The World’s Largest Islands

Quick! Think of all the big islands in the world.

Is Australia an Island? No, it’s a continent. How do we know this? It’s just a matter of definition.

Conventionally, “continents are understood to be large, continuous, discrete masses of land, ideally separated by expanses of water…” The criterion “large” leads to arbitrary classification: Greenland, with a surface area of 836,330 square miles is considered the world’s largest island, while Australia, at 2,941,300 square miles is deemed a continent… (Source). 

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

So now we know that, by definition, Greenland is the world’s largest island. But even this may not be correct, in that: “If the ice disappeared, Greenland would most probably appear as an archipelago, at least until isostasy lifted the land surface above sea level once again.” (Source). But let’s not quibble over probabilities.

The next two largest islands are neighbors in the area generally bounded by the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific: New Guinea (#2) and Borneo (#3). Between them is the eleventh largest island, Sulawesi.

The orange bubble labeled ‘A’ denotes the Island of Sulawesi, part of the nation of Indonesia. The Island of Borneo is to the left of Sulawesi, and the Island of New Guinea is to its right. The latter two islands are divided politically among two or more separate nations: Brunei , Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua-New Guinea.

The orange bubble labeled ‘A’ denotes the Island of Sulawesi, part of the nation of Indonesia. The Island of Borneo is to the left of Sulawesi, and the Island of New Guinea is to its right. The latter two islands are divided politically among two or more separate nations: Brunei , Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua-New Guinea.

  • There are approximately 180,497 islands in the world. (Source).
  • What minimum size constitutes an island? One square mile. (Source).

Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world, in the Indian Ocean off the eastern coast of southern Africa. It has a total area of 226,660 square miles, with 224,530 square miles of land and 2,100 square miles of water. Madagascar originated as part of the Gondwana supercontinent. Its west coast was formed when Africa broke off from Gondwana around 165 million years ago. Madagascar eventually broke off from India about 66 million years ago.

Wikimedia

Wikimedia

 

Baffin Island is the largest island in Canada and the fifth largest island in the world. Its area is 195,928 square miles and its population is about 11,000 (2007 estimate). Named after English explorer William Baffin, it is likely that the island was known to Pre-Columbian Norse explorers from Greenland and Iceland and may be the location of Helluland, spoken of in the Icelandic sagas (the Grœnlendinga saga and the Saga of Erik the Red). (Source).

Baffin Island, in red (Wikipeida)

Baffin Island, in red (Wikipeida)

Sumatra is an island in western Indonesia, to the west of the Sunda Islands. It is the largest island that is entirely in Indonesia (two larger islands, Borneo and New Guinea, are shared between Indonesia and other countries) and the sixth largest island in the world at 182,812 square miles with a current population of almost 50 million. (Source).

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons


Honshu
 is the largest and most populous island of Japan.  It is the seventh largest island in the world, and the second most populous after JavaIt had a population of 103 million in 2005, mostly in the Kantō plain where 25% of the total population reside in the Greater Tokyo Area. The island’s total area is 88,016.85 square miles, 60% of the total area of Japan. It is slightly larger than Great Britain. Its area has been expanding with land reclamation and coastal uplift in the north, but global sea level rise has diminished these effects.The highest peak is the active volcano Mount Fuji at 12,388 feet, which makes it the world’s 7th highest island.

map_japan_honshu


Victoria Island
 is an island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. It is the eighth largest island in the world, and at 83,897 square miles is Canada’s second largest island. It is slightly larger than the island of Great Britain. It contains the world’s largest island within an island within an island.

706px-Victoria_Island,_Canada.svg


Great Britain
,also known as Britain, is an island in the Atlantic Ocean, off the north-western coast of continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world and the largest island in Europe. With a population of about 62 million people in mid-2010, it is the third most populous island in the world, after Java (Indonesia) and Honshū (Japan). It is surrounded by over 1,000 smaller islands and islets. The island of Ireland lies to its west. The island is part of the sovereign state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, constituting most of its territory: most of England, Scotland and Wales are on the island of Great Britain.


Ellesmere Island
 (InuitUmingmak Nuna, meaning “land of Muskox“)is part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. It comprises an area of 75,767 square miles, making it the world’s tenth largest island and Canada’s third largest island. Vikings from the Greenland colonies reached Ellesmere Island, Skraeling Island and Ruin Island during hunting expeditions and trading with the Inuit groups. Unusual structures on Bache peninsula may be the remains of a late-period Dorset stone longhouse.

Ellesmere Island is at the Northernmost part of Canada Government of Canada: “Natural resources Canada.”

Ellesmere Island is at the Northernmost part of Canada
Government of Canada: “Natural resources Canada.”

  • Devon Island, just south of Ellesmere Island, at 21,331square miles, is the 27th largest island in the world, and the largest uninhabited island in the world. The entire planet’s population could fit on this island, at densities of the most densely populated part of Earth, Lalbagh, Dhaka as of the 2011 census figures there. (Wikipedia).

I’ve mentioned the 11th largest island, Sulawesi, so here are the rest on the list of the top 300, after which the sizes diminish more precipitously. The 300th largest island is Melchor Island, Chile, with 333 square miles.

 

 Rank

Island’s name

Area (sq mi)

Country(s)

12

South Island

56,308

New Zealand

13

Java

53,589

Indonesia

14

North Island

43,082

New Zealand

15

Luzon

42,458

Philippines

16

Newfoundland

42,031

Canada

17

Cuba (main island)

40,369

Cuba

18

Iceland (main island)

39,315

Iceland

19

Mindanao

36,657

Philippines

20

Ireland

32,595

Republic of Ireland; Northern (Great Britain)

21

Hokkaido

30,394

Japan

22

Hispaniola

28,544

 Dominican Republic; Haiti

23

Sakhalin

27,989

Russia

24

Banks Island

27,038

Canada

25

Sri Lanka (main island)

25,200

 Sri Lanka

26

Tasmania (main island)

25,105

Australia

27

Devon Island

21,331

Canada

28

Alexander Island

18,946

None (Antarctic)

29

Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego

18,302

Argentina; Chile

      30

Severny Island

18,177

Russia

You might ask, “where do most of the top 300 islands reside?” Here you are:

49

 Indonesia

45

 Canada

27

 Russia

23

United States
17-Alaska
4-Hawaii
1-Long Island, New York
1-Puerto Rico

17

Antarctica

15

 Philippines

8

 Chile

8

 Greenland

8

 Papua New Guinea

7

 Australia

6

 Solomon Islands

5

 Brazil

5

 Norway

5

 United Kingdom

4

 Japan

4

 Spain

3

 Bahamas

3

 Denmark

3

 Greece

3

 New Zealand

248

Total
  • Finally, these 300 islands comprise 2.5% of the Earth’s land surface.

“Europe” is Old and Fading Away

I put “Europe” between inverted commas because it is more than a physical and political region of the world—it is a concept, a culture, an historical memory.

