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Indians protest against Hamas terror as Israel agrees to cease-fire

Wed, 14/11/2018 - 15:01

Hindus protesting against Hamas

In the light of the present security crisis in Israel, where Israel just agreed to a cease-fire after facing a barrage of almost 500 rockets and mortars being fired into the southern part of the country, a group of Indians decided to demonstrate in support of Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism. “Today’s demonstration in New Delhi was organized on behalf of three organizations: The Safadi Center, the World Hindu Struggle Committee and the Hindu Struggle Committee (India),” Shipan Kumer Basu, who heads the World Hindu Struggle Committee, reported.

“On behalf of the World Hindu Struggle committee, I protest against the cowardly attacks by Hamas,” Basu proclaimed. “The Hindus of Bangladesh always support Israel. Arun Upadhava, President of the Hindu Struggle Committee (India), and I stand in solidarity with Mendi Safadi, who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights and the rest of the Israeli people. Many local people also partook in the demonstration.”

“I stand from New Delhi in a demonstration in support of IDF soldiers and the land of Israel in its struggle against Palestinian terrorism,” Safadi stated in an exclusive interview. “The people who stand here are pro-Israel. Many Hindus came in order to express their support and to encourage the State of Israel at this critical hour. These have been difficult times for us. We hope that now we have a mission to eradicate the terrorism.”

In recent days, a Druze IDF officer was killed during an exchange of fire in Gaza. A Palestinian man in Ashkelon was murdered when a rocket struck the apartment building where he was working. Eight other people were injured in that attack including two women in critical condition. And a rocket hit a bus, resulting in one person being critically injured. Israel has faced a barrage of constant non-stop rocket fire throughout the southern part of the country for the last couple of days, until the cease-fire was implemented last night. The Barzalai Medical Center reported that they have treated 93 patients following the latest rocket barrage on Israel.

As a result of the security situation, the IDF responded by striking 160 targets within Gaza. According to Al Jazeera, at least 5 Palestinians were killed during the IDF strikes on Gaza and 7 other Palestinians including a senior level Hamas member died during an exchange of fire with IDF forces in Gaza. One of the targets was Al Aqsa TV, a media outlet associated with Hamas.

The residents of Southern Israel are suffering greatly from this situation. According to IDF Radio, Yigal Suissa, a resident of Sderot who was injured in the leg, proclaimed, “They do not need to harm us physically. All of us are hurting mentally.” Another resident, whose home was struck in a rocket attack, reported, “Our home is a battle scene now. When you come out alive and healthy from an incident like this, the home is already less important.”

Nevertheless, even though the carnage in Israel recently was significantly worse than the violence leading up to Operation Protective Edge, Israel decided to accept a cease-fire, a move which the residents of Southern Israel protested against. According to Channel 2 News, they blocked off the Kerem Shalom Crossing due to their displeasure with the cease-fire. Meanwhile, following the implementation of the cease-fire, a Palestinian terrorist threw a grenade along the Gaza border. But Netanyahu has defended his cease-fire, claiming that it is in the best interests of the country and he stressed that Hamas essentially begged for it. He added that he loves the residents of the South but he cannot share with them all of his considerations.

Even though the move was controversial among the residents of Southern Israel, a Palestinian source explained why the cease-fire was the correct decision: “Everyone is seeking a cease-fire and I am sure that Hamas is trying to show off it is the one paid the heaviest price and is the one who is to impose the cease-fire in order to assert its authority. What happens afterwards is crucial for Hamas and their armed existence in Gaza. The Egyptian Army might get involved. The risks are rising for that to happen. They want a cease-fire for they cannot deal with a situation where the Egyptian army becomes involved in this.”

He added that everyone is focusing on the sad ghastly images coming out of Gaza and that this does not make Israel look good internationally. However, he noted that members of the community of nations do not have to deal with the barrage of violence that Israel deals with daily. According to the Palestinian source, “Only the PA wants this. The PA are sacrificing their own people. They are not gaining anything by these splits between them. They are only losing. They are losing the popularity. The people are losing. Everyone is losing on both sides. The only losers are civilians. They are losing just because they are what they are.”

“We are sick and tired of war,” he proclaimed. “This got to stop once and for all. It is sickening. It is a different age. It is not the age of the First Intifada. The people have to wake up in order to enable peace. Give it a break. Every human has the right to live. No human has the right to kill, be hostile and be aggressive. I don’t see a reason to lash out at each other all of these decades. Every parent should be worried about their children’s future.” He believes that only Egypt can solve Gaza’s problems and that another war would not accomplish anything for Israel, and Netanyahu knows this.

Israeli scholar Dr. Mordechai Kedar concurred with the Palestinian source: “Israel doesn’t want a war. Israel doesn’t need a war. Israel is looking for ways on how to live alongside Hamas rather than fighting it, hoping that a day will come and Hamas in one way or another, will accept our existence and to leave us alone. This is the Israeli hope and this is why Israel will do anything that it can do to stabilize the situation in Gaza by allowing Qatar, a terror supporting country, to bring money in order to fund a terror organization. Israel will bend over backwards even at the price of supporting terror by Hamas and Qatar in order to gain strategically and to achieve peaceful coexistence for a while. The government hopes recently that Hamas does not want a confrontation and will also join some kind of agreement, which will enable a better livelihood on both sides of the border.”

Former Israel Consul General Yitzchak Ben Gad agreed, noting that Israelis who want to take action against Hamas are not considering the long-term consequences: “The people of Gaza suffer. They suffer from economic depression. They only have light in their homes for a few hours a day. Gaza within a few years will be a place where people cannot live. We don’t want to go in and take this responsibility upon us. Hamas won in free elections. People are suffering today under the dictatorship of this organization. Israel got nothing to do with it. Israel is willing to help the people of Gaza. We send them trucks heavy with loads. But we are not going to be kind and nice to these people and then get missiles on our heads.”

It is precisely for this reason that Kedar does not agree with the decision taken by the Israeli government. “The Israeli government and the army as well do not understand that living with Israel side by side is actually against the raison d’etre of Hamas,” Kedar explained. “Hamas is a terror organization, who is fully committed to the jihad until the full eradication of the State of Israel. For Hamas, the occupation is what happened in 1948, not what happened in 1967. It means the State of Israel should not exist at all. Therefore, accepting Israel and making any agreement with Israel is totally against the most basic credo of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and all of the other terror organizations in Gaza. This is why we came to this position where Israel lost its deterrence, which should have been the basis of any conversation with and about Hamas in Gaza. I support a limited operation, with a very narrow operation on the ground in order not to expose our soldiers to the giant dangers involved in urban warfare, which is very expensive and costly in terms of soldiers’ lives. The government had a very thorough discussion about what should be done and can be done, which is not always the same.”

“The time has come for them to pay the price for the provocation and the damage,” Ben Gad declared. “Hundreds of thousands of people live in Sderot, Ofakim, Ashkelon, etc. Therefore, if you continue with your provocation, you will pay a heavy price for that. What happened was a strong message to the Hamas that the price will be so heavy and painful that it is not worth it to start it again with us. The Hamas has its own ideology. Bibi cannot change overnight their philosophy. Israel has to make it clear to Hamas, think whatever you want but if you start shooting missiles and burning our fields, you will pay a heavy peace. We are not asking you to recognize Israel. Israel does not exist because of you but despite you.”

The post Indians protest against Hamas terror as Israel agrees to cease-fire appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Op-Ed: Why Financing Africa’s Energy Infrastructure is a Major Opportunity for Investors

Tue, 13/11/2018 - 17:36

Composite picture of a night sky over the African continent in 2030 based on the World Energy Outlook model of affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all (the International Energy Agency). 

Accessible, reliable and affordable energy is the cornerstone of transformational socio-economic development. For Africa, delivering sustainable development is dependent on meeting the continent’s energy needs in order to lift populations out of poverty, catalyze industrialization, and stimulate economic growth.

Despite the continent’s abundant energy resources, energy poverty is still rife in the continent with close to 600 million people lacking access to electricity. This sets nations back on meeting energy access goals, retards industry progress, and diminishes the continent’s economic growth by 2 to 4 percent every year.

On a positive note, energy access has improved in recent years with the number of people without access in sub-Saharan Africa falling for the first time in absolute terms, and with countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda leading the pace. Africa is at the forefront of distributed energy systems that can increase energy access in rural areas faster, more cheaply, and more widely than conventional grid extension, driven by innovative business models and rapidly decreasing technology costs. At the same time, renewables are on the rise across the continent with significant renewable generation capacities added in countries such as Egypt, Morocco and South Africa.

Renewable energy investments are also on the rise across the continent from Senegal, to Kenya, and Zambia. While this progress is encouraging, the pace of energy access falls far short of meeting the universal energy access target by 2030.

Closing the gap on Africa’s energy challenges presents major opportunities for investors keen on engaging with the continent, especially on helping Africa meet the shortfall in the estimated $90 billion required to achieve universal energy access by 2030.

Clearly, these financing needs are of such magnitude that no single institution is capable of meeting them in isolation. This is why development finance institutions need a pragmatic shift in how they do business and leverage scarce public resources in order to mobilize private sector financing at scale, “from billions to trillions.”

The African Development Bank is leading by example. For instance, the Bank launched the Facility for Energy Inclusion to close funding gaps in the small-scale energy infrastructure sector and catalyze last-mile energy access. Through a mix of commercial and concessional instruments, the facility provides low cost of capital, and mitigates key credit and currency risks. Additionally, the recently approved Room2Run transaction allows the Bank to effectively transfer the credit risks of selected loan portfolios to investors, which lowers the total risk consumption of the Bank.

This initiative will enable the Bank to recycle capital efficiently in order to boost lending capacity and enhance private sector investments. The transaction has already attracted major support from partners like the European Commission which will provide a $100 million guarantee to be channeled into renewable energy projects in Africa. Ultimately, this will free up around $700 million, which can be re-allocated to new projects.

