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Mira Kamdar: Outsourcing India: For Obama and Singh, Democracy Means Business

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post. While the administration rolled out the red carpet to welcome Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington this week, the real action wasn't around the elegantly set tables at the Obama's first state dinner. It was across the street at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That's right: the same folks who are spending millions to fight any government action to prevent climate change are about to be put in charge of the relationship between two of the countries most essential to finding solutions for that and other pressing global challenges. As Robert Blake, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia put it at an "India Day" celebration at defense and communications giant Honeywell: "The most important part of our relationship is that increasingly governments matter less and less and it's more about empowering the private sector and our businesses, our scientists, educators so that they can all work together to achieve great things." Honeywell's CEO David Cote is the head of the newly expanded India-U.S. CEO Forum, which met during the Indian prime minister's visit. The India side is headed by Ratan Tata, one of seven Indian CEOs who accompanied the prime minister. On Monday, Nov. 23, Prime Minister Singh addressed the U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC); part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the biggest lobbyist for the U.S.-India nuclear deal, which saw final approval in the last weeks of the George W. Bush administration. In fact, to clear one of the last remaining hurdles of the deal, the Indian cabinet just green-lighted a provision to make immune from liability U.S. nuclear plant builders in the event of an accident. This is no small feat in a country that still hasn't gotten over the Union Carbide poisonous gas leak in Bhopal, the worst industrial accident in history. The bill must still pass India's parliament. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has identified five pillars of the U.S.-India relationship: strategy, agriculture, health care, science and technology, and education. In all cases, the Obama administration is putting the private sector in the driver's seat. As Robert Blake put it at meeting in Washington last Wednesday, Nov. 18: "[T]he Obama administration would really like to do much more to try to engage the private sector, both in private-public partnerships, but also in advising and working with both governments, to see how we can make the private sector portion bring the private sector to the fore in all of these dialogues."

THE INDEX — November 20, 2009

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Azubuike Ishiekwene: Mo Ibrahim's Red Card

Sudanese multibillionaire Mo Ibrahim said his foundation’s decision to withhold the 2009 African Leadership Prize, now in its third year, was not an act of disrespect. It would have been nice to hand out in November in Tanzania the prize of $5 million (with promissary notes of $200,000 for life after that). But what do you do when the candidates fall short? The news headlines across the continent echo surprise, indifference and sadness, but they downplay the two biggest questions—why and what next?

It’s no laughing matter that two favorites for the prize—John Kufuor of Ghana and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa—failed to make the grade. Kufuor’s personal aide told a radio station in Ghana that the former president had no regrets. That is regrettable. In many respects, Ghana and South Africa under the leadership of Kufuor and Mbeki had been held up as shining examples to the rest of Africa. Both countries seemed to rate well on such criteria as good governance and democratic handover of power—key requirements for the prize.

For nearly eight years, Ghana ran a largely transparent and accountable government, investing heavily in economic reforms. Kufuor’s party, the New Patriotic Party, lost the last general elections not because the government had become wayward and badly corrupt—common vices on the continent—but largely because the pains of reform had been intensified by the government’s slow and confused response to the fallout from higher energy prices. Angry voters who felt they had been taken for granted lost their patience and voted for the opposition in the January 2009 runoff.

For its part, South Africa seemed to be doing well, especially given that country’s difficult post-apartheid legacy. Under Mbeki, though unemployment and crime remained major challenges, the economy was robust, posting an annual growth rate of 4.5 percent, while foreign investment surged, at least through the last quarter of 2006. Mbeki’s downfall could be laid first to his own obtuse style, and later, to his own party, which ousted him in a palace coup.

Given these achievements, therefore, it would appear that the top contenders, Kufuor and Mbeki, had been judged harshly when they were denied the African Leadership Prize, or that the award committee had been too idealistic in setting the bar this last round. What exactly was the committee looking for? I don’t think it was looking for angels. But if we consider objectively the key values of good governance and democratic handover of power, it clearly would have been difficult for either Kufuor or Mbeki to step forward for a leadership prize.



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