Why are so many Nigerian schoolchildren being kidnapped?

More than 600 students have been abducted from schools in the North West of Nigeria since December 2020.

The latest Mass kidnapping was in late February 2021, when over 300 girls were kidnapped from a secondary school, although they were released after a relatively short period of time afterwards.

This rather grim trend is clearly relevant to the Global Development topic within A-level sociology, especially the education topic.

Why are so many girls in Northern Nigeria being abducted?

The roots of this practice can be traced back to Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group originally founded by Mohammed Yusuf (since deceased) – the name of the group literally means ‘Western Education is Banned’ and in 2014 this was the group who gained global notoriety when they abducted 300 schoolgirls, leading to the ‘Bring Back our Girls Campaign’.

Since then Boko Haram has gone through various shifts and split in two, and probably has less power now than it did back in 2014, however, they seem to have set something of a trend with their kidnapping of girls tactics.

Since then, thousands of children have been kidnapped, but now it is not politically motivated as it was with Boko Haram, there are just rogue gangs who are now kidnapping literally for the ransom money.

There are alleged cases of organised gangs being not only paid off by local officials for returning kidnapped girls, but not even being punished, but being pardoned, and this has only attracted more people to do likewise.

It seems that dire poverty in Northern Nigeria is driving people to do this, and it’s also driving the army to not be too bothered about tracking down kidnapped children.

There’s lots of links to A-level sociology here – obviously this is a tricky barrier to development – this is happening because of poverty, local political corruption, geography – it’s very sparse in the North of Nigeria, making kidnapping an easy crime to commit.

Clearly this is going to prevent development because of the disruption to education – it’s not only the kids actually getting abducted, but it’s also children being taken out of school by parents for fear of them being abducted.

And as with so many things in development, the solutions here are not that obvious!

Also note the links to Right Realist theories of Crime – namely rational choice theory!

Find out more…

This BBC News article summarises the latest trends.

How War and Conflict Harm Societies and Prevent Development

While immediate violent death or injury in battle are two of the more obvious direct consequences of war and conflict, there are many other direct immediate and indirect, longer term negative consequences that can drastically add to people’s misery and retard any kind of positive development happing in a country for several years after a conflict ends.

The direct effects of conflict include:Indirect, longer term effects of conflict
Death and injury psychological traumadisplacement.  The destruction of physical infrastructure (unsafe living conditions) The destruction to work/ economic infrastructure/ employment opportunities The disruption of schooling and health care servicesThe disruption to family lifeLonger term physical health and mental health problems Environmental decline

NB – the distinction between direct/ indirect or immediate/ long term isn’t a hard and fast one, they can easily merge together, especially when a conflict drags on for several years – and the breakdown of social infrastructure (usually categorised as a long term, indirect consequence of war) kind of becomes more immediate and direct!)

The distinction is really just an analytical tool, the important thing it highlights is that immediate violent death and injury are usually just the start of the negative consequences of warfare – the consequences are much longer term!

The Immediate effects of War and Conflict

There have been over 10 Million Conflict Deaths in the last 30 years

There have been 15 conflicts since the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 with death tolls of more than 25 000 people, of which 9 are currently ongoing (in March 2021). The total number of deaths in these conflicts stands at just over 10 million people (upper estimate), but this doesn’t include the people dying in the many smaller conflicts which have taken place in the last 30 years in which fewer than 25 000 people died.

I picked the Rwandan Genocide as a starting point because it is very well-known and relevant to Crime and Deviance as an example of a state crime. It also stands out as one of the few examples of a country that has gone on to see a reasonable level of development since the conflict. (Also, going back 30 years is a pretty standard period for analysis in A-level Sociology!)

The conflicts with highest death tolls in the last 30 years were:

  • The Rwandan Genocide needs a mention – there were an estimated 800 000 deaths, but within a very rapid time frame, and much of this done with hand-weapons like machetes, and it was ethnic cleansing, all in all making it particularly horrific.
  • The Second Congo War – in central Africa with an upper estimate of 5 million deaths (NB given the relatively small geographical area this was kind of like World War Two in the middle of Africa)
  • The War on Terror – 2001 to the present day – with over 1 million deaths
  • The War on Iraq – 2003-2007, but which spilled over into a civil war, 2014-2017 – and a total of around 500 000 deaths between the two
  • The Syrian Civil War – ongoing and an upper estimate of almost 600 000 deaths.