It also represents a people. Genetic scientists recognize three major groups of humans: Africans, Asians and Europeans. Simply put, Europeans are people found mostly in Europe and, via emigration during the last several hundred years, in the two American continents.

The Europe that is fading away is not the geographically defined region, but the people who carry the designation “European”. For evidence of this assertion, let’s look at the median age of the five regions I use for this study (please clink on this image and all others to see the charts clearly):

Median Age by Region

The median age is the age that divides a population into two numerically equal groups; that is, half the people are younger than this age and half are older.

The chart shows that the regions of Africa and “Asia-I” contain the youngest populations of the world, with the three other regions containing the oldest.

Before we look at other factors and trends to support my assertion in the headline, I should explain the terminology and country groupings (regions) used in this study:

  • “Asia-I” is comprised of all the countries in Asia, except those I have put into “Asia-II”, below.
  • “Asia-II” is comprised of China (including Hong Kong and Taiwan), Japan and the two Koreas.
  • “Americas” are the two continents of North and South America, combined.

(See the note at the end of this article for countries and populations included and excluded from this study).

Back to the discussion.

To begin to see the import in the wide variation in median age among these regions, we need to see the mass of the people within them:

Percent Population by Region
One can say that the regions containing 75% of the world’s population have the youngest people, and the regions containing 25% of the world’s population have the oldest people.

But what are the trends? What is the population growth rate in each of these regions?

Pop Growth Rate by Region

We see here that world population is currently growing at the rate of 1.1 percent per year. One region drives this number: Africa, at 2.33% per year. If all data from Africa were taken out of the calculation (i.e., if the continent theoretically did not exist), the world growth rate would be 0.88%. This calculation puts into even greater perspective that Asia-II and Europe are lagging far behind in population growth rate.

But there is at least a little population growth in Europe (0.11% in 2012), so how can I say that Europeans are disappearing? Let’s look at net migration rates (percentage of people entering a country minus the percentage of people leaving):

net migration rate by region

Without the migrants from other regions entering Europe, its population growth rate would have been -1.13%; that is, Europe’s population would have declined by 1.13%, or by around 8.5 million people.

As the nail in the coffin, let’s look at how Europeans are replacing themselves through the making of babies; that is, to study the Total Fertility Rate by region.

[Total fertility rate (TFR—Definition from The CIA World Factbook):

… TFR is a more direct measure of the level of fertility than the crude birth rate, since it refers to births per woman… A rate of two children per woman is considered the replacement rate for a population, resulting in relative stability in terms of total numbers. Rates above two children indicate populations growing in size and whose median age is declining… Rates below two children indicate populations decreasing in size and growing older. Global fertility rates are in general decline and this trend is most pronounced in industrialized countries, especially Western Europe, where populations are projected to decline dramatically over the next 50 years. (Emphasis added).]

Fertility Rate by Region

Both Europe and Asia-II do not have a sufficient number of newborn, to replace the old people who are dying, in order to maintain the current population (if there were a net migration rate of 0.0%).

Conclusion:

Both Europe and Asia-II regions have populations growing well below the world average.

Both regions have a median age in excess of the world average and well above those of Africa and Asia-I. The people residing in these regions are getting older while the rest of the world remains very much younger.

The population of Europe is remaining stable only because immigrants from other countries make up for the deficit in European fertility.

If trends continue, Europe will be peopled mostly by non-Europeans.

Why haven’t I included Asia-II in the headline? Because the population of Asia-II is 1,574 million people, while the population of Europe is 754 million people, around half as much as Asia-II.

If the trends continue as they are, Asia-II (this includes China!) will begin to fade away as well.

NOTE: There are 267 countries, dependent areas, and other “entities” in the world, as listed in The World Factbook of the CIA which is the source of all information here. I have placed 156 of these entities (almost all are countries) in the five regions described above.

Not included in these five regions are data from 107 countries and other “entities” all of which have populations under one million; nor are the data from Australia and New Zealand included. Also not included are data from two small countries: Kosovo (Europe) and South Sudan (Africa). The latter two countries are too new to have generated sufficient information. Altogether, the data not included here are from entities totaling 38.8 million people, or 0.55% of the world’s population of 7.022 billion people, in 2012.

Also, I have included Russia in Europe, as well as the Southern Caucasus countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Turkey is in Asia-I.

“North Dakota is still the least visited state in the nation”

The quote is from an article in The Writer’s Almanac, published daily on the Internet by americanpublicmedia.org.


My immediate reaction was to visit North Dakota but I quickly, and practically, let that impulse fade. This created a disappointment in me which I decided to assuage by discovering more about North Dakota, and to perform a virtual visit. Here it begins:

  • Formation of the land within the boundaries we now name as North Dakota
  • Native peoples before immigrants appeared
  • Explorers, pioneers, immigrants, and the formation of the state
  • Troubles between the native peoples and the newcomers
  • Current status and items of Interest

As a coda to this virtual tour, I present a famous fictional account of emigrants from Sweden to the Minnesota territory.

[In addition to links under words in the following text, there is a list of linked sources at the end]

Formation of the land

Inland Sea

Until around 70 million years ago, the interior of North America was flooded by an immense ocean that connected the present day Gulf of Mexico with the Arctic Ocean. As North America drifted farther west from its prior attachment to Europe and Africa, it encountered a oceanic plate on its western edge that caused the crust beneath this seaway to buckle up. This was the start of the Rocky Mountains as we know them today.

The Rocky Mountains, stretching from Canada through central New Mexico, began rising 70 Million years ago and continued, rapidly as geologists see things, for a period of 30 million years. They stopped growing 40 million years ago and erosion began to wear them down. Clay, sand, and silt were washed down the mountains by rains, creating The Great Plains and the North Dakota Badlands. At this time the climate of western North Dakota was subtropical and crocodiles were present in the lakes and rivers.

Then the ice came.

The current ice age started around 2.6 million years ago, centering in huge ice sheets over North America and Eurasia. Glaciers, advancing and retreating several times generally from the north, scoured the land, creating river valleys and other north-south features, such as “coteaus”—hilly uplands between the valleys, e.g., the Turtle Mountains in the north and the Missouri Coteau running diagonally across the center of the state from the northwest.

The box approximates the boundaries of North Dakota

The major rivers of North Dakota are The Red River of the North, which forms the boundary with Minnesota to the East, and the Missouri River which roughly encompasses the southwest quadrant of the state.

Rugby, located in the north-central part of the state, is the geographic center of North America.

Native Peoples

In the years between 1100 and 1300 AD, tribes migrated from the east, including the Hidatsa and Mandan. They built extensive villages, developed agriculture and hunted and traded over a large area. By the 1600s, the Cheyenne had become temporary residents of the area, following the great herds of bison. They, along with the Lakota Sioux and Assiniboine, profited immensely by domesticating wild horses of Spanish origin.

At the time of the Europeans’ incursions into the region in the early 1800s, major native groups included the following: the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara along the Missouri River; the Ntonai Sioux in present-day southeastern North Dakota; the Lakota, the most numerous and powerful of the tribes, in the southwest; the Ojibwa in the northeast and the Assiniboine in the northwest. (Source).