Multiple barriers hinder investments and private sector participation which could potentially fast-track energy access. These include the lack of an enabling policy environment for investors and other systemic bottlenecks that slow down transactions and escalate project costs. Transforming the energy landscape calls for a multi-faceted approach to unlock private sector capital by resolving these barriers in order to create the ideal conditions for investments in the continent.

The African Development Bank in close collaboration with other development partners is perched on the apex of creating a vibrant marketplace that will deliver the energy transformation necessary to move Africa forward. The Bank is dedicated to eliminating and minimizing barriers for investors, primarily through financial instruments to de-risk transactions, disseminating knowledge and market data, and facilitating peer-to peer learning and networking.  Private sector engagement is on the rise, buoyed by various partnerships such as the New Deal on Energy for Africa and the US-led Power Africa Initiative.

To sustain this momentum, the Bank convened the inaugural Africa Energy Market Place (AEMP) in Abidjan in July 2018. The AEMP is a platform for public private dialogue and is set up to address barriers to mobilizing and scaling-up private investment into the energy sector. Effectively, AEMP reviews and prioritizes transformative energy transactions, and accelerates reforms in order to attract private investments and create a pipeline of bankable projects. Five countries participated in the inaugural edition: Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Zambia.

The conversations that began at the AEMP are set to continue in November’s Africa Investment Forum (AIF) in South Africa. The Forum convenes project sponsors, borrowers, lenders and investors with a shared interest in closing Africa’s infrastructure gap which is estimated to be anywhere between $130–170 billion per year.

By convening and facilitating mutually beneficial dialogue amongst stakeholders who can dramatically impact Africa’s energy landscape, the Bank is creating the requisite foundation for accelerated private sector investments in Africa’s energy sector in order to achieve universal energy access.

Indisputably, this will put the continent steadily on the path to socio-economic growth and sustainable development.

By: Amadou Hott, the Vice-President of Power, Energy, Climate Change & Green Growth at the African Development Bank

The post Op-Ed: Why Financing Africa’s Energy Infrastructure is a Major Opportunity for Investors appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Op-Ed: Will Bangladesh be the next Pakistan?

Fri, 09/11/2018 - 19:11

The Sheikh Hasina government recently declared that Bangladesh is an Islamic state and “anyone who pronounces offensive statements against it or against the Prophet Muhammed will be prosecuted according to the law.”

Ahead of next month’s elections, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has announced that she plans to get the Saudis to build 560 model mosques and an Islamic university. In addition, she declared that Bangladesh is an Islamic state: “Anyone who pronounces offensive statements against it or against the Prophet Muhammed will be prosecuted according to the law.” These actions come after she declared that a degree from an Islamic madrassa will be on par with a university degree within the country. Analysts report that these moves were made in order to pander to radical Islamist voters but the BNP also panders to that same voter base. This means that presently, there is no secular liberal alternative running in the upcoming Bangladeshi elections. The question remains, is Bangladesh becoming the next Pakistan?

Bangladeshi dissident Sazzadul Huq thinks that Bangladesh is well on the road to being the next Pakistan: “It is true that there is no Blasphemy Law in Bangladesh. But, the ICT act (Information and Technology Act) which has turned into the Digital Security Act is just a de facto of blasphemy law. Bloggers, journalists, writers, online activists, human rights activists and LGBT activists have been under the microscope of the government and threats from Islamic fundamentalists for online materials that may have been perceived by some to have hurt their religious beliefs. As a result, peoples’ freedom of thought and expression is being violated. The conscious people of Bangladesh are being restricted from speaking the truth.”

On June On 12, 2018, Bangladeshi secular writer Shahzahan Bachchu was shot dead in the Munshiganj district. Bachchu had previously received threats from extremists groups due to his outspoken support for secularism. Renowned photographer Shahidul Alam criticized the government a few months ago on Al Jazeera in the wake of the student protests against the widespread road accidents within the country. He argued that the students were protesting not only against road accidents but also against the widespread government corruption within the country. Because of that, the Bangladeshi government arrested him. According to Huq, “Many teachers, writers and activists have also been arrested.”

Huq also suffered himself immensely due to the present reality in Bangladesh. On May 27, 2017, dissident Sazzadul Hoque posted on his Facebook: “I wish to live like a human and not a Muslim. Things that I was taught and made to believe are wrong.” As a result of this post, he was suspended from Facebook and got expelled from university. He faced numerous online threats, which proclaimed: “This guy renounced Islam. We are asking the authorities to apprehend this guy as soon as possible for if not, there might be religious riots like there were in the past;” “We don’t need a bastard like yourself. You should be persecuted or even killed. You don’t have a right to live on this land;” “Sisterfucker, you are making the biggest mistake of your life and let Allah cause you all kinds of misery;” “You are not a human. You are the son of a prostitute. You are a dog fucker. If you came in front of me, I would slice you. Your meat would have been distributed to the dogs, you fucking pig;” “If only I could get my hands on you, I would decapitate and slaughter you, you son of a pig.”

Islamist groups were threatening him and his friends. Hundreds of people came to visit his maternal uncle and his mother, threatening to kill him. The government did nothing to protect him. However, some Islamist teachers did attempt to get the police to arrest him. Due to this horrific situation, he left Dhaka and returned to his village but he could not stay there once the locals realized that he was there. He received phone calls stating that he would be killed wherever he was found. He moved from his home to that of his maternal aunt. When they found out where he was, they threatened to burn down her home for sheltering him so he left her home as well. As he fled from place to place, imams were preaching in the local mosques that he should be killed as an apostate. Due to these threats, he moved to India but is only allowed to stay there under his present visa for another two months. He faced numerous cyber threats and media outlets which covered his story in Bangladesh also faced numerous threats until they were forced to delete the news.

If Sheikh Hasina’s legislation comes into fruition, a horrific situation for journalists and bloggers like Huq will become even worse, thus leaving one to ponder whether the country will turn into the next Pakistan. Already, Pakistan is an unfree country where it is unsafe for journalists to openly speak and report the truth. According to dissident Repunzel Baloch, hundreds of journalists have been abducted and killed by Pakistani forces in Balochistan, Pashtunistan, Sindh and Pok. He claimed that in Balochistan alone, over 50 journalists have been abducted, tortured and killed by Pakistani military forces.

“Hamid Mir who was an honest journalist working for Pakistani TV was attacked by ISIS for reporting the truth about the Baloch cause and highlighting the crimes of the government,” Baloch added, emphasizing that Manzoor Bugti was abducted, Javed Naseer disappeared, Razzaq Gul also went missing, Haji Abdul Raqiz Baloch was abducted, and that there are many more cases of journalists who fell victim to the Pakistani government.

While Asia Bibi, a Christian mother who insulted her Muslim neighbors in Pakistan by drinking from a well, won’t be executed for blasphemy in the end and she was recently released from prison, her life is still in danger. There is a bounty that was placed on her head by various radical groups. As a result, she and her family is seeking to flee her country, where the blasphemy law is still in place. Ahmedi Muslims, Christians, Hindus and others can still face the ordeal that Asia Bibi faced in the future. If the Sheikh Hasina government is not put in check, this is what Bangladeshis have to look forward to.

The post Op-Ed: Will Bangladesh be the next Pakistan? appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Somalia and the Houdinis of Corruption

Thu, 08/11/2018 - 16:31

In the moral version of human history – expressed in the Quran, Bible, and Torah – corruption is considered the worst reckless impulse that caused men to fall from grace. It was the betrayal of trust and loyalty for purely selfish gains.

From that perspective, the root cause of corruption is individual moral shutdown, derailment or deficiency. On the other hand, modern-day scrutiny of corruption zooms in on institutions and good governance – professional and technocratic excellence and adherence to policies and procedures.

Much of this article will be dealing with the latter perspective, though no lasting solution to corruption can be found without considering the individual aspect. This could be the reason why corruption is scandalously ever-present in every aspect of the Somali government.

Harmonized Contradictions

Ironically, if a “Corruption Hall of Shame” were inaugurated, the majority of the top 10 list would be Muslim rulers representing nations ranking high in natural resources. Somalia would be leading the list as it has the past decade. This is the direct result of a culture of impunity and a lack of anti-corruption teachings.

However, you would not have heard this from the former UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Somalia Michael Keating. In his briefing to the Security Council last month, he said that Somalia has “a government with a compelling reform agenda anchored in strong partnership between President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre.” He continued by telling the Council members that “its centerpiece is to make the country creditworthy and accountable as a step to gain full sovereignty, reduce dependency and attract both public and private investments. IMF benchmarks are being met … and debt relief is closer.”

Well, of course. Somalia’s politicians are ready for more loans and dodgy deals such as Soma Oil and Gas, whose former Executive Director for Africa is the country’s current prime minister. Never mind the glaring conflict of interests.

Being instituted a few months after Somalia emerged out of its “transitional period” in 2012, the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) was established as a central bank of the donor funds and to facilitate the reconciliation process. However, UNSOM gradually morphed into the carrot-dangler that lures all across the political spectrum, the gatekeeper of the political process, and the legitimizer of any selected new government through corruption as long as it does not challenge certain dubious deals such as Soma Oil and Gas and the massive IMF and World Bank debts.

Incidentally, the United Kingdom is Somalia’s penholder at the Security Council. In other words, the U.K. has the most powerful role in all Somalia related issues. It has the exclusive authority to draft resolutions and frame any debate on the country. All three UNSOM leaders were British (guerilla) diplomats, though the latest has South African citizenship.

If I was not blunt enough in the past, let me try again. The international apparatus that was set up to “fix Somalia” is the main hoax for keeping it perpetually broken. As long as there are corrupt or pitifully credulous Somali politicians who are eager to legitimize the current system for their personal gains the schizophrenia –journey toward sovereignty– will continue but the nation will remain at the mercy of international and local predators.

