II JOURNAL Spring 2012 - University of Michigan


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New Media: Ushering in a New Era of Protest? Or Just Another Tool to Mobilize?
New Media and the Middle East: Thinking Allowed
by Annabelle Sreberny
The Politics of Energy and What it Means for the Climate
by Brian Min
Translating Human
ights Testimonies
by Christi A. Merrill
Burmese Change: Opportunities for Myanmar?
by Dominic Nardi
Health through Accompaniment in
by Colin Yee
International Institute Journal
University of Michigan
Vol. 1, No. 2 Spring 2012
Ken Kollman, Publisher
Director of the International Institute
Susanne Kocsis, Editor
Assistant Director of the Center for International
& Comparative Studies (CICS)
Kirstin Olmstead, Circulations and Online Manager
Marketing and Communications Specialist for the
International Institute
Susan Cybulski, Page Designer
On the Cover:
Top: Apple iPhone 4 screen with news applications including CNN, ABC News, Washington Post, BBC News,
Middle: New York, NY, USA – October 11, 2011: Protestors broadcast updates over the internet via social
media from their camp in Zuccotti Park, also called Liberty Park, as part of the Occupy Wall Street campaign
to protest corporate influence on democracy, and issues related to the global financial crisis. Updates via social
media and live streaming from the Park ensured a large active campaign of protest and connected NYC with
protests in Seattle and elsewhere.
Bottom: Athens, Greece – May 9, 2010: People wearing white masks are protesting outside the Parliament
building against unpopular EU-IMF austerity deal.
New Media and the Middle East:
Thinking Allowed 2
by Annabelle Sreberny

The Politics of Energy and
What It Means for the Climate 6
by Brian Min
Translating Human
estimonies 10
by Christi A. Merrill
Burmese Change:
Opportunities for Myanmar? 13
by Dominic Nardi
Health Through Accompaniment
iberia 16
by Colin Yee
Photo by Subedi2022

II Jour
al Spring 2012
niversity of Michigan
Welcome to the Spring 2012 issue of the II Journal!
In Fall of 2011 the
International Institute
hosted a day-long
symposium on New
Media/Social Change
to examine the impact
of “new media” (social, network, digital)
on international news, political movements,
and on traditional news media. In our lead
article, New Media and the Middle East:
Thinking Allowed, Annabelle Sreberny
(Centre for Media and Film Studies,
London) analyzes the role of new media
in contemporary political mobilizations
across the globe. She discusses the role
of Facebook, Twitter, You-Tube, mobile
phones, email, and the 24-hour news cycle
in the socio-political unrest unfolding across
the Middle East and Western countries
alike. She examines the intersection of
new social networks with traditional forms
of news broadcasting, and old forms of
political activism with its emphasis on
meeting spaces such as squares or parks
(Tahrir, Benghazi, Zuccotti, St. Paul), and the
combinations of media tools and political
actions used to topple authoritarian regimes
(Libya, Egypt), or respond to the global
financial crisis (London, New York, Athens).
While revolutions are
by definition political,
politics also play a
central role in more
mundane activities—
such as the provision
and consumption of electricity around the
globe. In The Politics of Energy and What
it Means for the Climate, Brian Min (CICS
International Security and Development
Fellow) explores the role governments play
in supplying electricity, and how the type of
government (democratic/ non-democratic)
determines which sector of society (citizens/
industry) gets priority in the delivery of
electrical power. Soaring energy needs
worldwide have serious consequences
for the climate, and the challenges of
meeting increasing demand and addressing
environmental concerns often present
conflicts for policymakers around the globe,
and new questions for political scientists.
The literary process
(from writing to
translating to editing
to publishing to
reading), especially
in an international
context, is full of political repercussions.
In Translating Human Rights Testimonies,
Christi Merrill (CICS Human Rights Fellow)
discusses the ideological implications
of translating literary texts, particularly
in translations of works describing
discrimination into the language of the
colonizer. She explores the consequences of
categorizing a work as fiction, non-fiction,
autobiography, or even literary, and how
such delineations can alter the reader’s
perception of events described in the text.
How are terms such as “truth” or “universal
truth” defined in works of literature,
especially human rights literature?
This year the
University of Michigan
Wallenberg Committee
awarded Aung San
Suu Kyi the 21st Raoul
Wallenberg Medal
in absentia for her human rights work
in Myanmar (formerly Burma). Dominic
Nardi (a political science graduate student)
delivered the Wallenberg medal to her in
December. The next article describes his visit
with the human rights activist in Burma.
He discusses the political transformations
taking place in the country, and Daw
Suu’s transformation from resistance
leader to politician. He addresses the
challenges of rebuilding after 50 years of
military dictatorship destroyed the public
institutions there. Democracy hangs in the
balance as the country struggles with a
shortage of professionals who understand
public management.
Closing out the
issue is a narrative
by another student,
Colin Yee, who
traveled to Liberia
with the help of
an International Institute Individual
Fellowship to complete an internship with
the NGO Tiyatien Health. Health services
in Liberia are being overwhelmed by an
influx of refugees from political turmoil in
neighboring Ivory Coast. The internship
included conducting research on a
community health worker program, which
serves as a model for paid health workers.
he II Journal is pleased to present a few of the highlights of another dynamic year at the International Institute. Apropos of a
political year, politics are at the core of each article in this issue. From the political uprisings witnessed across the globe this year,
advanced in part by new media, to the political choices made in the everyday work of energy distribution or literary production,
to new political players and structures appearing in former dictatorships, politics inform these essays in obvious and subtle ways.

II Jour
al Spring 2012
niversity of Michigan

here is no doubt that 2011 was a
world-historical year. The insurrec
tionary wave that started in T
unis in
December 2010 and is still unfolding
across the Maghreb and Middle East has
raised important questions about the role
of new media technologies and platforms
in contemporary political mobilizations.
There has quite possibly never been
such a dramatic set of political changes
in contiguous nations ever before. If
the revolutions of 1848 in Europe were
supposed to be inspired by each other, how
much more might that be the case in a 24-
hour transnational news environment and
world-encircling Internet?
Suddenly it seemed, as if no one had
been looking, there was the “Arab
Spring”—which seems to be an Al Jazeera
nominalization—a wave of socio-political
unrest that moved across the region. And
for all the money, the regional specialists,
the research, no one saw this coming!
The first approach to events by experts
and media alike was open-mouthed
Democracy Deficit?
Evidently, not all of the Arab World is
involved, yet. The monarchies of Saudi
Arabia and the UAE are trying to regroup.
One oil-rich society, Bahrain, is in turmoil
and its regime has behaved brutally,
supported when necessary by Saudi tanks;
so too is the poorest country in the region,
Yemen. And in the rest of the region,
the non-Arab countries are dealing with
their home-grown dissent (the camps on
Israeli streets; the ongoing tensions in Iran;
while Turkey parlays a new regional role as
‘honest broker’ in some of these issues).
New Media and the Middle East:
Thinking Allowed
by Annabelle Sreberny
The joke goes that Mubarak dies and meets Nasser and Sadat in the afterlife. They ask him “were you poisoned or shot?” since
that is how each of them perished. Mubarak shrugs and answers “Facebook!” An Egyptian family did recently name their newborn
daughter Facebook.

