Sound advice from a successful author

‘What I learned to do as an academic was write a little bit every day, and that consistency is the key to productivity, and that the idea of being locked up in your Tower of Brilliance waiting for the Muse to descend forth upon you — the idea of needing “perfect” or even “good” writing conditions, and for needing to do a lot of output at once — is a complete myth, and, indeed, a one-way ticket to never writing anything ever’.[1]

[1] Rebecca Schuman


Flawed leadership and the World Bank

It is useful to go ‘inside’ an organization in order to understand its external manifestations. The World Bank, which is now 70 years old, is, as we all know, a pivotal player in global development both through its lending operations and, more importantly, through its role as a chief conduit of ideas –  some good, some bad – that animate both the theory and practice of development.
Devesh Kapur[1] is my ‘go to’ author when reading about the internal architecture of the World Bank. He must have been deeply disappointed at the news that World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has just been re-appointed for a second term.[2] He has condemned Kim as ‘among the worst Presidents in World Bank history’. The World Bank Staff Association agrees with him when it notes that ‘…our annual Employee Engagement Survey has, for two years running, made it painfully clear that the World Bank Group is experiencing a crisis of leadership.’[3]

There were no alternative candidates, despite efforts by Nigeria and Colombia to propose one. Kim’s re-appointment, Kapur would argue, is the product of a deeply flawed selection process.

Who should bear the burden of blame for such a sorry affair? Of course, the US ‘…has been particularly brazen in subverting the nomination process’ – which is business as usual given that the US has long held the view that it is entitled to nominate a US national as the President of the World Bank. But, as Kapur argues, is the US the only culpable actor in this case? After all, other donor countries are also equally brazen about their perceived entitlements. Think of the Europeans – and the French in particular – when it comes to the selection of the Managing Director of the IMF, or the Japanese when selecting someone to head the ADB. Some members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) themselves are carving out their own self-serving terrain, whether it is ‘striking side deals to ensure generous lending’ from the World Bank or trying to build alternative sources of financial support to the developing world through the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. In this world of mutually reinforcing regional interests, the developing world might find that it lacks a champion that can voice itsr aspirations and make the selection of a future President of the World Bank a truly merit-based and open process.

[1] (


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Governance of Immigration: Should Australia Ban Muslims?

The ongoing civil war in Syria, the unrest in the Middle East, and acts of violence in  Western countries  in  which Muslim names have been found to be involved – all  have triggered some quarters within the conservative side of politics and  a small but vocal section of the community demanding Australia to ban Muslim immigration. Moreover, a poll suggests that some sections of the Australian community are worried about peace and stability in Australia because of Muslim migration. Their main argument is Muslims do not assimilate to the Australian society or for that matter Muslims do not share Western cultural values. Is it really an argument?

What is assimilation? The Merriam-Webster online dictionary states “to assimilate” is “to cause (a person or group) to become part of a different society or country; to adopt the ways of another culture; to fully become part of a different society, country, etc.” When migrants arrive in their adopted land, surely some assimilation takes effect immediately. For example, the types of food they eat, the look of the dwelling they live in, and the nature of the schools their kids attend. In many cases, their first language becomes a ‘’foreign” language over time because of its limited functionality in the adopted land.  Other aspects of assimilation may be slow and may take generations. No social scientist has proclaimed a time frame within which an immigrant group could be assessed whether the group assimilated into the new society and culture.

Why should the degree of ‘assimilation’ be a condition for immigration? Surely, there are enough checks and balances in the immigration system. For example, apart from other conditions depending on visa category, all applicants for immigration visa require health check-up before their applications can be finalized. All applicants need to provide evidence that they are persons of good character, and they have no prior conviction of any criminal offense.  After all of these, if any immigrant gets involved in a crime, there are laws to deal with it.

Again, how are we going to predict to what extent and at what rate the new immigrants are going to assimilate into the broader society? If all Australians look the same, eat the same food, dress up exactly in the same way and speak only English, life is going to be very boring. Surely, you do not wish to eat the same meal every day for dinner! Some variation is desirable. Diversity is not a defect; it is the strength of a society.

