Category Archives: Foreign Policy

Farewell to a Democratic Opening in Myanmar

This trip report, written February 2020, reflects the challenges and the aspirations for a democratic Myanmar. There was no forewarning of the military takeover that would come within months of our visit. I remain committed to supporting the courageous civil society leaders with whom I met.

Myanmar January 15-26, 2020

Background

My wife Cynthia and I took an Abercrombie and Kent tour of Myanmar which started in Yangon then on to Bagan, a 2 day trip up the Irrawaddy to Mandalay and finally 2 glorious days on Inle Lake. There, we visited villages and met with local artisans working on silver, weaving, cigar making. Earlier we visited a lacquerware workshop. In Yangon, we visited the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar. In Bagan, we took a balloon ride to see the 2,500 Buddhist pagodas and temples the first of which was built by King Anawrahta in 1044. A special treat was seeing a novitiation ceremony, “a coming of age ritual celebrating an aspiring young monk’s first entry to the monastery.” The trip up the Irrawaddy exposed us to rural villages and the lifeline the river plays in transporting timber and minerals, two keys to the Myanmar economy. Mandalay was the last royal capital of the Burma Kingdom and the cultural center of the country. We visited the ancient Teak Monastery, Shwenandaw, which survived World War II bombings. Our two days on Inle Lake were beautiful and peaceful. We saw real life close up. The floating farms and villages on stilts are amazing. 

On either side of the tour, I arranged visits with civil society groups including Free Expression Myanmar, Equality Myanmar, Athan, Smile, the Institute for Strategy and Policy, and the local HRW representative. Of special interest was our conversation with Thant Myint-U, grandson of former UN Secretary General U-Thant. Thant’s recent book The Hidden History of Burma, is a widely read analysis of the way forward for Myanmar given its complicated history. He has led the restoration of his grandfather’s house into a museum and is a leader in preserving historical buildings in downtown Yangon.  

Myanmar is a country of 51.4 million people, twice the size of Germany but smaller than Texas. It has over 100 ethnic groups, the largest of which are Shan, Karin, Kachin, Kayah, Chin, Mon, and Rakhine. Burmese are 68% of the population. The country is divided in 7 states and 7 regions. Yangon is the largest city with 5 million; Mandalay has 700,000. The capital is a new city Naypyitaw, which feels deserted. 90% of the population are Buddhists, 5% Christian, 4% Islamic. The economy is fueled by timber, tin, copper, jade, ruby, rice and other agricultural products. Most foreign trade is with China (38%), Thailand (25%), India (8%), and Japan (6%). 

The British were in control 1824-1948 followed by a challenging period of independence (1948-62) and then military rule (1962-2011).  

Observations

Myanmar is more open than I had expected. Civil society leaders spoke their minds freely. Their organizations are monitoring elections and free expression, have reform agendas on the economy, ethnic relations, social services. Although there is sharp inequality across the country, Myanmar is more modern than I expected: a new airport, construction of new high-rise apartments in Yangon, car dealerships for Volvo, Mercedes, Toyota, technology stores across Yangon. The streets in the places we visited were well paved, electricity widespread, modern hotels and tourist amenities available. 

I felt safe in Myanmar. People of all walks of life are warm and friendly. I think of our boat ride through villages in Inle Lake and the young children sitting in the windows of the stilted houses smiling and waving as we passed by. I am not naive about the poverty, inequality, and still controlled society. But the people impressed me with their resilience, hard work, and openness. I have an instinct of affection for Myanmar that I have not felt so strongly in most places around the world I have visited for the first time. 

With that said, the intellectuals and activists with whom we spoke are to a person disappointed with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi. They recognize she faces a daunting challenge of leading a new era when the military is still all-powerful. A constitutional provision prevents someone married to a foreigner from holding the Presidency thus she has de facto leadership though this special position. 

Yet people who supported her in her period of house arrest report she is not accessible to them. And she did not continue staffing key agencies with experts brought in by the last military leader, Thein Sein. Instead, she has turned to old guard bureaucrats who do not challenge her. She is criticized for being narcissistic, even dictatorial, in her interactions with people around her. According to people with whom we spoke, she has not articulated a positive vision for the country and has not reached out to ethnic minorities. The peace process with the key groups in the North has stalled. Nor has she taken a progressive stand on the Rohingya issue. That was clear in her defense of the military in the ICJ at the Hague. As one person told us, “she is not building a cohesive nation. She needs to connect to non-privileged groups like the Shan, Muslims, and other ethnic groups”. 

With that said, most everyone expects her party, NLD, to win the 2020 election. And most of her critics will vote for her. Some observers predict the NLD will lose seats in Parliament as the ethnic parties gain traction. Some think it possible the NLD will not have a majority and will need a coalition. Still most with whom we spoke think her continued leadership is the best alternative and real change will happen only after she retires, perhaps 5 years hence. No one could name a list of possible successors except to express the hope it would be a member of the younger generation.  

Among the people with whom we spoke, there is a mature understanding that it takes time to build a healthy and sustainable democracy. Intellectuals and activists are thinking in at least a 10 year horizon focusing on incremental improvements. Not surprising, the younger generation is more optimistic about the future than their elders who suffer from unfilled rising expectations. The growth of civil society organizations is an encouraging sign. 

Athan (voice in Burmese) was founded in January 2018 to promote free expression through research, advocacy and education. It issues periodic reports on the status of Freedom of Expression. It advocates a revision of the Telecommunications Law which criminalizes defamation which is the key tool the government uses to punish journalists it believes too critical. It has issued reports on how Parliament violated freedom of expression, compiled an inventory of 2019 protests (constitutional reform and labor rights are the top 2 issues), and monitors hate speech on Facebook which is the widely used social media platform in Myanmar. Athan has 17 staff (all under 30) and support from the National Endowment for Democracy and the Netherlands. It is central to a network of 30 civil society organization working on freedom of expression throughout Myanmar. 

Equality Myanmar involves 65 people (not all full time) and works on human rights training throughout Myanmar and helps build a network of local community based organizations. Among the issues it is focused on are forced relocations, domestic violence, forced labor and child soldiers. It aims to mitigate conflict among ethnic communities. It also advocates policy positions, for example, pushing Myanmar to sign the International Covenant on Human Rights. It will participate in monitoring of the 2020 elections. It has support from NED, Norway, Netherlands, and Open Society. 

