Post 12: Conclusions on Integration of Muslims in Europe

In the book Islam, Europe’s Second Religion, Lief Stenburg discusses the integration of Muslims in Scandinavia. He breaks this integration down into four levels. The first is “the general integration of Muslims, in order to make Islam and Muslims an accepted part of the country’s everyday life.” Integration at this level has been difficult and slow-moving, as Scandinavians are still learning to accept Muslims and to interact with them, and Muslims are still learning to leave their comfort zones found in their local Islamic communities.

The second level of integration is at the political level. Fully integrated citizens would participate fully in the politics of their home country. However, this is not the case of many Muslims in Scandinavia, who think that any participation in government, particularly at the national level, is futile in reaching their goals. Due to existing prejudices and the small number of Muslims in Scandinavia, it is also difficult for a Muslim politician to be elected.

muslim voting

Muslims have also not integrated well at the level of religious rituals. The book gives an example of Muslims protesting the restrictions on slaughtering animals passed by the Freedom of Religion Act. Looking at this example, there is a large difference between what is accepted and practiced by Muslims and Scandinavians as far as the topic of religious rituals.

The last level of integration is ideologically. Muslims must learn to change their way of thinking in order to accept their Western home while still practicing their faith. This process has begun taking place, as Muslims reinterpret the Quran and begin to create a so-called “Euro-Islam.”

I. L. Garcia and A. I. P. Contreras discuss similar issues of integration found in Spain in the same book. While Spain does have a history of Muslim rule in the past few centuries, most Muslims were driven out as Catholicism in Spain grew in popularity. Additionally, Spain has never had a long-lasting colony in a Muslim country, meaning that any citizens of Spain’s colonies that moved to Spain were likely not Muslim. Thus, Spain has only begun receiving Muslim immigrants in the last 20 years.

Spain also sees different degrees of Muslim immigration based on the various groups of Muslims found in the country. For example, naturalized Muslims and Spanish converts enjoy very high integration into Spanish society. However, Muslim immigrants who have traveled to Spain for economic or other reasons demonstrate a lower level of integration, as they cannot participate in political life and often interact only within their local Muslim communities.

With these two chapters, we have concluded our study of Islam, Europe’s Second Religion. In the final remarks, editor Shireen Hunter points out a few conclusions of this book. First, Hunter concludes that “the process of Islam’s and Muslims’ interaction with European societies…is taking place within a historical context of inherited and deep-rooted cultural and religious prejudices. While prejudices are difficult to overcome, strides are being made for Muslims to be accepted and integrated into the European community. During this process, Muslims will likely find themselves reinterpreting Islam as they strive to bring together Islam and modernism.

Hunter also discusses that the best option for these immigrants is “integration without complete assimilation.” This phrase means that, while Muslims may become an integral part of the European society and begin participating in political and social life, they will still preserve their own beliefs and values, rather than taking on those of native Europeans.

Though Muslim populations in Europe differ in their cultural, religious, and political beliefs, one thing is common for almost all of them: they often constitute the underprivileged class and are economically worse-off than their European counterparts. Hopefully, as Muslims begin to integrate more fully into their respective societies, they will also be able to break out of this cycle of poverty and deprivation, and be labeled simply as “Europeans,” just like everyone else.

Sources:
Hunter. Islam, Europe’s Second Religion.

Post 11: Immigration and Integration

The Muslim immigrant population in Italy presents several differences from the Muslim populations in other European countries. In other areas of Europe, Muslims first immigrated as part of guest worker programs after World War II, when these countries were looking for laborers and skilled workers, particularly from one of their colonies. Therefore, these Muslims were always considered “guests” and “temporary workers” by a large percentage of the European population.

In Italy, on the other hand, Muslims did not come as temporary workers. Rather, they came as students or educated workers. Thus, in Italy, there are no clusters of immigrant Islamic communities like in other European countries, and the religion became visible as the first immigrants arrived in Italy. Italy had no predominantly Islamic colonies from which to draw skilled workers, so their Muslim population has immigrated from a wide range of countries, which usually view Islam as a dominant social and cultural force. This also means that Italy does not treat their Muslim immigrants in terms of a foreign policy, like other European countries.

In Italy, all other religions besides the Catholic church may have an “Intesa” with the Italian government, an agreement between the religion and Italian state that formally recognizes the religion and provides certain juridical and economic benefits. The Italian government is not obligated or incentivized to form an Intesa with various religions; rather, the duty lies with the religious community. Though other religions have signed an Intesa, the Muslim community has not been able to obtain one with the Italian government.

This is for several reasons. First, most Muslims are not Italian citizens, and cultural differences help to “enhance the alien image of Islam” even further than their immigrant status alone. Thus, there is already less incentive for the Italian government to come to an agreement with Muslims, and some Italians even view Muslims as “enemies” that do not deserve the legal privileges an Intesa would provide. Additionally, the community is still in the process of becoming fully established in Italy, and several different organizations are currently vying for power as the organization to represent Islam in Italy.

The lack of Intesa with the Italian government is just one example showcasing the difficulty for Muslims to integrate into European society, and other examples have been cited in previous blog posts. In his 2016 article “Why the US doesn’t have a Muslim problem, and Europe does,” Naveed Jamali, the son of Pakistani immigrants to the US, states that he believes Muslims in the US integrate better than their European counterparts.