Thankfully the numbers seem to be coming down. According to one estimate, the total death toll for the 17 most deadly conflicts in the world stood at around 300 000 in 2016, but this had reduced to 100 000 deaths by 2020.

Physical Trauma and Injury

While it is possible to get death tolls statistics for conflicts, these are usually estimated, and estimates can range widely – the Syrian Civil War has a death toll range of between around 400 000 to 600 000 for example.

Given the problems with estimating death tolls in war, it should be unsurprising that it’s very difficult to find estimates for the number of people injured in war and conflict – either through serving on the front line, or civilians being brutalised by ‘soldiers.

In situations of war, when law and order are determined by violence, there must be several cases of violent assault which simply go unreported and unnoticed.

One particularly horrific aspect of physical injury and trauma in conflict zones is through the use of rape as a weapon of war – it’s estimated that 48 women are raped every hour in the DRC for example, a legacy of conflict in that country.

Rape can also be used against boys and men as a way of asserting authority over them.

This report by ReliefWeb provides an overview of the extent of rape as a weapon of war.

Displacement

A rational response to conflict in a region is to flee to another region or country, and many people do. The United Nations reports that there are currently 80 million refugees, or displaced people.

Most refugees come from Syria (5 million) and Turkey hosts the most (3 million). 80% of refugees are hosted in developing countries.

While Displacement is an immediate problem caused by conflict, and results in immediate problems related to living in temporary accommodation (tents), with possible poor sanitation and food shortages, there are also longer-term problems related to lack of status, children being out of education and so on.

Longer Term effects of War and Conflict

Conflicts can drag on for several years, even decades in some countries, with devastating longer-term consequences….

The destruction of physical infrastructure – such as buildings and roads mean that civilians who remain may be living in unsafe buildings with no running water, sewage or electricity – basically a war zone can turn a previously developed neighbourhood into a slum. Power stations and roads may also be damaged in conflicts, and these can be expensive to repair post-conflict, taking up a lot of money that might otherwise be spent on social development.

War also results in the destruction to the economic infrastructure – in a war-torn country business slows down or stops because it is unsafe – with a corresponding downturn in employment and income. Foreign companies may also leave the country, and imports may dry up as it is too risky to do business there. All of this means the cost of goods and the cost-of-living increases.

Disruption to education – schools may be forced to shut down, and refugee children may not be able to get an education. If children spend a year, or two, or more, out of formal education, they will struggle to catch up.

The disruption to health care services – health services have to focus on dealing with battle related injuries – dealing with immediate problems, which means there are fewer resources to go towards other health issues – such as dealing with vaccinations and maternity related health issues.

Longer term health issues – the trauma of war can be felt for decades – as witnessed in the high suicide rates of war Veterans, something which is probably mirrored in people who suffered rape and/ or torture as part of war.

Longer term economic problems – the Global Peace Index notes that the Economic impact of Global Violence in 2019 was over $40 trillion – an almost incomprehensibly high number, and certainly enough money to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.

Basically, every social development indicator is negatively affected by war and conflict in a country!

Sources – find out More

Outline and Explain two reasons why some sociologists think improving gender equality is the primary development goal.

This is a possible 10 mark question which could come up on exam paper 7192 (2) – topics in Sociology, under the Global Development Option.

For more general advice on answering exam questions for A-level sociology please see this page.

The strategy for these 10 markers is to join up the dots, make links between gender and all other parts of the Global Development module – it shouldn’t be too difficult as everything is related to everything in fairly obvious ways for this topic!

Below is just one suggestion for an answer…

The first reason is that women make up half of the population and they have historically been disempowered in most cultures on earth. Thus by focussing on empowering women we can improve pretty much ever other aspect of development.

Focussing on improving girls and women’s education can have huge knock on positive effects – firstly it will immediately improve the school enrolment rates, as it is mainly girls who traditionally are not in school!

Also, by educating girls, this creates job opportunities for them in later life, meaning greater independence, and may also help to break traditional values threat modernisation theorists think prevent development.

Especially where girls are held back by traditional values, getting them into school can be a great way of breaking this cycle, maybe the only way.

Education can also be a decent way of preventing violence and abuse by men – it can be an important starting point in protecting them against Rape, FGM and other forms of male violence.

In the longer term, with more women in work and politics as a result of raised aspirations we may see a decline in global violence and militarism which we have in the current male dominated global political sphere – which is very important as nothing prevents development like conflict!