On Scale

In a 2013 article titled The Corruption Tango I wrote: “While robust functioning of all governmental institutions and policies of checks and balances are crucial to fighting corruption, the most crucial is the branch that enforces such policies.” Five years later, there is not an iota of improvement towards that end. The courts remain scandalously corrupt. Cash, clan, and connections are still the three most popular currencies in Somalia. Yet the current government audaciously claims it is committed to ending corruption.

Can a government that came to power through a manifestly corrupt process of purchasing votes through dark money “eradicate that sick mentality,” as Prime Minster Khayre said in 2017? Of course not, but it can manage perceptions and put on a good show for public relations.

Selective Enforcement and Co-option

Unlike its predecessor, the current government has a clever plan for distraction. They routinely carry out public prosecutions of petty corruption cases with media fanfare and public trumpet blasts while turning a blind eye to various shady deals that involve top officials within the government.

A few mega “corporations” practically own the entire country. Over the past two decades, these companies, especially those in the telecommunication business who are granted exclusive right to use the official gateway and country code without paying licensing fees or taxes, have been investing in keeping business as usual. It is an open secret how these mega companies co-opt key political actors by bringing them on board as stakeholders or through kickbacks to ensure their silence. Meanwhile, the old lady selling tomatoes under the scorching sun is routinely harassed by the municipality to pay her “public service” dues.

This widely accepted, flagrantly unjust clan-based system, known as the 4.5 system, remains the most potent force that maintains the culture of corruption and impunity in Somalia. Certain clans are guaranteed high ministerial positions. Once inside, these ministers are expected to suck as much as they can for their respective clans, themselves or both. Nepotism continues to be the most common practice in all branches of the government.

Defusing Scrutiny

Like the previous governments, the current administration facilitates key Members of Parliament and their family members with foreign medical services, scholarships for their children, and armored vehicles for protection.

Certain elements within the international community not only tolerate this corruption but also cultivate the right environment for it. Selected Somalian ministers may be granted easy access to funds for this or that project, or may be invited to some of those never-ending conferences in foreign cities. In return, these key individuals give those in the international community priceless cover, a patronage system, and a code of silence that sustains a two-way system of corruption.

Most of the Somalian ministers are members of the parliament, and the government is aggressively using whatever is in its disposal to co-opt the parliament. Only days after President Farmajo returned from his Qatar state visit in May, his office or the executive branch offered the Somali parliamentarians a deal none of them could refuse: an early vacation or recess and $5,000 cash per MP – so much for checks and balances.

These actions are to neutralize a restless parliament bent on advancing a “no confidence” motion to oust the current prime minister, whose long affiliation with the predatory Soma Oil and Gas and his draconian policies to silence opposition groups reached a breaking point.

The post Somalia and the Houdinis of Corruption appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Conflict Minerals: A Manifestation of Modern-Day Colonialism

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 16:11

                                                                 (Photo from the Enough Project)


The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has historically been the focal point of devastating internal conflict since colonial times, and this has persisted to the present day. King Leopold II’s reign was one of the most brutal in history. Following independence in 1960, the conflict has continued to worsen. Since 1998, upwards of 5.4 million lives have been claimed, the largest death toll due to one cause since World War II. Unfortunately, the United States contributes each day to policies that mirror those of the colonialist era.


The fundamental reason why these human rights abuses are able to continue is a culture of resource extraction and exploitation that has been perpetuated in the DRC. Instead of this culture occurring only during colonial times, it is happening at this very moment. According to most estimates, the region comprising the DRC contains upwards of 24 trillion dollars-worth of natural resources, rendering it the richest country on earth. These minerals are critical for the United States because they are involved in the manufacturing process of consumer technology goods. Tungsten, tin, tantalum and gold, which are found in every laptop, tablet, and phone, have been deemed by the international community to be “conflict minerals”.

Each of these minerals plays a foundational role in the consumer electronic production process. Tin is a vital component in the process of coating other metals to create alloys and prevent corrosion. In combination with tungsten, this generates durability to withstand high-temperature situations. Gold, prized for its malleability, and tantalum are both instrumental in conductivity. These minerals are also used in car production, jewelry and industrial machinery. Therefore, the demand is extremely high, and the United States and other countries give hundreds of millions of dollars for the acquisition of these minerals.

Rather than going toward promoting self-determinism and economic vitality for artisanal miners, these minerals have been monopolized by armed rebel groups as a means of securing profit, analogous to the sale of illicit drugs in other conflict zones throughout the world. Unlike illicit drugs, however, the exchange of these minerals is recognized as a legitimate business activity by the international community, and therefore has not attracted the same level of scrutiny. To make matters worse, the United States lacks incentive to ameliorate the situation due to a deeply rooted interest in obtaining these minerals and has historically maintained a primarily passive stance. These minerals serve as the fundamental source for funding for armed rebel groups equating to anywhere from $300 million to $1.4 billion per annum. This money fuels the procurement of weapons and enables the perpetuatuation of conflict, leading to the rapid militarization of the country. Armed rebel groups function by maintaining their presence in artisanal mines and engaging directly with miners, who are often stolen from their homes and enslaved. Armed groups actively participate in illegal taxation efforts and forced labor as a means of procuring and selling minerals, thereby supplementing income. From the mines, these groups transport minerals through highly decentralized trade networks which interweave between local and foreign actors.  These trade networks often leave violent trails, as armed groups frequently employ brutal intimidation tactics.


(Photo from Jewish World Watch)


Despite the lack of international attention, there has been some progress in the United States related to the trade of conflict minerals. The most comprehensive effort occurred in 2010 when the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was passed into law. Section 1502 of the law requires publicly traded companies to annually disclose to the Securities and Exchange Commission the details of their supply chains, which creates pressure for conflict-free sourcing. Any association with conflict mines in the DRC must be documented, and the information made available to the public. While the law does not require companies to source conflict-free minerals, the public nature of the reporting has sparked companies to take action to trace, audit and certify their supply chains. Major brand companies like Intel have taken admirable strides to ensure that their operations and the resulting products do not promote and support violence. In 2014, Intel innovated the first certifiably conflict-free microprocessor and has since been dedicated to become completely conflict-free. Since the enactment of Dodd-Frank, more companies have elected to comply with the rules, and consumers have advocated for companies to ensure their supply chains are not contaminated by unverified materials. Since April of 2017, “420 mines in eastern Congo had been validated as conflict-free by multi-stakeholder teams made up of U.N. officials and Congolese civil society, business, and government representatives”. While Section 1502 of Dodd Frank has yielded substantial effects, there is still much work to be done. There has been an increase in the smuggling of conflict gold as crackdowns on the tungsten, tin and tantalum trade have yielded results.  Gold is relatively easier to smuggle, since small quantities have high value. Though strides have been taken to increase transparency, armed groups are still profiting.

Colonialist Policies

Many of the practices occuring in the DRC are a mirror image of the policies instituted by King Leopold pre-1960. Colonialist tendencies are still manifesting themselves in our everyday lives. Congolese women and children are often subjected to the worst trauma – experiencing sexual assault and physical torture. Almost every person in the United States owns a cellphone, computer or tablet. Yet, few are aware that these devices are serving as a sustainable flow of funds to armed groups in the DRC. Our consumer electronic devices are fabricated at the expense of millions of Congolese lives, and this is enabled by the deep rooted colonialist policies that have not disappeared despite independence.

The post Conflict Minerals: A Manifestation of Modern-Day Colonialism appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

A note to American voters…

Tue, 06/11/2018 - 18:00

Go vote!

The post A note to American voters… appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

No such thing as a Foreign Policy 101 …

Mon, 05/11/2018 - 19:37

Despite knee-jerk reactions from pundits and politicians (on both sides of the aisle) that would suggest easy solutions to foreign policy issues, any serious question in foreign policy requires a bit more thought and consideration than we see from a typical sound bite or tweet.  By definition, foreign policy issues impact numerous players and have various combinations and permutations of outcomes.  Take for example, the murder of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. It seems clear from almost all accounts that Mr. Khasshoggi was murdered in what appears to be a savage and ruthless fashion, all for speaking out about a ruling class that he opposed.  And, while it is yet unproven whether or not members of the royal family were directly involved in the planning of this despicable act, eighteen Saudi nationals, including senior military officials, have been identified as being directly involved.

So, what would be the appropriate foreign policy response from the United States?  A knee jerk reaction might be to suspend trade with the Saudi government.  Maybe pull out of the arms deal with the Saudis where they agreed to purchase $110 billion of arms immediately and $350 billion over ten years.  Let’s think this through a bit.  If the United States pulled out of the arms deal, Russia and China would likely be more than happy to fill that void with the end result still being that the Saudis get their military equipment but the United States contractors lose the business and American citizens lose jobs.  But this is perhaps a bit short sighted and maybe we should consider the longer-term implications and ramifications.  Journalists are murdered in numerous countries around the world every day, much for the same reason Mr. Khashoggi was likely murdered.  Should the United States refrain from doing business with all such countries?  How about countries that have clear human rights violations … should we stop trading with them, including Russia and China …. hmm that would have interesting consequences.

On the other hand, it would seem at odds with America’s values as the world’s oldest democracy to allow for the suppression of speech and state-inflicted violence against journalists by close allies. American presidents have, in the not so distant past, promised to “end tyranny in the world” and force a choice, “between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right.” In light of this, to ignore the actions taken by the Saudi government would ring with hypocrisy. The United States should be able to use its support for Liberal values and institutions as an instrument of soft power around the world, but if our country continues to turn a blind eye when strategic allies violate those values that influence will be diminished. Perhaps we should be more careful choosing our partners in the first place…

Regardless of the personal position we may hold, it is clear that these sorts of events deserve more than snap reactions. Perhaps events such as this require thoughtful, bipartisan analysis evaluating the immediate and longer-term consequences of our actions.  Perhaps this foreign policy stuff isn’t so easy after all.  If only everything was as easy as dealing with some large number of people from various countries all showing up on our southern border at the same time seeking asylum.