While this may be for several reasons, one big reason might be the reason for immigration to each continent. For example, Muslims began immigrating to Europe after World War II when countries were looked for skilled workers and laborers. These people were generally less educated and in a lower economic class than native Europeans, making it difficult to integrate and to fit in with the rest of the population. Subsequent generations stay stuck in this cycle of low education and low income. Additionally, a certain bias against these less educated immigrants likely existed for Europeans.

On the other hand, Muslim immigrants to the US are generally very well educated, as they likely came to the US on work or student visas. The Muslim community in the US is actually the 2nd most educated group. Muslims in the US are integrated in society and demonstrate similar activities and participation in the community as Americans.

Jamali, however, may have some biases on the issue of integration. He states that his father moved to the US on a Fulbright scholarship, opened a successful business, and raised two sons who felt very much American despite their father’s immigrant status. In parallel, his uncle moved to Germany, where he worked as an engineer for the German Space Agency. Neither he nor his sons, however, felt fully “German.” These real-life examples of integration issues have likely influenced his opinion.

plcement sites.jpg

Since the publication of this article, we have seen a lot of hype in the media and during the election about refugees coming to the US and Germany. Many refugees, who are often less educated than Muslim immigrants from previous decades, have been allowed to enter the US. This has sometimes resulted in a clash of cultures and a fear from some Americans that these Muslims are terrorists. Thus, public opinion of Muslims and other foreigners has changed slightly since this article was published.

 

Sources:
Islam, Europe’s Second Religion: Chapter 4 – Islam in Italy. Allievi
Why the US doesn’t have a Muslim problem, and Europe does. Jamali

Post 10: Fundamentalism in Islam

Today, we are seeing a huge movement in Islam by Muslim fundamentalists. The fundamentalist movement began in the 20th century as a response to colonialism and the Westernized rulers put in place once the colonial powers retreated from these countries. Though these countries had gained their independence, they did not feel well represented by the Westernized rulers who were more likely to favor Western customs and policies than the culture and traditions of their own citizens. Though the struggle between the Western world and the Muslim world has existed for centuries, these situations rekindled these struggles and showcased the West as an enemy.

Because of this, we see “jihadi” conflicts rising up in the late 1900’s as citizens began fighting to overthrow their rulers in favor of a government that was more inclined to their interests. Thus, a 20th century movement of ijtihad, or “reasoned struggle” to accommodate Islam with modern times, was overshadowed by a new, fundamentalist movement in the 21st century.

According to the No-Nonsense Guide to Islam, the fundamentalist movement developed from an innate fear of innovation. Fundamentalists do not want to change how Islam was interpreted or practiced from medieval times. However, the Guide argues that this way of thinking is not actually based on Muslim tradition that can be traced back to Muhammed or the Qur’an; rather, it is based on two central ideas.

First is the belief held by fundamentalists that they possess the Truth, as opposed to believing in the truth of Islam. With this idea, fundamentalists conclude that their beliefs and religion are the only correct way, and anyone who disagrees is not a true Muslim. Secondly, fundamentalists support the creation of an Islamic state, as they view Islam and state as one and the same. However, Islamic teachings emphasize the danger of geographical boundaries and view nationalism as less important as following Islamic teachings, no matter where a Muslim may live.

In any country where fundamentalists have acquired power, sharia law – Islamic law – has been enacted. Very little of sharia is actually based on the Qur’an, but rather was formulated during Muslim imperialism of the 8th and 9th centuries. Thus, rules and traditions contained in sharia reflect the attitudes, beliefs, and ideas of this time.

As we dig further, we can see how the edicts of sharia contradict with Islamic teachings found directly in the Qur’an and from Mohammed. For example, because this was a period of Muslim imperialism, people of other identities or nationalities were seen as lower class. This is reflected in sharia’s clear distinction between fundamentalist Muslims and “all others,” who can even be seen as enemies deserving nothing less than death in the most extreme interpretations of sharia. In contrast, the Qur’an teaches that “there is no compulsion in religion” and that all people are equal, on a lower level than God.

Fundamentalists are also extremely concerned with hudud laws, a portion of the sharia concerned with the maximum punishment to be allotted for certain crimes. Fundamentalists believe that if a nation enacts hudud laws, it is a demonstration that the country is enforcing Islam completely. Thus, we as western societies see these fundamentalist Islamic societies as being “obsessed with punishment.”

However, Islamic societies have not always been so concerned with punishment. As taught by Mohammed, hudud punishments are actually discouraged by Islam, and “can only be given in a perfect and just society where economic opportunity for all and social equality are the established norms.” This means that, only in a society where each person has enough money and resources to satisfy all of their needs, where a person would never need to steal to get by, is hadud punishment acceptable.

Another issue that many in the West cite as a problem is a disrespect for women’s rights, which is not only perpetuated by fundamentalist Muslims but in some cases by other, more moderate Muslims as well. However, beginning in the 1980’s and 90’s, a movement emerged in Muslim countries around the world that is now known as “Islamic feminism.”

As discussed in the essay From Islamic Feminism to a Muslim Holistic Feminism by Margot Badran, there are a few differences between Islamic feminism and “secular feminism.” First, secular feminism emerged as a social movement, focusing on equality in the public sphere through policy and human rights arguments.  However, the traditionally-held ideas of the family were mostly left untouched, as these were considered private matters.