Focussing on improving maternal health care is also the most effective way at improving life expectancy – most deaths in poor countries are avoidable, and many are because of children dying in infancy.

By focussing on better maternal health the infant mortality rate will decrease and women will less inclined to have more children. Also if women are given better care during pregnancy, the same is also true.

Going forwards if women know they have decent maternal health care they can start to aspire to have only one or two children rather than being tied into a cycle of having several children, which ties women to a life of domestic drudgery.

With fewer children women are more likely to be able to do paid work, which is also beneficial for development because women tend to reinvest more in their families compared to men.

Having said all of this it is crucial that improving opportunities for girls and women is done appropriately, as there may be local resistance from patriarchal culture, so it may not be easy!

Poverty in America

The 2019 video below features Paul Krugman and Jeffrey Sachs in a discussion of why there is so much poverty in America and what can be done about it.

While the discussion was before the 2020 elections, it’s still worth a watch because it’s quite rare to see such big names on the A-level sociology global development syllabus discussing something so specific.

The video is very watchable – split into two sections focussing on two questions:

  1. Why is there so much poverty in America?
  2. What can we do to reduce poverty in America?

Why is there so much poverty in America?

Key points:

  • Approximately 38 million Americans, or 1 in 8 people live in poverty today.
  • Inequality is the highest it has been since the Great Depression in 1926.
  • America hasn’t always been so unequal – since the New Deal and up to the mid 1970s government policies worked effectively to reduce inequality in America
  • Inequality started to get worse under Reagan when he introduced neoliberal reforms. This initially meant tax cuts for the very rich.
  • More recently under Donald Trump there have been even more tax cuts for corporations and proposed cuts to benefits (for example restricting the number of people who are allowed food stamps). (NB I’m not sure whether these policies went through since Trump got voted out of power!)
  • The United States political system is now owned by Corporate interests who bankroll elections.
  • Tax havens are also mentioned as a problem – the often illegal means by which Corporations extract wealth from poorer countries.
  • We need to get rid of Trump and his pandering to ‘divide and rule’ racist attitudes in America.

What can we do about poverty in America?

  • Krugman and Sachs point to the fact that Capitalism isn’t the problem – Northern European countries can be socially just and capitalist.
  • What we need is ‘social democracy’ where the State regulates capitalism, rather (presumably) than neoliberalism).
  • They seem to think Denmark offers hope – it used to be very unequal in the 19th century and now is very equal.
  • We need to get rid of plutocracy in America – i.e. get rid of the amount of control Corporations have over the political system.
  • Young people are mentioned as the solution – they are more tolerant of diversity and less likely to vote for Trump.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a very useful video for any student studying the Global Development option for A-level sociology.

It focuses on a specific issue relevant to the specification, that of inequality and development and you get to hear the views of two major economists on the issue.

TBH I was surprised at how similar their views are and how critical Sach’s was of Corporations and too little regulation, I had expected him to be a little less radical!

Has neoliberalism been oversold?

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank have been the two global institutions most associated with pushing neoliberal policies onto developing countries since the 1980s, but a recent (2016) article posted to the IMF’s Financial Development newsletter points out that neoliberal policies have caused problems in several countries, suggesting that neoliberalism hasn’t been universally successful.

In this post I summarise the article, which should be a useful criticism of neoliberalism for students studying the Global Development option as part of A-level sociology.

Increasing neoliberalisation

The article starts off by defining neoliberalism as having two main aspects: increasing competition and an increased role of the state and then reminds us that policies designed to achieve these two things have been introduced in many countries since the 1980s:

Criticisms of Neoliberal policies

The report notes three problems:

  1. There is a ‘broad group’ of countries where increased growth doesn’t seem to have brought about any other improvements!
  2. Neoliberal policies increase inequality and the costs of this are prominent
  3. Increasing inequality hurts sustained economic growth

Benefits depend on the type of investment

Opening up developing countries to capital flows (liberalising!) seems to have had mixed benefits, depending on how liberalisation has taken place.

Where more investment is tangible, such as money being spent on infrastructure and people skills, there are broader benefits.

However, when it’s just speculative capital coming in (hot ‘debt’ money) this just seems to lead to pump but then a financial crises, and then no more growth.

Austerity policies don’t necessarily work

The report notes that governments with good track records of debt are better off maintaining a welfare state during periods of financial crisis – cutting welfare has adverse affects on spending, which harms a countries economic prospects – it’s better for states in some cases to ‘suck up the debt’.

