Microfinance: high hopes and grim realities

Thirty years after its emergence, microfinance still lays claim to being one of the most important poverty reduction and sustainable ‘bottom-up’ local economic development policies of all. Milford Bateman explodes this myth. He shows that to the contrary, microfinance has largely undermined sustainable local economic and social development, and has essentially been valued and promoted because of its supreme ideological and political usefulness in the era of neoliberalism. Until joining the Overseas Development Institute as a senior research fellow in the summer of 2010, Milford was for many years a freelance consultant on local economic development. His book ‘Why doesn’t Microfinance work? The destructive rise of local Neoliberalism’ was published this year by Zed Books.

The Future of Yemen?

Will the crisis in Yemen, a state characterized by failing institutions, lawlessness, social and political instability, abject poverty, and foreign intervention lead to its breakup with unforeseen consequences for the whole region? Fawaz A. Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern Politics and International Relations at LSE is the author of two recently acclaimed books on the Muslim world: Journey of the Jihadist (Harcourt Press, 2007) and The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global (Cambridge University Press, 2005). His forthcoming book is titled The Making of the Arab World: From Nasser to Nasrallah (Public Affairs) He is well known for his articles and editorials which frequently appear in prestigious publications worldwide. No armchair historian, Gerges has recently completed a field study of the Middle East where he interviewed scores of civil society leaders, activists and mainstream and radical Islamists.’

The US Militarisation of Latin America

The Latin American social democratic model, which places the fight against poverty and exclusion at the centre of its policies, is perceived as a threat by the neo-liberal economic and political hegemony, and the emergence of left wing governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Cuba, and of left-leaning governments in Brazil and Argentina, has greatly alarmed the US. In response, the US has progressively militarised the region, and in addition to its many bases in neighbouring countries, has recently signed a ‘Defence Cooperation Agreement’ with the right wing government of Colombia establishing seven bases within its borders. The US Fourth Fleet has also been reactivated, and patrols the surrounding seas. Francisco Dominguez, Head of the Centre for Brazilian and Latin American Studies at Middlesex University, has broadcast and published extensively on the region, and will discuss this alarming development and its implications.

Peoplequake: population myths unravelled

Many fear an unsustainable explosion in global population, but in fact the population bomb is being defused round the world by women making new choices about their own lives. By mid-century the world’s population could be falling. Fred Pearce, is an international speaker, journalist and author on environmental issues, and was recently described as ‘one of Britain’s finest scientific writers’. He will explore our emerging new demography, a world of massive migration and rapid ageing, where some societies may face extinction through having too few babies, not too many. What does this mean for our environment – for our species? Fred is currently Environmental Consultant to the New Scientist, and his recent book ‘Peoplequake Mass Migration, Ageing Nations and the Coming Population Crash’ was published this year.

Stifling debate: libel laws and the price of free speech

English libel law, and the use of ‘super-injunctions’, are becoming a global disgrace, with a profoundly negative impact on freedom of expression, both in the UK and abroad. Human rights campaigners are often forced to edit and retract articles in the face of potential libel action. Robert Dougans acted for the science writer Simon Singh in the libel case brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association. In a landmark ruling from the Court of Appeal, England’s most senior judges held that Singh had the right to use the defence of “fair comment”, which they renamed “honest opinion”. After the ruling, the chiropractic association dropped the case and Robert won Assistant Solicitor of the Year for his conduct of the case. David Allen Green is a lawyer and writer living in London. His blog Jack of Kent became well-known for its detailed and accessible coverage of the Simon Singh case.

Scientists and policy making

The advice of scientists is critical in the big policy issues of our time from energy and climate to health and criminal justice. If policy making is to be evidence based then there must be a major role for scientists. But the relationship has great potential for conflict. Is it wrong to publicise scientific advice if it contradicts government policy? What is the dividing line between the role of the scientist and that of the policy maker? David Nutt has first hand experience of these issues. He is Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College and as Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs was the government’s chief drug adviser until he was asked to resign by the Home Secretary in October 2009. He will talk about the relationship between scientists and policy makers and the role of scientists in evidence based policy making.

Torture, Lawyers and Accountability

Philippe Sands QC is Professor of international law at University College London, a barrister at Matrix Chambers, and a regular commentator for the BBC, CNN and The Guardian. He is the author of Lawless World, in which he accused US President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of conspiring to invade Iraq in violation of international law. His latest book, Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values, was released in May 2008, and has resulted in a criminal investigation in Spain of the ‘Bush Six’, senior Administration lawyers who crafted the conditions for move to waterboarding and other forms of systematic abuse in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq. He will focus on the challenges facing the Obama Administration in dealing with a legacy of torture.

The crisis in Somalia

Years of fighting between rival war lords and an inability to deal with famine and disease have led to the deaths of up to one million people in Somalia. A third of the population is dependent on food aid and the UN backed transitional government is faced with an insurgency in the south. Somalia is widely perceived as the epitome of a failed state. Michael Walls teaches in the Development Planning Unit at University College London and has worked in development projects in a number of African countries including Somaliland. He has been Coordinator of the election observers for the Somaliland Presidential Election and his research has examined Somaliland experiences in post-conflict reconciliation and state building. He maintains active involvement in the Anglo-Somali Society, Somaliland Focus (UK) and Kayd Somali Arts and Culture. He will talk about the current situation in Somalia and the globalisation of the conflict there, suggesting some constructive potentials for international engagement in the Somali context.

Immigration in the 21st century: facts and misconceptions

As the financial crisis has begun to impact heavily on the real economy, immigration has become an increasingly emotive issue in the industrialised world. Rich country politicians – not least in the UK – are eager to introduce ever tougher policies, and borders have been considerably tightened. But migration has the potential to enrich the lives both of migrants and of the communities in which they live, and the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors that drive excessive migratory flows are frequently the result of global policies that urgently require reform. They cannot be addressed, or controlled, by adopting a fortress mentality or a narrowly nationalistic rhetoric, both of which are extremely counter- productive in terms of social cohesion, economic efficiency and human well being. Susanna Mitchell will outline the facts of the situation and discuss their implications. She is a fellow of nef, the new economics foundation, and has a long background working on international development, with a recent focus on migration issues.

International assistance to countries at war – the Democratic Republic

Zoë Marriage is Senior Lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies, where she teaches courses on Security and on Violence, Conflict and Development. Zoë has researched extensively into aid and assistance in countries at war in Africa and into security, particularly with reference to the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is the author of Not Breaking the Rules, Not Playing the Game (Hirst, 2006). Zoe will discuss the security situation in Congo and how this has been affected by recent events such as the Transition period and the contested elections. She will then explore what the implications are for international development organisations and the countries in which they are based.