Thursday, April 26, 2007

Comparing Local Governance in Armenia, Georgia

Political reporting is often focused on the capitals. However, for the majority of the population politics remains strictly local, with local governance having a huge impact on life. After all, it is the municipalities that provide drinking water, clear waste, and provide minimal infrastructure for economic activity. So how do the three countries differ?

A cross-border evaluation for a GTZ project which we did in the years 2004 and 2005 found the following differences in local government: by and large, Armenia had the most enterprising leaders of municipalities. In Georgia, local governance often was struggling. In Azerbaijan, the executive branch (through the ex-coms) had a disproportionate influence, usually displacing elected leaders, but could also get things done.

One of the shortest explanations for the difference between Armenia and Georgia is structural. Armenia removed the Soviet rayon structure (a mid-level administrative unit, best translated as a district, with typical populations ranging from 20.000 inhabitants upward, and rarely smaller than 500 km²), leaving only oblast/region (referred to as Marz) and municipalities. By contrast, Georgia retained the rayons, and the Gamgebellis (heads of rayon) dominated local life -- so much so that when Shevardnadze was fraudulently returned to office on April 9, 2000, an election watchdog summarized the event as "Gamgebellis elect President".

In effect, the Gamgebellis often suffocate local initiative, and nominally independent, elected heads of municipalities end up taking their orders in the district capital. In Armenia, without this mid-level intervention, the heads of the municipalities just need to get things done. The Marz capital can be far away, and the governor cannot watch 25 heads of municipalities simultaneously.

On the ground, politicians recognize the difference. As an Armenian governor explained with a shrug: Georgia needs the rayon structure, since it is too heterogenous to support larger cohesive units. Some changes are underway in Georgia, but recent research by a political scientist (soon to be published, stay tuned) found that the structural change had not yet had an impact on the way local government works.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Public Opinion in Armenia on America, Darfur, Genocide and Climate Change

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and have released their data from several of their most recent World Public Opinion -- Global Issues surveys. The surveys cover 18 countries and the Palestinian territories and includes Armenia! (Why Armenia was chosen is an interesting issue -- anybody who knows or has thoughts about this, we would welcome your commentary.)

In Armenia, the fieldwork was carried out by the Armenian Center for National and International Studies. In the survey documentation, it states that the Armenian survey was done in 1300 nationally representative households using face-to-face interviews. However, how a nationally representative sample was obtained is not mentioned. Also, the sampling frame is not discussed. This leaves many questions of quality in terms of representativeness.

Nevertheless, the data is quite fascinating and it would be great to be able to compare among the South Caucasus countries. Four surveys were recently released: "Views of the United States," "Genocide and Darfur," "Climate Change and the Global Environment," "Labor and Environmental Standards in Trade Agreements." The former three will be covered briefly in this blog entry.

Views of the United States

Armenia's views of the United States appear to fall in the middle of the surveyed countries. 63% of Armenians responded that they thought that the "U.S. is playing the role of world policemen more than it should be." However, even more Americans (76%) agreed with this statement. Indeed, only in one country -- Philippines -- did more than half of the population disagree with the statement.

Asked, if they trust the U.S. to act responsibly in the world, 27% of Armenians said "not at all" and 31% "not very much." This puts Armenia squarely in the middle of responding countries. Argentina is the most distrustful (69% "not at all" and 15% "not very much" and Israel (56% "a great deal" and 25% "somwhat") the most trustful.

Genocide and Darfur

Questions related to Genocide would seem particularly interesting to ask in Armenia, given the hotly debated use of the term in the Armenian context. So how do Armenians respond? When asked if the UN has the responsibility to intervene against the will of a government where the genocide is taking place, 66% of Armenians thought that the UN had that responsibility--though a large percentage (19%) said they were not sure or declined to answer.

However, the survey indicates that Armenian interest in the politics of genocide may not transfer to other contexts-- or perhaps there is no media coverage. When asked if the UN had the right to intervene in Darfur, 46% of Armenians said they were not sure or declined to answer (similarly high rates occurred in Ukraine, Poland, Thailand and Argentina). Of those who answered, the largest percentage (29%) did think that the UN had the responsibility to authorize intervention.

Climate Change and the Global Environment

According to the survey, Armenians respond similarly to Russians. When given a series of statements ranking the importance of global warming, 19% of Armenian and 22% of Russians chose the statement that took global warming the least seriously, saying that "Until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs." Only India had a higher percentage that chose this response -- 24% -- though the U.S. did not do much better at 17%. The margin of error is different in each country, so maybe the U.S. is worse than Armenia but not nearly as conscious as Thailand, where only 7% chose the response.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Least Healthy City in the World?

So, where is the least healthy city in the world? According to Mercer Human Resource Consulting, "The lowest-ranking city for health and sanitation is Baku in Azerbaijan, which scores just 27.6. Other low-scoring cities include Dhaka in Bangladesh, Antananarivo in Madagascar and Port Au Prince in Haiti, which score 29.6, 30.1 and 34 respectively."
Mercer takes into consideration the following indicators:

  • Hospital Services;
  • Medical Supplies;
  • Infectious Diseases;
  • Water Potability;
  • Troublesome and destructive animals/insects;
  • Waste Removal;
  • Sewage and Air Pollution.
Of course, one must keep in mind that Mercer is not an academic survey. Mercer is a consulting firm that sells reports to businesses looking at adjusting such items as hardship pay and cost of living adjustments to expats (mainly from Europe and North America) posted throughout the world; they charge heavily for their services. In fact, we decided that it was not worth the 370 dollars to compare two cities.

Furthermore, their methodology is not publicly available. While Baku may have health problems, it is hard to imagine that it deserves a score lower than Port-au-Prince or Dhaka (of course no offense to these cities intended).

We'd love to hear your opinion and other data for or against Mercer's results. Please post a comment.

Monday, April 02, 2007

World Values Survey | Visualizing where we are

This is the Inglehart-Welzel map based on the World Values Survey. Up front, note that much of this data comes from the mid-1990s. Still, it's an impressive overview and various positions on this map correlate with other attitudes. Where the Caucasus is, the endorsement of divorce, single child families, respect for authority and post-materialist values are far away. Disaggregated and in response to direct questions, Armenia is least happy, Georgia in between and Azerbaijan happiest.

All these details are well documented on the exemplary website (see above), which also contains more material that may be interesting to explore.

How has the Caucasus changed? We integrated some key questions from the World Values Survey questionnaire into this year's Data Initiative, so stay posted for updates on recent changes. (Moreover, some other surveys have been using similar questions, but we don't yet have the data sets.)