The combination of huge capital inflows and austerity = more inequality

The report notes that the two together create a vicious loop which creates more inequality which in turn harms longer term growth of a country.

Conclusions

The report doesn’t dismiss liberalisation, but does note that some degree of state regulation could work in many countries – as was the case in Chile – often hailed as a great victory for neoliberalisation, but in fact that State did play something of a regulatory role!

Beyond Neoliberalism

In this TED talk, Dr Johannes Meier argues that Neoliberalism has become and orthodoxy, but now it has reached its expiration date…

This material should be of interest as a balanced critique of neoliberalism, which should be especially relevant to students studying the Global Development option for A-level sociology.

The current economic orthodoxy is one neoliberalism, the belief in free markets and unregulated trade, but this orthodoxy is reaching its expiration date.

Keynesianism used to be the dominant orthodoxy, but it started to switch in the late 1940s with Hayek’s neoliberal ideas, and by the 1980s neoliberalism was the norm, such that most people today have grown up with it.

However, today (2019 is the date of the talk) there are more and more signs that this orthodoxy is under threat – as neoliberalism is no longer productive, and Meier asks the question ‘what should business leaders do about this’?

What are the core philosophical beliefs of neoliberalism?

  1. Homo-economics – individual people are economically rational and they strive to maximise their own utility
  2. The right to compete is the backbone of liberty
  3. The success of a nation is the sum of utlitiels, measured in GDP
  4. The role of govenrment is to make sure that free-markets are protected, but not over regulated

Neoliberalism has been successful over the last 50 years

We have seen huge increases in GDP growth rates, increasing incomes, more employment, billions of people being lifted out of extreme policies and millions of millionnaires created.

Neoliberal ideas have extended beyond markets to labour, education and health policies for example – all of these areas are influenced by market based thinking (especially education, if you’re studying A-level sociology!)

Neoliberal ideas are also entrenched in the world of business and most governments in Western countries.

Three Criticisms of Neoliberalism

Meier draws on the tale of Hans Christian Anderson to suggest there are three flaws to neoliberalism that advocates of it dare not mention, but are obvious to a child!

Neoliberalism is an ‘Emperor with No Clothes’

The Rising Tide isn’t leading to Economic Justice

According to neoliberalism, freeing markets leads to enormous wealth creation and rising wealth overall will lift all boats – so that everyone gets richer, with more and more people being lifted out of poverty.

However, income inequality has also increased such that the top 8% of income earners now earn more than half of all income.

Wealth is worse – 1% own more than half of the world’s weath.

Where consumption is concerned – the richest billion consume 75%, and the poorest billion only consume 1% of our resources.

We thus have wealth and income divides which lead to economic and political tensions. Those who feel left behind no longer trust the narratives of the elites who have established neoliberal policies (and been the main beneficiaries of those policies).

Those who have not benefited from neoliberalism – the ones with no wealth, low incomes, no education or health care, are criticising neoliberalism with increasing vigour.

The tragedy of our commons and our Horizons

We are facing an existential crisis of tipping points where the climate is concerned.

It clearly isn’t true that if the developing nations embrace neoliberalism that they are going to develop as effectively as developing nations – because the planet cannot cope with the levels of resource extraction and consumption that would require to incorporate 8 billion people!

Human relationships are about more than transactional efficiency

Neoliberalism tends to turn relationships into transactions – and the imperative is then to make those relations more efficient.

We see this in the spread of automoation and AI – replacing humans with more efficient machines.

However, human relations are about more than efficiency. And if people think they have found the equation for friendship on Facebook or love on Tinder, thy are missing the essence of humanity.

More and more people are demanding that work be meaningful and that there is space for humanity, rather than it just being all about efficiency.

How do we survive beyond neoliberalism?

Meier proposes three basic rules business leaders should follow if they wish to survive the transition to beyond neoliberalism, which basically involved focusing on the ‘basics of good business’.

Listen to diverse voices

This may sound obvious but business leaders tend to exist in a bubble. This involves thinking beyond traditional metrics such as revenue growth as these don’t provide purpose or deeper meanings.

We need new narratives of belonging beyond homo economics

Reduce the fragility of the system

We have the warning signs – such as climate change. We need to focus on making businesses resilient and genuinly sustainable.

