Post 12: Muslim-European interactions and the difference between assimilation and multiculturalism

1. Compare and contrast the following discussed patterns of Muslim-European interaction: assimilation, communitarianism, or newer modes or integration.

Hunter discusses various patterns of Muslim-European interaction in her book, Islam, Europe’s Second Religion. First, the assimilation pattern is the thought that Muslims should accept the totality of the cultural and political ethos that they reside in. This lends to the idea that religion should also be kept private. The communitarianism approach is where Europeans and Muslims form cohesive communities that allow for dialogue between state and society. European governments tend to label the interaction patterns between Muslims and Europeans which doesn’t always lend itself to a cohesive, non-discriminatory society.


2. What is the diversity myth discussed by Malik? How does assimilation differ from multiculturalism? Give examples. What solutions does Malik propose to overcome the failure of multiculturalism?

In his article, The Failure of Multiculturalism, Kenan Malik discusses the history of cultural tensions in Europe and across the globe. Malik talks about how “Europeans have begun to see themselves and their social affiliations in a different way. Increasingly, they define social solidarity not in political terms but rather in terms of ethnicity, culture, or faith. And they are concerned less with determining the kind of society they want to create than with defining the community to which they belong.” (pg. 24) This leads to his discussion of what he calls the “diversity myth.” He talks about how the term “multicultural” has “come to define both a society that is particularly diverse, usually as a result of immigration, and the policies necessary to manage such a society.” (pg. 22) So, the term describes society but also includes “a prescription for dealing with it.” (pg. 22) As discussed earlier, social class has become less of a culturally diversifying factor with ethnicity, culture and faith being brought to the forefront.

A common myth named in Malik’s article is the idea that governments created multiculturalist policies regarding immigrants because they saw minorities as wanting to “assert their differences.” While migrants brought plenty of their own traditions and habits from their homelands, they were rarely concerned with preserving cultural differences. As Malik says, “what inspired them was the struggle not for identity, but for political equality.” Assimilation is when a person or group acquires the social and psychological characteristics of a group, whereas multiculturalism describes the existence, acceptance and/or promotion of multiple cultures within a single space. Malik discusses how “France’s policy of assimilation is generally regarded as the polar opposite of multiculturalism, which French politicians have proudly rejected.” (pg. 29) There, everyone is treating as an individual citizen rather than as a member of a particular racial, ethnic or cultural group. But, this does not mean that the country is not socially divided.

In his article, Malik proposes a few solutions on how to overcome the failure of multiculturalism. First, he suggests that Europe should “separate diversity as a lived experience from multiculturalism as a political process.” Attempting to institutionalize diversity through formal recognition by authorities should be avoided. Second, “Europe should distinguish colorblindness from blindness to racism.” What he means is that we should treat everyone as equal rather than specific racial or cultural histories as valuable. Finally he suggests that Europe differentiates between people and values. Both multiculturalists and assimilationists have different takes on how, but both view minority communities as “homogeneous wholes” rather than as essential parts of a modern democracy.  


Post 11: Western Influence and Muslim Youth


1. What struggles are unique to Muslim youth in Europe? In what forms does Muslim youth identity manifest itself in Europe? What role does discrimination play in the formation of Muslim youth identities?

Throughout history, the Muslim population in Europe has been mistreated. Because there are so many differences between Eastern and Western cultures, assimilating to the cultural norms in Europe have been difficult for many Muslims. At the same point, the need to assimilate is part of the problem. This feeling is not only felt by adults, but also Muslim youth. Both demographics feel an overarching theme of ostracization and being ousted by peers. Adults often feel the effects of this discrimination when searching for a job, and children will too. Muslim youth often find it hard to fit in at school and aren’t accepted by their peers. Both groups are highly affected by the radical terrorists that kill in the name of Islam. Though this group is very small in comparison to the size of the entire religious population, it’s radicalness draws attention and assumptions from outsiders. Another problem Muslim youth experience is being alienated. It seems they find it hard to balance being European while also being Muslim. With Christianity being the major religion in Europe, Muslim youth have to work harder to find places to worship and practice their religion compared to Christians by way of the number of churches compared to mosques. The various factors of discrimination, alienation and more do not make being a Muslim youth in Europe easy.

