Saturday, September 30, 2006

History of Niger

History of Niger. This is a brief history of the African nation of Niger.

The Encyclopædia Britannica notes, "Landlocked western African country. The republic has an area of 458,075 square miles (1,186,408 square kilometres). It is bounded on the northwest by Algeria, on the northeast by Libya, on the east by Chad, on the south by Nigeria and Benin, and on the west by Burkina Faso and Mali. The capital is Niamey. The country takes its name from the Niger River, which flows through the southwestern part of its territory."

From the site:

Considerable evidence indicates that about 600,000 years ago, humans inhabited what has since become the desolate Sahara of northern Niger. Long before the arrival of French influence and control in the area, Niger was an important economic crossroads, and the empires of Songhai, Mali, Gao, Kanem, and Bornu, as well as a number of Hausa states, claimed control over portions of the area.

During recent centuries, the nomadic Tuareg formed large confederations, pushed southward, and, siding with various Hausa states, clashed with the Fulani Empire of Sokoto, which had gained control of much of the Hausa territory in the late 18th century.

In the 19th century, contact with the West began when the first European explorers--notably Mungo Park (British) and Heinrich Barth (German)--explored the area searching for the mouth of the Niger River. Although French efforts at pacification began before 1900, dissident ethnic groups, especially the desert Tuareg, were not subdued until 1922, when Niger became a French colony.

Niger's colonial history and development parallel that of other French West African territories. France administered its West African colonies through a governor general at Dakar, Senegal, and governors in the individual territories, including Niger. In addition to conferring French citizenship on the inhabitants of the territories, the 1946 French constitution provided for decentralization of power and limited participation in political life for local advisory assemblies.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Julius Caesar, Crassus, and Chester Barnard

I have recently for some reason become interested in the history of Wal-Mart. I have not normally been big on business history but I have been looking at a variety of sources relating to Walmart. One of these lead me to a book by Chester Barnard from 1938 titled Functions of the Executive. Despite the origins of this lead, this post has nothing to do with Wal-Mart. However, I learned a great deal by reading this book.

Wikipedia notes this about Barnard's theories, "He looked at organizations as systems of cooperation of human activity, and was worried about the fact that they are typically rather short-lived. Firms that last more than a century are rather few, and the only organization that can claim a substantial age is the Catholic Church. According to Barnard, this happens because organizations do not meet the two criteria necessary for survival: effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness, is defined the usual way: as being able to accomplish the explicit goals. In contrast, his notion of organizational efficiency is substantially different from the conventional use of the word. He defines efficiency of an organization as the degree to which that organization is able to satisfy the motives of the individuals. If an organization satisfies the motives of its participants, and attains its explicit goals, cooperation among them will last."

Barnard further went on to explain that authority in an organization did not always follow the organizational chart. Power could be exercised effectively by those who were low on the chart or who were not on the chart at all. This could mean the secretary who influenced organizational opinion in the staff lounge or an important person in the community who had influence in the organization.

This leads me to the point of this post. It is obvious that Julius Caesar understood this point. I think this can be demonstrated by his cultivation of Crassus.

Wikipedia notes this of Crassus, "Marcus Licinius Crassus was a powerful figure in Roman politics on account of his great wealth; he was nicknamed Dives, meaning richest. He acquired this wealth through traffic in slaves, the working of silver mines, and judicious purchases of land and houses, especially those of proscribed citizens."

Crassus had no formal authority in the Roman Republic most of his life. He was a consul twice but for the most part was "off" the organizational charts. However, most of the powerful men in Rome owed Crassus a debt as they owed Crassus huge sums of money. It was often wealth that bought Roman men power and men who could not pay back Crassus were in his debt.

Caesar recognized this. As such, he successfully sought an alliance with Crassus which ultimately lead to Crassus being a part of the First Triumvirate. It is likely that without Crassus, Caesar would have fallen to his enemies before he could have seized power and changed the Roman state so dramatically.

Chester Barnard got informal power right. It is often people who are not on the organizational charts who wield the most power. However, people like Caesar figured this out long before Barnard wrote it down.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Machiavelli and the Difficulty of Change


I have been reading many classical books lately. The current on my list is The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. Despite popular opinion, it is not a book about doing evil for power. Quite the contrary, Machiavelli believed rulers should be full of virtue. However, he believed good rulers would have to "enter into evil" on occasion for the greater good. Those rulers who did not would invariably create more evil by failing to act. The relatively recent example of Truman dropping atom bombs on Japan to end World War Two is a good example of a leader making the best of many hard moral choices to pick the one that will probably lead to the least deaths and the best outcome.

This quote from chapter six of The Prince on initiating change struck me, "We must bear in mind, then, that there is nothing more difficult and dangerous, or more doubtful of success, than an attempt to introduce a new order of things in any state. For the innovator has for enemies all those who derived advantages from the old order of things, whilst those who expect to be benefited by the new institutions will be but lukewarm defenders. This indifference arises in part from fear of their adversaries who were favoured by the existing laws, and partly from the incredulity of men who have no faith in anything new that is not the result of well-established experience. Hence it is that, whenever the opponents of the new order of things have the opportunity to attack it, they will do it with the zeal of partisans, whilst the others defend it but feebly, so that it is dangerous to rely upon the latter.''

In my career, I have been the head of two academic departments at two separate American institutions of higher education. In each case, I have seen faculty members block needed change because they perceived it as threatening their power base or because it was different than how they "have always done things." How ironic that faculty members who advocate major change at the national level at the same time resist even minor change at the university departmental level. Maybe this is why only one American President has had a doctorate? Academia is perhaps a bad place to learn how to make successful changes?

I have always carried through with the changes I have proposd but I have literally seen what Machiavelli is describing as real. Change is perceived as bad for many people. Academics are no excption.

Is it any wonder then that is so hard for nations to make changes in policy and direction? True change leaders will threaten those who benefit from the powers that be but will only have lukewarm support from those who could benefit from a change because the change leader is unproven and could actually make things worse if they fail. This makes it hard for rebels but also for those who suggest moderate or less radical changes.

However, changes can and do occur on a regular basis in the world. Many of these are done at the national level. Some of these require leaders to make hard moral choices for the greater good. Others are the results of leaders who "entered into evil" and decided never to leave it.

I think Machiavelli did a good job of describing power and one way it can be exercised for the benefit of all. I wonder if he was alive today if he would amend his work? Or, have the last 500 years just reinforced what he wrote in the first place?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Fake Ben Franklin Quote?

I have been working today to try and verify a quote.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as once saying "The US Constitution doesn't guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself."

I am beginning to think this might not actually be a real Franklin quote. I have checked over 20 reference quotation books and none list this as an actual quote from Franklin's writings. I also checked a variety of online collections of Franklin writings and can not find this quote using keyword searches.

This quote does appear all over the Web. It is a popular Franklin saying but none of the sites have an actual citation to the original source. It appears this quote has been copied over and over again from different sites.

Is this a fake Franklin quote? Ben Franklin is much like Mark Twain. He is a famous American wise man and any quote of wisdom is often attributed to him. However, this could indeed be a real quote and I have just not been fortunate enough to find the original source.

Does anyone have an original source for this quote? Also, does anyone have evidence this is a made up Franklin quote? Feel free to leave me a comment if you know now or three years in the future if you find this and have a possible answer. I will concede that I may not have looked in the right spot yet.