Here he seems to be criticising the fossil fuel industry and suggests a move to renewables is what we need.

Avoid polarisation

Neoliberalism is too focused on the individual.

The system has emphasised individuals getting to a kind of certain wealth or income level, then they are safe to have a nice job and life, leaving too many behind in poverty

Personal individual development is seen as the opposite of community – the idea that we progress our careers at the expense of our families is toxic. Humans thrive better in community and solidarity.

Ee need to take a much broader view of public goods – he suggests we need much more state and business co-operation in providing public goods

In conclusion…

Part of the difficulty with moving beyond neoliberalism is that we don’t know what will take over – there will probably be many different alternatives – hence why general principles for surviving change are required.

It will take courage to let go of our existing business models, but it is futile to cling to the old ones.

Neoliberalism: A Short Introduction

Neoliberalism has been one of the most influential political ideas of the last century, and it has been especially influential in shaping global policies of international development since the 1980s.

Below is a useful four minute video on 10 things you should know about Neoliberalism, as summarised by Ravi K. Roy, co-author of Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction.

This material should be especially relevant to A-level sociology students studying the Global Development option as part of A-level Sociology.

Neoliberalism and globalisation are contested terms

There couldn’t be two more conflated and confused ideas in both academia and public discourse.

Generally people see neoliberalism as the set of ideas behind globalisation, which is seen as the process.

An assault on big government

Neoliberalism is often seen as a ‘return to the market’ paradigm, a reaction against big welfare state government.

Where does the term come from?

We can trace the term back to post World War 1, maybe the 1930s, when there was an idea to straddle socialism and market liberalism.

Post World War 2 the term is used to refer to more of a pure market approach.

There are a variety of neoliberalisms!

It’s a very varied term, inspired by lots of intellectual traditions and with many different applications under different leaders.

No one calls themselves a neoliberal!

No one who has ever been identified with neoliberal policies has ever called themselves a neoliberal.

But it’s very clear that in the late 1980s and into the 1990s that politicians in power in the UK, America, Canada and Australia were all ‘neoliberals’

Neoliberalism and Internationalism

Neoliberals tend to look to international institutions such as the United Nations to extend their project.

NB – he doesn’t mention the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, but personally I would think these have been more central to pushing a neoliberal agenda globally than the United Nations?!?

Neoliberalism and Nationalism

There are some neoliberals who believe in the idea of a single Europe. There are other neoliberals, like Margaret Thatcher who did not believe in the idea of a single Europe.

We are all neoliberals now

Both Thatcher and Reagan wanted to reduce the welfare state, but Bill Clinton reduced the welfare state far more than either of them would ever have imagined!

Neoliberalism as a practical policy package

The authors of the book have framed the practical polices of neoliberalism as a DLP package:

  • Deregulation
  • Liberalisation
  • Privatisation

Neoliberalism and Postmodernism

Neoliberalism has blurred the boundaries between the economy and the state, so that we now live in a more global form of capitalism where financialisation is at the heart of everything.

Postmodernism (or the new postmodern phase of neoliberalism?) is more about the blurring of the boundary between private and public life.

Find out more…

You might like to read the entire book: Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction!

Relevance to A-level Sociology

Neoliberalism is a core theory of development within the global development module.

Neoliberalism also comes up in the education topic: as outlined in this post: neoliberal education policy.

Economic and Social Development in Kenya since 2000

How successful has economic and social development in Kenya been since the year 2000?

This post has primarily been written for students studying the global development option for A-level sociology. The purpose of this post is to provide a specific example of a country which has, overall, experienced rapid and positive development over the last 20 years.

One of the key questions in this module is ‘what are the most effective strategies for development’ – one way of addressing this question is to explore further what development policies and initiatives have been applied in Kenya to promote positive development.

NB the purpose of this post is not to answer the question ‘why has Kenya developed economically and socially, but simply to provide a case study demonstrating the extent of the rapid progress according to many indicators of social and economic development.

Kenya in 2020: An Overview

Kenya is located in East Africa, with a population of just over 50 million people.

It is classified by the World Bank as a low to middle income country with a Gross National Income per capita of just over $1700.

Overall, Kenya has experienced positive economic and social development since the year 2000, as evidenced in the quadrupling of its GNI per capita during that time.

Social development has also been rapid: life expectancy has increased by 15 years since the year 2000, and both primary and secondary school enrolment ratios are significantly improved.