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If oil and Islam were too limited foci for
adequate regional analysis, the other
lurking third term was “authoritarianism”or
the “Middle Eastern democracy deficit.”
This was always understood as internal
lacks and deficiencies and rarely to do
with Western arm-trades, political support
for conservative regimes to protect oil
supplies, or skewed notions of what counts
as development. Suddenly, the region has
revealed its deep demand for democracy
and rights, its populations have risked
life and limb for such freedoms, and the
“democracy deficit” is returned to the
West, where surveillance and limits to
dissent have increased while falling voting
numbers and distrust of politicians is at an
all-time high. But we are also learning that
there are different kinds of authoritarian
systems and different relations between
state and society. The issue of repression
and authoritarianism is one where serious
areas studies can usefully challenge the
taken-for-granted verities of disciplinary
approaches—where it does seem to me
that “politics” is undergoing the biggest
Twitter Revolution?
It is evident that both new and old media
have played significant and fascinating
roles in the recent insurrections to topple
autocratic regimes from Tunis to Cairo and
beyond. New media cannot be considered
the epiphenomena of political movements
but are rather significant tools of political
mobilization. This is not to repeat the
fatuous claim that Tunisia was a “Twitter
revolution,” as had been claimed for the
Green Movement in Iran after the June
2009 election, nor to argue that such tools
are indispensible for political change. Clearly
people have made revolution before without
such tools. But in repressive regimes where
face-to-face public politics is extremely
curtailed, a platform such as Facebook
provides a space where silence and fear
are overcome and trust can be built, where
social networks can turn political, and
where home and diaspora can act together.
The Islamic Republic “allowed” the use of
Facebook in the run-up to the June 2009
presidential election, and Iranians embraced
it with relish, sharing family photos and
linking with friends around the world. After
the election result that gave Ahmadinejad
68% of the vote, it was fascinating to watch
Facebook literally turn green, individual
photos replaced with signs asking “where
is my vote?” and the development of a
considerable number of “green-inflected”
pages with news, video, and art.
Citizen journalists as self-appointed
contemporary historians are photographing
and filming events and uploading them
to You-Tube for an interested globalised
audience to find; and indeed, much of
this content has been picked up and re-
broadcast by “old” media. Whatever the
intentions of their corporate developers,
social media in many countries are being
used to provide news and information
hard to come by from regime channels; to
develop alternate narratives; to plan and
coordinate action; and to tell each other
and the world what is going on.
Mixed Media
But we must not forget that the Middle East
movements have all been a mix of face-
to-face politics and use of contemporary
small media, from social networks to mobile
telephony and email. The technologistic
reduction of political movements to
“Twitter revolutions” has little explanatory
value and only serves to inflate American
corporate sensibility of contributing to the
global spread of democracy. The Internet
is used in ways that differ from society
to society. Insurrectionary movements
have grown in countries with Internet
penetration ranging from less than 2%
(Yemen) to 6% (Libya), 21–34% (Egypt and
In repressive regimes where
face-to-face public politics
is curtailed, a platform such
as Facebook provides a space
where silence and fear are
overcome and trust can be
built . . . and where home and
diaspora can act together.
Cairo, Egypt

– February 25, 2011: An Egyptian woman walks past a wall with the word Facebook spray painted on it. Facebook
was an important communications tool Egyptians used to organize the anti-government demonstrations that brought down
the regime of Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011.

II Jour
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niversity of Michigan

Tunisia) and 88% (Bahrain). These countries
have responded in different ways to popular
dissent, including capitulation, negotiation,
and violent repression. The political actors
who matter—those on the ground in
authoritarian regimes—have not been
cyber-utopians but have been trying to
protect themselves from regime surveillance
with a range of Internet tools, from TOR
to encryption. Iranians were teaching each
other about security and sharing proxies
and filters long before hubristic projects
such as Haystack—software designed by
an American non-profit organization to
combat Iranian Internet censorship—were
dreamed up.
There is an important link between face-
to-face politics and more technologically-
mediated communication. There are
different forms of repressive states,
different histories of political action, and
differentiated access to new forms of
communication, from internet platforms
to mobile telephony. So one-size/one-
solution doesn’t fit all. The conditions
and mix of platforms differs from country
to country. This is not based on rational
choice in the face of a range of available
tools, as Western commentators seem to
think. Tunisians faced a more pervasive
police state than the Egyptians, with less
latitude for blogging or press freedom,
but their trade unions were stronger and
more independent. The Kefaya movement
had been blogging for many years in Egypt
and numerous You-Tube videos were in
circulation showing police torture and
previous bread riots. Libyans had limited
internet access but mobile telephony was
widespread. The Syrians are functioning
in a very difficult environment and many
internet activists have set themselves up in
Beirut, only a few hundreds miles across
the border. The Egyptian Facebook pages
We are All Khaled Said, set up by Wael
Ghonim, and 6th of April Youth Movement
became important nodes in a growing
movement, with over 100,000 followers,
while new information sources such as Rasd
News and Egypt News Network function
mainly through Facebook.
A Mix of Places and Spaces
These platforms provide instantaneity,
the immediate diffusion of and access
to information, and extensivity, ignoring
national borders and addressing domestic
and diasporic populations and foreigners
alike. But such internet practices also
intersect with intense face-to-face
discussions in private spaces, amongst old
and new collectivities. There is NO sense
in which digital activities alone could have
produced such social mobilization. Indeed,
there is a renewed significance of place,
marked by the squares of Tahrir, Benghazi,
Zuccotti, and St. Pauls. Face-to-face
engagement with strangers together on a
political mission is exhilarating, no matter
what other tools are used in the process.
And as significant as the new social
media platforms has been the role of
broadcasting, especially Al Jazeera Arabic
and BBC Arabic which played a multiplier
role in articulating the diverse events across
the region, often relying on eye-witness
materials sent in by citizen journalists
and disseminating news of events in
Tunis to Tripoli, Cairo and Manama. Al
Jazeera English kept the rest of the world
enthralled, with strong on-the-ground
coverage and moments of brilliant television
direction, including the use of split-screen
to broadcast Mubarak’s last speech live
whilst showing the response in Tahrir
Square, the scores of shoes being thrown
in the air an unmistakable sign that his end
was fast approaching. Anecdotal evidence
suggests that both Al Jazeera Arabic and
BBC Arabic were shown on the big screens
set up in Tahrir Square and in Benghazi.
A sympathetic global public opinion may
have played a role in the unanimous U.N.
resolution to instigate the no-fly zone over
Libya. In the U.S., Hillary Clinton berated
the U.S. media for its poor coverage which
was delivering audiences to Al Jazeera.
London, United Kingdom

– July 21, 2011: World news websites, including BBC,
Reuters, CNN, FOX, abc and Sky.
. . . the Middle East
movements have all
been a mix of face-to-
face politics and use
of contemporary small
media, from social
networks to mobile
telephony and email.