Both the matter of Mr. Khasshoggi’s murder and the migration of thousands of people from America’s southern neighbors will paint the way people around the worldview the United States. Does our nation stand by its foundational values at the cost of strategic and material advantage, or should we prioritize a hard strategy calculus that puts our principles to the side for the sake of achieving our national goals? These questions have been raging in foreign affairs circles for decades, and America’s answer has varied dramatically depending on the political fashion of the moment and the severity of the stakes.

All of this goes to say that conducting foreign affairs is an exercise in trade-offs. We must find the appropriate balance between endorsing American values abroad and ensuring that our partnerships have meaningful strategic benefits for our nation. The world is simply too complex to make decisions based on any single datapoint or in light of any singular perspective.

Written by Peter Scaturro, Director of Studies at the Foreign Policy Association

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Earning Your Wings in Politics

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 18:10

Dassault Rafales on an Evening Flight – Dassault Aviation

With the arrival of operational F-35s to some of the nations that had bought into the program over a decade ago comes a persistent movement against the Joint Strike Fighter program. Some countries have taken a political position on the F-35, and with their future NATO commitments being examined and redesigned based on how they want to contribute to future missions, the F-35 has become the lighting rod to an often complex and political purchase process.

Shading politics into the purchase of fleets of aircraft is nothing new. Often large American giants like Boeing and Lockheed would use financial and political leverage to beat out competitors like Dassault and Saab, even playing some of the most tactical business challenges against its main rival Airbus for contracts that could make or break some of the largest companies in the world. Since the Second World War, the majority of aircraft manufacturers have been put out of production or bought out by larger rivals. Even in today’s climate, the effect of Boeing and Airbus on the market only let in some competition when they do not have a product for that type of market and smaller companies like Embraer and Bombardier can compete in their own product category. Despite the capabilities of very well made aircraft, politics often plays a larger than useful role in the purchase or production of a country’s air fleet.

Politics often goes too far, and this week the connection between the friends of a Prime Minister of India and an exclusive contract with Dassault put the purchase of over three dozen Dassault Rafale fighter planes into question. A company owned by a close associate of the PM that has no expertise in aircraft manufacturing was placed in a strong position by India involving the Rafale fighters, and the opposition and court in India have raised questions about why a close associate to the PM was given this large commercial opportunity. The investigation into the cost of the contract may be established soon in order to decipher the real financial beneficiaries of the purchase agreement.

While India has often chosen a variety or Russian and European aircraft manufacturers to build their air fleet, Canada has had a history of joining NATO initiatives and changing their position and contracts based upon the government of the day. Years ago they had to pay compensation over a cancelled contract on the EH101 rescue helicopters needed to replace their aging and questionably airworthy old Sea Kings. More recently after pulling their CF-18s out of the fight against ISIS after the fight to protect the Yazidi minority on Sinjar Mountain, Canada chose to waffle on their commitment to the F-35 and focus on purchasing F-18’s from Australia that are the same type or aircraft as their CF-18s. While 80s era F-18s will surely put Canadian pilots in danger in future missions due to advanced surface to air system being installed all over the world, the politics of military procurement seems to continue to the detriment of pilots and peacekeepers.

A concerning scandal has taken shape as Canada’s Vice Admiral is accused by the government of leaking documents, related to changing a shipbuilding contract in favour of a company close to the current government. It seems as if Canada might have one of its top military leaders put in jail for calling out a situation similar to what is occurring in India with the Rafale. When these types of contracts and the complex nature of the agreements may place men and women who serve their country in jail for doing what they think is right for their country, it goes beyond politics and leveraging the purchase of new equipment and puts service members and citizens in danger. If it is a new trend, it must not continue.

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Qatar’s Slight Energy Fallout From The Blockade

Tue, 30/10/2018 - 15:13

Photo: Joi Ito

Being a small – by land mass – nation on the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula, news about Qatar may not be at the tip of the tongue of global citizens. The population has reached nearly 2.6 million, with only 200,000 being Qatari and much of the balance is composed of migrant workers. However, the emirate’s role in various geopolitical, economic and financial matters far outweighs its size. Its strategic importance is an offshoot of its rapid growth, vital role in energy markets (especially natural gas and LNG – the top exporter in the world), maintaining a top 10 status of global GDP per capita and policy (It is also hosting the World Cup in 2022).

Qatar has practiced an independent, often being described as hands-off, foreign policy – at loggerheads with other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) counties, which has harbored resentment. It has scored recognized successes recently with the release of Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda from armed groups in Syria – with Turkish assistance, American journalist Peter Theo, who was released by the al-Nusra front in 2014, mediation of border disputes between Eritrea and Djibouti and in Sudan it hosted and mediated the peace process in Darfur.

More loosely, world leaders have voiced concern over its independent action in regard to negatively viewed actions carried out by the emir, but Qatar’s role in energy markets, housing the 10,000 troop United States Al Udeid Air Base, where the forward operating base of United States Central Command sits, arms sales and embracing the U.S. has complicated emphasizing concerns and quelled sustained, widespread condemnation.


Regional Blockade

Regionally, since 2017, Qatar has had a blockade imposed against it by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. The quartet’s stated reasoning has been that Qatar is a sponsor of terrorist organizations. Qatar has denied this claim.

The blockade includes land and air closures, and trade and travel restrictions. Qatar had been heavily reliant on land and sea for imports to meet the basic needs of its population. About 40% of its food was imported across the land border with Saudi Arabia – its only land border. Turkey, Oman and Iran have stepped in and have been facilitating supply routes.

Thirteen demands were presented by the quartet but have not been pursued by Qatar. Front and center is to end all connections to terrorist and ideological groups, limit relations with Iran, and financially compensate the four counties for loss of life, property and income as a result of its policies. Qatar has acknowledged that it has provided assistance to the Muslim Brotherhood but denies aiding militant groups linked to al-Qaeda or ISIS.

Loosening its relationship with Shia dominated Iran does not appear likely as the nations share the world’s largest natural gas field and, especially now, given the fact Iran is providing it with food, water and medical supplies. One could argue the blockade has in fact strengthened its relationship with Iran. The trade balance between the two countries dramatically increased as a result, reaching $2 billion over the past year.

Kuwait has offered to mediate in the dispute.


Blockade’s Importance on Energy

There has been some speculation that natural gas is the factor for the blockade rather than terrorism. Qatar’s proven natural gas reserves tally approximately 25 trillion cubic meters, third-largest in the world after Russia and Iran, or almost 14 percent of total world natural gas reserves. The vast portion of the resource is located offshore within the North Field, which reaches Iran’s waters – the South Pars Field. Qatar, also a member of OPEC, produces about 1 million barrels of oil per day.

Qatar has continued to be the top global LNG exporter, a position it has held for over a decade. Its efforts are led by Qatargas, whose parent company is state-owned Qatar Petroleum (QP) and operates 14 LNG trains. Production had remained mostly stable noting more time was necessary to study the impact of additional development in the North Field before potential expansion, but Qatar’s global market share has fallen to 28%, as new supply from other countries come on-line and expand (especially with U.S. and Australia trains adding to the mix).

The blockade appears to have awaken and expedited Qatar’s expansion ambitions in the energy markets and act as a counterbalance to future severe economic impacts as a result of the embargo and maintain its market share and customers.

QP, which controls all aspects of Qatar’s upstream and downstream oil and natural gas sectors, president and CEO Saad Sherida al-Kaabi stated “the nation’s oil and gas sector has not been impacted by the blockade.” In fact, he further stated, Qatar will restart investment and the LNG industry is expected to increase in the next 5-7 years by more than 30% or up to about 110 million tonnes – a planned increase that would be equivalent to 8 percent of the world’s current supply. National investment in natural gas development has been relatively consistent the past decade, so an open question is how the country will gather the billions of dollars to drive these new massive projects, or how much of its own coffers will it tap.

The blockade could challenge these ambitions with the need to partner with international oil companies (IOCs), which may not be anxious to become embroiled in regional tensions, especially with the importance of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in energy markets. If plans do become finalized, there are projections that Qatar could generate $40 billion in additional export revenue once it completes the expansion.

LNG continues to Flourish

Regardless of the blockade, the LNG export market continues to evolve as many industry prognosticators expect increased demand from Europe, as nuclear plants are shuttered and the continued transition to meet its carbon emission reduction goals, China and India, which attempt to move away from coal and meet increased overall national energy demand, and other Asian and Africa nations. Despite what is viewed as a potential market glut with vast new supply coming on-line, the long-term LNG market and demand demonstrates the foundation for long-term growth, thus continued opportunities for the tiny emirate.

One recent example of the global reach and sustained demand is reaching a new 22-year deal with PetroChina International Co. to supply 3.4 million tonnes per year. Qatargas believes the demand from China will increase and future deals will be possible.

Mr. Al Kaabi also stated, “Qatar believes in the increasing importance of gas as a clean source of energy and will continue to play a leading role to help ensure security of supplies.”

Despite the restriction, Qatari natural gas continues to flow to the UAE and Oman via Dolphin Energy’s pipeline. The pipeline was the first cross-border gas project in the Gulf Arab region.

Weathering the Storm Thus Far

The blockade’s negative impacts have been felt in tourism, real estate and Qatar Airways, which has been banned from flying to 18 cities in the quartet.

On a broader level, though, the IMF issued a report at the end of May stating “(Qatar’s) growth performance remains resilient. The direct economic and financial impact of the diplomatic rift between Qatar and some countries in the region has been manageable.” Qatar sets its budget based on an oil price of about $45 a barrel, and with Brent crude averaging about $80 barrel, the nation is that to have wiggle room to adjust for modest economic shocks.

Despite the intent of the blockade, current indications, overall, indicate Qatar has become more independent than before June 2017 and it can continue its successful growth with no sufficient additional obstacles to affect its course.

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Foreign affairs quiz

Mon, 29/10/2018 - 13:44

The post Foreign affairs quiz appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Angola’s Story of Politically Exposed Persons and Debt Traps

Fri, 26/10/2018 - 14:52

A woman outside her home in the shadow of a large gated housing project away from Luanda (Photo: Joao Silva/The New York Times).

