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Who Deserves Independence?

A historian spotlights the backstories of nationalist groups that were passed over during the post-World War II wave of decolonization.

India map of states and disputed territories

By Lydia Walker

Twentieth-century global decolonization changed the map. In the thirty years after the Second World War, sixty countries—mostly in Asia and Africa—became independent from colonial powers. During the high point of accelerated decolonization in 1960, the United Nations recognized seventeen independent states. At times it seemed that there was a new country every week. 

This narrative of progressive national liberation ignores two important implications. First, it overlooks the existence of people who claimed—yet did not receive—independence during this period of heightened possibility. Second, it elides the fact that international recognition required an external audience—sometimes the United Nations, or a former colonizer, or a great power backer—to determine which ‘people-territorial match’ was a nation deserving a state, or a minority requiring protections, or indeed, a group of humans needing rights. Recognition signifies seeing a people as a state, considering a people as a political unit that ‘deserves’ statehood, and therefore being willing to hear their claim in international politics. The unspoken presence of a silent, sometimes shifting entity that bestowed international recognition suggested that it was incumbent on the nationalist movement to demonstrate its legitimacy, and construed the granting of statehood as a moral rather than a strategic question.... Read more about Who Deserves Independence?

When Life Is in Limbo, Education Can't Wait

Sarah Dryden-Peterson, associate professor of education at Harvard, shares insights from her team’s work on refugee education around the world.

Image of student hands building a map

By Michelle Nicholasen

Of the sixty-five million people currently displaced worldwide, about half of them are children. On average, a refugee may spend between ten to twenty-five years in exile. This means that for many children, their entire formal education will take place while awaiting a durable solution to their displacement. However, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that only 50 percent of refugee children have access to primary education, and only 22 percent have access to secondary school. 

The critical task of educating refugee children has been the focus of scholarship for Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Sarah Dryden-Peterson and her research team who are investigating processes of refugee education in Kenya, Lebanon, and Uganda, among others. Documenting the experiences of students, families, and teachers over time, the group has gained insight on education delivery, quality of instruction, and resource allocation. The struggle to meet the educational needs of refugee children, according to Dryden-Peterson, has called into question the very purpose of education and what kinds of futures it prepares young people for.

The Weatherhead Center asked Dryden-Peterson and doctoral students Vidur Chopra and Elizabeth Adelman to describe some of the realities facing Syrian refugees, who rely on education as a critical pathway to establishing a secure life. What follows is an abridged version of that conversation.... Read more about When Life Is in Limbo, Education Can't Wait

More Care for the Kids, Better Careers for the Moms

New research shows that affordable and expanded daycare coverage in Norway has prompted more mothers to return to the workforce—and other countries may want to replicate their success.

Image of woman helping child with coat in classroom

By Michelle Nicholasen

To American parents struggling to find affordable childcare solutions, Norway might seem like a utopia: a place where parents who want affordable daycare, get it—or receive a cash payment if they don’t use it. 

Norway has long provided subsidized daycare for children aged three and older. But the years between 2002 and 2008 were a time of sweeping reform. In 2002, the government increased federal financing for daycare, and it expanded full-time daycare services to include babies at the tender age of one. The aim was to get more mothers back into the workforce. 

To find out if this radical reform achieved its goals, Weatherhead Center Postdoctoral Fellow Øyvind Skorge, and his colleague Henning Finseraas, both researchers at the Institute of Social Research in Oslo, evaluated and measured the effects that the reform had on working women. Their study found that expanded full-time daycare not only helped women attain higher level positions, but also increased their aspirations about work.... Read more about More Care for the Kids, Better Careers for the Moms

Insight on Syria: What Are Putin's Motives?

Russia’s direct entry into the Syrian conflict in September 2015 was spurred by a plethora of motivations. Russian scholars Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux unpack the various rationales. 

Image of Putin, Assad, and others

By Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux

Fourth in a series that asks Weatherhead Center affiliates to examine the dimensions shaping the Syrian conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has confounded American policy makers with his agenda in the Middle East for at least the past decade. Russia’s stance has varied in its accord with Western policies, at times seeming to align—as in Libya and Yemen—and other times shirking, by showing indifference toward Iran’s nuclear program violations. Western diplomats have long puzzled over Putin’s real aims in the region and whether or not he could ever be a reliable ally. 
 