However, as some of the statistics below suggest there is still room for improvement and development challenges going forwards into the 2020s.

Economic Trends

Kenyan Gross National Income per Capita as Quadrupled since the year 2000, from $400 to over $1700.

Kenya’s Debt as a percentage of its GNI has been relatively stable, and is currently low, at only 2.2% of GNI

Kenya’s Employment Ratio is high and has increased to 72.5% of the population

NB – this bucks the global trend of increasing levels of unemployment

Development Aid

Official Development Assistance to Kenya increased from $500 million in 2000 to $2.5 billion in 2018

This would suggest as far as Kenya is concerned that Aid has not retarded broader economic or social development.

Industrialisation and Urbanisation in Kenya

The breakdown of Kenya’s GDP is:

  • Agriculture – 34%
  • Industry – 17%
  • Services – 47%

Kenya’s major exports remain agricultural products:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kenya_Exports_Treemap_2017.svg”>Kenya Exports Treemap 2017

In the year 2000 20% of Kenya’s population was rural, this has grown to 28% by 2020

Education Trends in Kenya

  • Secondary School Enrolment increased from 39% in 2000 to 57% (2010)
  • Tertiary Enrolment is currently at 9%
  • NB the World Bank data on enrolment ratios is sketchy, there appear to be several data gaps!

Life Expectancy Trends

Life expectancy at birth has increased from 50 to 66 years in the last 20 years

Health and Sanitation Trends

  • Approximately 4% of the population have HIV
  • X percent have access to clean water
  • Y percent have access to improved sanitation

Population and Birth Rate Trends

  • Kenya’s Population increased by 20 million between the year 2000 and 2020, from 30 million to 50 million
  • The Fertility Rate – decreased from 5.2 to 3.5 babies per woman
  • Contraceptive prevalence increased from 39 to 61%
  • The Infant mortality rate decreased from 99 per 1000 to 45 per thousand

Access to Technology Trends

  • Mobile phone access increased from 0.4 to 96%
  • Internet access increased from 0.3 to 22%

Peacefulness Trends

Kenya’s Peace levels, as measured by the Global Peace Index, have been up and down over the last decade, but have remained broadly stable over the 10 years since the index began.

Gender Equality Trends

Gender inequality seems to be a faltering point for Kenya. After some seemingly rapid progress in the last decade, gender equality has fallen back to almost the same level as in 2006.

Other notable development trends

  • Kenya has had a net migration of minus 50 000 per year in recent years, combined with an increase of money received from abroad.

Conclusion: Is Kenya A Development Success Story?

Based on the above statistics it is easy to conclude that, overall, Kenya has seen a great deal of positive economic and social development – especially based on the measurements of GNI growth, life expectancy and education.

However, there are some areas where no significant development appears to have taken place – peacefulness and gender equality seem to be struggling for example.

NB – this is only a very brief look at some of the general statistics, so keep in mind that there will be regional variations and that not everyone would have benefitted equally from any development that has taken place.

Also, i haven’t tried to look at why development has (or hasn’t on some indicators) taken place in Kenya, just the statistics!

Sources

Global development trends 2020

Is the world becoming a better place to live? What do the latest trends in global development suggest?

How much progress has been made towards global development since the year 2000?

In this post I examine the global trends in development since the year 2000 according to key statistics from the World Bank, United Nations and other global institutions to try and answer the question: ‘do we live in a better world at the end of 2020 compared to 20 years ago?

This post has been written primarily for A-level sociology students studying the Global Development option for Paper 2 (7192/2), AQA Specification.

I aim to produce a post like this every two years, to keep abreast of the latest trends in Development.

Global Statistics

In this post I am focusing on whole world trends, or truly global statistics, so the very highest level of generalisation to provide an overview, in what you might call the Positivist tradition!

However, at the end of 2020 it is especially difficult to make judgements about the extent of development because of the impact of Coronavirus – we simply don’t know what the medium to long term consequences of this will be on global development.

The chances are that Coronavirus will impact the future development of regions, countries and communities within countries in very different ways, so now more than ever it will be important for students to try to qualify any generalisations about development suggested by the global statistics I am looking at below.