2. In what ways has the influence of Western experiences on Malaysian Muslims been contradictory? How can this be applied to Muslims worldwide?

Because Western and Eastern cultures draw so many differences, the influence of Western influences have led some Muslims to go to extremes in order to make the difference between “me and them” even more clear. So, they draw a divide between their values and conduct from that of the Western world. The finding for this idea with Malaysian Muslims is that their experiences in the West radicalized their previously held beliefs, rather than led to assimilation. Because of the difficulties discussed earlier that Muslims in Western cultures find themselves subjected to, many Malaysian Muslims radicalized their beliefs in order to defend their values more aggressively. This can extend to Muslims worldwide that find Western cultures hampering to their own culture. To feel less threatened by Western ideals, some Muslims choose to radicalize their beliefs and keep the Western culture in the West.

Post 10: Muslims in the United Kingdom


 1. Who is Salman Rushdie? What is the significance of his novel, The Satanic Verses, with respect to Muslims in the U.K?

Salman Rushdie is an Indian-born, British novelist and essayist known for his controversial novel, The Satanic Verses. The novel sparked major controversy with Muslims for various reasons, from using holy names in derogatory roles, making controversial references and more. The novel spurred violent protests, bombings, attempted killings and fatalities. The Satanic Verses was seen as such an outrage to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, that he called for Rushdie and his publishers to be put to death. Because of this, many Muslims in the U.K. held protests which led to the eventual breaking of diplomatic relations between the Iranian and British governments. There was also major violence against bookstores that sold the novel because the book was published in the U.K.

2. What limitations to Muslim assimilation in the U.K. exist? Do all British Muslims want to assimilate?

One of the main limitations to Muslim assimilation in the U.K. is the “clash of values, one which will make it considerably harder to find a path of compromise between Muslims and the rest of Europe.” What the article is referring to is secularism. This idea assumes that religion should be a private part of life, but this clashes with the practice of Islam. At the same time, the U.K. and other European countries want to remain as democratic and non-discriminatory countries. “It is undemocratic and illiberal to ask European Muslims to be as religious as they want at home but to keep their Islam out of public view” the article goes on to say. In my opinion, it’s unfair to say that all British Muslims want to assimilate. The extremist groups and other similar groups still exist within the British Muslim population, and they are continually promoting Islam and it’s older, traditional values.


3. What is the musawah organization about? What does musawah mean? What are some of their key messages? What is your assessment of this association?

Musawah, which means equality in Arabic, is a “global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family. The organization brings together NGOs, activists, scholars, legal practitioners, policy makers and grassroots organizations from around the world in order to achieve their vision of “a world where equality, non-discrimination, justice and dignity are the basis of all human actions.” Musawah has three main messages that they urge governments, leaders, religious institutions and other to uphold. The first is the same message as the group’s vision. The second is “full and equal citizenship for every individual” and the third being “marriage and family relations based on principles of equality and justice.” Musawah puts these into action by trying their best to ensure various practices. For example, they believe that marriage should be a partnership of equals with mutual respect and decision-making between the partners. Another practice they stand behind is “the equal right to choose a spouse or choose not to marry, and to enter into marriage only with free and full consent and the equal right to dissolve the marriage, as well as equal rights upon its dissolution.” The other policies cover equal rights as well. I think this organization is doing good, but it also seems to be pushing Western ideals on the Eastern world. While most of the ideals are good, like equal rights, and should be spread across the globe, I think it’s a fine line to walk between pushing another culture and not. At the same time, the organization is led by Muslim women “who seek to publicly reclaim Islam’s spirit of justice for all,” so the framework is well-suited to make a real difference because people are more willing to listen to those they can identify with, rather than outsiders.

Post 9: Us versus Them


1. What is your assessment of the Foreign Affairs The Dispossessed Does the comic do justice to the refugee situation? Is it a good analysis of the crisis? Does Islam play a role?