Russian airstrikes in Syria in 2015 marked a turning point in its foreign policy. Taking full advantage of the vacuum created by President Obama’s failure to intervene, Russia stepped in to lead, signaling Moscow’s new commitment to involvement in the region. Just two years prior, Putin had refused to export missiles systems to Syria, raising hopes in the West for a possible partnership that could help to stabilize the region. It was not to be. Russian officials fanned speculation and confusion about its actions in Syria. To the public, they skewed the purpose of intervention, first claiming to target Islamic State, then “terrorists” in general. In fact, Russian bombs fell on anti-Assad rebel groups, some of whom were armed and trained by US intelligence agencies. Thus began a protracted “proxy war” between the United States and Russia that continues today.

Putin is now entering his fourth term as president, buoyed by high levels of public support. Syria is facing its eighth year of conflict, and is now a devastated country, in large part due to the deadly Russian bombing strategy that destroyed densely populated areas and many thousands of Syrian lives. Last December, Putin and Assad together declared victory over Islamic State and announced the eventual reduction of Russian armed forces. Nevertheless, the proxy war rages on, with Russia’s continuing air and ground assaults against US-backed rebels. 

Taking Syrian intervention as a pivot point in Russian foreign policy, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs asked Faculty Associate Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux—director and executive director of Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, respectively—to demystify Putin’s overarching goals in the region, and to consider what they might mean for future relations with the West.... Read more about Insight on Syria: What Are Putin's Motives?

Global Oncology in Rwanda

A case study in best practices, Rwanda’s commitment to cancer treatment demonstrates how a state can utilize private resources while safeguarding national ownership.

Image of Burera district, Rwanda

By Darja Djordjevic

Darja Djordjevic, now a postdoctoral fellow in the Weatherhead Scholars Program, worked as a MD/PhD student in the Burera district of Rwanda and in Kigali during 2010–2015 when she was a Graduate Student Associate at the Weatherhead Center. As a medical volunteer, she worked directly on the pilot cervical/breast cancer prevention program in Burera, which was developed through a transnational partnership between the Rwandan government and Partners In Health, an NGO based in Boston. Her ethnographic fieldwork contributes to the yet nascent anthropology of cancer in contemporary Africa.

Last summer, two major pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Cipla, reached an agreement to sell sixteen standard chemotherapy drugs at very low cost (purportedly only slightly higher than the manufacturing cost) to six African countries: Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria.1 This negotiated deal also included a plan for top American oncologists to simplify cancer treatment protocols, which an IBM team would then make available through an online, open-access tool. 

This development signaled an important moment in the politics of global health, one of growing awareness and advocacy around cancer in Africa and the Global South. While this particular deal was a positive and overdue development in the battle long-fought by care providers across the world who look after poor people with cancer, we have to wonder for how long such a deal will last, alongside other pressing concerns. Further, how does this initiative fit into the broader political economy of a profit-driven pharmaceutical industry always in search of new markets, with Africa being a potentially massive one? 

... Read more about Global Oncology in Rwanda

When Should Children Be Allowed to Work?

A comparative study in human rights compliance in Bolivia and Argentina by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow Lorenza Fontana and Jean Grugel.

Image of young boy shining shoes

by Lorenza Fontana and Jean Grugel

When we think about child labor, what often comes to mind are images of dirty, poorly dressed children—digging in mountains of trash, carrying heavy loads of bricks or crops, or disappearing in dark mine tunnels. Yet working children are a heterogeneous group that also includes children helping out in domestic labor, family shops, or subsistence agriculture, and adolescents undertaking their first steps into the labor market.

While child labor is generally perceived as bad for children and efforts toward its elimination are pursued by the international communities, in certain contexts—and particularly in countries of the Global South—this is a culturally accepted and sometimes prized practice, considered fundamental for basic household production. In certain countries, working children themselves have created unions and mobilized to ask for fairer labor conditions and greater protections rather than child labor elimination. These gaps between international and domestic views on child labor have made the task of regulating the issue under human rights law particularly challenging for international organizations.... Read more about When Should Children Be Allowed to Work?

Striking a Balance: Straight Talk on the Global Economy

Harvard economist Dani Rodrik details the downside of hyperglobalization, and calls for a better balance between global rules and national autonomy.

Image of shipping containers

by Michelle Nicholasen

For more than two decades, economist Dani Rodrik has warned about the dangers of what he has called “hyperglobalization.” He has long argued that national economies and domestic policies should have priority amidst a rising tide of unfettered globalization and open markets. Today we have some evidence that he was right. Our race toward “one world economy” has produced consequences in the form of global social inequality and populist or extremist political movements, for example. Rodrik envisions a way to keep bringing down trade barriers while maintaining the integrity of the nation-state. His latest book, Straight Talk on Trade, is a synthesis of his monthly columns for Project Syndicate, and functions as a roadmap of Rodrik’s prolific analyses. The Weatherhead Center spoke to him about his long view on world economies.... Read more about Striking a Balance: Straight Talk on the Global Economy

Insight on Syria: The Unseen Challenges of Refugee Integration in Germany

For Syrian refugees fortunate enough to reach Germany—a model among European countries for its commitment to refugees—the day-to-day realities and the uncertainty of their futures loom large.