“Mandan Men”, Aquatint by Karl Bodmer from the book “Maximilian, Prince of Wied’s Travels in the Interior of North America, during the years 1832–1834″

Explorers, Pioneers, Immigrants, and The Formation of the State

In searching for a hypothetical “River of the West” connecting Hudson Bay to the Pacific, The French Canadian Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye located the Missouri River in Mandan country, probably near the modern New Town, North Dakota about 70 miles east of the Montana border (October 1738).

In 1762, near the close of the French and Indian War, France granted Spain the area known as Louisiana. The major European influence at the turn of the century was Canadian, primarily through the activities of the North West Company. David Thompson of the Company explored north central North Dakota in 1797 and drew maps of his findings.

The region was ceded back to France in 1800. The rapid territorial exchange was completed in 1803, when France sold the area to the fledgling United States in what is known as the Louisiana Purchase. This acquisition provided about two-thirds of the territory that today is North Dakota; the remaining portion was obtain from Britain in the Convention of 1818. (Source).

By the 1840s, two major changes were occurring. First, the number of fur-bearing animals was being exhausted, reducing a major source of income for many of the tribes. Second, surrounding areas were developing rapidly; Iowa achieved statehood in 1846 and Minnesota gained separate territorial status in 1849. Spillover from these areas increased the non-native population of the Dakota regions, which aggravated a number of the Indian tribes that resented incursions onto their homelands.

During the 1850s, land companies enticed settlers. Sioux Falls was founded in 1856 and over the next few years Yankton, Bon Homme and Vermillion followed. The increased population led to the establishment of the Dakota Territory immediately before Abraham Lincoln took office in March 1861.

The new jurisdiction included present-day North and South Dakota, plus portions of Montana and Wyoming. Montana was separated in 1864 and Wyoming in 1868. The non-native population in the Dakotas, however, grew very slowly, due in part to the challenging climate and the remote location. Also inhibiting growth was the widely held perception that the northern Great Plains area was devoid of anything of value. Maps and atlases of the day labeled the region “The Great American Desert.”

Most settlers came to North Dakota for free or inexpensive land and the chance to farm. Between 1879 and 1886 over 100,000 immigrants entered northern Dakota territory. The second massive movement into the state was between 1898 and 1915 when more than 250,000 persons arrived. While some of the earliest settlers came by ox-drawn wagons, stagecoaches, or steamboats, the vast majority came on the railroad. Both the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads advertised Dakota in Europe, promoting people to take the railroad to North Dakota and farm the rich land there.

Most new settlers grew wheat, but did not have large farms. They either bought their land from the railroad or they homesteaded federal land. Homesteading involved living on and improving 160 acres of land for a number of years, after which the settlers got the land for free. They could receive an additional 160 acres of land by planting and maintaining trees on the prairie.

Large-scale farming occurred in eastern North Dakota from about 1875 to 1890, when investors from the eastern United States purchased huge tracts of rich Red River Valley land. Much of it was acquired from the Northern Pacific Railway and operated as large farms growing “No. 1 Hard” wheat. These farms ranged in size from 3,000 to 65,000 acres. The farms earned such tremendous profits that they became known across the United States as bonanza farms.

German-Russian Immigrants

Thousands of Germans emigrated to a newly expanded Russia beginning in the mid-1700s and extending into the 1880s. Disenchantment developed within the numerous German colonies beginning in the 1870s when the Russian government revoked many privileges and subjected the males to conscription, the children to the Russian language in schools, and all colonies to Russian rule. They were also upset by a shortage of new land for sons. Coincidentally free land was available in the United States and heavy German-Russian emigration began in the 1880s.

Approximately 120,000 German-Russian immigrants entered the United States to settle in various parts of the Great Plains before World War I. Most of these were Protestants, but a smaller number of Catholics, mainly from the Black Sea area, also emigrated. These largely settled in North Dakota where large expanses of unimproved land were available for homesteading in the counties immediately to the east of the Missouri River and west of the river on the Missouri Plateau.

The Dickinson, North Dakota area was primarily settled by German-Russian Catholics from Beresina in Bessarabia in the 1890s. Many of those arriving in the early 1900s settled south of Dickinson in the vicinity of Schoenfeld, later called Schefield. German-Russian homesteading continued to World War I when they comprised the largest immigrant population in western North Dakota.

Norwegian-American Settlements

The first Norwegians arrived in the Dakotas as early as 1859, shortly after the treaty with the Yankton Sioux was signed July 10, 1859. It took another ten years before the greater influx of Norwegians took place.

The Norwegian immigrants began arriving in North Dakota in the 1870s. They settled mainly in the eastern and northern parts of the state, but today they’re found everywhere in the state. Because of the lack of farmland in Norway, the Norwegian immigrants sought the wonderful fertile farmland of North Dakota.

Some of the immigrants had spent a few years in other states before they finally arrived in North Dakota. In 1880 the census recorded 8,814 Norwegians in North Dakota, and by 1900 there were 73,744.

The towns of Columbus and Larson is approximately 100% Norwegian, founded by Columbus Larsson in 1906 and 1907. It had 672 inhabitants in 1960, while it’s just 133 in 2010. Although these towns have a strong Norwegian heritage, none of the inhabitants speak Norwegian. Like the trend for the rest of North Dakotans, Norwegians are moving out of the rural areas.

Settlers from Telemark, Norway found their way to most of the major settlements in North Dakota in the late 1870s and early 1880s. In 1880, a band of people from Telemark, settled in the area of what is now Bue (named for the settlers’ Norwegian home in Bø, Telemark) in Nelson County. Their main cash crop was wheat, and they soon found that raising cattle was also quite lucrative. The main markets were in Valley City and Grand Forks.

Troubles Between the Natives and the Newcomers

Chief Sitting Bull was born in what is now North Dakota. During the Civil War he orchestrated raids on settlers who had encroached on the traditional territories of the Sioux Nation. His refusal to return to the reservation in 1876 led to the campaign know as “Custer’s Last Stand” in which General George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry were wiped out at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Relations between the Indians and the occasional explorers and settlers were generally peaceful in the early decades of the 19th century. The fur trade changed native life, bringing guns, metal implements and cloth. Contact with the outsoders also introduced disease. The Mandan and Hidatsa in particular were hit hard by smallpox in 1837.

But as the settlers increased pressure on the lands, problems arose between the natives and newcomers. Indian “problems” dissuaded many settlers from considering the Dakotas as a possible home. In 1862, the Santee Dakota in Minnesota had staged an uprising and then fled into the Dakota Territory. They were pursued by the U.S. Army, which began to construct a series of forts across the territory to provide protection for settlers and travelers. The presence of the army also served to stir up tensions among the resident tribes, the Sioux in particular.

