion to $1.6 trillion worldwide.

The scale of these savings will depend not only on how quickly new technology is adopted, but also on how policymakers and companies adapt to their new environment. But, above all, it will depend on China.

Jiang Kejun is senior researcher at the Energy Research Institute of China’s National Development and Reform Commission. Jonathan Woetzel is a McKinsey senior partner and a director of the McKinsey Global Institute.

By Jiang Kejun and Jonathan Woetzel

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