Yes, I think the comic featured in the Foreign Affairs The Dispossessed article illustrates the refugee situation. I think many refugees get trapped in the idea that once they flee and arrive somewhere new, life will be miraculously better. The journey many of the refugees endure, as illustrated by the comic is extremely hard, mentally, emotionally and physically. Syrians are continually taken advantage of as illustrated by the comic. The characters struggle throughout the narrative, between finding a hotel that won’t overcharge, to ferry delays to countless other troubles they endure. An abundance of emotions seemed to be involved in the story which seems like an accurate portrayal of the refugee situation. One minute the characters are happy that the boat got fixed, then the next they’re scrambling to collect enough money to reach the next step of their journey and it seems to continually be a battle back and forth. While refugees decide to leave their current situation, it’s not like they know what the other side holds.

I saw Islam play a role throughout the comic as well. There were a few stereotypes about Muslim culture that were portrayed, for example, the role of women versus men. Toward the beginning of the comic there was a scene where the man fixed the boat taking the group across the sea and used a phone to reach help. The phone was provided by a woman and she seemed to be beaming that “the hero” used her resource in order to save the boat, but received no recognition for actually providing it. The woman seem to be portrayed in a way that makes them appear to be almost fawning over the men throughout the story. To me, this seemed like the idea in Muslim culture that women are less valued than men and need them to give them permission everything, even just small parts of life.


2. Based on the article, Islam and the West: Narratives of Conflict and Conflict Transformation, discuss the story of intercultural confrontation and intercultural compatibility and how they affect conflict transformation.

In the article, Islam and the West: Narratives of Conflict and Conflict Transformation, Nathan C. Funk and Abdul Aziz Said discuss and compare the Western world and the Middle East. They discuss how the narratives of the two worlds are often portrayed in a polarizing way and almost pitted against each other. The authors don’t think that this polarizing narrative is the right way to go about the discussion on the Western world and the Muslim Middle Eastern cultures. Instead, they suggest a type of narrative where similarities between the two cultures are highlighted in order to stimulate a breakthrough of many of the ideals that have been built that suggest that the two cultures are so vastly opposite.

Funk and Said go on to discuss how neither culture is completely “innocent” in the idea that one culture is the target of the polarization, but rather that both cultures utilize a “self vs. other” ideology with contrasting differences. Both cultures have been found to exaggerate the extreme parts of the other’s culture. For example, in the United States, people think that Islam is directly connected to terrorism and make judgments on people that are a part of the Muslim community unjustly. At the same time, Western culture is often seen by Muslims as a much morally loose society that often portrayed in TV and movies.

I think that the ability to start to see similarities between the two cultures will lead to a progressive dialogue that doesn’t pit one culture against the other. Once the culture are seen less as polar opposites and more for shared values like education and citizen’s well-being, this “self vs. other” ideology will begin to break down.

Post 8: Muslim Integration in Europe


1. How do Zemni and Parker explain the “failure of integration” of Muslims in Europe? Why is the way Europeans think about integration and multiculturalism problematic in the discourse surrounding Islam and Muslims in Europe? Explain and give examples.

In European Union, Islam and the Challenges of Multiculturalism, authors Sami Zemni and Christopher Parker discuss the “failure of integration” of Muslims in Europe. They explain how there is a “perceived failure of migrants/immigrants of non-European origin to integrate into host societies.” There is an ongoing social construction of an immigrant being a problematic participant in social and political life of Europe, especially Muslim migrants. The historical context of the so-called “failure of integration” of Muslims in Europe is first, the fulfillment of low wage jobs in European countries in the early 1950s to the 1970s when the economy fell and lead many countries to appoint a stop to immigration. The second dramatic movement of immigrants to Europe was due to economic and political upset in home countries during the Cold War, leading to an increase in the migrant population, especially in Western Europe. The “failure” refers to the notion that immigrants failed to “adopt styles and practices of daily life” considered normal in European societies. Today, all of these apparent outsiders are Muslims, whereas in the 1970s they were called the “Other.” This shift directly correlates with the view of the Islamist movement across the world political scene. Slowly, migrants have been “de-linked” from there nationality and linked to a cultural matrix, remaining a stranger to what is still seen as “normal” European society.