Key Indicators of Development

There is considerable debate over what the most valid indicators of development are, because definitions of ‘development’ vary widely. For this reason I include below several indicators of development, including:

  • The Human Development Index
  • Gross National Income (GNI) per capita
  • Extreme poverty statistics (those living on less than $1.90 a day)
  • National debt as a proportion of GNI
  • The employment ratio (the proportion of working age adults in employment)
  • Life Expectancy
  • The infant mortality rate
  • The adult literacy rate
  • Access to electricity
  • Peacefulness as measured by the Global Peace Index.

If you want to find out more about exactly what these indicators measure and some of their strengths and limitations you might like to read the following posts:

Mixed Evidence of Global Development taking place since 2020

Some of the global indicators below suggest there has been significant economic and global development over the last 20 years, other indicators suggest there are significant challenges still facing us as a global population!

For example, the number of people living in extreme poverty has shrunk from nearly 30% of the population to less than 10% while Life Expectancy of females has increased from.

HOWEVER, these are just the global average statistics, and what you need to remember is that the averages will hide variations by country, and variations within countries. The later is especially important to consider – there are regions within some rapidly developing countries that are getting left behind. China and America are two good examples of this.

Some indicators suggest negative trends in development – such as increasing unemployment and increasing violence in some countries, and progress towards sustainable development seems slow.

The Human Development Index

The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index combines Gross National Income, Life Expectancy and Years of Education into one score.

Practically every country shows positive development having taken place since 1990, when HDI first started tracking.

The two countries with significant declines are Syria and Yemen, which have both unfortunately experienced serious conflicts in recent years.

Source: United Nations Human Development Reports

Gross National Income Per Capita

Gross National Income per capita stood at $5500 in 2020, this has more than doubled to $11500 in 2019.

However, growth has stalled since around 2014, and this is unlikely to change given the situation with Coronavirus!

Source: The World Bank

Extreme Poverty Statistics

The percentage of the world population living in extreme poverty (as defined by those living on less than $1.90 a day) has decreased from 27.7% to 9.2% from the year 2000 to 2017.

Source: The World Bank

External Debt of Low and Middle Income Countries

The total external debt of the 120 low- and middle-income countries was $8.1 trillion at the end of 2019, equivalent to 26% of their Gross National Incomes. 

Nearly 40 (1/3rd of) low- and middle-income countries had debts greater than 60% of their GNI, treble the amount which had such ratios in 2010. 

About 10 low to middle income countries (9%) had debts exceeding 100% of their GNI, 30% up from the number of countries in 2010. 

Depending on what you think the role of debt is in development, this could be seen as counter trend to development. Dependency theorists would certainly see the increasing debt levels of poorer countries in this way.

Source: The World Bank

The Employment Ratio

The proportion of working age adults (15+) in paid employment has declined from 61% in 2000 to 57% in 2020.

This seems to be a counter-trend to development, with what is effectively a 4% increase in unemployment over the last 20 years.

However, this does not take into account the fact that more 16-24 year olds may be in education for longer, increasing wages, the impact of huge numbers of women entering the labour market, or the billions of people who are subsistence workers or work informally, so this indicator is an especially challenging one to interpret in terms of what it tells us about development!

Source: The World Bank

Life Expectancy Trends since 2020

The life expectancy of females at birth has increased from 69 years on average in 2020 to 74 years on average in 2018

The fact that women now live 15 years longer on average certainly seems to be one of the most obviously positive indicators of development, going hand in hand with increasing gender equality.

Source: The World Bank

There has been radical progress made in improving the infant mortality rate over the last 20 years – it has reduced from 52.8 per thousand (0.5%) to 28.2 per thousand births (just under 0.3%).

However, the global average is brought down by the higher infant mortality rates in less developed countries, and there is significant room for improvement – in the UK and similarly developed countries, the Infant Mortality rate is only 5 per thousand (0.05%)!

Source: The World Bank

The Literacy Rate

The overall adult literacy rate (of both males and females) has increased from 80% in the year 2000 to 86% in 2020.

6% may not sound like much of an increase, but there is something of a generational factor at work here. One imagines that someone that was 40 in the year 2000 is probably not that likely to become literate by the time they are 60, which is going to be a lag on improving the numbers of people who can read and write.

Most of the improvement above will be due to the increasing numbers of children being taught to read and write at a young age, who then carry this through to adulthood.

Source: The World Bank

Access to Electricity

There has been relatively rapid progress towards getting more people access to electricity. In the year 2000 only 78% of the world’s population had access, by 2018 that had increased to nearly 90%.

That is an impressive gain from an already high base of 78%!