In its financing attempts that brought the resource-rich country to become indefinitely indebted for a long time, the Government of Angola sought a US$15 billion loan from China (one of many) last May. Just as this latest round of financing commenced, Standard and Poors downgraded Angola’s sovereign credit rating to B- due to concerns about “the rising debt service costs and weak economic prospects.”

The latest move is part of another debt trap through which the new government uses oil-backed loans at high interest rates, yet financed through opaque and unaccountable offshore structures. This comes at a time when Angola’s banking sector is weak and some important state banks are undergoing restructuring processes; posing contingent risks to government.

Manuel Vicente has remained a ruthless fixture of Angolan politics for over three decades. Today, as the “most wanted by Portuguese authorities” and an advisor to Joao Lourenco (who almost made it to the Presidency), Vicente has been at the forefront of the landmark exploitation of the resource-rich Portuguese colony since his appointment as Chairman of Angola’s state oil company, Sonangol EP. By the time he left his position in 2012, Vicente had proudly created complex, personally profitable, and self-rewarding mechanisms to leverage the nation’s resources for the profit of a small cartel, spanning well-known illustrious names in Africa and the world, ranging from organized crime to Wall Street. He purposely transformed the looting which decimated the West African nation during its brutal civil war into the merciless leveraging of state assets under the guise of ‘development’ for over sixteen years (and still ongoing).

Under the leadership of Vicente, or as one would call it, “Politically Exposed Person” (PEP), Sonangol gained an unusual degree of autonomy. In the world of financial regulation, PEP is a term describing someone who has been entrusted with a prominent public function and presents a higher risk for potential involvement in bribery and corruption by virtue of his/her position and the influence held. Vicente successfully resisted efforts of government institutions, such as the Ministry of Petroleum and the National Bank of Angola (BNA), by curbing their power and oversight functions; simply through instilling watchdogs that he would reward handsomely.

As the civil war ended in 2002, Angola’s relationships with the IMF and the World Bank had deteriorated serendipitously, with a golden opportunity that coincided with Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s initiation of his grand “Look to the West” strategy. Chinese interests in Angola were particularly attractive to Vicente (with the development of his own sphere of influence) as the offered funds had far fewer transparency requirements to traditional Western lenders. In June 2004, China Sonangol Asia Limited was formed as the first public-private consortium to turn the new geopolitical paradigm into private profits. It was registered in Hong Kong and owned entirely by Lo Fong Hung, Wi Yang, and, naturally, Manuel Vicente, unbeknownst to the then leadership. In the weeks following China Sonangol’s incorporation, Vicente and the 88 Queensway Group incorporated nine subsidiaries of China Sonangol, with Pierson Asia acting as its primary financial consultant. The firm would help Vicente and his Chinese partners to create a complex network of financial subsidiaries to extract, divert, and embezzle funds.

Vicente’s influence, along with Chinese capital, positioned these newly-created firms to dominate the finances of Angola and the majority of investments in the country through two small and nebulous companies: China International Fund Limited  (responsible for US$2.9 billion in construction projects), and, China Sonangol International Holdings Limited (responsible for the energy sector—notably obtaining three oil blocks and establishing a joint venture with Sinopec for oil exploration in Angola).

The vehicles for the embezzlement of such funds are the product of an idea developed in the 1990s, known as “prime bank schemes,” through which Vicente and his son would set up pop-up corporations for the collection and transfer of assets. The same entities would be used for the purchase of more than US$300 million in U.S. treasury bills on behalf of Angola’s national bank, Banco Angolano de Investimentos (BAI)—formerly Banco Africano de Investimentos—and enjoyed absolute authority to manage major portions of BNA’s funds under the direct, repeated permissions of the then-governor of Angola’s central bank, Aguinaldo Jaime (1998-2002). Jaime, in his capacity as governor, signed a “letter of authority” informing HSBC that BNA “will supply, on behalf of the Angolan Government, a US$50 million treasury bill to be used as a collateral by MSA Inc” to raise funds for Angolan ‘development projects.’ Another example of the prime bank scheme was the creation of the sister bank, HSBC Equator Bank plc in 2006—nothing to do with the HSBC that we all know—which earned in excess of US$80 million from revolving short-term trade finance lines, serviced by an assignment of oil proceeds afforded through a nebulous relationship with BAI.

The central paradox for the people of Angola is the calculus of BAI in taking on such unfavourable terms and failing to execute its fiduciary duty. This paradox is resolved when we consider the true nature and ownership of BAI, which is in fact a private bank. As per a U.S. Senate Committee investigation, in March 16, 2006, HSBC received a list of BAI’s shareholders, which included three private corporations, each of which would turn out to be a special purpose shell corporation: Arcinella Assets, Sforza Properties, and Dabas Management. BAI currently has assets with a total value of over US$7.6 billion which alerted and instigated the investigation. And following the implementation of the Patriot Act, HSBC expended its efforts to determine the true owners of BAI. The subsequent disclosure, under the PEP/anti-money laundering (AML) protection, revealed that the beneficial owner of Dabas Management is Jose Paiva (former board director of Sonangol) and the beneficial owner of the shell company, called ABL, is Manuel Vicente (PEP from 1999-2012). Today, each personally owns 5% of BAI through these special purpose corporations.

Angola continued to have weak AML controls and an ongoing corruption problem. The above history shows how an Angolan PEP (like Manuel Vicente), an Angolan government official (like Aguinaldo Jaime), and an Angolan financial institution (like BAI) have used global banks to gain access to the financial system, often bypassing AML and PEP safeguards. It shows how politically powerful officials, their relatives, and close associates (referred to in international agreements as PEPs) can use the services of global professionals and financial institutions to bring large amounts of suspect funds into different jurisdictions to advance their interests. It also clarifies the need for strengthening PEP controls to prevent such corrupt figures from concealing, protecting, and utilizing their ill-gotten gains; corroding the rule of law, national economic development, and democratic principles. U.S. and EU institutions should consult with foreign officials, international organizations, financial regulators, and experts in AML and anti-corruption efforts in order to expose some of the tactics being used by PEPs and their facilitators.

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Op-ed: Empowering Young People for Sustainable Peace

Thu, 25/10/2018 - 14:50

Entering adulthood is never easy. For the 1.8 billion youth in the world today– the most in history– the challenges are particularly daunting. Not only are more than one-fifth of global youth not in employment, education or training, and a quarter affected by violence or armed conflict, but the world itself is facing existential threats to global peace and security. Climate change, economic inequality, and social and political polarization are just a few of the mounting dangers that must be reckoned with in the coming years. To overcome these challenges, the current generation of leaders must better understand, engage, and empower young people as partners– and leaders– in global development efforts.

Better integrating the voices and perspectives of youth in international institutions and initiatives is itself an ambitious task. Young people today remain largely excluded from development programs, ignored in peace negotiations, and denied a voice in most international and domestic decision-making. Yet it is critical and urgent that we do so. Young people today are connected to each other like never before, and are more committed to innovation, social progress, and a sustainable future. They are using and building disruptive new technologies, global social networks, the sharing economy, and clean energy networks. They exemplify the ability of innovation and creativity to transform our world. Investing in these young agents of change is not just essential, it has the potential for a tremendous multiplier effect.

The recently released United Nations Youth Strategy is a step in the right direction, and could serve as a model for countries to begin developing and implementing their own plans. The strategy is the first attempt at an umbrella framework to guide the work of the international body with and for young people, and reaffirms the UN’s message that young people are “an essential asset worth investing in.” Within the strategy, the role of youth is incorporated in the global sustainability agenda via three key pillars: peace and security, human rights, and sustainable development. At its core, the strategy aims to provide a blueprint for joint initiatives and implementation of effective practices before it is too late.

The strategy also outlines the unique position of the UN to challenge and support States to ensure the protection and support for young people, and provides a platform through which their “needs can be addressed, their voice can be amplified, and their engagement can be advanced.” Further, it calls for the coordination, governance and operationalization of a forthcoming action plan that will be applicable through 2030, noting that it will require collaboration between all UN bodies and States in order to ensure its full objectives.

Despite its ambition, the UN’s report is lacking in many ways. The language is often without definitions or even brief substantiations of ideas its presents. It even fails to adopt a single standard age range for “youth”, offering various ranges including 10-24 years, 18-29 years, and 15-24 years. This open-ended approach leaves many more questions than answers, and is not conducive to achieving what it describes as “the realization of sustainable development in the prevention of crises and in the advancement of peace.”

At the end of the day, the UN Youth Strategy is just a first step outlining basic principles for incorporating youth in the global development and sustainability agenda. It is not yet a concrete plan of action that countries can adopt. Substantive explanations and plans for broad concepts must be provided first. For example, the UN should outline mechanisms to include youth in high-level discussions on intercultural and interreligious dialogue, and establish a youth chapter in official negotiations. In addition, the UN should elaborate on the creation and mechanism of youth-specific indicators and how directly applicable they are to pilot projects, initiatives and plans that lead to the goal of achieving the strategy by 2030. One such indicator could be a number of supported and self-sustainable youth initiatives that participate in UN decision-making and consultative bodies, both regionally and globally.

The challenges ahead of us are certainly daunting. The world will need all the innovation and energy it can find if we want to stop climate change, end poverty, and advance social justice. The world’s youth must be empowered to achieve their full potential, and they must have a meaningful role in the global decision-making process. The UN Youth Strategy has set an ambitious objective, but it is up to all of us to get behind it and work to make its vision a reality.

Ally Dunhill is a non-resident fellow working on youth & sustainable peace at TRENDS Research & Advisory, an independent and progressive think tank, based in Abu Dhabi. Emina Osmandzikovic is a researcher at TRENDS working on the intersection of human security and migration.