The way Europeans think about integration and multiculturalism is problematic in the discourse surrounding Islam and Muslims in Europe because of the embedded suspicion associated with the group. There is a thought that “the migrant, as determined by his or her culture of origin, is incapable of meeting and respecting the demands and responsibilities of citizenship in the “secular” European state.” This lends to problems for both the Muslims themselves, and the way the policymakers in Europe interact with one another. For example, Muslim immigrants may be less inclined to participate in society because of the way they may come across as less-educated, or incapable of seeing eye-to-eye with others in a community because of their religion.


2. How is the Islamic gender system different from that of the French?  Why does the Islamic headscarf pose a challenge to the French republic’s ideal of “abstract individualism” and “laïcité”?  What are your own thoughts on this debate and controversy?

The Islamic gender system is different from that of the French system, especially in terms of women. In Joan Wallach Scott’s book, “Politics of the Veil,” she discusses the differences in the two systems. While in both systems, men are viewed as secondary to men, in the Islamic system, women downplay their sexuality, whereas French women celebrate it. The headscarf is a symbol of modesty, privacy and morality. In a poor and ethnically mixed middle school in France, three girls were expelled for failure to remove their headscarves. The principal claimed to be enforcing “laïcité,” the French version of secularism in which religion is meant to be kept private. The headscarf posed a problem to this ideal of “laïcité” because religion was not being kept private. Disallowing the headscarf to be worn in school also took away the values of Islamic culture like modesty and morality discussed previously. One argument was that “laïcité” meant respect for and tolerance of differences of religious expression among students. Another side saw the discussion of the hijab as a chance for Muslims to start a revolution. Many saw the  focus of secularism teachings in school as a direct aim at the Muslim community. Abstract individualism occurs when people are stripped of traits that represent their culture or religion. Thus, the hijab directly reflects the wearer’s’ religion and culture and goes against the French ideal of keeping the traits private.
My view on the debate is that people should be allowed to demonstrate their culture and values in private and public. Not allowing girls to wear headscarves in school seems wrong because it’s stripping them of their identity. At the same time, French and Islamic cultures are very different than my own, so seeing both sides of the argument is important in order to be part of the discussion.

Post #7: Islam & Muslims in Europe

What are some of the myths about Muslims in Europe that Justin Vaisse discusses?

There are numerous myths that Justin Vaisse wishes to dispel in order to fully grasp the real issues and challenges concerning Muslims in Europe. The first myth is that “being Muslim constitutes a fixed identity, sufficient to fully characterize a person.” What he means is that when outsiders think of a Muslim, they assume that their religion rules over all other parts of their identity, things like nationality, gender, class, etc. In a fews instances with news coverage, a story about urban violence in France was called “Muslims riots in France” even though the riots had nothing to do with Islam, rather people were upset over social and economic conditions of immigrant communities.

The next myth Vaisse discusses is that “Muslims in Europe are, in one way or the other, inherently foreign, the equivalent of visiting Middle-Easterners who are alien to the “native” culture.” Though many people who identify as Muslim are born and citizens in European countries, they are still looked at as outsiders. Though they are fully European, people don’t always see that.

The third myth is that “Muslims in Europe form a “distinct, cohesive and bitter group,” in the words of a Foreign Affairs article.” Vaisse explains that there is no unity to be found at the continent level, and at the country level there are major divisions as well. Specific cultures, visions of religion, affiliation, social class, political class, ethnicity and more characteristics divide the followers of the religion, just like in other religions around the world.

The fourth and final myth is that “Muslims are demographically gaining on the “native” population.” There is an assumption that Muslims are forming a “demographic bloc” that will never blend into the rest of society. This has been contradicted by things like intermarriage and people who convert either to the religion or away from it.

Why is it important to make a distinction between the religious and political dimensions of Islam?