Some stability was brought by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 in which the U.S. pledged to keep settlers out of specified areas. In return, some of the Sioux, but not all, agreed to remain on reservations west of the Missouri River. The coming of the railroads and the discovery of gold, however, would again ignite warfare in the region.

After signing treaties with the United States government from the 1850s to the 1870s, North Dakota Native Americans were placed on several reservations. Many tribal members remain on these reservations still today.

There are five reservations in North Dakota, two of which occupy land in both South and North Dakota.

  • The Spirit Lake Nation (Devils Lake Sioux) is located at Devils Lake, in east central North Dakota.
  • The Fort Berthold Reservation is home to the Three Affiliated Tribes (Arikara, Hidatsa, and Mandan), and lies in the west-central part of the state along the Missouri River.
  • The Standing Rock Reservation (Standing Rock Sioux) straddles both North and South Dakota and is about forty miles south of Bismarck, North Dakota.
  • The Turtle Mountain Reservation (Chippewa and Metis) is the northernmost reservation, just below Canada in north central North Dakota.
  • The Sisseton Reservation (Sioux) is predominantly in South Dakota, with just the northernmost edge in southeastern North Dakota.

Tribal Nations of North Dakota

Ending the Tour: Current Status and Items of Interest

Ethnicities

As of 2000, about 92.4% of the state’s population was classified as white. The American Indian population was 31,329, or about 4.9% of the total. Among Americans of European origin, the leading groups were Germans, who made up 44% of the total population, and Norwegians, who made up 30%. Only about 1.9% of the state’s population (12,114) was foreign born as of 2000, predominantly from neighboring Canada. (Source). Click on the image immediately below to see common family names:

Most common last names from gravestones, in twelve cities and towns containing 42% of ND Population (in descending frequency, top to bottom, left to right)

Bakken Formation

Using a geology-based assessment methodology, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated mean undiscovered volumes of 3.65 billion barrels of oil, 1.85 trillion cubic feet of associated/dissolved natural gas, and 148 million barrels of natural gas liquids in the Bakken Shale Formation of the Williston Basin Province, Montana and North Dakota. (Source).

Bakken Formation

U.S. Public Land Survey Method

Modern land survey is based largely on proposals developed by Thomas Jefferson in 1784.  It is based on a series of rectangular surveys, adjusted for the curvature of the Earth.

Soon after a territory was ceded to the federal government by American Indian representatives, the land needed to be surveyed before it could be sold.   The homesteading and timber rush in the 1800s overwhelmed the government’s General Land Offices (GLO) to the point that offices sometimes had to be closed for days or weeks at a time just to catch up on the paperwork.  Some survey contractors were very meticulous, others were less so, and a few were downright fraudulent.  Overall, the GLO survey was remarkably accurate, especially in light of the technology and wildness of the land at the time. (Source)

County Borders in North Dakota

The Badlands of North Dakota

The badlands are a hilly landscape, but on approaching them, you look down on the hills from above, not up at them. From the rim of the “breaks,” as the descent into the badlands is called, you see a strip of sparsely wooded ridges, bluffs, buttes, and pinnacles. Behind, a rolling plain, broken only by an occasional butte, stretches away to the horizon.

The Sioux Indians, one of the tribes that inhabited the area when European settlers arrived, referred to the badlands as “makosika” (“land bad”). Early French explorers translated this and added to it, referring to “les mauvais terrers a’ traverser” (“bad land to travel across”).

Layers of sedimentary rock are found near Dickinson, where badlands are carved from the Oligocene Brule and Chadron Formations. These beds are notable for their abundant mammal fossils. Other areas of badlands topography include exposures of the Eocene Golden Valley Formation, also near Dickinson, and exposures of the Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation.

Coda

The Emigrants, by Vilhem Moberg

The Emigrants and its sequels,  Unto a Good LandThe Settlers and The Last Letter Home, is the epic story of peasant farmers in Sweden who found they could not make progress and would continue to live on the cusp of total poverty. As with so many others from the Scandinavian countries, they gather family and friends to take the monumental step of making a fresh start by emigrating to the United States of America. The books depict their lives in Sweden, the motives for the huge decision they each made, and their tough sea voyage across the Atlantic, and generally their hardship and struggle. Vilhelm Moberg did considerable research into the subject and the result sheds important light on the exodus from Scandinavia in general and Sweden in particular.

The saga was made into a movie starring  Max von Sydow, and Liv Ullmann.

Sources

Aber, James S., “Regional Glaciation of Northern Great Plains”
Carlson, Alvar W. “German-Russian Houses in Western North Dakota.” Pioneer America 13, no. 2, 1981
City-Data.com: North Dakota
Geology.com: North Dakota Map Collection
Library of Congress
North Dakota Historical Overview: “Native Americans”
Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920: “Settlement”
MHA Nation
National Park Service, Navajo National Monument Geologic History
North Dakota Studies: “Geology, Geography, and Climate”
North Dakota Studies
North Dakota State University: “Geology of North Dakota”
Online Highways LLC: United States History; North Dakota
Native Languages of the Americas
Arikara Indian Fact Sheet
Assiniboine Indian Fact Sheet
Cheyenne Indian Fact Sheet
Cree Indian Fact Sheet
Dakota Indian Fact Sheet
Hidatsa Indian Fact Sheet
Mandan Indian Fact Sheet
Ojibway Indian Fact Sheet
Peakbagger.com, “Rocky Mountains”
Spirit Lake Tribe
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
US Geological Survey (USGS) of the Federal Department of the Interior: “Rocky Mountain System”
US Route 89 Appreciation Society: “Quick Guide to US Route 89 in the Rocky Mountains”
Website of the Sota Iya Ye Yapi: Lake Traverse Reservation
Wikipedia
Last glacial period
Missouri River
Norwegian Dakotan
Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye
Red River of the North
Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation
World Oil, Vol.232 No.1, January 2011: “Drilling Technology”

The Republic of Turkey: Her Role in the World’s Geopolitical Balance

Summary

Turkey emerged as a secular republic, in 1923, from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire which was partitioned into several countries by the allied victors of the First World War. Turkey has since become a important strategic partner with the USA and the European Union. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to US President Jimmy Carter, sees Turkey as a vital part of a newly-defined “West” in creating and maintaining a healthy balance of power between the world’s eastern and western spheres of influence. I use Mr. Brzezinski’s book Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power as one major source for this discussion.

Flag of The Republic of Turkey

In addition, Turkey has embarked on a mission to help resolve the many dangerous and economically debilitating conflicts in the region of the Caucasus—areas adjacent to the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Turkey also is encouraging political amity and economic cooperation among the now-independent republics of the former Soviet Union in Central Asia. To support this discussion I use the comments of Ambassador Fatih Ceylan who presented his paper “Protracted Conflicts in the South Caucasus and Central Asia” at a June 15 lecture at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Stockholm, which I attended.

There are currently many forces in play which may alter these plans and hopes, however, and I will present a few major developments based on recent news articles and opinions.