Ally Dunhill Bio
Ally Dunhill is a researcher, writer and consultant with a wealth of experience gained through teaching, research and leadership roles within the Education sector. She specializes in the study of human rights education, and the participation of children and young people in all aspects that impact upon their lived experiences. She is currently a Non-Resident Fellow of TRENDS Research & Advisory and is currently working as a consultant on a Youth & Sustainable Peace project. She is also an Associate of the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE), UK and a Visiting Researcher at the Energy and Environment Institute, University of Hull, UK. Ally was formerly Associate Dean for Student Experience in the Faculty of Arts, Culture and Education, University of Hull. Born in Scotland, Ally has worked for a range of organisations supporting children, young people and their families in the Gulf, Netherlands, Germany and the UK. She has managed and led teams in a range of organisations, including the private sector, mainstream and special schools and multi-agency teams.

Emina Osmandzikovic Bio
Emina Osmandzikovic is an expert on human rights, forced migration and displacement, and big data analysis. She is a researcher at TRENDS Research & Advisory with a focus on the intersection of human security and migration. Previously, she worked for the UNHCR Protection Unit in her home country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where she conducted extensive field research on highly vulnerable refugee communities and returnees. She also had the opportunity to apply her Arabic skills and interview vulnerable refugees in Jordan with UNHCR/IOM. Additionally, she worked for the Council of Europe in Strasbourg (France), the United Nations Headquarters in New York and as a research assistant at New York University in Abu Dhabi on human rights and zones of security in the Middle East. She holds a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Cambridge and a BA in Political Science with honours from New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD). In 2017, she published her work titled “Immigrants’ Integration Experience in the European Union” in the NYUAD Journal of Social Sciences. Her regional focus includes the European Union and the Middle East.

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Op-Ed: Lara Alqassem verdict highlights Israel’s vibrant democracy

Wed, 24/10/2018 - 14:53

American writer Andy Griffith once stated, “Whether a man is guilty or innocent, we have to find that out by due process of law.” For anyone who lives in a democratic society, these basic principles are a given but following Israel’s detention of Lara Alqasem, it appears as though the international media pushed those principles aside.
After Israel detained Lara Alqasem at Ben-Gurion Airport, numerous media outlets across the globe were up in arms.

The Huffington Post called the move anti-democratic. Salon Magazine claimed that her detention goes against the “Jewish liberal tradition.” The Independent stated that detaining Alqasem was an attack on her academic freedom.
However, now since the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Alqasem, what do such critics have to say? Do they still view Israel as an anti-democratic state fighting against the Jewish liberal tradition who attacks the academic freedom of any potential critic?

The international media did not behave fairly towards Israel. The Israeli Knesset passed a BDS Law, which barred foreigners active in the BDS Movement from coming to the State of Israel. Israel passed this law because frequently in the past, BDS supporters would come and engage in hostile actions towards the country. It was a law that was passed by a democratic government, who is presently fighting a war against terrorism. When a nation is at war, it is common to pass such laws.

Israel does not ban individuals based on religion and nationality. For Israel, all that mattered was the fact that she served as President of the Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Florida, which supports BDS. During her tenure, she held an event in support of Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh and promoted the boycott of Sabra Hummus. Given the present political situation in Israel and also the passage of the BDS Law, it was only natural that Alqasem would be detained.

However, even though Israel had every reason in the book to deport her immediately, the State of Israel gave her the right to appeal her deportation all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court and Alqasem was given legal representation. Ultimately, she was successful in her desire to study in Israel because she claimed her support of the BDS Movement was a thing of the past.

According to the Times of Israel, Alqasem erased her social media account in order to hide current support for the BDS Movement. Dr. Dana Barnett, who heads Israel Academia Monitor, a group that monitors anti-Israel activities within academia, also noted how problematic it was for Alqasem’s supporters in the Israeli Supreme Court to argue that the fact that she wished to study in Israel was proof that she was not a supporter of the BDS Movement anymore since BDS Movement co-founder Omar Barghouti studied ethics in the philosophy department at Tel Aviv University. In addition, she proclaimed that Kobi Snitz of BDS from Within, Dr. Neve Gordon, Dr. Rachel Giora and Dr. Anat Matar all advocated in favor of BDS while being part of Israeli universities: “Using Israeli products and services does not stop BDS activists from calling for BDS.”

But these facts were all ignored by the Israeli Supreme Court, who wished to give Alqasem the benefit of the doubt since she was a young student activist and not one of the main leaders of the BDS Movement. This demonstrates that Israel is a democratic country which honors the liberal Jewish tradition and respects the academic freedom of its critics.

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American foreign policy and Congressional volatility

Tue, 23/10/2018 - 14:51

Joint Session on Congress, 2017 (Wikipedia)

United States foreign policy has lacked an aspirational guiding principle for a generation.  One reason might be the historic volatility of political parties, unlike anything in the past century.

United States foreign policy has a record of long-term trends that depend in part on the political parties in power.  During the Cold War, for example, Congressional Democrats were sometimes considered “softer” than “hardline, anti-Communist” Republicans. The President is the primary source of modern U.S. foreign policy.  FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan: these men drove American foreign policy and thereby much of world politics for the half-century during and after World War II.

The Presidency rotated between political parties fairly regularly after World War II. Democrats filled the White House (from 1933) until 1953. Then it was Republicans for eight years, Democrats for eight years, Republicans again for eight years, Democrat Jimmy Carter for four years, and Republicans for the last decade of the Cold War.

But the party caricatures of strong Republicans and soft Democrats were not always complete pictures.  Truman, a Democrat, led the Korean War. Kennedy, a Democrat, (unsuccessfully) invaded Cuba  and (successfully) faced down Soviet premier Khrushchev in the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Meanwhile Nixon, a Republican, initiated détente with the Soviet Union and established diplomatic relations with Communist China.

Presidential administrations came and went with some regularity. From Truman through G.H.W. Bush, the average presidency lasted just over five years.  But Congressional leaders lasted in power for decades.

In the Senate, John Stennis (1947-1989) and Russell Long (1948-1987) served for approximately the entire Cold War.  Warren Magnuson and Milton Young served from the end of World War II into the early 1980s.  Robert Byrd, Daniel Inouye, Strom Thurmond, Edward Kennedy, James Eastland, Quentin Burdick, William Proxmire, and Clairborne Pell each served in the Senate for all or nearly all of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s (and in most cases, beyond that).  Richard Russell, Ted Stevens, Ernest Hollings, A. Willis Robertson, Clifford Case, Margaret Chase Smith, Jacob Javits, and Carl Hayden all served for at least 20 years of the Cold War.  Of these 20 Senators, 14 were Democrats.

In the House, Democrats held the majority almost the entire Cold War.  After the 1948 elections, Republicans held the majority only in 1953 and 1954.  At least 46 members of the House of Representatives, mostly Democrats, were in office for at least 30 years between 1947 and 1990.  Another six men make the 30-year mark with combined House-Senate service.

In short, the lack of volatility in the House and Senate during the Cold War contributed to a remarkable continuity in Congress’s membership – and leadership.  The Senate was led by just three Democrats – Lyndon Johnson, Mike Mansfield, and Robert Byrd, for most of the Cold War.  Of the seven Speakers of the House from 1947 to 1990, only one was a Republican, for just two two-year terms, 1947-1949 and 1953-1955.

Historical Volatility

The question of continuity and volatility of political parties can be seen from a longer time frame as well.  The back-and-forth changes of party control in Congress and the White House seen during the past decade are unlike anything in the last hundred years.

From 1914 through 2016, there were 52 presidential-year or mid-term elections.  From 1914 through 1990, a party in control of the White House, Senate, or House of Representatives lost at least one of those in 13 of those 39 elections.  From 1992 to 2016, a party lost control of at least one of these bodies in nine of those 13 elections.  If the Democrats win the House in 2018, as is largely expected, that would be a change in party control in 10 of the last 14 elections.  That is, a change in party control of the presidency, Senate, or House (or a combination) in 33 percent of the elections from 1914 to 1990, and in 70 percent of the elections since 1992.

From 2006 to 2016, a party has lost one of these in five of those six elections (83 percent).  If the House flips to Democrats in 2018, that would be changes in six changes in the last seven elections (86 percent).

There is no comparable volatility in the last hundred years.  The closest comparison is the decade after World War II.  Compared to the results of the previous election, both the House and Senate flipped parties in 1946, 1948, 1952, and 1954 – four out of five elections, and the White House flipped in 1952. In the decade after the 1944 election, World War II ended, the Cold War began, and the Korean War was fought for three years. The Soviets launched a successful nuclear weapons test, Mao turned China communist, and the U.S. was involved in the overthrow of regimes in Iran and Guatemala.  Truman integrated the military, and the Supreme Court decided Brown vs Board of Education.  It was a period of sharp economic swings, with short periods of GDP growth over five and even ten percent, followed by sharp economic contractions.

The electoral volatility since 2006 has some possible explanations as well.  After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Republicans were re-elected in Congress in 2002 (restoring their 2000 Senate victory temporarily lost by the switch of Jim Jeffords to the Democrats) and to the White House in 2004. But the following elections were influenced by increasingly unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the election of the country’s African-American president during an historic financial crisis, and the rise of TEA Party intra-Republican divisions during the subsequent recession.  Immigration and identity politics emerged as important issues.  Candidates Obama and Trump campaigned relatively independent from their national party organizations, and in their own ways were social media innovators.  Party favorites like Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton struggled.  #NeverTrump Republicans and Clinton’s 2016 battle against “outsider” Bernie Sanders revealed prominent intra-party divisions in both parties.  Whichever party wins in November 2018, in January 2019 Congress will have its fourth change in Speaker of the House in 12 years.

Implications of Party Volatility

This sharp – and sustained – rise in volatility among party control of the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives raises a number of questions for further inquiry.  What causes these periods of volatility – seen after World War II and in the past ten years? Is this a temporary phenomenon, or a “new normal”? What are the implications – including for American foreign policy – of this volatility?  Some of these answers might include analysis that the United States has had difficulty building and advancing a positive, cohesive, big-picture, aspirational foreign policy because it has lacked – among other things, institutional continuity.