II Jour
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niversity of Michigan
National Youth Movements
We know that the demographic across
the region is youthful and, as everywhere
else, where possible they have embraced
new technologies to download music and
film and keep abreast of events around the
world. These movements are about the
rising expectations and rising frustrations
of unemployed young men and the social
obstacles encountered by increasingly
better educated young women, and ring
with an optimistic universalism for human
rights and economic opportunities. Or at
least so far. And the recent rapid diffusion
of mobile telephony and cheap digital
cameras are pushing a more image-based
culture and the internet-savvy generation
are quick to upload the evidence of the
day onto platforms beyond the control of
the Mohabarat and viewed by a globalised
There is evidently more to come, in Bahrain,
in Yemen, in Syria where the Facebook
page The Syrian Revolution had 87,000
followers in March 2011 but 360,000 at the
turn of 2012. And new policies to support
a free press and internet access have to be
written in to the new constitutions in Egypt
and Tunisia.
Clearly small, alternative media (neither
controlled by states nor by big business) are
not a simple answer to political repression as
Clay Shirky-style cultural optimists and Jared
Cohen would have the Washington beltway
believe. But neither are they so controlled
and monitored by strong states that nothing
can be achieved, as the pessimists like
Evgeny Morozov would argue. When used
creatively within a rich mix of local face-to-
face politics, configured in the languages
and symbols of national traditions, and in
contexts where the older generation simply
doesn’t want to give up power, it is evident
that the new digital small media can punch
way above their weight.
New Political Formations
Crucially, the Arab Springs have revealed
the ongoing significance of national politics.
Visually, in news coverage, audiences have
seen the important symbolism of flags
used in each country, and there was little
invocation of either the umma or of pan-
Arabism. But neither has there been much
evidence of concentrated social media use
across regional borders, as distinct from
reconnecting exiles and diasporas with their
home politics. There have been messages
of solidarity, including to Wisconsin and
Madrid, and some information has been
spread—Tunisians instructing Egyptians on
how to avoid the effects of teargas.
New media seem to offer development of
new forms of political activism beyond the
now old “new social movement” type. We
have seen the emergence of new kinds of
political actors and not only in the Middle
East. Witness the rapid emergence of the
indignados in Madrid, aganaktismenoi in
Syntagma Square in Athens, UKuncut or
the “occupy” movements in New York and
London, all of which are linked in some
manner to the current global financial crisis.
It remains to be seen whether and how
such “spontaneous” forms of collective
action endure and what, if any, their long-
term impact on national and international
politics will be. It does seem that place
and space, used together, might forge
interesting new political processes.
About the Author
Annabelle Sreberny is Professor of Global
Media and Communications in the Centre
for Media and Film Studies and Chair of
the Centre for Iranian Studies at the School
of Oriental and African Studies in London.
She is the President of the International
Association for Media and Communication
Research. Her research focuses primarily on
the field of international communication,
increasingly on globalization, with foci
on international news, questions of
diaspora, and with a strong feminist
orientation. For over 30 years, her work
on Iran has examined the nexus of politics
and communications, from the process
of the 1979 revolution (Small Media,
Big Revolution) to the emergence of a
contemporary dynamic Persian-language
presence on the net (Blogistan).
Athens, Greece – May, 28th 2011: Although it is almost midnight, hundreds of people
of all ages are gathered in Syntagma Square. They are the ’Indignant’ citizens and
demonstrate against the austerity measures announced by the government.
The protests were organized via Facebook, Twitter and other social media, without
the involvement of political parties or trade unions, and were inspired by Spain’s
’Los Indignados’ movement.

II Jour
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niversity of Michigan

The Politics of Energy and What it Means for the Climate
by Brian Min
n September 4, 1882, Thomas Edison
flipped a switch at his Pearl Street
Station and electric lights flickered on
across lower Manhattan. And so
began the era of electric power transmission,
setting off the relentless electrification of
the modern world. Yet today, 1.4 billion
people continue to lack electricity, relying
instead on kerosene, wood, and agricultural
residues to meet their energy needs. Most
of these reside in the developing world
where the thirst for modern energy sources
remains unquenched. How will these energy
needs be met? And what impact will it take
on the environment? The story of how
governments respond to the energy needs
of their citizens must play a larger role in the
dialogue over the causes and challenges of
climate change.
More human-made greenhouse gas emissions
come from electricity production than from
any other single activity. Power plants, most
of which burn fossil fuels like coal and natural
gas, account for a quarter of worldwide
greenhouse gas emissions. That is nearly
double the contribution that comes from
automobiles and the transportation sector.
The importance of the electricity sector is
magnified by the fact that most of the world’s
electricity suppliers are owned and managed
by governments. Political institutions structure
the rules for which supply and demand for
energy are regulated. At an everyday level,
governments decide how much power
to provide, at what cost, and with what
restrictions. The way these choices are
negotiated is likely to depend on whether
governments must rely on popular support to
hold on to office, as in democracies. Simply
put, politics determines who gets power, and
how much power gets provided shapes the
trajectory of climate change.
Electricity and Development
More than simply a modern convenience,
access to electricity is a life-altering
transformation that improves welfare and
enables economic development. Electric
light extends a day’s productive hours,
allowing children to study after the sun
has set and enhancing safety at night.
Refrigeration allows for the preservation of
food and medicines. Powered water pumps
reduce the effort needed to collect water.
Electric cooking stoves diminish the time
needed to gather wood and other biomass
fuels. Electricity can improve agricultural
productivity by energizing irrigation and
drainage systems and encourage industrial
development by powering tools and
machinery. Electricity is desired everywhere
and yet its provision is not universal: only
some enjoy its myriad benefits while others
do not. Especially in the developing world,
access to electricity is a sharp line separating
those on the road to modernity from those
likely to be mired in persistent poverty.
The accompanying graph shows the
relationship between income level and
electricity consumption for countries around
the world in 2009. The figure depicts a
strong and positive relationship: people
in richer countries use more electricity per
person then those in poorer countries. At
first glance, this appears intuitive. Yet, there
Electricity Consumption and Income Around the World, 2009
Source: World Bank
Electricity consumption per capital (kWh)
log scale
GDP per capita (US dollars)
log scale
3000 22,000 160,000

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By comparing the distribution of nighttime lights to the distribution of human
populations, it is possible to generate unusually precise estimates of the proportion
of a country’s population living in lit areas. This approach does not need to rely on
government self-reports that might be biased by political factors.
are at least two striking features worth
worrying about. First, there is no evidence
that energy demands are satiated with
increasing wealth. This is quite different
from many other indicators of human
welfare that tend to approach some natural
limit. Life expectancy, infant mortality
rates, literacy rates, calorie consumption,
all improve rapidly as societies move up
the development ladder, yet progress
eventually slows down or reaches a bound
set by human biology or by achievement of
some goal. Energy consumption appears to
exhibit no such willingness to slow down at
higher levels of development.
Second, there is no indication that energy
efficiency improves with wealth. Richer
countries do not seem to put more effort
at becoming more energy efficient. In
other words, as countries become richer, it
does not appear that wealth enables the
production of increased economic output
with lower levels of energy inputs. Rather,
increases in wealth result in increased
electricity use across all levels of income.
Combined, these two features reflect
an agonizingly inconvenient fact about
development. If current trends hold, poverty
alleviation around the world will occur only
with a parallel increase in the consumption
of electricity. As poverty is reduced, the
world’s energy use will grow. Because
there is no obvious reason to believe that
increased wealth will be accompanied
by a slowing down of consumption or
by an increase in efficiency, the impacts
on the climate are likely to be profound.
The environmental strain of meeting this
new demand is difficult to fathom. As a
result, how to meet the surging energy
needs of the poor is likely to represent one
of the most daunting challenges facing
governments across the developing world.
Electricity and the State
Throughout the twentieth century, the
provision of electricity has been one
of the most expansive and expensive
undertakings facing societies around the
world. No country has ever completed
rural electrification without the intensive
financial support of its government. At