On the other hand, Islamic feminism is a religious discourse. Muslim women began their own ijtihad – or religious investigation –  looking to the Qur’an to find evidence and create a discourse against the discrimination commonly seen in their societies. This discourse has been most useful in altering Muslims’ beliefs in regards to the family structure. For example, Islamic feminism has played a large role in breaking down the idea that the family is a separate domain from the public and in destroying the idea that Islam and the Qur’an requires a patriarchal family and society.  Secular and Islamic feminism have each benefited from the other, and each is still working towards their end goals of equality for women in all spheres of life.

islamic feminism

It will be interesting to watch how the Islamic fundamentalist movement will evolve globally. Because many in the US may not have much exposure to the Islamic religion, is important for all people to understand the wide spectrum of beliefs on which Muslims may lie.

Sources:
No-Nonsense Guide to Islam. Sardar and Davies.
From Islamic Feminism to a Muslim Holistic Feminism. Margot Badran

Post 9: From Confrontation to Compatibility

This week, we investigated further into the long and often dangerous journey that many refugees take in leaving their homeland to find a better home elsewhere. An article titled The Dispossessed in the Foreign Affairs does a terrific job of presenting the statistics of refugee migration during the past 35 years.

Though we in the Western world are largely concerned with refugees arriving in Europe and in the United States, these western countries actually accept very few refugees compared to others. For example, Lebanon has over 200 refugees per 1000 inhabitants in their country, the largest percentage of refugees to citizens in the world. Other countries such as Jordan, Nauru, Chad, and Turkey follow directly behind Lebanon. Countries like the United States would look very different if enough refugees crossed our borders to constitute 20% of our population.

refugees per 1000 inhabitants

With such a high number of refugees moving into these countries, many are experiencing the lowering of wages, as the job market becomes saturated, while rent is simultaneously rising. Somehow, these countries are staying afloat, but such a large influx of people is bound to cause political and economic challenges that even wealthy countries would find difficulty in successfully addressing.

The Disposessed also includes a comic, detailing the long, stressful journey of two Syrians from their home in Latakia, Syria to Sweden. Though the comic describes their journey and one can imagine the emotions that a person might feel along the way, I don’t think that it does justice to accurately describe the refugee situation; We, as the readers, do not hear the emotions in each character’s voice, and the comic drawings can only convey so much detail.

The film My Escape helps to convey more clearly the situation of many refugees as they flee their old homes. In the film, we see the journeys of several different refugees, all heading towards Europe. We see a man and his nephew walking through the desert, led by smugglers, from Kabul, Afghanistan to Saindak, Pakistan. They are later made to hide in an empty fuel tank of a passenger bus with two other refugees in order to get to Europe.

desert

In another part of the film, we hear the story of how one man was robbed with his group while walking through the desert, and another group was kidnapped. We see smugglers packing 100+ refugees into the back of a truck, and mafia members, carrying guns, forcing an unsafe number of people into a small, inflatable boat to cross the water between Turkey and Greece. I was amazed at what these people were willing to do in order to find a better life –  and the viewer realizes just how bad a situation must be in order for a person to be willing to go through something so horrible.

boat.jpg

Unfortunately, once these people arrive at their destination, they are often met with hostility, particularly Muslims. In their article Islam and the West: Narratives of Conflict and Conflict Transformation, Funk and Said bring to light the difference between intercultural confrontation and intercultural compatibility.

The authors find that in modern society, there is a cultural tension between Western citizens and Middle Eastern, Muslim citizens. Both sides tend to become trapped inside of their own stories and identities, viewing the other side as the strange, immoral “other” that is unable to integrate into their own society. This understanding of the “other” helps each group to understand and reinforce their own identity. Through this intercultural confrontation, actual differences in culture are exaggerated, whether through the news, Hollywood, or the media. With this view of the “other,” each side begins to think that security can only be found in either repressing or changing the “other.”

This tension between the West and the Middle East has existed for centuries. Islam has consistently been held as a rival to traditionally Christian areas, emphasized as violent, corrupt, fanatic, and intolerant since the Middle Ages. On the other hand, Muslims were driven out of Spain in the 15th century, and the Ottoman empire collapsed in Eastern Europe. Thus, Muslims feel that they were “excluded from history” in the western world, banished to the east and Middle East. Additionally, many traditionally Muslim areas in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia became colonies of more advanced European nations and were exploited for resources and labor.

Thus, these historical contexts have served to sour relations between the two groups for centuries. However, Funk and Said present intercultural compatibility as another way that these two sides can approach relations and hopefully head towards a more peaceful, tolerant future. By focusing on the values that are shared between the two societies, such as respect for learning and a desire for peace and tolerance, both sides may begin to realize that our differences are much less than our similarities. Additionally, increasing contact between the two cultures and attempting to genuinely understand the “other” can begin to build up this intercultural compatibility.

coexist

This process will take time, as it is difficult to convince people to change their minds. However, as we as a society become more aware of our prejudices against the “other,” we will hopefully be able to better understand and coexist peacefully.

Sources:
The Dispossessed. The Foreign Affairs.
My Escape/Meine Flucht: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtMlN3nqL4c&t=950s
Islam and the West: Narratives of Conflict and Conflict Transformation. Funk and Said.