Background

From Islamic Empire to Secular State

The geographic boundaries of the Republic of Turkey encompass the heart of the former Ottoman Empire which ruled a significant part of Europe and most of the Near East or Middle East (definitions vary) for hundreds of years until the end of World War I in 1918. The Empire’s Asian lands were taken by nations on the winning side—primarily Great Britain and France—governed for a while, then partitioned and allocated, over a number of years, to new political entities: Lebanon, Mesopotamia (Iraq), Palestine, Syria, Transjordan, and lands that became the Republic of Turkey. Other lands were ceded to Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Soon after partition, Turkish nationalists waged a War of Independence against the Allied Powers, during which Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his colleagues formed a Turkish Grand National Assembly. In July 1923, after the end of the Turkish-Armenian, Franco-Turkish, and Greco-Turkish wars, the Treaty of Lausanne was signed and the Republic of Turkey was established in October of the same year.

(Please click on all images  for greater clarity)

Ottoman Empire, 1672 (metmuseum.org)

The first president of the Republic was Atatürk who embarked upon a program of political, economic, and cultural reforms. The new government adapted the institutions of Western states such as France, Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland to the needs and characteristics of the Turkish nation. Atatürk capitalized on his reputation as an efficient military leader, and spent the years until his death in 1938 transforming Turkish society from perceiving itself as a Muslim part of a vast Empire into a modern, democratic, and secular nation-state. (Source).

The Role of the Military

In the new Turkish republic, serving military officers who were elected to parliament were obliged by law to resign from the army. The aim of Kemel Atatürk was twofold: to prevent the military from exercising direct political influence, and to protect the military from the everyday struggles of the political arena. However, he also saw the role of army as the guardian of the secular republic. As a result, the army has felt, until very recently, a responsibility for the protection of the Kemalist principles of the republic. This principle was written into the Turkish Armed Services Internal Service Code, which states that “the duty of the armed forces is to protect and safeguard Turkish territory and the Turkish Republic as stipulated by the Constitution.” Three interventions by the military against the government have been justified on this legal basis, in the years 1960, 1971, and 1980. (Source).

However, the last such intervention in 1997 resulted, later in April 2012, in the arrest and pending trial of nine military officers.  A major importance of this action against the actors in the coup is that it helps Turkey in its ongoing attempts to meet certain requirements in its application to become a member of the European Union (EU).

The Republic of Turkey and Adjacent Countries in The Caucasus and Black Sea Areas (libcom.org)


Turkey’s Pending Membership in the European Union

The prospect of Turkey becoming a member of EU is a critical factor, according to Brzezinsski, in the strategic balance of power between eastern and western spheres of influence.

… (B)road geopolitical trans-European stability… will require US engagement in shaping a more vital and larger West while helping to balance the emerging rivalry in the rising and restless East. This undertaking needs a sustained effort over the next several decades to connect, through institutions like the EU and NATO, both Russia and Turkey with a West that already embraces the EU and the United States.” (P. 131, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power).

Turkey… has been modeled from its start on Europe. In 1921, Atatürk (Mustafa Kemal), the leader of “the young Turks” movement, began to transform the dismembered Ottoman Empire into a modern European-type secular nation-state… In more recent times it… evolved into democratization, a process to a significant degree driven by Turkey’s interest in becoming… a part of the unifying Europe. This aspiration was encouraged by Europeans, and it resulted in Turkey’s official application for membership (in the European Union) in 1987. The EU started formal negotiations in 2005. (P. 128, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power).

EU Member Countries, Candidate Countries, and Potential Candidate Countries (ec.europa.eu)

Membership has been slow in coming, and it is still not certain. In 2011, Chase Cavanaugh wrote an article for the Washington Review of Turkish and Eurasian Affairs discussing the difficulties in EU’s acceptance of Turkey’s application for membership:

… (T)here are several reasons that Turkey is finding it difficult to enter the European Union (including) a series of obligations that new member nations must satisfy, known as the “Copenhagen Criteria”. The first criterion states that candidate countries must have achieved “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities.”  Turkey already has difficulties with several parts of this criterion, beginning with stability.

In Turkish politics, the army has a privileged place in the state power structure, seen as heritors and defenders of the secular “Kemalist” state… Historically, they have launched several coups against the government when they felt that it has been threatened by parties that were either too Islamist, or did not adequately conform to Ataturk’s ideology…

Kemal Atatürk (yaymicro.com)

Though there has been no major coup since 1980, the army has forced an Islamist coalition in 1997 led by Necmettin Erbakan to resign, as they felt he was leading the country toward “increasingly religious rule”… The constant threat of coups by the military is not conducive to a stable democratic regime and hurts Turkey’s image as a stable democracy… (Source)

However, since Mr. Cavanaugh’s article was published, Article 35 of the Turkish Armed Services (TSK) Internal Service Code is slated to be emended by parliament to limit the duty of the TSK “to protect the Turkish motherland from external threats.”

Current Status of Turkey’s Application for Membership in the EU

Despite Turkey’s application for membership in the EU was in 1987, twenty-five years ago as of this writing, there seems no probable date by which this application will succeed. The Journal Insight Turkey reported this, earlier in 2012:

… (N)either the negotiation process, nor the so-called political dialogue between the EU and Turkey on a variety of issues from Syria or Eastern Balkans to NATO-EU cooperation, is proceeding. The primary reason for this state of affairs is the lack of a clear European perspective for Turkey.

Nonetheless,  Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis expresses optimism:

Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs and Chief Negotiator

ISTANBUL, 27 June 2012 (Reuters) – Turkey expects France to unblock talks that are essential if it is ever to join the European Union, now that Socialist President Francois Hollande has replaced Nicolas Sarkozy… “We are entering a new period in relations with France after Hollande’s election”…

Hollande has backed away from Sarkozy’s stark opposition to Turkey entering the EU but any shift in position from Paris will have more symbolic resonance than practical effect. Turkey… has only completed one of the 35 policy “chapters” that every candidate must conclude to join the EU…

While Hollande has stopped short of endorsing Turkey’s EU candidacy, he has said it should be judged on political and economic criteria – a contrast to Sarkozy’s position that Turkey did not form part of Europe…

Despite the slow progress, Turkey still expects to join the EU before 2023…

The stated goal of achieving membership by 2023 indicates Turkey’s continued desire, and patience, for this outcome. To keep up-to-date on the progress and current status of Turkey’s application for membership in the EU, go to these two websites:

Meanwhile…

The Republic of Turkey is not putting its ambitions on hold while awaiting the final outcome of its application for EU membership. I now turn to the remarks of Ambassador Fatih Ceylan who presented his paper “Protracted Conflicts in the South Caucasus and Central Asia” at a June 15 lecture at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Stockholm.