Another group, SMILE, promotes freedom of religion and ethnic minorities; it monitors hate speech, including rating 2020 campaigns on hate speech. It has support from USAID and the Polish government and a fund of $500,000 a year for 28 staff. 

Free Expression Myanmar (FEM) has a staff of 10-15, a budget of $110,000 which comes from Sweden, UK, US governments. FEM prioritizes gender. It monitors the fate of journalists posting on Facebook with 50% of journalists saying some content has been taken down. Facebook is a key source of information for people living outside of Yangon and Mandalay where there are few print papers and radio is controlled by the government. 

I was particularly interested in learning about a CSO, Yone Kyi Yai (Belief), which aims to train people to be active citizens in a democracy. It works to bring local community leaders together with local government officials to talk about issues like the conditions of roads and access to safe water. At first, it is a shouting match but eventually both sides learn to talk in a civil fashion. This promising institution needs to expand. 

The Institute for Strategy and Policy has 20 researchers and a budget of $400,000 a year provided by NED, USAID, and Sweden. It has a quarterly journal and a quarterly TV show with 13 million viewers and a project “Myanmar 2050: What is the Vision”. Topics for its journal include: the development of civil society, social justice, electoral system reform, the growing influence of China and the future of federalism, all key issues. 

I have introduced the Institute and several other CSO’s to the New School’s Democracy 2.0 project. During the 1980’s the New School had a network of underground seminars in East and Central Europe, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and other locations. When the revolutions of 1989/90 opened a path to democracy for the region, our members were hopeful about the future. Now there is backsliding in most of the countries which raises the question of what went wrong? A new project, Democracy 2.0, will be a network of scholars in these countries plus Turkey and India. I think Myanmar would benefit from participation in the project, which seeks to understand the complex and uneven process of building a healthy and sustainable democracy. The naive notion that an election equals democracy needs to be replaced by a more nuanced understanding of how to build the cultural and political prerequisites of a democracy over time.  

Thant Myint-U’s The Hidden History of Burma ends with an epilogue that calls on Aung San Suu Kyi to articulate a comprehensive vision for the future of Myanmar during the 2020 election campaign. Among the key points is the need to find a middle ground between crony capitalism and the neo-liberal faith in free markets. He makes a powerful case that the future of a sustainable democracy in Myanmar depends on reducing inequality. And reinvigorating the peace process with ethnic minorities. In conversation, Thant mentioned other key issues like the direction of relations with China, the need to repair relations with the West, give Muslims greater access to education and public health, repatriate refugees, and resolve the Rohingya issue. 

I asked all with whom we spoke about their advice to the United States in helping Myanmar to a better future. People recalled with great affection Barack Obama’s visit to Myanmar in 2012 and the support that came from the US government. Most people feel the current US administration is at best indifferent, perhaps hostile to Myanmar. People believe that general sanctions over the years have been counterproductive. One thoughtful scholar urged US help to strengthen the education system, expand student exchange programs, support the development of civil society, increase private investment, and limit sanctions. Several advocated targeted sanctions targeting perhaps 100 individuals by freezing their assets and boycotting companies they control like Myanmar beer. Also, they urge requiring US companies active in Myanmar to adhere to high standards in labor rights and protecting the environment. 

The ruling by the International Court of Justice came out while we were in Myanmar. It requires Myanmar “to take all measures within its power” to prevent any further acts of violence against the Rohingya. Myanmar is required to submit regular reports to the Court within four months and thereafter every 6 months. Myanmar’s own Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) found that crimes against humanity were committed in Rakhine “but did not find” genocidal intent. 

Aung San Suu Kyi responded to the ICJ ruling in a letter to the Financial Times basically saying Myanmar’s own investigation had found evidence of “killing of civilians, disproportionate use of force, looting of property and destruction of abandoned houses of Muslims.” The right course now, she argues, is to give the Myanmar justice system time to bring those responsible to account. “An informed assessment of Myanmar’s ability to address the issue of violations in Rakhine can only be made if adequate time is given for democratic justice to run its course. Justice can help us overcome distrust, fear, prejudice and hate, and end the longstanding cycle of intercommunal violence. This has always been my goal.”

There was little discussion of the ICJ’s ruling among the people we talked to and her statement seemed to have strong support in the country.

Our 10 days in Myanmar were certainly eventful. Chinese President, Xi Jinping also made his first visit to Myanmar while we were in country to inaugurate 2020 the year of Tourism and Culture between China and Myanmar. It is also expected that China will increase its infrastructure investment in Myanmar as part of its belt and road initiative. China is Myanmar’s largest trading partner with exports to China worth $5.5. billion and imports worth $6.2 billion. The withdrawal of Western support and interest has forced Myanmar to be more dependent on China which is not the surest path to the kind of democracy we hope for. I believe this is a critical moment in Myanmar’s history with the possibility, but not certainty, of a positive evolution towards a more democratic future. There is an appetite among many civil society leaders and intellectuals, especially younger people, for interaction with the West. So I will be advocating that universities, foundations, businesses, civil society groups become more active in Myanmar. I say this with a sense of modesty and realism. The US and other Western nations are not the answer, but rather play a supporting role as the drama of Myanmar’s future unfolds. I think of the young man whose novitation we witnessed. At age nine or so he has a long future ahead and I hope it will be in a more democratic, peaceful, and prosperous Myanmar. I care about Myanmar and its people and I want to help them realize their enormous potential.

Remarks for the King Baudouin Foundation

On May 13, 2013 Jonathan Fanton delivered a set of opening remarks to the King Baudouin Foundation, which supports initiatives across the globe aimed at improving living conditions and quality of life for different populations. Here, Dr. Fanton discusses successful strategic planning and fundraising strategies of universities.

Jonathan F. Fanton
King Baudouin Foundation
May 13, 2013

Let me begin by thanking Jean Paul Warmoes for the opportunity to talk with you about the role of strategic planning in fund raising success. I am especially pleased to see colleagues from Nigeria where MacArthur has invested $60 million in strengthening higher education. I have visited Bayero, Ibadan and Port Harcourt many times, indeed am an honorary alumnus of Bayero and Ibadan.

I have seen the planning – fund raising nexus from both sides. In the 1970s I ran Yale’s large capital campaign in a turn around year. I was Vice President for Planning at the University of Chicago. And President of the New School for Social Research for 17 years when fund raising was a matter of survival.