Source: The World Bank

CO2 Emissions

Carbon Dioxide Emissions are responsible for global warming and corresponding environmental instability and decline, which undermines all other aspects of development.

Sustainable Development only really became a main focus of development from the year 2000, and there seems to have been good progress recently on halting the increase of CO2 emissions:

However, there are many analysts who say that we need to decrease CO2 emissions rather than just hold them level.

Source: The World Bank

Trends in Peacefulness

Overall the world has become less peaceful since 2009, when Vision of Humanity first started its Global Peace Index.

Today there are 38 countries which are recored as having low to very low levels of peacefulness.

Trends in peacefulness are diverging (becoming further apart) – generally speaking those countries which were more peaceful in 2009 have become even more peaceful (mostly those in Europe), while those which were less peaceful have become even less peaceful (mainly in subsaharan Africa)

Sources: Vision of Humanity: The Global Peace Index

Conclusions

While many of the classic indicators of development such as GNI, health and education show signs of positive development, there are clearly challenges remaining – mainly around how to attain better employment levels, and the very serious problems of increasing conflict and how to develop sustainably.

The Rich, The Poor and the Trash

Summary of a documentary on global inequalities and waste

This excellent 2018 documentary gives us a rare insight into the daily working lives of two men living in poverty, both making a living through trash, one in Kenya and the other in the United States.

It’s a really useful resource for gaining an insight into what the lived experience of poverty is like in these two very different countries, and for highlighting the extent of global inequalities.

Most of the documentary focuses on two men, and we get to hear a lot from them: details of their lives and their thoughts on poverty and inequality and what they would do to help overcome the problems of inequality.

We also here from a few experts and other people, but these take on a supporting role to the two main proponents (which is unusual for documentaries like this, but also welcome!

This is an excellent video to use to teach Global Development in A-level sociology, personally I would use it in the introductory lesson to the module.

Below i provide a brief summary of some of the key points of this documentary:

Sorting trash in Kenyan slum

After a brief introduction we get to see the first part the day of one guy in Kenya who works in waste management.

He gets up at 4.00 a.m and then spends several hours sorting through trash which is delivered from the nearby affluent suburbs and shopping areas. He sorts out food for his pigs and separates out any useful items which he can sell on.

There are a lot of people working sorting waste, many of them there because they have no other option. Many of them also eat waste food they find there.

Recycling cans in New York

The video now hops over to America where it follows another guy who also gets up at 4.00 a.m. to collect cans and bottles, which he then sorts to sell – there’s a good market in recycled containers it seams in New York – he can make $75 a day doing this.

We also get an insight into his life history – he used to be homeless, and he reminds us that many Americans are just one pay check away from falling into a similar situation.

Back in the slum

In this third section we see the guy in Kenya sorting out some of the cartons he’s found at the dump – he gets someone else to wash them and then he sells them on, making a daily income of $3-4 which is enough for him to feed his family, and lifts him above Kenya’s formal poverty line.

The U.S ‘Cultural Waste and Recycling Centres’

Back in the United States – we’re taken to a recycling centre, a community initiative that gives ‘canners’ support in their recycling endeavours – which plays a crucial part in helping them stay resilient.

The video also gets a bit more analytical at this point – there are 600 billionaires in the United States, but 40 million Americans live in poverty. But poverty is much worse in Kenya – it takes the average Kenyan 20 years to earn the annual salary of the average American.

There’s also a short interview with an anthropologist who reminds us that waste is cultural – a lot of things are only trash because we label them as such – and we take a trip to one guy’s museum of trash to drive the point home – he’s got thousands of dollars worth of perfectly good stuff he’s collected from what other people have thrown away!

Reflecting on Inequality

The documentary now highlights inequalities in the two countries – by taking a trip to the mall in Kenya – one gets the impression that the government there is investing more in malls for the wealth than in education and health for the poor.

In America we visit a guy who makes art from trash – one piece (which sold for a small fortune) adorns the wall of the one the most expensive apartments in New York – how’s that for irony.

Final section

in this section the two main men in the video give their views on inequality – both seem quite wise – neither think inequality is a good thing and would use our financial resources to give more enabling support to those in poverty, a leg up if you like to better help them help themselves.

Discussion Questions

Why do you think the video focuses on trash as a means of exploring inequality?

Have these two men found an effective solution (sorting and selling trash) to lift themselves out of poverty?

Do you agree with the two men in this video. Should our global resources be used to help the poor?