Islamism is an extension of Islam, in that it is the belief that politics is and must be an extension of the faith. It is important to make a distinction between the religious and political dimensions of Islam because Islamism has become more of a controversial word and many people associate negative views toward it. The Islamists we hear about in the news are members of ISIS and al-Qaeda, so it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault that we have a negative connotation toward the word. In reality, those are the extreme members of the community. Islamists are generally members of small groups who join so they can eventually reach the afterlife. They meet weekly, discuss the Quran and work toward being “better Muslims”. In other countries, including predominantly Islamic countries, it is hard to distinguish between religion and politics. So, it is important to try and make this distinction for us because we don’t live in a country where the lines between the two are blurred, so seeing the two separated can help us understand the differences between the two sects.

What kind of challenges do education and social rifts in Europe bring to Muslim communities of Europe? What does Ramadan suggest Muslims should do in face of such challenges?

One challenge Muslim communities face in Europe as far as education goes is the number of schools offering Islamic education programs. Access to Islamic education in Europe is a case-by-case situation by country. Some countries offer Islamic educations alongside other religious education programs at the public education level, but other do not. This leads to the development of private institutions that may be more expensive and not in everyone’s financial capability. Another challenge that arises in education is the banning of the hijab in some schools. This ban has created major tension in finding the balance between Muslim and non-Muslim students in schools. Again, this leads to an issue of private and public school choice. For example, the hijab is banned in French public schools, which has brought on the development of private Islamic schools.

Shireen Hunter discusses social rifts faced by Muslims in Europe. One social rift is that unemployment is extremely high for Muslims in Europe. This builds on the previous discussion of education, if people aren’t educated, their potential for a job dramatically decrease. So, the problem goes back to a lack of Islamic education in Europe and the effects of being marginalized because of one’s religion.

Ramadan reminds Muslims to face challenges like problems in education and social rifts. During Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to fast in order to bring them closer to God and to remind themselves that there are less fortunate people in the world. During the month of intense prayer, fasting during daylight and nightly feasts, they are seen to purify themselves both physically and spiritually. They are encouraged to pray for others, including ones they may not see eye-to-eye with. Overall, Ramadan encourages Muslims to remember not to loath those who oppress them, but rather stay dedicated to their faith and be rewarded for it.

Differing Perspectives on How to End Poverty


  • Chapter 10 talks about the debate on pros and cons of development aid with leading economists Jeffrey Sachs (Columbia University) and William Easterly (NYU) pitted against each other. Each side has valid points. After reading for a few weeks about the issue of ending poverty, what is your take on this debate?

In chapter 10 of Poor Economics, Jeffrey Sachs’ views on development aid are discussed. He sees corruption as a “poverty trap” in which poverty causes corruption and corruption causes poverty. A solution he suggests is to give aid only for specific goals like malaria control, sanitation of drinking water, and for other solutions that can be easily monitored. Once living standards are raised from these foreign-aided projects, Sachs argues that civil society would be empowered and in turn, “governments would maintain the rule of law.”

On the other hand, William Easterly’s views are much more on the side of anti-aid (as explained in Poor Economics). Easterly believes that the central problem is that it is easier to take over a country and insert Western values rather than knowing how to make it run well. He also believes in freedom, both politically and economically and highly values free market economies. Free markets are key to moving a country toward finding its own success. Banerjee and Duflo state that Easterly “also wants governments to stop pushing education and health care on an indifferent populace but rather allow them the freedom to get themselves educated and healthy, through their own collective action.” So, he’s not saying that he has a pessimistic view toward poor countries, or doesn’t think they’ll ever move above the poverty line. Instead, Easterly doesn’t find the solution to the poverty problem in outside aid.