I say both sides because I spent 30 years raising money for universities and 10 years granting money to universities. Let me give you a little background on the MacArthur Foundation. It works in the US and 60 countries around the world granting on average about $200 million a year, much of it to universities. Its focus in the US is urban renewal, affordable housing, juvenile justice reform and how technology is impacting the education of young people. It has offices in Nigeria, Russia, Mexico and India. Outside the US it works in population and reproductive health, conservation, human rights and international justice, peace and security, and migration and mobility. In Russia and Nigeria it seeks to strengthen higher education and research.

MacArthur’s Nigeria work was part of a Partnership for Higher Education in Africa with the Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Mellon, Hewlett and Kresge foundations that together invested $440 million in nine countries over 10 years – South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique, Madagascar, Kenya, Egypt and Ghana.

MacArthur’s strategy was to work with four universities as models to show that wise investments could bring measureable improvement. Bayero University, Kano, Amadu Bello University, the University of Ibadan and Port Harcourt University were our choices. When the Vice Chancellors gathered in Chicago to inaugurate the program, I said this:

“Our interest in higher education proceeds from a simple faith that an independent scholarly community supported by strong universities goes hand in hand with a healthy, stable democracy. In fact, I do not think there is an example of a democratic society without strong and independent universities. And we know only too well the reverse is also true: anti-democratic regimes cannot tolerate academic freedom.

Of course we care about universities not just for their contribution to building a healthy democratic process. Universities are the source of good policy advice essential to rebuilding the economy, of scientific and technological discoveries in health and other fields, of trained personnel to staff the legal system, businesses, municipal governments, environmental agencies, and all the rest. …

We know there is a lot to do to bring your universities to its full potential — to make them the best they can be. But that is our goal  — to help you achieve selective excellence, not incremental coping through a steady stream of compromises and rationalizations. … I am a firm believer that ambitious goals can be easier to achieve than modest ones.”

By ambitious goals I meant a long term vision for the university. That is the critical starting point for a strategic plan which in turn is essential to a successful fund raising effort. Donors, be they local or international, private foundations, corporations, government agencies or individual favor a university with a clear vision, a comprehensive strategic plan backed up with specific timetables for implementation and a budget indicating where donated funds will be invested.

MacArthur asked each university for their strategic vision. Common to all was strengthening information technology. But there were particular needs for each, rebuilding the Sciences at ABU, starting a gas and petroleum engineering program at Port Harcourt, establishing a faculty of Agriculture at Bayero, developing a distance learning capability at Ibadan.

And we encouraged all universities to both increase and diversify their sources of support. As I said at the ABU convocation in 2004, “… governments should (not) be the sole source of funds. After all, a government strong enough to give a university everything it has, is also powerful enough to deprive the university of everything it is. Dependence is the enemy of intellectual freedom … that is why public universities in most countries try to maintain a degree of autonomy by diversifying their sources of funding.”

You will hear later in this program from Robert Kissane, president of a premier consulting firm, CCS, which, with MacArthur support, worked with alumni and leadership of four universities to create a fund raising plan, prepare a case statement, organize alumni, build a prospect list of foundations, corporations and wealthy individuals. You will also hear from Wale Adeosun, President of the Nigeria Higher Election Foundation, which MacArthur created to receive tax efficient donations in the US.

Looking back on MacArthur’s work in Nigeria, I wish we had invested more in the strategic planning process, perhaps made a consultant expert in strategic planning available as a partner to the fund raising consultant. I was reading a piece about strategic planning the other day authored by Anthony Knerr, one such consultant.

Dr. Knerr is Managing Director of AKA|Strategy, a strategy consulting firm that has assisted a wide variety of leading universities and colleges and other nonprofit institutions in the US, Europe and beyond.

He is very clear about the planning-fundraising connection when he wrote:
“Successful fundraising depends upon clear strategy. Those organizations that have gone through the difficult work of thinking through their mission, aspirations and objectives have the best shot at raising significant philanthropic resources. Those institutions that have not done so lack a compelling rationale to discuss with prospective donors, may raise money for the wrong purposes and are likely to underachieve their financial targets, possibly significantly so.”

He cites several “critical ingredients” for a successful strategic plan.

First, the planning process matters and must reflect the culture of an institution and its moment in history. In a complex university that process might start by having each Faculty or School prepare a plan to be reviewed and integrated by a university-wide Planning Committee. The Committees at both the Faculty and University level should be representative and must have a strong chair approved by the deans and President. And the process should engage the entire university community, Board, faculty, administrative leaders, students and alumni.

Second, I have already mentioned the importance of thinking big, setting forth a compelling overall vision and clear statement of mission. That mission should connect to the economic, political and social progress of the nation. In some situations, it may be useful for the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor to set forth a mission statement as an hypothesis to be tested by the Planning Committee.

Third, the planning process must focus on the key issues and opportunities and not get diverted by trying to address every question large and small. Plans that are driven by positive possibilities will be more inspiring that those that are
dominated by problems. What are the university’s comparative advantages? What makes it different? are key questions.

Fourth, the planning process should be evidence based, the product of rigorous analysis, that draws on data. Get the thinking straight and leave to a second stage the communications plan, the lofty sales rhetoric.

Fifth, I think it is useful to have a clearly set schedule for developing the plan, dates for the individual school and faculty plans and for a draft of the university-wide integrated plan. There should be room for open debate within the committees and time to seek additional information. And while opinions will differ on this point, when possible I favor a series of public discussions about the draft and time to make adjustments based on what is learned.

Sixth, Anthony Knerr recommends, and I agree, that the document coming out of the process, in his words “should be concise, crisp and big picture …. (including) the organization’s mission and vision; delineate four to five key strategic objectives with underlying goals for each objective, lay out means of measuring progress … and provide an implementation plan, and often, a financial plan in an appendix.”

Seventh and last, we all know of plans that are well done but sit on the shelf, unimplemented. Sometimes that reflects an out of touch process where the substance of the recommendation doesn’t fit the reality. Sometimes it means the process was not politically sensitive, even divisive. More often it is due to the absence of an implementation plan driven by the university leadership team – President, Vice Chancellors and Deans.

To make the plan real for members of the university community, and potential donors, I recommend a Quick Start Fund : a set of visible improvements for what money can be raised quickly. These improvements should bring benefits to the university community that will be felt and appreciated, lift morale, create a buzz that the university is on the move.

Leadership needs to identify a list of such giving opportunities before the strategic plan is complete and have some money lined up in advance. Indeed building the development staff and large prospect list and cultivation of the prospects should be underway even before the planning process is complete.