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the founding of the Soviet Union in the
1920s, Vladimir Lenin famously placed
electricity at the center of his vision of the
future: “Communism is Soviet power plus
the electrification of the whole country.”
The State Commission for Electrification
of Russia (GOELRO) sought to extend
the power grid to the entire country and
formed the basis of the first Soviet plan for
national economic recovery. Implementation
of GOELRO led to a near doubling of the
country’s total national power output by
1931 and full electrification of the entire
Soviet Union in the years that followed.
In the U.S., meanwhile, early electric power
distribution was dominated by private
utilities that focused their efforts in urban
centers. Extending the power grid from
cities to rural areas requires high fixed cost
investments in infrastructure including new
power plants, long haul transmission lines,
substations, and shorter distribution lines to
the end user. Rural areas with low customer
densities were unattractive markets
to profit-minded firms. By the Great
Depression, only one in ten rural Americans
had access to electricity compared to 90%
of city dwellers. With the collapse of the
economy, even private power utilities in
the most lucrative urban markets were
struggling to stay solvent. Yet as critical
components of his New Deal, Franklin
Roosevelt established the Tennessee
Valley Authority (TVA) in 1933 and Rural
Electrification Administration (REA) in 1935.
At the end of 1934, only 12.1% of all U.S.
farms had electricity, while only 3% were
electrified in Tennessee and less than 1%
in Mississippi. By 1943, the TVA and REA
had brought electricity to four out of ten
American farms. Within one more decade,
nine out of ten were connected. Former
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland
recalled, “The day the lights finally came on
at our farm, I remember my mother cried.”
Outside of the industrialized world,
electrification has been pursued with
uneven ambition and success. In China,
purposeful government policies have led
to the claimed electrification of 700 million
people’s homes over the last two decades—
an achievement of unprecedented scale and
scope. Overall, total electricity consumption
in rural China increased tenfold between
1978 and 2000. The number of villages
without electricity decreased from 55,000
in 1993 to 9,300 in 2002. According to
official estimates, over 98% of Chinese
homes have an electrical connection today.
Meanwhile just west of China in the world’s
most populous democracy, India has
struggled mightily to electrify its rural lands.
More people in India lack electricity than
anywhere else in the world, accounting
for a third of the world total. Nearly half
a billion Indians living in over 100,000
villages still had no electricity as of 2005.
That year, the government launched
an ambitious initiative to electrify every
unconnected village within the following
five years. Now in early 2012, the program
continues to struggle with implementation
delays. Moreover, many of the thousands of
newly connected villagers have discovered
that simply being connected to the grid
is of limited benefit when the power is
not working. India’s massive power deficit
results in frequent and relentless blackouts
across huge swaths of the country.
Juxtaposing the performance of the power
sectors in the world’s largest autocracy and
democracy raises a challenging paradox for
political theorists. For theories that expect
democracies to provide more public services
and to distribute them more efficiently and
equitably, the track records of the world’s
most populous democracy and autocracy
represent an exceptional anomaly, indicate a
limitation of our theories, or suggest that the
data underlying this paradox are unreliable.
Energy and Democracy
Recent research suggests that despite the
strong growth in electricity use in many non-
democratic countries, democracies are more
likely to prioritize the needs of the residential
and rural sectors over the needs of industry.
David Brown and Ahmed Mobarak analyze
sectoral data on electricity consumption
for a large number of countries and find
that democracies direct more electricity
to the residential sector than to industry,
especially in poorer countries. This suggests
that sectors with less financial clout
but a stronger voice in elections benefit
under democracy. One limitation of this
claim is that it must rely on self-reported
government data and excludes several
countries for which reliable data do not
exist. An alternative perspective on energy
use comes from looking at satellite imagery
of the earth at night.
By comparing the distribution of nighttime
lights to the distribution of human
populations, it is possible to generate
estimates of the proportion of a country’s
population living in lit areas. Since satellite
imagery can detect low levels of light
output from areas as small as a couple
square kilometers, it can be used to
generate unusually precise estimates of
electricity provision down to the local
Risky and chaotic electrical wiring in Old Delhi, India. The unsatisfying condition of
wiring causes power problems in Delhi.

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level. Moreover, the approach does not
need to rely on government self-reports
that might be biased by political factors,
like the temptation for some agencies
to manipulate their electricity access
figures. Additionally, the satellite-derived
estimates rely on sensor data that are
measured consistently across all countries
without respect to national borders. This
is important since many official statistics
are heavily dependent on country-specific
definitions of what it means for a village or
household to be classified as “electrified.”
The satellite-derived estimates of electricity
access count some 1.4 billion people living
in areas that emit no consistent light output
detectable from space. Almost all of these
are concentrated in the developing world,
mostly in South Asia and Sub-Saharan
Africa. Yet while level of development is
an important predictor of electricity access,
there are also dramatic differences across
regime types. Overall, democracies provide
electricity to 10% more of their citizens
than do non-democracies. This is true
even after accounting for the potential
confounding effects of wealth, population
density, geography, and other factors.
The results strongly affirm the power of
democratic elections in inducing higher
public service delivery, even in contexts
where state capacity appear low.
Democracy and the Climate
Both theory and empirical evidence
demonstrate that democracies differ
fundamentally from non-democratic
regimes in the way they empower citizens
via elections. To win the necessary support
required to maintain office, democratic
leaders must court large numbers of voters,
resulting in an institutional incentive to
invest more heavily in public goods and
services. In the developing world, basic
public services like electricity, clean water,
and education are priority issues for voters.
The provision of a public service like
electricity is an appealing strategy for
democratic politicians since they are highly
valued by the poor, provide broad benefits
to large numbers of voters at once, and
serve as a visible accomplishment that
politicians can claim credit for in campaigns.
Within the local geographic purview of
these basic services, positive externalities are
high and their benefits are often non-rival
and non-excludable. Electrification benefits
everyone in a village by providing streetlights
at night, bringing in entertainment and
news via televisions and radios, and enabling
local market opportunities. The spillover
benefits that flow from public services are
especially valued by the poor who have few
outside options to acquire these benefits.
Even for those who cannot afford a direct
household connection or pricey electrical
appliances, there are still many conveniences
of living in an electrified village that are
absent in places that go pitch black once
the sun sets. Moreover, since states are near-
monopoly providers of many public services,
politicians can act as influential middlemen,
mediating the delivery of critical public
services to their voters.
What do such patterns mean for the
climate? First, it suggests that not all
governments are likely to respond in the
same way to the growing energy demands
of their citizens. Democracies are likely to
be more responsive to their citizens, but
that implies a potentially double-edged
sword in which the broader provision of
electrical power is accompanied by growing
strains on the environment.
Second, acknowledging the constraints
imposed by the domestic political
environment can also help in understanding
why achieving a global consensus around
a course of action to mitigate climate
change is so difficult. The unwillingness
of the American Congress to consider the
landmark Kyoto Protocol, and Canada’s
recent withdrawal from the pact to which
it was an original signatory, reflect political
calculations as much as they do economic
and environmental ones.
Third, understanding the variation in political
systems may help identify why some policy
proposals regarding climate change are more
welcome in some nations and less in others.
The key sources of domestic opposition and
support might differ substantially across
countries with different political systems like
India and China. Recognizing this implies
that one-size-fits-all solutions are unlikely
and more innovative proposals are needed
that reflect the political constraints shaped
by national leaders in different kinds of
political environments.
All of this implies the need to incorporate
improved political analysis in the dialogue
regarding climate change. As economies
grow, so too will the thirst for electricity.
The ways in which that thirst is quenched—
and the attendant impacts on our climate—
will be shaped by political institutions in
ways that should not be ignored.
About the Author
Brian Min is Assistant Professor of
Political Science and a CICS International
Security and Development Fellow for
2012. He studies the political economy
of development with an emphasis on
India and Sub-Saharan Africa. His current
research uses satellite imagery of nighttime
lights and other geo-coded data to show
how the distribution of electricity is shaped
by electoral politics across the developing
world. His dissertation on the subject
received APSA’s 2011 Gabriel Almond
Award. He has also conducted research
on ethnic politics and conflict, with
publications appearing in