I’ve found that I most identify with a third perspective that falls somewhat in between Easterly and Sachs, Paul Collier. Collier is a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Oxford. His argument is that there are four main poverty traps that are preventing poor countries from moving upward. First is conflict. 73% of those in the poorest billion of the world’s population are either involved in or recovering from civil war according to Paul Collier’s book, The Bottom Billion. He goes on to say that civil war creates a vicious circle, much like Easterly, where war causes poverty and low income contributes to even more tension. The next trap is natural resources. Once a valuable natural resource is discovered in a country, all of the infrastructure and business development is put toward those efforts all while the citizens don’t receive much of the natural resource wealth returned back to them. The third trap he identifies is landlocked countries. Without dependable trade areas, it’s hard for countries to participate in the global economy. His suggestion is to ensure that landlocked countries are the first to receive foreign aid in order to move out of this trap. Lastly, bad governance is destructive, especially in the poorest of countries. Without properly functioning governments, Collier says that development is ultimately impossible. He also identifies the “failed states” as costing the global economy $100 billion, so it’s in our best nature to help out, for selfish reasons if nothing else. So, on one side, Collier believes that foreign aid can be beneficial if it’s used effectively, but he leans toward Easterly in that a country needs to be sustainable on it’s own to truly move out of poverty.

  • Check out Laura Poitras new website – is her vision a tool to address global issues? How do you think people can be and should be reached about global issues?



Laura Poitras’ website, Field of Vision, is described as a “filmmaker-driven documentary that commissions and creates original short-form nonfiction films about developing and ongoing stories around the globe. We produce cinematic work that tells the stories of our world from new perspectives.” It showcases various documentaries covering topics from destruction in the European Union to Syrian refugees and much more. In a way, I think Poitras’ vision is to address global issues, but I also see it as a way to simply get the word out that these things are happening in the world we live in. I don’t see the vision as a solution, but rather as a good platform to become informed so that you can voice your educated about global issues that you may not have been able to form previous to watching the various documentaries. I think using visuals, whether through photographs or films, is important in effectively reaching people about global issues. Giving a face to the stories that are in the news every day makes it much more personal, rather than hearing statistics or other types of numbers. Humanizing the poverty and related issues is how I believe people are going to be best reached about global issues.

Post 5: Micro-credits and saving in poor communities

For this week you are reading about micro-credit and its limit. What is the basic argument for and against micro-credits that Banerjee and Duflo make? Are micro-credits working in your country? Do you agree with its limits?

What is happening in your country with micro-credits or any other way to handle money, savings, trade? Is digital technology making a difference?



Microcredits are small loans with affordable rates available to millions of poor people. In Poor Economics, Banerjee and Duflo explain many of the benefits of microcredits. Microcredits help many small businesses run by the poor to stay in business and therefore enable the owners to survive. Microfinance gives the poor a way to plan for the future, rather than planning for the short-term. They can save and use a loan to buy something that works toward a vision of a life they want, things like a TV or cooking supplies.

On the flip side, farmers and other users of microcredits often find it hard to hold on to small sums of money for the time period between harvest and planting. There is always something that comes up, whether it be an unexpected expense, sick family member or otherwise. Many people don’t utilize the access to savings accounts that are available to them, especially men. Another point Banerjee and Duflo make is that “saving is less attractive for the poor, because for them the goal tends to be very far away and they know that there will be lots of temptations along the way.” Many businesses run by the poor don’t generate much profit, so the idea of a microcredit would not necessarily lead to a big improvement in their welfare and “money is not the only barrier to expansion.” Many problems arose from intense pressure from loan officers to repay loans which even led to 57 farmers committing suicide because they couldn’t repay what they owed. Microcredits have positives and negatives, much like other “solutions” to ending poverty. Even with the downsides, many poor people have been able to create better, more financially-stable lives for themselves because of the tool.

According to the article “Unruly Entrepreneurs – Value Creation and Value Capture by Microfinance Clients in Rural Burundi,” the microfinance sector in Burundi is fairly new and exposure to microfinance institutions is low compared to other African countries. With a lack of competition for the organizations, there is low competition, which is not good for customers. They often lack a choice is which bank they use and bargaining power once they get there. One problem with microfinance and micro-credits in Burundi is that much of the money loaned is spent on “non-income generating activities,” things like food, healthcare or emergencies. Many times the loans are used to invest in social activities rather than productive activities. Burundians place value in getting married or holding other religious ceremonies and often wound up using loans meant for their businesses on these events instead. The study reviewed in this article also explains “loan juggling” as a problem in Burundi. People take out different kinds of loans, both formal and informal, and use them to pay off one another, thus leading to multiple kinds of debt. At the same time, multiple borrowing “cements relationships and builds new alliances.” Microfinance and other formal ways of funding are still relatively new and gaining traction in Burundi. The article reviews a recent publication on entrepreneurship that stated that in order to be sustainable in emerging economies (like Burundi), innovations need to be designed with the customers and their ecosystems in mind.