The overall plan will most likely cover a 5 year period. The quick start fund should be the first 12-18 months and build confidence that the overall plan is doable.

Let me conclude where I began. Every institution is different. Each of your country contexts is distinctive. There are no magic formulas that fit all circumstances. I have tried to offer some suggestions to get you thinking. Some may make sense to you, some may not.

With all that said, I am convinced that most international donors, foundations, corporations, development agencies, will look favorably on institutions that have a clear mission statement and a robust strategic plan. This is not a field of dreams, “Build it and they will come.” The strategic plan is a starting point, the raw material that trustees, alumni, development staff need to launch and execute a successful fund raising campaign.

Let me end with a passage from my ABU Convocation – in which I quoted Nelson Mandela who said:
“In the history of nations, generations have made their mark through their
acumen in appreciating critical turning points and, with determination and
creativity, seizing the moment. A new and better life will be achieved only
if we shed the temptation to proceed casually along the road — only if we
take the opportunities that beckon.”

Amidst the many perils of this moment, opportunities also beckon. I urge
you, therefore, not to proceed casually along the road but rather to seize
those opportunities: to build on the remarkable progress you have already
made; to remember that a university embarked on an upward path must
keep climbing to avoid the temptations and traps that might cause you
to stumble; and to go forward as a true community with each member
dedicated to the success of all, and all committed to the success of each.

That might be said of the spirit in this room. Let us hope that history will record that this conference was a turning point through which private fundraising across the continent of Africa took a major step forward. Our collective goal is a change in culture, within universities where all faculties step forward to help raise funds, in national culture where tax laws should incent private giving which is honored by society, and among international donors who have strengthened confidence that investment in African universities will be well used and bring results – for stronger universities which contribute to economic and social development and advance our quest for just, humane, democratic societies at peace.

A Brief Talk with Luis Moreno Ocampo

On March 19, 2013 Luis Moreno Ocampo came to the Roosevelt House to discuss his former role as Commissioner of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and previous experiences with human rights issues abroad. Dr. Fanton introduced Mr. Ocampo (below) and sat down for a brief talk with the former Commissioner after his remarks.

Good Evening. I am Jonathan Fanton. Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. It is my pleasure to welcome the former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, back to Roosevelt House for a reflection on his nine years as the court’s first prosecutor.

Roosevelt House has developed an outstanding undergraduate program on human rights and international justice, now enrolling 70 students who are doing internships with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the ACLU, the Museum of Tolerance, and the Legal Aid Society. We also have a vigorous program for the public to discuss human rights issues with people like Kofi Annan, High Commissioner for H.R. Navi Pillay, US Special Ambassador for War Crimes, Stephen Rapp, former prosecutors in the Yugoslav tribunals Richard Goldstone and Louise Arbour and current Rwandan Tribunal Prosecutor Hassan Jallow to name a few of our distinguished guests.

The International Criminal Court is the first permanent court to deal with genocide and mass atrocities. It builds on experience from the Nuremberg Trials and the international criminal tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Luis Moreno Ocampo bore the responsibility of translating the vision of the Treaty of Rome which brought the Court to life into reality. On his watch the number of countries which are members of the Court grew from 89 to 121. During his time as Prosecutor 30 indictments were issued covering situations in Northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Darfur, Kenya,  Libya and Côte d’Ivoire. And the Court won its first conviction in March 2012 against Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and has trials proceeding against Germain Katanga of the DRC, Jean-Pierre Bemba of the Central African Republic and President Laurent Gbagbo of  Côte d’Ivoire. The Court also has opened investigations in in Mali,  and preliminary  examinations in a number  of countries including  Afghanistan, Georgia, Nigeria, and Colombia.

The existence of the Court has raised the quality of justice in member states which have improved their judicial systems to conform to the ICC standards. The Prosecutor will talk with us about the “shadow of the Court,” its role in deterring bad behavior by political and military leaders fearful of being prosecuted.

At his swearing in ceremony in 2003, the Prosecutor said, “We must learn: there is no safe haven for life and freedom if we fail to protect the rights of any person in any country of the world.” Well, 10 years later we can say that the quality of justice and protection for human rights has improved because of the successful work of Luis Moreno Ocampo. There will only be one Founding Prosecutor and we are fortunate that his adherence to the highest judicial standards, careful choice of cases, political skill in building support for the Court and eloquent advocacy for international justice has produced a Court that is indeed permanent.

Luis Moreno Ocampo was well prepared for his historic challenge.

Born in Argentina and a graduate of the University of Buenos Aires Law School, Luis Moreno Ocampo rose to prominence during the early 1980s as the assistant prosecutor in the Trial of the Argentine Junta.. He was responsible for prosecuting nine senior government figures – including three former heads of state – for the  human rights atrocities while they ruled the country under a military dictatorship. He also took on the Buenos Aires Police Force for perpetrating gross human rights abuses, and later prosecuted other members of the military elite who attempted to overthrow the government during the late 1980s and early 90s.

In 1992, he established a successful private practice that specialized in corruption control, criminal law, and human rights law. In addition to his practice, he became a Professor of Criminal Law at the Buenos Aires Law School and has also been a visiting professor at the Stanford and Harvard law schools.

He is now in private practice in New York, focusing on defending whistleblowers and prosecuting fraud.

But he remains vitally interested in international justice and human rights education for young people.

The Prosecutor will share his reflections, then he and I will have a conversation and then we will open to the audience.

Tunisia: Inspiring Possibilities for Academic Freedom and Strong Universities

On February 21 and 22, 2013, Jonathan Fanton spoke at the University of Manouba in Tunisia on the subject of higher education in the country. Along with other distinguished guests, Dr. Fanton outlined how universities promote academic freedom and serve as the bedrock for democratic development. To see the conference program for “The University and the Nation: An International Dialogue on Safeguarding Higher Education in Tunisia and Beyond,”  click here: SAR TUNISIA POSTER AND PROGRAM

Tunisia: Inspiring Possibilities for Academic Freedom

and Strong Universities

Jonathan F. Fanton

I had the honor of addressing the conference at the University of Chicago in June 2000 which gave birth to Scholars at Risk. I opened with these words:

“I have a sense of being present at the creation of something very important for the building and sustenance of healthy democratic societies throughout the world. Do you know of a free and democratic society that does not respect academic freedom? Put another way, do you know of an authoritarian regime that dares to allow widespread artistic and intellectual freedom? Academic freedom and democracy go together as indispensable partners.”