World Politics


American Sociological Review.

ecent research suggests that despite the strong growth in electricity use in many
non-democratic countries, democracies are more likely to prioritize the needs of the
residential and rural sectors over the needs of industry.

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Translating Human
ights Testimonies
by Christi A. Merrill
n our translation of the story, Laura
Brueck and I have decided to maintain a
range of registers analogous to what we
see in the Hindi, but have chosen not to
offer bald explanations for details that an
insider might recognize as part of the daily
discourse of discrimination against Dalits.
Translator’s Influence
Instead we refer to them in passing in
such a way that we might initiate English-
language readers in America unfamiliar
with such acts, just as Navariya seems to
be initiating potential upper-caste Hindi
readers in India. “They think they can
piss on our heads just because they live
in the city? They’ve forgotten what their
birth means,” one of the gang growls
between kicks. There is no question in this
reader’s mind with whom we are meant
to sympathize. However, as one of the
translators I worry that the portrayal of
the good and bad characters might be too
polarized, and that the dramatization is so
heightened as to seem exaggerated, even
implausible, in English. How can I reassure
my readers that, however fictionalized, the
story does indeed offer a legitimate protest
against ongoing human rights violations
Navariya and other Dalits have faced?
Fiction or Nonfiction?
For scenes such as these I want Navariya
to call his writing nonfiction so that I can
point to the label as evidence for any
disbelieving readers, the way I brandish
Arun Mukherjee’s English translation of
Omprakash Valmiki’s 1997 autobiography,
Joothan: A Dalit’s Life. In Valmiki’s world,
a new headmaster can order a boy out
of the classroom: “Go… And sweep the
whole school clean as a mirror. It is, after
all, your family occupation.”—simply
because he rejects the laws of a newly-
independent India insisting everyone
has a right to education. Like Navariya,
Valmiki employs literary techniques that
lead us to sympathize with the young
narrator’s profound feelings of humiliation
and disappointment that “the other
children in my class were studying and I
was sweeping.” I would like to think that
calling this account a work of nonfiction
might render believable the headmaster’s
outrageous behavior, but such a claim
just raises more complex questions about
how our collective institutions of literary
interpretation distinguish fiction from
nonfiction, and what the ideological stakes
are of such distinctions.
Negotiating Literary Expectations
Admittedly the lines between fact and
fiction or truth and falsehood are never
very straightforward; this ambiguity is
even more pronounced when reading
literature of protest in translation. How far
should the suspension-of-disbelief literary
compact extend when reading work that
purports to represent actual experience?
Just as every practicing translator is aware
of the discrepancy between the perfect
Only a few pages into Ajay Navariya’s harrowing 2004 short story “Subcontinent,” the narrator recalls a traumatic scene from his
childhood in which he watches helplessly as a gang of upper-caste men beat up his father within an inch of his life. The attackers
were incensed that an “untouchable” (or “achut” in the Hindi) would have the audacity to return to the village in a clean new
kurta, rupees in his pocket, greeting friends comfortably, and holding his head high.
An 1858 engraving showing Calcutta from the esplanade. British troops and a lady with
her children can be seen mixing with Indians. Engraver unknown. Photo by D. Walker.

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translation in the ideal world and the tier of
compromises one is forced to make, so too
does an author striving to convey real-world
concerns to an imaginary (and sometimes
hostile) audience set priorities and make
calculations about what strategies will be
most effective. Every participant in the
literary enterprise (from author to translator
to editor to reader) necessarily has to
decide if it is acceptable for a protagonist
to recount the death of a father by a racist
mob or of a brother from starvation (to cite
the controversial examples of Malcolm X
and Rigoberta Menchu) in order to make
a larger point about systemic injustices
against a minority group, even if those
horrifying events happened instead to
someone else’s father or brother.
That the narrators of these accounts are
activists crafting their stories in order to
influence public opinion and effect change
at home only raises the stakes of our
provisional answers. Do we accept the
claims of some defenders that the “self” in
an autobiography of an African-American
man or in a testimonio of an indigenous
Guatemalan woman should be understood
as representative of an entire oppressed
people, and so the facts of which individual
experienced which degree of violence are
incidental? At the other extreme, should we
rely primarily on the equally ideologically-
driven research methods of a historian
or anthropologist when endeavoring to
ascertain the truth of these scenes?
As a literature scholar I understand that part
of what is being negotiated here are the
contours of our own generic expectations.
And as a postcolonial studies scholar I
recognize the dangers of assuming these
generic expectations to be universal and
self-evident. (Put crudely, in such situations
those more powerful get to decide what
versions of truth are acceptable, according
to rules most familiar to them.) As a
translator of postcolonial writing such as
Navariya’s, I need to be especially attentive
to the political and ethical implications
of deeming a work “literary” or no, and
how that qualifier is in tension with the
expectations of legitimacy from work
protesting real-life human rights abuses.
Valmiki describes coming into consciousness
as Dalit (literally, “downtrodden”) and
organizes his entire narrative around rejecting
the “barbaric civilization” that has rendered
him untouchable. Might there be another
way for a subaltern subject from a former
colonized country to gain authority for his
narrative than to have the details of his life
taken as evidence? On what basis are we to
judge the validity of a story like Navariya’s?
Colonialism and Human Rights
As I’ve suggested, often human rights
literature in translation is seen as doubly
suspect, since not just the writer but the
translator is seen to be tampering with the
truth. Rather than defend against such
charges, I would rather focus on our work
as readers and inquire into the ways we
mark the line between truth and fiction
when engaging with work in translation.
Postcolonial literature scholars have taught
us to question the universals like “truth”
underwriting most of our moral judgments,
and to be wary of simplistic equivalents. For
example, Lydia Liu’s article “Legislating the
Universal: The Circulation of International
Law in the Nineteenth Century” outlines
the contentious history of a phrase such as
“universal human rights” in 19th century
China. W.A.P. Martin’s 1864 Chinese
translation of Henry Wheaton’s Elements
of International Law was provided as an
aid in legal disputes, but whenever there
was a discrepancy of interpretation, only
the meaning expressed by the English
version would be binding. This was because
Wheaton “defines international law
among civilized nations,” and China was
considered only “semi-civilized.”
Eric Cheyfitz’s The Poetics of Imperialism
likewise argues that the legal concept of
private property the British brought to the
Caribbean was based on an assumption
of cultural superiority and was itself the
product of a particular local debate in
England over enclosing the commons,
an ideological stance that was forced
onto the native population in ways both
administrative and cultural. (Private property
was equated with being civilized, and
property held in common was thought
to be the mark of wild savagery.) It’s the
moralistic, “civilizing” mission of the
imperial project that is particularly relevant
to literary exchange, especially in work
addressing issues of human rights. Dalit
writers like Navariya and Valmiki issue an
appeal, inviting their readers to form a
negative judgment against the traditional
society in which they grew up and to take
their side in deeming casteism wrong.
How might translators like Laura Brueck
and myself participate in these exchanges
without replicating Orientalist translation
Interpreting Experience
In Siting Translation, Tejaswini Niranjana
argues that one of the most insidious
Every participant in the literary enterprise (from author
to translator to editor to reader) necessarily has to decide
if it is acceptable for a protagonist to recount the death
of a father by a racist mob or of a brother from starvation
(to cite the controversial examples of Malcolm X and
igoberta Menchu) in order to make a larger point about
systemic injustices against a minority group . . .