As far as digital technology in Burundi, UNICEF has started an “Innovation Lab” targeted toward bringing technology to children. The idea behind the program is to bring children in Burundi together with technologists, academics and policymakers to co-create solutions for local problems. For example, Project Kira-Mama has been launched in two provinces, allowing community health workers to register pregnant women and follow up with them throughout their pregnancy. The project is aimed at reducing infant mortality rate and monitor overall infant and mother health.
According to the same UNICEF report, only 3% of Burundians have access to the national electricity grid. Even if there were innovations made in the country, having access to the progress would still be a problem. So, I don’t see digital technology as making a big impact in the near future, though current projects  like Project Kira-Mama seem to be successful.

Post 4: Burundi, a cheetah and effective health investments


1. Find a ‘cheetah’ in your country (person or organization) and show his/her/its work that helps the country move towards protection of human rights, free speech, systems of accountability, reducing poverty, etc.

The Burundi Friends International (BFI) group is working to help the country move towards putting an end to poverty. Their mission focuses on “fighting poverty, educating youth and providing hope.” The group believes that in order to make a lasting solution, they can’t simply give handouts to people living in the country. Instead, they need to provide a solution through education and economic empowerment. An example of work that the Burundi Friends International is doing is the “Project Goat”. In June 2013, the group worked with the International Women’s Coffee Association’s Burundi chapter to support women farmers. The women were given two goats to produce manure that fertilizes the coffee plants, as well as providing milk and cheese for their kids. BFI has already seen results, as the profits the women have raised have been used to pay for their children’s medical expenses and school tuition. The group has also helped set up a microfinance organization for 50 women who lost all of their belongings in a fire. Both through projects, as well as the groups’ mission, you can see that Burundi Friends International is a ‘cheetah’ in Burundi and is helping the citizens move toward a more sustainable, less impoverished country.


2. Chapter 3 of Radelet’s Emerging Africa talks extensively about democracy building as well as discusses how one defines democracy, what is elemental and how are democracies ranked and judged. How does your country rank? 

The Think Tank Freedom House scores Burundi very low on the freedom score, at a 19 out of 100. Burundi is not free, as it ranks 6.5 out 7 with 7 meaning completely not free. One of the biggest reasons for the downward trend in the civil liberties rating is due to President Pierre Nkurunziza. He recently ran for a third term in the country after being elected by Parliament, rather than through a popular vote. There were many public protests, including assassinations, arrests, torture of government critics and attacks that followed his decision. The government shut down most of the private media outlets in the country and “stepped up surveillance of citizens.” The country is moving away from any definition of democracy. UN observers found that the voting (that was recently boycotted) was neither free nor credible. Other freedoms are also on the decline. Freedoms of expression, association and assembly have been severely restricted, as the government has moved to quiet naysayers. Several NGOs have been suspended, including some working on improved human rights issues. A main university in the country has been closed as well. In Burundi, democracy is not building; rather, it is moving in the opposite direction.


3. What are effective health investments?

Banerjee and Duflo discuss many effective health investments in Poor Economics. One of the biggest problems is a lack of access to clean water and sanitation. Nearly 13% of our world’s population suffers from a lack to access to a water source like a well or tap and about ¼ of the population does not have access to safe drinking water. An improvement in access to clean water would have an impact on other health problems as well. Once people have clean water, problems like infant mortality and overall mortality decrease. Furthermore, poor water quality can cause other major illnesses like malaria, so it’s important to not only have access to water, but also be able to know it’s safe for consumption. As with other investments, a main issue preventing access to water is money. Many people suffering from a lack of water cannot afford to pipe water into their homes or buy chlorine tablets to purify the water they do obtain. Studies have also found that even when chlorine tablets are offered at a highly discounted price, people are often not willing to buy the product. This is a problem that other poor countries face regarding healthcare – the money that is spent on health is spent on expensive cures rather than cheap prevention. So, while there are countless reasons to invest in effective health treatments, the people on the receiving end must also want the support.