We are present at the creation of a new and democratic Tunisia whose economic and political future depends on strong and independent universities and respect for academic freedom. I come here to listen and learn from your experience at this inflection point for Tunisia and to hear your ideas about how we can help.  But first I have been asked to share my own experience, and so I want to talk with you for a few minutes about the importance of universities to open and prosperous societies. Then we will open the floor to a dialogue about how we can work together to strengthen support for universities.

But first a personal comment.

As I look back on my career, protection of academic freedom and the independence of universities has been the central theme. While President of the New School in the 1980s, I helped organize underground seminars for dissident scholars in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslavakia. In 1933 the New School founded a University in Exile in New York to rescue scholars from Nazi persecution. As President of the MacArthur Foundation, I helped strengthen universities in key countries like Russia and Nigeria where MacArthur had offices. MacArthur is one of the largest global foundations working in 60 countries on human rights, peace and security, conservation and women’s health. I started Human Rights Watch’s International Committee on Academic Freedom which introduced me to Tunisia. In 1997 we protested the harassment of mathematician Moncef Ben Salem who was under house arrest for accusing the government of human rights abuses and hostility to Islam. After being forbidden to teach and living under constant surveillance for nearly twenty years, Ben Salem, as many of you know, was appointed the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research in 2011.  Likewise Human Rights Watch and Scholars at Risk both advocated on behalf of Moncef Marzouki, then a Professor of Community Medicine from the University of Sousse, who similarly suffered harassment and prosecution by the Ben Ali regime.  As we know, Professor Marzouki has since become President of the Republic.

The fact that these two men today are involved in shaping Tunisia’s future, although from different parties, perspectives and positions, highlights an important point: protection and security for higher education communities and their members benefits everyone, regardless of ideology or politics.

Organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Scholars at Risk monitor the state of academic freedom around the globe, expose systemic abuses, and protect individual scholars in danger. This important work must continue. The needs are great. Witness over two dozen academics waiting to be helped by Scholars at Risk, from Syria to Sri Lanka, from Iran to Rwanda, from El Salvador to Zimbabwe and beyond. Perhaps universities here in Tunisia might agree to host some of these colleagues for 1 or 2 year visits on your campuses.  Perhaps some of your universities will join our Network.

In all, scholars from over 100 countries have sought help from Scholars at Risk. That tells me that this is not a problem limited to any one place or culture or political system.  This is a problem about the tension between ideas, and the change that comes from ideas, and those who resist or fear change, and try therefore to limit or restrict ideas.

But let us not be consumed with defensive measures after academic freedom has been breached. I believe history will judge that we live in a time of transition and opportunity as the pace of transition to democracy has accelerated the world over. Together, we can capture that opportunity.  And as we do, Tunisia will ever be a symbol of the dawn of a new era for academic freedom.

The eyes of the world are on Tunisia to set the example for the region. That is why we are here in Tunisia, and at Manouba. We know the hopes of the Arab Spring have turned to disappointment, even despair, for some. But if Tunisia can craft a model Constitution, and put its principles into practice, then it is possible that dreams deferred in other countries can be rescued by following Tunisia’s lead. And that model must include protection, security, autonomy and freedom for universities and scholars.

Fortunately, Tunisia has a rich experience of wrestling with the challenges of democratic transition, going back well before 2011.  Indeed, in the words of political scientist Alfred Stepan at Columbia University, Tunisia has “a usable past.”

Let us remember the Tunisia Constitution of 1861 was the first written Constitution adopted in the Arab world.

And “The Call from Tunis” in 2003, brought together a wide range of political and social actors, who articulated two basic principles: first that an elected government should “be founded on the sovereignty of the people as the sole source of legitimacy,” and second that, while showing “respect for the peoples’ identity and its Arab-Muslim values”,  the State should provide “the guarantee of liberty of beliefs to all…”[1]

The high ideals of the Call were carried forward in a document produced in 2005 by the four major parties together with many smaller parties. The “18 October Coalition for Rights and Freedoms in Tunisia” declared that the future ideal was for a democratic state that was “a civic state … drawing its legitimacy from the will of the people.”

The challenge now is to once again take leadership in the region in crafting a constitution with strong protection for academic freedom and independent universities.

There are new constitutions being written and old ones rewritten in many countries, an historic opportunity to embed humankind’s highest aspirations for freedom in law and normative values.  Tunisians have an opportunity to seize this moment.  And the current draft Constitution does a good job, so far.

For example, Article 30 states that “Academic freedoms and freedom of scientific research shall be guaranteed,” and goes on, “The state shall furnish all means necessary for the advancement of academic work and scientific research.”

Coupled with protections for basic human rights, including the right to education (Article 29), freedom of opinion and expression (Article 36), of access to information (Article 28), of assembly (Article 25) and of movement (Article 18), Article 30 provides a good model of broad protections in simple, clear language without limits and exception.  Tunisian scholars and higher education leaders need to be sure this language is approved in the final document.

And even after adoption, vigilance will be required to ensure that this simple language is given its fullest, broadest meaning, and not diminished by interpretation or limitations elsewhere in the text or later statutes. By doing so, you will again lead the way, being (we believe) the first Arab state to protect academic freedom with explicit language in its constitution.

We at Scholars at Risk, representing more than 300 higher education institutions in over 34 countries, stand ready to help you by sharing our comparative experience.  Even in countries like the United States with a long tradition of free universities, we still need to be vigilant in protecting them from intrusion and assuring the financial support they need to make good use of their independence.

So let us think together about how to make the affirmative case for the powerful link among economic development, democracy, independent universities and academic freedom.

Here is what I believe:   Democracy is not an event, but a process that takes years, even decades. It requires patience, as progress is measured little by little, day by day. For Tunisia, as well as for Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, that may mean improving  the constitution, strengthening the independence of the judiciary, consolidating a stable multi-party system, encouraging the right kinds of foreign investment, building a better transportation, energy and IT infrastructure, or reinforcing civilian control over the military.

There are many such building blocks but none more central to the process of strengthening democracy than education. This seems to me undeniable. For individuals, education is the ladder of opportunity; for communities, it is the base of common values that holds diverse people together; for nations, it is the engine of economic growth; and for all who believe in freedom, education provides the moral foundation for democracy guided by respect for individual dignity and the rule of law.

Let us be clear. First-rate universities are not a luxury; they are a necessity. It is essential to spend what it takes to establish and maintain them, because great nations grow from great universities, and Tunisia belongs among the great nations of the world.

