Feb
21

The Life of a Reluctant Nationalist

Compared to other leaders of the struggle for dignity and freedom, Cabral has been covered less. I have posted about a few books: Davidson wrote a book in 1969, a 1977 book covered some of Cabral's work, and a 2013 edited book was inspired by Cabral. Antonio Tomas presents a biography of Cabral in "The Life of a Reluctant Nationalist" (2021), a few notes:

"The thinking of Salazar and his collaborators, in drawing up the Colonial Act, was based on social Darwinism. For them, humanity was divided into hierarchical categories, with the white/Western man at the top. Armindo Monteiro, one of the most prominent ideologues of Portuguese colonialism, who replaced Salazar as minister of the colonies (in this post from 1931-35), thought that "a great part of black societies, across the African continent were immobile within [the] old structures of organization" and that white man had to act fast in order to save these societies from death. For Monteiro, civilization was a long slope, at the top of which only the most skillful society could arrive. As the march of progress was unstoppable, natural selection would run its course. In a dozen or so years, he triumphantly added, the black races which could not scale the slopes of civilization would be wiped from earth." (p. 26)

"In one of the meetings with this group, Cabral was assigned a very dangerous mission. During a trip to Angola, between August and September 1959, he was given the task of recruiting eleven youths to be sent to Tunisia, where they were to receive training in guerilla tactics. The idea was once they were back in the country, they would form the "core operational group to jumpstart the armed struggle." The offer had been made by Frantz Fanon, at that time advisor to the GPRA, who, during the second Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Rome between 26 March and 1 April 1959 met with the Angolan representatives, namely Viriato da Cruz, Lucio Lara and Mario de Andrade, in the basement of a small coffee bar. Fanon, who was yet to write his famous The Wretched of the Earth, explained to them that he meant to export the "Algerian model" of anti-imperialist struggle to Angola as a way to scatter the forces of NATO, which supported France in war against the Algerian nationalist." (p. 69)

"Che Guevara met Cabral on 12 January 1965 during his trip to Africa, and they forged a lasting link. However, effective military and humanitarian aid only came after Cabral's first trip to Cuba to take part in the Tricontinental conference in Havana, in January 1966. Fidel Castro was impressed with Cabral's speech and took him on a personal trip to the Escambray Mountains. During this trip, Castro committed to assisting the national liberation movement in Africa with supplies namely tobacco, cotton, sugar, uniforms, trucks, and ammunition. Castro also sent drivers and mechanics to operate and maintain the trucks. but more importantly, Castro sent a group of Cuban doctors, who, during the war, were the only doctors to operate in the interior of Guinea." (p. 180) 

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Dec
27

Kofi Annan – Interventions

Kofi Annan (1938-2018) was the Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006, a turbulent time to say the least. He penned "Interventions: A Life in War and Peace" (2012) with Nader Mousavizadeh to provide some of the high, lows, challenges and successes of his time leading the UN. The book is a recounting of events, for those versed in the time period, not a lot that is new, barring a few interesting reflections. A few include:

  • "The world abandoned Somalia, allowing it to create for the world whole new forms of civil chaos and human suffering. Somalia would from then on [after 1993] be ignored by Western countries – until years later, when international terrorists emerged there in force, and when scores of well-organized pirates took to the high seas to threaten one of the lifelines of international commerce." (p. 45-46)
  • "We were not along in our optimism. The international development community had been engaged for years in Rwanda, and right up to March 1994, reports were still being written by leading development organizations that praised Rwanda as an unusual success story. But the international community had a thin appreciation of Rwanda's society and history and the force at play there." (p. 51)
  • "The core problem at the top of the UN's power structure is the composition of the Security Council. Today we have five permanent members with veto powers – the United States, Britain, Russia, France, and China – based essentially on the geopolitical reality that existed at the end of World War II. The other ten nonpermanent members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms, on the basis of geographical representation. This situation is intolerable to some; unjustifiable to most. Japan and Germany pay the second- and third-largest contributions to the UN but do not have a fixed seat at its most important table. India has over a sixth of the world's population but no seat. There is no permanent member from Africa or Latin America." (p. 141-142)
  • "It is true that Africa's short and intense experience of colonialism was destructive and divisive. It is also true that many African countries are landlocked and so denied the vital economic asset of direct access to seaborne trade – which many economists emphasize as an essential part of the explanation for Africa's previous poor economic performance as a whole. However, it is inaccurate and, worst of all, irresponsible for Africans to blame colonialism alone. Similarly, if you consider some of the great failures of African development, such economic impediments are not the heart of the problem." (p. 176)
  • "The responsibility lies with Africans, their systems of rule, and their leaders. Africa has had the experience it has, most of all, because of the decisions made by individuals and the systems of rule deliberately enacted by leaders and their supporters. Africa, the poverty of Africa, the violence of Africa, is not the inexorable product of its environment but rather the consequence of choices and decisions made by its leaders." (p. 177)
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Nov
07

Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don't

This is the question that drives the recent book by Leslie Crutchfield, "How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don't" (2018). This book is about social movements in the US, or that are primarily US-led. It offers some interesting case studies, quite descriptive throughout. The author summarizes the objective as seeking to understand why "some changes occur, but others don't? What are the factors that drive successful social and environmental change campaigns, while others falter? This book examines the leadership approaches, campaign strategies, and ground-level tactics employed by a range of modern social change efforts peaking since the 1980s" (p. 3). The key lessons can be summarized in six points:

  • "Winning movements are fueled by energy that materializes from the bottom up." (p. 12)
  • Do "the yeoman's work of pushing for improvements at the state and local level, advocating town by town, racking up small wins and building momentum incrementally, rather than going for national change at the start." (p. 12)
  • "change public attitudes so people believe the changes they seek are fair and right" (p. 13)
  • Put your "egos and organizational identities to the side (if only temporarily) so disparate factions can come together around a common agenda" (p. 13)
  • "Businesses can affect major change by altering their employee policies; raising their influential voices in public debates; and leveraging their innovation capabilities, as well as their brands and customer loyalty, for causes" (p. 13)
  • "Instead of small handfuls of elites dictating to troops from the top down or an amorphous mob of activists genuflecting for change from the bottom up, the most effective movements find the balance between the "leaderless" and the "leader-led" extremes" (p. 14).