Main Points Addressed in Ambassador Ceylan’s Presentation

  1. The protracted conflicts in the areas of interest to the Organization for Security and Co-Operation (OSCE):
    a. Nagorno-Karabakh (NK)
    b. Abkhazia
    c. South Ossetia
    d. Transnistria
  2. The “normalization” process between Armenia and Turkey
  3. “Normalization” in the South Caucasus
  4. “Innovative approaches designed for the future of the South Caucasus”
  5. The Central Asian Republics (formerly “Socialist Republics” within the USSR), and Turkey’s relations with them

(Please click on the image for clarity)

LEFT: Transnistria CENTER: Abkhazia and South Ossetia RIGHT: Nagorno-Kharabakh


In foreign relations Turkey is guided by the principle established by its founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk: “Peace at home and peace in the world”.

The primary objective of Turkish foreign policy is to create a peaceful, prosperous, stable, and cooperative environment in our close vicinity which is essential for sustainable social, ecenomic, cultural, and political development of our region…

Turkey’s foreign policy places special emphasis on the region of the South Caucasus and the Black Sea basin.

The region is located at the intersection of major energy and transport projects of global importance such as the ‘contract of the century’ and the first great engineering project of the 21st Century, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum Gas Pipeline, and the key component of the “Iron Silk Road”, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway.

Note that the pipelines bend around a gray area on the map which is the unidentified country of Armenia

Ambassador Ceylan noted that the situation in the South Caucasus is “volatile and fragile”. The so-called “frozen conflicts” of the South Caucasus are not, in fact, frozen and can translate into open conflicts on Europe’s outskirts in a short time.  Ceylan pointed to the five-day war between Georgia and Russia, in 2008, as an example.

There are multi-governmental commissions and other official groups attempting to reach resolution of these conflicts:

While these groups and other less visible diplomatic efforts continue to struggle with the protracted and sometimes volatile conflicts mentioned above, Turkey is attempting to create a positive incentive for cooperation in a sphere that is rooted neither in territorial history, politics, religion, or ethnicity—namely, economic opportunities thorugh collaboration. Ambassador Ceylan elucidated:

We have suggested the establishment of a Regional Development Agency serving as an umbrella institution to implement regional projects, including the reconstruction and development of the energy and transport infrastructure and telecommunication networks. We believe that transportation may be a major component of long-term sustainable cooperation in the South Caucasus. The Regional development Agency could give priority (first) to integrated regional transport corridor projects, including railways and highways, covering Turkey, Azerbaijan, and the Russian Federation, (then) countries beyond the region…

From a political perspective, the project we are proposing would present opportunities to ll stakeholders to leave behind their counterproductive rhetoric and urge them to adopt a more result-oriented approach in the negotiation process.

In 1989 Nagorno-Karabakh was an ethnic Armenian autonomy within the Azerbaijan SSR of the Soviet Union. The territory is now internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

The major sticking point in “normalizing” relations in the region, especially between Turkey and Armenia, is the issue of Nagorno-Kharabak. As Ambassador Ceylan stated. “A significant part of the Azerbaijani territory is still occupied by Armenia as a result of a gross violation of international law and in breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions”. He went on to emphasize that Turkey is committed to the normalization process with Armenia and that disputes be resolved through dialog and conciliatory approaches by the parties.

We are determined to promote our relations on the basis of mutual confidence and respect and to create a “belt of prosperity” in the South Caucasus…

The Turkic Connection in Central Asia

Ambassador Ceylan marked the 20th anniversary of the independence, from the USSR, of the republics of Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

After presenting a detailed analysis of the security and other risks confronting these new republics which lie between the two great powers of Russia and China, and are adjacent to the troubled nation of Afghanistan, he stated that “the region definitely does not want to be strangulated in yet another struggle for hegemony.”

The Republics of The Southern Caucasus and Central Asia which were formerly part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)

While recounting some of the difficulties these newly independent republics have had and continue to have in creating stable and more democratic polities, he also pointed out what progress has been made. He counseled patience to interested parties in the West and in the region, and recited Turkey’s resolve to support their progress toward “integration with the Euro-Atlantic structures.”

Turkey played a leading role in contributing to the adoption of free market rules by the Central Asian countries. A network of Turkish businessmen is actively engaged with the Central Asian Republics. There are more then two thousand registered Turkish companies and several thousand joint ventures with local partners in the region. Turkey is also a prominent trade partner of these countries…

There are two Turkish universities in Central Asia and many private and state schools run by the Turks throughout the region…

During the last twenty years we have also have accomplished to deepen solidarity and mutual support with the Turkic speaking countries on international and regional issues. With this understanding, in 2010 we established with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States.

By virtue of the commonality of language, ethnicity, and culture in the states of the region, Turkey is a key player, along with Russia and China, in maintaining stability in the region.

Source. turkishgrammar.net

Other Issues

This ends my summary and comment of the two presentations mentioned at the head of this article. Now to mention briefly and illustrate other issues not developed by either speaker, which are relevant to the security of the region surrounding Turkey:

  • Ferment in Islamic states in the region
  • The issue of “Kurdistan”

Ferment in Islamic states in the region

Here is a map of countries in the region where a significant proportion of the population are of the Islamic Faith, with the percent of the Shia denomination shown (please click on the image):

Percent Shia Muslims in Countries of North Africa and Western Asia

Although people of the Shia and Sunni denominations live together harmoniously in most areas, there are regions where their differences arise to armed conflict. There are other sources of conflict, as well, such as has arisen in Syria, at the southern border of Turkey. And, there is uncertainty regarding Iran’s growing belligerence in the region, another country bordering Turkey.

The issue of “Kurdistan”

There has never been a formal nation of Kurdistan, but there are many references to such an entity by virtue of so many Kurdish people having resided for centuries in contiguous regions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Kurdish holds official status in Iraq as a national language alongside Arabic, and is recognized in Iran as a regional language.

Contemporary use of Kurdistan refers to parts of eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, northwestern Iran and northern Syria inhabited mainly by Kurds. Iraqi Kurdistan first gained autonomous status in 1970 agreement with the Iraqi government and its status was re-confirmed as an autonomous entity within the federal Iraqi republic in 2005. There is also a province by the name Kurdistan in Iran, although it does not enjoy self-rule. Kurds fighting in the Syrian Civil War were able to take control of large sections of Northeast Syria as forces loyal to al-Assad withdrew to fight elsewhere. Having established their own government some Kurds called for autonomy in a democratic Syria, others hoped to establish an independent Kurdistan. Some Kurdish nationalist organizations seek to create an independent nation state of Kurdistan, consisting of some or all of the areas with Kurdish majority, while others campaign for greater Kurdish autonomy within the existing national boundaries. (Source).

An Imagined “Kurdistan”

Turkey says (it) won’t allow PKK to benefit from authority vacuum in Syria: Turkey’s top security council has threatened the presence of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Syria, vowing that Turkey will not allow the terrorist organization to benefit from the authority vacuum in the war-torn country (News Article Source, 29 August 2012).

Conclusion

The Republic of Turkey is in a position, by virtue of her history, economic strength, political stability and geographic location, to play a key geopolitical role in its region and beyond. The hopes of Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the dreams of The Republic of Turkey, as expressed by Ambassador Fatih Ceylan, may well play out as they envision, but there are known and unknown impediments to these, some revealing themselves and playing out at this moment.