But why is higher education so central to development and democracy?

University graduates tend to earn more money and are usually employed

under better working conditions, therefore enjoying better health and living

longer. More able to reason and communicate, their interests are broader

and their ambitions greater.

Studies demonstrate that graduates increase productivity in the overall

work force, providing higher skills and greater flexibility. Their children are

likely to perform better in school and are more likely to attend universities

themselves, and thereby multiply the benefits of a higher education down

the years.

Societies also benefit from the research that universities undertake that

brings technological advances to industry, communications, and agriculture.

All of this suggests how higher education is good for development. Just as important is the role a university can play in building and sustaining a democratic society.

There is, after all, nothing inherent or inevitable about democracy. Democratic habits must be learned, which means they must be taught. To understand how important this is, consider that bigotry, intolerance, and violence may also be learned and taught. No one is born hating anyone else. That is something we learn when the educational process is perverted and people are taught not how to think but what to think — not to seek knowledge but to accept whatever they are told.

The challenge every free society faces is to provide the kind of education that liberates, rather than imprisons, the mind.

The best universities cultivate in their students a capacity for critical thinking, a comfort with complexity, a commitment to civility — qualities essential to the democratic process and a bulwark against closed ideologies of all kinds.

Universities are, by their very nature, cosmopolitan connections to the larger world of ideas and diverse cultures, while at the same time they conserve and interpret what is distinctive about national and local history and tradition. At their best, they bridge between the local and the international, the traditional and the modern, the religious and the secular.

The finest universities also attract talented students from around the world, from every region of a country, from every ethnic and religious group, providing a venue where differences can be understood and respected, where national identity can be forged through shared ideals — not at the expense of the other.

A great university is characterized by democratic values of fairness, transparency, and wide consultation. It sets the standard to which all other institutions, public and private, should be held; it carries within itself the conscience of a society, keeping alive the vision of what the nation at its best can be.

So all who care about the future of Tunisia and its universities face a twin challenge. The first is to secure protection for academic freedom for universities and their members. This is best done in the constitution in simple, clear language without limits and exceptions. The second is to strengthen public understanding of the importance of strong independent universities in building a robust democracy and a vibrant economy.

We need to do our homework, spotlight examples from Tunisia and around the world of how universities have contributed to their societies. Then we need to make the case rooted in solid evidence of the positive role that high quality universities play the world over. And we need to show the indispensable link between academic freedom and the benefits universities confer on the nation.

Constitutional protections are the essential point of departure. But the future of higher education depends on informed public support backed up with the resources public and private, local and international, necessary to unleash and harness the tremendous talent of the Tunisian people and the people throughout this wonderful region.

All of us who care also have responsibilities, not because of the countries we come from, but because we are members of a shared community of universities, of knowledge.  And so we come here to Tunisia to listen and learn from your experience with these issues.  We came to ask what you need from us, to pledge our solidarity with you, and explore what we can do together to protect academic freedom, to protect autonomous universities and to protect individual scholars, not just in Tunisia, or Egypt, or Libya or North Africa, but all around the world.


[1] Alfred Stepan Tunisia Transition and the Twin Tolerations in Journal of Democracy, April 2012

Fatou Bensouda Reception

 On September 21, 2012 Jonathan Fanton introduced Fatou Bensouda, the new Prosecutor of the ICC at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. 

Fatou Bensouda Reception

September 21, 2012

Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to the historic home of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt. This reception is in honor of Fatou Bensouda, the new Prosecutor of the ICC who has been meeting here with the Coalition for the ICC. We are pleased to co-host this reception with the Coalition and in a moment its convenor, Bill Pace, will introduce the Prosecutor for brief remarks.

We have many distinguished guests here this evening but let me call out just a few:

  • Louise Arbour, the  (handwriting) former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, now President and CEO of the International Crisis Group
  • Aryeh Neier, the founding Director of Human Rights Watch and long-time President of the Soros Foundation, who has done so much to strengthen the emerging system of International Justice
  • Christian Wenaweser, the Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein to the United Nations and
  • Bruno Stagno Ugarte, also a former president of the Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court, as well as the previous Minister of Foreign Relations of Costa Rica and the Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations.

It is appropriate that the Coalition for the ICC meets in the historic homes of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt and Franklin’s mother, Sara. The committee that developed the Commission on Human Rights met at Hunter College in 1946. And its chair was Eleanor Roosevelt who led the process of drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She served as the first US representative for the new Commission. As Eleanor said in December 1948, “We stand today at the threshold of a great event in the life of the UN and in the life of mankind… the approval by the General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights … this declaration may well become the international Magna Carta….”

This is the place that Eleanor and Franklin lived from 1908 until they went to the White House. It was here that Eleanor deepened her social conscience, learned about people in poverty, came to understand that discrimination was real and pervasive and fired her passion for defending the human rights of people everywhere.

When Sara died in 1941 Franklin and Eleanor made a donation so Hunter could purchase the house. The houses were an interfaith student center until they closed in 1992 in disrepair. Under the leadership of President Jennifer Raab they were restored and opened in 2010 as the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. The Institute offers two undergraduate programs, one in public policy and the other in human rights and international justice. I am pleased that some of our students and faculty are here tonight. Because of the Roosevelts, we feel a deep connection to the UN and other international organizations and are pleased to offer a rich variety of public programs, for example, Ban Ki-moon, Kofi Annan, Louis Moreno OCampo, Lousie Arbour to mention just a few of our speakers in the last two years.

We are especially happy to work with Bill Pace who has been and extraordinary leader of the Coalition for the ICC. The Coalition has done so much to rally support in countries around the world to speed the ratification of the Rome Treaty, now ratified by 121 countries and signed by 139 nations.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Bill Pace.

Book Talk: A Discussion of William Dobson’s The Dictator’s Learning Curve

On July 24, 2012, Jonathan Fanton sat down with William Dobson for a conversation about his recent book entitled, “The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy.”

The Dictator’s Learning Curve

July 24, 2012

Good Evening, I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute located in the historic homes of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt and Franklin’s mother, Sara. The Institute offers undergraduate programs in domestic public policy and international human rights, supports faculty research and sponsors programs for the public.

Tonight we welcome William Dobson for a discussion of his important new book The Dictator’s Learning Curve. He helps us understand how both authoritarian regimes and their opposition are using new technologies in the struggle to advance democracy.