 

 

Post 8: “Us” vs. “Them”?

 

Currently, we are seeing the influx of many Muslim people of all nationalities into Europe. Some are a result of conflict in Africa and the Middle East, while others may come for other reasons such as employment. These new and different cultures are often times seen as at odds with the “European” culture – the values and ideologies set forth by the European Union and many of the western countries that are a part of the EU.

There is a problem of Europeans grouping all followers of Islam together, even though they might come from very different cultures and countries. To provide a similar example, one would likely not label an American person and a German person who both happen to be Christian together as “Christians.” It’s more likely that they would be labeled by their respective country of origin. So, why do Europeans generally lump together Muslims from a multitude of countries?

The authors Zemni and Parker of Chapter 13: Islam, the European Union, and the Challenge of Multiculturalism of the book Islam, Europe’s Second Religion, argue that it is easier to see a migrant’s presence as problematic when it is related to cultural/religious norms, rather than a person’s nationality or income level. With this viewpoint, it becomes a struggle between “us” – the Europeans – and “them” – the Muslim migrants. According to Zemni and Parker, while nationality or legal citizenship can be changed, “cultures are seen as fixed.” Thus, many Europeans hold the view that Muslims will never be capable of integrating into the secular European society because their culture – fixed at birth – cannot be changed or altered.

Muslim women.png

This viewpoint can be very problematic in thinking about Islam in Europe. Islam is seen as rejecting European culture and is therefore a threat to European values. One example of this is seen in France, where there is debate over allowing headscarves in public.

In France, the separation of church and state also means that “conspicuous” signs of religion are outlawed in the public sector, such as in the workplace or in schools. “Discreet” signs of religion, however, are allowed. This law is known as “laïcité.” Interestingly, Wallach, author of Politics of the Veil, notes that the French word for “conspicuous” can also have a sexual connotation – in the way that a low-cut shirt is conspicuous and noticeable.

Thus, Wallach points out, there is a dichotomy between the conspicuousness – the obviousness – of a headscarf as a religious symbol, and the conspicuousness – the sexuality – of the headscarf. For Muslims, the headscarf is a sign of modesty. Some Muslims, recognizing the inherent sexuality of women and men and believing that a person’s honor relies on modesty, have decided to address the issue by covering the women’s bodies.

However, to many Europeans, the headscarf is seen as a symbol that brings attention to the sexuality and gender of a woman in a negative manner. In this way, the French view the headscarf as “conspicuous” in both meanings of the word. The French, along with other western countries, preach that all people are equal.

Opponents of the headscarf in France cite many reasons why the headscarf should not be allowed to be worn in France. While some argue that it breaks the rules of laïcité, others believe that the headscarf demeans women and takes away certain rights. One French critic even argued that the headscarf takes away the femininity of women, as women cannot be feminine without the visual appreciation of their bodies by men. In another comment on headscarves, Chirac notes that some men see them as an “aggression of women” in denying men their natural right to “see behind the veil.”

Muslims Rally Against France's Ban On Religious Headscarves

Throughout the argument, we see the insistence of the French that their gender equality system is “universally desirable” and that no woman would choose to wear a headscarf if she was not made to. In a quote from the French Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, “Let us bring pressure to bear so that the rights of French women apply also to immigrant women.” In this statement, he is talking about the right of equality between men and women and the right for women to wear whatever they choose.

Beneath this “equality” lies the question that many want to ignore: If we (men and women) are all the same, then why has gender been such an obstacle to equality? Why do we still see examples of inequality in society? Wallach’s main thesis in Chapter 5 of his book argues that “Islam’s insistence on recognizing the differences posed by sexuality revealed more than the French wanted to see about the limits of their system.”

In my opinion, the rights of French women do apply to immigrant, Muslim women. In acknowledging that women have rights to equality, we must also acknowledge that all women have the right to choose what they wear. If Muslim women choose to cover their bodies, rather than expose them, then they are exercising their right and practicing what they believe. What a woman chooses to wear is inconsequential to the persistent issue of gender inequality, as “uncovered bodies are no more a guarantee of equality than covered ones.” Gender inequality runs much deeper than what a woman wears, and we as a society should be focusing on these deeper issues.

Sources:
Hunter. Islam, Europe’s Second Religion.
Wallach. Politics of the Veil.

 

Post 7: An Intro to Islam in Europe

For the first part of this semester, we focused on case studies of poverty and how it can be addressed, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The rest of this semester, our class will be switching gears to focus on our second main topic: Islam in Europe.

First, it is important to give a brief introduction to Islam and its main beliefs and tenets. Islam shares a common background with both Christianity and Judaism, and even recognize Abraham and Jesus as prophets. However, Muhammed is the prophet whose guidance led to Islam. Muhammed lived during the early part of the 7th century AD, and is viewed as the “last prophet” in a long line of prophets. Many of the religious traditions practiced by Muslims were first written or created by Muhammed.

Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam is a monotheistic religion believing that there is only one all-powerful and all-seeing god. Additionally, Muslims believe in a unity of all creation, preaching and practicing respect for the life of all peoples and creatures. Muslims also believe in a “distributive social justice,” or the circulation of resources, such as money or time, to help the less fortunate and give others a hand up. Traditions and customs are another very important tenant to Islam, such as the requirement to pray 5 times daily or fasting during daylight hours throughout the month of Ramadan.

