Voice

India swaps aid for status

AFP filed an interesting story today on a recent example of India's overseas lending:

India has extended a $100-million loan to Mali for a power project, while Bamako promised to support the Asian giant's bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat, a statement said.

The joint statement, received by AFP Friday, was issued after a visit to India by Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure on January 11-12.

The Indian government $100-million (77.8-million euro) credit line is meant to finance a power transmission project connecting the Malian capital Bamako to the southern city of Sikasso.

"The Indian side thanked Mali for its support to India?s candidature for permanent membership in an expanded United Nations Security Council," the statement said.

India is on a charm offensive to build good ties with the resource-rich African continent, where its Chinese rival is already heavily involved.

The phenomenon of emerging-power lending--particularly from China--has gotten plenty of attention in the past few years, sometimes with the lament that their no-strings-attached lending extracts nothing from borrowers on human rights and corruption and thereby undercuts efforts by the World Bank and other multilateral lenders. Seen in that light, emerging-power largesse cuts against global governance efforts and international institutions, which some emerging powers have never felt particularly fond of in any case. For Beijing, the quid pro quo has often been project financing in the developing world in exchange for greater access to desperately needed natural resources.

But in the case of Mali described above, it certainly appears that India is swapping development aid for an improved shot at the status symbol of a UN Security Council seat. And if that's indeed what was at work, it's tantalizing evidence of a different and potentially important dynamic: emerging-power lending used not to circumvent existing institutions but as a lever to increase their ownership of them. 

The Multilateralist

UN peacekeeping's very bad week

ABC News has a devastating report out this morning on the mountain of evidence that United Nations peacekeepers brought a virulent strain of cholera to Haiti:

The vicious form of cholera has already killed 7,000 people in Haiti, where it surfaced in a remote village in October 2010. Leading researchers from Harvard Medical School and elsewhere told ABC News that, despite UN denials, there is now a mountain of evidence suggesting the strain originated in Nepal, and was carried to Haiti by Nepalese soldiers who came to Haiti to serve as UN peacekeepers after the earthquake that ravaged the country on Jan. 12, 2010 -- two years ago today. Haiti had never seen a case of cholera until the arrival of the peacekeepers, who allegedly failed to maintain sanitary conditions at their base.

The importation of cholera was a tragedy that has cost thousands of lives.  The poor sanitary conditions at the UN peacekeeping base where the cholera likely spread was evidence of serious operational negligence. The UN response--from initial claims not to be interested in the cholera's origins to today's tortured equivocations--has been political malfeasance. A smarter approach would have been to aggressively pursue the charges once they appeared; instead, the UN is being dragged kicking and screaming to an admission of culpability.

Nor is the new cholera evidence the only bad news for UN peacekeeping this month. It was also reported that a UN peacekeeper accused of sexual abuse in Haiti has been released in his native Uruguay (although further legal proceedings against him appear possible). As Mark Goldberg notes here, that case points to a broader gap in accountability for the misdeeds of peacekeepers.

Unfortunately, revelations like these tend to produce a polarized response, particularly in an election year. Those supportive of the UN and its work often tend to minimize the problems out of fear that highlighting them will give ammunition to critics. Meanwhile, those hostile to the organization seize on problems as fresh evidence of the organization's incompetence, or worse. The debate remains stuck at an absurd level of abstraction: is UN peacekeeping worthwhile or not? The truth is that UN peacekeeping is both valuable and beset with serious problems. The organization's friends do it no favors by denying that.