Leveraging Germany’s Role in Global Health: View from an Outsider

Establishing a national Center for Global Public Health in Berlin is critical. [Photo: Lothar Drechsel/Getty Images]
In the past decade, Germany has caught the attention of the world for the high-profile moves it has made in the field of global public health. While the country’s contributions to social medicine date back two hundred years to the birth of Rudolf Virchow, the waves it has made in global health are more recent. A 2017 article in the Lancet argued that Germany “has become a visible actor in global health [only] in the past ten years.” The WZB Berlin Social Science Center has been at the center of some of these developments.

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The Coronavirus Response in South Africa

Countries should not face penalties for effective reporting on coronavirus variants; doing so incentivizes staying silent on dangerous new cases. [Photo: Getty Images]

Note: A podcast episode by WZB’s Soziologische Perspektiven auf die Corona-Krise with Joseph Harris on the same topic can be found here

South Africa was hit hard during the country’s first coronavirus wave that began in March 2020. While an aggressive lockdown was initially praised for stopping spread and saving as many as 20,000 lives, the lockdown had important consequences of its own. And as pressure to reopen grew, by July 2020, the country stood mired in the largest coronavirus outbreak on the continent and one of the largest in the world. What factors left South Africa so vulnerable to the coronavirus? What policies and programs comprised the governmental response? How has the country navigated COVID-19 since that time, and what support can Germany and other industrialized nations offer the country today? Based on a chapter Harris wrote on the politics of South Africa’s coronavirus response in an edited volume that can be accessed for free here, his present article explores these questions.

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Tunisia’s transitional justice programme highlights the danger of overpromising

The Tunisian example points to a dilemma: addressing all relevant justice problems may lead to an overloading of transitional justice institutions [Photo: Getty Images]
Note: This article first appeared on Africa at LSE.

Ten years after the Tunisian revolution, the country still struggles with how to deal with the legacy of violent and repressive rule. Following the fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s regime in 2011, Tunisia introduced a far-reaching transitional justice project with strong international support. The project was intended to deal with almost 60 years of authoritarian rule, uncovering, among other issues, human rights violations, socio-economic crimes and marginalization, and providing recommendations on reforms in various areas such as administration, the judiciary, the security sector, the media and the economy.

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Dangerous Ignorance: Why we learn so little about fighting the pandemic from Asian countries

Not wanting to learn from Asian countries’ successes in handling the pandemic can only be understood as an expression of a perpetuated colonial arrogance [Photo: Getty Images]
Note: The German version of this article was first published on Der Tagesspiegel.

The track record of fighting pandemics in liberal democracies of Europe  does not compare very favorably with that of Asian countries. This applies not only to the comparison with authoritarian China and the semi-authoritarian countries Thailand and Singapore, but also to the comparison with the democratic countries of Taiwan and South Korea. Since the infection figures are not easily comparable due to differences in testing intensity, country differences manifest themselves most evidently in the number of people who have died. For example, in South Korea which has a population of 52 million fewer than 1,500 have died till date whilst in Germany which has a population of 83 million more than 60,000 deaths have occurred. The differences between other European and Asian countries (e.g., between Great Britain and Taiwan) are even more pronounced. The aforementioned Asian societies are also impressively successful in overcoming the economic and social consequences of the crisis. Continue reading “Dangerous Ignorance: Why we learn so little about fighting the pandemic from Asian countries”

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China Just Co-created the World’s Biggest Trade Block. Is China’s World Order Already Here?

China is no longer content to “join” the existing global order but is constructing its own multilateral infrastructure [Photo: Getty Images]
Note: This article was first published on The Loop

RCEP is only the latest of many new multilateral institutions created by China. The alternative to American-led liberal international order looks increasingly viable.

Last week’s signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) brings China’s continued embrace of multilateralism into stark relief. While the United States under President Trump has recoiled from multilateral institutions and jettisoned its much-touted Trans-Pacific Partnership, China and fourteen other Asia-Pacific countries have just created the largest preferential trading zone in history, encompassing 30 percent of the world’s population and around a third of global GDP. While the RCEP is a relatively shallow trade agreement and is less “comprehensive” than it sounds, it is a major symbolic victory in China’s attempt to reorient world order. Continue reading “China Just Co-created the World’s Biggest Trade Block. Is China’s World Order Already Here?”

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Interview: Nicholas Harrington on polarizing politics and epistemological value of quantum theory

In this episode of our interview series, Ananya Bordoloi talks to visiting researcher Nicholas Harrington from the University of Sydney, Australia.