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aspects of the colonial project was the
moral superiority of the British translator,
and the assumption that Indian natives
were inferior, childlike, and thus unable
to handle their own affairs. This attitude
not only justified colonial intervention but
safeguarded an approach to translation
premised upon (in Niranjana’s words): “a)
the need for translation by the European,
since the natives are unreliable interpreters
of their own laws and culture; b) the desire
to be a lawgiver, to give the Indians their
‘own’ laws; and c) the desire to ‘purify’
Indian cultures and speak on its behalf.”
In her famous essay “Can the Subaltern
Speak?” Gayatri Spivak too warns against
the moral superiority inherent in reproducing
the reductive formula of “white men saving
brown women from brown men.” Someone
could argue that in the case of caste-based
discrimination, Dalit writers like Navariya
and Valmiki are self-empowered and are
thus saving themselves from the upper-caste
status quo, aided by their translators who
are simply transparent conduits. However,
such thinking contradicts everything
we have learned about translation from
postcolonial studies, especially when our
institutions of interpretation suspect them
of being unreliable interpreters of their own
I grappled with similar issues in my first
book-length project translating the oral-
based stories of the award-winning
contemporary Indian writer Vijay Dan
Detha. Then, too, the many centuries of
debate in English over the proper ways to
translate did little to help me defend myself
against accusations in postcolonial studies
contending that translation was necessarily
part of any dominating project, and did
little to help me to formulate a more
complicated practice beyond the vague
absolutes of being faithful or unfaithful.
Detha’s prose was particularly challenging:
he adapted the wry humor associated with
local storytelling traditions strategically to
cast a surprising light on otherwise serious
(and literally deadly) topics such as spouse
abuse and ethnic violence. In his deft hands
the stirring lines from traditional Rajasthani
war ballads vowing to fight to the death
suddenly sounded jingoistic and silly and
the cheers for a legendary hero for winning
the hand of the young princess assumed
a fine gendered irony when the hero was
revealed to be a young woman in drag.
I understood that the delightful moral twists
were that much more effective because
the context and manner of the telling were
performing an updated and exceedingly
critical version of local folk culture. His writing
foregrounded the importance of the literary—
How to maintain this tension between the
feigned backwardness of the telling and a
progressive sensibility when translating into
the globalizing language of English?
Universal “Rights” and “Truth”
In my first book, Riddles of Belonging: India
in Translation and Other Tales of Possession
(Fordham University Press, 2009), I focused
on the ways the complex meaning of a
humorous story cannot be understood in
the simplistic terms of whether or not the
subaltern can speak. The exercise helped
me to formulate a strategy I could rely on
when translating stories for the two-volume
collection, Chouboli and Other Stories. In the
second chapter of Riddles of Belonging, for
example, I reflect on the exuberant narrator
of the riddling storytelling cycle “Chouboli”
asking off-handedly, “What right did she
have to object?” when recounting the nightly
abuse a sequestered petty queen receives
at the hands of her preening husband. I in
turn asked: How does this particular version
of rights (“jor” in Rajasthani) translate into
the hegemonic language of world literature,
which also happens to be the language of
the former colonizer?
I suggest that a primary goal of translation
should be to challenge the historically
unidirectional flow of knowledge and
power by allowing the complicated history
of such “jor” to shape the discourse of
universal human rights in English. After
all, notes Liu, one of the problems with
Wheaton’s Elements of International Law is
that he “simply equates Christianity with the
universal and refuses to consider reciprocity.”
Now with Navariya story’s “Subcontinent”
I must ask how we might define “truth” in
our reading of human rights literature so that
we are less convinced of the moral superiority
of our own stance and more attentive to the
range of interpretations suggested by other
literary traditions than English.
About the Author
Christi Merrill is a CICS Human Rights Fellow
and Associate Professor of Comparative
Literature and Asian Languages and Cultures.
She received her Ph.D. in Comparative
Literature, as well as a MFA in Translation
and MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the
University of Iowa. She is the author of
Riddles of Belonging: India in Translation and
Other Tales of Possession (2009) and the
translator of the fiction of Vijay Dan Detha,
Chouboli and Other Stories

(2010). She
received a fellowship at the University of
Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities
(2006-7), at Cornell University’s Society for
the Humanities (2004-5), and the National
Endowment for the Arts (2002-3). She has
near-native fluency reading, speaking, and
writing Hindi; proficiency in French,
Rajasthani, and Urdu; and reading
knowledge of Sanskrit and Latin. She recently
received the A.K. Ramanujan Book Prize from
the South Asia Council of the Association of
Asian Studies for the Detha translations.
How does this particular version of rights (“jor” in
ajasthani) tr
anslate into the hegemonic language of
world literature, which also happens to be the language
of the former colonizer?