I found the book somewhat repetitive. Given two years had passed since "How Change Happens" (Duncan Green's version) was published, and all the hullabaloo around it, it is odd that the author does not even cite Green's book (same title, same topic). Many of the key concepts this book tried to introduce (e.g. complexity, systems) where already introduced in Green's book. Maybe more disappointing is that Crutchfield does not employ complexity or systems approaches consistently, but rather uses them narrowly and in a specific way. Other findings in this book are reflected in a range of existing books (which are also not cited), such as those on leadership, which includes books that are also specific to the US context. Two relevant omissions were McChrystal (2015) and Bond and Exley (2016). The lack of engagement with all this relevant literature is unfortunate, particularly given the research produced was done by a large team. If you are looking for a book on this topic, I would suggest Green's 'How Change Happens' before this one (unless you are seeking out the specific US case studies).

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Mar
02

Engaging in a Complex World

In development studies and practice there are some key voices advocating for organizational changes. Ben Ramalingam, Duncan GreenDanny Burns and Stuart Worsley, Dave Algoso, and the USAID Learning Lab. They are calling for complexity and systems thinking to support more informed adaptive and iterative decision making and management. As these voices gain traction, and more experimentation occurs, organizations are shifting. However, our learning have largely been within our own development silo – examples of agricultural interventions in Southeast Asia or WASH programming in East Africa. What might we learn from experimentation outside our silo? In comes McChrystal's "Team of Teams" New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World" (2015), taking us into how the military has responded to these same calls.

In many ways the story is similar. Old ways of thinking and working were not working. The author writes "For a soldier trained at West Point as an engineer, the idea that a problem has different solutions on different days was fundamentally disturbing. Yet that was the case" (p. 3). As with the individuals mentioned above, McChrystal (and co-authors) argue "that the familiar pursuit of efficiency must change course. Efficiency remains important, but the ability to adapt to complexity and continual change has become an imperative" (p. 5).

What I found most interesting is that the experimentation of the US military is not all the same as that in the humanitarian and development sector, and we ought to take note of the ideas emerging.

Change required re-making teams of staff as well as institutions: "In situations of unpredictability, organizations need to improvise. And, to do that, the players on the field need to understand the broader context. At the team level, this is self-evident. But at the broader institutional level, it is more difficult to engineer structures that are both coherent and improvisatory" (p. 143). Horizontal and vertical learning. Early lessons were taken from NASA: "take off the blinders and have people talk to each other. The basic concept requires only the unlearning of fundamentalist approaches to efficiency, but the implementation requires constant maintenance: making sure that everyone has constantly updated, holistic awareness became a full-time job for many, and required commitment and time from everyone" (p. 151-152). Notably, this included global, daily, live meetings with broad participation, having up to 7,000 people joining in. It also included transforming the structure of building and office space. But, the infrastructural changes were just the start: "Our new physical plant provided structure for our transformation, but we knew it was not enough. A new layout with an old culture can deliver the worst of both worlds: countless managers, easer to adopt the new trend that promises innovation but reluctant to abandon the org chart, have done away with cubicles only to produce a nosier, more distracting environment that is neither efficient nor effective" (p. 162).

The military called their thought and cultural transformation "shared consciousness", which McChrystal argues "demanded the adoption of extreme transparency throughout our force and with our partner forces. This was not "transparency" in the sense that it is usually used in the business world, a synonym for personal candidness. We needed transparency that provided every team with an unobstructed, constantly up-to-date view of the rest of the organization. It is the type of transparency that those of us raised in the comfort of bureaucratic silos find uncomfortable. But it would be absolutely critical to our ability to coalesce and succeed as a team of teams" (p. 163). The changes included stronger partnerships with other institutions – beyond connecting, they built relationships, and strengthened them by exchanging staff: "One of our most controversial moves was our embedding program, an exchange system we began in late 2003 in which we would take an individual from one team – say, an Army Special Forces Operator – and assign him to a different part of our force for six months – a team of SEALs, for example, or a group of analysts. Our hope was that, by allowing our operators to see how the war looked from inside other groups, and by building personal relationships, we could build between teams some of the fluency that traditionally exists within teams" (p. 176).

"It is necessary we found, to forcibly dismantle the old system and replace it with an entirely new managerial architecture. Our new architecture was shared consciousness, and it consisted of two elements. The first was extreme, participatory transparency – the "systems management" of NASA that we mimicked with our O&I forums and our open physical space. This allowed all participants to have a holistic awareness equivalent to the contextual awareness of purpose we already knew we had at a team level. The second was the creation of strong internal connectivity across teams – something we achieved with our embedding and liaison programs. This mirrored the trust that enabled our small teams to function" (p. 197). The role of the leader, interestingly, had reduced decision making (which was democratized) and greater visioning (to ensure the new processes and objectives were maintained): "Creating and leading a truly adaptive organization requires building, leading, and maintaining a culture that is flexible but also durable. The primary responsibility of the new leader is to maintain a holistic, big-picture view, avoiding a reductionist approach, no matter how tempting micromanaging may be. Perhaps an organization sells widgets – designing, building, and marketing them; that's still not where the leader is most needed. The leader's first responsibility is to the whole" (p. 231-232).


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