In recent years, the number of Muslims living in western countries has risen considerably, causing some cultural and religious clashes as Muslims attempt to integrate into their western communities. Prejudice exists against Muslims that can be traced all the way back to the Crusades of the 11th – 13th centuries, when Christians in Europe sent armies to secure Jerusalem, slaughtering Jews and Muslims along the way.

Muslims in Europe

Justin Vaisse, the author of a short essay Muslims in Europe, states that there are four myths that help to perpetuate prejudice against Muslims in Europe. First and second is that being Muslim is a fixed identity that trumps all others, and that Muslims in Europe form a distinct and cohesive group of their own. There are many Muslims native to Europe that take pride in their nation as well as in their religious and cultural identities, and not every Muslim believes or behaves in the same way as another; just like in Christianity, there are different “schools of thought” or denominations that believe slightly different things.

The third and fourth myths are that Muslims are alien to “native” European culture, and that they are demographically gaining on “natives” in Europe. There are many Muslims who are citizens of a European country and have been for many generations; Muslims have lived in Europe for many hundreds of years. For example, Muslims coexisted with people of other religions in Spain for over 800 years, but were driven out during the Reconquista of the 13th century. Additionally, these myths lead us to believe, first, that Muslims can never be considered “natives” in Europe, even when their families have lived there for generations. Secondly, it ignores the many Muslims that interact with and integrate into “native” communities.

As Muslims and Europeans continue to struggle to understand and accept each other, it is important for both sides to make a distinction between the religious and political dimensions of Islam, a topic that Shireen T. Hunter discusses in the book Islam, Europe’s Second Religion. In looking at religious distinctions, one must think of the guidelines – the things one must do – in order to pray/worship/practice Islam. However, in looking at political distinctions, one must only consider what one must not do. In fact, Islam encourages its followers to take “everything that is good and does not contradict their universal principles,” which is why Islam has integrated into so many different societies and cultures throughout history.

However, there are still challenges that different aspects of western, European life bring to Muslim communities. Hunter states that education is one specific aspect that presents a challenge to Muslim communities, as schools are teaching their students less and less to think critically, ask questions, and discuss difficult topics respectfully. The author argues that because of this, students are less sure of who they are and what they believe, which makes it more difficult for them to accept and understand others.

Hunter also lists social rifts as an issue for Muslim communities in Europe. Muslims see discrimination in employment and often experience higher levels of poverty and unemployment. This can lead to a vicious cycle of receiving less education and making less money over a lifetime.

In the face of these challenges, Ramadan, the month-long fast during daylight hours that is observed by Muslims annually, encourages Muslims to specifically focus on being involved in the community, donating time and money, and gaining knowledge. In this way, Ramadan encourages Muslims to specifically focus on some of the issues they are facing in Europe and to hopefully improve the relationship between European Muslims and other Europeans.

Sources:
Hunter, Shirene. Islam, Europe’s Second Religion.
Sardar and Davies. Islam.
Vaisse, Justin. Muslims in Europe.

Post 6: The Start of a Quiet Revolution

The eradication of poverty has been discussed for many years, with many different opinions emerging on the best methods to help improve the lives of the poor. In Poor Economics, Banerjee and Duflo present the ideas argued by two leading economists. The first is Jeffrey Sachs, who believes that poverty can be addressed by focusing on concrete, measurable programs which address certain poverty traps and aim to give the poor a hand up and out of these traps. Sachs was the mastermind behind the Millennium Villages Project, discussed in my Post 2.

William Easterly, on the other hand, believes that aid money is mostly wasted by corrupt African governments or used for the interests of the rich world, rather than for the poor. He argues that the tremendous amount of aid already provided to African countries, totaling about $2.3 trillion, proves that it has done almost nothing in helping to improve the situation in many countries. Easterly has a “laissez faire” outlook on helping the poor countries in Africa, believing that these countries will eventually figure it out on their own, and rich countries trying to provide aid are only hindering their progress.

After having investigated both sides of this argument for several weeks, I have to agree with Sachs on his policy to eradicate poverty. While some aid programs may not use donations efficiently or can be easily hindered by corrupt governments, I believe that it is possible to create impactful, change-inducing programs that do not provide a hand out but a hand up for the world’s poorest people. In order for these types of programs to be created, those implementing them must intentionally design each program for its beneficiaries and be open to trial-and-error to determine the best type of program for each community.

Nick Parle, the author of PovertyEducation.org, also backs Sach’s argument and notes flaws in that of Easterly. Parle writes that “Easterly also argued that aid is not a successful means of promoting development because enormous amounts of aid…have already gone to developing countries without successfully eradicating extreme poverty. But this assertion is undermined by Easterly’s argument that much aid has been spent on destructive activities.” Parle makes the point that, had this aid money not been squandered by corrupt governments or by western countries determined to have their way in Africa, it could have made a huge impact on the lives of the poor.

Here, we can see a convergence of these two arguments. While Easterly is correct that a majority of the aid money that has been given to Africa has done nothing, it is because the money has not actually been used in situations where it could have made a difference. Sachs agrees that when aid money is provided in the correct capacity and towards the right programs, it can make a world of difference, even for small communities.

Now that I have read almost the entirety of Poor Economics, I am able to reflect on its discussion of the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. The first two specifically, aim to “end poverty in all forms” and to “end hunger, achieve food security, and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.”