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n October 25, 2011, the University
of Michigan Wallenberg Committee
awarded Aung San Suu Kyi (Daw
Suu) the 21st Raoul Wallenberg
Medal in absentia for her non-violent
struggle on behalf of democracy and human
rights in Myanmar (formerly known as
Burma—in 1989, the government changed
the official English-language name “Burma”
to “Myanmar”—Myanmar appears rather
than Burma throughout this article).
Myanmar’s military rulers had kept Daw Suu
under house arrest for much of the past 24
years and only released her on November
13, 2010. Ironically, by the time I delivered
the medal to her in Yangon last December,
the government had inched towards
Daw Suu’s vision of greater freedom and
The Wallenberg Committee didn’t predict—
indeed couldn’t have expected—these
developments when selecting Aung San
Suu Kyi for the award. Since 1988, the
military had ruled Myanmar directly. The
junta announced elections for 1990, but
reneged when Daw Suu’s National League
for Democracy (NLD) won over 80% of
the seats. Instead, the junta formed its
own national convention to draft a new
constitution that guaranteed the military
25% of legislative seats. The constitution
was approved via referendum in May 2008
with a suspiciously high 93.82% approval.
Given the skepticism surrounding the
transition to what the new constitution
called a “discipline-flourishing democracy,”
the NLD boycotted the November 2010
elections. The junta’s favored party, the
Union Solidarity and Development Party
(USDP), won just under 80% of the
contested seats in the new legislature
(the Hluttaw). While the former military
chief, Senior General Than Shwe, officially
retired when the new government was
inaugurated last March, the political
leadership largely hails from the military,
many from the upper echelons of the
former junta.
Despite the fears of many observers,
Myanmar’s elites did not simply trade in
their military uniforms for business suits,
but rather took genuine if gradual steps
towards reform. President Thein Sein has
legalized trade unions, relaxed censorship,
pursued currency reform, released hundreds
of political prisoners, and suspended
construction of the unpopular Myitsone
Dam. Under Speaker Thura Shwe Mann’s
leadership the lower chamber of the
legislature (Pyithu Hluttaw) has become
much more than a rubber-stamp for
the military’s agenda. Shwe Mann has
even formed oversight committees and
encouraged the opposition to propose bills.
The military itself has largely stayed out of
politics and military MPs vote with their
legislative leaders, not as a unified bloc.
Even more remarkable is the change in
the political atmosphere. One can now
hear citizens in teashops discussing politics
Burmese Change: Opportunities for Myanmar?
by Dominic Nardi
Pedestrians walk past a poster-and-stationary shop where a poster of Aung San Suu
Kyi is displayed for sale.

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without fear. The local media—including
the government-owned New Light of
Myanmar—report on Daw Suu’s every
move, often quite favorably. Street vendors
now sell posters and calendars with Daw
Suu’s photos on them (fashion models must
be concerned that a 67-year-old politician
has taken their place on the 2012 calendar).
Perhaps most dramatically, where billboards
in downtown Yangon once proclaimed the
“People’s Desires” (see photo) they now
feature Aung San Suu Kyi’s profile and ads
for an NLD education benefit concert.
Aung San Suu Kyi herself has begun the
transformation from resistance leader to
politician. After meeting with President
Thein Sein in August, Daw Suu and the
NLD decided to participate in the political
process. On April 1, the NLD ran candidates
in 44 by-elections and won 43 seats,
compared to the USDP’s one. Even more
surprising, it won all four constituencies in
Nayptitaw, which is dominated by military
and civil service personnel. Daw Suu herself
won a seat from Kawhmu district with an
estimated 70-80% of the vote.
The Challenges
Ironically, over the next few months the
greatest threat to democratization might
come from infighting amongst reformers.
The new system of checks and balances
has led politicians to protect their turf.
As president, Thein Sein must manage a
divided cabinet, where only a handful of
ministers fully support the reform agenda.
By contrast, Shwe Mann is focused on
consolidating his support amongst MPs
so that the Pyithu Hluttaw nominates him
for president in 2015. The two branches
constantly fight over the limits of their
institutional powers, most recently in March
when Shwe Mann forced through a bill to
raise the salaries of civil servants in order to
combat corruption. Ironically, this might be
just what Senior General Than Shwe had
hoped for before he retired; by fighting
amongst themselves, the reformers would
not be able to unite and arrest him.
Myanmar has a single-member district
plurality voting system, which should lead
to a two-party system. Yet, the political
party system remains desperately fractured.
Overall, the military and USDP combined
control around 80% of the seats, while the
opposition consists of over a dozen parties.
Even the NLD, which is set to become the
largest opposition party, controls just under
7% of the total. Moreover, many of the
splinter parties stem from deep personality
rather than ideological differences. When
the NLD had decided to boycott the 2010
elections, a group of Young Turks split off
to form the National Democratic Force.
After the elections, a dispute regarding
financial records in the NDF led several key
members to form the New National League
for Democracy. While Daw Suu herself is
universally respected, some of the smaller
parties also resent the NLD’s star power.
The new government must find a more
equitable and permanent distribution of
power and resources with the country’s
ethnic minorities. The country’s largest ethnic
majority group, the Burmans, comprise
two-thirds of the population and occupy the
central part of the country, while the Shan
(approximately 10% of the population),
Karen (7%), Rakhine (4%), and Kachin (1%)
populate the borders. Since Myanmar’s
independence, many of the minorities
have sought greater autonomy or even
independence from the union government,
leading to dozens of insurgencies and low-
level civil wars. During the 1990s, the junta
reached ceasefires with 17 of the ethnic
militias, but these agreements tended to
dispense spoils to local elites rather than
address their deeper demands. The new
constitution created state-level legislatures
in ethnic-dominated regions, although the
union government still possesses exclusive
jurisdiction over education, natural resources,
and other key issues.
Unfortunately, if anything, relations
between the minorities and the national
government have only deteriorated since
the elections. The government has tried—
largely unsuccessfully—to co-opt ethnic
militias into the Border Guard Forces. Even
more troubling, last summer, skirmishes
broke out between the military and the
Kachin Independence Army. In addition
to leaving 45,000 internally displaced
and hundreds dead, the fighting has also
eroded the little trust that had developed.
In December, 2011, President Thein Sein
ordered a halt to the offensive, but the
A propaganda sign in Mandalay. Photo by the author.
Even more remarkable is
the change in the political
ne can now
hear citizens in teashops
discussing politics without

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army pressed on, prompting Kachin leaders
to question his authority.
These divisions threaten not only the pace
of reform, but also its survival. Myanmar’s
glasnost is not yet irreversible. The military,
which originally came to power in 1962
citing political fractionalization and ethnic
separatism, remains the country’s most
powerful institution. While the competition
between Thein Sein and Shwe Mann might
pale next to Washington, D.C., politics, to
the military it might evoke the “chaos” of
the 1950s. USDP hardliners privately invoke
the specter of Senior General Than Shwe
in order to dampen the pace of reform.
Moreover, the reforms have not yet directly
threatened the military’s privileges and
power. If they do so, or if the NLD wins
a majority in the 2015 general elections,
it is far from clear that the military would
remain as passive as it has these past few
The Opportunity
With this mix of grave challenges and
high expectations, 2012 will be critical
for Myanmar’s political development. It
is also arguably the first time when the
United States is in a position to provide
constructive assistance. Both sides hailed
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit
in early December as the beginning of a
new era in U.S.-Myanmar relations. While
there, she announced a major concession:
the U.S. would no longer veto World
Bank development projects for Myanmar.
USAID is also considering restarting aid
to Myanmar, which could unleash a flood
of development activity. Already, one can
find more Western expats in the country’s
There is also a unique opportunity for
American universities to engage with
Myanmar. Fifty years of military rule have
devastated the education system with a
focus on quantity rather than quality. The
U.S. Information Center and local NGOs
regularly invite foreign experts to discuss
constitutional law and democratic politics.
However, some Myanmar intellectuals
already worry about the dominance of
a “Boston mafia” and hope to develop
a broader relationship with American
educational institutions.
In awarding Aung San Suu Kyi the
Wallenberg Medal, the University of
Michigan has already taken a step towards
promoting democracy and human dignity
in Myanmar (and incidentally associated
itself with the country’s most popular
figure). The university boasts top experts
across the natural and social sciences, as
well as the means to share that knowledge
with Myanmar. There is precedent for such
a relationship; many of the Philippines’
current political leaders and judges received
training at the University of Michigan.
When I met with Aung San Suu Kyi, she
expressed her desire that one day—when
Myanmar becomes a democracy and she can
leave the country freely—she could visit Ann
Arbor to thank us personally for our support.
Hopefully, we can speed that day along by
sharing our expertise with her country.
About the Author
Dominic Nardi is a Ph.D. student at the
University of Michigan in the Political
Science Department. He is interested in
judicial politics in developing countries,
particularly Burma, the Philippines,
Indonesia, and Thailand. He has also worked
for legal organizations in Indonesia and
the Philippines and has published articles
about judicial politics in Southeast Asia
both in law reviews and popular media.
He travelled to Burma in December, 2011
on a special mission for U-M to deliver the
Wallenberg Medal to Aung San Suu Kyi.
The humanitarian award is named after a
U-M alumnus who saved tens of thousands
of Jews near the end of World War II.
Past recipients include the Dalai Lama and
Archbishop Desmond Tutu. When Suu Kyi
was given the Wallenberg last year, she
could not attend the ceremony in Ann Arbor
because she feared if she left Burma, the
government would not allow her to return.
The author with Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the 21st Raoul Wallenberg
Medal in absentia for her non-violent struggle on behalf of democracy and human
rights in Myanmar.