Economic Empowerment

Poor Economics, Banerjee, Duflo



Changing Perspective with a Changing Generation


1. Explain the meaning of a “Cheetah” and a “Big Man” also called the cheetah generation and the hippo generation? (Ch. 7 and 3) Explain how these terms refer to a different way of looking at democracy and civil society?

By the mid 1980s, nearly every country in sub-Saharan Africa was ruled by a dictator. This became known as the era of the “Big Man.” As countries reformed towards a more democratic society, many systems put more emphasis on the executive branch of government (thus the “Big Man”) and less on the judicial and legislative branches. So, there was an imbalance in the checks and balances system and dictatorship became more of the norm and Radelet states “democracy was rare.” Radelet also says “the strong political hand was matched by a strong economic hand.” There were major controls over the economy, through fixed interest and exchange rates, subsidizing programs favoring private businesses and so on. Now, countries are making changes toward a more accountable democracy. They are shifting away from the “Big Man” mentality and limiting presidential power through things like term limits and legislatures are asserting dominance in the policy making process.

The “Cheetah” generation is the so-called “new generation” who seeks to “redefine Africa through democracy, transparency, and a dynamic private sector and by fostering strong connections with each other and the rest of the world.” They are mostly young, comprised of both men and women, some well educated, others not. Together they are fighting for movement in the same direction. They want Africa to be seen as it’s own unique continent, not tied to nationalist ideas or bound by Western mandates. They are pushing for a more democratic society where civil rights are the standard. This is different from their past rulers, who had different ideas about governance. While the old rulers looked to the government to take steps toward reform, the “Cheetah” generation is putting the responsibility onto themselves.

2. How is nutrition a problem for the poor? Why do we need to rethink food policy?

One of the problems that Banerjee and Duflo outline is Poor Economics is that nutrition is a problem for the poor. They write that “the delivery of food aid on a massive scale is a logistical nightmare.” Some food gets lost and/or eaten by rats along the way. Another problem is that if poor people can’t afford to feed themselves, so therefore they’re less productive and can’t earn money to ever get out of the circle. Another problem is that some poor people don’t spend the small amount of money that they have on nutritious food, rather they spend it on tobacco, alcohol and festivals. Studies found that people spent money on food that wasn’t maximizing their caloric and micronutrient intake. Even more, they are spending money on “more-expensive” calories. We need to rethink food policy by thinking differently about what the problem is. Banerjee and Duflo think that simply providing more food is not a solution to the problem because poor people may not be making the smartest food choices. Instead, they suggest focusing efforts on children as well as poor mothers. These are the two groups they think will receive the most positive impact from efforts for better nutrition.

3. Why are witch hunts still occurring?

Witch hunts are still a fairly prominent practice in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is thought to be a way to conserve resources in villages that don’t have much. Often times older women living in the villages are seen as “unproductive mouths to feed” and are killed by others in the village or chased away as described by Banerjee and Duflo. It is most often performed when resources are extremely scarce.


4. Use the World Bank data website and report on the progress of the SDGs in your assigned country and region. Find other tools to explore the economic and political situation (PPP, GINI, etc.).

Burundi is a landlocked country located in East Africa. It has made great strives towards progress, especially since the 1960s. GDP has greatly increased, as it was recorded at $3.085 billion in 2015. Population has been steadily growing. Life expectancy has grown by nearly 15 years. Much of the focus of the SDGs in Burundi focus on women’s health. They committed to increases in midwives and midwife training, contraception and a focus on integrative reproductive health. All of these goals were categorized under SDG number 5, to achieve gender equality and to empower all women and girls.