Mr. Dobson notes in his introduction: “…Today’s dictators … are far more sophisticated, savvy, and nimble than they once were. Faced with growing pressures, the smartest among them neither hardened their regimes into police states nor closed themselves off from the world; instead, they learned and adapted. For dozens of authoritarian regimes, the challenge posed by democracy’s advance led to experimentation, creativity, and cunning. Modern authoritarians have successfully honed new techniques, methods, and formulas for preserving power, refashioning dictatorship for the modern age.”

But, as we will hear, this book is about much more that the Dictator’s Learning Curve. Mr. Dobson gives equal time to the learning curve of the opposition and the global conversation among dissidents about how to mount non-violent revolutions. And he helps us understand the importance of local opposition in eroding a regime’s legitimacy, puts in perspective the role of international actors like the US and the UN, and offers practical insights about the patient path to democratic change.

William J. Dobson is a distinguished journalist, scholar, and foreign policy commentator. He was a Truman Scholar, an award recognizing exceptional college students interested in public service, and holds both a law degree and a Masters in East Asian studies from Harvard University. In 2006, Mr. Dobson was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and from 2008 to 2009 he was a Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He has published articles and op-eds in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Boston Globe, among others. Most recently, he produced a series of online articles for the Washington Post that used the first recorded accounts of the Egyptian military’s human rights abuses of female prisoners to highlight the brutalities of modern authoritarianism. Prior to his current post as the Politics and Foreign Affairs editor for Slate, Mr. Dobson served as the Managing Editor for Foreign Policy magazine, Newsweek International’s Senior Editor for Asia and the Associate Editor for Foreign Affairs. He can be heard on major news outlets including ABC, CNN, CBS, MSNBC, and NPR.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome William J. Dobson.

Frank Costigliola, “Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances”

Frank Costigliola Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War Introduction
May 31, 2012

On May 31, 2012, Frank Costigliola came to Roosevelt House for a discussion about his new book entitled Roosevelt’s Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War. The landmark study examines how Franklin Roosevelt cultivated a sound Cold War diplomacy through his strong interpersonal skills and intuitive insights into the backgrounds, experiences, and emotions of Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill. This event was part of Roosevelt House’s “Road to November: Exploring America’s Challenges on the Way to Election 2012” series. 

Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to our discussion tonight on Frank Costigliola’s Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War.

We gather in the homes of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt and Franklin’s mother, Sara. Sara built these twin townhouses and gave one to Franklin and Eleanor as a wedding gift in 1908. It was here that Franklin recovered from polio in 1921, perhaps in this place developing the personality traits central to narrative we will be discussing tonight.

The New Deal was shaped in these houses, Cabinet secretaries like Frances Perkins recruited here, commitments made to programs like Social Security. Think of members of FDR’s inner circle and emotional support walking these halls – Louis Howe living in the front bedroom on the 3rd floor.

The houses came to Hunter in 1942 after Sara Roosevelt’s death, made possible by an initial gift from Franklin and Eleanor that enabled Hunter to purchase them from the estate. The houses were an interfaith and student center from then until 1992 when they closed in disrepair.

Thanks to the vision and determination of Hunter President Jennifer Raab, the Roosevelt Houses were renovated two years ago and now host Hunter’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. The Institute offers two undergraduate programs, one in Public Policy and the other in Human Rights and International Justice. And it offers a robust public program of lectures, conferences and discussions of important domestic and international issues.

Tonight, we address an important topic: the origins of the Cold War and how events might have taken a different turn had Franklin Roosevelt lived. And we will reflect on the craft of history. Frank Costigliola reminds us “the Cold War was not inevitable,” a lesson we should apply more generally to the past, present and future. People, personalities and relationships matter, can change the course of history. As Professor Costigliola concludes in his introduction, “Examining the nexus between public and private helps us see the messy way that history really happens.”

Behind me is a picture of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin at Yalta.  Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances paints a sensitive portrait of Roosevelt and Stalin’s relationship. Concluding Roosevelt “wielded a razor-sharp emotional intelligence. Masterful in reading personality and in negotiating subtle transactions of pride and respect he could charm almost anyone. He deployed these skills with surprising success in establishing a bond with Stalin.” So much so that Stalin reportedly said as Yalta concluded “Let’s hope nothing happens to Roosevelt . We shall never do business again with anyone like him.”

I think Eleanor and Franklin would be pleased that we are having this conversation tonight in their home. They believed that leadership and personal relationships could shape and change the course of history.

I want to extend a special welcome to Professor Costigliola. He attended Hamilton College and received his PhD from Cornell University. He is a distinguished scholar who has written widely on the Cold War and foreign policy. His books Awkward Dominion: American Political, Economic, and Cultural Relations with Europe, 1919-1933 (1984) and France and the United States: The Cold Alliance Since World War II (1992) examine the geopolitical, cultural, psychological, and intellectual underpinnings of American diplomacy with Europe in the twentieth century. Since 1998, Professor Costigliola has taught at the University of Connecticut and, in 2009, he served as President of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. Currently, he is editing George Kennan’s diary entries, which cover an 80 year time period.

It is also my pleasure to introduce tonight’s moderator, Professor Jonathan Rosenberg. He is a true renaissance man. After earning a degree from Juilliard and performing professionally as a classical trumpeter, he received his PhD in History from Harvard. He now teaches twentieth century United States history at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center. His research focuses on both the domestic and international ramifications of America’s engagement with the world. Professor Rosenberg has edited and published several important books on the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War, including Kennedy, Johnson, and the Quest for Justice: The Civil Rights Tapes, which was based on secret Oval Office recordings made by JFK and LBJ.  And, more recently, How Far the Promised Land: World Affairs and the Civil Rights Movement from the First World War to Vietnam. Currently, he is writing a book that investigates how classical musicians, composers, and performing organizations in the United States understood and responded to international developments from the First World War to the Cold War, no doubt a fitting research topic for a talented musician.

Jonathan…

John Lewis Gaddis, “Kennan: An American Life”

On February 23, 2012 Roosevelt House hosted a discussion between Professor Jonathan Rosenberg and John Lewis Gaddis about Gaddis’ new book entitled Kennan: An American Life, a comprehensive biography of the famous creator of the Cold War “containment” theory. Jonathan Fanton introduced both speakers below.