The authors address the first issue in detail, providing many studies and theories to back up their recommended policies. Education is one example that is consistently cited as a method to rise out of poverty and increase a person’s earning power over their lifetime. Banerjee and Duflo discuss PROGRESA as a successful program that has provided an incentive for parents in Mexico to send their children to school, while helping to meet the family’s monetary needs.

Microfinancing is another huge topic discussed. Poor families that receive microcredits are often more likely to cut regular spending, as their goals suddenly become achievable and their stress is lowered. Many other issues, like improving involvement in government, decreasing the prevalence of preventable diseases, and

However, it seems that less decisive policies were suggested for the second issue of hunger and food security. While the authors did investigate this issue thoroughly, it seemed that they were only able to identify problems leading to food insecurity. For example, in chapter 2, they find that most of the poor would prefer to spend more money on better-tasting calories, rather than maximize their calorie intake. Additionally, the authors found that when a poor family sees an increase in income, they do not spend this extra money solely on food – behavior that would be expected of those experiencing food insecurity. Overall, I felt even more unsure about how to eradicate hunger after finishing these chapters in the book.

There is a long way to go before first-world countries will realize the best methods to provide aid to the poorest countries of the world; therefore, it will be even longer before poverty can be eradicated. Poverty is caused by a multitude of complex and intertwined problems, ranging from low education to irresponsibly allocated aid to a lack of political accountability. Though huge, drastic changes will not happen overnight to improve the situation of these third world countries, small changes can build on themselves and become “the start of a quiet revolution.

Sources:

Banerjee and Duflo. Poor Economics.

Parle. Chapter 5: The Foreign Aid Debate. PovertyEducation.org. http://www.povertyeducation.org/the-foreign-aid-debate.html

Post 5: Microfinancing in Rwanda

Microfinance (n): the lending of very small amounts of money at low interest, especially to a start-up company or self-employed person.

Since the late ’70s, microfinancing has emerged as a popular method for helping the poor achieve financial independence. The idea is that the poor often need financing or loans, but do not have access to financing from formal banking institutions or require only very small amounts of money. Thus, microfinance institutions were created, providing small loans to the poor in an effort to lift them out of poverty.

In their book Poor Economics, the authors Banerjee and Duflo discuss the pros and cons of microcredits for the poor. A microcredit can be very beneficial to a poor person if they are confronted with an emergency expense, such as a sick family member. Without some sort of savings or access to emergency money, the poor may be forced to sell part of their business or borrow money from money lenders at outrageous interest rates. Microloans have helped to relieve some of this burden from the world’s poorest people.

Microloans have also been used to help the poor expand their businesses or receive education – things that can help to lift someone out of poverty and become self-sustaining. Some economists believe that the poor are natural-born entrepreneurs; they are able to create a living from themselves even when all odds are against them. Many of the poor are self-employed, so in many cases, a microcredit may be just what they need to expand their business or bring an idea to reality.

Overall, microcredits have been shown to not only give the poor a hand up, but to also provide them with hope that their situation can improve. Those who can’t see any hope for a better life are more likely to spend money on “temptation goods,” or buying of goods that provide immediate satisfaction but aren’t necessities, even though disciplined saving could easily lift them from poverty.  In one study discussed in Poor Economics, it was found that people who received a microloan were effective in cutting down on temptation spending, as they try to save even more money to meet their goals.

However, Banerjee and Duflo also discuss some of the negatives of microfinancing. For example, they argue that most businesses owned by poor people are destined to stay small because they don’t offer a differentiated product or service from many of the other businesses owned by poor people. One example listed in the book is women selling baked goods on the streets in India. The authors write that there was a baked goods seller about every six houses selling the exact same food, making business tough for every one of them. If most of these businesses are likely to be outcompeted by similar businesses, then a few extra dollars can only go so far in helping to boost them above the rest.

In Rwanda, almost 500 microfinance banks or other institutions existed as of December 2015. However, these institutions account for only 5.9% of the total assets in Rwanda. Most of these loans were provided for trade/hospitality funding, closely followed by construction/real estate and agriculture.  In a report from called Assessment of the Rwandan Microfinance Sector Performance, the authors discuss the history and current situation of microfinancing in Rwanda.

Microfinance institutions have existed in Rwanda since 1975, but did not see much growth until after the genocide in 1994. The sector experienced huge growth as donor funds flooded into the country. Unfortunately, because the industry was largely unregulated, problems such as a weak culture of loan repayments and bad money management by banking institutions arose. Reforms of the microfinance sector were made in 1995 and 2006, resulting in the closing of many corrupt microfinance groups.

There are three basic types of microfinancers in Rwanda. First are mobile money providers, which offer ways for clients to save and carry out financial transactions with “mobile wallets.” This helps to increase the reach of banking institutions because clients can bank remotely, rather than having to travel miles to the nearest bank.  Second are microfinance institutions, which are largely comprised of SACCOs. In this case, a community comes together and each person contributes some money, offering loans/services to only its own members. Lastly, microfinance banks are formal banks that provide microfinance services with the intention to reach underprivileged groups.

sacco

The microfinance sector has grown steadily over the past three years, though the percent market share has increased at a much slower rate. While growth is expected in this sector, there is still room for improvements. The report found that rural areas in Rwanda are still underserved and see limited banking competition. The Rwanda government is planning to nationalize many of the smaller microfinance institutions into one national bank, and to expand its reach so that 90% of the population will have access to banking by 2020. Currently, 38.1% of Rwandas have a formal bank account, and 25.5% have a savings account, though most of these people likely live in more populated areas. The number of citizens in rural areas who use informal banking/savings is probably much higher.