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Weekly quiz

Mon, 22/10/2018 - 14:52

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Op-Ed: Why Lara Alqasam does not belong in Israel

Fri, 19/10/2018 - 14:43

In recent days, many have been critical of Israel for detaining Palestinian American activist Lara Alqasem. However, such criticism is not justified in any shape or form. Lara Alqassem was the president of the University of Florida’s chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine, a radical group that supports the BDS Movement. According to Im Tirtzu, an Israel-based Zionist organization, during her tenure there, she organized an event in honor of Rasmea Odeh, a convicted Palestinian female terrorist with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who murdered two Hebrew University students. She also bombed the British Consulate.

And on top of that, Gulf News reported that the Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Florida under Alqassem’s tenure also promoted the boycott of Sabra Hummus. Any country that is at the forefront fighting for its right to exist and is currently engaged in a war against terrorism would think twice before allowing someone associated with such a group to pursue a two-year masters’ program in a university located within its borders.

For many years, Israel has suffered from anti-Israel activists who have used their positions within Israeli universities in order to harm the state. For example, Omar Barghouti, who in the past studied at Tel Aviv University, launched a global campaign calling for a boycott of Israel. Similarly, other academics such as Dr. Neve Gordon, Dr. Anat Matar and Dr. Rachel Geora have exploited their positions at Israeli universities in order to promote the BDS Movement. Should Alqassem study at the Hebrew University, who is to say that she would not become active in the Boycott from Within Movement?

However, as an Israeli citizen living under the shadow of Palestinian terrorism, I have greater concerns than her support for BDS. When I was an MA student at Ben-Gurion University, Dr. Maya Rosenfeld used her position as a professor teaching international students in order to glorify Ghassan Khanafani, a leading terrorist from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. At the same university, Gordon attended a demonstration where Arab students called upon Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to punish (bomb) Tel Aviv. Furthermore, local student activists at BGU brought foreign students to the West Bank, where they attended Land Day riots where stones were thrown at Israeli soldiers. Who is to say that Alqasem would not join one of those violent protests or would use her position as a student at an Israeli university in order to glorify such wanton acts of violence?

While some could argue that given that the atmosphere at Israeli universities already incorporates the anti-Israel narrative in the name of dialogue, why is it so harmful for Lara Alqassem to join the fray? However, what makes the presence of Lara Alqassem so detrimental to Israel’s security is that should she join violent anti-Israel protests, due to her American citizenship, Israel will be restrained regarding what actions that it can take against her. Israel will not be able to penalize her for throwing stones in the same manner that it could a Palestinian rioter or Israeli citizen who joined such protests because any actions that Israel would take against her would blow up in the media, as the recent media coverage has demonstrated. This places Israel in a terrible dilemma. The country can either defend its security knowing it will lead to negative press coverage or it could give her a green light to act against the country, which would only embolden Israel’s enemies to do likewise.

Furthermore, should Alqassem get a masters’ degree from Hebrew University and spend two years living in East Jerusalem, she would return as an Israel expert to the US and could potentially get influential jobs that would influence US policy towards Israel. If she is a supporter of the BDS Movement, it could be detrimental for the US-Israeli relationship for her to hold such a status. This is not the case for a Palestinian anti-Israel activist living in East Jerusalem or a radical left wing Jewish Israeli student studying at the Hebrew University, whose actions against the state would be confined towards influencing the Jewish and Palestinian populations in Jerusalem respectively. Their actions in most cases will not harm Israel internationally. But many people in Israel and abroad do not fully grasp these factors.

So many people are rushing to support Alqassem. Im Tirtzu reported that students active in Standing Together, a group backed by the New Israel Fund, placed signs that stated “Reserved for Lara Alqasem.” Im Tirtzu subsequently crossed out her name and wrote the names of three Israeli terror victims that were murdered recently: Ari Fuld, Kim Levengrond and Ziv Hajbi.

I agree with the actions taken by Im Tirtzu. For the Israeli victims of terrorism, it is abhorrent that a seat would be reserved for an anti-Israel activist that was part of a group that not only supports BDS but also glorifies Palestinian terrorism. I am not the only one who is appalled by this. Peter Goldman, the President of the Swedish Friends of the Hebrew University, is also greatly disturbed how the university is rushing to support Alqassem.

Dana Barnett, who heads Israel Academia Monitor, a group that monitors anti-Israel activities within academia, stated that all of these actions that are being taken on behalf of Alqasem are morally wrong and hypocritical: “According to the BDS Law, anyone who calls for a boycott should be punished. If people are democratic, they should support the legal system.” As the Israeli Court of Appeals proclaimed, “Any self-respecting state defends its own interests and those of its citizens, and has the right to fight against the actions of a boycott as well as any attacks on its image.” Anti-semitism scholar Manfred Gerstenfeld believes that given this, Alqasem should go and study in one of the 191 countries that she has not incited against.

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The Noble Peace Prize and the Forgotten Genocide

Thu, 18/10/2018 - 14:40

Yazidi Refugee Ashwaq Haji Hami decided to leave Germany after she was left unprotected from her ISIS captor in her town in Germany.

Nadia Murad was honoured with a Nobel Prize recently for her work with women and genocide survivors. She is Yazidi from Iraq and survived a kidnapping and rape by ISIS, upon her escape she was able to get her story out to the international community. She became a representative for her community in 2016 and worked diligently to bring some light to the genocide of minority people Iraq, Syria and the wider Middle East. Her story is one of a survivor, but many women and girls are still held in captivity by ISIS, even though many ISIS fighters have already started returning to a peaceful life in their countries of origin.

Within Iraq there is a big debate on the benefits of the Nobel Prize given to Nadia Murad for the Yazidi and other minority communities. While minorities communities in Iraq may only exist for one more generation, it is up to the Iraqi government and people on how they wish to address the possible end of some of the oldest communities in the world. While the Nobel Prize serves as much to honour Nadia Murad as it does to bring attention to the struggle she and her community is facing, the kidnapping, rape, torture and organised genocide of Yazidi women and children has been almost wholly ignored by the international community and media. The values and legal precedents set by the trials at Nuremberg have most likely been violated, with Yazidis still being ignored in refugee camps, being helped but placed living with those that have committed genocide against them, and generally being forgotten even with the Nobel Prize being given to their UN representative. If the most basic tenets of the UN Declaration of Human Rights will not be applied by the signatories of the Declaration, then justice will never be served and the lessons of the Nuremberg Trials have truly been lost.

There are some stark cases of injustice outside of the Middle East in dealing with Yazidi survivors having been put living near those that raped and assaulted them. The earliest reported case occurred in Ontario, Canada when two Yazidi women ran into their torturer from Iraq. He might have been a Canadian who returned from fighting with ISIS, and in one case he harassed the Yazidi survivor he himself had a role in torturing. Upon running into him on more than one occasion, she notified those who were helping her resettle in Canada and she was told to keep quiet about the incidents. She is fighting for her story to be heard with little to no media coverage about these incidents in Canada or abroad. Recently the RCMP, Canada’s national police service, said that the government was unaware on how they could charge returning ISIS fighters when they bring them back to Canada. For some reason committing genocide against foreign nationals does not have a legal precedent in Canada, and while the Canadian justice system is based on the British system, including the application of the laws of equity to ensure justice is served in the application of justice in the legal system, the Canadian government will not help the few Yazidi refugees they are assisting be fully protected in Canada itself.

The wider known case of Yazidi survivors not being protected came from Germany when a young Yazidi survivor went to the police and told them of her ISIS torturer from Mosul, Iraq harassing her in the city she settled in in Germany itself. While she reported the incidents to authorities, the police just gave her a number to call in case of emergency and set upon a red tape laden investigation to find and charge her harasser. This widely reported story is just one of many being claimed in Germany and likely all over Europe itself. The lack of security she felt in Germany lead her to decide to end her future there and return to Iraq, where she felt safer in the end. Like with the Canadian incident, she felt local officials would not keep her secure in Germany. With the lacklustre response of many governments to the very recent aftermath of the Yazidi genocide, one that effectively is still taking place and being almost completely ignored, protections for those persecuted in a genocide seems to have no legal application or political will from modern, western governments. While there is an academic debate on how to apply local laws to crimes against humanity, having no application of law or protections is simply contributing to the future persecution of the genocide victims and survivors. Apologizing for past atrocities does nothing if you continue to ignore those of your own generation. Giving a Nobel Prize while ignoring survivors like Nadia Murad does nothing to save the children still in captivity. Those ignored girls are the most brutalised human beings in modern history.

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The Legal Option to Stop Nord Stream 2

Wed, 17/10/2018 - 14:53

Kjell Nilsson-Maki via CartoonStoc

In Soviet mythology, the health of a country’s economy, national power, and influence in the world are directly linked to the performance of its oil and gas industries. The famous Russian gas project, Nord Stream 2, threatens to disturb the European Union family, emphasizing the contrasting interests of various EU nations. The Castro 10 vessel has already laid the first pipes off the German shore, spanning a total of 30 kilometers (18.6 miles), a 32 feet deep construction project expected to be completed in 400 days. The case for Nord Stream 2, a project highly touted by Germany, is aimed at rearranging the Ukrainian route of Russian gas pipelines, an uncomfortable situation for Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries that are to lose transit fees and related privileges. Nevertheless, the original relevance of this pipeline is a political one, since it can bring Russian gas to Germany bypassing Ukraine and Poland, and magnifying German energy security and geopolitical influence. There are also economic reasons: with the doubling of Nord Stream’s capacity Eastern European countries such as Hungary or Slovakia which previously held significant influence  in Russia-Western European gas transit, would find its influence dramatically reduced in the European gas game. Apart from the fact that Gazprom is the only supplier and a major shareholder in the $11bn Nord Stream 2 project, it is also headquartered  in Zug, Switzerland which is  known for being one of the most aggressive tax cutters among Switzerland’s 26 cantons. This fresh pipeline extension is being developed by five other Russian-European energy consortia , each of them funding up to 1 billion dollars each: Shell (Anglo-Dutch company), BASF (Germany), E.ON (Germany), Enti (France) and OMV (Austria). Even if Eastern European countries argue that the project contradicts the EU’s aim of diversifying energy sources, Germany is accused of ignoring that and promoting their own interests, as well as the values of a Russian energy addicted Europe. The Nord Stream 2 project calls for the laying of two pipelines with a total capacity of 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. Its first deliveries are expected in 2019, which corresponds with the expiration of the current agreements between Russia and Ukraine and in 2022 between Russia and Poland. This project is  assessed as completely neglecting the interests of Poland as well as the unity of the European Union,  especially within the context of Russia’s previous actions in Ukraine.