John Lewis Gaddis Kennan: An American Life Introduction
February 23, 2012

Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to our discussion tonight on John Lewis Gaddis’ George Kennan: An American Life. Mr. Gaddis is a distinguished scholar who has written extensively on the Cold War and post-war American national security.  Our moderator will make a full introduction in a moment but I want to extend a special welcome to Professor Gaddis whom I have known through our common commitment to Yale where he is the Robert A. Lovett Professor of History. As it happens, I wrote my dissertation at Yale on Robert Lovett who was Assistant Secretary of War for Air in the Roosevelt Administration and Under-Secretary of State and later Secretary of Defense for Harry Truman. Professor Gaddis and I share admiration for Robert Lovett, an underappreciated but important figure in American National Security Policy.

So it is a special pleasure to welcome the Robert Lovett Professor of History to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s home.

I am also pleased that George Kennan’s daughter, Grace Kennan Warnecke, is with us tonight.

Thanks to the vision and determination of Hunter President Jennifer Raab, the Roosevelt Houses were renovated two years ago and now host Hunter’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. The Institute offers undergraduate programs in domestic policy and international human rights and fosters collaboration among faculties and departments from across Hunter for interdisciplinary research. It also offers a series of lectures and conferences designed to bring policymakers, experts, and scholars together to talk about critical historical and contemporary issues. On March 14, Roosevelt House will sponsor a conference on the domestic side of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. Robert Caro will give the keynote address.

It is fitting to discuss the life and work of Mr. Kennan in this space. At a time of unprecedented international conflict, he spent the formative years of his career in the Roosevelt Administration. After Franklin established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1934, Kennan served as Third Secretary the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, as head of the Russian desk at the State Department, and as deputy chief to the U.S. mission in Moscow in 1944. During this time, Kennan met several times with the President to discuss how best to recreate an ordered and sustainable peace after World War II. Though the two sometimes differed, the diplomat could not help but admire how Roosevelt conducted foreign policy: Every great statesmen, Kennan acknowledged, “has to be the judge of compromises he must make in the form of a certain amount of showmanship and prestidigitation in order to retain the privilege of conducting foreign policy at all. No one understood this better than FDR.”

It is also my pleasure to introduce tonight’s panelist, Dr. Jonathan Rosenberg. Professor Rosenberg received his PhD from Harvard and teaches both graduate and undergraduate classes in twentieth century United State history at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center. His research focuses on both the domestic and international ramifications of America’s engagement with the world. Dr. Rosenberg has edited and published several important books on the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War, including Kennedy, Johnson, and the Quest for Justice: The Civil Rights Tapes, which was based on secret Oval Office recordings made my JFK and LBJ and, more recently, How Far the Promised Land: World Affairs and the Civil Rights Movement from the First World War to Vietnam.    Currently, he is writing a book that examines how classical musicians, composers, and performing organizations in the United States understood and responded to international developments from the First World War to the Cold War — a fitting subject for a graduate of Juilliard and a professional trumpetist prior to his arrival at Harvard.

Jonathan…

Ann Marie Slaughter and William J. Burns Introduction

On March 10, 2009 Jonathan Fanton and other members of the MacArthur Board met with William J. Burns, former Under Secretary for Political Affairs for the State Department, and Ann Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning for the State Department.

Introduction of Under Secretary Burns and Ann Marie Slaughter
Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Thank you for taking the time to meet with the MacArthur Board and senior staff.  Bill we are grateful to you for organizing this conversation and are appreciate the support you provided to MacArthur activities in Russia when you were Ambassador.

Ann Marie Slaughter is currently Director of Policy Planning.  She has worked extensively on democracy promotion as a key component of US foreign policy and just returned from the Middle East and Europe with Secretary Clinton.  She was previously dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, a MacArthur grantee.

I am going to say a few words about what brings us to Washington, and then pose a couple of questions that are on our minds.  Mainly we want to hear from trusted friends about how foreign policy is shaping up in the first weeks of the new administration and, of course, this session is completely off-the-record.

We are holding our March Board meeting in Washington so we can talk with senior members of the new Administration about issues of mutual concern.  We are obviously pleased that our friend and Chicago neighbor has become President, and proud that he has recruited so many people with MacArthur ties as Senior Advisors, to his Cabinet and in key positions throughout the executive branch.  On the domestic side, we will be talking with Valerie Jarrett, Shaun Donovan, and Arne Duncan.

MacArthur spends about 40% of its philanthropy on international issues:  conservation, human rights and international justice, population and reproductive health, and international peace and security.  We have four country offices – and another coming soon in China – and work in 60 countries.

But in the end, the amount we spend on these issues is modest and it takes government policy and action to really make a difference.

For the most part, the landscape in the U.S. is changing in ways that create a more favorable context for our work.  We need to understand those changes and then adapt to new opportunities – and perhaps new challenges as well.  We will spend our June Board meeting on that review, so our conversations today and tomorrow are part of the learning process.

I anticipate that there will be many opportunities to work together toward shared goals.

Some of the topics that I hope your colleagues will touch on today include your views on how to manage relations with key countries – China and India in Asia, Russia, as well as thorny hotspots such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.  In addition, given our longstanding work in disarmament, we would be interested in hearing about the future of arms control and non-proliferation efforts.  Finally, any comments on the role of human rights and its effect on foreign policy will be appreciated.

Bill, it’s a tall order and I leave it to you and your colleagues to start what I hope will be a first discussion with us and others in the Foundation on the defining foreign policy challenges ahead and how MacArthur can contribute to the nation’s foreign policy thinking.

Letter to the Editor, The New York Times, 12/1/2006

In this letter to The New York Times, Jonathan Fanton highlights recent political developments in Nigeria.

Published: December 1, 2006 by The New York Times

To the Editor:

Money and Violence Hobble Democracy in Nigeria” (front page, Nov. 24) rightly emphasizes the importance of the April 2007 election. But its negative conclusion that “a political culture of graft and intimidation … has led to widespread neglect and disillusionment” is a harsher judgment than facts on the ground warrant.

I visited Nigeria 10 days ago and came away with a more hopeful view. No doubt the coming election will tell us a lot about the future of Nigerian democracy. But it is not the whole story.

As we have seen elsewhere, an election does not secure democracy. Other markers like the growth of civil society and the rule of law are prerequisites.

Civil society and a free press flourish in Nigeria. Judicial reform is promising. A talented and committed younger generation is emerging in key leadership positions. Some of them are running for governor in important states, opening the possibility for reform at the state level.

It is useful to shine a spotlight on Nigeria, one of the most important transitions to democracy anywhere in the world. But it is not helpful to showcase only the negatives. There is another story to tell.

Jonathan F. Fanton
President, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Chicago, Nov. 29, 2006