The report details several possible areas of improvement, such as enhancing services based on client needs and strengthening staff skills to better provide for customers. Still, the authors are optimistic that the sector will continue to grow in Rwanda as expansion of banking branches, mobile banking, and ATM machines will positively impact financial inclusion in Rwanda.

Sources:
Poor Economics. Banerjee and Duflo
Assessment of the Rwandan Microfinance Sector Performance. MicroFinanza Rating, Access to Finance Rwanda, and Association of Microfinance Institutions in Rwanda.

Post 4: Issues in Rwanda

As discussed in previous blog posts, many countries in Africa have seen a transition from autocratic to democratic governments in the past two decades, especially in the “emerging countries” identified by Steven Radelet. Unfortunately, this has not been the case for Rwanda. Since the conclusion of the genocide in 1994 that claimed 800,000 Tutsi lives, the country has seen some small improvements in democratic freedoms, but still has a long way to go.

rwanda

The organization Freedom House keeps track of the “freedom level” in every country in the world. Each year, they follow current events and political changes, ultimately rewarding each country a rating for the year. The scale for this rating ranges from 1 (the most democratic) to 7 (the least democratic).

In the year 2000, Rwanda received a freedom rating of 6.5, sadly low for a country that had seen such dramatic violence and change in the last decade. During this year, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) still had strict controls over the government. The RPF had been in control of Rwanda since the end of the genocide of 1994, when the group effectively ended the conflict. Local elections held in 1999 did allow citizens to vote for local officials, but nationwide elections did not occur until 2003. The RPF reasoned that if elections occurred while the country was still unstable, chaos could ensue. Rwanda was still working through ethnic tensions, outlawing political parties based on ethnicity and religion and closely watching over governmental actions.

Today, Rwanda’s freedom rating has not increased significantly, to only a score of 6. In the last 16 years, the country has received at highest a 5.5 freedom rating. The score most recently decreased because of the approval of constitutional amendments to allow the president, Paul Kagami, to run for an additional three terms in office.

Breaking down the freedom rating, Freedom House has awarded Rwanda an 8/40 in the category of political rights. One reason is that the president, according to the 2003 constitution, has broad powers, allowing him to appoint many government members and giving him control over the judicial and legislative branches. Additionally, there are few political parties, with opponents to the current ruling party being prevented from taking part in government. However, the government has taken strides to place limits on corruption by passing a 2013 law to increase the transparency of government proceedings, but it was not well executed.

Rwanda received a 16/40 in their civil liberties score and 7/16 in personal autonomy and individual rights. Restrictions exist on the freedoms of the press and of expression, and the government has the power to monitor cell phone and email conversations. However, citizens are allowed religious freedom as well as the freedom to make life decisions such as where to work and live. The economy functions well with low levels of government intervention. While discrimination against women still happens, a large number of women hold political seats.

Rose Kabuye is one such woman, a politician and “cheetah” who has worked to better Rwanda since the genocide of ’94. Kabuye was born to refugees of the violence in Rwanda, growing up and receiving her education in Uganda. Once she completed college, she joined the RPF and helped in ending the ethnic conflict that had existed for decades. After the genocide, Kabuye was appointed as mayor of the capital city, Kigali, which had been devastated by the war. She later served in parliament and the Chief State of Protocol for the president.

rose kabuye.jpg

Throughout her time in government, Kabuye has advocated for women’s rights in Rwanda. She has also worked with both Hutus and Tutsis through the Unity and Reconciliation Commission to help eliminate the divide between ethnic groups, and chaired the Political and Juidicial Commission of the Rwandan Leadership Conference, which unites women from many African countries to discuss peace and regional stability. Overall, Kabuye has worked hard for positive change in Rwanda, helping to inspire another generation of cheetahs after her.

Despite Kabuye and other “cheetahs” working to improve circumstances throughout Africa, major obstacles still exist to raising developing countries out of poverty. For example, education has proven to be a tried-and-true method to increase a person’s earnings over their lifetime. While the percentage of children completing primary school in Rwanda has increased to 66%, this means that 34% of children are still not completing a basic education course. Why?

Some activists blame low education levels on the “supply” of education. If there are not enough teachers or there is no school nearby, how can a child even go to school? Here, the solution lies in building more schools and training more teachers. In some countries, though, the simple act of enrolling children in elementary school is not enough for them to receive an education. For example, one study showed that students in India had extremely low reading proficiency for their grade level, and teachers missed 1 out of every 5 working days. Thus, even when students are enrolled in school, they are not learning the material they should in order to be successful in the future.

Other activists blame the “demand” of education for low education levels. If more jobs in these countries required education, then families will want to send their children to school. Suddenly, the investment of sending kids to school is worthwhile, because otherwise the children will not be able to make money in the future. However, this view also has obstacles. For example, what if a family simply cannot afford to lose the income their teenager would make if they were working? They know that the investment in education would pay off in the future, but it is not possible to make that investment in the present. Additionally, how does a poor country suddenly create the businesses that require educated labor when few funds exist?