Extremes of Wealth and Poverty

I often return to the trove of statistical data on the world’s 242 sovereign states and dependent territories, as detailed online in The World Factbook of the CIA.

Here are some conclusions and speculations derived from the data in the chart displayed below, on the ten largest nations, by population, and the 27 aggregated countries of the European Union (EU).

(Please click on all images for clarity in the details)

Demographics of ten most populous countries 2012

These thirty-seven states comprise 65% of the world’s population, leaving 35% populating the remaining 205 states and territories. These 205 entities, except for an additional ten rich states which are included in the 205 (see below), are very poor. Their aggregate GDP per person (even including the few rich countries) is at 82% of the world’s average of US$11,800.

The world’s people see the USA, to a great degree, and the EU, to a lesser degree, as the places to which to migrate. Russia’s net migration rate of 0.29 per thousand can easily be attributed to the return of ethnic Russians from the former republics of the USSR and Eastern Europe.

Asian countries (China, India, and Bangladesh) are expanding their economies far in excess of the world average of 3.6%. Nigeria, in Africa, is in this same neighborhood. These four are the less developed nations in this study, as measured by the GDP per person—their numbers are far below the average for the world.  That the most developed nations (and groups of nations—that is, the EU) have high GDP per person, but below average growth rate, may be due in part to the high numerical base of productivity from which the rate of growth is calculated. The figures for Brazil and Pakistan run counter to this speculation, however.

China and India together hold 36% of the world’s population. China, at the number one spot in population, is ten times as populous as Japan, which is in the number ten position (1.8% of the world).

Russia seems to have particular problems in the male population and in a proper balance between the number of men and women. Male life expectancy at birth for the world is 65.6 years. A newborn Russian baby boy can expect to live only 60.1 years (on the average). The world’s average difference in life expectancy between females and males is 4.1 years, females living longer on average. In Russia, the difference is 13.1 years, with life expectancy at birth for females being 73.2 years. Also, Russia’s fertility rate is below the world average and below the rate at which the population can renew and maintain itself (see the next paragraph for further details). Russia’s population is, therefore, declining.

(Please click on all images for clarity in the details)

World net birth rate, 2007
Source: World Factbook of the CIA

The accepted figure for a country’s fertility rate which will, without regard to net migration, keep a country at a constant population is 2.1 births per woman. The world average is 2.5 births per woman. On the assumption that it is good for a country to have a fertility rate between 2.1 and 2.5 (irrespective of net migration figures), these countries are the outliers: Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India have a fertility rate greater than 2.5; China, Japan, Russia and the EU have a fertility rate lower than 2.1.

The USA has a fertility rate of 2.1, and a high net migration rate, auguring well for a moderately growing population.

As indicators of the quality of life, especially medical care and health, are the figures for infant mortality (within 30 days of birth) and female life expectancy (at each woman’s birth), the latter including the likelihood of dying as a result of giving birth. The world’s average infant death rate is 3.96%. Four countries exceed this rate, most by a relatively large amount: Bangladesh at 5.91%; India at 4.61%, Nigeria at 7.44%, Pakistan at 6.13%.  Except for Bangladesh, these countries show lower than the world average in female life expectancy.

In looking again at the very high GDP growth rate in India (7.8%) and Nigeria (6.9%), and linking this observation with the poor condition of women and newborn children in these two countries, I get a mental picture of government economic policies not giving proper consideration to the people who should be among the beneficiaries of this economic growth.

The infant mortality rate in the EU is lowest at 0.45%, with the USA second at 0.60%. As a citizen, first, of the USA and now also of Sweden (a member nation of the European Union), I am glad these two countries have developed such that women and infants (and men as well, to be sure) have a better chance of surviving to a much older age than will citizens in most other areas of the world.

And finally, 195 of the 205 other entities are getting poorer, both relatively and absolutely. In order to get a more realistic look at the really poor countries, I made another chart to identify and remove from “the 205”, ten rich countries (not among the most populated or in the EU as in the first chart) where GDP per person is very large.

(Please click on all images for clarity in the details)

Image

So, two-thirds of the world’s population has an average GDP/person of US$18,513  and one-third of the world’s population has an average GDP/person of US$ 1,775.

Just ponder this for a while. One-third of the people in the world live where their country produces goods and services at less than 10%  of the per capita rate (on average) that is produced in the rest of the world. And, the aggregate rate of real growth in GDP of their countries is a negative 1.5% (on average), so their circumstances are getting worse.

The way one interprets figures such as I show here is a function of one’s biases. Perhaps I have focused too much on the negative, or have overlooked some success story. I welcome any other interpretations and criticism.

One final note and a preview: China is the biggest player in the statistics shown here, despite its poor showing in GDP per person. My next article will focus onChina, its growth in economic power and its growing role in world politics.

”What Went Wrong with Africa?”

 

This is the title of a 2004 book by Roel van der Veen who presented his findings and theories at The Swedish Institute of International Affairs on June 7, 2012.

Co-presenting on the headlined topic, “What Africa?” was Erika Bjerström, international correspondent for the Swedish public service television company, SVT.  Her research resulted in the TV documentary Det Nya Afrika (The New Africa).

The two speakers come from two different viewpoints, and it seems that UI set them up as adversaries. To put it simply, Mr van der Veen sees the African cup half-empty and Ms Bjerström sees the cup half full. I found Ms Bjerström’s presentation the more heartfelt and hopeful, but I found Mr van der Veen’s assertions the more persuasive—I will explain.

In 2009 I wrote about the The Dismal Record of African Leadership based on analysis and findings of The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. The foundation’s prize was first awarded in 2007 (Mozambique) and then again in 2008 (Botswana). No prize was awarded in the years 2009 and 2010. The prize for 2011 was awarded to Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires, the President of Cape Verde during the years 2001-2011. Cape Verde is a small island nation of slightly more than a half million people. The phrase “what went wrong?” regarding the other, much larger nations of Africa, seems applicable here.

Roel van der Veen, Erika Bjerström, Moderator Victoria Veres at UI, 7 June 2012

Roel van der Veen

Mr. van der Veen spoke first and at length, providing history and analysis of not only Sub-Saharan African countries, but also East Asian countries—through the years ending in 2008. He used the measure of gross domestic product (GDP) per person per year as the basic comparative measure, both historically within selected African countries and comparatively with respect to selected East Asian countries.

Van der Veen asserted that “no continent of earth is as poor as Africa”. He asked, rhetorically, whether we could attribute this primarily to external or internal factors. He cited several external factors including:

  • artificial national boundaries
  • environmental factors
  • the effects of colonization by European countries

He stated flatly that these, and the other external factors which he cited, were not the cause of Africa’s poor condition. For proof he offered comparisons between the countries of Indonesia vs. Nigeria, and Malaysia vs. Kenya. Both sets of countries have artificial boundaries, similar environments, were subject to centuries of colonial rule, and were similar in several other factors.