Image of Syrian Refugee

Third in a series that asks Weatherhead Center affiliates to examine the dimensions shaping the Syrian conflict.

Weatherhead Center Undergraduate Research Fellow Hanaa Masalmeh spent a semester in Germany studying Syrian refugee integration. Her work focuses on the formal and informal structures of integration, especially on the role of women—both German and Syrian—in the integration process. This article, written by Masalmeh, is based on her research on volunteer groups in Bavaria, Germany. Names have been changed to afford privacy to the interviewees.

Every Wednesday and Friday, Barbra gets into her blue Volkswagen and drives five minutes down the road to a small yellow house near a churchyard. After carefully parking her car and grabbing her brown messenger bag, she knocks on the door. 

Barbra is a Sprachpartner, a volunteer who makes sure that Syrian refugees are learning German. Barbra also explains the basics of German culture, helps Syrians open bank accounts, file insurance claims, and apply for work. 

A young man opens the door and invites Barbra inside. “Mohammad!” Barbra says, greeting him with a hug. “Welcome, Grandmother!” the young man responds jokingly, and Barbra laughs.

Like the majority of volunteers in Bavaria, Barbra is a woman in her fifties. The Syrian men Barbra works with are in their early twenties—young enough to be her children.... Read more about Insight on Syria: The Unseen Challenges of Refugee Integration in Germany

Life and Death on the US-Mexico Border

As an ethnographer and an EMT, Harvard anthropologist Ieva Jusionyte has a front-line perspective on tensions at the politically fraught border between Mexico and the United States.

Image of protesters on both sides of the border fence during rally

Ieva Jusionyte has always been drawn to tensions at the border.  As a graduate student, she went right to the heart of the drug and human smuggling nexus of Puerto Iguazu, a town at the tri-border area of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, to research how the media reported on crime. While there, she developed a deep interest in the experiences of firefighters and rescue workers, and later, in the US, trained to become a certified emergency medical technician, paramedic, and wildland firefighter. 

Most recently, she embedded herself at the US-Mexico border for a year, using her technical skills to help first responders on both sides of the divide. She reasoned that firefighters and EMTs would  face many of the human consequences of national security policy on a daily basis. In order to fully leverage her insights as an anthropologist, she felt she needed to participate.

In Nogales, Arizona, she volunteered as an EMT with the suburban fire department, responding to 911 calls—whether it was for a wildfire or for a critically ill or wounded person. Across the border in Nogales, Mexico, she delivered first aid to injured migrants and deportees on a bench in a soup kitchen, which also served as a humanitarian and legal center. Her forthcoming book, Threshold: Emergency and Rescue on the U.S.-Mexico Border will bring together the experiences of the first responders and residents of the local border communities, to take stock of the real-life impact of US national security measures.... Read more about Life and Death on the US-Mexico Border

The Cold War’s Endless Ripples

Harvard historian Odd Arne Westad contends that the Cold War lasted 100 years—and affected many more countries than originally thought.

Image of Arne Westad

As an international historian, Faculty Associate Odd Arne Westad may be best known for bringing a fresh interpretation to the Cold War in which he argues that the era began much earlier and extended much farther than popularly thought.

Those and other themes are explored in detail in a comprehensive new history of the Cold War written by Westad, the S.T. Lee Professor of U.S.-Asia Relations at Harvard Kennedy School. In The Cold War: A World History, Westad traces the broad history of the era, including what he sees as its origins and its far-flung effects.

The Harvard Gazette spoke to Westad about his perspective on the Cold War, including the forces that brought about and sustained the epic confrontation, and how it continues to reverberate decades after ending.

Q: What inspired your fascination with the Cold War?
 

A: Growing up in Norway would be a part of it. Norway in the 1960s and early 1970s when I grew up was very much a kind of border region with regard to the East-West conflict. It very much felt like that when I was a child. Then when I was just out of college I was doing a lot of work with different kinds of volunteer organizations. I went to southern Africa to work there for a while with a relief organization dealing with refugees. I did some work in Pakistan a little bit later in the mid-1980s. And that certainly also inspired me in terms of thinking about these issues, because then you got to see the impact of the Cold War in a very different kind of way. Many of the problems these people were coping with had actually been created by the Cold War in a much more direct sense than anything I had experienced where I grew up.... Read more about The Cold War’s Endless Ripples