Though the situation in many African countries is improving, there is still much work to be done to improve education, economy, and democracy. These problems will take time, and will require generations of people who are willing to put in the hard work to fix them.

Sources:
Banerjee and Duflo. Poor Economics.
Rose Kabuye. Inclusive Security. https://www.inclusivesecurity.org/experts/rose-kabuye/
Rose Kabuye, a Woman of Substance. The New Times. http://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/article/2008-11-22/86283/
Rose Kabuye: Rwanda. World People’s Blog. http://word.world-citizenship.org/wp-archive/709
Rwanda. Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2001/rwanda

Post 3: The Cheetah Generation

In my Post 1, I introduced the notion of a “poverty trap”: the idea that poverty is a social construction in which the poor become entrapped. One specific type of poverty trap that may potentially have wide-ranging implications on the productivity and health of an individual is the hunger-based poverty trap. In the 2nd chapter of their book, Poor Economics, Banerjee and Duflo present the hypothesis that, when the poor can only afford the minimum amount of food to survive, they are left with little energy, motivation, or mental capacity to work harder or earn more money.

This is a compelling argument, when one sits down to imagine what living on the brink of starvation must feel like. For most of us, it is already hard enough to get out of bed in the morning when we consume 2000+ calories a day. Can you imagine how much harder it would be for someone who has only had 1200?

This desperation provides an explanation of the “witch killings” that occur periodically during times of drought in Tanzania. When food is scarce or money is low, families in Tanzania suddenly realize that an elder who lives with them is a “witch,” and they are thus exiled from the village or killed. Similar happenings occurred in India in the 1960s, when young girls “happened” to have more tragic accidents during times of drought, but had the same number of accidents as young boys when food was plentiful.

However, Banerjee and Duflo ask us to look at the situation of the poor a little more closely. Studies of spending habits of the poor when they receive a little extra money show that the money is not 100% contributed to the food budget, and more expensive, good-tasting food is purchased in place of higher calorie foods. This is contrary to the idea of a hunger-based poverty trap, in which we would imagine that any extra money would go directly towards high-calorie foods in the hopes of gaining more energy and boosting future earnings. Thus, Banerjee and Duflo conclude that a hunger-based poverty trap is nothing more than a hypothesis.

The authors do discuss evidence that children who do not receive the right nutrients during their younger years – whether that be from malnutrition, eating low-nutritional foods, or infection by worms – are less likely to have higher IQs and more likely to earn less money over their lifetime. Parents who can afford to feed their children enough calories may not realize the value of feeding their children healthy and nutritious food; likewise, parents who have enough money to buy deworming medication for their children are unlikely to pay for it. It’s likely that these people don’t know the importance of good nutrition and health and are wary of outsiders telling them what to do.

Some economists are placing hope in what Radelet describes as the “cheetah generation” in his book Emerging Africa. This “new” generation is composed of wise, ethical leaders and problem solvers who are willing to contribute hard work, innovation, and brain power to resolving some of Africa’s biggest issues, like nutrition and children’s healthcare. The cheetah generation, according to Radelet, can be associated with the new ideas necessary to bring about lasting change, the technology and entrepreneurship to increase efficiency and improve economic situations, and the transparency and accountability necessary for a government to be run well and for the people. This is in contrast to the “hippo generation,” which is often seen as the slow-moving complainers who contribute little effort to fixing the problems of their authoritarian governments.

For example, the cheetah generation can be seen making lasting impacts in Rwanda. Looking through the lens of the Sustainable Development Goals, we can see that progress is being made in Rwanda. The GDP of the country has increased from $1.73 million in 2000 to $8.09 billion today, and growth has never dropped below 4.68% in the last 10 years. Additionally, the number of people in poverty has dropped 15% since 2005, though 70% of the population is still living in poverty. The number of students completing primary school has risen from 22.5% in 2000 to 66% currently, with the completion rate by female students showing an even steeper rise, from 20.9% to 72%.

Ethnic tensions have existed between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi people since the 1960s, cumulating in violence during the 1990s and the genocide of 800,000 Tutsi people in 1994. Thankfully, a new government and constitution helped to alleviate much of the ethnic tension and violence, and the Human Development Index has increased significantly since the 1990s. Today, the HDI in Rwanda is at 0.483.

SDGs.PNG

Overall, these statistics show that progress towards some of the SDGs is being made. For example, poverty levels are declining, meeting SDGs #1 and #2. Male and female students are staying in school longer, contributes to improvements in SDGs #4, 5, and 10. Rwanda has seen the establishment of a new government that has helped establish peace in the country and begin to eliminate discrimination based on ethnicity, as SDG #16 calls for. There is hope that Rwanda’s situation will continue to improve, as members of the cheetah generation continue to contribute their energy and innovation to bettering Rwanda.

Sources:
Banerjee and Duflo. Poor Economics.
Human Development Reports: Africa. United Nations Development Program. http://hdr.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/RWA
Radelet. Emerging Africa.
Rwanda. The World Bank. http://data.worldbank.org/country/rwanda
Sustainable Development Goals: 17 Goals to Transform Our World. United Nations.
The Rwandan Genocide. The History Channel. http://www.history.com/topics/rwandan-genocide