Now, let’s ask ourselves: Are Muslims useful to the world at all? Yes. Muslims and Arabs had their fair share of contributions to the human civilization. Next time you think of Algebra, you may wish to thank the Arabs. Next time you brush your teeth, the concept of using twigs (miswak in Arabic) to clean teeth came from the Egyptians. Next time you need to go to an optometrist, remember Muslims invented magnifying glasses and “reading stones” from which spectacles were developed.  Arabs invented the concept of hospitals. Coffee, originally from Africa, was spread to the rest of world by Arab merchants.

In Australia, Muslims contributed enormously to the growth and development of early Australia. From the 1860s to the early 1900s, camels acquired from Asia and the cameleers recruited from Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Egypt, Turkey and other countries became the driving force in the exploration and development of the interior Australia. Muslims are contributing to contemporary Australia, too.  Just to name a few, leading Muslims in the corporate sector include Ahmed Fahour, CEO of Australia Post, and John Ilhan, deceased founder of Crazy John’s mobile retailer. In sports, we have Fawad Ahmad, Usman Khawaja, Cory Paterson, Anthony Mundine and Carmen Marton and others. Surely, these athletes and sports personalities made all Australians proud.

What Senator Pauline Hanson is saying is nothing new. Time and again, people of non-European ethnicity faced discrimination and racism from European settlers and their descendants. For instance, the cameleers from Asia, despite their huge contribution to Australia, faced deep-rooted discrimination and racism. In many outback towns, there were segregated areas for Europeans, Aboriginals, and cameleers. Cameleers rarely had any avenue to interact with the Europeans. After the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, many cameleers were denied re-entry into Australia, and many were denied naturalization due to their Asian origin.

Senator Hanson appealed to the Muslims to go back to the country where they came from. Why? What about those who were born here? Could the First Peoples of Australia say the same thing to the European settlers? Besides, Australia became multicultural the day Europeans settled here because they did not adopt or assimilate to the Aboriginal culture. Pauline Hanson and the extreme conservatives moan that Muslims don’t assimilate, Muslims don’t fit in. Assimilate to what? Culture is not a black and white thing. Culture changes very slowly over time. Surely, the immigrants’ life style is to some extent different from what they had in their native country. They do not lead life exactly the same way they lived in their native country. Their life here is influenced by their surroundings, their neighbors, their friends, and work colleagues. Is this not assimilation? When I came to this country some 20 years ago, Bengali was my first language. Now for all practical purposes, English is my first language. Is this not assimilation?

If Australia wishes to prosper in the age of globalization, if it wishes to trade with the vast majority of countries in which English is not the first language, then there is no alternative but to embrace diversity. Banning Muslim immigration will only constrain Australia’s acceptance as a trading partner in emerging Muslim countries. A discriminatory and closed system of immigration will throw Australia only into the back waters of the global economy.

September 27, 2016

Wealthy nations are healthy nations …with some exceptions

In September 2015, the UN General Assembly established the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGS specify 17 universal goals, 169 targets and 230 indicators (critics worry about the unwieldy list). The SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which expired in September 2015. Health is a core part of the SDGs.

Lancet has recently (21 September, 2016) published a baseline analysis of 33 health-related indicators.

All the indices are scaled from 0 (worst observed value for 1990-2015) to 100 (best observed value for the same period). In 2015, the median value of the overall health-related SDG index was 59.3 ranging from 85.5 (Iceland) to 20.4 (Central African Republic). There is also good news globally. The value of the health-related SDG index has increased by approximately eight points between 1990 and 2015.

As expected, wealthy nations are healthy nations. However, as the Lancet study notes, ‘…some patterns emerged contrary to what might have been expected’. The United States is ranked 28th, and below Greece, a nation struggling to cope with externally imposed anti-austerity measures. The unsatisfactory US ranking might be attributed to poor performance in maternal mortality, alcohol consumption and mortality due to interpersonal violence, self-harm, suicide and unintentional poisoning.

What the Lancet study does not highlight is the conspicuous case of Botswana. Often lauded as a development success story, and featuring prominently in Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson’s monumental study on ‘Why nations fail’ (, Botswana is a resource-rich, upper-middle income country. It is one of the very few countries in Sub Saharan Africa with such an income status. In terms of the overall health-related SDG, Botswana is ranked 133 and lies below low-income Timor-Leste. At least from a health perspective, Botswana still has a long way to go.