To this global aspect is added a complex economic process: the Russian energy sector is monopolistic since the denationalization movement initiated by Putin and focused on Gazprom’s extension while the European gas sector was going through market liberalization and opening up to new players. This duality creates a situation that pits the  concept of openness and competition amongst European authorities and the Russian gas giant on the other. The main counterpart that the Kremlin should concede in order to hope to take its share of the pie would then lie in two perspectives: an opening of the national market (hardly conceivable for its leaders) or accepting Russia’s monopolistic influence in a part of the Eurasian sphere, which seems more coherent but which would mean a disturbance by Moscow’s influence. Finding the right equilibrium is all the more challenging as over the next 20 to 30 years, the percentage of the European Union’s energy needs from imports will increase from 50% to 70%.

Although divergent positions are relevant in the debate within the EU, European rules and laws seem to vary when it comes to the energy issue. The Nord Stream 2 project, in addition to the non-applicability of EU rules on free market and price transparency, goes against the European Energy Security Strategy presented by the European Commission in 2014, which primarily focused on gas security and the desire to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. The legal component of the European Council believe that the EU could violate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea if it decides to apply its own rules to offshore pipelines. Additionally, as this is an underwater project, the legality of this project is  completely determined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, known as the Montego Bay Convention and in particular Article 79 pertaining to Submarine Cables and Pipelines on the Continental Shelf. The European Commission proposed last year to amend their EU gas directives so that an import gas pipeline cannot be owned directly by gas producers, that it doesn’t apply discriminatory tariffs and that it can be used by third parties. The Nord Stream 2 project, fully controlled by Gazprom’s monopoly, is far from respecting these different rules. By undermining incentives to develop new interconnectors and terminals, Nord Stream 2 will also make it more difficult for the EU to meet one of the main Energy Union objectives of completing the single market in gas. Trying to create endless diversification pipelines is anachronistic given the development of EU energy law and an increasingly integrated European gas market. Gazprom as a gas supplier cannot expect to control pipeline routes and isolate markets as it did a decade ago in a now increasingly liberalized European market. The legal framework is therefore perfectly clear and discordant to the European Commission’s claims. The European Union must respect the choices of its Member States with regard to their energy supply requirements. Whatever the legal aspect envisaged, the principle of subsidiarity is applicable. Consequently, the legal matter, concerning the regulatory aspects applying to the Nord Stream 2, can become, through its instrumentalization into the agenda-building process, an element of soft power for Poland. However, we must think in the long term. From the gas reserves on the Cyprus side, there will now be a European gas supply from the south. Turkey is likely to come forward, but it will rebalance Gazprom’s pre-eminence in the European energy supply market. It should also not be forgotten that 50 to 60 billion cubic meters of natural gas is produced annually in Algeria and Tunisia . We must find a fine balance between being able to ensure agreements with  major turbulent neighbors such as Russia, rather than leave it isolated and uncontrollable, while ensuring European energy independence.

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African Regimes at a Crossroads

Tue, 16/10/2018 - 14:47

2017 Protests in South Africa (Reuters)

New hope is blowing across the African continent against the backdrop of toppled heads of government and state in South Africa and Zimbabwe and a rejuvenated government that is pursuing ambitious reforms in Ethiopia. Other recent examples of transitions from long-sitting governments have also played out in Burkina Faso and The Gambia where the sitting presidents’ ambitions to remain in power (beyond their constitutional mandates) sparked a popular uprising in the former, and a military intervention by regional forces in the latter.

However, with this new dawn comes growing risks of instability and conflict which threaten to derail any attempts at moving the region towards more inclusive democracy and lasting peace; gains which could eventually facilitate better development prospects for the ordinary population, most of whom were not even born when their presidents took office.

Angola, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Uganda are all countries where the incumbents have held power since at least the 1980s. All of their leaders oversee authoritarian regimes; two of them took power by force, while the other two succeeded governments with dictatorial tendencies.

Aristide Zolberg, an influential U.S.-based academic on migration, who passed away in 2013, warned early on, in the post-colonial context, that liberation struggles could quickly translate into civil conflict. This was due to the inability of new governments to move their countries in the direction of national unity and integration and ensure a trajectory of progressive socioeconomic development. Instead, local elites have in many places across post-colonial Africa simply replaced the former patronage networks that were in place under European colonial powers.

A number of aged leaders across Sub-Saharan Africa are now nearing their natural end. In addition, all four governments are dependent on rents and revenue from crude oil and gas extraction. Although Angola holds the second-largest proven commercial reserves on the continent after Nigeria, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea together produce almost 400,000 barrels per day (bpd). To join the club, Uganda discovered commercially viable oil reserves in 2006 and is expected to produce 230,000 bpd when production is at full capacity, likely after 2020. Despite their natural resource wealth, their societies remain highly unequal.

In Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos stepped down as head of state and relinquished his chairmanship of the ruling party earlier. In his departing speech, he admitted to making ‘mistakes’ during his rule of almost 40 years, a tenure which has been characterized by the centralization of power and national wealth. This fact underscores dos Santos clan’s control of the country’s wealth and political power. His successor, former general João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, has promised to clamp down on corruption. At the same time, Lourenço has hit out at Portugal in relation to accusations since 2012 by Portuguese prosecutors that Manuel Vicente, a former vice president and current advisor to the incumbent president, has committed acts of bribery and money laundering.

Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya (in office since 1982) is increasingly under pressure to bring back stability to the far-northern regions, where the Nigerian Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, has terrorized the local population for years, as well as to the south-western Anglophone regions of Northwest and Southwest, where a secessionist political movement last year took up arms against the central government. Accusing the Francophone authorities in the capital Yaoundé of ethnic discrimination and attempting at reducing their cultural autonomy within the federation, the Anglophone  ‘Ambazonia’ (a term used locally to describe what was formerly known as the Southern Cameroons) independence movement could be one of Biya’s toughest tests so far.

With Biya being the only candidate with a realistic chance of winning the presidential election in October—thanks to his patronage networks and the continued dominance of his ruling RDPC party—the prospect of instability once Biya eventually vacates office can only increase. While it is pretty clear that Biya will still be Cameroon’s leader, the lack of apparent successor and the likely power vacuum that will emerge means there is a real stability risk in Cameroon.

Although the quality of GDP data across Sub-Saharan Africa is often limited, Biya’s Angolan and Equatoguinean counterparts will leave behind a somewhat better legacy. In Equatorial Guinea, per capita GDP has increased from USD208 in 1979 to USD8,333 (compared to Cameroon’s GDP per capita which has remained stagnant at just over USD1,000), making it the highest income country of the continent. But despite this apparent success, 76.8% of Equatorial Guinea’s population continues to live in poverty, while political elite figures such as the president’s son and vice president, Teodoro ‘Teodorin’ Nguema Obiang Mangue, lives in opulence. Obiang Mangue has been investigated by both U.S. and French authorities for embezzlement and money laundering; and last October, a court in Paris sentenced the vice president in absentia to 3 years in prison, with EUR30 million in fines for laundering EUR150 million between 1997 and 2011.

Finally, in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni is entering his 34th year in office and has removed a 75-year age limit on presidents in the constitution, which means that he could run for another term in 2021. Meanwhile, many are suspicious that he is slowly promoting his son to be his heir, particularly after he was promoted as a special advisor last January. However, Museveni’s authority has also come under increased pressure from musician-turned-politician, Robert Kyagulanyi (more commonly known by his stage name Bobi Wine) who is appealing to Uganda’s young population, which is increasingly frustrated by Museveni’s regime and possibly, dynastic ambitions.

Angola, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Uganda are now approaching critical inflection points where the liberalization of strategic sectors of the economy could bring about new opportunities for better wealth distribution. However, this also carries significant risks of fueling corruption in some of the world’s worst-ranking countries, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (2017). Equatorial Guinea ranks at 171 (out of 180); Angola at 167; Cameroon at 153; and Uganda is the best ranked at 151.

The longevity of these governments means that local elites have benefitted from patronage for many years, and the end to such revenue streams is likely to motivate some actors into more unpredictable actions, such as taking power by force. This could, in turn, fuel local armed strife between competing groups, exacerbating the security situation in the various jurisdictions.

As tired old post-colonial local elites leave the stage one by one, the question to be asked is what will replace them? Will it simply be new local elites, equally focused on self-aggrandizement and creating networks of patronage? Or will it be a new breed of leaders, young, charismatic and genuinely committed to inclusivity and socioeconomic development?

While staunch criticism has been directed against all these four governments, one cannot but admit they have all emerged out of extremely challenging contexts. Most of their experiences carry similarities, but the mixed performance of their recent governments should also be taken into account when attempting to understand their countries’ future trajectory. Where power networks have been more opportunistic, and where wealth has been spent carelessly, instability risks are likely to continue growing.

While maintaining sustainable growth is problematic, it is likely that more diversified economies will be more resilient to short-term shocks, most likely as a result of regime changes. This is the challenge facing many parts of western Africa’s Atlantic coast. Its outcome will determine whether the region embraces new hope or descends deeper into instability and conflict.

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Weekly Quiz!

Mon, 15/10/2018 - 15:32

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