Yet The GDP/person in the two Asian countries has grown in recent years ‘way beyond their African counterparts which van der Veen used in this comparison: Indonesia since 1981 and Malaysia since 1959.

Mr. van der Veen’s theory (his term) is that no nation-state has developed without the support of its state rulers and apparatus, and that Africa (i.e., the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa) has a method of state governance which prevents development.

So, what’s a state? Mr van der Veen illustrated the generic state thus:

Structure of the Generic State

Van der Veen’s thesis is that, however they gained their position, the rulers in any country depend on a complaisant general populace (“common people” in my diagram) and a satisfied elite to retain power.

When current African countries gained their independence from European colonial powers the existing elites were purged or they left the country. A new elite replaced them which are different from the elites of developing countries. These are local chiefs and other leaders from the local level, not all of whom had similar interests, other than to retain local power. This makes the state a fragile entity because these elites do not have the concept of a state foremost in their interests.

In Sub-Saharan countries the following dynamic occurs: to satisfy the elites the government subsidizes their basic needs, especially food. The state government, as a monopsony,  buys the agricultural produce from the farmers at below world-market prices and sells it to the elites at a profit, but still at below world market prices. “Who cares about the farmers?” is the attitude of the government and the elites, according to van der Veen.

Over time, the farmers are discouraged and some number of them migrates in one of two directions: toward the city, or toward more remote areas to return to subsistence farming. Thus, the agricultural base of the nation-state is reduced and, concomitantly, its wealth. This creates a dangerous dynamic in the relationship between the state and the elites, among other pathologies which are easily imaginable—and evident in the weekly or monthly news one might read from a distance about Africa.

What was different in the Asian states which van der Veen compared with African states? “Massive state investment in agriculture”. He asserted that before there can be industrial development in a state there needs to be agricultural reform and development. This is what happened in Indonesia and Malaysia.

But, what will motivate the state’s rulers to change the status quo, when the default position of any group in power is to maintain it, according to van der Veen? When the change is seen to be in the interests of the rulers, as well as the common people.

The experience of Asian countries was decades of civil unrest and, therefore, uncertainty about the rulers retaining power. The rulers decided to adopt a change in economic policy which, since then, has worked for all three groups of people. The key is to view national politics as secondary to, and dependent upon, national economic policy. This is the opposite of what is found inAfrica.

One of the few remaining trees in the Valley of the Baobabs, Malawi
(postcardjunky.wordpress.com/)

In Africa, currently, the politics of retaining power is of foremost interest, with national economic policy non-existent, or poorly conceived and executed.

There has been a turning point for Africa, however, starting around 2002. Powerful external forces are indeed affecting various African states, including:

  • Globalization, especially Chinese and Brazilian investments
  • High market prices for African mineral resources
  • Fewer wars
  • Technology, especially the use of mobile phones: “people can do more now, despite the state”

Nonetheless, the accumulated and continuing effects of national political and economic policies have caused a general “de-industrialization” of Africa.

Erika Bjerström

Ms Bjerström sees an emerging renaissance. She noted that The Economist magazine in 2002 called Africa a “lost continent”, but in 2012 apologized for having said this, and changed their opinion. (Go to the link under The Economist for their African news pages).

She noted that Mr van der Veen’s data run only through 2008, and that she had travelled seven countries to see and report directly what was happening in: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Tanzania. She saw positive trends in these countries, including that Rwanda has a national health service, to which she compared the United States unfavorably. She then showed the TV documentary she created from her six-month trip.

Rwandan school children will have their own laptop from the age of seven
(Documentary: “Det Nya Afrika”)

Documentary

In that the language used in the TV film was Swedish, I have to rely here on the summary given in the headline page for the documentary (translated by Bing® with editing my me):

In the shadow of news media spotlight, an economic miracle is happening in Africa. Today, seven of the world’s ten fastest growing economies are in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa is so much more than hunger, wars and disasters.

SVT correspondent Erika Bjerström and photographer Emil Larsson have travelled over half a year to view a new Africa, full of confidence. They have met with businessmen, politicians and civil servants who exude a new self-confidence and pride in what they are about to do. This documentary is about a miracle that is happening with great speed, while much of the world is still blinded by the old image of Africa.

What I gleaned from the film is that the cities shown looked modern and busy, and that automated factories were producing modern products. The working people lived in non-modern housing, but appeared happy to be working. These seemed to be mostly women. I saw many idle, able-bodied men in this film, however. It appeared that food and building materials were being provided by foreign investors or donors.

I analysed the seven countries presented in the documentary film (using the current data provided by the World Factbook of the CIA). I also compared both Nigeria and Kenya with the two Asian countries mentioned as similar to these by Mr van der Veen. I added Sweden as an example of a developed country. (Please click on the image of the chart)

*Real Economic (GDP) Growth Rate defined

Analysis

Only one country, Ghana, of the seven countries Ms Bjerström visited, ranks within the top ten world countries in current, annual economic growth. The others range from rank 19 to 86. The GDP per person in these seven countries ranges from US$ 900 to US$ 3,100, with a median of US$ 1,500. The average for the world’s countries is US$ 11,800.

The comparisons of Kenya with Malaysia and Nigeria with Indonesia bear out Mr van der Veen’s assertions.

Interchange between the speakers and the audience

The two speakers acknowledged that each of these seven countries has started from a very low base of economic activity, so the figures for percent growth will naturally tend higher than for developed countries. Both also noted there is a big gap between the living conditions of the elite and the common people.

Ms Bjelström cited Africa as being a “victim of climate change” as a factor preventing greater economic growth.

Ms Bjelström referred to the findings of Freedom House for noting there are only five regional conflicts currently, compared to more in the past. I couldn’t find the source for this assertion, but here is a status summary for Sub-Saharan Africa issued by Freedom House:

Despite being home to several of the world’s worst performing countries in terms of respect for human rights, the region saw overall if uneven progress toward democratization during the 1990s and the early 2000s. However, recent years have seen backsliding among both the top performers, such as South Africa, and the more repressive countries, such as The Gambia and Ethiopia. Lack of adherence to the rule of law, infringements on the freedoms of expression and association, widespread corruption, and discrimination against women and the LGBT community remain serious problems in many countries. Across the continent, Freedom House works to strengthen elections and civic mobilization, good governance, defense of human rights, rule of law, and independent media. (Click on the link to Freedom House to access remarks for individual countries).

The “silent revolution” mentioned in the documentary includes government tax revenues going toward social programs. Mr van der Veen asserted that the tax revenue would be better spent on physical infrastructure.

China is investing heavily in selected countries of Africa, mostly in minerals and high-tech industries. Brazil’s investments are offering  “know-how” and “soft-tech.” These and other foreign countries are investing in land and bringing foreign workers to Africa.

Conclusion

Despite areas of improvement and optimism presented by Ms Bjelström, nothing substantive seems to have changed in the economic policies of the African countries discussed. Most of the resources for improvement seem to be coming from foreign countries, not from the basis for a developing country’s wealth—its agricultural base.