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ince the conclusion of its 14-year
civil war, Liberia has been rebuilding
its government, infrastructure,
and health delivery system. Serious
deficiencies in any of these areas impose
significant impediments to health, especially
for those living in the rural areas of Liberia.
The country was left with 51 governmental
doctors for four million people, and an
even sparser health delivery system. Broad
structural changes (such as policymaking
and infrastructure improvements) have
helped to improve the country’s capacity for
providing basic health and social services.
However, these changes are slow to
manifest themselves in the country’s rural
communities, where they are most needed.
Conventional health care models relying
heavily on well-staffed and well-funded
hospitals have thus far failed to reach rural
Liberians, 60% of whom still lack access
to health care. Through an International
Institute Individual Fellowship, I was able to
complete a summer internship in 2011 with
Tiyatien Health in Zwedru, Liberia conducting
research on its community health worker
(“accompanier”) program. The goal of the
internship was to increase the capacity and
support of this innovative community-based
program, and conduct qualitative research
on the home visits and services provided by
accompaniers to rural patients.
Field Site and Organization Background
The Liberian town of Zwedru is located in
Grand Gedeh County of Southeast Liberia,
near the country’s border with the Ivory
Coast. Tiyatien Health (TH) is a community-
based health organization that was
founded in Zwedru by survivors of Liberia’s
civil war in 2007. Since then, TH has been
working diligently to extend basic health
and social services to communities across
Southeast Liberia. In the months leading
up to my internship, political turmoil in the
Ivory Coast led to widespread violence,
which inevitably made its way across the
Liberian border. Southeast Liberia was
dealing with a massive influx of Ivorian
refugees by the time my internship began,
and their numbers were increasing every
day. Grand Gedeh County was dealing with
the addition of over 75,000 refugees, while
its neighbor to the north, Nimba County,
received over 100,000 refugees. The
population of Grand Gedeh County before
the refugee crisis was nearly 120,000
people, and this population increase of over
50% exacerbated the numerous strains on
an already over-stretched health delivery
Project Methodology
Qualitative research and narrative collecting
requires a great deal of trust and familiarity
between the members of both parties in
order to be successful. Therefore, the initial
stages of my internship largely consisted
of making general observations of the
Health through Accompaniment in
by Colin Yee
A home visit attended by the author with accompanier Sam, to a rural home in
Zwedru, Liberia.
Grand Cess
Atlantic Ocean
125 mi
125 km

II Jour
al Spring 2012
niversity of Michigan
organization and community, as well as
establishing relationships with the staff
of Tiyatien Health (TH). We used various
techniques to assess the accompanier
program. Formal interviews were performed
with many of TH’s accompaniers. These
interviews elucidated many aspects of the
accompanier role within TH, as well as the
program’s areas of excellence, and areas
needing improvement. Informal discussions
were also held to delve further into the
personal lives of TH’s accompaniers to
gain perspective on the broader context in
which these individuals live and work. As
I developed friendships and trust with the
accompaniers, I began to attend patient
home visits with them, where I was able
to observe exactly how the accompaniers
interact with their patients and the role that
the accompaniers play in their lives.
Through the research conducted during my
summer internship with Tiyatien Health,
aspects of TH’s innovative accompanier
program were uncovered that may aid in
the program’s further development and
improvement. Interviews and discussions
with the accompaniers and their patients
helped to clearly articulate the areas of
constraint for the program. Although
the accompaniers were optimistic about
the progress of their work, they raised
numerous concerns with the existing
program, including the size of the monthly
stipends and deficiencies in transportation,
training, and communication. The stipend
issue was the most talked-about concern.
The accompaniers stated that they receive
too little money for their work because
they expend extensive amounts of time
and effort to visit their patients, and often
need to use their own money to provide
various patient services (such as food and
transportation to the hospital). They also
advocated for motorbikes, instead of
bicycles or walking, to help them reach
their patients faster and easier, along with
better training in health care, including
training manuals and quarterly training
The collection of personal accounts of
the program and of accompaniers will
help TH advocate for their workers and
aid in shaping the future direction of the
program. Having an accurate lens on the
day-to-day work and personal lives of
accompaniers helps funding entities and
supporters understand the program beyond
statistics and figures. This is especially
critical since, contrary to the more common
voluntary community health worker
programs, TH pays its community health
workers a salary for what is essentially a
full-time position. It has also been shown
that health outcomes for patients are
drastically improved with the presence of a
paid community health worker (by 60%).
However, the monthly stipend that TH is
currently able to provide is inadequate for
many accompaniers to support themselves
and their families, requiring them to find
supplemental forms of income.
Future Implications
In the coming years, Tiyatien Health will
continue to develop and improve its
accompanier program. My 2011 summer
internship helped provide important
information and perspectives for this
process and will shed more light on this
relatively uncommon community health
worker system. Additionally, the internship
is a model for the role future undergraduate
university students can play within a
burgeoning, grassroots health organization.
My summer internship with Tiyatien
Health enhanced my own personal and
professional development, and deepened
my passion for and commitment to
global health and social justice. I was
able to experience the challenges of
addressing global health delivery systems
from various perspectives: on-the-ground
experience with patients and community
health workers, grassroots community
organizing, local NGO collaboration, and
policymaking. I hope to continue working
with organizations like Tiyatien Health, who
engage in the broad movement for global
health equity and social justice.
About the Author
Colin Yee is a graduating senior majoring in
Anthropology and Cellular and Molecular
Biology at the University of Michigan.
He was the recipient of an International
Institute Individual Fellowship, a Raoul
Wallenberg International Summer Travel
Fellowship, a LSA Global Opportunity
Scholarship, and a Department of
Anthropology Fellowship for an Internship
with NGO Tiyatien Health in Zwedru,
Liberia in the summer of 2011.
It has been shown that
health outcomes for
patients are drastically
improved with the presence
of a paid community health
worker (by 60%).
Accompanier and TH staff member, Thomas, walking to a home visit in a rural village.

II Jour
al Spring 2012
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