Listen in as they discuss Nicholas’ dissertation exploring quantum physicist Niels Bohr’s idea of Complementarity in political philosophy and how it can aid in resolving polarizing politics.

[Photo: Nicholas Harrington]

Find an abridged transcription of the interview below or listen to the full one here:

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The Theory of the Many COVID-Worlds

What we (think we) understand about the life-cycle of the pandemic is entangled with our ‘tools of observation’ and their function, and capacity. [Photo: Getty Images]
In 1957, Hugh Everett suggested the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum theory: each time the wave function collapses another universe is created. Given we have one COVID pandemic, and, yet, a multitude of global responses, are global populations living in respective COVID-worlds?

There’s a theory within quantum mechanics called the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI). The many worlds interpretation is intended to resolve one of the meta-paradoxes of quantum: why do the results of quantum experiments not match our everyday experience of the world? Or, more precisely: why is the conduct of quantum experiments unlike the conduct of ‘regular,’ macro-level experiments? Continue reading “The Theory of the Many COVID-Worlds”

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The Constitution is a Suicide Pact

Trump has exposed the soft underbelly of American democracy [Photo: Getty Images]

Uncodified norms, logic-bombs and a Republican party hellbent on power is driving the country towards the abyss: Barton Gellman argues in The Election that Could Break America.

Lawrence Douglas, professor of law and jurisprudence at Amherst College, recently explained: “The Constitution does not secure the peaceful transition of power but rather, presupposes it.” So begins Gellman’s revelatory piece for the Atlantic Magazine this week. It could not come soon enough. I would like to use this space to highlight some of Gellman’s excellent reporting, and add my voice to the urgent warning of a coming election nightmare.

Gellman argues that the ritual of transition in American politics is little more than courtesy. A set of norms we have come to expect, but not bound by law. He is devastatingly correct. The truth is there are no formal rules binding electors to the popular vote. Nor are there common procedures for the 10,500 local jurisdictions that supervise the election. The system has so far relied on deference and decency.

It is failing.

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INGOs Under Lockdown: (Dis)advantages of Remote Advocacy for Feminists and Conservatives


In early March, everything was ready for the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW64), an annual UN gathering dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. The session’s theme was the review of the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It was supposed to be a special moment for feminists. The Beijing Declaration is their brainchild. It was a result of their unprecedented advocacy, and it served as a blueprint for women’s empowerment ever since.

The main thing feminists feared ahead of the CSW64 was the conservative pushback. In the past decade, a strong conservative block has emerged in the UN. Often referred to as the “Unholy Alliance,” the block includes many post-Soviet, Catholic, and Islamic states, the US, and the Vatican, along with many conservative INGOs. Its members are making UN negotiations on women’s rights increasingly more difficult as they seek, among other things, to eliminate such concepts as “sexual and reproductive health and rights” from UN documents.

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New Viruses, Old Foundations. COVID-19, Global Health, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

A long history: philanthropic foundations & health organizations [Photo: Getty Images/juanmonino]
On May 19 this year, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to permanently cancel U.S. payments to the World Health Organization (WHO). One month earlier, Trump had already announced that the U.S. would not honour its biannual 500 million USD commitment. The next day, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation stated that they would donate an additional 150 million to the WHO, on top of a previous 100 million USD. The Gates’ largesse precedes COVID19. Since 2000, their foundation has granted almost four billion USD to the WHO to support a gigantic program against polio, and additional hundreds of millions for other programs on malaria, HIV, and maternal health, and the escalated use of technology in health. The Gates Foundation is a crucial contributor to the WHO, second only to the U.S.

Despite its pre-existing involvement with the WHO, the Gates Foundation’s statement surprised many. The public wondered how it could be possible for a private actor to replace the contribution of a state to an international organization. In reality, there is nothing to be surprised about. For at least a century, philanthropic foundations have funded international organizations involved in health issues, including fighting pandemics, or even conducted what we call today global health policy. Actually, the continuities are so fundamental that the foundations from the early twentieth and the early twenty-first century seem to choose to globally fund health policies for similar reasons. Because the arguments are similar, and the means they used comparable, the criticisms raised against philanthropic foundations generally and their health policies also remain remarkably stable. The similarities between the past and the present suggest that the criticisms are here to stay. Indeed, certain observers would venture that older and newer philanthropic foundations are built upon the same questionable bases: unequal income distribution and lack of transparency and accountability.

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